Archive for November 2009

Ultimo Dia en Iquique

November 24, 2009

School good bye. Profesora Lucy, Directora, Gigante de Iquique, Inspectora

It is our last day in Iquique. Things are wrapping up quickly. Most goodbyes have been said. Only the family remains. Yesterday morning, I made my post strike goodbye appearance at my school. After the customary Monday morning group flag raising and singing of the national anthem in the patio, the directora gave a heartfelt farewell speech to me. Then I was called up to the front and presented with a farewell gift and more kind words from the directora. Then I grabbed the mic and made my farewell speech to the assembled crowd and grand applause. Following my speech, I rejoined the crowd and other announcements and proclamations were made before the crowd dispersed to their respective classes. There was a short photo session with the school VIPs. I stayed at school and sat in on the first period English class with 8A. It was being taught by one of the student teachers. At the end of the class I got to say a more personalized goodbye to Octavo A, which was the class that I had the most contact with during my three months of teaching. After class I had a final coffee and bread with the 9:30 Breakfast Club of 7 or 8 teachers that I was a part of during my time at Placido Villaroell. Then a tearful Lucy escorted me to the school entrance, and we said our final goodbye before I walked off into the streets of Iquique and a full day of more goodbyes to people and places that have been our life for the past four months. Tomorrow morning we fly to Santiago for closing ceremonies. We will be there for 3 nights before jumping our plane back to the USA on Saturday night. Muchas gracias por todos Iquique. Chao. Buena Suerte. Buen Viaje.

Packing up our room begins

Punta Cavancha

Chao Iquique.

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Time

November 22, 2009

Alejandra Carrera Yentzen, Secretaria Ministerial de Educacion, Region de Tarapaca, le saluda atentamente y tiene el agrado de invitarle a Usted a una cena de despedida de los voluntarios de Programa Ingles Abre Puertas, la que realizara en el Hotel Gavina, el dia Jueves 19 del presente a las 21 horas.

Carrera Yentzen agradecera vuestra prescencia ya que ustedes han sido un pilar fundamental para el desarrollo del programa.

Iquique, Noviembre de 2009

(invitation for Iquique volunteers farewell dinner)

Kitxi and Emily

Thursday was our farewell dinner. The 11 Iquique volunteers, our host parents, and our English teachers were invited to the farewell dinner with the above invitation. The person whose name is prominently dislplayed on the invitation was not there, but I guess she was thinking about us somewhere. The event was held at Hotel Gavina, which sits right on the Iquique coast overlooking the Pacific. The invitation said it would start at 9 pm, but in classic Chilean form it did not start until 10 pm. Ever the punctual gringos, Em and I were ready to roll out of the door at 8:45 pm. Kitxi and Mario knew better. They were still getting ready. Worried that this event might actually start on time (being the stupid gringo that I am), I was chomping at the bit to go. Come 9:10 pm, it looked like Mario was getting ready to go. “Listo?”, I queried. “Casi, casi,” he answered. Ten minutes later we loaded up, arriving at the hotel at just after 9:30 pm. Of course, they were correct in showing up a half hour late. Everyone was standing around in the lobby of the hotel waiting. We joined the waiting crowd and chatted in the lobby for the next half hour. We finally entered the dining room at 10 pm. Right on time an hour late. The delay another mystery chalked up to “Chilean time.” I will not miss Chilean time. The lackadaisacal approach to punctuality is maddening to me. If an official invitation says an event is going to start at 9, then start it at 9! Maybe I am just impatient. Chileans seem to have no problem waiting around for things. I do. Cultural baggage that I just can’t shed. Punctuality means something to me. A lesson hard learned in my lackadaisacal youth. I look forward to bidding a fond farewell to Chileno time.

Emily, Kitxi, Jeff, and Mario

But once the dinner started, it was a good time, seated at a round table with Emily, Mario, Kitxi, my co-teacher Lucy, and Aaron and his entourage. In total there were about 45 people in attendance. Speeches were made and certificates and good bye gifts were given. It ended at midnight. Eight of us volunteers went out for drinks afterwards on Baquedano into the wee hours of the morning. The news of the night was that the strike was over. On Friday, all the public schools were resuming regular schedule. Classic, since Thursday was our last day of work. One month of strike ended on our last day of work. But after talking to Lucy, I decided to go to school on Monday morning to make my formal good bye to students and teachers on the microphone in the patio just after the Monday morning flag raising ceremony. At least I will have some closure and a chance to bid all at Placido Villaroell a fond farewell. I plan to be on time. I won’t hold my breath for the rest.

Round tables

Mid-bite

otra idioma

November 17, 2009

Em and I are taking the online E-blended Spanish Course offered by Ingles Abre Puertas. We are in the basic level. For Chapters 5 and 6, we had a 300 to 500 word writing assignment about a trip we have taken. I wrote about our recent 4 day trip to Pisagua and other Tarapaca places in our rental car. I have already posted about the trip on this blog in English. Here is my juvenile Spanish homework account of the trip followed by a version with corrections from the instructor. Note my grammatical struggles and get out your red pen.

Tarea Ultima para Capítulos 5 & 6: Jeffrey Meyer

La semana pasada mi esposa, Emily, y yo fuimos en el viaje en Tarapacá (Región I). Nosotros arrendamos un auto en Iquique para tres días. Visitamos muchos lugares en Tarapacá. Por ejemplo, visitamos Santa Laura, Humberstone, Pisagua, Gigante de Tarapacá, Pintados, y Pica. La historia de Tarapacá es muy interesante. En el pasado, salitre fue la cosa más importante en la región. Pero ahora cobre es más importante en el norte. Después de salitre, muchas cosas cambiaron en Tarapacá.

Ahora, nadie vive en Humberstone o Santa Laura. Pero, en el pasado ambos lugares fueron muy ocupados con muchas personas. Caminando en los lugares fue muy extraño. No personas estuvieron. Solamente edificios vacíos, maquinas rotas, y el viento y sol del desierto. Sentimos las fantasmas del pasado. Feliz y triste. Bueno y malo. Sentimos similar fantasmas in Pisagua.

Ahora, Pisagua es muy tranquilo. Pero en el pasado Pisagua fue muy ocupado. Primero, Pisagua fue un puerto importante para salitre. Después de, Pisagua fue un prisión político para el gobierno de Pinochet. El gobierno mató muchos prisioneros políticos en Pisagua. Fuimos el cementerio afuera del pueblo. El cementerio es arriba del mar. Un monumento recuerda las gentes muertas. Es un lugar triste. Pero las montanas y el mar son muy hermosos.

Los edificios en Pisagua son muy antiguos. El pueblo es pobre y remoto. Los edificios son rotos. Pescadero es mas importante trabajo en Pisagua. Pero cada ano hay menos y menos mariscos en el mar cerca Pisagua. Es un problema grande para el pueblo. El pasado y el futuro de Pisagua son confundidos. A veces historia es muy difícil.

Después de Pisagua fuimos la tierra de la Batalla de Dolores, una batalla de la Guerra del Pacifico. Mucha sangre pierda en la guerra de Chile contra Perú y Bolivia. La guerra pegó para salitre en 1879-1884. Salitre fue muy importante en la historia del norte.

Antes de la llegada de los hombres de España en Chile, la historia del norte es más misteriosa. En el desierto del norte, hay muy geoglifos. El Gigante de Tarapacá es un geoglifo muy famoso. Es un geoglifo de un hombre gigante en un cerro en el medio del desierto. No saben cuando o por que el Gigante construyó. Es una cosa muy misteriosa y muy interesante. Visitamos el Gigante de Tarapacá después de Pisagua.

Entonces, fuimos Pintados, una zona de más que 300 geoglifos 40 kilómetros sur del pueblo Pozo Amonte en los cerros del desierto. Hay geoglifos de animales, personas, y otras cosas misteriosas. Caminamos abajo los cerros y miramos los geoglifos. Fue muy hermoso. Pensamos sobre la historia de la gente indígena en el pasado de Chile.

Nuestro viaje la próxima semana fue muy divertido. El desierto y el mar del norte son muy bonitos y la historia es increíble. Quiero aprender mas historia de Chile y quiero viajar más en el norte.

480 palabras

Tarea Ultima para Capítulos 5 & 6: (edit) Jeffrey Meyer

La semana pasada mi esposa, Emily, y yo fuimos en el viaje (DE VIAJE A) en Tarapacá (Región I). Nosotros arrendamos un auto en Iquique para (POR) tres días. Visitamos muchos lugares en Tarapacá. Por ejemplo, visitamos Santa Laura, Humberstone, Pisagua, Gigante de Tarapacá, Pintados, y Pica. La historia de Tarapacá es muy interesante. En el pasado, (EL) salitre fue la cosa más importante en la región. Pero ahora (EL) cobre es más importante en el norte. Después de (DEL) salitre, muchas cosas cambiaron en Tarapacá.

Ahora, nadie vive en Humberstone o Santa Laura. Pero, en el pasado ambos lugares fueron muy ocupados con (POR) muchas personas. Caminando en los lugares fue muy extraño. (NO HABIA NINGUNA PERSONA) No personas estuvieron. Solamente edificios vacíos, maquinas rotas, y el viento y sol del desierto. Sentimos las (LOS) fantasmas del pasado. Feliz y triste. Bueno y malo. Sentimos (FANTASMAS SIMILARES EN) similar fantasmas in (EN) Pisagua.

Ahora, Pisagua es muy tranquilo. Pero en el pasado Pisagua fue muy ocupado (HABÍA MUCHO MOVIMIENTO). Primero, Pisagua fue un puerto importante para (EL) salitre. Después de, Pisagua fue un (UNA) prisión político (puedes decir también “CAMPO DE CONCENTRACIÓN”) para (EN/DURANTE) el gobierno de Pinochet. El gobierno mató muchos prisioneros políticos en Pisagua. Fuimos (AL) el cementerio afuera del pueblo. El cementerio es arriba del mar (ESTÁ SOBRE EL MAR). Un monumento recuerda las gentes muertas. Es un lugar triste. Pero las montanas y el mar son muy hermosos.

Los edificios en Pisagua son muy antiguos. El pueblo es pobre y remoto. Los edificios (ESTÁN EN RUINAS) son rotos. Pescadero es mas importante trabajo en Pisagua. Pero cada ano hay menos y menos mariscos en el mar cerca Pisagua. Es un problema grande para el pueblo. El pasado y el futuro de Pisagua son confundidos. A veces historia es muy difícil.

Después de Pisagua fuimos la tierra de la Batalla de Dolores, una batalla de la Guerra del Pacifico. Mucha sangre pierda (PERDIDA) en la guerra de Chile contra Perú y Bolivia. La guerra pegó para ( What do you mean?) salitre en 1879-1884. Salitre fue muy importante en la historia del norte.

Antes de la llegada de los hombres de España en Chile, la historia del norte es más misteriosa. En el desierto del norte, hay muy geoglifos. El Gigante de Tarapacá es un geoglifo muy famoso. Es un geoglifo de un hombre gigante en un cerro en el medio del desierto. No saben cuando o por que el Gigante construyó. Es una cosa muy misteriosa y muy interesante. Visitamos el Gigante de Tarapacá después de Pisagua.

Entonces, fuimos Pintados, una zona de más que 300 geoglifos 40 kilómetros sur del pueblo Pozo Amonte en los cerros del desierto. Hay geoglifos de animales, personas, y otras cosas misteriosas. Caminamos abajo los cerros y miramos los geoglifos. Fue muy hermoso. Pensamos sobre la historia de la gente indígena en el pasado de Chile.

Nuestro viaje la próxima (SEMANA PASADA) semana fue muy divertido. El desierto y el mar del norte son muy bonitos y la historia es increíble. Quiero aprender mas historia de Chile y quiero viajar más en el norte.

480 palabras

Terremoto!

November 13, 2009

We experienced our first earthquake (terremoto, temblor) here in Chile last night just after midnight. Em and I were watching a movie (Sunshine Cleaning Service) on our computer in our room when the rumbling began. Slowly at first it built to a climax. We live on the second floor and it was definitely rocking and swaying, but nothing fell over or collapsed. It seemed to last 20 seconds. The electricity cut out. We grabbed our headlamps and conferred with our upstairs neighbors and everything was fine there. Then we headed downstairs to check things out. Mario and Kitxi were out, and the boys slept through the whole thing. We checked to make sure everything was intact downstairs. It was. No damage, just the electricity was out. The electricity was out for about 40 minutes. We went back to watching our movie on computer battery power. The quake measured 6.5 and triggered no tsunamis. Spurred by the shaking a local marching band hit the streets in the dark. They were probably disappointed when the lights came back on in the middle of their performance. If the house is a rockin’ don’t bother knockin’.

Below is the cut and pasted AP blurb on the quake:

SANTIAGO, Chile — A strong earthquake struck northern Chile early Friday, briefly knocking out power to a city but otherwise causing no major damages, authorities said.

The 6.5-magnitude quake’s epicenter was between the cities of Iquique and Arica, about 60 miles (95 kilometers) from each, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It hit just after midnight Friday local time (0305 GMT Friday; 10:05 p.m. Thursday EST).

Chile’s National Emergency Office put the quake’s magnitude at 5. It was unclear why the readings were different.

The office said the quake knocked out electricity in the city of Iquique but power was restored in minutes.

The quake had a relatively shallow depth of 6 miles (10 kilometers), according to the USGS.

Powerful earthquakes are common in the South American nation, which stretches along the quake-prone Pacific “Ring of Fire.”

Addendum: After several conversations about the earthquake, it seems there is a distinction between the words terremoto and temblor. Terremoto refers to a severe, disastrous earthquake (maybe over 7 on the Richter Scale) where houses collapse, people die, etc…Temblor refers to a more mild earthquake (under 7) which shakes the earth but does not really cause any damage or disaster. Akin to earthquake vs. trembler in English. But a 6.5 is an earthquake in English! So, I will stick with my more dramatic Terremoto! headline. Besides, I like the sound of that word better. It sounds stronger and vaguely Japanese.

Salar de Coposa y Salar de Huasco

November 12, 2009
 

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Salar de Coposa

Travel Dates: November 5-7, 2009

With the teacher strike dragging on into its third week, our free time continues unabated. We took advantage of some of it last week by once again renting the car we rented the previous week. They delivered the car to our house at 1:00 pm on Thursday. It was ours for the next 48 hours (32,000 pesos). We loaded up, stopped by Lider for supplies, and hit the roads of Tarapaca, gassing up in Alto Hospicio. Our destinations this time were the Altiplano salt flat lagoons of Salar de Coposa and Salar de Huasco.

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Mirador de Salar de Huasco

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Sal

From Pozo Almonte we headed east towards the Andes. Several kilometers east of Pozo Almonte, the paved road splits: Mamina to the left and the lagoons of the Altiplano to the right. We headed to the right. The road headed through the Atacama and soon began climbing steeply through the pre-cordillera up to the Altiplano and the big vacant. There is nothing along the road for a 100 plus kilometers, until you reach the end of the paved segment at the Carabinero/Border Control station just past Salar de Coposa. Just beyond the station, lies the behemoth copper mine of Collahuasi. The whole reason the road is paved to this remote location in the first place. The mine seems to control this whole area. A sort of nation within a nation. Guardians, users, and abusers of the abundant nature including the lagoons which they draw water out of, to the detriment of the shrinking lagoons and the birds that depend on them. 98% of the traffic on the road was mine traffic. Lots of semis hauling supplies up the long grades, buses filled with miners heading to and from work, and company pick up trucks with their long CB antennas. We were pretty much the only passenger car climbing the switchbacks and long grades. Not many tourists make it out this way.

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Pre-cordillera dunes

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Caminando en las arenas

 We took the road just past Salar de Coposa and turned around at the control station, gathering wood from along side the road for a fire later. We pulled back into the overlook of Salar de Coposa and enjoyed the sunset and alpine glow on the lagoons, salt flats, and Bolivian/Chilean Andean border. The wind was howling in its usual high elevation afternoon manner. Salar de Coposa sits at around 3,700 meters. The night would be a cold one, but the wind would die down after sunset. We pulled back up the road a kilometer, next to a seasonal refugio used by llama herders. We tucked the car in next to a stone wall and set up a fire pit nearby at the angle of two walls mostly out of the wind. As the temperature dropped, we fed the fire and enjoyed the stars and sounds of flamingos and other Altiplano birds out in the shallow lagoons. When we ran out of wood, we sat by the coals gathering warmth for a frosty night sleeping in the car.

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Toasty

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Flames

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Auto Frio

We awoke with the sun burning through the windshield frost. We warmed our chilly bones with an hour and a half walk out in the lagoon laced flats, filled with flamingos and an array of other birds and backed by the Andes. After our morning walk and brunch, we headed back down the road towards Salar de Huasco, which sits about 10 km off the main paved road down a winding washboarded gravel road. Along the way, we saw one other vehicle. It was speeding towards us. It was the Carabineros. They stopped next to us and motioned that they wanted to talk. After greetings, they asked us where we were from, where we were going, and to show them our passports. We obliged, handing over our passports and Carnet (Chilean Identification Card) to them. We passed inspection with flying colors and they bid us a fond farewell before racing off again in the opposite direction. We continued on our way, and dropped down steep switchbacks to the flats of Salar de Huasco, where we would spend the rest of the day. Salar de Huasco sits around 4,000 meters. We pulled into a flat spot along the flats and roamed the edge of the big lagoon, filled with flamingos roaming and feeding in the shallow water, occasionally taking to the wing framed by the Andes beyond. After a nice walk, we retired to the car for a mid-day nap out of the intense Altiplano sun and then enjoyed another long llama and flamingo filled walk around sunset.

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Flamencos de Salar de Huasco

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Salar de Huasco creek

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Mujer de Sal

Another frosty night was spent around a roaring fire and then cuddled against the cold in the car. Once again, we awoke with the sun burning through the thickly frosted windows inside. Our toes were cold after the chilly night and we warmed up with the heat cranked as we hit the road back to Iquique, dropping out of the Altiplano, through the pre-cordillera and the desert flats, and ultimately down to the Pacific. Along the way, we stopped to roam some pre-cordillera sand dunes. We dropped the car back off at the rental office at 1 pm after unloading and decompressing a bit at home. After dropping off the car, we spent a nice day relaxing at home before heading out for a great Iquique volunteer party on the party patio on the 20th floor of David and Cushla’s apartment building into the wee hours of the morning. Iquique is much more pristine from 20 floors up, like looking at the world through rose tinted glasses.

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Calles de Iquique

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Vista de 20 piso

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Mar de Iquique

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Voluntarios y amigos de Iquique

 

Monumentos al Pasado

November 9, 2009
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Running from history

Travel Dates: October 30-31, 2009

After a farewell swim and Frisbee session at Playa Seis, we jumped back in our rental car and climbed the switchbacks out of Pisagua into the open desert. Once we hooked back up with the Pan-American, we headed south. Our first stop was at a War of the Pacific battlefield, The Battle of Dolores. The memorial sits 3 km west of the Pan-American among groves of tamarugo and adobe ruins, commemorating the November 19, 1879 Chilean victory over Peru/Bolivia in the Tarapaca campaign.

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Gigante de Tarapaca

Our next stop was the biggest archaeological representation of a human in the world, El Gigante de Tarapaca (Atacama). The 86 meter tall El Gigante reclines on the west slope of Cerro Unita, a small hill in the middle of flat sprawling desert, 14 km off the Pan-American east of the town of Huara. Archaeologists believe the geoglyph dates from around 900 A.D and think it represents a powerful shaman, a mysterious monument baking in the sun and overlooking the sprawling Atacama below. Quoting the Lonely Planet: “Its skinny limbs are spread wide, and it clutches what seems to be an arrowhead in one hand and a medicine bag in the other. Its open mouth and owl-like head, topped by vertical rays (and horizontal lines only visible from above), give it the perpetual appearance of hair-raising shock.” The details of the Giant are most clearly seen from above. Begging the question: Who was flying around spying it from above in 900 A.D? One of many unanswered mysteries. Without access to a flying machine, we contented ourselves with the view of the Giant from below.

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Em, our car, and the Atacama below El Gigante

The Atacama is filled with geoglyphs, most of their meanings are mysterious. There is a huge cluster of geoglyphs at Pintados, 45 kilometers south of Pozo Almonte. The geoglyphs of Pintados are within the Reserva Nacional Pampa del Tamarugal and administered by CONAF (Corporacion Nacional Forestal ). After communing with El Gigante, we returned to the Pan-American and headed south towards Pintados. We stopped in Pozo Almonte to pick up some supplies on the way. At Pintados, 355 geoglyphs line the desert hills that sit overlooking a long, wide salt flat, Salar de Pintados. The geoglyphs include geometrical designs, human depictions, and animal depictions. To quote the Lonely Planet once again: “These enigmatic geoglyphs are thought to have served as signposts to nomadic peoples: marking the trade routes and meeting points, indicating the presence of water, identifying ethnic groups and expressing religious meaning. Most date from between AD 500 and AD 1450.” We spent two hours roaming the site and taking in all the intricate geoglyphs on the hills, pondering how, who, and why they were built.

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Geoglyphs de Pintados

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Em and adobe wall at Pintados

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Looking down on Salar de Pintado

After Pintados, we headed east to the town of Pica for a nighttime swim under a big moon at Cocha Resbaladero. Following our swim, we headed back to the west, out of the green oasis of Pica and across bleak Atacama flats to hook back up with the Pan-American. We headed north on the Pan-American for 20 kilometers until we reached the roadside CONAF campground in Reserva Nacional Pampa del Tamarugal. The campground was deserted and we had it all to ourselves. It looked like it had recently been undergoing improvements to spruce it up. The sites were nice and big and cordoned off from each other in little compounds enclosed by combination stone walls and wood fences. Most of the sites included a nice tamarugo tree with a picnic table nestled underneath. We chose an end site and settled in, enjoying the rest of the night star and moon gazing amidst the tamarugos.

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Mas geoglifos de Pintados

We were up early the next morning and on the road back to Iquique. We had to return the rental car at noon. We rolled back into Iquique at 9:30 am. With plenty of time to spare, we decided to visit Monumento al Marinero Desconcido (Monument to the Unknown Sailor) that sits along the coast to the north of town. It commemorates the May 21, 1879 War of the Pacific Battle of Iquique between Chile and Peru. The legendary Chilean ship, Esmeralda, captained by national hero Arturo Prat, which had plagued the Peruvian navy during the war with numerous heroics and naval victories, was finally sunk by the Peruvian monitor Huascar. After a prolonged battle, at 12:10pm, the Huascar finally scored the death blow. The iron clad behemoth rammed the wooden Esmeralda broadside and sent it to the bottom of the ocean. Captain Arturo Pratt famously rallied his troops to fight to the death and lept onto the deck of the Huascar wielding his sword. He fell dead on the deck of the Huascar and moved into the history books as one of Chile’s most treasured military heroes. His name spreads across Iquique: Avenue Arturo Prat, Plaza Prat, Universidad de Arturo Prat, etc….. and across Chile. His face graces the 10,000 peso note, and May 21 is a national holiday to commemorate Arturo and his men and their heroics in Iquique. The Esmeralda still sits on the ocean floor in the bay offshore of the monument. Its resting place is marked by a patriotic red, white, and blue buoy in the sea. A couple months ago, we took a harbor tour on a boat that took us out and around the buoy marking the heroic event. An upcoming movie focusing on the heroics of Arturo Prat and his final day was recently shot in Iquique. It included a re-creation of the battle with scaled replicas. The replica Esmeralda, like the real one, was sent to the bottom of the ocean, rammed by the replica 1/3 scale Huascar, which still sits anchored in Iquique’s harbor. There are plans in the works to build an Esmeralda replica for Iquique’s harbor. The real Huascar, captured by the Chileans later in the war, now sits in the harbor of Chile’s main naval base in Talcahuano in central Chile as a museum ship.

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Em and Esmeralda buoy

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Fruits of victory: looking south towards Iquique

May 21, 1879 was not a total loss for the Chileans. The battle was two pronged: Esmeralda vs. Huascar, with the Huascar emerging victorious; and the Chilean fishing boat Covadonga versus the Peruvian frigate Independencia. The Covadonga emerged victorious in that battle. After a prolonged running battle, the Covadonga sunk the Independencia south of Iquique at Punta Gruesa, salvaging some of the day for the Chilean side against all odds. We sat on the cliff top memorial overlooking the sea contemplating naval heroics of the past and the denizens of Davy Jones Locker. Then, we made our way back through town to drop our stuff off at home before returning the rental car after a great 72 hours plying the roads and history of Tarapaca.

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Huascar 1/3 scale replica

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Monumento al Marino Desconcido

Pisagua

November 4, 2009
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Ghosts of the Past

In Pisagua, the ghosts of the past linger, filled with upheaval and violence, even more profoundly than in Humberstone and Santa Laura. The lonely and little traveled road to the Pisagua coast breaks off the Pan-American about 70 km north of Humberstone. The town lies 40 kilometers to the east, precariously perched on the edge of the world hoping against hope that the next inevitable tsunami never comes and washes it into the void. Once we pulled off the Pan-American, we didn’t see another soul until we pulled into Pisagua. The road rolls through the desert dropping thousands of feet to the sea, the last of it switchbacks very steeply and suddenly into town. We rolled out of the desert sun and into the signature high seaside fog of the northern coast that builds up against the steep escarpment of the coastal range. We pulled into town around 7:30 p.m. and found the sea side campground, set among the ruins of the old fish processing plant, on the northern edge of town. Like much of the town, it was deserted. We pulled into a seaside foundation of a disappeared building, parking amidst wall-less, roof-less pillars. We would be camping out of our car the next three nights. Tentless, the rental car would act as our tent.

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Our rolling tent in Pisagua

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Downtown Pisagua

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Torre Reloj

Pisagua’s history is a troublesome one. The original site of the settlement (Pisagua Vieja), around the northern headland topping its current bay, was founded in the 1500`s as a small Spanish/Chango port. Pisagua Vieja is now nothing more than adobe ruins sitting above a mile long, beautiful beach at the mouth of Tilliviche Gorge. We camped next to the ruins on our second night, enjoying a beautiful fire under the moonlit clouds, looking down on the sea. A long line of driftwood down on the beach washed in during winter storms, far from the usual high tide line, provided our fuel. The ghosts of the past provided our companions. By the 1800’s, the settlement of Pisagua moved around the headland to the south to take advantage of the more protected bay there. It soon prospered as one of the major ports for the nitrate boom. The railroad connected Pisagua to the nitrate mines in the interior. The railroad brought the goods to Pisagua to be shipped around the world. Pisagua flourished. But then the nitrate bust came. The relic buildings of the nitrate boom slowly decay in the aimless Pisagua of today.

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Em at Pisagua Vieja

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Me at Pisagua Vieja

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Em looks down on Pisagua Nueva

After the nitrate bust, Pisagua was reinvented as a site for political prisoners. Its remote location on the edge of the world made it perfect for incarceration: the Pacific on one side, the unforgiving Atacama Desert on the other. Pisagua was used to incarcerate political prisoners by several administrations, but it was under Pinochet that Pisagua would gain its true notoriety. In 1990, long suspected unmarked mass graves were found in the cemetery just north of town. It held bodies with hands bound and bullet wounds to the head, long missing northern leftists rounded up after Pinochet’s September 11, 1973 coup. After a morning swim at the campground’s Playa Seis, we made a pilgrimage to the site. The cemetery is a haunting place. It sits on a ledge above the sea. Assassinations hidden among the dead of centuries, the unmarked hidden among the marked. Lines of wooden crosses perched between brown desert mountains and the blue ocean. The now open pit of the big unmarked grave and the memorial to its victims sits at the far end of the cemetery. We paid our respects and then followed the mile and a half trail around the headland from the cemetery to Pisagua Vieja. The trail led us up and around the headland, sea churning against the cliffs below as the lobos del mar dove for fish. We came out at the ruins of Pisagua Vieja overlooking the long beach below. We sat among the ruins contemplating history before walking back to the cemetery and the car.

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Pinochet's Legacy

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Nunca Mas!

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Wooden crosses

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Broken casket

We took the road back over to Pisagua Vieja. After a picnic lunch, and a wonderful nap, we spent hours on the beach: swim, Frisbee, and walk. We came back loaded with firewood ready for a peaceful, contemplative night listening to surf and birds below. That night, sitting on an adobe wall under the moon over a crackling fire and a sprawling wild beach, ranks among my favorite moments in Chile to date. After another restful night in the car, we awoke and followed the winding dirt road along precipitous paths back to the main road above town. We dropped back down the main road to town, stopping first at the blue and white clock tower, dating from the nitrate era, which overlooks the town. Then we parked in front of the old train station, which has been stripped of much of its wood by scavengers over the years. A lot of the nitrate era buildings in town have suffered a similar fate. We roamed through the town looking at the past. Not much happens there in the present.

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Costa Remota

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Contemplating the sea

Pisagua is home to around 250 people today. Besides a few carabineros and naval men, most of the population are fishermen. Their main prey are mariscos (shellfish), especially loco, a kind of abalone. Small boats with two or three men crew fish for their prey. One dives, fed by an air hose powered by a compressor in the boat, and one stays in the boat to stabilize it and keep watch on everything above water. The town’s only livelihood is suffering as shellfish stocks dwindle. Government dreams to transform Pisagua’s economy to tourism based have never come to fruition and by the look of the deteriorating town and the unmotivated look of the locals for such a future, never will. In the US, the dramatic setting of Pisagua would be a tourist mecca, but in Chile I don’t see it ever happening. Its remoteness, which would be a plus and big draw in the States, works against it here. It will remain an off the beaten path gem to be polished by the individual and appreciated for where and what it is and what it was: perched on the edge of the world locked in a troubled historical whirlpool shaded by the politics of time. To be continued on the trail of Geoglyphs…

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Memorial to the disappeared

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Looking up Tilliviche Gorge

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Pescaderos