|Cunard Queen Victoria's Exotic Voyage 2018
Discovering South America Part 9
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Coquimbo is the port for La Serena and is in a natural harbour. On the hill above the port is the Third Millenium Cross, 93 metres tall and 40 metres wide. It was completed in 2001. It is considered the tallest monument in South America and the third tallest cross in the world. For comparison, Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janiero is only 38 metres tall but it is much older having been built in 1922. Cunard tours all drive to the top of the hill to visit, and for those with more time it is possible to climb to the first stage and then pay to go to the top by elevator. Engine problems outside the port meant we had and were late into Coquimbo.
Tours from Coquimbo went to La Serena, with its Spanish colonial architecture and restored old buildings, and many people took the public bus or taxi there. Our intention was to climb to the Third Millenium Cross and there were several zig-zag pedestrian footpaths from low level up to the top of the hill. . It must be really difficult to get shopping up to a house when access is by zig-zag and parking is limited. Looking down from the ship onto the Plaza in the Barrio Ingles there were interesting old buildings to be explored later. Initial exploration was along the coast, to the mirador, the fish restaurants and the trip boats waiting to make tours of the harbour. The green Parque O'Higgins should be a pleasant spot but it was closed. The recommended path up to the Cross was along Diego Portales at the south side of the park but it was more interesting to go towards the main square. The bus station was above the park and then it was not far to the Mercado. Having hoped to find local craft stalls and perhaps local food the Mercado was only a partial home to bars and restaurants. The original metal frame and the central glass dome was there, but it was half empty.
The central square, Plaza de Armas, was more interesting and had been restored in 2005 including the construction of a new monumental wall to the poets Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda. The Municipal Council building is on one side of the square and the Church of San Pedro, with the sanctuary of the Virgin Mary in the courtyard, on another side.
Continuing west the next square had a museum which was an unusual design, similar to an igloo with a tunnel and dome. It was the Domo Museo de Sitio Cultura Las Animas and had information about the indigenous peoples. There were modern painted scenes of interpretation of the past, flags of the region and some skeletons which were found on site and are displayed covered with glass. Another unusual building nearby was the Casa de la Cultura with its mural covering which is on the way to the Plaza Vicuna Mackenna. This was where merchandise was deposited waiting for it to be loaded or after being unloaded from the old dock when the waterfront was further inland. Land was reclaimed and the first Plaza Vicuna Mackenna square began in 1916 and had a cast iron fountain in the centre.
The restored area of the Barrio Ingles is described in detail in guide books and it is here. The first trading place and warehouse was built on the Aldunante in 1826 by Pablo Garriga y Martinez, a rich trader from Catalonia. Each important historical house has a small information plaque. It is possible to spend several hours exploring the street and admiring all the old houses, some of which have mannequins standing on their balconies. A selection of our pictures are here.
As the QV sailed away there was a view on a hill in the distance of the modern pink mosque, Centro Mohammed VI. It is a scale replica of the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech, inaugurated in 2007. Coquimbo is an interesting town for its unusual modern buildings and monuments and its efforts to restore its historical buildings. There is a positive migration from a working port to a town which has a recognised "quirkiness" and is also making a reputation for its nightlife in the Barrio Ingles. Unfortunately cruises rarely stay overnight in port to enjoy the local nightlife.
Arica is the town at the northernmost point of modern Chile and 12 miles from the border with Peru. It was founded in 1565 as part of Peru and was an important port for transporting the silver from the Bolivian mines to Spain. The War of the Pacific(1879-84) was sparked off by a dispute over control of the nitrate-rich beds of the northern Atacama Desert on the Pacific coast. It was fought between Chile and the joint forces of Bolivia and Peru. Chile was victorious and Bolivia lost its sea access leaving it landlocked, while Peru ceded substantial territory and endured widespread pillaging by the conquering Chilean forces. After the battle between Chilean and Peruvian forces in Arica in 1880, Arica became part of Chile. Disputes continued for many years between Peru and Chile and it was not until 1929 that Arica finally legally became part of Chile. Until 2005 both Peru and Chile claimed exclusive rights to produce pisco brandy; Peru won that battle.
The first glimpse of Arica from the ocean is of the "Morro de Arica" a hill fortification 110 metres high flying the Chilean flag. It can be reached by climbing from the town and the path is accessed from the Calle Colon which is behind the Cathedral of St Mark in the central Plaza Colon. It was early in the morning and the local craft stalls were unpacking in the Plaza Colon. The cathedral was open. It is an unusual Gothic-style church, designed by Alexander Gustave Eiffel and was pre-fabricated in Paris in the 1870s before being assembled in Arica. The building is made of stamped and moulded cast iron and has been restored recently. The bell on display inside is marked for casting in 1729. The cathedral is opposite the single storey Provincial Government building.
Walking along the Calle Colon there was the Casa Bolognes, formerly the Peruvian Consulate, and the Museo de Sitio Colon 10 which opened later. The climb to El Morro began at the end of Calle Colon and there is a well made path to the summit passing the viewpoint of the Virgin of Carmen. During the War of the Pacific a decisive battle was fought on 7 June 1880 between Chilean and Peruvian forces for control of the strategic vantage point of El Morro, a battle won by Chile. El Morro is now a national historic monument and from the summit there are panoramic views across the city, the port and coast, the fertile Azapa Valley and the surrounding hills. The top of El Morro has an organised interpretation path to visit guns, canons, the monument to the unknown soldier, and a small carmelite chapel beneath the statue of Christ of Peace. The statue symbolizes the peace between Chile and Peru and is 11 metres tall and 9.20 metres wide. It was designed by Raul Valdivieso and sculpted by Zemlika Valdivieso. It arrived from Madrid in 1987 and was placed on the Morro de Arica in 1999.
Having explored El Morro it was time to visit the Museo Historico y de Armas which commemorates the 1880 battle for Arica when Chile lost 453 men and Peru 2030. The museum was built in 1974 on the battlefield that it honours. The collection has 286 weapons, models, pieces of clothing, cannons and documents that were used by soldiers who participated in the War. Victory in the War of the Pacific was contingent on the command of the seas, and the Chilean fleet was considered superior to the Peruvian. The iron-clad Peruvian warship Huascar was pursued in 1879 by Chilean ships and captured. It was then repaired and used to attach Arica.
The Museo de Sitio at Colon 10 was open to see the excavated Chinchorro mummies which had been found in the sand under the floors of the house which was being converted into a hotel. The mummies have been left where they were found, with only a temporary building and thick glass flooring to protect them.
The maps showed a Mercado in the area, but only part of the building was in good condition with flower and fruit stalls. The Teatro Municipal in the next road was better - although it was closed we were allowed inside to go and look at the modern auditorium. The blue and white Government building next door was closed on Saturday. The next road was the Calle 21 de Mayo, the main street which was pedestrianised and lined with cafes, restaurants. banks. pharmacies and shops. There was a second Mercado, the Mercado Colon, but it was full of clothes and no food items. We heard later that the Department Store Paris had a supermarket in its basement but it was then too late.
The railway line from Arica to La Paz in Bolivia was built to enable coastal trade and the railway station was built in 1913. There is a locomotive on display at the front of the station. The other important historic building nearby is the Casa de la Cultura which was originally used as a customs house, hence its name Aduana. It was designed by Eiffel and fabricated in Paris and then assembled on site in 1874. The distinctive striped facade is being restored and it is closed. The interior is said to have a wooden ceiling, iron supports and an intricate wrought iron spiral staircase. The tour of the city was completed, and after browsing the craft stalls it was time to search for an icecream before going back to the ship. smiled as we consumed our fresh strawberries and large scoop icecreams in the shadow of El Morro.
The next part will continue at Lima, in Peru
|Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 28th March, 2018