Arica is a beautiful city. The coast and the ocean are amazing. There are beaches with dark golden sand and the waves are perfect. El Morro, a large, rocky hill that overlooks the city and coast, has breath taking views of the city and from anywhere in the city you can see the massive Chilean flag that flies on the top. You can’t see it from the city but there is also a huge statue of Jesus Christ on top that looks out at the ocean. It is a symbol of peace between Peru and Chile after territorial disputes were finally settled.
Outside of the city is pure desert. Sand dunes and almost nothing else. Years ago, an artist was commissioned to create several sculptures in the desert to the south of Arica. The statues that the artist created are massive, sand colored creations that are the only things that stand out for miles. His inspiration was the idea of people living in space. There is even a “landing pad” for extraterrestrial aircrafts that is a design made of rocks.
There are also murals all over Arica. I’ve seen many around the University of Tarapacá and also around the old University Républica where we have our Spanish classes. Most of them seem to be memorials to people who lost their lives during the violent 1973 Chilean coup. All of the murals are very detailed and many are very colorful. Some are more abstract and include depictions of owls and colorful designs.
Besides all of this, there are just wonderful people. Everyone I have met so far has been very welcoming and kind. Everyone has been patient with me and my Spanish speaking abilities which I have been really grateful for. Most Chileans speak really fast and with so much slang that it’s hard to understand what they are saying even if you understand all of the words they are saying. My host family has been exceptionally welcoming. They have helped me a lot with my Spanish and they are very generous. I am really enjoying my time with them and getting to know them more. My host dad just came back from vacation the other day so I just met him but so far he seems very friendly. He’s been super funny so far. I also got to meet my cousins the other day. They are from Santiago but are currently in Arica. Two nights ago we went over to my abuela’s house for “once” (dinner). The next night we had a barbecue at our house. My host dad prepared fresh fish that he bought at the port that morning. It was delicious. The fish was reineta, a fish common in the ocean off of Chile. I am looking forward to trying more of the local fish while I’m here.
The other night I went to El Centro, the main shopping street in the center of the city, to get ice cream with a few other students from my study abroad program. When we got out of our colectivo (a carpool style taxi with a set route), there were several events going on in the plaza. One of the events was a traditional African-Chilean dance to celebrate the African heritage of Chileans in Arica. The dancers were amazing and there was a band of men and women playing drums and singing. I felt so lucky to have arrived just in time to watch the last few dances and experience this tradition.
While everything has been amazing and interesting so far, I have noticed that in the midst of all the beautiful places, there is a lot of trash. Arica’s tap water is safe to drink but most people who can afford to buy bottled water do because the tap water doesn’t have an appealing taste. I was told it’s because of the amount of minerals in it but I’m not really sure why it tastes bad. Most people buy bottled water and many families have the stereotypical office water cooler-type dispenser in their homes. Arica doesn’t have a very good recycling program and many of the people who live here are not very environmentally conscious. This means that there is a lot of plastic waste and garbage everywhere. I have found myself needing to buy bottled water occasionally and I feel really wasteful. Over the past week I have been better about filling up the water bottles that I brought with me and using those as much as possible but it is challenging because I drink a lot of water during the day. I do want to work on improving my environmental footprint while I am here though.