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Published: August 17th 2009
Iquique hadn't featured on my original plan and I'd rather ended up here by accident. Or you might call it a lack of planning ;0) Basically I hadn't booked the bus from San Pedro to Salta in Argentina in time (even though I knew it only went 3 times a week, derrr), didn't want to wait a few days for the next one and decided a loop around Bolivia instead sounded like a much better idea. Look at a map of the region or try the buses in Bolivia and you might challenge the wisdom of that one! In the end it turned out to be a great decision..... except of course it wasn't quite so straight forward. The easiest way into Bolivia is a 3day Salar de Uyuni tour from San Pedro itself. But it involves a rapid increase in altitude and seeing as just thinking about going up a mountain is enough to bring on altitude sickness in me I wanted to save the Salar until I'd acclimatized and could appreciate it rather than spending the whole time clutching my head trying not to throw up. So instead I hopped on a bus first to Iquique and finally to
Arica in the far north of Chile. From there I got another bus to La Paz in Bolivia.... sea level to @3600m, via passes of 4500m, in one day. Ohhhh did I feel great whenI arrived! Not.
But first Iquique. Having never planned to be here in the first place I stayed for 4 days (that's a long time for me!), chilling out on the beach, taking in the colourfully painted town centre, walking round the Spanish only archaeological museum armed with my English/Spanish dictionary and heading out to Humberstone for the day.
Founded in 1872 Humberstone was one of the original nitrate towns during the nitrate boom of the late 1800's and early 1900's. Sodium nitrate produced here was used for fertiliser and in the manufacture of explosives. But in 1929, the nitrate boom came to a halt with the stock market crash and the synthesis of ammonia which led to the industrial production of fertilisers.
The nitrate works in Humberstone were finally abandoned in 1960 and without the main employer the town soon became a ghost town. Today it's preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it's actually quite an eery place to walk
around. There's the main plaza fronted by a theatre with posters advertising productions that perhaps never happened and the old hotel, complete with its cast iron swimming pool made from the hull of an old ship. The old hospital with its creaking doors and floorboards and the grocers shop displaying prices of goods no longer for sale. And the music continuously pipped out via speakers around the plaza and surrounding streets combined with the lack of people.... shivers!! On the outskirts of the town the remains of the nitrate works themselves, rusting buildings, train engines without tracks and all kinds of machinery with huge wheels and levers. Its hard to think that this deserted shell of a place was once a thriving bustling town.
I spent just one night in Arica as I was keen to push on to Bolivia and the Altiplano but the town centre seemed nice - the usual plaza's and statues, a fish market down by the waterfront where the days catch could be found for sale and the sellers couldn't understand why a vegetarian didn't want to but a nice, tasty fresh fish.
And finally my last bus journey in Chile, the one
that would take me out of the country and to La Paz, via the Parque Nacional Lauca in Chile and Sajama National Park in Bolivia. Steep winding roads, high passes, snow capped volcanoes and Altiplano lakes with vicunas grazing by the lake sure. An absolutely stunning journey and with all the delays that we had because of road blocks (the big woolly kind that look cute but are bad tempered and spit at you), government strikes and hence Chilean immigration officials on a super go slow (well I guess at least they weren't refusing to work completely...) we had plenty of time to get off the bus and enjoy it!
Next up, the amazing Bolivia.
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