Entering Chile, or any new country for that matter, was very exciting; leaving us with many questions from our experiences with previous countries already visited. What will it look like, are the people as friendly as the country we are currently leaving? As we cross each country’s border, we always envisage the people having long torsos and very large oval shaped eyes. Will we be eaten or snatched up into a disc shaped ship that is translucently hanging somewhere above our heads?!! The answer to those questions have been an astonishing…no……so far! But what about our next country…..Argentina? That path is yet to be revealed!! But I digress. 🙂
Giants in the distant land of Calama!
The first large town we entered here in Chile, was Calama. What a difference! From melting snow in order to hydrate in Bolivia’s frontier….there was a huge array of drink choices. From rationing our dwindling food supply in the rough weather and terrain Bolivia dished out to us……there were suddenly more food choices than we could try in a month! It reminded me of Tom Hank’s character in the movie Cast Away, tossing the crab leg back on the table where a lighter lie, as he attended his coming home party! We lavished and gorged ourselves on ice-cream, chinese-food, and just about anything we could get our hands on! The only thing we lacked were court jesters which would have aided in our digestion of the oversized turkey legs we gobbled up!
After a few days of gorging on everything we could find, Nando, our traveling partner, needed to move on. It was a tearful goodbye to a friend we have been through so much with. We stayed in Calama for another two days then we headed towards the coast, a 7,500 foot drop over ~ 125 miles. Just before we left Calama, we met a Chilean rugby player (Pablo Araya) that was working as a risk management analyst in the copper mine (the largest open pit copper mine in the world: Chuqui!). Pablo was very friendly, to the point of telling Candice that if I gave her any trouble, that he would take care of me!
Pushing on, with the confidence of knowing that a rugby player was seeking to pummel me, much to Candice’s pleasure of course, was fun as we started our very slow descent into a very dry desert! We camped for three (of many to come) nights in the Atacama Desert (labeled: the driest place on earth!, see pictures below) before we made it to the outskirts of Antofagasta. We had ten miles, of mostly downhill, to get into Antofagasta, with the wind in our faces! I was pure torture having to pedal for hours downhill! Eventually we made it, but with our tails between our legs! We came to the conclusion that we would rather climb steep mountain passes in the snow rather than deal with this demoralizing wind. I hope I never live to regret that last statement! Antofagasta was a nice city with a lot of choices for activities.
Atacama Desert, Chile
I was looking for the Holy Grail!
We pushed on to our next town. This experience was different because we climbed about 5,000 feet and descended into the small town of Paposo, but as we descended, it got colder and cloudier. Usually when one climbs, it gets colder and sometimes cloudier with the altitude, this time it was the inverse! We stayed in Paposo for few days and then pushed on to the town of Taltal. Between these two towns the coastline was just beautiful! High mountains would sweep slowly into the ocean. While enjoying the view, I ran over a nail that managed to pierced my tire, the inner tube (top and bottom) as well as the inner part of my rim! While patching up everything a fisherman/snorkeler, Eduardo Canto, pulled up and stayed with us until we fixed everything! Chileans hvae been very kind. One miner even turned around just to give us a liter of pineapple juice!!
Beautiful scenery between Paposo and Taltal, Chile
Nice flat from a pretty big nail, only half shown!
With Eduardo Canto, who made sure we were ok while fixing a flat!
As we entered the town of Taltal, we recalled that we needed to get to an atm machine because we were low on funds. Well, Taltal is a pretty big dot on the map, there must be an atm machine there! When we arrived we checked into a small hostel just outside the small train/exercise park. We had two Chilean pesos on us ($4 usd) until we could find an atm. We walked around and found the bank (banco estado) with….three atm machines inside, none of which took our brand of visa! As I went to leave, I ran into a resident there, Luis Rojas, who after hearing about our dilemma, spoke to the banker. We found out that our brand of Visa is ‘Plus’ and that the atm machines in Taltal did not take Visas with ‘Plus’. Luis took us back to his office and made a few phone calls for us to see if the neighboring town in the direction we were going (Chañaral), had atms that would take our card, and luckily there were!
With Luis Rojas in Taltal, Chile
In the beautiful center of Taltal
We left Taltal the next day and made it to the town of Chañaral in the evening. We found an atm and got some well earned food! We spent a few days exploring Chañaral and resting up for our trip to Copiapo. The morning we left we went to the store to get some supplies to make it to our next destination. Upon leaving we hear these alarms going off. They were so loud that the whole town could hear them. There were many Tsunami warning signs and I wonder if they were practice/test alarms for such an occasion. Well, when the alarms were howling, so was a dog that was lying down outside the store. I laughed as his head perched up like a typical wolf picture would look like when they howl at the moon.
Our New Traveling Partner!
So we packed our supplies and started to roll off unto the main road. The dog started following us. We made it to the road, the dog was still with us, then to the edge of town, still there, then we were in desert. We stopped a few times so he would not hurt himself, but he was keeping up quite well! At about mile 15, I gave him some water from my bottle and some bread! I know how it feels to be at mile fifteen when running! Along the way, we became dog magnets! It was then that I discovered that it is a very dangerous world for a traveling dog. Packs of dogs would come out of the wood work. I mean eight to 10 at a time. They would go after our dog and I would have to bluff charge them or pretend to pick up a rock to keep them away! This happened about three or four times!
At mile 21, we made it to the town of Flamenco. We were looking for a place to stay when we ran into someone that spoke English (see note below). With him, was a resident (Pedro) that said that we could stay with him at his place. He made us dinner and we had a great evening while, Indy, our new traveling friend, slept just outside the gate waiting for his morning run! I worried for him for two reasons: 1) there were tons of stray dogs in Flamenco, I wasn’t sure how they would react to him and 2) when he went to sit down, he was shaking a bit. We planned a 40 to 50 mile ride the next day. I didn’t want him to get hurt and be stranded in the desert. So what we did was put him behind the fence (at Pedro’s residence) with some food, but as soon as we left, he jumped the fence and ran by our side. We went back to the house and Pedro took him inside so he couldn’t come after us. We said goodbye to Pedro, who gave us some rocks to remember him by (quarts and chrysocolla)!! We sped off, but we were very sad not to have our buddy with us!
A Tearful Goodbye To Our New Friend!
With Pedro Manuel Torres Richards in Flamenco, Chile.
Note: Spanish here is much different than we have experienced before. The Spanish is more closely resembled to that of Spain. Some letters are pronounced differently and the speed they speak at, is much quicker than we can usually comprehend (the words blend together more as well). For instance, a word like: La Paz is pronounced La Path (the zeta is not zah, but th). That difference, however minor, really throws us off our game!
It was off to our next big town, with camping in between of course, Copiapo! This is where the mining accident of 2010 occurred. Here we looked for a room that was economical. After checking a few places, all of which were $50 (U.S.) and above, a guy, Nelson, came up to us and said that he is staying at a place much cheaper ($20 U.S.) right around the corner. Nelson fixed power lines and traveled up from the southern Chilean town of Villirrica. We spent the evening together and talked about the distant lands, from ‘whence’ we came! It was a fantastic evening making a new friend!
Candice and I walked the town the next day seeing what the town was like and, as usual, it didn’t disappoint! However, the mine where the accident occurred was on private property, so we couldn’t visit the area.
With Nelson in the town of Copiapo
Upon leaving, we found a large statue that the Chinese gave the city of Copiapo, in commemoration of the 33 survivors in the mining incident. The plaque reads:
“In the name of the people of China, Dedicated to the Chilean People, commemorating the successful rescue of the 33 miners (10-13-2010/2011)”.
Statue in Copiapo from China
The ensuing miles were tough, up…up…up…up and more up! We spend, as it seems, 90% of our time climbing and 10% going downhill, so we always get the false impression that going a southerly direction in South America, is a horrible idea!
Our next destination was the town or Vallenar. This was a nice town to explore and would prove to be a great respite from camping! Chinese food would be the order of the day! We stayed here for about three days and then moved on towards the direction of La Serena and Coquimbo!
Before reaching La Serena, we ran into a man on a moped, taking a photo of us on the bridge above us! He took the exit and met us on the road just ahead. It turned out that he was the Vallenar cycling coach and his students soon followed behind! We spoke with all of them for a bit and found that they are very hard workers: riding for 30, 60 to 80 miles multiple times per week! They were extremely friendly and gave us a lot of encouragement that prepared us for our continued journey!!
Facebook: Ciclismo Vallenar
These two large towns at the South of the province of Coquimbo had many options and had some very nice things to see. La Serena, had a beautiful historic section and Coquimbo, is home to the larges historic monument and has some beautiful valleys and views of the ocean!
Water fountain in La Serena
Flowers found in La Serena
As we headed south from Coqiumbo, we noticed something nice happening! It was getting greener! Suddenly we would be inundated with the scents of fields full of various flowers! If this is but a taste of what Southern Chile is like, we can’t wait to get there!
Beautiful Scenery + Nice People = Chile
Flowers of Coquimbo
The downside of reaching Coquimbo was the wind! We are now in Los Vilos, a beautiful port town, and it was pure torture with all of the ups and downs, not including the cold wind, getting here!
The Candice Crouch in Coquimbo!
Cruz del Tercer Milenio, The largest monument in South America