Home » Travelling » Off the map in the Atacama: Chile’s spooky ghost communities

Off the map in the Atacama: Chile’s spooky ghost communities

Countless foreign travellers see the hot springs, salt flats, sanctuaries as well as volcanoes of north Chile’s Atacama Desert, however few make it to 2 of the area’s man-made tourist attractions: the starkly beautiful ghost communities of Humberstone and also Santa Laura. Shafik Meghji takes Insightguides.com right into these abandoned negotiations.

Yellow tidal wave “threat zone” indications, grown like sunflowers on street edges, guide our auto along Iquique seafront. Inland, climbing the 800-metre-high cordillera that provides a background to the city, the vehicle reduces to a crawl to reduce past an area of freeway that fell down during the 8.2 magnitude earthquake in April 2014.

Beyond Iquique the morning mist vaporizes, the warm increases and also the parched Atacama stretches away into the distance. This part of north Chile is one of the driest and also most inhospitable places on Earth; it is so transcendent that NASA utilizes it to check its Mars exploration automobiles.

“There is not an individual visible”

Our view ahead is briefly obscured as rippling clouds of dirt fill the sky, the result of Chilean army storage tank workouts, my overview, Jaime, clarifies. After that, some 45 km inland from Iquique, an unusual view shows up in advance: in the center of the desert simple sits the huge rustic skeletal system of what appears like a marooned ship. Slowly various other structures happen: a set of train tracks, clusters of huts and warehouses, as well as lastly neat rows of residences and also dusty streets. There is not a person in sight.

This ghost community, Santa Laura, is just one of the residues of a largely-forgotten industry that as soon as made the Atacama Desert among the most valuable places in the world. In the nineteenth century, the huge saltpetre (potassium nitrate) deposits in the region– after that component of Peru and also Bolivia– were heavily in demand for use as fertiliser and gunpowder in Europe and The United States And Canada. A flourishing market established, with savage nitrate barons– many of them British– utilizing the substantial revenues to construct opulent estates in cities like Iquique. In 1878 the Battle of the Pacific broke out between Chile, and Peru and also Bolivia: five years later, Chile emerged triumphant, having actually taken all of the nitrate regions. Of the 200 approximately oficinas salitreras (saltpetre works) that operated throughout the industry’s heyday, just one– MarĂ­a Elena– still runs. The remainder have actually vanished, removed clean of anything beneficial and eventually ingested by the desert after World Battle One indicated the start of the end of the nitrate boom. But for a quirk of destiny Santa Laura and neighbouring Humberstone would certainly have experienced the exact same.

” After the mines were deserted in the 1960s they were inhabited by homeless individuals. There was rubbish everywhere, graffiti, the mummified bodies of dead dogs,” says Jaime. “Santa Laura and also Humberstone were after that purchased by a business person that planned to sell off the remains for scrap. But he went bankrupt initially, which in fact protected it. They were taken control of by a non-profit organisation, cleaned up and made UNESCO Globe Heritage Sites in 2005.”

“A feeling that you remain in some type of steampunk medical facility”

Today, Santa Laura, which opened in 1872, is a theme park for anyone thinking about commercial archeology. Jaime and also I show up early in the early morning and have the spooky site to ourselves. At its elevation the oficina was home to over 870 citizens: workers coped with their family members as well as for much of the plant’s background were dealt with appallingly. They functioned lengthy hrs, in rough problems, paid in “tokens” redeemable just in the oficina stores, as well as dissent satisfied by suppression or perhaps bloodbath.

Straying around Santa Laura, kicking up globs of crunchy white caliche (raw saltpetre), we discover a gold mine of Victorian-era technology: the remains of a railway terminal as well as train carriages; a factory with metal-cutting machines, colders and also compressors; and also a power station with a gas engine made in Halifax and also steel beams from Lanarkshire in the UK. Preserved in the dry desert air, a lot of the makers appear they’re still in functioning order.

The “marooned ship” shows in fact to be a seeping plant, its mast a smokestack. The rusted corrugated iron wall surfaces– one of them pierced by a number of bullet openings– squeak as well as moan in the wind. There is still a distinctive smell of iodine (a spin-off of the saltpetre procedure) providing the sense that you remain in some kind of steampunk healthcare facility.

These gradually falling apart structures provide a sense that the hostile Atacama had been subjugated– yet a five-minute walk away to the industrial park advises you of the cruelty of the environment. It is blisteringly warm, shade complimentary, as well as the wind whips past, covering us in a luster of dirt and grime. Past the factories and also warehouses, a solitary train engine faces out in the direction of the desert. Humberstone highlight, though, is it’s wonderful (and also supposedly haunted) theater. Inside, perched on a wood seat, it is oddly peaceful, as if a performance had actually only simply ended.