Quite a day! We almost missed the tour. We didn't hear the first announcement that we could leave the ship. Then they stopped people from exiting so they could put down the big gangplank. When we finally got off with another tour participant everyone was gone. However there was a sign that looked like a Phyllis sign (she was the tour organizer) so we all approached the man. We said "Phyllis". He said "Si si. Follow me." and he started running. Almost reluctantly we followed. He shoved us into a car, another guy got in and off we went. We had no idea where. And we all were thinking this is a really stupid idea to get into a car with 2 strangers. However the passenger did point out some scenery as we drove. Meanwhile the driver was talking on the phone in Spanish of course. After what seemed like an eternity but was probably 10 or 15 minutes we saw a bus. The driver started honking the horn, the bus pulled over, we stopped, got out of the car and onto the bus. We had caught the tour. Oh yes, the driver's name was Christian.
On the way to the small village of Poconchile we stopped to see some petroglyphs. Ernest, our guide told us that they are a caravan on their way to the sea.
This whole area is within the Atacama Desert, the driest place in the world. It covers a total area of 40,541 square miles, stretching 600 miles from southern Peru into northern Chile. The desert receives almost no rainfall whatsoever. In fact, it is so dry that some weather stations in the desert have never recorded a single drop of rain. As a result of these harsh conditions, plant and animal life is almost non-existent, particularly in the lower Atacama Desert.
The next stop was Poconchile, a locality of pre-Incan origin located in the Lluta valley on the south bank of the Lluta River. It was a resting place on the route to the Andean high plateau. At the center is the mission church of San Jeronimo which has a fenced yard and a crowning. Behind it is the cemetery of the hamlet. Here the first parish of the Corregimiento de Arica was founded in 1605. The church is adobe from the seventeenth century with reconstruction and with two wooden bell towers added later.
From there were went to a small olive grove Aceitunas de Azapa and, of course I bought olive oil. It was a delightful place. Everyone thought we would lunch there but there was no restaurant. However the next stop, an artisan market Poblado Artisanal, not only was quaint with lovely crafts but also had a restaurant. But no lunch there either. However the next place was lunch - a gas station. I kid you not. Richard and I each had a Crystal beer from Chile, and we shared a can of Pringles and a Snickers bar. Everyone was really annoyed at Phyllis. Good thing she wasn't on our bus.
We stopped again on top of El Morro to see up close the large statue of Christo de La Paz and look down at the panoramic view of Arica.
The final stop was the Anzota caves where the Chinchorro Indians lived from 9,000 to 3,500 years BP (7,000 to 1,500 BC). The people forming the Chinchorro culture were sedentary fishermen inhabiting the Pacific coastal region of current northern Chile and southern Peru. It was quite a walk from where the bus dropped us off to the caves. We didn't make it all the way and another lady, Rita was a bit ahead of us but turned around and started back on her own. We got to the spot where the bus dropped us off but Rita was not in sight. Then the rest of the group came up and Rita's friend wanted to know where she was. Rita was lost. Ernest was very worried. And it was getting late. We had to get back to the ship. Finally the bus arrived to take us back and there in the bus was Rita. Apparently one of the construction workers that was there at the bus stop felt sorry for her and drove her to the bus. All's well that ends well.
We found out that the women who had organized these private tours in Manta, Lima, Pisco and Arica were not just doing it to be nice. They are real tour organizers and they get a kick back from the tour companies. And, of course if you are on a private tour and it's late getting back to the ship the ship will leave without you. So we decided no more private tours even though they are cheaper than Celebrity's tours.