Antofagasta & Coquimbo, Chile
Long time, no see. Before getting into today’s subject, I wanted to correct my description of Mollendo, which I derided the other day as an ordinary Peruvian town. I have since learned that it is a seaport (once an important one) & one of the top resort towns in southern Peru. Rich folks from Arequipa have beach homes here and there is a castle, which is now apparently owned by the Catholic Church. We (obviously) didn’t see any of that, but then we didn’t stay very long because I was still feeling pretty sick then (much better now, thank you).
Anyway, on Saturday, January 21, we docked at Antofagasta, our first stop in Chile.
As you can see from the mountains this is still on the edge of the Atacama desert. There is a town not too far away called Calama that has never recorded a drop of rain. In the late 19th century Chile fought a war with Peru & Bolivia over this area, with the result that Chile has sovereignty here but Bolivia (which has no coast) is guaranteed a trading outlet at ports in northern Chile, including Antofagasta & Arica. Chileans & Peruvians don’t like each other very much to this day.
This is important because in this area of Bolivia is a place called Potosi, which was basically a volcanic mountain of silver. While most silver ore has less than 5% silver, the ore at Potosi had more than 50%. Nearby was another mountain full of mercury, which is used to extract silver from ore. The Spaniards, true to form, basically enslaved the local Indians & forced them to labor in the mines, most of them dying quite quickly. We were told that in some of the Indian graves from that era, when the bodies decomposed what was left was a pool of Mercury beneath the skeleton. Anyway, Potosi accounted for about half of all the Spanish silver exported from America in the 16th & 17th centuries, which basically doubled the money supply in Europe (and also, incidentally, in China where the Spaniards traded it in Manila for porcelain & silk) & apparently also paid for the Hundred Years War.
After the wonders of Peru, Antofagasta was really not a very interesting city. Here is Mary in the Plaza Colon (Spanish for Columbus) with the dome of the Regional Library in the background. There was also a fountain and a clock tower. The clock tower was contributed by the British community here & is said to be a miniature copy of Big Ben in London, but really looks nothing like it (it does have 4 clock faces).
We noticed quite a lot of dogs lying around the streets, some with collars some not, some looking mangy and some not. Also, I think this is a statue of Ferdinand & Isabella, although it wasn’t labeled. It is at the edge of Plaza Colon, on Avenida Jorge Washington.
Here we are leaving Antofagasta where a small lighthouse sits at the harbor entry, occupied by lots of birds, mostly pelicans.
After a sea day we docked in Coquimbo, Chile, on Monday, January 23. Coquimbo & its sister city La Serena are resort towns on a beautiful bay.
Coquimbo is built on the steep hills surrounding its harbor. On top of the hill where the ship was docked is a huge & very ugly building called the Millennial Cross. Built in 2000, as the name indicates, it memorializes the Pope’s visit to South America. You can go up & look out the windows (we didn’t). The other major landmark in town is, weirdly, a mosque on a hill. We are told that this does not represent a Muslim community in Coquimbo, but was built primarily as a tourist attraction. We’re not sure whether this is true but speaking as tourists it doesn’t do much for us.
The hills are so steep that the sidewalks look like Lombard Street in San Francisco.
They must not get many cruise ships in Coquimbo; they sent out a band to greet us in the morning (way too early) & to send us off in the evening. Not the world’s greatest band, but it was a nice gesture.
We took a van with a few other people for a personal tour. He took us to a spot called Drake’s Castle, where Sir Francis Drake supposedly built an encampment while pirating Spanish ships along the west coast of the Americas. We believe he camped here, but we don’t necessarily believe he built the castle-like structures. However, its a lovely spot, with rock formations, beautiful flowers & bay views, & a rock full of sea lions. I guess in some circumstances people will pay just about anything for a bathroom (it’s really about $.50).
We then drove around the bay to La Serena, a beach resort. We stopped at a wimpy lighthouse on the beach then drove up a hill to visit an old fort (still run by the army) built, we were told, by Italians. We were told that a lot of Italians emigrated to this part of Chile at the end of WWII (while the Germans were going to Argentina, I guess), but this fort is a lot older than that. There was a pool with a marble sculpture brought from Italy & some nice Italian marble benches as well.
We went on from there to a shopping square,with artisans, souvenirs, barbers, hat stores, etc. We stopped at a grocery store, mainly to use the bathrooms. Here is Mary in the van with our friends Bing & Barb & a sign for parking for expectant mothers.
The shopping stop was a nice little square with a fountain in which kids played.
Lots of colorful items for sale, some artistic & some not so much.
And finally, for you towel animal fans, here are a couple more: