Saturday, August 17, 2013


Iquique’s history dates back to pre-Columbian times when native tribes lived by the sea and collected guano or settled in the interior regions where hot springs and Andean snow runoff provided water for agriculture. They left behind ruins and petroglyhs but not much is known of their way of life. When the Spanish explorers came through on their way south, this area belonged to Bolivia. It was through the port in Iquique that the silver mined in Bolivia was exported worldwide but primarily to Spain. Nitrate, a natural fertilizer changed the region. From the 1830’s foreign investors thronged to the area, and Iquique blossomed into a cultural and financial center. The city installed electric service to homes and businesses. The new Municipal Theater showed the best in music and plays. Englishman, John Thomas North, oversaw the building of the railway station and other civic and commercial buildings. After a series of earthquakes almost leveled the town in the latter part of the 1800’s the city was rebuilt. Great wealth brought amenities, lavish mansions, and the port became active and popular. So much so that when Bolivia began to clamp down on the mining and the wealth earned from the nitrate mines, called salitreras, demanding a rise in taxes, these investors and the government of Chile protested. These confrontations lead into the War of the Pacific in which Peru sided with Bolivia against Chile and culminated at the Battle of Iquique on May 21, 1879. With Chile winning the war, Peru and Bolivia ceded what are now the provinces of Tarapacá, Tacna, Arica, and Antofagasta. Bolivia has now been granted access to the sea through the port in Ilo, Peru. The days of great wealth from nitrate lasted until Germany developed a synthetic nitrate to free itself from Chile’s monopoly of natural nitrate. When nitrate exports declined, Iquique built up the port facilities to export the newly found copper. Today Iquique is one of Chile’s largest ports, and has the largest duty free zone in South America, called ZOFRI (Zona Franca de Iquique) where a shopping mall has hundreds of shops selling duty free goods. From our parking spot, we are able to make several incursions into the shopping areas and stock up on household and food items we have not seen a while. The town is clean and a pleasure to wander around. The old mansions and buildings have been converted into banks and government offices and the colonial architecture is still flawless. The three days we spent here, quite a few motorhomes came and went, all with Chilean license plates, so we suppose this is a popular destination for Chileans to shop in the duty free zone. Winston had a blast running on the beach but always under our supervision. It is a little warmer now and he even made a few ventures into the waves although did not stay in for very long. From Iquique, we head north for the border town of Arica before going east over the Andes to Putre and into Bolivia.

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