Sunday, February 20, 2011

Back to Humberstone

Humberstone. Humberstone. Humberstone. If you've been reading our blog the past couple of years, this name may have cropped up repeatedly. Or at least, pictures taken in some remote and ancient town may have appeared regularly! The truth is that the former nitrate town turned "ghost town" in the desert outside of Iquique is one of our favorite places to visit. Any guest who spends at least a few days with us will undoubtedly be invited to trek out to see this fascinating piece of history for him/herself. Most will agree, Humberstone is well worth the trip.

Even our littlest kids love it when we pull off the highway close to the weathered walls, slather up in sunscreen and fasten our hats securely against the wind that rushes unhindered through the vast and barren desert plain. They gasp in delight each time at the rusty old machinery and the ancient train engine and the trolley that invites them to climb and explore. In some ways Humberstone is a cautious mother's nightmare (in the States we would surely have to sign a waiver releasing the administration from any lawsuits as a result of potential injuries and accidents) but in another way it is thrilling to pick our way over broken window glass and twisted sheet metal shorn by wind from aging buildings, knowing that this is history untainted and real.

Our favorite time to be at Humberstone is at dusk, in part because of the relief from the vicious desert sun and also because tourists are usually few. Thus we have the sensation (and sometimes the reality) of having the entire town to ourselves. One friend who is a little on the superstitious side told me she would never go as the light fades because of her fear of ghosts. Especially, she told me, she would never go into the old hospital at any time of day! I, on the other hand, like to whisper to my children that if the ghosts are anywhere then they are there - and so we slip into the rooms which creak with the weight of the wind and where the shutters slam suddenly and we actually enjoy the delicious creepiness of it all!

By far the kids' favorite place in Humberstone is the old theater. It is huge and cool and has wooden seats and a big beckoning stage with rich velvet curtains. They love to go on stage and put on silly productions for us as we clap from the seats we have to wedge ourselves into (because apparently people were much smaller 100 years ago, ha!) Their second favorite place is probably the old schoolhouse where they can sit at authentic old-fashioned desks and play teacher to their heart's content.

Two visits ago was the first time I ventured to the furthest corner of Humberstone and entered the old machine shops and saw the giant tools and machinery and engines used in this great mining endeavor. And just last week, for the first time I climbed the hill where once heavy machinery must have hummed and I stood strong against the wild winds with my daughter's hand in mine and looked over this vast place where so much pride and pleasure and pain must have played out over the many years. I told my children that history is important because it teaches where we came from and instructs us with its victories and failures as to what we should repeat and what we should most definitely not.

So once again, here are some recent photos of this most intriguing place in our corner of Chile's arid Atacama Desert. Did someone say tetanus shots?? :)


sea salt MOSAIC said...

what great photos!

it's so fun to find places like this.

Deborah said...

We *have* to go there when I come! :)

Melissa said...

Hopefully you can take me sometime!