San Pedro de Atacama to Valparaiso, Chile
October 4 2014 – October 16, 2014
A dry startIt’s hard to overestimate how long Chile is. You can look at a map, you can see the numbers, but until you’re eating those miles on tarmac, you don’t quite realise how far South this sliver of a country stretches. Once thing though we were sure to not overestimate was how much we needed a comfortable rest stop before attempting to reach Santiago. The hotel prices in San Pedro de Atacama almost drove us to lay down in the desert and die, but we found shelter at the Hoiri Ckunza Hostel. Our rest was short lived for the following morning the Wolf was kneeling in the gravel begging our DRs for forgiveness after the beating the received in Bolivia, while I fought all our gear in a fruitless attempt to extract all the deeply embedded dust and feel clean again. Then we set off for the South. You can read about our (mis)adventures between Atacama and Taltal in No hay gasolina. After nearly stranding ourselves deep in the driest desert in the world, we stuck to the coast for the next thousand miles or so.
Coastal KarmaOur next coastal stop was Caldera, a quiet town where we got surprised by a fellow’s linguistic feat. From behind his counter he seamlessly switched from speaking Spanish to addressing me in Afrikaans and joking with the Wolf in French. We were speechless until he revealed he was Belgian! His ‘Afrikaans’ was actually Flemish. One woman’s love had brought him to Chile, and another woman had kept him there. If you find yourself out that way, pay a visit to Gringo’s Pizza, the only pizza joint in Caldera, give him our best and enjoy his cool stories.
All too soon it was time to ride to La Serena. On our way a poorly tied knot led to the loss of my left flip-flop, which I would mourn for weeks until I replaced it in Santiago. The Wolf chastised me for my bad knot, and then promptly lost his shoes in solidarity. Also due to a poor knot. Ah, Karma! With more justice to serve on that same stretch of road, Karma also got its revenge on one of the hundreds of street dogs that harassed us throughout our journey. This particular pooch saw the Wolf coming from miles away, and planned a high speed interception of the Wolfmobile 500 meters ahead, at a perpendicular angle. The dog misjudged his timing and speed, finding himself skidding to a halt seconds too late to prevent himself from gently head-butting the Wolf’s sidebag as he cruised past. Never before have I seen a dog literally run into a moving bike. He ran away looking shaken, and hopefully having learned a lesson.
A fur fiascoWe’d reserved a room at Hostal El Punto in La Serena, which was rare for us, and lucky too, as it was full despite the low season. We wandered to a pleasant mall nearby to get some laundry done and got distracted by a sharp looking salon. Feeling my first dreadlocks form I got my first (and only) haircut of the whole trip. Pleased with the result, a reluctant Wolf agreed to cut his hair at the same salon. It resulted in an unprecedented butchery of Wolf fur. The hairdresser was so embarrassed by her own work that 15 minutes in, we saw her put her scissors down and sheepishly walk out of the salon with teary eyes. One of her colleagues witnessed the scene and attempted to fix her mess but the damage was done. We consoled the Wolf with a fancy steak dinner, but he continues to be even more wary of haircuts than ever before.
Ruta de EstrellasRemember Marcia? The 1200Gs rider we met at the Bolivian border? Last time we bumped into her in the desert she strongly suggested we check the Rura Antakari in the Valle de Elqui. Given Marcia’s temper we did not dare disobey and headed for the said valley. We discovered that the spot was best known for its crystal clear skies that offer several local observatories with unparalleled stargazing opportunities. But first, we stopped in the charming town of Vicuña and the nearby Cooperativa Capel. There, we learned about the history of Pisco and how the distillation of grape wine into a high-proof spirit produces this delicious light colored brandy. A few Pisco sours later, we headed for lunch at one of the ‘sun’ restaurants. Several large reflective dishes are used to concentrate the rays of the sun to cook tasty dishes. While we appreciated the originality of this eco-friendly technique the extreme goatiness of our meal will stop us short for recommending that you give it a try. Fed and hydrated we finally followed the Ruta Antakari through the hills enjoying the stark landscape and the Ruta de Estrellas – the route of the stars and home to the clearest skies in the world.
A kiting connectionA chat with our good friend Cav would shape our next few days, here is how it went:
“Hey Wolf, you remember Pato? We used to kite together in San Mateo”
“Hm….not sure the name doesn’t ring a bell”
The wolf is terrible like that, he never remembers anyone we meet.
“Older guy, gray hairs…..forget about it…He is in Chile right now, give him a call maybe you guys can hang out”
“Sounds like a plan, thanks for thinking about us Cav!”
The chat with Pato was rather awkward:
“Hey Pato I don’t remember you and I am sure you don’t remember us, but let’s meet anyway”
Luckily Pato was super friendly and we agreed to meet at his parents’ place in Los Andes.
Naturally as soon as the Wolf and Pato met they remembered each other and the kiter’s vibe kicked in. Not only did Pato and his family put us up for the night, but they took us out to savour Chilean wine and food. The next day Pato drove us up countless switchbacks to Portillo, to the ski resort he worked at as a kid, and shared endless stories of his Chilean youth as we enjoyed the mountain scenery from the comfort of a car for a change.
The next day we literally rode all the way across Chile leaving the mountains of Los Andes and Pato for Valparaiso on the coast. Chile is so narrow, it took us only a few hours to drive the 190km. Valparaiso is beautiful. Its small houses appear to be balanced on a series of hillsides, offering countless different views of the port and the city, each prettier than the last, and every one dominated by impressive street art. There is not a building in Valparaiso that has escaped an artist’s brush.
After checking in at the lovely Casa Aventura we went out for our first dinner at Fauna. The restaurant is perched on a cliff side and its outside deck overlooks the old Valparaiso. Shimmering city lights incessantly tease your eyes, inviting you to let your mind wander. Over the following days we explored the hillsides, their endless murals and the small artist’s workshops. We also took the train to Viña del Mar, the neighbouring town that reminded the Wolf of the French Riviera. Five days escaped us in this painted paradise and the next thing we knew it was time to ride to Santiago.