THE WESTERN COUNTRIES THE NITRATE WORKERS 297. A land without rain.—Chico is an Indian boy whose father works in a nitrate plant in Salar, Chile, about thirty miles from the town of Antofagasta. Chico never saw but one rain in his life. That was a little sprinkle five years ago, and there was not enough of it to wet his clothes. In the long strip of country where he lives between the Andes and the ocean, rain is a very great rarity indeed. The climate is so dry that nothing what ever can grow. In 1880, the armies of Chile and Peru fought a battle out in this desert, and for years afterward the dried bodies of dead men and dead horses were to be seen lying where they fell in the desert. This fact shows how very dry indeed this part of the world is.
We all know that salt will quickly dis solve in water, but here in this desert of Peru and Chile, and in a part of Bolivia near by, the salt just lies on the ground, shining like snow, because there is no rainwater to carry it away.
All. day long out in this salty plain, Chico's father shovels a kind of salt called nitrate into a cart and the driver hauls it over to the nitrate factory. There is no garden, no tree, no grass, around the little stone house where Chico lives. When he gets his mother a bucket of water, he has to buy it, because water is so scarce. All the water in this village of Salar is brought in a pipe from a stream at the foot of a snowfield high up in the Andes, nearly one hundred miles away.
298. The trade of the wet land with the dry land.—Every two days a train comes from Antofagasta, bringing potatoes, cabbages, apples, and all kinds of food for the people at the nitrate works, and bales of hay and sacks of grain for the horses and mules.
But Antofagasta is almost as dry as Salar. All of the food which this town sends to Salar, and all of the food which the people have at Antofagasta, comes in ships from southern Chile, where it rains and where men can have farms.
Antofagasta is about as far from the equator as is the tip end of Lower Cali fornia. You remember that Lower Cali fornia and Arizona are very dry, while there is a great deal of rain in Washing ton State, farther away from the equator.
It is that way in South America also.
Central Chile has some rain and a tem perate climate like California. Here oranges, grapes, pears, peaches, apricots, and other fruits are grown as they are in California. Farther south in Chile there is much rain and snow, as in Washington State, British Columbia, and Alaska.
The farmers of central and southern Chile get nearly all their money by selling food to the miners in the desert to the north, where many thousands of people live in villages as dry and foodless as is Chico's village of Salar.
During the World War, this desert was one of the busiest places in all the world; for the nitrate of soda; which is found in the salt there, was used to make gun powder, dynamite, bombs, and torpedoes. Many people from southern Chile moved up into the desert to work in the nitrate plants. Hundreds of ships went to Antofagdsta and Iquique, got nitrate, and took it to England, France and the United States. Ships carried nitrate from Chile, while wheat waited in Australia, although people were going hungry at the time.
299. Increasing our food supply.— Now that the war is over, we are using the dynamite to blast rocks in mines, quarries, and roads. Many chemical factories use nitrate to make things which we find in the drug store, and the farmers also use it as fertilizer to feed the crops. Shiploads of ni trate go to many ports in the United States where there are fertilizer factories. You remember that the cotton growers in our Southern States use a great deal of fertilizer. Nitrate of soda looks like very coarse salt. If you want to see cabbage or lettuce grow rapidly, scatter a thimbleful) of nitrate on the damp ground over the roots of the plant. Be care ful that it does not touch the stem or leaves. The use of nitrate as a fertilizer is one of the many ways by which educated men have recently learned how to make the earth give us much more food. If we are willing to work and can live at peace, there is no reason why anyone should go hungry.