Thursday, 4 March 2010

The Strange Ways of the Chileans

The Strange Ways of the Chileans

By A. Hyatt Verrill

From Travel magazine, Volume XLV May, 1925 Number 1. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, February 2010.

Antofagasta, Chile's Nitrate Port—The Driest of Dry Towns—Chile's Fourth of July—Curiosities of the Fire and Police Departments.

(This is the fourth of Mr. Verrill's series of articles dealing with the West Coast of South America. Others will follow in subsequent issues of TRAVEL—The Editor.)

IT is a popular belief that it never rains in northern Chile, but two days after my arrival in Antofagasta it poured for six hours, and, a few days later, another drenching downpour proved conclusively that weather is as fickle in nitrate land as elsewhere. Nevertheless, real dyed-in-the-wool rains are rare in this desert region, and to the inhabitants, such a deluge as welcomed me is a real event in their lives,—almost a fiesta in fact. To them a real drenching rain is a thing to be remembered for years, to be regarded as a phenomenon, to be recalled for generations. It is like the great "blizzard of '88'' to New Yorkers, the "night of the big wind" to the Irish, the eruption of Morne Pelee to the West Indians, and we can easily imagine a gray-headed, tottering old Antofagastan, a half century or more hence, spinning wonderful yarns of the days when rain fell in torrents in this rainless land, and dating all important events of his life from "the day of the rain," But a few years ago it would have been even more remarkable than at present. There is no doubt that the climate has changed, as within the past three or four years several rains have fallen where, for longer than the oldest inhabitant could remember, no rain had fallen before. Still, rainy days in Antofagasta are far too few and far between to be reckoned with, and no provisions have been made to guard against them.

Few roofs are watertight; there are no gutters or drains to carry the water from streets and sidewalks, and when it rains, pots and pans are quickly requisitioned to catch the dripping water both indoors and out.

On the Pampas a rainfall is a dire calamity and causes tremendous monetary losses to the nitrate officinas, but in the city the worst results are sodden walls and carpets, damp beds and linen and flooded streets; —small matters, more than offset, at least in the minds of the common people, by the benefits derived from obtaining several days' supply of water free of cost. Water, in fact, is a most important and far from cheap item in the lives of the Antofagasta people. Until a few years ago, all water was supplied by peddlers who, with barrels mounted on carts, made their rounds and sold distilled sea water by tin or bottle. Today, Antofagasta has an excellent supply of the purest water piped for nearly 200 miles from its source in a glacial lake in the distant Andes. But the supply is controlled by the railway company and is sold to the public at prices which to us would seem exorbitant. The better class of houses and buildings are piped and are provided with meters, but the great majority of the natives purchase their water from tank carts which peddle it from door to door as of old.

One can scarcely blame the working classes for going unwashed and in filthy rags where water costs five cents a gallon, and neither can we wonder that when a rain does descend upon the dry and dusty town the people hail it with delight as a blessing.

But for over three hundred and sixty days of the year Antofagasta is as dry as the proverbial bone. There is not even the misty drizzle that veils Peru's capital during the winter months and there is seldom a day on which the sun does not shine, at least for an hour or two. For this reason Antofagasta, though much farther south than Lima, is not so unbearably unpleasant during the cold weather, and though there are absolutely no provisions made for heating buildings or homes, one does not feel as though in a tomb or within a short distance of an iceberg.

Nevertheless, the traveler who visits Chile between April and November will be convinced that the country was most appropriately named.* After sundown the heaviest wraps, overcoats and furs are essential if one is to experience even a modicum of comfort. As far as the town itself is concerned, it has certain attractions and many improvements and admirable features. Roughly, it may be described as a cross between a western mining town, a rural village and a second-rate English seaport. It fronts on an open roadstead, where frequently the heavy seas make embarking and disembarking hazardous or impossible; and is built on a narrow strip of beach that slopes sharply up from the water's edge to the gloomy, dun-brown, wrinkled mountains, standing out in silhouette against the sky.

* Oddly enough, the word CHIRE in the Quichua tongue or CHILE in Mapuche, literally means "a cold place."

On the night of Chile's greatest fiesta, the anniversary of the republic's independence, the Dies y ocho, or 18th of September, great beacon fires of salitre are kindled on the mountain slopes back of the town. Like titanic red fire the nitrate burns with a dazzling, blinding color, like the incandescent molten metal in a great blast furnace, and throws off dense masses of smoke. Illuminated by the glare of the flames, each ridge and peak and rugged buttress of the mountains glows dully red, throwing the gulleys and canyons into dense black shadows; up from the burning piles great columns of orange-tinted smoke roll and twist and writhe; the sky is painted crimson to the zenith, and every street and roof and building stands sharply forth outlined in vivid red. Even the waters of the bay beyond are ruddy in the glare, and the anchored ships seem inky silhouettes with every mast and rope and spar as clearly cut as though drawn upon the scene with an artist's pen. It is an awe-inspiring, wonderful sight, and gazing at it, one feels that thus must these raw and frowning mountains have appeared when molten lava flowed down their sides and volcanic vents spouted flame, and smoke, and the new-born rocks were still red hot and the very heavens blazed with the fury of the inferno hurling up the towering peaks from the bowels of the earth.

Aside from this curious custom of building bonfires with the only highly combustible material at hand, the Antofagastans show little originality in their merrymaking on Independence Day. In a general way it is strikingly like our "safe and sane Fourth," or rather, I might say, like a series of them, for two or three days are given over to the fiesta. Here and there a few firecrackers pop half-heartedly, a few sticks of red fire are lit at night, and flags fly everywhere. It is certainly safe enough, in so far as peril from fireworks and toy pistols is concerned, but as much cannot be said for the sanity of the celebration, for to the Roto or laboring class, the fiesta means merely unstinted drinking and unlimited Pisco or native rum. As a result, a large percentage of the Roto merrymakers get gloriously drunk, and while they are mostly merely hilarious or sodden, a number always become possessed of homicidal mania, and stabbing affrays, shootings and deaths are of far too frequent occurrence. There are, however, a large number of decent, sober and peace-loving Rotos who, with their friends and families, pile themselves and their belongings into carts and singing and laughing, betake themselves to the beach on the outskirts of the city and there have a glorious time picknicking.

This form of celebration is not confined to the common people by any means. People of all classes flock to the seaside, much as do our own holiday crowds, while others prefer the horse races, excursions to the Pampas, or other equally harmless and healthful forms of diversion. Formerly, the Dies y ocho was not regarded as complete unless every house and building that required it had been newly painted for the great day. When this custom was in vogue, the stranger, arriving in Chile shortly before the 18th of September, might well have thought that every inhabitant was a painter by profession. Everywhere ladders were leaning against walls, and everywhere men were painting away as though their lives depended upon it. Houses, gleaming in fresh and vivid coats of paint, were on all sides; others were partly done and reminded one of ragamuffins whose shoulders had been hidden under bits of gay finery leaving their soiled and bedraggled nether garments exposed; while still others were dingy and dull, appearing almost immodest in their nakedness. It was, in fact, a veritable painting spree, and gave one the impression that the depressing brown of the encircling mountains had driven the people mad and that they were insanely striving to make up for nature's lack of decorative effects. Like all Spanish Americans, the Chileans are a bit addicted to the mañana habit, and hence they put off the annual painting until the last minute, with the result that all painted at once, for it was obligatory by law to have one's house or place of business painted by the day of fiesta. It was, in short, by far the most sensible and commendable method of celebrating the national holiday and one well worthy of imitation by other nations. But each year the number of newly painted buildings grew less, the law became more and more lax, and today, one scarcely sees a painter at work in anticipation of Dies y ocho.

And, speaking of Chilean customs and of Antofagastan ways that might well be copied to our own advantage I might call attention to the fact that this little nitrate town has forestalled any future possibility of traffic congestion by making all thoroughfares one-way streets. And the authorities see to it that the vehicles obey the rules. At every important corner a traffic policeman stands on duty. While a traffic cop in long blue coat, spiked white helmet and with sword instead of club, may seem incongruous to us, yet such a figure is mightily efficient in Antofagasta. With the immensely wide streets and the small number of motor vehicles this wholesale one-way traffic system may appear ridiculously unnecessary. But it is far better than the congestion of Lima's streets and the hopeless confusion arising from allowing vehicles to travel in any and all directions in the narrow, crooked thoroughfares of most Latin-American towns. Possibly the rule was made partly in order that the visitor driving about town might be impressed with the excellence of Antofagasta's streets, or again, it may be a device to disseminate traffic over the city and thus prevent any one locality from becoming a business district and leaving other sections deserted.

It has been said by one well-known writer that, "there was not a town between Lima and Valparaiso that possessed a shade tree or a paved street," and that, "with few exceptions, the buildings were mud shacks thatched with grass." Very evidently that writer had never visited the west coast, and certainly he had never seen Antofagasta. I doubt if anywhere between Lima and Valparaiso he could find a mud shack thatched with grass, for while mud houses are plentiful grass is not, and in most of the towns roofs of any sort are more of a name than a reality. And in practically every town one finds plazas with flowers, shrubs and shade trees. Antofagasta, although at the edge of a desert is no exception, rather it excels all others in the extent of its plazas and the abundance of its trees and greenery. To be sure, the streets are barren of shade trees, there are no long avenues of palms or eucalyptus, no front yards filled with flowers and shrubbery, no walls draped with blooming vines, as in Lima. But wherever there is a plaza there is a riot of vegetation and large trees, while in the center of the Avenida Brazil, a splendid highway leading to the race track, is a park of trees, flowers and shrubbery, half a mile or more in length, beautifully laid out, and containing a children's playground with swings, slides and similar devices for juvenile entertainment. And though they may not be visible from the street, many of the back yards of the houses are filled with flowers and with growing vegetables, for the soil of the desert is rich, and only water is needed to make anything grow.

And one would look in vain for the "mud shack thatched with grass." The majority of the residences of Antofagasta are of wood; the more pretentious homes and the stores and office buildings are of solid masonry or concrete, and many of the buildings are three or four stories in height. Many of those now in use, and still more in course of construction, would be a credit to any city. The Intendencia, the Catholic church, the Spanish Bank, and others are imposing, beautiful and artistic structures. But one searches in vain for anything that savors of Spanish or Latin-American type. As a whole, the city is far more like an English than a South American town. Prat Street, the principal business street, might well be a street in an English provincial town were it not for the signs in Spanish. And the majority of foreigners are British, for the greater number of large industries as well as the railway are English. And quite British also is the juxtaposition of well-to-do homes and miserable hovels and tumble-down huts. None but a British corporation would expect its English employees to occupy residences surrounded by squalid native shacks and facing filthy corrals. And none but a British corporation would think it fitting to have its properties unpainted, badly kept and out of repair, a condition which would lead one to think the company was on the verge of bankruptcy.

It must not be supposed that British interests in nitrate land are paramount, from a financial standpoint. On the contrary, the Americans have more capital invested than the British, for the Chuquicamata copper mines, the DuPont explosive works, the Grace Company's holdings and several of the largest nitrate industries are American. Also there are many Germans, while the Jugo-Slavs have a firm footing and control many important lines of business. But there are two types of inhabitants which are conspicuously lacking in this nitrate town. The Indian and the Cholo, who are striking features of the Peruvian towns and form the bulk of the working class, are practically unknown in Antofagasta. To be sure, now and then a few Indians or even a Cholo or two may be seen on Antofagasta's streets, but they are strangers, natives of the far interior towns or of Bolivia, and are merely transients. Undoubtedly the absence of the native Indian and the Cholo, a term applied more or less indiscriminately to those of mixed Spanish and Indian blood as well as the city dwelling Indians, is due to the fact that this arid, barren northern coast of Chile was practically uninhabited by the aborigines at the time of the Spanish conquest. But in place of the Cholo and the Indian, Antofagasta, like other Chilean cities, has a working class quite as distinctive as the Cholos of Peru. These are the Rotos, people of practically pure Spanish blood, ragged, dirty, but highly picturesque rascals, upon whose labor the country depends, just as Peru depends upon the Cholos and Bolivia upon the Indians.

Very wide and comprehensive indeed is the term Roto (literally "ragged"). In their ranks are the fleteros or boatmen, the stevedores, the draymen, the coach drivers, the common laborers, the peddlers, the mechanics, the street sweepers, in fact every class of workman, laborer and humble artisan; a veritable army, a class by themselves and a mighty power to be reckoned with in politics and industry. And in the Roto class are as many social grades as among the well-to-do or the military classes. Everywhere they are in evidence, energetic, loud-voiced, a bit swaggering, often wild looking, and, as a whole, quick tempered, hard drinking, temperamental and wholly irresponsible.

The Rotos of the street—the peddlers, truckmen and laborers, are perhaps the most picturesque features of Antofagasta and the only unusual or striking sights of the town. In their loose blouses, usually made from flour sacks, their queer head coverings, also of flour sacks, and their ragged, filthy nether garments, they may be seen working, swearing, shouting about the docks and warehouses and looking far more like a horde of brigands or pirates than a gang of laborers. Bearing poles, with both ends draped with fish, across their shoulders, they hurry through the streets crying their wares and seeming to care not a jot whether or not they dispose of their loads. But the Roto is at his best when he is driving one of the heavy two-wheeled drays drawn by three mules hitched abreast.

The Roto scorns to occupy a seat on the vehicle and from that point of vantage drive his team like an ordinary truckman. Instead, he mounts the left-hand animal and, seated on a high, uncomfortable looking saddle, and armed with a long-lashed whip whose wooden handle ends in a leather-guarded hilt like a sword, he handles his team by means of quaint Spanish oaths, hoarse war whoops and pistol-like cracks of his wicked whip.

That he is brutally cruel and absolutely lacking in any sense of humanity goes without saying. He is as ready to fight as to work and on the least provocation he will whip out a knife and leap to the attack. I was told by a reliable Englishman who had resided for many years in Antofagasta, that less than two years ago knife fights were of nightly occurrence even on the main streets, and that five or six years back it was a common sight to see several dead Rotos sprawled on the pavement almost any morning. Fortunately the efforts of the authorities and the police have resulted in confining these stabbing affrays to the Roto sections of the town, and at the present time the rougher, wilder lot of Rotos are seldom seen in the better sections of Antofagasta after nightfall. Of course men of this type are ripe for trouble, mob violence and revolution at any time, the more especially as they are absolutely lacking in education and intelligence and are easily swayed and excited. Let a man publicly denounce the government and the existing order of things and declare for Bolshevism, and in a moment the crowd of listening Rotos will wave the red flag and clamor for bloodshed and revolution. And let some one wave the Chilean flag or let the band strike up the national anthem, and instantly the Rotos are screaming themselves hoarse with "Viva Chile" and are in a patriotic fervor ready to shed the last drop of their blood for their country.

In the past the streets and plazas of the town have seen many bloody sights, hundreds of Rotos shot down, many hundreds wounded, shops looted and citizens murdered. And so it came as almost a miracle that during my visit to Antofagasta, which, as I have said, was coincident with a change of government, the practical exile of President Alessandri and military control, there was no excitement, no mob violence, nothing whatever that savored of a revolution or of Roto lawlessness. All of which, according to those who should know, went to show that the change of government met with the full approval and desires of the common people.

In most countries the laboring class is always aiming at something better, striving to imitate if not equal those higher in the social scale, usually a bit ashamed of being what they are. But not so the Rotos. They are proud of the fact that they are Rotos, they are almost a race by themselves, and they have their own amusements, their own life, and, to a certain extent, their own language or jargon which is quite unintelligible to a person knowing only ordinary Spanish.

Their favorite pastime, aside from drinking and fighting, is the Cueca, a dance peculiar to the country and which consists mainly of slow steps, body writhings and the use of a handkerchief, which is waved, dropped, and flirted in apparently aimless fashion. As a matter of fact every movement of the handkerchief, every motion of the body, every step, even the words of the song and the music which accompanies the dancers, have their meanings, usually very suggestive and quite unfit for description.

Nevertheless, the Cueca is, when well danced, an attractive and picturesque performance and one of the few truly Chilean customs that have been retained in the nitrate town. Of course the Rotos, like everyone else in Antofagasta, are racing fans. The Sunday horse races are the event of the week, the more especially as bull fights are unpopular and things of the past, while the state lottery is prohibited. As a sporting proposition the Antofagasta races are hopeless, for they are flagrantly, obviously and unblushingly crooked; but this merely adds zest to the betting and places the outcome entirely in the realm of chance, as no one, not within the inner circle of owners and jockeys, can possibly foretell the winner or even a place horse, no matter what the animal's previous records or feats may have been. As the betting is all of the pari-mutuel class, and as tickets sell for five and ten pesos (about fifty cents and one dollar) a person can have a great deal of fun and no little excitement without losing a fortune. And as the chances of big winnings are good, horses at times paying as much as seven hundred pesos on an investment of ten pesos, it is little wonder that the Rotos as well as their betters look upon the races as royal sport.

The use of the much depreciated peso as the unit of value has resulted in many necessities and luxuries being very cheap in Antofagasta, To be sure, imported goods are high, but even these are far less costly than in Peru, while Chilean-made goods are, as a whole, extremely moderate in price. It is rather staggering to the stranger to look into a shop window and see a pair of shoes marked $56.00 or a shirt labeled $20.00. But when one learns that the dollar mark stands for pesos, and that the exchange rate is nine or ten pesos to the dollar, it is a different matter. Moreover, Chilean-made goods are as a whole excellent in quality and workmanship. The shoes, shirts, cloth, furniture and countless other articles are fully as serviceable as those imported and sell for a fraction of the price, while foodstuffs of every variety are made, grown or prepared in the republic. There are splendid wines, liquors, cigars, cigarettes, smoking tobaccos, macaroni, cheese, butter, biscuit, candies, chocolates, canned goods, and in fact everything edible, and about the only things in this line that the Chileans have not succeeded in preparing properly are pickles. They may make fifty-seven varieties, but it is safe to say that not one of the lot is fit for human consumption.

But the stranger in Antofagasta, who is forced to reside in a hotel, will not find living cheap. To secure good accommodations in the best of the hostelries one must pay New York prices. A suite of two rooms with bath will cost at least six dollars (60 pesos) a day without meals, or ten dollars (one hundred pesos) with meals, for two persons. And even at such prices the accommodations are far from being the best one might expect. But the hotels, or at least the best, are clean, and I found one Antofagasta hotel that in one respect excelled all others I had known in Spanish America. It was the one place in which I could secure a properly cooked soft-boiled egg. To the Spanish American a boiled egg means one of two things. It is either pasado por agua (passed through water) and is literally "passed through" hot water and is served raw and lukewarm or else it is boiled to the consistency of hard rubber. But to my indescribable surprise and intense delight I discovered that when I ordered a medium boiled egg at my hotel I received an egg that was neither raw nor hard. Only once did my mozo fail me. One-morning he brought my eggs as thoroughly boiled as though they were intended for a salad.

"But Señor" he expostulated when I berated him, "they were cooked but three little minutes. I timed them with my own watch."

As he spoke he proudly exhibited his timepiece.

"Nevertheless they were hard, hard as rocks," I declared.

He looked puzzled. Then an expression of vast relief swept over his face and he grinned.

"Caramba, I understand!" he exclaimed. "It must be that my watch is a little slow!"

Eggs by the way are about the safest things one can order in the town. The meat, sold, cooked and eaten within a few hours after the animals are slaughtered, is tough, tasteless and far too fresh, although the fish, if one is sure they are freshly caught and have not been killed by dynamite, are excellent. During the season, too, the big sea crayfish or spiny lobsters are splendid and the giant scallops or Ostiones are most delicious. During the Chilean winter months the variety of green vegetables is somewhat limited, but during the summer—from October until April, excellent native fruits and a great variety of vegetables are obtainable. Most of these are brought from the south, for very little is raised in the desert nitrate region, and as the bulk of these imported products are sold in shops or are peddled about the streets, the Antofagasta market is rather disappointing. Perhaps I should be a bit more specific and say the contents are disappointing, for the market itself is a most imposing and beautiful structure, by far the finest building in the town, and much more suitable for a government building than a market. But within, it is woefully bare with none of the crowd of barterers, the colorful display of fruits and vegetables, the noise of chatter, cackling fowls and hum of business that is so characteristic of most Latin-American markets, and, judging from the market alone, the stranger might reasonably assume that the Antofagastans were on a hunger strike or that they never ate.

Another peculiarity of the town is the great number of pawn shops. They appear to be everywhere and all seem to do a rushing business. At first one is puzzled by this, but the secret of their existence, and the extent of their patronage, lies in a peculiar custom of the natives of pawning their good clothes every Monday and redeeming them every Saturday.

The Chilean working man or woman reasons that as he or she cannot wear good garments during working hours, and as their best clothes are only donned for the week-end holidays—or for occasional fiestas—there is no reason for keeping them in his or her possession during the week. Moreover, they argue, if by delivering their apparel to "Uncle" for five days they can secure some most useful and much-needed pesos, why should they not take advantage of it? They never appear to realize that each time they visit the pawn shop to repay the loan and secure their garments they pay a usurious rate of interest or that by the end of the year they have paid the pawnbroker many times the value of the clothes. It is a custom firmly fixed and nothing can change it. It is to be regretted that other native customs have not survived as strongly, that the people have done away with the picturesque habits of their ancestors and have thus lost practically all attractions and interest for strangers. Even the mardi-gras or carnival, which is so dear to most Latins and is the great fiesta of the year in Panama, is ignored in northern Chile, and the nearest approach to it is the students' fiesta or Fiesta de primavera which corresponds to our May Day.

This takes place on the first Saturday in October and continues over Sunday. It is a holiday confined to the children, mainly the pupils of the schools and colleges, who don fancy dress and masks, parade the streets, both afoot and in decorated floats, hold battles of confetti and in general carry out the carnival spirit. In a way it is a far more attractive and admirable revel than the mardi-gras, for the youngsters seem far more fitted for the parts they play than grown-ups, and some of the costumes are really wonderfully beautiful. Especially is this true of the little tots, children of three to eight years, who, garbed as Spanish ladies with shawls, mantillas, high combs and fans, or as Dutch girls or Cholas, ballet dancers or Dresden dolls, are really fascinating.

It is only during this fiesta that one realizes how many children there are in Antofagasta or how numerous must be the schools to educate them. Aside from the schools of lower grades, which correspond to our own public schools, there are kindergartens, parochial schools, a high school and the San Luis College as well as commercial schools for boys and one for girls and a manual training school for girls, while in Antofagasta as well as in Iquique are schools of mines and nitrates in which the latest methods of the mining and nitrate industries are taught. This is a most wise course, for the very life and existence of both towns depends upon these twin industries, and of the two, perhaps the nitrate industry is the more important.

It would seem that I arrived in Antofagasta at a most propitious time. Not only was I welcomed by a bloodless revolution and the heaviest rain ever known, but in addition I reached the nitrate town just in time to witness the Dies y ocho, the spring and the Columbus Day celebrations. Everything that the little town could exhibit seemed to be taking place as if especially for me. But there was yet more to come, for my advent was coincident with the fire season.

It seems that in Antofagasta conflagrations have their closed and open season like fish or game or other sports, the open season for fires being from August to December. Just why this is so is something of a mystery, although the solution may lie in the fact that this period is coincident with the time when insurance policies must be renewed or lapse. At any rate, there is no denying that Antofagasta's fires, and there have been many and disastrous ones, have all occurred at this season. And the city kept up its reputation during my stay. To be sure there were no tremendous fires, fires that consumed a square block or more, as has happened almost yearly, but one conflagration that I witnessed destroyed eight or nine houses and only lack of a stiff wind and the prompt action of the firemen prevented others from causing untold damage. Evidently, too, the municipal authorities feel that it is no concern of theirs if the citizens' homes or places of business go up in smoke, or perhaps they feel that lack of a city fire department tends toward increasing the business of the insurance companies. Whatever the reason, the city itself does not possess a single piece of fire-fighting apparatus nor is there a single fireman on the city's payrolls. But the Antofagastans do not lack either firemen or apparatus. Each of the foreign colonies—Slav, German, Spanish, Italian, has its own fire brigade of volunteers and its own hose wagons and motor trucks while, to show that they are not to be outdone by outsiders, the Chileans have their volunteers and apparatus. And they do excellent work considering that the men are untrained and must dash madly from home or business at the sound of the clanging fire gongs. To be sure, they are a bit slow, very cautiously climbing up the ladders to a second-story window and descending with great care and deliberation, and they quite sensibly feel that they are not called upon to risk life and limb for the sake of saving inanimate property. But they are just as anxious to wreck furniture and batter down doors and windows as their compeers in our own cities, and no metropolitan fire fighter could excel them in unnecessary destructiveness. And as the water used in extinguishing the flames is sea water, the contents of an Antofagasta house or building are not even fit for a fire sale after a wetting down by the local bomberos.

The apparatus used by these volunteers is a strange admixture of the modern and the antique and, when the fire gongs clang, one may see motor fire trucks of the latest design tearing through the streets, while close in their wakes are ancient, two-wheeled hose wagons drawn by panting, shouting bomberos hauling on a long rope exactly as our greatgrandfathers hauled similar antiquated apparatus to fires a century or so ago. And often the bomberos' rush to a fire becomes a sort of hare and hounds or hunt the thimble game. There is no electric fire alarm system, no definite number of strokes of a bell from a signal box. The nearest approach to it is a prearranged system of bell strokes to indicate various parts of the city. Heading in the general direction thus indicated, the firemen follow the crowd, unless the smoke or flames are clearly visible. As a rule this is the case, for when a fire breaks out one cannot rush to a near-by corner and send in an alarm. Instead, one must either scurry to the nearest fire company house or must find a corner store that possesses a telephone. And as time is of no more account, in the minds of the telephone operators in Chile than in our own country, one's home or shop may be totally consumed before one obtains a connection with the fire fighters' headquarters. Very often, too, the fire is discovered by the men kept constantly on watch in the fire company's towers, and as there is no sure and quick way of notifying the absent owner of a building that his property is on fire, it is a common occurrence for an Antofagasta citizen to return home from a dinner, a dance or some other entertainment only to discover that his residence is a pile of smouldering, sodden ashes which, to make the loss even more complete, has been thoroughly gone over by looters who look upon every fire as a treasure trove wherein findings are keepings. Even the police, who, by the way are very efficient, are totally unable to prevent this looting of burned or partly burned buildings, for the thieves, pretending to be friends of the owners of the building, or tenants thereof, boldly carry off furniture or anything else, even loading their booty into carts for transportation. Moreover, the honest people render the thieves' acts more easy through their custom of hurriedly removing all their possessions from their houses near a fire, a habit acquired through long and painful experience and most sensible withal. But very often, in their anxiety to salve their goods and chattels from fire and water, which may and usually do spread, they place temptation in the way of the ever-present looters who, while the owners' backs are turned, brazenly make off with the household furnishings piled helter skelter on the sidewalk.

And speaking of thieves and police let me call attention to the unique and remarkable vehicles which the guardians of Antofagastan law and order employ for transporting lawbreakers to and from the courts and jails. Unlike our own commodious and even luxurious motor vehicles, the Chilean police wagons resemble dog kennels on wheels. They are tiny, boxlike affairs, minus windows or ventilation, too low to permit a full-grown man to sit, much less stand upright within, and are painted a vivid scarlet. And to complete the effect, and perhaps as a warning to other prospective evil doers, each bears upon its roof a carved wooden image of his Satanic Majesty, a very realistic and horrible little devil, tail, cloven hoof, trident and all complete, surrounded by painted wooden flames and bearing upon his mouth a most fiendish grin, as though fairly revelling in the thought that the occupants of the red vehicle are in his clutches.

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