Ghost towns (with no Health and safety- hurrah)

Trip Start Oct 18, 2012
Trip End Aug 27, 2013

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Flag of Chile  ,
Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Finally after many weeks we have reached the coast again. What a lovely sight the sea is after sand and dust and mud. We drove up the coast road all the way to Iquique. On the way we camped one night on a beach (shame about the litter) and slept to the sound of waves crashing on the rocks and Pelicans squawking- or whatever noise they make. Some areas of the beach were so white I thought it was the rock itself but it was Pelican pooh!

We had a bad introduction to Iquique as we got broken into whilst we popped into a shopping centre. We had got a bit complacent so it was our fault. Gerty was not badly damaged (just the window runner where they forced the window down- Peter ordered a new one from the UK so we had to wait its arrival by TNT, but we lost our camera and the emergency bag with the satellite phone. We managed to contact the phone company who deactivated it so it won't ever be usable- a little consolation. We spent the rest of the day buying a new camera. Next day we were still a bit upset so didn’t do much.

Just before leaving Iquique Peter went paragliding from the hill (1000m) behind the town and landed on the beach. It was unusual as he was able to fly over the city. Not sure why anyone would want to hang by a few strings and bit of cloth but it takes all sorts.

After this bit of excitement we drove to a ghost town called Humberstone (a town developed solely for the extraction of nitrates) which was abandoned in 1960. It started life as far back as 1862 extracting nitrates from the desert for use in fertilizers. Despite being abandoned the town is still in good condition with different buildings and workshops with large pieces of rusting machinery. The workers houses, theatre, school and plaza with bandstand were built by British investors in the 1930’s. The town was renamed in 1925 after its British manager James Humberstone who introduced the Shanks ore refining system to the industry (I have no idea what that is but it must have been important for the town to be renamed after him). We were allowed to wander around the whole site, no barriers no warning signs, no H&S at all and falling roof panels, holes in the ground and rusting machinery everwhere. It was quite refreshing and so unlike at home.

Interesting historical fact: Until the late 1800’s the northern desert area of Chile belonged to Bolivia and Peru. The rich nitrates of the area caught the attention of foreign powers including Britain and Germany. Chile was quite heavily involved in the mining of the nitrates but after Bolivia did something to upset them they went to war to get hold of the region. The so called War of the Pacific lasted from 1878 to 1883. Chile won and the area secured vast wealth for them until WW1 when Germany invented artificial nitrates. They did return a bit of land to Peru (nice of them) but none to Bolivia which became landlocked.

We drove onto a Geoglyph the Gigante of the Atacama. This square headed man is around 86 metres high, the biggest geoglyph in South America. No one seems sure when it was made. Peter said last year! You can’t take him anywhere. We camped nearby and watched a great sunset.

Next day we visited the once busy nitrate port Pisagua. Now it is little more than a small fishing town with a few old buildings (including an amazingly large theatre) that are evidence of its glorious past.

Just to finish the Nitrate theme we called in at a small hacienda and after negotiating a growling retriever and a bit of discussion with a very old and almost blind owner I got the key to the British Cemetery located on his land. It had about 20 beautiful graves of various Brits (and their wives and children) involved in the nitrate business in the 1800 and early 1900’s. James Humberstone is buried there with his wife and four children under the age of two.  

We headed up towards Arica and camped wild for 2 nights on a beach. Peter did a bit of maintenance on Gerty (replacing a hose that was leaking gearbox oil) and I tried to clean her of some of the sand and dust she has collected over the past few months.

In Arica we stayed in a hotel whilst waiting for the new window part to arrive from the UK. Arica has several interesting buildings in the Eiffel block; the church, a government building and the Customs office. Back in 1870 when Arica was part of Peru the president commissioned the firm of Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame) to design the buildings which were prefabricated in France and shipped to Peru.

In a small museum in Arica is a four thousand year old cemetery of the Chinchorro people. 48 skeletons were found. The Chinchorro people came from the north around 7000BC and settled in the region. They are better known for carrying out mummification of their dead from 5000BC (2000 years before it was practiced in Egypt) until 1500BC. They removed all internal organs and dried the insides with hot stones before stuffing them with straw and ash. The bones of the arms and legs were replaced by sticks and the whole body bound up with reeds. The face was covered in a paste sculptured with a nose and slits for eyes and mouth. A wig was made of human hair and attached to the skull. 
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Pat on

What an excitng time you are having. I loved the photos.
I'll have to go back and read all agaIn, its too much to take
in, in one go.

Dave and Sandra on

Sorry to hear about the break in, did you lose many pictures on the camera?
Thought the cemetery looked kind of sad but liked the iron work.
Are there lots of information points everywhere or have you got a large guide book on board?

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