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Antofagasta

Written on: Sunday January 13th, 2008

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: Antofagasta, Chile 

Author: Julie 

Hola! 

We left on the 8 AM bus to Calama with hope that we could find either a bus to Antofagsta or a direct bus to La Serena further south. An hour and half later we arrived at the small copper mining city of Calama. It is known for its proximity to the open copper mine Chuquicamata, located to the north which is 4.5 km long, 3.5 km wide and 85 meters deep. Annually 630,000 tons of copper is extracted and exported, making Chile the world?s largest copper exporter. China?s insatiable demand for copper in the past few years has made the copper reach its highest price historically which in turn has helped Chile become the richest country in South America as well as helping the north of Chile become more prosperous. Supposedly you can see the large smokestacks of the mine from the highway but we slept most of the way and missed the polluted spectacle. It is in this location that Che Guevara, during his tour of South America on a motorcycle, met a communist miner who marked a turn in his political views and subsequently led him to become a revolutionist for the freedom from Spanish domination. 

At the bus station, we discovered that each bus company had their own station and this one only ran trips between Calama and San Pedro de Atacama so we had to find another company that headed south. We walked around for a while assuming all the best companies would be located in the same area till we talked to a local asking for directions. Turns out the bus company we were looking was located 8 blocks east of where we were. After winding left and right through the quiet empty streets we finally found the office. All the tickets to La Serena were sold out for the next couple of days but there were still seats to Antofagasta. We bought our tickets with the assumption the bus would pick us up there but the teller informed us that the pick-up would be done at the ?Mol? across town. We had to ask a few times to know what ?Mol? was till it was deciphered as Mall. There was a mall in Calama! With sparse directions, we once again put on our heavy backpacks and headed in the general direction given. We finally found the Calama City Mall. Here was the monument to mass consumerism we never expected to find in South America in all its glory. Most of the shops were closed but we were hoping the food court would have a few early morning fast food stalls open but they don?t seem to have an equivalent to Tim Horton?s in this country. Luckily, we?ve learned our lesson to always travel with snacks so we had some nuts and apples with us and Kevin was able to find a place that sold drinks. We sat outside at the designated bus pick-up and waited for our bus. A few from other companies passed by till ours finally came. It was a double-decker with fully reclining luxury seats on the bottom and semi-reclining leather seats on top. We got comfortable for the three hour drive through the world?s driest desert and fell asleep. The Atacama Desert is the driest non-Arctic place on Earth, and is virtually sterile because it is blocked from moisture on both sides by the Andes mountains and by the Chilean Coast Range. The average rainfall in the Chilean region of Antofagasta is just 1 mm per year. Some weather stations in the Atacama have never received rain. 

We awoke to find ourselves in a dry, yellow moonscape-ish landscape with the occasional ravine but mostly flat, never-ending ground. We entered one of the ravines and began a very long downhill as we approached Antofagasta. One moment all we could see was the desert and the next was a vivid blue view of the Pacific Ocean before us. We had arrived. One of the interesting sights was a large storage area for the Antofagasta port, thousands of sea containers were waiting as well as row upon row of copper sheeting waiting to be loaded and shipped around the world. By this time, I had begun a chest cold that had me coughing and blowing my nose, so as much as I was excited all I wanted was a bed to lay my head down for the remainder of the day. At the bus station, we asked a taxi driver to take us to a hostel recommended in our guide book but he just laughed and informed us that it was around the corner. We quickly checked in and I crashed for the remainder of the day. Kevin on the other hand was hungry and a little bored so he walked around the area for a while. He came back a couple hours later excited and with food for me to eat. He had found a McDonald?s on a nicely cobbled pedestrian street not far from us. Chile was so different from the previous countries we had visited, it had so many modern conveniences that we hadn?t seen in months: the fast food restaurants, the clothing stores, prices were indicated, no haggling, clean streets, recycling bins, etc. 

The next day, with the help of a Dayquil I felt good enough to walk around the town for while so Kevin gave me a tour of the neighbourhood he had discovered the day before then we headed towards the ocean. After months of being in the cold, damp Andean mountains it was a nice change to be in hot weather with a blue ocean winking at us. We walked to the main plaza with its huge bougainvillea bushes artfully decorating the benches, large modern design fountains and a large monument in the middle dedicated to the British who had a presence in the city in the 1800s. 

Our walk took us to a nice pedestrian walkway along the shore which was linked to another mall. It was similar to the one we had seen in Calama but all the stores were open at this hour including the food court. We walked around for a while comparing their stores to ours in Canada and realising that they had many of the same name brands as well as a few really nice local ones, but at about half the price we paid at home. Kevin hadn?t packed a pair of swim shorts so we stopped at a sports store and bought a pair. We then stopped at the food court and I got a large beef sandwich smothered with cheese, avocado and mayo and a beer from a German sandwich stall. They actually serve beer in the food court, so cool. Other options would have been completo hotdogs with avocado, mayo, sauerkraut, and ketchup or Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Chinese food, and a couple of ice cream shops.  Kevin got himself another hit from McDonald?s to satisfy his cravings. 

We could see the pedestrian walkway outside of the food court so we walked out to admire the ocean views and to walk to the pier. We could see a lighthouse but it was fenced off to pedestrians. To the left was another port for the city with large container ships being loaded and off-loaded with names from around the world. We watched the cranes for a while, admiring the skilfulness of the operator in precisely placing each container on top of one another, waiting for someone on the boat to weld them together so as not to topple over in bad seas. 

We had all day in Antofagasta and there wasn?t much to see as tourists, so we inquired at the movie theatre if they had an English matinees playing. There was one movie called Agent 47 so we bought tickets and spent the next couple of hours watching the latest action flick based on a comic book character. Afterwards, we had supper at the food court again (cheap food compared to restaurants) and headed back to the hotel. I was tired and my medication was wearing off. We had a bus the next day to La Serena so I didn?t want to be too sick to take it.