When we are out hill walking everyone else seems to be walking in the opposite direction and the same seems to be happening on the road. We have seen numerous adventure bikers all coming from the direction we are going, providing lots of waving opportunities but also leaving us questioning why we are always going in the opposite direction. The answer is simple. You should ride your own road, walk your own path, the one that is right for you. So analysing that took us about 5 minutes and left us the rest of the coffee time to look back over the last 2 weeks since we saw in the New Year in Pucon, where fireworks on the beach competed with views of the Volcano Villarica.
This volcano looms over the town and looks stunning but is still the most active volcano in Chile, last erupting in 2008. There are signs around Pucon indicating evacuation directions, although the lake appeared to us the only option if you were able to move quickly enough to escape an erupting volcano.
A looked forward to visit with Jim’s relatives saw us head to the Pan American Highway where we rode our first dual carriageway for weeks and were granted the privilege of paying for it with regular tolls over the 2 days on the ride up to Santiago where we also joined our first serious close quarters traffic since Buenos Aires. Before our close quarter meeting with the blind lady driver in Ushuaia I always assumed we were fine from traffic behind as we are a large enough load but now I assume nothing. Still we arrived safe and sound and had a chance to get to know Jim’s aunt, uncle and cousins both in Santiago and at their farm. It was with reluctance that we packed up Bertie after 5 days and got back on the road knowing that the Atacama Desert lay in front of us.
Our destination was San Pedro de Atacama and it took us 4 long days to get there. This was to be our final stop before leaving Chile for the last time. As you head north the landscape changes with the green vegetation and trees reducing to bushes then scrub grasses then nothing. We had read that the Atacama is reported to be the driest place on earth and we were concerned about temperature in our riding suits and it did get hot in the middle of the day and very hot by 3pm. Fuel stations are far apart, up to 200km and carrying plenty of water is key. We have worked out a good system where I carry a small pack in front with a water bladder and pass the tube to Jim as he needs it. This reduces the necessity to keep stopping as that is when the heat hits you. The road is good and in some places a dual carriageway with a massive road building project in progress to dual more. It wasn’t what we were expecting and did make the riding easier. The scenery in the desert is not dull but varied in landscape and colour and for us a highlight of our trip so far. One of our trip objectives had been to see ‘the hand in the desert’ and we were not disappointed.
Situated to the south of Antogfagasta it is a giant sculpture rising out of the sand on a hillside and literally made our day to have reached it. Video hand in desert 34 secs http://youtu.be/kIJOSYj2Bds
Antofagasta is a huge city that sprawls up a hillside and not somewhere to hang about in. The road in and out is marked by industry serving the mines and is very unattractive but once past Calama heading east to San Pedro you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. San Pedro de Atacama is a small oasis in the desert made up of small buildings the colour of the desert. It is the tourist stop in the desert and full of small shops and more excursion offices than you could shake a stick at. For all that it is charming and a treat to visit.
We took a chance to have a 2 night stay and did what we usually shun and took a ‘Tourist’ tour to the Valley of Death and Valley of the Moon to see the sunset.
Neither of us could face the heat or the climb to the good viewing spots in our kit and it gave Jim the chance to have a day off the bike. Unfortunately sharing the sunset with hundreds of others wasn’t quite what we had envisaged but managed to find a spot to enjoy the view. As tourists we take it all in and don’t feel the danger. However while we were there we met a group of police who were searching for a guide who had been missing in the area for 40 days.
Our destination on leaving San Pedro was Salta in Argentina, a long ride of almost 600km with a border crossing 160km away that was notoriously slow. We decided to be there as close to 8am as we could and packed up and left at 6am. It wasn’t even light but the road was good and we were treated to a sunrise as we climbed from 2,400mtr to 4,825mtr and the temperature plummeted to -4c. Thank heavens for heated vests. As we rose to the height of surrounding volcanos, photos could only be taken in short bursts as feeling was quickly lost in the fingers.
Back in Argentina the desert gave way to more greenery and a white oasis that is the salt lake.
It seemed odd to see people wandering all over it and provided another photo opportunity. The road down from the heights we had been riding was long and full of enough hairpins to give the Stelvio in Italy a run for their money.
All in all an awesome ride. So we will continue to ride our own road knowing that those coming the other way are doing the same. Video Atacama Desert 23 secs http://youtu.be/q6AY1AChnMc