One day of rest and shopping and we were fine to leave the city of Iquique. Towering high flats and noisy neighbours are not what we came here for, we want to cycle in the fresh seabreeze and eat tasty seafood.
Sadly leaving the city had to be done the same way as entering it, by highway. The roads around Iquique have recently been renewed, not with a cyclists’ best interest in mind. This time, however, trafic was low and we had a full size emergency lane all to ourselves. A few km out of the city, we had ceviche and juices in a village seemingly consisting 90% of restaurants. We camped a bit later by a little peninsula sticking into the water, creating impressive waves around us while we were slowly being roasted on the sun-heated sand. During the day, the sand gets so hot it hurts to walk on it, during the nights it cools down to maybe 20°. Now we use our mats as protection from the heat instead of as insulation.
After passing the airport the day after, 35km from Iquique, the road became more narrow, traffic decreased and the coastline gradually became more and more rugged. The seabreeze we came looking for was available in plenty, and unsurprisingly pushing in our face. We should have paid more attention to the many blogs advising cycling the coastline south to north.
Less available, however, were the mariscos. It seems that here they are very much a local product (luckily) meaning that when ‘the sea is bad’ there is little, when it is good, there is plenty and when the fishermen don’t feel like it, there is nothing. The first day we had to do without, but the second day we got double porcions of enpanadas de mariscos. Tasty!
Entering the Antofagasta region by Rio Loa, three days from Iquique, we hit upon a customs checkpoint. No idea why, but in the middle of the country they decided that everyone had to be checked, though rather haphazardly. Car drivers only had to show their papers, while buspassengers had to put all their luggage through a scanner and we just cycled through. Nobody seemed to care about bikes. There were a few restaurants advertising every fish-dish imaginable, but all they really served were hotdogs and lemonade, they didn’t even want to fill our waterbottles with tapwater. Luckily some other guys guarding a public bathroom topped up all our 6 liters and gave us a cold beer. Faith in humanity restored.
We have strange experiences here, considering hospitality. On the one hand people invite us in their houses, give us water (even if they have very little themselves), give us peaches and squids,… on the other hand some hotelowners are annoyed when we enter and restaurants seemingly refuse to give us food or drinks. Luckily, every day the good overwhelms the bad and we do feel appreciated here.
From Iquique, we reached Tocapilla in five days of rather relaxing cycling, taking extended lunch breaks and siestas by the sea. After almost three months of solid cycling, we seem to have burned through our reserves and prefer to take it easy.
In one of those siestas we managed to collect a fair amount of tasty mussles, but generally we had to resort to our stock of dry, vegetable-lacking food.
In Tocopilla we were invited in some peoples home, were treated on lunch, a bed to take a siesta in and a shower. I guess we look quite dirty, especially me. (I have long since given up getting all the stains out of my trousers and now they’re also ripping in three places.)
The second day out of Tocopilla Anastasija didn’t really feel like it anymore (the road got more narrow, the trucks more frequent) so we decided to do like all sensible people here and have a beach day. We looked for a cosy bay to put up camp for the next two nights, but the cosy bay was harder to find than expected. A bunch of disgusting campers had seemingly passed through the area before. Piles of shit were left behind all rocks, broken glass marked the likely edges of their tent. Luckily, we found a hidden spot a bit further. And high time it was! I apparently had three broken spokes and a screw through my rear tyre. (No flat, Schwalbe is badass)
After a day of lazying around, we headed full speed for Antofagasta. In the evening we planned to camp by Hornitos, no longer a small fishing village, but rather a rich ass bay. The road was lined by fancy movie-style houses, the beach was stuffed with kids on quads. One hill further, the quiet luckily returned and we could put up camp with the sound of crashing waves (and sleep with the loud music of a couple arriving after dark).
The next day became a highway-day again, all in all an improvement from the last few days. The amount of trucks decreased, the emergency line widened. After 90km we rolled into Antofagasta on a seperate bikelane, built by a guy who obviously never rode a bike.
Time to plan our final two weeks in Chile!