02/09/2009 95 °F
February 6, 2009, Arica, Chile. Arica, the dryest city in the world. The average annual rainfall is measured at .03 inches. That doesn't mean it rains .03 inches every year; they can (and do) go 20 or more years without any rain, and then when it does, it can be a half inch. Despite the dry climate, agriculture abounds here. A couple of rivers travel through the valleys from the Andes Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Not much water actually reaches the Pacific as about all is siphoned off for irrigation and human consumption. Stark contrast exists between the green valleys and the surrounding mountains and hillsides. Off the valley floor, the ground is absolutely void of life. It appears as lifeless as the surface of the moon - no insects or animals, and absolutely no grass or any vegetation. The area has a long history. Museums display mummies and artifacts of over 8000 years in age. There was a civilization of the 1500 B.C. timeframe that drew pictures on the mountain sides, using dark rocks to create figures of llamas, people, birds, etc. These are call geoglyphs and appear to range in size from 10 yards to 100 yards or more. It is interesting that all these figures face to the direction of the Pacific. Letty and I took a custom tour (in an 8 passenger van) that began by going to the top of a huge hill next to the city; the view was phenomenal. We then went along the coast to the main inland road leading to Bolivia. After stopping at several scenic and touristy places along the way, we ended at a goat farm, where our driver and guide set up a snack table of fresh goat cheese, crackers, olives, roasted corn, and a few unrecognizable, but tasty, morsels. From there we travelled into the mountains, seeing many geoglyphs, crossing into the valley whose terminus is Arica. The mountain road was something else; narrow to where 2 vehicles would have difficulty passing, and no guard rails, and with cliffs dropping off to over a thousand feet at places. Letty kept her eyes closed mostly; I enjoyed the ride. In the next valley, we had lunch in a restaurant. Several tours groups were apparently coordinated to meet here at this time. The food was excellent, and we were treated to music from a local group, playing native instruments which can best be described a similar to guitars and wood instuments. A local women's group also entertained with traditional ethnic dances. We then went to see more geoglyphs. Arriving back in Arica, we went to the vegetable and fruit market of the city. The place was massive, more than a whole city block. The produce was the best we see anywhere in the world, fresh, ripe, and varied. And cheap; e.g. tomatoes were being sold for (converting from Chilean pesos) 15 cents a pound. We ended the tour in the city square, which is adjacent to the port harboring our ship. There were arts and crafts vendors there, making it nice for getting souvenirs. We were also treated to a local parade. This evening was the beginning of their Carnaval celebration. Bands and dance groups from Peru, Bolivia, and northern Chile paraded, all performing in their ethnic costumes. It was a great day in Arica, truly a unique place in the world. Back to the ship, to leave for our next port of call, Lima, Peru. Len.