The Atacama Desert and Northern Chile / Erika Rowe

The border crossing into Chile was quick and painless. A little paperwork, a little luggage checking, and we were through.

We rode the few kilometers into Arica and started looking for a hostel. I was in the mood for camping. Chile was already proving to be more expensive than any other country and I knew our budget couldn’t get us much. Yaniv felt like showering, which I can’t blame him for. So we found a little place and maneuvered our bikes through the narrow hallway, practically blocking the whole thing. The room itself was predictably shabby and moldy, with the standard hair on the sheets and DISGUSTING grey blanket that has been following us since Mexico. I think it’s made out of recycled cardboard and the filth that’s left in the bottom of the trashcan when there is a whole in the bag. So we were suitably depressed by our surroundings and decided to go out and walk a bit.

We hiked up a hill towards the Jesus and were rewarded with a beautiful view of the sea and the town. Yaniv took the opportunity to take some photos and I tracked the progress of a line of cars that were driving slowly, blocking traffic and keeping up a steady symphony of honking. They kept this up for over an hour. Personally, I just don’t get it. Is this really how you want to celebrate prom or a wedding? By sitting in a line of cars and honking?

standard Jesus

romantic, no?

Moods lifted by the altitude, we decided to go downtown and buy ingredients for Yaniv’s delicious spaghetti Bolognese. We were rewarded by a glittery parade of dancers dressed up in some sort of traditional costume, taking the street by storm. Unfortunately, by the time we returned to the hostel Yaniv had a headache, so we skipped dinner and called it a night. The fleas, on the other hand, had a merry time of it. To cap everything off, in the morning, we were greeted in the eating area by a stinky pile of dog poo. And they say money can’t buy happiness.

cool costumes, happy men

Desert, desert, and more desert. We had one blissful stop at a small oasis where the air was permeated by the sweet smell of ripe melons. A few melon smoothies and empanadas later we continued our dry descent.

melon heaven

When it started getting dark I insisted on stopping somewhere with wood for a fire. A rough road led over a baked surface to a small stand of trees. The road was so rough I eventually let Yaniv take over and drive the last few meters.

you can’t really see the roughness here, but believe me, it’s there

We lucked out by finding a flat spot sheltered by the scrubby stand. Once the motors were turned off we were surprised by groans and sharp cracking sounds coming from the ground. On closer inspection we realized the vast mud flat surrounding us was actually a very dirty salt flat. The sounds came from the hard salt stones settling against each other and reacting to the heat of the day. That night it was harder than usual to start the campfire, so yaniv decided to use a little of the extra fuel to get it going. We were carrying two liter and a half bottles of gasoline. He took one, poured out a thin stream, then looked on in horror as the fire traveled up the stream and caught the bottle on fire. We both stood transfixed for a few seconds, than he tossed the flaming bottle away. Well, you can just imagine what a disaster this could have been. We are Smokey’s worst nightmare. Luckily for us, we were in the middle of nothing and the flaming bottle of gasoline landed in a salt crater and burned merrily away for the next few hours.

cooking dinner

fun with gasoline

this is a liter and a half of gasoline. on fire.

fire bugs

find the iguana

That day my motorcycle developed a small but distressing hiccup. At about 55 or 60 MPH the engine would turn off for a few seconds. Then it would turn on again. We checked all fluid levels, and everything seemed fine. Also, my chain started skipping. We limped into the city desperate for a mechanic. The next day we found one. He turned out to be a very frustrating man. He spoke English, which was great, but he talked incessantly and divulged way too much information about his bedroom prowess. We tightened the battery screws (duh) which solved the hiccupping and changed the gears, which took a ridiculously long time.

at the mechanic

A few kilometers south of town the impressive “Mano de Desierto” loomed into sight. It was a little shocking to see this well-known (to motorcyclists) landmark grow out of the desert floor. I felt like we had finally got somewhere, like we might actually make it all the way south. We rode on into the moon landscape and camped. The wind was something fierce and I was feeling crummy so Yaniv pampered me by letting me sit cozy in the tent drinking wine while he cooked dinner. Since entering Ecuador camping has been the norm. Generally the beautiful landscapes are preferable to yucky hotels, but every once in a while the whole routine of unpacking the tent, setting it up, inflating the mattresses, zipping the sleeping bags together, setting up the stove, then the reverse the next morning, becomes a little tiresome. On the other hand, the solitude and the silence can’t be beat.

We continued on towards Santiago, encountering along the way the world’s smallest toilet, a suspicious burn site next to an abandoned mine and of course the friendly dogs at our favorite gas station, COPEC. Why do we love Copec? Is it the hot showers, the clean bathrooms, the free internet? Well, naturally, all of the above. Most of all, it’s the free condiments. Every day we could stop and check email while making delicious sandwiches with mustard, mayo and, best of all, guacamole!

From Chile: camping in the Atacama desert to Santiago
From Chile: camping in the Atacama desert to Santiago
From Chile: camping in the Atacama desert to Santiago
From Chile: camping in the Atacama desert to Santiago
From Chile: camping in the Atacama desert to Santiago
From Chile: camping in the Atacama desert to Santiago

the less glamorous side of camping…


the grey stuff at the mouth of the mine is huge amounts of burned papers, financial documents in fact. not at all suspicious.

the first night of camping on grass in a loooooong time

no tricks here, this is really the smallest toilet I have ever seen

wow, just…wow
This entry was posted in post. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Atacama Desert and Northern Chile / Erika Rowe

  1. marlis says:

    Erika I got your note in my blog, here is my email, if you are still in Argentina and want to stop by, I would love to see you!!!!, just write to me and i will give you directions, I live in San javier, Cordoba, love Marlis

Leave a Reply