After a couple of days there I headed into the Atacama desert for Pica. Pica is a Chilean town and commune in Tamarugal Province, Tarapacá Region. Situated in the inland of the Atacama Desert on an oasis, Pica is famous for its small and unusually acidic lemons. The town has a communal thermal spring with a surface temperature of 40 °C, which makes it a popular bath place in the middle of the desert.
My next stop was Antofagasta. Antofagasta is a port city in northern Chile, about 1,100 kilometers (700 mi) north of Santiago. It is the capital of Antofagasta Province and Antofagasta Region. According to the 2012 census, the city has a population of 345,420.
Formerly part of Bolivia, Antofagasta was captured by Chile in the War of the Pacific (1879-83), and the transfer of sovereignty was finalized in the 1904 Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the two countries.
The city of Antofagasta is closely linked to mining activity, being a major mining area of the country. The last decade has been a steady growth in the areas of construction, retail, hotel accommodations, population growth, and remarkable skyline development. Antofagasta has the highest GDP per capita of Chile, $37,000 USD per year.
About 100km northeast of Antofagasta I visited Chacabuco. Chacabuco is one of the many abandoned nitrate or "saltpeter" towns in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. Unlike most of the other ghost towns in the Atacama Desert, Chacabuco became a concentration camp during the Pinochet regime in 1973. To this day, it remains surrounded by approximately 98 lost land mines, left by the Chilean military when Chacabuco was used as a prison camp. While wandering around this ghost town for a couple of hours I was unaware of these lost land mines...all is well that ends well.
Founded in 1924 by the Lautaro Nitrate Company Ltd., Chacabuco soon fell into ruin as the nitrate mining boom in Chile came to an abrupt halt at the end of the 1930s. Synthetic nitrate had been invented in Germany at the turn of the 20th century and by the 1930s and 40s had severely crippled northern Chile's nitrate industry. What had accounted for virtually 50% of Chile's Gross National Product fell to almost zero within a few decades. A total of 170 nitrate towns were shut down throughout Chile's Atacama Desert, only one remains open today, María Elena, about 95 kilometers north of Chacabuco. Chacabuco shut its doors in 1938. As a town, it had only survived 14 years.
In 1971, president Salvador Allende declared Chacabuco a Historic Monument of Chile, at which point restoration began. But in 1973, after the military coup, Pinochet turned it into a concentration camp until the end of 1974. As a concentration camp, it held up to 1,800 prisoners many of whom were doctors, lawyers, artists, writers, professors and workers from all over Chile.
I am now in Pisco Elqui at the Cabañas El Tesoro de Elqui. This hotel is owned and operated by a German couple, Ina and Kluse, whom I met in Ecuador. Pisco Elqui is a Chilean village in the Elqui Valley, 107 km east from La Serena, at about 1,300 metres above sea level. This was the area where pisco was distilled in the early history of Chile. This area and the Elqui Valley in particular is a grape growing region with several pisco distilleries and local vineyards. This valley also has several international observatories. The valley has one of the clearest night skies of anywhere in the world. I toured a small observatory here last evening.
Photos taken in Iquique.
A desert fox poses for me.
Photos taken in the Elqui Valley.
Vineyards in the Elqui valley.
Some photos of the incredible colors of the Atacama.
The sculpture was constructed by the Chilean sculptor Mario Irarrázabal at an altitude of 1,100 meters above sea level. Irarrázabal used the human figure to express emotions like injustice, loneliness, sorrow and torture. Its exaggerated size is said to emphasize human vulnerability and helplessness. The work has a base of iron and concrete, and stands 11 metres (36 ft) tall. Funded by Corporación Pro Antofagasta, a local booster organization, the sculpture was inaugurated on March 28, 1992. It has since become a point of interest for tourists traveling Route 5, which forms part of the Pan-American Highway.
It is a right-of-passage for travelers to have their photo taken here.