• Day37

    Arica, Chile

    November 29, 2017 in Chile ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    Arica, like many of the ports at which we have stopped in Chile, is an industrial container port. Here, we are told that the port was established by the Spanish in 1530 for imports and exports from Bolivia;it continues today as a freeport for Bolivia. We are only 18 km south of Peru .

    Arica has mild weather, year round so in the summer, it is a popular resort for Bolivians. There are palm trees, jacaranda, bougainvillea and oleander, as one might expect in a mild climate but everything depends on constant irrigation.

    Arica's main employers are Coca-Cola, mining, fishing and argriculture and many of its workers come from Peru and Bolivia on 7-day work visas. Each weekend they go home, re-apply for a 7-day visa and come back for the work week.

    Arica is a fairly non-descript town in a valley between the sea and the desert. Normally, 'valley' suggests a river and although Arica technically has a river, it only has water a few days a year. The town has 3 buildings designed by Gustave Eiffel and a pleasant square with a few craft vendors. The most memorable feature however, is a large sand and rock cliff with a massive Chilean flag on the top. The driest desert in the world surrounds Arica on 3 sides but there is surprisingly little dust or sand in the air.

    I took a tour to the archeological museum and an olive farm; the others went to the desert to see giant sculptures; they also visited the museum.

    My tour started at a small replica village with a church and a group of small houses which now serve as artisanal workshops. Unfortunately, it was a bit early for the artists but we wondered around in the sunshine and visited a lovely small Catholic church. A notable feature of the church is the hand-painted stations of the cross, done by indigenous artists.

    Second stop was the Museo Arqueologico San Miguel de Azapa (archeological museum) with its display of mummies. These mummies include 2 of the oldest mummies in the world. They are from the Chinchorro Indian civilization. These 8,000 year old mummies continue to be found around Arica as the community spreads. The display was very well done, if a bit unsettling.

    Our last stop was an olive farm to learn about agriculture in the valley. The first 30 olive vines were sent by the King of Spain to the rulers of Peru (who controlled this area at that time). Only one plant survived to be planted. From that single vine has grown a robust olive industry, totally dependent on drip irrigation and water from deep wells. The water for irrigation comes from a canal originating in the Andes. The farmers join co-operatives and 'buy' access to the water which is monitored and restricted to a few hours on specific days. Olive trees send deep roots (as deep as they are tall) which presumably helps them find sources of deep ground water to supplement the irrigation. The farm we visited grew three types of olives (green, black and mullato) which are brined in large vats for 1-2 years. The pickers are 7-day visa workers from Peru and Bolivia; a good worker can pick 400 kilograms a day and earn $40-50 USD per day.

    From 1500-1700s, Africans were brought to Chile by the Spaniards as slave labour and to replace the declining native population disseminated by disease, natural events (like tsunamis) and pirates. At one point, 90% of the population of the valley was of African descent so many of the current citizens trace their lineage back to Africa.

    The farm we visited also grew mangoes, guavas, papaya and limes. The trees were full of hummingbirds which made for a lovely stop. But the main crop in this area is the hard, pink tomato genetically modified for long-distance shipping. Perhaps some of tasteless winter tomatoes come from this valley!

    On our trip back to the ship, we saw some geoglyphs on the side of the hills which were surprisingly clear and easy to see.

    While some of our group really liked the strange, moon-like look and feel of the desert, I found the monochromatic landscape and the lack of green unsettling. To me the surrounding desert and the degree of effort required to keep it at bay, seemed unnatural. Our guide (whose other job is as a clinical psychologist) tells us that anxiety and depression are the main emotional complaints in the adult population; that did not surprise me.
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    Christine your descriptive, interesting blogs are a pleasure to read.