The coast was here formed by a great steep wall of rock about 2000 feet high; the town containing about a thousand inhabitants, stands on a little plain of loose sand at the foot of this barrier. The whole is utterly desert; the fine white sand is piled up against the mountains to more than a thousand feet high, & neither it nor the rocks produce one single plant. In this climate a light shower only falls once in many years; hence the ravines are filled up with loose detritus & the whole mountains appear crumbling. At this season of the year, a heavy bank of clouds parallel to the ocean seldom rises above the wall of coast rocks. — The aspect of the place was most gloomy; the little port with its few vessels & the small group of wretched houses, seemed overwhelmed & out of all proportion with the rest of the scene. — The inhabitants live like those on board a ship, everything comes from a distance. The water is brought from Pisagua, about 40 miles off, in boats, & is sold at 9 Riales1 an eighteen gallon cask. — a wine-bottle full cost 3d.— In a like manner firewood & of course every article of food is imported. The latter chiefly from Arica where there is a stream & fertile valley. — Of course very few animals can 593 be maintained in such a place; I with difficulty hired for the morning two mules & a guide to go to the Saltpetre works.2 These are the present support of Iquique; during one year the value of 100 thousand pounds sterling was exported to France & England. It is however of much less value than true Saltpetre, this being the Nitrate of Soda, mixed with some common Salt. Formerly there were two exceedingly rich silver mining districts; at the present day they produce little. —
Our arrival in the offing caused some little apprehension; Peru is at present in a complete state of Anarchy; & each party having demanded a contribution, the poor town of Iquique was in tribulation, thinking that the evil hour was come. — They also have their domestic troubles; three French carpenters during one night broke open & robbed two Churches; subsequently from intimidation one confessed & the plate was recovered. The two convicts were sent to Arequipa (200 leagues distant) for punishment, but the chief man there thought it a pity to shoot such useful workmen who could make all sorts of furniture, & they were pardoned. — Things being in this state, the Churches were again broken open & the plate stolen; but this second time no traces can be discovered (some suspect the Cura!); the inhabitants were dreadfully enraged & declaring none but hereticks would "eat God Almighty", proceeded to torture some Englishmen, with the intention of afterwards shooting them. At last the authorities interfered & peace was established.
Captain Fitzroy’s Journal:
One day, while visiting a gentleman at Talcahuano, he called three little Araucanian boys into the room where Mr. Rouse and I were sitting with him, and desired them to harangue or make speeches to one another in their own way. The little fellows stepped forward boldly, and one of them spoke to the other two in a very fluent and expressive manner; but ended every marked sentence, or portion of his subject, by the singular sharp rise of the voice which has so often been noticed as a peculiarity in the oratory of Indians in this country. Another boy replied in a similar manner; and then they began to fight with their fists. This part of the display of course we stopped; but we were much interested by the composure and readiness with which the little boys spoke. One of the speakers was son of a cacique. All three had been obtained by actual (though secret) purchase from their countrymen, through the intervention of one of the 'Capitanes de los Amigos,'* one of whose offices is to take the part of and protect the natives. Perhaps, in the first instance, these boys had been stolen or taken prisoners, and were not the children of those who sold them to the 'captain of the friends.' In the family of Don —— those boys found a comfortable and a happy home; he had taken them from the rascally 'capitan de los amigos' as an act of charity, and intended to give them employment and land on his estate. I thought of Lautaro, as I noticed the bright eye of the little cacique.
When I took leave of the Yntendente, he said that he was about to make a journey to the frontier, for the sake of inspecting the outposts and securing the assistance of the friendly Indians: and this, I afterwards understood, was in consequence of the rumoured approach of those hostile tribes of whom Colonel Valenzuela had spoken to me at Arauco.