We spent January 20 in Antofagasta, a city of about 400,000 in northern Chile that looks a lot like Iquique from the ocean: sitting on a narrow shelf between barren mountains and the water. This is still the Atacama Desert; Antofagasta gets about 0.1 mm in annual rainfall making it the world’s driest city.
Antofagasta started life in 1869 as a Bolivian town, built primarily as a port for nitrate exports from the mines in the desert in the region. But that didn’t last very long because in the settlement of the War of the Pacific in the 1880’s the town was ceded to Chile. This left Bolivia landlocked, but the settlement provided that Bolivia would have free access to the ports of Antofagasta & Iquique for its exports. Not sure how that worked out, but to this day these two countries do not have diplomatic relations.
We visited here during our 2012 South American voyage, and you can see it here:
As you can tell if you look at that posting, we weren’t too impressed then with this port in the desert. Seven years later it was a little better, so they have made some progress, but still not a place to put on your bucket list. HAL’s location guide, Heather, told us (as if this made the stop exciting) that this is the first time since 2012 that they have visited this rarely visited city. Lucky us, hitting it both times.
We took the HAL shuttle to Plaza Colon, the central square of the old city. Presumably named for Christopher Columbus, this is a very nice & very green space. In the center is a clock tower contributed by the English community of the town. It is said to be a replica of Big Ben in London, but doesn’t really look like that to us.
It was Sunday morning, but the cathedral, on one side of the plaza, was open to visitors. It is modest as cathedrals go but pleasant. While we were there a dog walked in with a HAL tour group and sat down quietly in one of the back pews until they were ready to leave. He looked like he was a veteran of such occasions. There are quite a few loose dogs walking around in this city.
On the opposite side of the plaza was an old distinguished looking building that housed the post office and the regional library. It was Sunday, so the post office was closed, but surprisingly the library was open. It was a very nice library too, with many comfy looking chairs and skylights at the top of the high walls. Even the children’s room was open.
In 2012 we left the plaza toward the south, finding nothing but dusty streets and lazy packs of dogs. This time we turned north & walked to the old port, where they used to ship the nitrate. This was a much better choice. On the way we passed a couple of museums, closed on Sunday, and some nice flowers. At the small port were a few vendors (mostly closed) and a fish market.
The one accessible museum was the old railroad station which, we think used to connect Antofagasta with the Bolivian interior.
We walked back to Plaza Colon, where we found on the first corner an unlabeled monument that we think must be Ferdinand & Isabella. Makes sense on a plaza named for Christopher Columbus, right? At the lower left of the monument was a lion, but we aren’t sure what it was supposed to represent.
January 21 was a sea day, but there were a couple of events worth sharing. First there was a medals ceremony. HAL hands out (fake) copper, silver, gold & platinum medals for passengers who have spent certain total numbers of days at sea on HAL ships. We think this is pretty silly; after all, the only “accomplishment” being honored is being a particularly good customer of the company (not sour grapes, we have received two of them). But a lot of folks really like this and on this day our friends & tablemates Robert, Bill and Sharon were among those receiving medals. The ship’s penguin squadron looked really proud of their medals too.
The second notable event was the Filipino crew show. Most of the crew on HAL ships are Filipino and Indonesian; HAL has a crew training facility in Indonesia called the MS Jakarta where they learn their trade. The professional and friendly crew are one of HAL’s best calling cards for repeat customers. On every grand voyage each of these groups of crew members take time from their unbelievably busy schedules to rehearse & present a show of their national song and dance. They work very hard at this and it shows; the crew shows always attract a large and enthusiastic audience of passengers. Here are a few images from the Filipino crew show that was presented on this day.
So that is all for this episode. We leave you here with a couple of cantaloupe sculptures and a pair of bedtime towel animals.