Our first port in Chile and quite an interesting one it is. It was such a contrast in both architecture and civic pride. This city of about 200,000 people takes pride in its history and culture and, although still a work in progress, they are restoring many of the buildings and wooden sidewalks to their original splendour. It was reminiscent of a western movie set – except the wooden buildings were of colonial style, some baroque.
The main square as bustling with locals as well as tourists and at one end was the magnificent “Teatro Municipal”, built in 1889. As we wandered onto the stage, I felt that I could hear the echoes of audiences enjoying the opera singers, actors, and mimes featured on old billboards in the lobby.
The local museum was interesting, although a little gloomy (actual mummies were in the first few exhibits). Here we wished that we had learned Spanish, but we could still get the gist of the information boards by virtue of its similarity to English. The historical photographs also gave us a flavour of the history. Thanks to the excellent shipboard lecturer, we learned a great deal more about the Pacific War which put Iquique in an historical perspective.
Founded in the 16th century and part of Peru until the end of the 19th century, development was rapid after the discovery of large deposits of sodium nitrate (saltpetre). Similar to the gold rush, foreigners streamed in to take advantage of the area’s riches.
Charles Darwin visited on the Beagle in 1835, noting that the city was “very much in want of everyday necessities such as water and firewood”. These basic supplies must still be brought in from great distances – giving me an even greater appreciation of the wooden buildings.