National Geographic : 1960 Feb
KODACHROME© NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSOCIETY Grader stirs a nitrate broth in an 11-acre pond at Maria Elena. Solar evaporation concentrates the solution, permitting the recovery of nitrate of soda, iodine, and other salts from plant wastes. Enormous nitrate deposits lie in the Chilean desert. Granulated nitrate flows like sugar into a lighter in Tocopilla harbor. A ship waits in deep water to load the snowy cargo. An ideal fertilizer, nitrate also forms the base of many explosives. I tried to imagine the ships that had made history there. Virtually every corsair in Pa cific annals entered Valparaiso's waters, be ginning with Drake and Cavendish and Hawkins. "Valpo" was the first major stop after rounding the Horn, and every sailor on the high seas was likely to put in there sooner or later. David Farragut, later the first ad miral in the United States Navy, fought the British there as a 12-year-old midshipman. It required no imagination for me to see modern warships riding at anchor, for this hill-girt harbor is an important Chilean naval base. I could easily make out the cargo ships and small craft, some of them unloading spiny lobster-size crayfish taken from the sea off Chile's Juan Fernandez Islands. The largest of these ocean specks, 415 miles 224 Chile's plants produce about 1,300,000 tons a year. west of Valparaiso, is commonly known as "Robinson Crusoe Island." A marble tablet there honors the memory of Alexander Sel kirk, the marooned Scottish sailor whose ad ventures on the island during the early 1700's formed the basis for Daniel Defoe's classic story. Another Chilean possession, Easter Island, lies 2,300 lonely miles to the west. Its near est inhabited neighbor, Pitcairn Island,* is 1,300 miles farther on. Because of Easter Island's strategic loca tion as a crossroads in an empty ocean, I was not surprised to learn that Chile hopes to build a jet strip there. With greater accessi bility, perhaps scientists will solve the remain * See "I Found the Bones of the Bounty," by Luis Marden, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, December, 1957.