Kilometer 4,923, Arequipa, 28-Jan-10 @ 10:00: It’s been a while and I was eager to ride again. The road to Tacna and then Arica in Chile was again through deserts: rocks, gravel and dirt. The desert even climbs up to 1,300meters. It makes for some very special twisties: rock walls on one side, cliff drops on the other and leaning into turns with my helmet skirting the rock facades; What a rush! The border crossing into Chile is typical “a la South America”. How should I know that I need to buy a border forms in Tacna… 20Km before the borders?! I didn’t want to ride back and look for this form so I waited around until a couple had an extra one which they gladly gave me.
As soon as you are in Chile the local time jumps +2hours compared to Peru. Hey, I don’t mind sunsets at 21:00 :). Kilometer 5,364, Arica, 28-Jan-10 @ 20:30: Arica is most famous for the war of the Pacific, when Chile conquered this land from Bolivia and Peru back in the 1880’s during the nitrate mining golden era. Also, there are a couple of Eiffel buildings near the main square, with the St. Mark Cathedral being the most impressive.
On the road again, this time heading to Iquique, Kilometer 5,753, Iquique, 30-Jan-10 @ 17:20 and the many geoglyphs that dot the desert landscape. Some of them are hard to locate and one of them took me a good 30min driving on dirt roads prior to finding it, but it was worth it. No one can really explain the meaning of these geoglyphs although there are no shortages of interpretation including the obvious alien version (hey, they even made a visit when I was there; check the pic of the alien in the red helmet). Somehow, I can’t help thinking that more than anything else, these guys just created their art and “sculptures/paintings” on these hills, nothing more. More interesting sites lie next to Iquique like the remains of a couple of ghost towns from the old Nitrate boom, with Humberstone being the most fabulous one to see. When the Germans invented the synthetic ammonia in 1929, the town’s importance and richness declined and eventually death was inevitable. In a few year, what were the richest cities in South America turned to… nothing. Can’t help but think how wonderful it will be if history repeat itself but this time for the oil industries (sorry Jay ;). Back to Humberstone, because of the dry weather and almost no rain, the city has been extremely well preserved, including the saltpeter and factories. In this ghost city you can enter the homes, church, theater, shopping store and even the public pool. Feels likes I was thrown in a western movie.
In Iquique, I hooked up with a couple of very cool and funny Argentinean guys: Hernan and Augustin who also happened to be going to the same places I was. From the beaches of Iquique we headed to San Pedro de Atacama (them by bus). Kilometer 6,490, San Pedro, 2-Feb-10 @ 20:30, San Pedro is nice little town of 2,000 people and maybe 10,000 tourists… and it sure feels that way. It’s a desert town build around an oasis surrounded by valleys, mountains, volcanoes, altiplanos, salt lakes,… making it a perfect center to visit them all. From the absolutely gorgeous landscape of Valle de la Luna (the name fits perfectly, especially at sunset), to the heat of Valle de la Muerte where we sandboard, to the altiplano lakes (some of them frozen!) rich in mineral where thousands of flamencos live and are currently breading or nursing their young, to swimming in the salt lakes (which have higher concentration of salt then the Dead Sea), to witnessing the amazing contrast of color during the sunset while walking on salt plains, to observing the sunrise upon the geysers fields, 4,500m high. You got to spend 5 days here, although it will cost you an arm and a leg. This place will break your budget for a month… a lot of other tourists suggest I could have done the same activities in Bolivia for half the price. I say let’s do it twice 🙂
Back on the road and now I am driving desert upon desert and accumulating kilometers… and it’s boring like hell. There were practically no cars; I was just sharing these deserts with hundreds of funnel sand storms which roam the area like drunken men.
Kilometer 6,845, Antafagosta, 6-Feb -10 @ 13:50
Kilometer 7,368, Caldera, 6-Feb -10 @ 21:30
Kilometer 7,799, La Serena, 7-Feb -10 @ 15:40
Kilometer 8,290, Los Andes, 7-Feb-10 @ 21:00
1,500+ Km of nothing, barely a few gas station (twice I nearly ran out of gas, was running on fume (seriously!)). Otherwise, thank god I have my MP3 player (and thanks to all who gave me music ;). On my 3rd day of riding, I decided to completely skip Santiago (I visited the city a couple of years ago) and I directly head to Mendoza (Argentina). Northern Chile is not my favorite place and actually in Chile I don’t even feel l am in South America, rather like in an eastern Montreal suburb. It’s a very clean country, friendly people, great seafood and drivers here are extremely courteous to others, to riders and to pedestrian (bordering the ridiculous actually), but after visiting Peru and Ecuador the standard to meet is now high. Having been to Santiago before, I really didn’t mind just turning east and start climbing the Andes: not only the “caracoles” is an amazing road, zigzagging 1,500m (vertical) on a mountain side to reach the border pass at 3,200m but Mendoza is also the place where I want to accomplish my next dream expedition and I was eager to get there. On the way I hooked up with an Australian lad on a KLR 650 who came up from Ushuaia and now heading to BA to ship his bike to England, which made the road more fun to ride. At the border, I experienced firsthand the rivalry between Argentina and Chile. Here, Argentinean and Chilean border guards sit together which makes it even more fun to joke with them: The Argentinean agent throws a jab against the mediocre Chilean wine and bad food to which the Chilean agent responds: “Well in fact, Argentina is not that great, they have only 2 good things: “carne y mujeres” to which I had to answer: “Aren’t they the same?” ;)))) … (I can just see the grin on all the guys’ faces and the girls wanting to kill me ;)). They didn’t stop here, the Chilean agent turns abruptly towards me and with a serious look tells me: “Do you have marijuana?”… very confused, I immediately responded: “No”. He smiled and responded: “Then probably he (pointing at the Argentinean agent) won’t let you in… you see, this is the tip you need to give them to enter the country” :).
Kilometer 8,596, Mendoza, 8-Feb-10 @ 19:20 Mendosa is a gorgeous city, lots of trees and parks, great parillada, excellent wines, delicious ice creams and where water canals run parallel to its shaded streets (to the danger of tourists: a British girl in our hostel broke her leg when she left a club at 5:00AM and “fell” in one of these canals). AnywayZ, in the first part of my 5 days stay here, I just went around (and waited a lot) to fix the huge problems I was facing organizing my expedition. Long story, I will tell you later, but from almost hell to finally everything falling into place and we’re good to go in a few hours (it’s Monday 15-Feb at 5:00AM).
Wish me luck, I really need it and I will tell you all about it in 20days. In the mean time, I will be cut off from the world.
or click on “page 2” below to see the photo album.