Chile

Lie in the most southern part of continental south America, the country is simply long stretch of   about 5000 km from southern town (Punta Arena) to northern one (Arica). It is the long stretch along side Pacific Ocean on the west and Andes Mountain on the east, between Andes and Pacific is coastal plateau run from north to south, the high plains, Atacama Desert and valleys which run from mountains to ocean, these are the homes of first inhabitants and source of most of today’s town and cities. Combine its position and its physical geography, life here requires adaptation except for the modern human who change things for the power of technology.  This is what I had to learn and experience as I pedal 1258km from Los Andes (100km out of Santiago) to Calama, the oasis city of Atacama Desert.

The knee pain was still acute the day I cycle from Los Andes to La Bellana.  Being my first time to settle eyes in Pacific Ocean and worm welcome by my friend Lorraine who has cabana just in front of the ocean, I decide to take another rest here to let the tendons recover.  The weather was not such preferable for the most of my staying, the cold winds announce the winter was on the way but still there were some sun hours which also make the stunning view. The day I cycle out of La Bellana the weather was total mess, it was cloud day with temperature between 12 to 18 centigrade, the coast is continues rolling hills and when the road switch to high plains there you have pass to cross. I had to push 175km to find the village to camp since it impossible as the entire road is fenced. Cycle in the dark in this high way is most scaring things with such lots of trucks, I camped in someone’s backyard which happen to be damping place with dead cat which was real smelling, just find out all this in the next morning. The next day was bit ease going, the road in the high plains cut through valleys were there are small villages most farm villages. Along the road they sell fruits and other products from the valleys. These valleys are the only green patch of semi desert plains. Still the landscapes haven’t touched my natural wonder though Andes in both side Argentina and Chile was magnificent with its vine yards.

I made it back to ocean in Coquimbo city which overlap with La Serena city divided with valley. I stayed with family in the Coquimbo outskirt, La Heraduras.  Here I’ll learn a lot from the simple fact to the complex feelings of how it feel to others helping total strange person. I’m proud for this family, they were so scared of how they can live with someone the total doesn’t know, no one do those kind of things but they were able to break out of normality and do something unusual. At last they were so happy to find out they could be a help, it add in their old age experience. 

From the Rotary club and the family the news about an African on the bike spread in Coquimbo and La Serena. The next day began with media interview and presentation to governor of the region.  At the end what I learn in this community is the most touching point is what we can’t do in our daily life, doing something out of normality and the simple fact behind helping others.  

After short home comfort and good food I get back on the road missed an Austrian friend who is cycling across Andes. Thought he was ahead of me and the fact I was strong from good food, I made 200km to Vallenar. From Vallenar to Copiapo in this part is when I start to feel what was missing since the begin of the expedition ‘the connection to the surrounding environment ‘. The road take me inside the desert and then back to the Pacific Ocean.  It was still difficult to do wild camp cause of the fence which is pretty new in this region, while the authority claim is to protect animals from the road which I have never see, locals try to break it down as they think it destroying nature, guess this is to prevent people who are crazy enough to build in the middle of nowhere. 

Chanaral it where I had fantastic desert/ocean wild camp, I arrived in the fishing town in the evening, use internet, hydrate. After I learn that the cheapest accommodation is 10000 pesos ($20), I refuel my bottles and cycle out of town, 5km north no more fences. I push the bike out of the road and out of noise trucks and here it nice spot overlooking the Cristal blue ocean.  More tea for hydrating as I wait my rice to cook, the sun is coming down and touches the ocean.  Having my rice with beans, in the ocean the ‘sea lion’ try to catch their dinner as well, looking in the moon less sky  in the west Jupiter and Venus showed up, in the east Mars while further east on the horizon is Saturn. Fall almost dead sleep while wonder what is the heck is the person who said this is Orion hunter was thinking about!

From Chanaral the road advance in the middle of Atacama, long gentle climb, 38 centigrade, long day in the saddle characterized my days in Atacama. Thanks for the truck drivers who keep on throwing battles water, fruits and some dare to throw even Red Bull! Thanks to Chinese mama (the Chinese were brought in Chile in 1900s to work on salt industry, now days northern Chile has minority population of Chinese descendants. It was bit surprise when this mama start to speak to me in perfect Spanish)    with her family, living in the desert. Despite the fact they lived in the middle of nowhere for my surprise I was feed well and given lots of snacks more than I could carry.  This is the people you will counts as poorest as you pass through in the air condition bus but believe me this family makes me feel to stay long with them. It due to their simple life and amazing knowledge of life which we may think it only found in the Himalayas.

After three long stretches I arrived in what might be 3rd or 2nd large city in Chile, depend on who you ask. Antofagasta it the port town to export the copper to the rest of the world, it just patch in the middle of desert and the coast of Pacific. It also most polluted area, the pollutions is from chemical from Copper mining plant, this is only place I struggle to drink tap water because it smell like there is dead animal in it but in the middle of desert I have no option.  Pass two nights at very nice  friend Futunatus from NY working with mining associated company, he has apartment in the 27th floor overlooking the ocean, it offer amazing view of sun set. It very nice apartment but to be honest I’m still not very comfortable to sleep in the sky.

Antofagasta has few to offer especial for wondrous chasers they have to pass by on the way to San Pedro de Atacama, out of the town I turn east towards Calama 216 km. Before crossing the Tropic of Capricorn it a pass of coast plateau, 1hour for 10km that is pretty much tough morning while you are looking forward for 200km. Up in the desert are mining companies, Chile is producing almost 16 % of copper in the world and bit of wine, olive oil and I guess nothing else much, in return they have to import a lot of things. With raising and falling of world market for copper this is what also count for their currency (Peso), this remind me much of Zambia.

 Just like anywhere else people blame their government  or to be more clear we real doesn’t like our government or ruling part, if you like please drop me a comment and tell me why. When I meet people some time just within 3 minutes of conversation I’ll hear the same stories of unequal distribution of national income and monopoly of ruling class. The middle age Chilons has no much to say they try to make it out themselves; these are the people who test General Penuche.  The youth are in the street demanding for free university which they claim is unaffordable. And general where they got good social organization like Aysean in the south of country they stand strong to demand the government to loosen the string. General Chile is consider to be expensive even by neighbor Argentina for me it real expensive, in Argentina I could camp for $3 but here it $8.

Cycling across Atacama from west to east I had privilege of tail wind though this could change as I approach the Andes. The desert here it drier and oasis are in long distance. Most part of the road doesn’t have shoulder so I had to cycle the in the dirt track used by ‘Dakar’ the South America motor vehicle racing. The road goes through the Salt pains which still have lots of ruins dates from 1900. Chile got this region from Peru and Bolivia after winning the war which left Bolivia without part of ocean. Chile focus on it salt potential I think Argentina support Chile for the exchange of Patagonia where recently they discover oil.  Seem there was booming period of Salt harvest which lead Chile to import more labors since it small population couldn’t keep up with harsh condition the solution was Chine and today they have Chinese/Chileno.  

The salt era passed and the surface resource loose it value, as I’m sitting in this mad wall ruins I wonder how will this country could survive if later they couldn’t find what is lying beneath the hills.  Obvious the copper industry have transform this county from impossible to possible, it fuel almost everything.

Spend time in the ruins,  relaxing cycling and the fact that I slept late last night my goal to reach Calama the same day couldn’t achieved, I end up camping the desert 70km to Calama. I made it to the town in the lunch time next day welcome by the sign ‘ Bienvenido Calama la Ciudas de Sol y Cobre’ ‘Welcome to the city of sun and copper’ Yes it is, there sun here is ferocious, now in the shade I can see how my skin have changed with cold wind and sun I’m pealing like Croc and I’m double color.

I’ll get my visa for Bolivia hopeful next week, then cross the desert to the Andes long way to the highest capital in the world ‘La Paz’ Bolivia.    

Lot of thanks for those who keep support the project through donation, staying in touch through social media etc I real appreciate!                  

  

 

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One Comment

  1. Posted April 5, 2012 at 8:57 am by Lindsay Gault | Permalink

    Great to read your blob Elvis. The experience seems magic. Keep it up. Lindsay.

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