Last December we ventured on a special trip. Yes we know, we’re concentrating our website content on Europe, but the urge to discover and the call from the unknown headed us to an airplane.
14 hours later we arrived on the other side of the world and summer greeted us abundantly….
From the first moment we knew we were somewhere special…
In a country where the desert kisses the ocean.
Where the wind howls and sweeps the sand and the dust under your skin.
Where the morning cold humidity obliges you into thermal underwear while the afternoon heat makes the sweat run down your spine.
Where you’ll head north and be-happy-green better not ‘d be your favorite colour.
Where the endless straight roads never seem to end until some sudden corners awakens you from your slumbering state.
Where you can’t respect the speedlimits without imagining ending up like one of the many perished, hypnotised by the slow creeping of the roads.
Where the lama’s, donkeys, and other mamals run for the sound of the endless passing of trucks that empty the land from its valuable minerals.
And where the salt seems to grow out of the boiling desert sand.
Life is not always going the way you want it to go and you don’t always get to see what you had hoped for, even when you plan your trips well.
And this trip was one of those. We planned to ride the Andes into the Argentina desert over the famous Caracol Los libertadores pass, but an overly keen Argentinian border patrol officer and the negligence of our tour guide was enough to make it clear we would not see more from the majestic Andes on the Argentinian side.
We tried to make it up to the Christo redentor, but the snow was still blocking the climb and the first day high made us uneasy and we turned back around.
Time for a new plan, we said, but where to go in a country that stretches for 4500 km between the pacific and the Andes if you have only 8 days left.
To the south is a possibility but the ride is about 2500km before you’re in Patagonia; they say the wind at this time of year is really bad. So we choose to move up north, all the way to San Pedro de Atacama.
FROM THIS TRIP THE FOLLOWING WILL FOREVER REMAIN WITH US
Straight – 114 – Accidents – Abandoned – Desert – Trucks – Mines – Height – Salt – Wind – Cloud – Ocean – Mano del Desierto – Border – No Green – Ocean – Cities – We made it
Straight: from Los Andes, where we ended up after the frontier debacle, to San Pedro de Attacama the fastest road is straight.
Now we don’t mind a stretch of straight in between endless corners, but almost 1570km straight is maybe a bit too much.
La Serena, Vallenar, Copiapo, Chanaral, Taltal, Antofagasto, Calama, San Pedro, the road seems like an endless stretch.
And those 2 days of straight leaves us numb. The more we stare at the speedo and the number the harder 114 is engraved in on our retinas. 114 stands for, speed limit of 100 + 7km speedo exaggeration and 7% speed limit toleration.
Apparently the police is not able to inn the fines directly, so when you get stopped you have to go to the judge to pay and that can make you lose a day. Screw it we’ve seen 6 police cars during 1500km straight, mainly parked at police stations.
Anyway, during this monotonous ride we try to counter boredom and do admit this wasn’t resulting in exemplary riding.
A marathon no-hands-on-the-handlebars later we realise why every 100m there’s a victim of this boredom remembered at the side of the road.
Or driving licenses come with 6 pots of Nutella in the supermarket.
Abandoned: The feeling you get when crossing the country. Wherever you look, ride, stop, everything seems abandoned.
Even in Villages, take Baquedano, things can look like they were abandoned from one day to another.
Time stopped, trains stopped, activity stopped. And everything remained like it was.
Here in Baquedano someone tried to turn it into a museum, but when you follow the signs no entrance is to be found. It makes you think even the signage was abandoned.
The crumbled old rusty remains of the trains, the station, the buildings around all point to one direction, the importance of the trucks in nowadays life.
Hence the straight roads, the boredom, the emptiness and the roadside mausolea…
Since we left the green around Santiago we have seen nothing but arid land.
Mining companies have emptied the soil from all its richness and left red, yellow, black end, white desert sand and rocks from everywhere to the horizon.
The colours, however, are magic and when approaching San Pedro it’s difficult not to stop and stand in awe for so much beauty.
And we haven’t seen anything. We firstly plunge into San Pedro, where tourism created a bustling town of alternative and luxurious travel.
Streets are no streets, houses sheds or imposing, street dogs everywhere. You feel welcome, especially to buy an excursion of one of the hundreds travel agencies to any place in the beautiful surrounding.
We have wheels and we have a full day ahead. A day that will stay with us forever, as the desert will be turning the surroundings into magic. The approach to San Pedro with deep red eroded salt gives you this unearthly feel.
Heading west 27 greets you with an unbelievable climb. The road may look flat at certain points but don’t underestimate the climb.
Yellow fluffy vegetation thrives here against a backdrop of blue skies and dark red/purple volcanoes.
Every mile west takes you higher and higher: you notice vegetation disappearing, almost no one is here.
We can see the border of Bolivia, to the left is the Laguna Blanca, beautiful they say, but we cannot cross the border so we had on to la pacana Caldera and the Salar le Loyoques.
It’s here we all get light headed and where we move slowly to avoid getting out of breath by the altitude.
The white, the blue, the reddish orange. We stand amazed. Incomparable beauty. And there’s life even at this altitude.
Guanaco’s and Lama’s feed on low vegetation and salty water. A marvellous habitat but hard on life. And hard on us.
After we have been exposed to the altitude we need to flee back to lower grounds. On the way back we stop with a cyclist.
He peddles, he walks, and he came from Hungary or was it the Czech republic? I don’t remember, but what an effort…
We leave San Pedro by the South, a shortcut back to Baquedano. The B385 crosses the salt mines and more arid spaces.
One way the salt seems white, the other way the sand colours the white crystals. We meander through.
The road looks like dirt, but is salt, hardened by water and allowing up-tempo speeds. We’re leaving the Atacama back to Antofagasto and one of the must take picture places in the shape of the Mano del desierto.
It’s picturesque, for sure, but where you imagine a hand standing solely in the middle of the desert, it’s a roadside sculpture accessible to everyone making it unfortunately a lesser myth.
We find the Mano del desierto as interesting as the Melon del desierto, probably lesser known, but clearly on the rise to become an international icon.
You’ll find it along the B710 south of Antofagasto before plunging back to the ocean and its eternal cloud.
However today the sun allows us to soak up areal views from route one North of Taltal and while seagulls and eagles fight for the best view of our drone we are seduced by the waves beating the dry coastline and the asphalt meandering along it.
We drop further south along the coast via the Pan de Azucar. Before reaching the marvellous coastline we’re crossing road works, alas water trucks.
It makes the drive slippery and we know we’ll have to clean the bikes after, as the salt is deadly for your wheels.
Remember that, even if it gives life it can kill your bike….
Los lomitas, playa blanca, chanaral, Again long straight drives via Copiapo, Portofino towards Punto del choro.
A unique place for glamping and Whale spotting. We’re in the off season, it’s calm here, but people say in high season it’s so crowded you can not even see the sand on the beach…. with that in mind we leave the coast for the curvy roads inland.
Ovalle, La paloma, Monte Patria. Lakes, fields, curves, we’re on our way back, pistes towards Illapel. Again.
The landscapes looks more and more like the south of Spain, south African like, corners fluid, clouds stuck to the mountains.
We’re approaching big city life. Busy streets and bustling overwhelming warmth. 4500km. We’ve been around. It wasn’t always easy, but more than worth the trip.