Arica, Chile

Trip Start Dec 06, 2012
Trip End Dec 22, 2012

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Flag of Chile  ,
Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Greetings from Chile, my 101st country. I did a half-day tour of the Arica area today in the far northeastern corner of this long, skinny nation that takes up most of South America's Pacific coastline. I went on this tour after my 11-hour-long tour to Lauca National Park high up in the Andes Mountains was canceled due to a problem with Chilean immigration procedures that delayed disembarkation by 5.5 hours.

My "Chilean Altiplano & Lauca National Park" was supposed to depart at 6:30 this morning, shortly after Infinity arrived into the Port of Arica at 6:00. But the captain announced at 8 p.m. last night that there would be a delayed disembarkation.

In a letter delivered to passengers last night, Capt. Michael Sympouras wrote: “Chilean immigration officials have indicated that when the Celebrity Infinity arrives in Arica tomorrow, they will require a visual inspection and stamping of all passports, regardless of nationality. If this is the case, we will do everything we can to make the process as smooth and effortless as possible. However, due to this immigration process, and the large number of guests onboard, we anticipate that guests will not be able to leave the ship until approximately 3:00 p.m. This delay has the potential to disrupt the amount of time guests have in Arica, as well as some of our shore excursions.”

I went to the Shore Excursions Desk last night to check on the status of my tour, learning it had been canceled. I decided to rebook onto one of the four remaining available tours, the half-day “Arica City Tour & Geoglyphs.”

This morning I heard an announcement at 11:33 a.m. that the ship had been cleared to begin disembarkation. So the immigration delay ended up being 5.5 hours instead of the nine hours predicted in the captain’s letter. My new tour wasn’t meeting until 3:15 p.m., however, so I went back to bed until 2:15.

My new shore-excursion ticket hadn’t been delivered to my stateroom, only a notice that my original tour was canceled. I called to the Shore Excursions Desk and was told to ask for a handwritten ticket when I arrive to meet the tour group in the Celebrity Theater.

Ate lunch at the buffet and took some photos of Arica from the upper decks of Infinity. Looks like a nice sunny day. Put my backpack together in my cabin, then went down to the theater to procure my handwritten ticket. I was assigned to Group 16.

Disembarked Infinity and boarded the bus on the pier at 3:28. The bus departed at 3:36. We have a small group – just a dozen passengers. Our tour guide is named Paola.

Our first stop was El Morro de Arica, the 361-foot-tall rock that looms over the city, located a dozen miles south of the Chile/Peru border.

“This lofty headland was the site of a crucial battle in 1880, a year into the War of the Pacific, when the Chilean army assaulted and took El Morro from Peruvian forces in under an hour,” according to Lonely Planet.

In addition to an outstanding view overlooking Arica and the Pacific Ocean, El Morro contains the Museo Historico y de Armas del Morro de Arica, which details the Chilean victory in the War of the Pacific, resulting in expanded territory. We had only a few minutes to dart through the museum – but the descriptions were all in Spanish, so more time wouldn’t have done much good.

Brown is the dominant color when you look over Arica. It’s quickly apparent this area is a desert; the hills are all full of dark brown sand. There’s hardly any trees. It was windy and dusty atop El Morro.

We left the hilltop at 4:32. I’ve got a great seat on the bus at the right window of Row 1. Our next stop was at 4:47 for a short walking tour of downtown Arica. We strolled through an outdoor market at Colon Plaza and then saw Catedral San Marcos, a church designed by Parisian engineer Alexandre Eiffel before his famous tower was constructed; the Governor’s House; and the Ex-Aduana de Arica (Old Customs House of Arica), also designed by Eiffel. The building now serves as the Casa de la Cultura de Arica (Arica Culture House).

Arica was founded in 1570 as a port for the shipping of precious silver and valuable ores that were mined in the surrounding area. It remains today a major port for land-locked neighbor Bolivia. The surrounding desert is one of the driest spots on Earth. The region is believed to have been first inhabited by a people known as the Chinchorros, best known for their practice of mummification. Today it’s population is about 185,000.

We reboarded the tour bus and departed downtown at 5:20 en route to the Poblado Artesanal, a handicraft village on the outskirts of Arica. Founded in 1979, it is a replica of the Andean village of Parinacota (elevation 14,400 feet). There are 11 workshops where artisans make and sell their products. I browsed the shops but didn’t see anything of interest to buy. In the “village square,” costumed young people were dancing to Chilean folk music and free mango sour cocktails were offered. Tasty and strong!

Departed Poblado Artesanal at 6:11 and drove 10 minutes outside of Arica to the geoglyphs. We passed a sign indicating the road distance to Santiago is 2,074 km (1,286 miles). We turned left off the main highway onto Regional Route A-133 in the Azapa Valley. Along that road, we pulled into a dusty lot for a view of the ancient rock formations made on the barren hillsides. The figures include frogs, eagles, llamas, and humans. They are believed to have been erected as guideposts directing traders many centuries ago.

After a 15-minute stop to view the geoglyphs, we turned right onto Regional Route A-27, a dirt road leading to the San Miguel de Azapa Archaeological & Anthropological Museum, run by the University of Tarapaca. It features a collection of artifacts from the region’s earliest inhabitants from -8,000 to 1600, almost 10,000 years, in 18 displays. Artifacts include mummies, pottery, tools, baskets, and musical instruments. The second gallery exhibits agriculture, textiles, domestic wares, clothes, saddles, and instruments. The third gallery showcases olive production.

A newer second building includes a room displaying eight Chinchorro mummies and various panels explaining, again all in Spanish, the Chinchorros’ culture and mummification process. We were rushed through the entire museum in about 45 minutes. You could easily spend a few hours here; more if you can read Spanish and understand all the textual explanations accompanying the exhibits.

The bus left the museum at 7:31 and drove us 25 minutes back to the port. I disembarked outside the port gate at 7:56 and bought two keychains from vendors packing up their merchandise at Colon Plaza. From the plaza, I watched a beautiful sunset just west of El Morro over the ocean behind a grove of palm trees. Then walked back to the port gate and boarded a shuttle van at 8:19, which dropped me off at Celebrity Infinity five minutes later. I was surprised to find a band playing and a group of about two dozen dancers dressed in white, red, and yellow costumes. What a fantastic send-off!

I reboarded Infinity at 8:37 and then heard a security officer speak into his walkie-talkie: “All guests aboard.” I walked up to the promenade to watch the gangway retract, then we sailed away from Arica at 8:55 as the band played.

Returned to my cabin at 9:17 and went to dinner at Trellis restaurant. Then did some blog writing in the Oceanview Café, but had no luck trying to connect to the satellite Internet. Stopped by the Internet café but the computers there were down as well. Infinity has had the worst Internet service of any cruiseship I’ve been on this year.

Gave up trying to get online and went back to my cabin at 12:25 a.m. to shower and get ready for bed. Read the cruise letter and watched a DVD before bed at 2:06.
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