23 September 2007

San Pedro to Iquique

300 Miles, Saturday August 25 | My GPS Route Data

After leaving San Pedro early, I stopped in Chiquicamata, site of the largest open mine pit on the planet and the last stop for gasoline for over 170 miles. From here a pockmarked road cuts across 40 miles of brown sandy earth to the Panamericana, the main highway connecting north and south. Unexpectedly, this major artery is a narrow two lane road, patchy in spots, and sometimes diverted onto an unpaved dirt road for miles at a time due to construction. The surrounding landscape is completely devoid of any vegetation or signs of life.

This desolate image contrasts with the history of this region. While hard to imagine now, this corridor was once buzzing with activity, driven by the nitrate mining operations that brought in thousands of workers and their families. Company towns were constructed alongside the higway, with theaters, schools, and housing, but most of these settlements have since been reduced to rubble.

Humberstone, the best preserved nitrate operation and town and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, was built in the 1870s. I happened to visit during the First Biennal of Art in the Desert. Artists had been selected to create installations in Humberstone, including filling the bottom of the old pool with oil drums and painting enormous white letters on the ground that could be read from the air.

Oficina Rica Aventura 1903-1956


The Oficina Rica Aventura had a population of 1,900, including workers and their families. It was one of five operations owned by German industrialist Henry B. Sloman. The town included a 50 bed hospital, bank, theater, billiard hall, library, and soccer fields.
Ex Oficina Iris

Oficina Victoria


Humberstone Theater

Arte en el Desierto

Explanatory Sign


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