Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Welcome to Antofagasta: a horizontal strip of a city sandwiched between mountains bordering on the desert to the East and the ocean to the West, and my home until I leave Chile at the end of November. The capital of the region that shares its name, Antofagasta is big enough to have a sense of culture and decent nightlife, but small enough that it's fairly easy to get around and meet people. Although it's essentially owned and run by the mining company Minera Escondida, it manages to escape the dreariness of the true mining towns further inland. As a general rule, the closer you get to the water, the nicer (i.e. more expensive) the houses/apartments become; the closer you get to the hills, the poorer it becomes. Once you cross over the train tracks, it gets a bit rough, or so they say--I haven't tried, of course, although we drove through the outskirts on the way in and based on memory it's a world away from where I live now. Which is here, on this street:

My host family is a young couple in their late 30s. My host mom trained as a journalist and now works for a telecommunications company, and my host dad helps run a nonprofit artist workshop that invites experts to give lessons and lectures to young, aspiring artists, and that also hosts performances or exhibitions of local art from time to time. They have some sort of a side business that specializes in graphic design and creative productions, and their artsy side comes out in the eclectic decor in their beautiful apartment. For example, I love the little collection of antique cameras on this shelf:
We live in a really nice, modern building that is close enough to the ocean for a view, but far enough that we're just beyond the tsunami evacuation zone: I have my own bathroom and bedroom:I share a living room and kitchen with them. As part of the program, they're required to provide meals for me. However, their demanding work schedules mean that they can't often afford to return to the house for lunch, so they buy me groceries to cook for myself. Considering my lack of enthusiasm for the bread, beef and mayonnaise diet that seems to be typical in Chile, this suits me just fine, as I can eat all of the vegetables, fruit and whole grains that I want. Here's our living room:

The huge windows are perfect for Antofagasta's climate, which is consistently sunny, with a high about 16 degrees Celsius and a low of 10 or so at night (in the winter). In the summer it gets warm without being too hot. The mountains and desert to the East keep the air dry and slightly dusty, but the evaporation from the ocean keeps it from being as arid as Calama. It only rains about once a year, and then the city is as dramatic about the water as the Wicked Witch of the West. Water runs right over the hard-packed ground to flood the gutter-less streets, it leaks through un-waterproofed roofs (see example from my school on the left) and leaves standing pools in open-air schoolyards, which have been known to close for rain days. The annual rain arrived in "Antofa" just before I did, however, so I don't expect to see any of this "extreme weather" while I'm here. All I have to worry about are earthquakes, which are apparently a pretty common occurrence.

The combination of low-lying, earthquake-safe construction and desert air makes for consistently stunning sunsets, and our 10th floor windows provide the perfect vantage point.

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