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Full Circle

Day 179: Arica to La Paz

Arica, Chile 
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Street in Arica named after Arturo Prat, Chile's great naval hero.
Michael Palin - Full CircleRoger has made the sensational discovery that General Pinochet was beneath our roof last night, being fêted at an Army Day banquet. Just to prove it, he got out his rarely-seen camera and took his first photographs on the entire Pacific Rim journey - twenty-four views of General Pinochet leaving the El Paso hotel, Arica. 'They are for history,' he says, modestly.

Instead of following the fog-bound Pacific coast, we are aiming to travel by rail and river from Bolivia into the Peruvian interior, across the altiplano (the high plains of the Andes) and down into the river system that leads eventually to the Amazon and the remote southern reaches of Colombia. It is potentially by far the most difficult and dangerous stretch of our journey. 'No gain without pain' will be the motto of the next few weeks. When eventually we emerge from the Colombian jungle, the reward will be the prospect of North America and a relatively 'civilized' race to the finish.

Arica's tiny station is only a few hundred yards from the ocean, where hefty breakers smash onto the rocks with lazy, effortless strength. We needn't have hurried. There is no sign of the eight o'clock departure for La Paz. A half dozen mangy cats lope off behind the bushes as we unload our bags. On the tiny platform there is a memorial to one 'John Roberts Jones, Ineniero, who oversaw construction of the line into Arica and died of malaria on the 18th of February 1911.' My mind goes back to Pringle Stokes of the Beagle, whose memorial lies two and a half thousand miles away, beside a snow-covered beach at the other end of Chile, and I wonder what it was that induced both men to come so far from home and risk their lives in such pitiless climates.

They didn't even have the BBC as an excuse.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 179
  • Country/sea: Chile
  • Place: Arica
  • Book page no: 235

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