Trip Start Feb 28, 2010
41Trip End May 17, 2010
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I thought I was better. I was wrong. Nevertheless, it took 14 hours of driving through torturous dessert and a butt clenching drive back to faithful Calama in the middle of the night to realize this.
As previously mentioned, both Keiron and I wrongly came to the conclusion that I was well enough to explore Calama´s surrounding areas. We set off relatively early, skipping breakfast, to go and check of Chile´s famous El Tieto Geysers. We began by getting lost in a quaint little town constructed from nothing but mud and enduring enthusiasm; this was thanks to the area´s fantastic signage (this trait would follow us all the way to the country´s border posts). We finally found our way out of the deserted graveyards of Mud-ville, we bumped into two 4X4 armed policeman
Four hours later, we were starving, desperate for a geyser and desperate for company. All that surrounded us were piles of rocks, a dusty sand road, and the remaining carcasses of vehicles that had died along the way. Torn apart by the merciless sun, it was as if vultures had scattered their bones across this unearthly landscape as a warning to the naïve and the American: DO NOT ENTER! Still we pushed on, and after passing a bus that had clearly not quite made the corner, finally found ourselves at the entrance to the geysers. ¨50 000 Chillean Pessos¨ the woman in the middle of nowhere shouted; she must have been standing in the sun for too long. There was no way we could warrant such an investment in a couple of geysers that we could already see perfectly well from the entrance, (as well as with the aid of the dodgy scientific geyser illustrations on display). At that moment my body decided it could not remain vertical anymore - I think it was the combination of the starvation, heat stroke, my disease ridden state and other dramatic things, and I neatly collapsed onto an anorexic bench
I think Keiron quickly assessed the state of his drooling, brain dead girlfriend, and hastily started begging the gateman and cleaning staff for some food to calm the dying monster on the anorexic bench. We were told that if we gave them 20 minutes, that they could see if they could scrape something together. 20 minutes later, I was eating the best meal of my life: boiled chicken, rice, potatoes, vegetables and a massive pile of lettuce all watered town with bubbly apple juice. When the blood finally started to return to my brain, Keiron and I made the decision that, since we could only travel at 20km/hour on the surrounding roads, that we would forgo all other tourist attractions in the area and just head to the nearest town, San Pedro.
At this point I should also mention, and this is especially for any members of the San Pedro municipality who might be reading this, that none of the areas damn road signs make sense! Like I said, we were travelling at 20kms/hour, so when a sign says that something is 10kms away (30mins) and it actually turns out to be 30kms away (90mins), you end up becoming a big, wining cry baby in the middle of the desert. Fortunately, it worked both ways and at one point, after driving 1.4kms further than a sign that read ¨Geysers : 20kms¨, we passed another sign stating that they were now not 18.6kms away, but 10kms instead!
The next 4 hours were gruelling and involved our first bad fall, eating more dust than a vacuum cleaner, back ache, bum ache and prolonged periods of time without lip ice. We finally reached The Devil´s Valley and were suddenly surrounded by breathtaking views; however the stones under our tires remained crumbling and slippery
This was a big problema. We were in the middle of a desert, with no spare tire, and had left the puncture repair kit with all our luggage in Calama. After about an hour, we managed to convince a disgruntled Toyota bakkie owner to give us a ride to San Pedro. The bike was precariously strapped to the bak of the bakkie with as many straps and random pieces of rope we could find - who says you don´t need rope on these trips? Keiron and I sat in the back seat, watching our bike jump up and down as we hit each pebble, while our driver tortured the steep hills and insane corners with his sliding tires and burning clutch. We waited in horrid anticipation for the bike to go tumbling off the back of the bakkie and down the mountain slopes, but rather fortunately it didn’t.
About 40 minutes later we arrived at San Pedro and lowered our battered bike from the bak´s clutches, and wheeled it to a place that looked a whole lot more like an animal farm than a mechanic. When we reached the front of the queue, two mechanics set about first hoisting the bike into the air and then removing the sad looking tire, while a third mechanic menacingly played with a chainsaw and the worlds biggest axel in the background, while chatting to his mate
We decided to make the most of our time there: while Keiron tried to pretend he knew what was happening with the tire, I set about taking pictures and inspecting a wall of dusty trophies, all of which were for a sport called ¨Tego¨. Minutes later, the national champion, mechanic no 2, was lessoning us in the highly technical sport, which involved throwing a weight into a small container of mud from some distance away. If you got the weight into the mud, you won. After my 2nd go, I was ready for the national team.
As the sun began to set, we waved our amigos goodbye and headed up San Pedros dusty streets to find... wait for it... and Astroturf? I grabbed some guacamole with a little bit of hot-dog, Keiron a giant bag of slap chips, and the two of us made our way up the podium to support the local soccer match that was taking place on the squeaky clean and new Astroturf beneath us
Shortly after this, we got completely lost in San Pedro in a desperate search for fuel, and by the time we started heading back to Calama, it was already quite dark. Neither of us had realised how much and how rapidly the temperature dropped in the Atacama dessert, and pretty soon we were shivering so hard the bike nearly toppled over. After the first hour of riding the sun had completely disappeared, and we were surrounded by icy wind and a lonely darkness. My throat began to pain, my nose poured and my chest was in spasm. To distract myself I tried to look up at the stars, and was greeted with perhaps the most beautiful sky I had ever seen. Never before had I seen so many stars; I must have counted 150 within Orion’s constellation alone. The Milky Way literally looked like someone had spilt milk across the inky blue universe, and I could see constellations and dark (almost black) empty spaces that I never even knew existed.
Thankfully I was the only one on the bike this mesmerised by the stars, and Keiron kept his eye´s clearly on the never ending strips of road ahead of us. Another hour later we arrived back at our dingy little hotel in Calama. I could have sworn that at that point I had contracted Pneumonia. I got into bed and that’s where I stayed for another week (see previous entry for really exciting details). It had been another typical day on the bike – I´m glad we survived!