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- Iquique, on two levels, one by the sea, the other on top of the plateau

- On plane, waiting to leave – Saga arrive en masse!

- Sign tells us to not use remote controlled cars on the plane!

Our last day in Arica today. We have a bit of time to kill before our flight to Santiago & then on (back) to Calama, and we already have two must-do’s: visit the San Marcos church & “do” Arica Bernardo properly. Bernardo is first on the list. There is a small grandstand across the road, perfect for a shot worthy of the great man (+ Bernardo in the background!) The church is a bit of a non-event. Yes, it’s designed by Eiffel and is entirely made out of iron, and colourful inside, but that’s about it. We wander for a bit, and I send a postcard home. Ness is getting worried about catching our flight, we head back to the hotel, check out and head to the airport. Turns out my watch was ½ hour slow – just as well we got there on time – check-in is slooow, and we don’t even have a big queue ahead of us. Drop keys off at Hertz – we drove 493km in Basher. I asked for seats on the Andes-side of the plane. Security guy is confused by my (empty) hip-flask.

Flying back to Santiago you really get to appreciate the scale of the Chilean north. Robbed of a last view of Arica and our hotel due to low-hanging clouds, but do get a glimpse of Alto Ramirez and the bit we drove through on our first day. Juan clarified the mystery of the portaloos to us – nothing romantic or mysterious though: it’s an area earmarked for future development, plots of land have already been marked out, the portaloos fulfill some function in this. I can see some of the roads we’ve driven along. The areas all around, with the exception of the narrow strips of green along the valley, are totally barren, desolate. The plane stops briefly at Iquique, then carries on to Santiago. The view of Iquique reveals a town on two levels: the original town by the sea-side, with a second half of the town built on the top of the plateau immediately behind Iquique – there is no room for the town to expand further inland, other than on this plateau. The flight from Santiago to Calama takes us back in the same direction we’ve come from, but on balance it is still a lot quicker than the drive, which would probably have taken us all day and been extremely monotonous. The plane is quite empty and just as we think we’re about to leave, a group of 15 or so “olds” arrives – Saga holidays, that’s all we need! The safety briefing, on drop-down screens, tells us that the use of remote controlled cars is not allowed on the plane.

At Calama airport we collect Basher 2, same size an colour as Bash but not 4x4. The hotel is a very short distance down the road from the airport. Above the entrance a welcome banner tells us that we arrive in the middle of the 53rd (or 35th?) Annual Conference of Chilean Mining Engineers – visions of rowdy rough miners sprawled throughout the bar, mixing with the Saga group who are also staying here! The hotel is plush, more a business-hotel than a touristic one. Our room is well appointed, in business fashion. A railroad runs behind the hotel, carrying freight to/from the mines. We decide to head into Calama for a wander and possible dinner. It’s early evening, still light, and the town centre is bustling. We find an estacionamiento and walk to the main square. The first streets already demonstrate that this is no picturesque touristic town but a service town for the miners. Rough-looking bars, strip-joints, shops catering for the miners (equipment, technical services). The people look unsophisticated and a bit threatening. Neither of us feels at ease. Try to re-assure Ness by telling her I’ve seen some more turistas here and there – the only ones I saw were a young couple coming out of the church on the Plaza 23 Marzo, also looking a bit ill at ease. A teenage band + dancers are playing in the main square. Not sure how anyone can follow the service in progress in the church – its doors are wide open, letting in the street noise. I’m actually enjoying the views + feeling of the place but Ness is getting more uncomfortable. Suggest we have a drink or bite somewhere, but that goes down like a lead balloon. We walk round a few more blocks, on the way I try to find out where Calama-Bernardo is – a woman in the photo shop where I ask lights up with a huge smile when I manage to make myself understood, clearly pleased at my interest rather than a “silly turista” smile. Bernardo is hard to find and I’m not confident that I’ve understood her directions clearly. The statue of the miner outside the shop will have to do. There are a lot of dogs, of all shapes and sizes, seemingly loose. A few of them are drinking from the fountain by the miner’s statue. We wander back to the car park, the streets feel more threatening now that it has started to get dark. We find our way back to the hotel, and I’m pleased we’re not staying in town longer, but also glad to at least have seen it with own eyes. Time for the welcome drink in the hotel. As we’re sat there in our dusty scruffy clothes, more and more conference delegates arrive, dressed for a gala dinner. No rowdy rough miners in sight, these are the managers, engineers, directors, etc. After dinner in the hotel restaurant I take a peak downstairs inside the dining room – looks exactly as it would in London or anywhere else in the world. Dinner was excellent: chicken + cheese, capers & anchovy for Ness, steak/stew with peppers, onion, chili (& capers & anchovy!) for me. No clue as to our excursion to Chuqui tomorrow. Knackered we both head for bed – a huge king-size job!