Monday, October 3, 2011

Photo tour of Antofagasta

Yesterday was dedicated to the mar, but today I'll take you futher inland (although not too much--this is a long, coastal city, afterall!) for a tour of the rest of Antofagasta.

First stop? The central street about a minute away from my apartment, officially called Avenida Bernarndo O'Higgins but known more commonly as Avenida Brasil for the park that runs down the center, dividing North- and South-bound traffic. I laughed the first time a Chilean told me that they think this small patch of green is supposedly comparable to the rain forests of Brazil, but I suppose when you live in a dusty, mountainous desert, this splash of life seems pretty lush. In any case, it's a nice green space that is transformed into a giant, free playground every weekend, when a number of trampolines and inflatable adventure zones are added to the pre-existing playground.

Avenida Brasil's most annoying residents are the Guanay cormorants, or "pato lilos" as they're known here. They're a surprisingly large variety of seabird, whose call is like the base-heavy croak of an American Bullfrog, or a hovering UFO. They're the world's biggest producer of nitrate-rich guano, as well, which is scraped off of nearby bird-inhabited islands and sold for a high price. Unfortunately, they love to demonstrate their skills at guano production all over the avenue, meaning that pedestrians walking under the trees are in constant danger of being painted as white as the pavement. Even if you dodge disaster, you have to hold your breath when you pass their perches, because the droppings betray the diet: fish.

The whole country of Chile is at high risk for earthquakes (I've already felt a small tremor since I've been here) and their resulting tidal waves. Pavement paintings and signs like the one to the right marking evacuation routes are common. We also have twice-annual evacuation drills, during which all of the town in the designated tsunami zone has to calmly queue and head for the hills. Luckily, my building is *right* beyond the line (which seems a bit arbitrary to me, seeing as how I'm all of five blocks from the ocean) so I was able to laze in my 10th floor apartment and observe the hoards of children in uniform evacuating their primary school, the swooping helicopters (hey, we're going for crisis authenticity here) and the utterly chaotic traffic jams as cops made people park their cars in the middle of the roads to evacuate on foot. Here's a video, just in case you're curious what tsunami sirens sound like:

Space Invaders graffiti followed me from Paris!
A pretty church, that reminds me of a gingerbread house every time I see it:
Sunset over the Antofagastino montains:
Although Chile is definitely by and large a very developed, modern country, you can't help but notice the rough around the edges nature of it when walking around Antofagasta. Trash cans are nonexistent, so trash is often thrown straight on the ground (or dragged there by the dogs, who get into anything that isn't tied sufficiently high out of their reach. It took me forever to work out why Chileans decorate their shrubs like pathetic Christmas trees on trash day, until I spotted an agile trash collector jumping up to retrieve hanging bags have to wrestle one from a mutt). The dogs add their own special sort of pollution to the streets, of course, and there's also just a general state of disrepair: streets are often only partially paved, with old cement cracked and in pieces; broken power lines spill dangerously onto the sidewalk, holes in the ground are left unrepaired (I actually managed to walk into one at about 2am one night, returning from a party, and was confused but thankfully mostly unharmed when I suddenly sank up to my thigh in the sidewalk). Every now and again there'll be a dead thing (this flattened rat, for example, although other examples I've seen on my morning walks have been cats and birds) that just stay there for a weeks, drying out in the desert sun, before they finally and mysteriously disappear.

On this note, Antofagasta is also, as anyone who has Skyped me has noted, a very loud city, although I hardly notice the noises anymore--car alarms, the barking of strays and random parades and protests, not to mention pan flute folk tunes and salsa wafting up from the discos on the weekends, although I personally love this. For all its faults, though, I love Antofagasta--its people are wonderful and it has a strong sense of place, which is what I'm beginning to realize is what I hunt out wherever I go (and perhaps explains why I dislike generic, DC metro-area suburbia so much).

Moving on to the city center, this is the pedestrian Paseo Pratt, a long, stone-paved street of commercial shops. Seen here is a mining statue and the USA's biggest and most shameful export:

I think I already mentioned that Chileans have a love affair with mayonnaise, which pretty much has its own aisle in the grocery store. This supermarket promotion, which packages Chile's two favorite foods together, made me laugh:
This building near my window always has bright-colored washing drying on its roof on the weekends. I love it: 

Last but not least is the downtown central plaza, Plaza Colon, and is plethora of palms, benches and fountains:

The Plaza's park centers around a clocktower said to be inspired by Big Ben and dedicated to Antofagasta's British roots. The clock is nice (if a bit green and phallic) although the resemblance ot Big Ben is lost on me:

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