Bordercross in Pisiga, again! When we thought we understood how it all works, they managed to surprise us again. While before, nobody seemed to notice or bother about our bikes, now all bags had to be removed, were scanned, and picked through. Still, nothing was taken out and after some queuing we could continue on our way to the heat.
In Colchane we said goodbye to the snowy volcanoes, but luckily they stayed in view for a few more days. With surprisingly many ups and downs, the road went up to 4300m before descending to the Atacama. We were in doubt about water availability so we stocked up on some 20l in the rather deserted village of Quebe (some burned alpaca legs on th central square were the main sign of life). A wise decision as the other villages on my map seemed nonexistent.
We both felt like our trip was over, as we turned away from the planned route and left the altiplano. This feeling lasted for about half a day until we saw some cool canyons, signs of a geyser, another gigantic canyon and finally the atacama desert. This trip is not over. It’s rolling on at full speed, only more into the unknown than it was before.
Rolling down to the Atacama would have been easy if we had been sensible and gotten up early. Sadly it was freezing cold at 4000m alt. and we had a hard time leaving the sleeping bag. While it was still ‘just’ a 200km roll to Iquique, headwind slowed us down considerably. Once the sun gets higher a steady wind rises in force out from the ocean. Instead of rolling, we ended up pushing.
After a 90km roll/push, we camped next to El Gigante de Atacama, a prehistoric antropomorph figure drawn onto a lonely hill. The giant was clearly marked on our map, as well as advertised by the road. From closeby, however, the picture is rather sad. The site lookes like someone had good intentions and started building a fence, parking lot, solar-powered lights,… in order to preserve the area. Interest in it must have died out, however, as the fence is only half built, the rest ruined. Saddest of all is how the figure is crisscrossed and gutted by car trails. Apparently car-fun is considered more valuable than cultural heritage, a sacrilege not dissimilar from spraying graffiti on viking age runestones.
Yet, the hill made a perfect windshelter and we had a beautiful campingspot all to ourselves, this time slowly being roasted on the hot sand instead of freezing in sleepingbags.
From here we rolled and pushed our way to the ‘village’of Humberstone, which we thought would be a good place to have lunch. Surprisingly, however, it is an upen air museum of an old saltpeter factory and surrounding historical village. There was no food, and the road we planned to take was closed (though not fenced bike-proof).
We ended up having lunch in the hot wind, passed through some fences, accessed the highway to Iquique and pushed our way through the desert, accompanied by the honks and shouts of encouragement of passing cars. Aparently the highway is marked as forbidden for cyclists (duh.), but passing police just gave us a thumbs up and a honk.
Finally we rolled down a steep cliff into the city, fighting for space on a too narrow, too crowded road. Chile is clearly much more car minded than Peru.
From here we will continue straight south along the coastline to Antofagasta where we hope to finish the trip with a pushing the bikes on a sandy beach-road.