Wednesday, May 25, 2011

On the Sands of Time, Part Four

A quick search for blogs related to Pisagua reveals a treasure trove of photos and reflections compiled by those who have ventured down the silent streets of this small town. Traveler and writer Lorraine Caputo describes Pisagua as "cloaked with the heavy weight of its past." One blogger writes, "In Pisagua, the ghosts of the past linger, filled with upheaval and violence ..." Another characterizes Pisagua as "... a small town with a tremendous history--some of it proud and some of it dark." Interestingly even Celine Costeau - granddaughter of famed ocean explorer Jacques Costeau - has visited and filmed in Pisagua. Her description: "Pisagua is a town seemingly forgotten by time, partially abandoned, it’s crumbling facades a testimony of stories past."

An interesting study of Pisagua and subsequent publication of a paper in the Journal of Political Ecology was carried out by Sarah Keene Meltzoff. This paper "focuses upon the discordant nature of government development in regards to the fishermen living in Pisagua and the political activists associated with Pisagua, and how conflicts have evolved in the wake of inevitably shifting environmental, economic, and political conditions."

However one of the primary tensions at the time of its publication in 2001, the political prison-turned-hotel and an attempt at a tourism industry, now seems to have faded away as yet another forgotten chapter of the town's tangled history. The building still stands but under lock and key, no longer available for public viewing.

It is no wonder that upon arriving in Pisagua there is a sensation of carrying "the weight of history on my shoulders," as one visitor described. Indeed the latter scenes of Pisagua's history are heavy and dark, to the point that many travelers avoid coming here out of superstition or solemnity. Yet the earlier chapters, the ones ever more deeply buried in the sands of time, are just the opposite: full of color and action and bravery and adventure.

Even tales of pirates pepper the history of this small port. Some say treasure is still hidden along its desert shoreline. In the famed War of the Pacific, Pisagua was the site of the first amphibious assault of the war in which Peruvian and Bolivian defenders were driven back by Chilean troops who took the town for their own. In fact, one traveler from as recently as last December told of antique coins and buttons and sabers which can still be unearthed through metal detection on the beach of Playa Blanca where the troops disembarked. (Now my curiosity is really piqued!)

And then there was the mining boom. Along the beaches, outside the town, everywhere you look in Pisagua are ruins of old foundations, rusted metal moorings, crusted evidence of a one-time flourishing industry reliant upon the railways which connected Pisagua to the nitrate mines in the interior and purposed its port for shipping around the world. I love the picture below. In the foreground you can see standing tall and tarnished what remains of a one-time wharf. In the background my husband and children are pointing to aged foundations crumbling along the shoreline.

Pisagua is a lingering link between past and present, a port protected and concealed by nature and all but forgotten by humankind. It is a place to enjoy the waft of ocean breezes and the whisper of history ... a place to praise God's beautiful creation and to ponder man's corruption ... a place bitter in its sorrow and sweet in its soulfulness. It is a place to rest, and a place to reflect.

That is Pisagua.


#1 Note: I anticipate doing a fifth and final segment, probably sometime in October, when my parents visit and we take time to walk through the historic cemetery in Pisagua.

#2 Note: While writing the third part of this series, I learned this interesting tidbit and wanted to share: "Voyage To The Planets is a work of filmed docufiction (a fictional story presented in the form of a documentary) about a manned voyage through the solar system ... Venus and Mars were recreated in the area of Iquique on the road to Pisagua in the Atacama Desert after location scouting in various countries in the world."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You kept us entralled with your story about Pisagua. Mom and I are looking forward to our trip there with you in October. You never cease to amaze us, Stephanie, with your writing and story telling abilities. We love you! Mom and Dad