Humberstone, Pica and cowboy town

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July 26th 2010
Published: July 26th 2010
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27th july 2010

Been a while since I updated so its time for a ramble, On 27th June as I sat in the kitchen in Chakana when the earth moved ye ha but no, another tremor, now living in this area of the world I should be used to them but this is not the case……..I am terrified my heart rate accelerates, I go weak at the knees and this all started with the reasonably big one we experienced in Arica a few months ago, I'm not sure I will ever get used to them.

We spent our last few days in Putre pottering, John being the adventurous sort had expressed a desire to climb a nearby mountain called Taapaca which stands at an impressive 5800 metros, he took off early afternoon which the intention of making camp at 5300 metros, he sat up camp and as soon as the sun went below the horizon the temperatures plummeted to 20-25 below, with full thermal gear and a thick sleeping bag his camp completely froze, including his water, camera and his eyelashes, there was no sleep that night, Getting up at dawn he climbed small taapaca then skirted across the ridge to the larger summit, The wind howled up there so pleased with his achievement he decended to camp and packed up his gear, it took 4 hours to climb the last 500 metres but a mere hour to decent as the slope is gravelly and full of loose sand, he ran and slide the whole way down, where Franklin was waiting for him. Well done John!

28th june

We are leaving for Arica to regroup and prepare for the return to my beloved Peru, Oh and I'm am so looking forward to a juicy steak.

For those of you who are coming to Putre, accommodation is not much more expensive than Arica but because everything has to be transported up here by road, fuel and food is a lot more, not only in restaurants but in the shops also, variety is also very limited, having said that it is a small community who obviously put a lot into making their visitors welcome so if you can afford it buy your supplies here it would be good to put your cash into this small industrious village.

29th June

Back in Arica we settled ourselves back into Sunny days hostel in Arica as i scampered to the local market to buy steak veg and my lovely Irish butter.

The following morning we decided to take a trip to Humberstone an abandoned ghost town, said by some to be haunted, which is situated 3 hours south of Arica, Buses leave for Iquique every hour which is the nearest town to the site, We hopped off at the entrance to the place about 45 minutes from Iquique, The scenery is truly barren, an expanse of nothingness reaches the horizon in all directions, nothing grows here and there has been no rain for many years.

Paying our 2000 pesos ($4us) we entered the site, you are immediately transported back to the 50s, It was once a booming nitrate town starting in the 1800s, Families moved here to avail of the all too scarce work and a bustling town in the middle of the desert was born, In 1879 the war of the Pacific raged and it is thought its main objective was to win the rights to nitrates mining including Humberstone, Natural nitrate then was a valuable commodity with a market for it in the Americas and as far afield as Europe, Its boom time was in the 30s and 40s when its true value as a fertilizer came to be and farmers all over the world used it to boost crop production, then in the 50s a group of scientists discovered that ammonia a relatively inexpensive product could be used as a base to make synthetic nitrate and in effect made the mines such as humberstone obsolete, this discovery distroyed the industry and in 1961 the mine closed, production halted and the residents of Humberstone left to find work elsewhere leaving this once bustling town abandoned and at the mercy of the elements, Today it has been revived though not restored with the help of the world hertitage society who in 2005 declared it an UNESCO world heritage site so once again it has many people, this time in the form of curious tourists and rowdy school groups on history fieldtrips.

Railway lines connect the town with the nitrate mines which lies nearby, boxcars and steam engines lay abandoned as ghostly relics of their former labors. Row after row of identical houses with pealing paint and picket fences line the wide streets, you can almost image children playing their games, some of the houses still have the tools of the trade, cooking utensils and cast iron stoves, the remains of cast iron beds and long since disemboweled mattresses are home to local rodents, An interesting area at the other side of the town lies rows of dorm house which housed the single workers, apparently a guard was stationed at night at each end of the street as there was a curfew and these young men where not allowed to mingle with the womenfolk of the settlement, (watch your wife and lock up your daughter) It must have been a lonely existence, A room full of childrens toys house old bicycle tyres used to run along the street wheeling them along side the kids, cars and trains fashioned from metal wire and hand sown dolls sit forlornly on the shelves.

In the main square stands a church which someone has been taking care off, a crucified Jesus sits above the alter and the pews are in good condition and the floors are clean. It is all a little spooky as on the day we were there the wind howled and doors banged and windows and floorboards creaked, Across from the church a huge once decadent theatre stands, its folding chairs sit in uniform rows facing a raised stage complete with moth eaten, once grand velvet drapes, in the centre of the theatre when you look up on the ceiling is a very beautiful and ornate window.

The other side of town housed what would have been the managers or foremen the houses are of better quality and quite a bit larger with sprawling verandas, these are now museums which have pictures and artifacts which tell the story of the production of the nitrate, colorful posters show happy farmers tolling in their fields pleased with their nitrate induced healthy crops, It is something I have wondered about often here in South America, everywhere are billboards for everything from toothpaste to beer, yet the models are all fair skinned blond and blue eyed but the people of these countries whether latino or indigenous are dark haired and brown eyed, perhaps the European look sells, somewhat odd though.

Near the centre an enormous swimming pool lies complete with diving board, it was constructed from the hull of a ship each section riveted together, I am told it is still water tight and there is plans to eventually reopen it as well as refurbish an nearby hotel with the hope of attracting visitors to the site.The nearby changing rooms are adorned by some interesting graffiti.

The actual mine is a graveyard of abandoned machinery, last vats and storage facilities, this I did find unsettling as there are so many sheet of loose corrugated iron banging and grinding in the wind. A bottle shop lies near the entrance complete with shelves of beer, no doubt it did bustling hangout at the weekends and a pleasant respite for work weary miners.

The police station sits nearby so drunken skallywags didn't have far to stumble when they crossed the line and needed a bed for the night at the authorities pleasure.

A film crew where filming on this particular day what seemed life a movie from the war of the pacific, I was alone and everytime I came out of a street some edjit would wave me out of the way and out of the shot, this pissed me off a wee bit as I had paid my fee and I couldn't see why if they wanted peace and quiet they just didn't rent the place for the day, It cheered me up when a group of about 60 kids about 14 years old invaded the place, I think that probably put an end to filming, cheap arses! Humberstone is a mecca for photography enthusiasts especially when the sun begins to go down, the shadows and the colours make for some interesting compositions.

Across the road we waited for a bus to Pica, It was so cold as the winds howled across the plains and I was a happy camper when after some time our bus arrived for what would be an 1 and half journey…………not to be. After 45 minutes the bus stopped for what seemed like an age, the bus drivers chatted while the passengers fidgeted and started to get impatient but eventually the creaky old relic resumed its journey, not far up the road we stopped again, a heavily armed policeman got on the bus and asked everyone for ID, they looked at our foreign passports and gave them back but kept everyone elses, The luggage hold was thoroughly searched and then a cute little back lab with handler came on the bus, he went from seat to seat and put his drug deception trained snout in each of our bags, It would appear they found nothing and after about another 45 minutes we where mobile once again.

We eventually arrived in Pica well after dark tired and hungry, the driver kindly left us at a welcoming looking hostel, it may have been his kindly nature or it could have been because we where the only remaining passengers and he wanted to see the back of us.

Hostel Suiza was home for the night as a kindly lady settled us in to a cosy room and pointed out some good eats in a restaurant nearby, thank god its Chile or where people eat late or we may have had to make do with only snacks.

This area and I believe Chile in general is experiencing the coldest weather in years so our desert oasis was a wee bit Chile, the restaurant has a grass roof and flimsy woven grass walls more suitable to its normal climate, as a result we inhaled our dinner with hot tea and scampered back to the warmth of our room, CABLE TV what an novelty unfortunately we were far too tired to avail of it and crashed out almost immediately.

Pica is a little inland oasis in the atacama desert, It is green and lush and thrives from the daily fogs that creep in from the Pacific, Its popularity comes from it citric farms which grow oranges and a particularly sour lemon which only grows in this area but we were there for the thermal baths. It was still early when we donned bathing suits and jumped into the water, its said to be a constant 40 degrees, I dispute this, now I'm not sure if it is because of the particularly cold weather or the fact that the sun was still low on the horizon but it was not so hot, ok if you keep all your body submerged but the poor old nose got a wee bit nippy, The water is crystal clear and the walls of the spring are smooth with perfect tennis ball size indentations and two little caves sit at the far end of the spring where the water is a few degrees hotter. The water is supposed to be beneficial to those suffering from respiratory problems and bone diseases.

The plaza in Pica is so pretty, really well maintained with beautiful gardens and some majestic looking trees I couldn't identify, the whole town has government sponsored wi-fi which I think is great, The streets are lined with multicolored clapboard houses and its so clean, really impressed. We wandered along the highway towards the next town of Matilla, The road is bordered with these 5 globe streetlights like something you would see in the driveways of David Beckhams house…….very strange but also lining the road are numerous orchards of lemons and oranges, the smell was a delight to the senses, Along the road someone has had the idea to put a dinosaur park…….why? I'm not so sure, 2 lonely looking life size beasts sit in an otherwise barren landscape mmmm, somewhat odd.

Matilla is a tiny little village slap bang in the middle of the desert, clean and again surrounded by neatly keep clean multicolored clapboard houses, undoubtedly the towns pride and joy is the mosque like church which stands in the middle of the tiny plaza, In 2007 a massive earthquake damaged the building and it repairs have just been completed, It has the original glass dome on top which the sun shone through making it look all the more devine, Inside is similar to a lot of other churches in the area but the stainglass is impressive.

A fruit stall sat on the edge of the main road and we indulged in what has to be the best orange juice I have ever tasted, it would seem like she had added copious amounts of sugar but no that is just their flavor delis.

We stopped a bus and headed for Iquique, the largest town in Northern Chile, Once off the bus we headed to a place called Iquique backpackers, It was full and rowdy with happy travelers and we settled in opting to join on their nightly BBQs, The food was great and meeting everyone else was lovely after so much time with just the two of us, A few glasses of Vino and bed.

The old town in Iquique immediately gives you the feeling of being in a spaghetti western, wooden sidewalks flank either side of the road with an old fashioned tram tracks in the middle, Beautifully restored wooden houses stand on each side of the street, reminding me of the houses in Savannah Georgia, picket fences and sash windows painted in gay colours, the street is speckled with restaurants and gift shops, the plaza too is very touristy although one building stood out with the most intricate mosaic work, I believe it is now a casino, All our wandering around made us miss the last bus so we booked into another place and armed with our tickets the following morning we boarded our bus back to Arica.

Additional photos below
Photos: 43, Displayed: 31


31st July 2010
Photo 2

whoevers house this is re paint it the same color
1st August 2010

What you mean like a nice blue rust colour mmmmm not so sure

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