Posted by: robinson2000 | June 11, 2011

Iquique

8th – 11th June

My final day in San Pedro had been packed full of activities, so that by the time I had completed the 7 hour bus ride to Iquique I was exhausted. I had chosen the stay at the Backpackers Hostel, which is situated along the seafront and boasted a friendly and relaxing atmosphere (well done Mr Spicer for the recommendation). Over breakfast the next morning, I got talking to an English girl from Leeds, called Charlotte, and together we explored the city centre, hunting down some tour agencies and a tourist information centre. We also found the harbour area, where an old restored galleon was dry-docked and hundreds of huge pelicans were fishing.

The main attraction of Iquique is the massive surfing waves that roll off the Pacific Ocean and crash down upon the beaches. The waves were absolutely enormous and obviously attracted huge numbers of surfers who tested their metal against the waves. Most of the time it was entertaining to simply sit and watch the devastation that the powerful waves caused, as they sucked in and spat out any poor unsuspecting surfer. On my final day in Iquique, I hired a body board for the morning and ventured out into the raging surf. After a real struggle just to get clear of the waves and reach open water, I started positioning myself to catch a big wave. I knew I was in trouble the moment I reached the crest of the wave and looked down to see I was riding an untameable monster. Within seconds the wave completely enveloped me, summersaulting me over a couple of time and sucking me down into the powerful under currents. At the same time the board, which was attached to my arm by a Velcro strap, got ripped off. The wave eventually deposited me near the shoreline, where I gasped for air and dragged myself onto the sand like some shipwrecked castaway. With my confidence well and truly shattered, I took a breather and decided to try some slightly smaller waves that were closer to the shore. These were great fun but it was still exhausting to paddle your way out after every ride. After regaining my confidence, and self-respect in the baby waves, I headed back out into deeper waters and to the larger waves. I waited patiently for the right moment to start paddling into a wave and again, found myself riding down the vertical face of a 6ft wave. For a split second I thought I was riding it perfectly, until the wave decided to break on top of me, pushing me deep under the water and tearing the rubber cord that attaches the board to the arm strap in half. Once again I was left board less and had an exhausting fight to get back to the shoreline. After being thoroughly beaten and convinced this was no place for amateurs, I decided to cut my losses, return the broken board, and head to a free Navel Museum for the afternoon.

A much safer and more relaxing activity that Iquique offers is a paragliding flight from the high mountains that run alongside the city. Being terrified of most heights I wasn’t really interested, but Charlotte convinced me to give it a try as it was supposedly the best place in the world to do it. After an anxious breakfast we were collected by our pilots and driven up to the take-off point, about 500 metres above the city. I landed an excellent Swiss instructor who was incredibly helpful and reassuring. The flight lasted over 30 minutes and was wonderful as we soared between the thermals and eventually over the city, making a textbook landing on the beach. Well worth doing, even if heights aren’t your cup of tea.

A short distance by public bus from Iquique is the ghost town of Humberstone, a large nitrate town that was abandoned in 1961. The area became the centre of nitrate trade after its transfer from Peru to Chile at the end of the War of the Pacific. Though closed for the past 50 years, you can still see the church, the theatre, a variety of shops and even a swimming pool with a three tiered diving board, built from metal plating from old ships hulls. The town has an eerie atmosphere about it as you can wander freely through the residents old houses, around the two schools and even the hotel in the plaza. The whole town in now a rusting relic from the past and Charlotte and I had the whole place to ourselves.

Next destination is the capital of Chile, Santiago, a mere 24 hours away by bus.

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