Saturday, July 11, 2009

Adv #7 Continued: Leaving Santiago, headed north for some fresh air!

(Photo above is from my first night outside of Santiago as I headed north along the Pacific. Is this a sign that I was supposed to get out of the city or what?)

Time to travel again!

Four months in Santiago sure were fun, but job possibilities that fell through, the onslaught of a cold and rainy winter, and a need for a change of scenery have me headed north. I left Santiago on June 24th, and headed north along the coast searching for sunsets, scenery, and a chance to visit some of Chile’s national parks along the way.

The main destination I had in mind was the famous San Pedro de Atacama that I’ve heard so much about from other travelers. (I’m there now as I type this and it’s incredible!) Just before I left Santiago I had the chance to meet with two guys that are starting a motorcycle touring company, and might be interested in my help. So while I thought I’d be job-searching for tourism work here in San Pedro, the job with this other new company is sounding like a good match and I’m relaxing a bit again on the job hunt. In fact, I’m really just trying to get more familiar with routes and sites in anticipation of this job coming together.

Back to this trip though: I guess it really marks my first time riding alone for any extended time since my trip across the U.S. one year ago? Santiago is in the center of the tall drink of water that is Chile, and I headed north along the coast almost the whole way with my new camera to try out. (I bought a Panasonic FZ-28……let’s see how it works!)

As mentioned above, the first night out of Santiago gave up a beautiful sunset over the Pacific that alone made my departure seem worthwhile. That combination of sunsets and wildlife continued along the whole way north as I headed into the driest desert in the world. Parque Nacional Fray Jorge is a perpetual cloud forest that’s formed by the cold ocean air shooting up along the cliffs on the coast. Kind of a boring picture below, but it shows the “wall” of cloud that is always hanging over this area as soon as you enter it, creating a forest in an area that is otherwise completely arid.

Also shown above is that somehow… these remote towns that aren’t on most maps, and maybe only have a couple hundred people living here…..they still have some kind of a soccer field! This town was so small it didn't even have street names or anything.

I rode all the way to Reserva Nacional Pinguino Humboldt in hopes of seeing all the penguins and dolphins that supposedly reside in the area, but being winter, the only tour operator to take me out to the island by boat wasn’t operating. (That’s okay, I wanted to see the coast anyway.) Have you ever seen “Sunrise Earth International” on Discovery Channel? It’s been a while since I’ve watched TV, but one of my favorites in recent years had been the early morning tranquility the show focuses on in different places around the world. I had the chance to just walk around the 40-person town of Chanaral de Aceituna and take photos of the fisherman and local birds as they started their day. Fresh air, camping, the ocean, and no traffic….pretty neat way to start the day. Felt like my own private filming of Sunrise Earth.

(Below, sometimes this is what the gas station is. A guy and his 5-liter jug selling just enough to keep me going!)

Still working my way north, I zig-zagged a bit to find a mix of pavement and riding on dirt roads, constantly having to keep in mind how far it would be until the next opportunity to buy gas. Oh, and I had my third flat tire now in 23,000 miles I’ve ridden. Not bad! It was the rear again, but for some reason, I was having a very tough time getting the tire back on the rim. Fortunately, Vicente Figueroa just happened to be riding by with his family in a very remote location and he stopped to add the extra muscle to help get that tire back on. And instead of messing around with my hand-pump to pump up the tire once it was on…Vicente had an incredibly sharp idea to use the air compressor pump from the air conditioner in his car to save a bunch of time trying to get the tube and tire seated. (With my little hand pump alone, it takes about a half-hour of pumping to get the 38 pounds I want.) Thanks again Vicente!

More tiny coastal towns going north, Huasco has a certain charm to it with a beautiful rocky shoreline and picnic areas for the local families. And I didn’t see any signs for it, but I guess there was a Munchkin factory in this town.

Next stop: An absolute favorite place of mine in the world.

A few people had told me Parque Nacional Llanos de Challe was nothing special, and they might have been right. But the camping spot I stumbled across just entering the park from the south end has definitely made it onto my short list of absolutely perfect places. (Others being Berchtesgaden, Germany and the area of the Blackwolf Run golf courses near Kohler, Wisconsin.) A beautiful shoreline with rock formations and dunes to climb, cars driving by on the dirt highway only every half-hour or so, only one other family of 4 in this campground, and aside from 2 park rangers there, I had this entire beautiful beach almost completely to myself.

Nikolai, one of the park rangers there was a source of good conversation, and my first time speaking or hearing a single word of English in a week!

Also, I thought the bathroom graffiti was worth noting. Is it the concern for others, the simplicity of this announcement, or just the way those words translate word-for-word back into English? Something about this one had me laughing for longer than it should have….

Just a little fun below with the new camera trying some night time photography and trying to capture the stars and such in the beautiful clear sky. Not really needing to hurry anywhere, I stayed here a few days and just soaked up this wonderful and only slightly-known hideaway.

So riding further up now toward Antofagasta….in the middle of the desert (middle of nowhere, really) I rode past another one of those people that just made me turn around out of curiosity.

Click-back to the very first blog post I made, my trip across the U.S. over a year ago and the chance I had to meet Robert Williams who was walking from San Francisco to Washington D.C. raising awareness of Autism. Impressive, right?
Well I can’t say what is actually more impressive, but the photo shows Taka, a guy from Kyoto, Japan who is riding from Los Angeles, California all the way to Ushuaia at the southern tip of Argentina, and then back up to Venezuela! I zipped past him out in the middle of the desert, and just had to circle back to see what his story was. His fully loaded bicycle he says weighs about 80 pounds, and he’s got about 10 liters of water at this point to accompany his camping equipment, spare parts, tires, etc. Riding the motorcycle around here like I’ve been doing can be pretty exhausting and physically demanding for sure. But honestly…..a bicycle……that far? You’re a trooper, Taka. (And note that we're able to put our cameras in the middle of the highway for more than enough time to take photos. There's nobody else out there!)

About an hour after seeing Taka, I stumbled across an interesting sculpture I’d seen pictures of before. Out in the middle of nowhere……and I mean NOWHERE…… “La Mano del Desierto” but I’m not finding much of an explanation as to “why” it is there. Kind of a neat site to break up the drive through such a wide open landscape.

More ruins I took some pics of. There just out there in the middle of nowhere, with no explanation about their history, what it was, how long it’s been there. It’s just stuff in the middle of the desert!

Then, just when I think Taka from Japan has earned the tough-guy award for endurance, I met Oliver Lindner from Germany.

On the way from Antofagasta to San Pedro, I was flying by another fully-loaded biker again and just had to circle back to see what he was up to. (There’s a definite comradeship amongst us all when we see each other with fully-loaded bikes….with or without engines.) Anyway, Oliver is from Munich, and started riding from Ushuaia at the bottom of Argentina 8 months earlier. He’s working his way north to ……..get this…….Alaska! Oliver showed me the oatmeal that sounds like it makes up over half his diet, and then the obvious pasta and rice cooked with the same MSR stove that I have combine to power him north. Of course he’s not riding every day….but still….a two-year plan to camp and bike your way up to Alaska. Oliver….you’re also a trooper, pal!

Shortly after meeting Oliver, I started to see why people rave over San Pedro de Atacama so much. Here’s only one picture from the drive into the town….but just look at the natural landscape that welcomes you! Surely some good things are in store for the new camera to highlight soon.

Okay, the latest news is that I’ll be headed into Bolivia this Wednesday with the owner of the motorcycle touring company ( that I’ve been talking about. I was going to go check out Bolivia on my own, but they need to start planning routes for tours, and it’s just much better if I’m travelling with others, so what a great match! Tough time of year to be headed into the Salar de Uyuni and other 13,000+ foot areas. Other tourists coming back from tours there are telling me that it’s -26 Celsius overnight. That, my friends…….is some cold morning weather to start riding a motorcycle in! More news soon….

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