Arica Chile is a town of 200,000 people at the northern tip of Chile adjacent to Peru. The ship moored at the pier at 8am and we hit the pier at 930am. A shuttle took us to the customs area at the edge of the commercial port area. There is no cruise ship terminal. The customs area opens into a town square with tour booths and souvenir stands. Dominating the area is a monolithic brown peak with a Chilean flag atop it 400 feet straight up. This was the last stand of Peruvians in the late 1800s when Chilean troops finally defeated them and took the land for Chile. A monument also stands atop the mountain in the shape of a man with his arms spread out to the sides, similar to the Christ statue over Rio de Janeiro Brazil, if only much smaller.
Other steep brown mountains rise 3000 feet up within a mile of the shore. There is no vegetation except what man has planted and watered. The average rainfall here is less than one inch per year. But a haze brought in by the southwesterly winds frequently covers the area. Today was no exception. The sun was out and the temperature approached 78 degrees F, but the views of the distance were marred by the haze.
We set off to the south after obtaining a map and receiving assurances from the tourism officials that the bike trail extended for 15 miles to the south. We rode around the base of the monolith and in front of some houses rising part way up the cliff walls for a few hundred yards and passed many resort restaurants, bars, and night clubs which were closed as the season was now over. About 2 miles down the road, we stopped at the Arica hotel for coffee and internet connection. The bartender was preparing mash from a bucket of guavas and the fragrance permeated our stay. We stayed more than an hour, marveling at the pounding surf stretching out to sea, while talking to our family and friends on the Skype telephone connection. This area is excellent for surfing and has been the site of international surfing competition in the past, as recently as 2007.
Upon finishing the internet work, we reentered the bike trail and proceeded for the next 6-8 miles past a series of beaches, mostly empty. The adjoining road had few cars either and the few hotels or restaurants on the beaches were empty or closed. We tried a few for lunch and they were closed. To our left for the entire way were the towering arid brown mountains. Black vultures worked the air currents near the cliffs and it was fascinating to watch the birds and their shadows against the mountains. Although there were few end of summer patrons, there were many birds working the beaches and adjacent waters in front of 4-10 foot surf founding further from the shores. At one point we saw a collection of 40-60 pelicans standing and sitting on the shore. A few cormorants also lined the shores with a few fishing out in the ocean. Gull’s screams accompanied the hundreds of gulls also working the shoreline.
After 3-5 miles the road began to rise and we passed into an industrial area. We continued ahead, seeking some kind of restaurant or café where we might rest or have lunch. None appeared.
This was strictly commercial, probably loading of materials from inland mines. There were tank farms for fuel and warehouses to cover equipment and ore stretching for several miles. The road split, one track heading into the industrial region and the other rising 300 feet above slightly inland. We took this latter path and were rewarded with a brilliant view of the shoreline for miles in either direction. But the view also revealed that this was strictly industrial as far as the eye could see as the beaches curved around to a point 5 miles beyond. We rode to the top of the bluffs and reached a decision point. We could ride downhill all the way to the point and then have to ride significantly uphill on our way back to town. Or we could turn around here and find a relaxing restaurant. Easy choice—we turned around and looked for a restaurant.
At the edge of town, after riding 5-7 miles back along the coast, we found one of the restaurants we had investigated earlier to find closed. It was now open and we stopped for lunch. The views from the veranda of the restaurant were startling. Surf pounded the coast in both directions. Service was comfortably paced while we spent the next hour or more testing the wine and their fresh fish. I topped the meal off with an excellent dish of mango slices.
We returned to town and rode past the ship north near the coast for a few miles. We were looking for a beach inhabited by sea lions; but the road turned away from the coast and we changed our goal to finding a supermercado selling toothpaste and/or cans of soda. We turned inland after riding 3 miles and entered a housing area with a few shops. We also passed some students and stopped two to ask about our supermercado. Unfortunately, the store was more than a mile behind us, so we decided to return to the ship, seeking an appropriate store along the way. The area became more commercial, but we never found an appropriate store. We turned toward the harbor and soon found our way became a walking mall lined with stores on both sides of the path for 10 blocks. We did find a store and bought toothpaste, but the other stores only sold the sodas retail. At the beginning of the mall, the walkway was crowded with Aricans shopping, but the crowd gradually became more cruise passenger oriented, especially when we passed several local outdoor restaurants within 3 blocks of the ship. This site also included a McDonald’s whose arches could be seen from the ship while we were eating breakfast earlier in the day.
We rode back through the tourist stands, entered the customs area and passed the customs test, and found the shuttle busses back to the ship. These were small busses with no baggage hold areas, so we were forced to put the bikes aside the seats. I was pleasantly surprised when I stepped to the back door of the bus and two young men jumped up to grab the bicycles and pull them up onto the bus, even standing them alongside their own seats so they could hold them steady. This was typical of the crew of the NCL Sun, very pleasant and helpful. All in all, our day in Arica was very rewarding. The area is unique and we had found excellent places for bike rides. The people we passed along the streets were very pleasant, always responding to my calls of “Hola!” with their own “Hola!” in retort. I liked the place and I liked the people. I’ll likely come again.