I was in my hotel room today and thought I could hear some rain outside. "Here we go - I don't even have a jacket" was my first thought given I was soon to leave for lunch. However, a quick check out the window confirmed there was no rain in sight and I must have been hearing things. This was good news, but the sky was cloudy so I checked the forecast. No rain! At that point, being the notorious user of Wikipedia that I am, I had a look at the climate section for Arica, and was surprised to find out I was in the driest town on Earth (at least as measured by annual rainfall). Not many people visit Arica (there isn't much to see), but since I'm here, it's a unique place to add to the list. To prove just how dry it is, it turns out I had nothing to worry about, since it didn't rain for 14 years up to 2003, and no rain has ever been recorded in August!
My first thought when hearing the above is probably what you are thinking now: 'how do they get water?'. Well I can confirm it's here since I had a nice long shower this morning. From what I can gather (and I'm in the middle of watching a programme on YouTube about it), they get a lot of their water from the heavy fog which can hang over the city for days at a time. Basically, despite the extreme lack of rain, it is still quite humid unlike other notorious hotspots such as the Saharan or Arabian deserts, where the air is bone dry. In addition to that, a lot of money has been spent on water pipelines to this region due to the abundant ores in the ground, which once mined, more than pay for the infrastructure costs. I'm sure everyone has heard about Chilean miners, and the main mining town of Antafagasta lies not too far south of here.
Anyway, the main aim of my day was not to read about Arica on Wikipedia, but to experience the town centre and sights first-hand. My main expedition to the town centre was in (what became) a quest to find a Chilean plug adapter. This turned out to be a mini adventure in its own right given my lack of Spanish. After around an hour of popping into every vaguely-electronic shop in town and waving my European adapter while saying ‘por Chilieano?’ I was directed to a ‘ferreteria’ which translates to ‘hardware store’. Bingo! An adapter for £1 and the priceless freedom to now take some photos of the town.
As far as I could tell from my research, the town has three main sites: the square, the hill, and the beach. I started at the square which has a smallish church and some nice gardens, but nothing too exciting. Just south on the road to the port is the steam engine from an old train which used to run all the way up to La Paz, Bolivia. From there I considered the beach, but thought better of it in the overcast weather. Instead, I headed toward the huge hill which dominates the view of the town, and has a giant Chilean flag at the top of it.
A short hike to the top and I got some great views of the surrounding area, including the aforementioned beach, the industrial port, and the mountains in the distance. The region lives up to its dry reputation, with the landscape being barren and almost lunar as far as the eye can see. I later found out that the hill was the last outpost of the Peruvian’s when they lost the city in the War of the Pacific in the 1800s. As a result, the Chileans put a museum of war at the top, and there were various cannons which were used for defence after they won the city. There was also a giant statue of Jesus in true Brazilian style, though I’m not quite sure why it was there since the information was in Spanish.
Tomorrow I fly down to Santiago where the question will very much be 'To Easter Island, or not to Easter Island?'.
Photos of the day: the hill complete with flag as seen from the main square, cannon complete with bullet, Christ!