Friday, September 30, 2005

Same Northern Chile, different man

The factory of Humberstone, a ghost town not far from Iquique


Crossing the border into , I found myself looking at a similar scenery and people, but with changed eyes and perspective. Arica was a short stop on the way to lovely Iquique, where I spent two nights and re-visited Humberstone crumbling houses. Later, taking a bus to Calama I found myself hitting the sleepy town of San Pedro around evening and starting the second part of my trip

Crossing into (and not for the last time…)
Even though most people don't stop in Tacna on their way to Iquique, I found myself stopping on my way as I knew that it was a bit too much driving for one day from Arequipa.
Tacna, expensive and lacking in serious hot water, was not a place I was happy to stay in, and except for a short stroll around the main plaza (a triangular, a not so common plaza in Peru) I found my self more reading and less walking or picture taking. The next day, first thing in the morning, I took a taxi back to the terminal where I was approached with numerous colectivos drivers, which offered a ride for Arica for a fee of 10 soles. I found some guy that was willing to go for less, but I found also that he was lacking any passengers and found myself waiting for nearly an hour till he assembled enough passengers to ride to the border.
Riding in an American automobile (all colectivos were like this, by the way, only god knows why) we quite fast to the Peruvian border checkpoint, which was a fast passage. On the other hand, the Chilean one was a slow process and for some reason the guy checking my passport was not able to part from it, and I was staring at him for at least five minutes, waiting for him to finish his examination (could not guess what kept him so busy with my passport, but I didn't even thought about asking…). Half an hour later I already could see the all familiar contour of the familiar front border city, all shrouded in the mist of early morning and grasping that six months have changed me tremendously, in a good and a bad way. I nodded with my head in comprehension of this reality, happy that I have changed and hoping that more will come.
Reaching Arica`s bus terminal, I quickly went to find an early departure for Iquique, another well known town in northern Chile. Luckily, I found a bus departing in 30 minutes and bought the ticket (actually, I thought first I had an hour and a half, only then the nice lady behind the counter reminded me that I should move the clock hands a hour forward, and actually found that have only a half an hour not more…).

Iquique & Humberstone, revisited
The bus to Iquique, was a nice way to see the northern frontier, with it`s vast valleys and deserts-like sceneries and eventually around 3 PM I found myself in mist shrouded Iquique. I went straight to the already familiar hospedaje I was staying last time with Stephan (6 months ago…amazing!), and the land lady showed me the way to the room while commenting that she remembers me from my last visit. I made some inquiries in regard to the Zofri shopping center, which is known for the tax-free prices, and made my way there by a taxi. Even though I was hoping for good prices of digital cameras, the kind I was looking for not only were out of stock, but also quite expensive. I wondered there a bit, and returned to the hostel for a good night.
The next day I planned on go and revisit Humberstone, the little ghost town that I had some toughening experience there (see and planned to take some nice shots, after loosing the film while shipping it to Israel (yeah, it was a miserable decision…).
Till the late afternoon I have passed the time relaxing and surfing the net, I found the bus that goes all the way to little oasis Pica, which on the way passes through Humberstone.
Going off on the main road, looking at the sign stating simply "Humberstone", I could already see myself there, six months ago, taking the shot of the sign so I would know where I took all the successive pictures…well, I thought, there is no need for this, as I will not forget this place for all my life. I marched on and entered the town`s entrance, after contributing 1000 pesos for the conversation of the site.
Well, as this town hasn't been changed for almost half a century, it didn't changed in six months. I, on the other hand, changed quite a bit, including my photography perspective, and even though I remembered some of the frozen frames I locked on the negative, I took different pictures, from different angles. That was a great way to feel the change I have been through, a small one, but still, a vibrant and very distinctive one. Another change was the amount of people on the site, around 6 in total, which were three times more than last time (it may sound not much, but in this kind of town you want to be alone to really feel the eerie atmosphere of the place). As I was already there, I didn't mind that too much, and went with my photography in great pace, capturing frame after frame and trying to relive the days six months ago.
Around 6 PM the sun was still visible over the horizon, and I did my way to the exit, hoping that this time I would have easier time to get back to Iquique . Well, it was, and after one and half hour I was already enjoying a dinner near the market place and reading a book.

San pedro, here I come!!!
Next morning, waking damn early (5 am) I took off before the birds even woke up and walked 15 minutes to the Tur Bus terminal, where I bought a ticket to Calama, a mining town an hour and half ride north of sleepy San Pedro de Atacama, where I knew Lee was waiting for me to show up after three weeks of separated traveling experience. I missed her quite a lot and here easy-going way of life. I admit that I also missed some company, as traveling alone was never an easy or a much enjoyable way of life for me.
The bus left the station right on the dot and we moved fast down the beach highway, with the Pacific giant waves splashing on the right and the sand hills rolling down from the left. It was a nice ride, even though, a long and tiring one. Around 2 PM I arrived at Calama, a boring, uninteresting and unattractive town, and had to wait there till 5:30 PM (!) to catch the bus to San Pedro. Well, I spent the time finishing a thriller I was reading since Huanchaco times (long, long time!!) and after taking in the twist at the end, I found myself on the bus waiting for the departure to San Pedro.
Leaving around quarter to 6 PM, the bus made it`s slow pace through the overwhelmed traffic lights of the streets of Calama, and quickly sped up the road down to edge of the famous Atacama desert, with a magnificent and wild sunset, with the desert flat plains on both sides and the low hills of the Andean range starting at us from afar. Amazing and scenic ride!
Finally, around 7:30 PM we came to a stop in front of the little cemetery of San Pedro , and coming down into the chilly air of this desert oasis, I was already approached by a guy offering hostel and a place to stay.
"No, thank you" I replied, knowing that I have a task now: FIND LEE!!!

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