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Full Circle

Day 178: Arica

Michael Palin - Full CircleAt the port of Arica, only nineteen kilometres from the Peruvian border, it is Army Day. Which is quite suitable really as it was through military action that Chile acquired Arica in the first place. In the War of the Pacific, between 1879 and 1883, Chile seized Arica and Tarapaca province from Peru as well as a large chunk of Bolivia, including all its coastline.

The sound of a twenty-one gun salute early this morning and the presence of General Pinochet in town, underlines my impression that the traditional hierarchy of Chile - rich landowners and old families in alliance with conservative and highly trained armed forces - is still firmly in place.

Stir myself for an early morning run by the Pacific. The sea must be rich here for there are seabirds everywhere. Great gangling pelicans, storm-petrels, boobys, skuas and shearwaters skim the waves while red-beaked oystercatchers scuttle up and down the foreshore and forbidding red-headed turkey vultures glare balefully from the rocks. The clouds are low, thick and depressing. The cold, north-flowing off-shore current which bears the name of its nineteenth century discoverer, Humboldt, condenses the warm desert air into a low and formless mist which blots out the sun and envelops the Pacific coast as far north as Panama for eight months of the year. It looks like rain-cloud, but it never rains here. Odd to think that the world's most abundant source of water and its driest desert can exist side by side.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 178
  • Country/sea: Chile
  • Place: Arica
  • Book page no: 234

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