“And the Desert Shall Rejoice” (Isa. 35:1)


Think of someplace dry—someplace so dry it makes the Sahara look like a swamp. Wring out the last drop of water from that place and hang it out to dry in the hot sun and wind for a week or so, and you’ve got a place about half as dry as the Atacama Desert.

Covering the northern fourth of Chile, the Atacama has received a total of .03 of an inch of rainfall in the last 20 years. Not even the smallest, prickliest, toughest shrubs live in its driest reaches. Nothing but lifeless dust can be seen for miles and miles except in a few rare places where meager streams run down from the mountains or wells have been dug. It is hard to believe that even a microbe could live in the soil of these moon-gray hills.

And yet there are cities here. One of them is Arica, the northernmost city in Chile, established in the very driest part of the dry Atacama. Green with trees and flowers, it sits between the blue Pacific and the dead wilderness. It is a bright city. Houses and shops are painted in vibrant colors. The people are happy. The music is rhythmic. The holidays and festivals are lively.

And in all this bright, happy city, the brightest and happiest people are—you guessed it—the Latter-day Saints. And Arica’s two wards contain many dedicated young Mormons who are keeping the commandments; preparing for missions, marriage, and righteous homes; and having the time of their lives. They can be found together often, participating in sports, dances, meetings, parties, and especially splashing in the salty waves of one of Arica’s several public beaches. Although thousands of vacationers flock to Chilean beaches in Viña del Mar and other resort centers, Arica has the only beaches in Chile where people actually swim. The frigid Humboldt current makes the water further south off limits to all but the most rugged, but a warmer current touches the Chilean coast at Arica and makes the water delightful. The people respond by frolicking in the cool surf all year long except during the chilly months of June, July, and August.

So it is no surprise one spring afternoon in November when a city bus pulls up to its last stop at one of Arica’s beaches and fires out a burst of happy, good-looking young men and women who charge through the soft sand down to the beach. High above them looms El Morro, the massive gray cliff whose profile dominates Arica’s southern skyline. In a moment’s time a magic carpet of colorful towels has appeared on the beach, and a game of dodge ball is proposed. But there is no ball, so one of the towels disappears from under a young man. After suffering a number of knots and some finishing touches from somebody’s shoelace, it is a towel no longer. It has become a ball, and the dodge ball game is on—the boys against the girls. The boys are stronger and throw straighter, but the girls are trickier, and the outcome of the battle remains dubious. They churn the sand as they play, leaping and twisting until the hot yellow sun seems to leap and twist in the sky above them. After a while the game somehow evolves into a keep away marathon, and somewhere along the line a real ball has appeared.

About this time one young man tires of the game and puts a Superman “S” on his chest with sand. Two others hit the sunny water, heading for the concrete diving platform 30 yards out, and before long everyone is splashing in the Pacific.

On the platform a young man stands in a Hercules pose, flexing his muscles. Another does a flip into the water, sun glistening from his wet shoulders and back. Another chugs by in his inner tube like a determined little tugboat. The immemorial call of water to youth is too much for almost everyone, and soon the old world of sun and sky becomes a memory seen through the wavering blue of the surface and the beaded curtain of rainbow spray. Over the whole scene El Morro presides with massive dignity.

Afterward there is time for sunning on the beach, acrobatics in the sand, and leisurely forays against the sea. The toe-soothing sand underfoot; the cool, beckoning, shaving-lotion waves; the refreshing scent and feel of sea breezes; the hot sun; the white breakers dying in froth against the breakwater—all combine to create a feeling of timeless well-being. The heady smell of sunshine, sea, and suntan lotion seems like an essay on youth and summer-to-be.

A few of the group wander off to the rocks where the crashing breakers become long blankets of pungent white foam. In the clearwater pools left by the retreating waves, they find small sea creatures going about the mysterious routines of their alien lives. And on the bright towels back at beach headquarters, some relax and tell the New Era about life in Arica.

Ariqueños love laughter and need little excuse for a good fiesta. They enjoy their holidays and have a good supply of distinctly big-league celebrations. One of the highlights of the year is the carnival season each February. During that mad interlude passing strangers are likely to be bombarded with water-filled balloons, confetti, or flowers. On the Dia de los Picados (Day of the Imps) this list expands to include buckets of water, mud, shoe polish, dye, eggs—anything vaguely liquid will do. Dances and parties are held in the plaza. A wooden monkey is built and dressed in a tuxedo. This monkey becomes the carnavelón, the chief of the carnival, and everyone shows him exaggerated respect as he is feted at parties and parades. When the carnival finally comes to an end, the carnavelón is buried, accompanied by extravagant weeping and mourning.

Ariqueños are also adept with knife and fork. They excel in preparing delicious, highly seasoned delicacies, and they know how to appreciate what is put before them. Like most of Latin America, Arica eats a continental breakfast, but there is a generous snack about 11:00. A substantial lunch follows around 2:00, and then the main meal of the day is put on the table about 9:00 at night. It may include such delicacies as humitas, empanadas, and “broken shoes” (see the sidebar on food at the end of this article).

The beach bunch also explains a little about school in Chile. Most students attend half-day sessions, but they are expected to study hard in their free time. During his schooling each student studies Spanish, mathematics, music, English, physics, chemistry, and other optional subjects. If a student fails the final exam in one of his major subjects and does not redeem himself at a follow-up exam, he must repeat the whole year’s studies, including the subjects in which he did well. Needless to say, tests are taken seriously. Students burn the midnight oil striving to get a seven (highest grade) and have nightmares of being issued a one (the lowest). Competition for admittance to universities is tough, but Mormon students throughout Chile have fared well.

While basking beneath the sun, they also share their feelings about the gospel, its blessings and responsibilities. “The first thing we have to do in order to fulfill Elder McConkie’s prophecy concerning our future (see “There Is a Land Called Chile,” New Era, Nov. 1978, p. 20) is to be examples, not only in friendshipping people, but also in our deportment,” says Elisobet Santibañez. “In this way people will see that by doing the right things a person really can live happily. A worthy member of the Church can always feel tranquility. And when people who don’t feel this tranquility see our example, they will change. Every day there will be more people who want to study the gospel.”

A recent convert adds, “Some of the best things about the Church are the people. They are very warm and loving. They welcomed me with open arms.”

Santos Altamirano Espinosa, who has just returned from serving a mission, says: “We shouldn’t be selfish. We should let our brothers and sisters know of the truth and help them realize that they have the opportunity of gaining eternal life.”

She adds a personal experience of following the counsel of the Brethren: “I remember President Kimball as an apostle. Ten years ago he said, ‘Prepare yourselves and have provisions in your homes because difficult times will come.’ Several years ago Chile went through a difficult time when there was no food. The prophecy was fulfilled, and every time I remember this, I put more emphasis on obeying the counsel of the prophets.”

Hector Novoan says: “Since my first steps as a child I have been developing faith in God. Now that I know the gospel I can proclaim as with a trumpet that the greatest blessing one can receive upon this earth is to come to a knowledge of the gospel.

“I know that the Lord loves me. His love is so great that when I praise him from my heart, I feel a great joy fill my whole being and I feel him very near. I know that if it were not for the veil covering my mind, I would be able to remember him and those days when I was with him.

“I know without a doubt that by applying the gospel in our lives we will achieve perfection and prepare ourselves to return to the Lord.”

A young man from North America who is in Arica as a foreign exchange student speaks with great admiration for the young members in Arica:

“They are completely honest. If one of them feels unworthy to officiate at the sacrament table on Sunday morning, he says so rather than just going ahead and doing it in order to avoid embarrassment. I love the nonmember Chilean family I live with like my own family. They are some of the finest people in the world. But whenever I visit the homes of the members in Arica, I am amazed by the difference it makes when the priesthood presides in a home and gospel principles are observed.”

Ana Maria Rivera eloquently sums up the feelings of the whole group—their faith, their hope, their commitments: “Our existence would be completely void if there were not a brilliant and promising light to give us direction and guide us to the true path, a path that brings us back to the celestial home to which we belong and to the Father who gave us the marvelous opportunity to live on this earth.”

“Above all we must throw ourselves into our Church work, for it is a work that honors, elevates, satisfies, and which makes those who perform it happy.

“In short, believing in Jesus Christ and in what he has given all men makes me devote myself to doing what he wants me to do with all my heart, body, and mind, always knowing that at the end of the path is our Father, waiting for me with open arms, desirous for me to overcome the obstacles, and anxious for the time I return with my brothers and sisters.

“We are young; we have the strength, the will, the hope, the love, and above all, this fresh, healthy, great, glowing faith that fills the voids and lightens the darkness. We will use it with renewed strength and vigor to build the marvelous church that Jesus Christ wants to have here on the earth in these latter-days.”

Not one of the happy group on the beach has ever seen it rain in Arica, and not one of them probably ever will, but with the spirit and power that is within them, it doesn’t seem impossible that even the Atacama will rejoice and blossom as the rose.

Chilean Dishes

Humitas

Use about one dozen ears of tender corn. Remove the husks. Grate off the kernals, and add to them a chopped onion fried in lard or butter and seasoned with albahaca (sweet basil). Divide the corn mixture into two parts, adding hot green peppers to one part and two tablespoons of sugar to the other part. Soften the largest of the corn husks in boiling water. Place a tablespoon of corn on each husk, fold like a package, and tie with string. (This string can be made from the corn husks themselves, if you wish.) You may need to use several husks until you get the hang of the wrapping. Cover the bottom of a large pot with corn cobs, and cover the cobs with boiling, salted water. Cover the pot tightly and steam the humitas for about 40 minutes. Serve immediately. (Don’t eat the husks!) If there are any humitas left over, serve them again with a tomato sauce made by frying sliced onion and tomatoes.

Baked Empanadas (Meat Turnovers)

1 pound rump meat

1/2 pound lard

2 big onions

2 cups milk

Salt

1/2 pound olives

Cayenne pepper

1/4 pound raisins

2 pounds flour

2 boiled eggs, sliced

This should all be prepared the night before and left in the refrigerator. Cut up the meat and fry in oil. Add the onions (cut up fine), salt, and pepper (to taste). When cooked, thicken with a tablespoon of flour.

Put the flour on a wooden board. Make a hole in the center, add the melted lard (hot) and also the hot milk and some salt. Work well with hands first until well mixed; divide this dough in portions the size of a medium potato, and spread these portions with a rolling pin until you get circles with a 6-inch diameter. Drop three tablespoons of meat filling on half of each circle of dough. Add two olives, four raisins, and one slice of egg; fold the other half of the dough over the filling, and press with fingers all around, folding edges upwards to give the shape of a half moon. Bake in hot oven (400° F.) for about 20 minutes.

Dulce de Leche

Put an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk in a pan on a rack. Cover the can with water and boil gently for three hours. Cool and use the dulce as frosting for cookies or cakes, a jam for bread, or as a topping for canned fruit. It is especially delicious as the filling in a cake roll, a desert known in Chile as “the queen’s arm.”

Empanaditas de Queso

1 cup sifted flour

4 tablespoons cream cheese

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon chili powder

2 egg yolks, beaten

1 egg white

2 tablespoons water

Fat for frying

4 tablespoons cottage cheese

Sift flour and baking powder into a bowl. Cut in butter, using pastry blender or two knives. Add the egg yolks and water, and toss lightly with a fork until a soft dough is formed. Add more water if necessary. Combine the cottage cheese, cream cheese, salt, and chili powder, mixing until smooth. Beat the egg white until stiff but not dry, and fold into the cheese carefully.

Roll out the dough as thin as possible on a lightly floured surface. Cut into rounds with a cookie cutter. Place a teaspoon of the cheese mixture on each round and fold over the dough, sealing the edges carefully with a little water. Press the edges with the tines of a fork if desired. Heat the fat to 385° F., and fry until lightly browned. Drain well.

Broken Shoes

4 2/3 cups flour

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

1 cup milk

1 tablespoon margarine

Combine the flour with the eggs and margarine. Then add the sugar dissolved in the milk. Knead the dough, roll it out, and cut it in narrow rectangles. Make a slit in the middle of each rectangle and pull one end through. Deep fry for about two minutes and sprinkle with sugar.

[photos] Photos by Jed Clark

[photos] On the coast of northern Chile the blue Pacific meets the Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth. Only .03 of an inch of rain has fallen on Arica in the last 20 years. But Ariqueños have learned to live well in the wilderness, drawing life-giving water from beneath the ground and harvesting the sea’s bounteous wealth of fish

[photos] The cold Humboldt current makes swimming a Spartan challenge at most of Chile’s beaches. But Atica is blessed with a warm current that sweeps ashore to make the waves comfortable nine months of the year

[photos] Arica is a city of bright colors and happy people. These scenes from Arica include a planning meeting of the stake Young Men and Young Women leaders; a soccer game between city employees on their lunch hour; and El Morro, the cliff whose profile dominates Arica’s skyline