Another sea day today gives me the time to write up our adventures of yesterday in Arica. This is a rather small town in the very northern part of Chile, only about 12 miles from the border with Peru. It is located in the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on Earth. The average rainfall in Arica is about 1/3 inch per year. They get their water from underground lakes in a nearby valley, or from a river flowing down from the Andes in a different valley. It is located in a free trade zone, so we expected good shopping and yes, found it. We also had wonderful weather too, with lots of sun and temps in the high 70’s. There is a high morro, or mountain cliff, hanging right over this area and over the port. Some people from the ship climbed up there, others took a taxi. We took pictures and skipped going up there, although everyone says there were great views.
After getting maps and info at the conveniently located Tourist Office, we headed towards the San Marcos church. This is a church made of iron and designed by Gustave Eiffel. It looks almost exactly like the Eiffel church we have seen in Mexico and the Eiffel post office in Saigon. It was moved here in the late 1700’s after an earthquake flattened all the other churches. There is also another Eiffel building here called The Aduana, or customs house. It not only is colorful on the outside but has some interesting exhibits inside. On the way to the church, we passed a beautiful plaza with fountains, trees and statues. We also had to walk through an area where many stalls had been set up with a wonderful variety of goods for sale; everything from jewelry, knitted items made from alpaca wool, woven fabrics from the Peru highlands, carved wooden items, pottery painted with unique patterns, toys, etc. Everyone did a lot of looking – and buying! We were surprised that the prices were not that much higher than we bought some of these items in 2001 when we were here.
We had heard about a place on the outskirts of town called the Poblado Artesanal, which basically means a village where arts and craft items are made and sold, so we took the local bus up there. By going this way, we got to see a lot of the residential parts of the town. The houses remind us a lot of what we see in Mexico. As the bus went through town and climbed higher on the hills, we could also see the desert on the outskirts. When we got up to the village, there were already a number of tour buses there. We sat in the restaurant and had a coke until they left, then we explored and shopped. Our original thought had been that handicrafts might be cheaper up there, away from the cruise ship area, but we were wrong. So we didn’t buy much there but it was fun to see it. There was also a replica of a small church from a nearby Indian village called Putre.
After we got off the bus back in the Centro, we stumbled across the local market where stalls sell things like meat, cheese, produce, and other necessities to local people. These usually have really good food at a low price so we went in and had a local beer and an empanada. As we sat there, we could see a great variety of delicious looking dishes being served to everyone else. We would have had some but the empanadas were enough considering we were eating on the ship later. There were several pedestrian streets with lots of small stores and also temporary stalls set up selling lots of great stuff, so we did some more looking. Then the guys went and got a haircut ($4) while I went to the internet ($1 an hour). Elaine, Carla and Diane bought some jewelry and tee shirts. Then we noticed that there were lots of chairs being set up along the street, some grandstands had been set up, and there was lots of activity on the streets. There were also people starting to wander around in costume. It turned out that the 4 day celebration of Carnival was beginning at 4 PM. So we had a quick bite to eat on the ship and then returned for the parade.
While we were waiting for things to start, there was a whole row of about 20 beauty queens from all over the area dressed in wonderfully colorful and flashy costumes and all posing together for the crowd to take pictures. They each had a sash stating where they were from. Then the parade started and there were about 6 groups of dancers, each with their own bands playing music. Most of these groups had 50 or 60 dancers who were people of all ages from these villages, all dressed alike in what we assumed was the costume unique to the village. The bands had a lot of drums and also guys playing fairly large wooden clarinet type instruments. Considering the heat, the dancers were very energetic and enthusiastic. We took tons of pictures and enjoyed everything thoroughly. They were gearing up to perform on the main street in front of the grandstands and judging platform when we all had to leave because our ship was sailing out at 6PM. There were lots of food stalls and carnival rides set up in the park, so we suspect that they were going to be partying well into the night.
We went back to the ship and ate and then had a fairly mediocre entertainment by a group called The Beatle Maniacs, who just imitate the Beatles. We would have much preferred staying for more of the Arica Carnival celebration!