Antofagasta was a great port for me. It was the home of a lot of fun and our visit there marked the beginning of some wonderful friendships. It was in Antofagasta that we met the "AT&T Folks". Now, for those of you who don't use AT&T, you might be interested to know that this particular phone company provides long distance service to every ship in the US Navy while they are out preserving freedom. Never mind the fact that they're the only ones who do this because they got the contract. The fact is that they make a point to take care of sailors by making sure they have the resources to call home, no matter where they are. The AT&T Folks provided cellular phones and long distance access numbers free of charge so that we could call our friends and family back in the United States. We still had to pay for the call, but they made sure there were plenty of instant-access calling card plans for those who didn't already have an AT&T Calling Card.
Spending so much time on these ships, these intrepid Chileans had plenty of opportunities to get to know us, and us, them. So we became friends with Macarena, Geraldine, and Ivan. Macarena and Geraldine worked in their own advertising agency when they weren't off gallivanting with the Navy. Ivan was a college student, taking some time off to enjoy our company and make some money. These three showed us around Antofagasta (twice) and Iquique, introducing us to the night life, food, and fun of Chile.
And what fun! The South American lifestyle practically centers around fun. People work hard, but when it is time to rest, they rest. And when it is time to party...WOW! Most restaurants and night clubs don't even get going until many US citizens are hitting their pillows. I couldn't remember the last time I had stayed up all night and watched the sun rise...but I did it there. We enjoyed sumptuous meals full of all the things doctors say we shouldn't have, but managed to work off most of the calories with a night of dancing. We went to restaurants like Don Karl's, which served fabulous German food, and Picadillo, which is a typical Chilean bistro, and Capoeira, where they serve a set menu full of fabulous South American banquet dishes in the fashion of yesteryear.
One of the other great experiences in Antofagasta was our visit to La Portada. La Portada is a natural landmark, a symbol of Chile itself. This natural bridge was created by the action of wind and waves over hundreds of thousands of years and stands as testament to the innate creative power of our world. It doesn't hurt that this little crop of rock is just off a coastal cliff that completes the beautiful scenery. It's yet another one of the places I'd seen in pictures, but never thought I'd have the chance to see with my own eyes while I felt the sea breezes brush against my face.
We would eventually return to Antofagasta and spend more time with our Chilean friends, but first, we had to head back out to sea and spend some time in the nearby ports of Iquique and Mejillones.