Iquique and Arica

Claudio and I found a cheap residencial, only $8USD per person per room.  I needed my own room as I was still really sick .   My birthday passed with me in bed most of the day, though I did manage to go to a textile and weaving exhibit showing indigenous patterens from all over Chile and Peru.  Interestingly enough, the exhibit referred to kelim, a Turkish word for a particular flat weave pattern.  The designs were hauntingly similar as well between Turkish carpets and those from northern Chile, with the  same hands on hips goddess figures.  Trade?  Claudio bought me a rose and a stuffed animal for my birthday, which was a sweet gesture.

Iquique was once a beautiful town in the heyday of salt pitre export, a boom and bust economy.  When the bottom fell out of the market in the 1930s, the town did a swan dive, losing all its income in a matter of months.  There is a lovely theater which hosted internationally known opera singers and other stars in its heyday.  Iquique reminds me of a ghost town, the casonas from the guilded age crumbling to the ground.   It has a frenetic energy, as there is a huge import business here, since it is a free port.  As a result, huge cargo ships offload cars, TVs, and other high end consumer items.  There are a fair number of Chinese restaurants, a phenomenon I continued to see in Arica and Tacna, Peru.  The beach is rich in sealife and birds due to the Humboldt current, though it is sadly filled with trash and poverty.  Poor people live on or near the beach in makeshift huts and tents.

After struggling for too many days to get better, I pushed on to Arica with Claudio.  Prices are a bit more expensive here, a place to stay is $24USD to share a room.  There is a nice paseo peatonal, and some beautiful buildings, all left by the Peruvians (the aduana or customs building, and the lovely church, both designed by Eiffel of the same Eiffel tower in Paris).  The Chileans waited for Peru to rebuild Arica after the earthquake and tsunami of 1860 before invading and taking over all the lovely buildings.   Good war tactics.

I decided to stay a few extra days to have more time with Claudio.  I got a chance to go to the museum Zappa where a large number of the local mummies are housed.  The mummies are a local phenomenon.  Of the 300 dead that have been excavated, 47 percent were mummified.  The processes of mummification changed over time, but started over 6000 years ago.  Some used quite advanced techniques including removing organs and replacing them with sticks and other items.  They covered many of the dead`s faces with clay masks tinted with red and black pigment.  I also saw some mummies in another museum where they were left in situ.  There are different theories about their purpose.  Some were seen as ancestor guardians or protector spirits, and families would sleep with the mummies under the floor for protection.  Others were buried embracing one another, while others appeared randomly placed.  There were a large number of infant and child mummies, many covered with elaborate textile headdresses and with offerings of various objects nearby.
Saying goodbye to Claudio was really hard.  I had lost a molar chewing on toffee in Iquique and needed to cross into Peru to find a good and cheap dentist, as many Chilenos do.  So this was my motivation to press on, as well as the fact my return date was looming.  I cried most of the bus trip to Tacna, found a residencial, and went directly to the Hospital de la Solidaridad.  I found a very competent dentist who did a teeth cleaning and cemented my crown back in.  All went well.  I spent the next several days going to museums and learning more about the history of Tacna.  It turned out that the first liberation struggle against Spain occured in Tacna by a criole named Zela who worked for the government minting gold and silver coins, a specialty that was often self taught.  He led a revolt in 1811 and ended up being captured after 4 days and sent to a fortress prison in Panama, where he ended up dying after 4 years.  A sad story, but also an inspiration to many later Peruvian freedom struggles, which culminated in independence in 1821.

I also went to the home of a famous Peruvian historian from Tacna, Jorge Basadre Grohmann.  He was born in Tacna and later became a professor of history at the university of Lima.   He returned to Tacna as one of the leaders of the 1926 plebiscite, a vote to decide whether Tacna should continue to be under Chilean rule.  Herbert Hoover ended up playing referree as the 2 countries did not agree on the outcome.  He gave Arica to Chile and Tacna to Peru.  Anoter example of US meddling in the affairs of other countries, particularly in South America.  I went to a nice hotspring called Calientes, where I had to wait hours for a 30 minute tub of bath temperature water which did not have any sulfur or other minerals within it.  Surprising as it had been advertised differently.  I walked in the small town during the heat of the day searching for almuerzo, or lunch.  Because it was such a small town, the restaurants were all sold out and all I could aquuire was pastel de choclo, a sweet pastry made of corn.

I must say that the food in Peru is outstanding and far superior to that of Chile.  The flavors, freshness of the vegetables, stand out in contrast to the fried foods and doughy empanadas of Chile, which I tired of after 4 months.  I ate more than I wanted because the flavors were so good, and found a juice bar in the Mercardo Central where for 2.30 USD I could drink a litre of maracuya, mango, strawberry, pineapple, and orage juice, all freshly made.  I was in heaven.  I returned to the hospital for an ear cleaning, as I was unable to hear out of one ear for a few weeks.  It turns out I have an inner ear infection, so I am now on antibiotics trying to clear that up.  I waited a few days before  going to Arequipa as it is at 7450 feet, and harder on my ears.


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