San Pedro de Atacama to Taltal, Chile
October 3 – October 5, 2014
We left Potosi well prepared. Collectively our 2 DRs were carrying close to 52l of fuel, enough to cross the Salar de Uyuni, make our way South to San Juan and face the 200kms of sand of the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve. We reached San Pedro de Atacama late in the night of the second day and decided to afford ourselves some down time and relax. We were in fact so relaxed that when we left the town for Taltal on the coast of Chile, while our chains were well lubed and our Rev’it gear almost as shiny as new, we did not deem necessary to carry any extra fuel. It might not have been problem in itself but combined with my incorrigible propensity to favour dirt roads and cut through sand and rocks just to check what’s over the hill over there, it would make for a rather epic day.
Our GPS set on Off-road/shortest distance, we enjoyed the morning sun casting its rays on the Desert of Atacama and it’s incredible salt formations. Meanwhile the DRs’ odometer counted the miles. We had already covered 160 km when we turned South for Pan de Azucar. The OSM map showed what seemed like a cute town named “Minera Escondida” a short 80kms away with reassuring hotel, restaurant and bus station icons, surely we would find a few liters there I rationalized. With only an ounce of anxiety the Zebra and I proceeded to tearing through more gravel and sand.
As were happily drifting deeper into the middle of nowhere, the silhouette of 2 bikes around a corner caught our attention. Actually it was mostly a gesturing silhouette who looked vaguely familiar that did. Right there was Marcia and her friend enjoying a sandwich and coffee shielded from the wind by a random pile of dirt. For our irregular readers, we had met Marcia 2 weeks earlier at the Kasani border between Peru and Bolivia, then on a 5000kms, 2 weeks tour from Santiago. Bumping into the only person we know in Chile, 1500kms from her home and over 100km from the next living soul felt nothing short of a miracle. After pulling another sandwich for us from the monumental side bags of her 1200GS, we asked her why she was carrying 2 huge Jerry cans. “No hay gasolina” she said, immediately raising our stress level by a few notches.
She gave us a hug, 3 litters of fuel and sent us on our way. As we finally switched our fuel tabs to the reserve position, clouds of dust in the distance hinted at the presence of “Minera Escondida” and, we hoped, of fuel. Turns out that the cute town is the largest private coper mine in the whole freakin’ world! Over 8000 people work there, bussed in from all over Chile for weeks at a time to drive 3500hp quarry trucks and help motorcycle adventurers in reserve. Naturally we only learned that a bit later, after we meekly rode past the security trucks, introduced ourselves and explained our embarrassing short sightedness regarding the radius of the nothingness we had gotten ourselves into.It took no less than 4 hours, 30 radios calls, 6 engineers and the involvement of the head of security to get us the 20 litters of fuel that would get us back on our way. One should not underestimate the security protocols and the amount of red tape required to smoothly run a mine of that size. 4 hours we spent in the friendly company of mine workers curious to hear how the hell we had gotten here and eager to share travel tips for the rest of our journey.
Our tanks full we resumed our route South to finally connect with Hwy 5 at dusk. In an unpleasant deja-vu, the kms unfolded without a gas station in sight. The dropping temperature made us shiver and did little to ease our stress. Flickering lights in the distance had us scream with anticipation, random posada or gas station? Never the logo of Copec, the national fuel company, looked so sweet. We refueled once again to at last reach Taltal where we collapsed in the bed of the first hotel we found. What a day it was.