Arica, Chile

                                                                Presencias Tutelares Sculptures

January 19, 2010

Arica, Chile sits near the northern border of Chile.  This port is primarily a working one, with a lot of container shipping traffic; cruise ships are their secondary business.  

The excursion we chose was called “Off The Beaten Track:  Codpa Village.”   And Codpa Village was definitely off the beaten track, about 120 kilometers south of Arica.  Immediately upon leaving the city area, the land was flat, tan and completely barren.  Our guide let us know that it does not rain in the Atacama desert.  Ever.  The plants collect water from the dew, and the people of the area do everything they can to conserve water, including using drip irrigation systems.

Our first stop was the huge Presencias Tutelarias sculptures (see photo above), which represent male and female, and date from the mid-1990s.  They are striking for their size and their similarity to ancient forms.  After riding for a while more on the bus, we stopped at an area with many, many piles of stones, constructed originally to mark the trail through the desert, and now constructed by tour groups from cruise ships.  We were told that after we built our pile we could make a wish.  In this area there were so many rock piles it was difficult to find unused rocks, so the one we built was quite small.  By this time the country- side had gotten more interesting - somewhat like the Badlands of South Dakota, only with duller color and a much smoother surface - with mountains and ravines.  In a couple of places we could see areas of green at the bottom of canyons, where there was obviously some source of moisture, although there was no obvious water in what appeared to be the river bed.  We had also been climbing in altitude.

We made a stop to view the candelabra cacti, which grow only in the elevation range of 6000 to 9000 feet.  They were sparsely spaced, which is no surprise, given that they grow in the driest desert in the world.  They grow to be about twelve feet tall, and bloom once a year in August, for twenty four hours only.  They are apparently long-lived.  They are green when they are young, and then turn yellow and brown, so they appear dead.  They meet their moisture needs from the dew: their thorns have sponges at the base, which absorb water for the plant.  It was also interesting to see that there are lichens growing on the rocks in the general vicinity of the cactus.  

Once we got back on the bus our next stop was to be Codpa Village.  Before we got down into the valley we caught a glimpse of the intense green of the oasis.  The village itself is very simple.  The biggest building is the church (photo below).  Across from the church is the police station (do they really have that much crime in the area?)  There are three villages in the area with a total population of 500 people.  The main activity and source of income is agriculture.  Tourism, thanks to the cruise ships, has become their second major source of income.  We were greeted by a brass band and local dancers after we checked out the small museum.  This was followed by a prayer/wish ceremony with incense, wine and coca leaves, on the patio in front of the church entrance.  That seemed to us to be a strange place for such a ceremony.  We then had a chance to check out the vendors’ booths, where they were selling local fruit, wine, and a few crafts.  Their friendly and well-dressed llama was the biggest attraction in that area.

Then we proceeded to lunch at what was billed as the best restaurant in town.  We were told that there were actually several restaurants there.  We were given a small glass of homemade port wine, as well as commercially bottled wine.  There was a basket of fruit on the table which included figs, tiny Christmas pears, tiny mangoes, oranges, and a strange, spherical green fruit with a maple taste called lucuma.  Our first course was a variety of vegetables, served with a really good salsa and home baked bread with the taste and texture of biscuits.  The main course was roast beef with rice.  We were offered coca tea, which we were told is good for the lungs at high altitude.  With the exception of the rice, the food we ate was all locally grown.

After lunch we re-boarded our bus to return to the ship, a drive of about two hours.  Someone on the bus had a GPS instrument and told us that our maximum altitude was just over 8000 feet.  It was amazing to see such a thriving village in the middle of the desert, and nice to be able to see the Chilean culture in a more intimate way than one would have seen just staying in Arica.  Once we got acclimated to our surroundings, the scenery was beautiful and very interesting.  We made it back to the ship in time to help out our trivia team, which was good even though we didn’t win.  Overall, we had a very enjoyable day.                    


© Susan L. Stone 2015