THE voyage down the coast of Chile gives one an idea of its enormous length. It is five days by steamer from the nitrate fields to Valparaiso, and the German ship on which I shall sail for Tierra del Fuego will require nine days to reach Punta Arenas, on the Strait of Magellan. Chile is like a long-drawn-out sausage or an attenuated worm. The only land that compares with it is Egypt, which drags its weary length for more than 1,000 miles between deserts along the valley of the Nile. Chile begins in a desert, and continues a desert for more than 1, 000 miles. Later on, it bursts out into a green valley between high mountains, ending in the grassy islands of the southernmost part of this hemisphere. Chile is nowhere over 200 miles wide, and in some places not more than 50; but it is so long that if it were laid out upon the United States, beginning at New York, it would make a winding track across it to far beyond Salt Lake. If it could be stretched upon our country from south to north, with Tierra del Fuego at the lowermost edge of Florida, its upper provinces would be found in Hudson Bay, almost even with the top of Labrador. Its length is 2,600 miles.
Chile embraces all of the land between the tops of the Andes and the Pacific ocean south of the River Sama, which divides it from Peru, and it possesses in addition most of the islands about the Strait of Magellan. The question as to just where the boundary of Chile and the Argentine Republic lies has been one of dispute between the two countries, and although now apparently settled it is one which may bring about a war sooner or later.
Chile is a land of many climates. It is now winter on the south side of the Equator, but I found it quite warm in the north. At Valparaiso one needs an overcoat when the sun is not shining, but at the Strait of Magellan the ground is covered with snow, and during the winter months darkness comes on at four o’clock in the afternoon. In my travels in west-ern Peru and Bolivia weeks passed without a drop of rain. It never rains in northern Chile; the cities there are as dry as the Sahara, the great question in most of them being where to get water to drink. At Mollendo, Peru, a little above the Chilean boundary the water supply comes from the Andes through an iron pipe more than 100 miles long. At Iquique, water is piped a distance of 8o miles, and Antofagasta gets its drinking water away up in the Andes, 18o miles back from the coast. The Antofagasta aqueduct is, I believe, the longest in the world. I travelled for days along its course in coming down to the sea, and on the borders of Bolivia I visited the great reservoir within a stone’s throw of a dead volcano down which its mountain water flows. At many of the nitrate settlements water is bought and sold. The steam at the factories is condensed and there are engines which are used to make potable water from that of the sea.
As you sail from the desert region southward you now and then pass valleys in which a little river from the Andes has made everything green, but it is not until you reach Valparaiso that the rainfall is heavy enough to cover the whole country with verdure. Still farther south the rains increase until at a distance of 300 or 400 miles you come into a territory where the people facetiously say that it rains thirteen months every year. At Port Montt, in South Chile, the rainfall is 118 inches every twelve months, while at Valparaiso it is only 15 inches. Here, and in the northern part of the central valley, the climate is much like that of southern California. The skies are bright for at least eight months, and during the remainder of the year there are only occasional showers.
Considering Chile as a long sausage, we find it full of excel-lent meat. There are few countries of its size which have such natural resources. I have written of the nitrate fields, which have already netted hundreds of millions of dollars and which cannot possibly be exhausted for half a century to come. A member of the Chilean Congress tells me that there are deposits of guano near the nitrate fields which surpass in richness the guano islands of Peru, being worth many hundred million dollars. He says this guano lies on the mainland and only a few feet below the surface.
All of North Chile, is full of minerals. In coming to Valparaiso I stopped at several ports which have copper and silver smelting works. At Antofagasta there is a smelter, said to be the largest in the world. It belongs to the Huanchaco Mining Company. When I visited it I was shown several acres covered with bricks of silver ore which had been ground to dust and so moulded that they might be the more easily smelted. At Iquique I met a New Yorker who owned valuable silver mines not far from that city. His mines are so profitable that they have rapidly made him rich; they have netted him so much that he has, it is said, laid aside £3,000,000 sterling, as a reserve fund in the Bank of England. This seemed to me a rather extravagant story, but there is no doubt that the man is very rich.
One of the chief copper ports of Chile is Coquimbo, a town of 7,000 inhabitants, situated on a beautiful bay about 190 miles north of Valparaiso. Not far from it is one of the richest copper deposits of South America. The ore is almost pure copper, and the mine owners aver that the deposit is inexhaustible. Chile has already produced nearly four billion pounds of copper. In 1896, it shipped about 50,000,000 pounds, most of which went to Europe. This, however, is not great in comparison with the United States, whose copper product during the same year was more than nine times as large. From Coquimbo they are now exporting about 1,000 tons of copper per month, and several smelters are there kept busy turning the ore into bars.
Chile has also large deposits of iron manganese, quicksilver, and lead. There are gold mines in the southern sections, and much gold-washing is now being done along the shores of Tierra del Fuego. There is also gold in the north, where a large part of the mountains have not been well prospected and where the mines have so far been worked after the most wasteful methods, so that the waste ore on the dumps could be smelted at a profit.
The Chileans, or the Chilenos, as they call themselves, are the Yankees of South America. They are by far the most progressive people on the western coast of the continent. One notices this at once on entering the country. Even the nitrate ports have a stirring business air about them. I found cabs at the stations ready to take me to the hotels, and I could post my letters with-out fearing that the mail clerks might destroy them in order to steal the stamps, as some of the clerks in the smaller post-offices of Peru and Bolivia have been charged with doing.
The Chilenos number nearly three millions. They are like the nations north of them, the descendants of Spaniards and Indians and of the union of Spaniards and Indians, but the Spaniards who came to Chile were from the Basque provinces, which have the best of the Spanish population, and the Indians of Chile at the time of the Conquest were probably the hardiest Indians on the hemisphere. It was long before they could be subdued, and their strength is still seen in the mixed race formed by their union with the Spaniards. These Indians were the Araucanians, a few of whom still live in a semi-civilized state in southern Chile, and of whom I shall have more to say farther on. To-day only about one-third of the population is pure white, the remaining two-thirds being from the cross of the Spaniards with the Indians. Notwithstanding their fewness, the whites own most of the property. They rule the country and are practically the masters of the half-breeds, who form the labouring class of the Chilenos.
Valparaiso is the chief seaport of Chile, the New York of the Pacific coast of South America, being the best business point on the west coast. It is the port nearest the capital and the great central valley of Chile, and thus forms the chief entrepôt of the country, having an import and export trade of more than $100,-000,000. Valparaiso has in the neighbourhood of 150,000 people, but its business is twice as large as any town of its size in the United States. It is beautifully situated, being built about a bay, the shape of a half-moon, and large enough to float the ships of the world, but not altogether safe at periods when the great storms prevail. About the bay is an amphitheatre of hills, rising almost perpendicular and forming the site of the city. The business section is at the base of the hills. It is upon ground re-claimed from the sea by walls of stone and iron railing which give the place excellent wharves.
The harbour was filled with ships when we came to anchor, and our first glimpse of the city was through a forest of smoke-stacks and masts belonging to the large and small craft in the bay. Through this forest we could see green hills covered with houses, hills so steep that I wondered how the houses could stand upon them. The streets rise one above another in ‘the form of terraces, and the buildings above hang out and are apparently about to fall upon those below. There is, here and there, a break or gully in the hilly walls of the amphitheatre, and at several points cable cars were seen crawling up or down the steep incline.
On landing I was surprised to find that nearly every man I addressed answered me in English. Valparaiso is more like a European port than any I have yet visited on the South American continent. Some of its business blocks remind one of Paris, its store signs bear European names, and the goods seen through plate-glass windows are as well displayed as are those of New York or Chicago. I saw many English and German women, fashionably dressed, shopping in the stores.
The streets of Valparaiso are paved with Belgian blocks. The city is lighted with electricity. It has cable connections with Europe and the United States ; it has telegraph lines reaching to all parts of Chile, and long-distance telephone lines to the larger cities. The scenes on the streets are interesting. There are drays, cabs, and carriages rushing along, and among them peddlers with – their stocks in panniers slung across mules. There are street cars with pretty girls as conductors, Chile being one of the few countries in the world where women collect the street-car fares. The custom originated at the time of the war with Peru, when all the men were needed for fighting. At that time the street-car conductors resigned and enlisted, and women were engaged to take their places. They did so well that the street-car companies retained them after the war was over, and they form to-day one of the pleasantest features of rapid transit in every Chilean city. The conductresses wear sailor hats, dark dresses, and white aprons, in the pockets of which they carry their money and tickets. Some of them are remarkably pretty, but it is said that the pretty ones seldom stay long. They get lovers or husbands, and give up the service. The conductresses are usually honest, but the companies have spotters, men spies who go through the cars to see that the girls make proper registration of all the fares they receive. The spies are hated by the girls, who have nick-named them Judases.