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Iquique – Warm in the North of Chile

Posted by on April 6, 2011

This post for the day October 6th, 2010.

Originally planning to stay a night here, we’d booked a hostel which we spotted as the bus drove on by and further into town to the bus depot. Unpacking we set about working out how to get out of the town – we were keen to get a move on for Bolivia.

Translated: Iquique - I love you so!

Translated: Iquique - I love you so!

While Andrew kept an eye on our gear, I walked up the street where apparently I could find the bus ticket offices. This gets interesting, as I found I was having a ‘good Spanish’ day – where my attempts at conversing actually seemed to be working. I established that there were two areas in town to get tickets – neither of which was at the bus terminal we just used. I tried the international bus terminal but was told there were no tickets for days. Eventually I wandered up the main road and found the other ticket place. Cough.

Iquique - the Gold Coast of Chile?

Iquique - the Gold Coast of Chile?

In all four directions from one intersection on the main road were tiny little offices, all selling bus tickets for everywhere under the sun. Well, under the sun in South America. No English, no tour offices, just locals and tickets. I mustered all my Spanish skills and brazenly tried to negotiate. Managed to ascertain that there were indeed buses to La Paz leaving this evening, 16 hour trip, for around £10. All the shops also insisted they were full-cama seats (ie beds!). This seemed pretty crazy, so I asked for the company name and a picture of the bus. Yes, it was a proper bus, AND had onboard toilets. This looked promising. I jogged back down to the other station where it would depart from and looked around. There was a bus from that company, and it was fullsize. Excellent!

Main Square

Main Square

Ran back, grabbed Andrew and we returned to purchase our tickets. We then stashed our bags at the local bus station and headed out to explore Iquique.

The typical almost wild-west style buildings in the old town

The typical almost wild-west style buildings in the old town

Iquique, according to Wikitravel, is home to the duty free zone known as “Zofri”, good for cheap laptops and perfume. Other than that, it mentions that it’s slightly more expensive and polluted than other places in Chile. This is a shame, because it’s actually quite a nice town to explore for a day, and possibly longer if you wanted to spend time at the beach.

In some ways it seems to be wanting (although it has a LONG way to go) to be something like the Gold Coast, with high rise buildings on the coast, with some nice gold beaches.

The cafes on Baquedano Street

The cafes on Baquedano Street

We headed to the main tourist street – Baquedano Street. It’s interesting in that the buildings around this cobbled street were constructed in the 19th century, in both Georgian and Victorian styles, but slightly adapted to the weather – a unique coastal desert climate. The resultant look and feel is somewhat reminiscent of an old western movie. Just Spanishy… 😉

Fisherman out on the rocks

Fisherman out on the rocks

Most of the origins of the town are from 19th century mining with extraction of saltpetre nearby. However, aside from checking out the buildings and beaches, unless you’re here to shop there’s not all that much to see, which matched our plan perfectly.

Deciding we needed some food, we explored some of the markets. Most of these were what I’ll call raw-food markets, we’d need to cook it – but it was still cool to see the more unusual giant fish, cuts of what I assume was guanaco, and many people desperately trying to draw you to their stalls – be it for the raw food, or the occasional cafe. I enjoy this, the mostly local crowd, it seems so far from the tourist traps one often finds oneself in when backpacking, and you hear the occasional ‘gringo’ comment as we look around.

This would be the ultimate hangover food

This would be the ultimate hangover food

Then we found something a bit different – what appeared to be a German style food house. And after so much Argentinian and Chilean food, we looked at the prices and figured we could share a massive dish, washed down with some beers. Unfortunately the Spanish spoken was so fast that there was a lot of confusion ordering, as to whether we were eating in or out, one or two, beers or softdrink, but we eventually managed to get our order across, and much to Andrew’s delight there was football on the television too. The waitress seemed a bit bemused so perhaps we were doing something wrong, but hey, we got our giant plate of meat and eggs in the end, and it was delicious! :)

Government building - note all the flags!

Government building - note all the flags!

In the afternoon we checked out the beach, with giant vulture-like birds – not as big as condors but still huge – circling the flats near the beach. Some crazy fisherman were out on the rocks, and a snorkeler appeared out of the waves infront of us with a crab-pot. We chilled on the beach, happy to relax and enjoy the sun after the long bus ride. Even in luxury, it is tiring! While still only spring, there were a few locals out and about, playing in the sea, and while the town was busy, it certainly never felt. crowded.

Around near the docks we heard a racket and discovered a small group of rather large seals enjoying the sun as well. Various locals were attempting to see how close they could get before upsetting the huge male.

The marina - this view reminded me of Cape Town, somehow

The marina - this view reminded me of Cape Town, somehow

We headed back to Baquedano Street for a beer in the fading light. The local beer – Iquiqueña, was very expensive by SA standards, and sadly failed to live up to the quality the price suggested of it. This was to be the start of a run of poor beer.

The local beer. We were unimpressed.

The local beer. We were unimpressed.

Before long it was time to cruise back through town, grab some snacks and prepare for our £10, 16-hour bus ride to La Paz. Still apprehensive as to what to expect, we rocked up an hour beforehand, and to add to it starting to cool, the bus was late arriving, so just as we started to wonder if it was ever showing up (I double checked twice with people nearby), and we’d put off the attempted sale of cheap watches and sunglasses to us several times, one of the buses put up the La Paz sign and pulled out of the lineup. We piled onboard, and settled in – it was definitely semi-cama, despite what the ‘travel agents’ had told us, but we were mostly ready for that. In the morning would be La Paz!

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