Thoughts for Today
From the real world, sublime and challenging
Arica – symbols in the desert…pointing to Peru
Our last port of call in 9 days of travel along Chile is said to be ‘the driest inhabited place on earth’, Arica. There are rarely any clouds over Arica. The greatest difficulty being able to supply enough desalinated water to a place which is just 11 miles from the Peruvian border.
This was the day that we would journey into part of the Atacama Desert ‘the driest in the world’. The road we travelled from the city is called the Pan American highway. First we visited the Cathedral Church of St Marco, the only steel cathedral in the world and designed by Eiffel (as in Eiffel Tower) in 1875. The original was destroyed by earthquake and tidal wave in 1868.
On the way to the desert we saw little and large roadside memorials called ‘Animetas’. These were not the scene of tragic accidents, but family sites for anniversaries for families to pilgrimage.
The heat of the desert is hard to describe. The gentle breeze made it bearable at 40 degrees C. It was to be a day of ancient and modern. In this desolate spot were two sculptures: ‘Man and Woman in the Desert’. The man has hands on his hips, demonstrative of masculinity. They are by Piaz Fleming, a Chilean sculptor. They were erected in 1997 in the style of the ancient Chinchorro (the Fisher Folk) Culture going back to 7,000 BC.
Bizarrely a band appeared with five dancers. They were in blue and silver costumes and danced their ‘Sol Dancing’, going back to the times of slavery and oppression to the rowdy band of drums, cymbals and trumpeters.
It wasn’t the only bizarre happening of the day. By the barren roadside on a hillside was an enormous ‘geoglyph’ celebrating the 125th Anniversary of Coca Cola emblazoned in large white letters! The real geoglyphs going back to the 11th century were not far away, with the Atacama Giant (393 feet high) further into the Atacama Desert. The ones we saw were of Llama and dancing humans or apes? You decide!
The modern cultural museum, San Miguel de Azapa included a shady garden and open-air display of prehistoric art murals, wall tile ceramics and ancient pestle and mortars. Inside were the 7000 year old Chinchorro mummies of all ages. The people then didn’t live beyond 35-40 years due to ear and lung weaknesses caused by exposure to sea-water as fishermen. Also, the eating of raw fish brought new fatal infections to whole families.
This insight into an ancient culture through these archeological treasures was very moving. The most ancient of Bolivia, Peru and Chile are the Aymara people who were pre Inca. There are 2.3 million indigenous populations within those countries. They treat the Llama as heavenly and so the story goes that the Llama sips the water from the ocean and sprays the rain of heavenly urine upon the population - hence the llama Geoglyphs (which did not illustrate this phenomenon).
We say farewell to Chile, from the glaciers of the fjords to the hottest of places. Coming away we had a real insight into a troubled time; such diversity, extreme sights, sounds, flavours and beauty. Arica describes the diversity with its aridity and lush valleys for which the Arican city of 222,000 people is called the ‘City of Eternal Spring’.
Peru beckons with a day’s sailing to Paracas, Peru…
Edward and Jane