Iquique and Mejillones were two stops on our trip that served more as a chance to interact with our Chilean counterparts than anything else. These small towns, while interesting in their own way, don't provide much to the typical tourist. Iquique is slightly more urbanized, but nowhere near as active as Valparaiso or Antofagasta. Its scenery was fairly plain and didn't lend itself well to photography.
Mejillones boasts nothing more than a tiny town full of run-down houses, a small circus, and one bar which serves as the lone nightclub. Even so, it provided a bit more of a visual diversion than its northern cousin on our tour. Upon arrival in this little fishing town, the ship's navigator and I made sure to catch the first available boat, if for no other reason than to get off the ship for a while. I was afforded an excellent view of the nuclear-powered submarine that had accompanied us on our exercises. As we got closer to the pier, I noticed that a man was throwing something into the water near the shore and that his activities were causing quite a stir in the water below. When we finally got close enough, we realized that the man was feeding some of the harbor's more aquatic denizens--a herd of playful and hungry harbor seals.
We walked around town for a while, but there wasn't much to see away from shore. The scenery right around that pier was fit for more than one painting, by my estimation. (Mom, feel free to use your artistic license. J) When we got back to the pier, we found that the boats weren't running on the schedule they'd promised. We ended up getting stuck on the shore with a deadline hanging over our heads.
Earlier that day, we had been invited to the Chilean ship LYNCH for drinks and socializing. That invitation had been for early evening and the sun was rapidly settling beneath the waves. By the time we managed to return to our own ship, the first ferry over to the LYNCH had already left. We managed to get into uniform quickly and headed out on the next boat. We arrived to find a roaring party, right in the ship's wardroom, complete with good music and plenty of Pisco, the traditional Chilean beverage. (Pisco is a distillation of grapes that has many properties similar to tequila. It is classified as a brandy and has quite a punch, and it is often served with cola in a beverage aptly called, Piscola.) And what goes with plenty of strong drink better than gunpowder, right? Well, the ship's gunnery officer paid me the distinct honor of allowing me to fire his miniature cannon right there in the wardroom. That beer can didn't stand a chance.
When our time on the mainland of Chile was over, we were forced to say goodbye to all of our newfound friends. It was an excellent experience, and as always, there was a tinge of regret in our hearts as we sailed away from shore. For me, though, there was also an equally strong tinge of excitement. We were headed out to the one port I had looked forward to above all others. We were finally on our way to Easter Island!!