Sailed Puerto Carrizal Bajo

Position: 27 15.0 S 071 02.0 W
Course North Speed: 3 knots
Wind South sou’ west F3 Gentle Breeze
Weather: Overcast, mild
Days Run: 60 miles

A light south westerly breeze allowed us to once again sail from anchor this morning. But before talking about today let me backtrack to complete yesterday’s journal entry.

Once secure at anchor and our lunch consumed we got the dinghy into the water and rowed ashore to the nearby muelle (jetty). Ashore the first thing that attracted our attention was an area surrounded by a high fence made of tan coloured sunshade fabric supported on wooden poles about 20 feet high. The fence enclosed some old foundations made of the local black stone, its purpose something of a mystery, it was clearly not for security as it was easy to walk around and even had an open doorway midway along one side. To me it seemed to be more of a windbreak and as we explored the ruins within I could only conclude that it was some sort of archaeological dig, but even to my untrained eye it was obvious that his would have to have been the most slap dash dig ever with no respect to any of the existing structures. We thought the walls might have been the remnants of an early fort but the ruins didn’t look anywhere near old enough to support this hypothesis, especially as the walls were held together with cement. We left the mystery unsolved for the moment and pressed on.

The township had many houses in various states of repair, many freshly painted and in very good order but for the most part shut up. Martian guessed that they were holiday houses and Puerto Carrizal Bajo must have been a tourist town. This would explain why the town seemed almost completely deserted. A large open sided tin roof structure with spotlights hanging from its rafters attracted our attention next, a loose sheet of corrugated iron flapped noisily in the wind. As we approached we encountered the local football field, its playing surface the bare desert dirt, white painted steel goals set at either end. Then we walked around the various dirt streets making our way to the church. On our way we spotted a colourful garden decorating the entrance to a small well maintained building. Clearly water was not spared in keeping this little plot in very nice order. Inside Martina was able to decode the various notices to determine that this was the doctor’s surgery. A little further on the sound of children drew us to the escuella, five children played in the school yard, they were clearly fascinated by the strangers in town, but shyly avoided our gaze when we said hello. Outside the church stood a freshly painted bus in bright red and yellow, looking in very good order apart from the fact that it had no wheels, and a stone path leading up to its padlocked door pointed to the idea that this bus had not moved in many years. Peering in through the windows revealed shelves of books so we concluded that this must be the town library. Twenty yards on the church doors stood open. We ventured in, the first impression being the pleasant aroma from the old dark oiled timber floors. Inside it was a typical Catholic church with the stations of the cross and several statues of saints along the sides, hard wooden benches for the worshippers and a high standing pulpit for the priest to preach from, but in all a reasonably subdued serene ambience prevailed compared to the larger Catholic churches in bigger townships. By this time, apart from the five school children, we had only seen maybe three or four people. Where are the inhabitants we wondered. Another large ruin attracted our attention, the plaster crumbling from the walls revealed a timber frame, its interstices filled with small rough tree branches, a method of construction clearly dating from an earlier period. From here we spotted a sign - “Restaurant”, a potential source for a cold beer so we went inside to find out. The waiter/chef, Juan, turned out to be very friendly and with Martina we were able to have many of our questions answered.

It turned out the township was as Martina had guessed, largely a tourist town with a permanent population of a mere 70 people who mostly made their living out of fishing and odd jobs servicing the town. During the peak tourist season from January to March the population swells to 3,000 with a rather incredible total of up to 8,000 people in the surrounding hinterlands. The ruins that attracted our attention on our landing ashore were in fact the tailings of an old mine from the 1800s, producing iron ore and copper. Juan told us a long story of conflicting interests between companies, land owners, locals and government bodies surrounding the old mine. It seems the mine is viable again with modern extraction methods but for now the local interests were being protected by the government and the township looked to remain a pretty fishing port and tourist resort. The second set of ruins were once the offices of the original mining company.

We then set out across a small sand isthmus for the cemetery on the other side of the bay, here the few remaining graves are derelict, surrounded by rusting iron fences, many had collapsed into shallow holes, and a small three grave crypt had been ransacked long ago. We continued on to explore an interesting rocky outcrop which form a distance had an angular look of human construction but turned out to be only a basalt column thrusting out of the dusty desert. It provided shade and shelter from the wind for some blooming cactus plants, their brilliant white flowers open to the sunshine. We then made our way back to town along the rocky coastline, coming across a large phallus made of white painted stones set in the middle of a natural amphitheatre, undoubtedly the work of some bored tourists. Further on another structure, a small dry wall intrigued us but its stony silence refused to provide us with any clues as to its purpose. Once back at the village we revisited Juan where we enjoyed a cold beer while he shared some more of his local knowledge and some of his own history. It turns out he used to be a chef in the merchant navy and had visited many parts of the world, regularly sending his pay cheque home to his wife in Santiago, but when he eventually returned home over ten years ago it seems his wife had parted the scene with his two children long before. Now he had found peace and beauty working in this restaurant overlooking the cove and the desert beyond, looking forward every seven years or so to the rains which transform the landscape into a lush garden of many coloured wild flowers. Juan said the dry wall across the bay was the foundation for a bridge that at one time spanned the bay, its purpose being to lead from the church to the cemetery. He also told us that the mining company used to have another dig which now lies at the bottom of the bay, buried beneath its waters in an earthquake in the late 1800s. He had seen evidence of the site with his own eyes in February when the tsunami had emptied the bay and revealed the ruins, further advising us that it was a good thing we had not anchored further in as we would probably have fouled our anchor amongst these ruins. I would like it noted at this stage that I am merely relating Juan’s stories and leave the reader to decide for themselves of their veracity.

Returning on board we refreshed ourselves before proceeding ashore once more for a meal at Juan’s restaurant and some more cold beer.

In all it was a very enjoyable stop over. Now we are making for a much larger bay 60 miles to the north, Bahia Inglesa. We had intended an overnight sail but the sea breeze kicked in a little after midday and soon had us running wing on wing before it. We have since made good time and expect to arrive sometime in the small hours of the morning.

All is well.

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