To love the world, to travel, is a subtle art
which consists in discovering
the hidden ties that link the cities.
Salvador Reyes, Andanzas por el desierto de Atacama.
Since the late nineteenth century, Antofagasta was the port for all those spurred by the desire to make quick fortune. They came in boats full of dreams of gold and precious metals, to this isolated strip of land between two boundless expanses - the Atacama desert and the Pacific Ocean. The city was built thus, by desire, hope and disappointment; by epic undertakings and lonely feats, in that eternal human quest for fortune and welfare.
The riches hidden in the desert were such that it was come to believe that the pampa was a magnetized surface that attracted metallic substances from the sky and the earth. The truth is that to these uninhabitable, barren lands, men threw themselves in search of riches; here lived and agonized thousands of men, between fortune and misfortune, triumph and misery, charging against the desert in a lifetime effort, fuelled by the fascination and the chimera of the vein.
The boom and the crisis took turns in a constant ambience of uncertainty. When luck was not a fellow, they fought against thirst, cold and hunger. When a vein was discovered, money ran in Antofagasta and the city bursted into optimism and waste. This instability forged, in the man from the north, a wandering and hardened spirit very different from the sedentary and pastoral character of the man from the south.
Miners and prospectors on foot and by mule, walked pampas, salt lakes and streams, giving name to new towns on their way, raising telegraph poles and railway lines, establishing Oficinas in the middle of the driest desert in the world. Hope, future, prosperity, progress, victory; their names represented the unwavering desire of many generations.
Big North (to Antofagasta), is a tribute to the most hostile city I have been fortunate enough to inhabit. To love and understand this city it is necessary to overcome the hardness of its desolate panorama, stripped of all ornament and frills; its rowdy people; its air between marine humidity and salty soil; its bare, rough hills covered by corrugated iron and parched wood houses; its dilapidated, dusty, sad appearance.
Behind that surface (or rather above it), a clear, bright light bathes all, giving a misleading, golden, shining gloss to the simplest object, to what was once opaque. It is the same light that, at sunset, permeates the ocean and hills of a sweet nostalgia, almost painfully waking the infinite poetry spanning the history of the desert and the human condition.
Nicolas Sanchez L., Antofagastas, January 2016