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8th December 2015

8 – 15 December: along the Chilean Pacific coast… and some more detours than planned!

Already somehow wistfully I leave San Pedro de Atacama behind me - too much beautiful I've seen and experienced and even more there would have been to see .... but I intend to take it easy for the rest of my trip towards Santiago, take time to take some of the smaller roads along the coast or even briefly branch off again into the mountains. Except again much of desert - OK, really just desert - there is nothing to see on the main route to Antofagasta; I take the slightly longer route passing Tocopilla and from there on can for a little more than half of the way already drive along the coast. Sort of special anyway: to have right hand side the sea and left hand side the desert-like mountains.

 
What I’ve already noticed in San Pedro is getting now even more obvious in Antofagasta: the road users (ALL !!!) follow the traffic rules; indicators are provided, the stop at the stop signs; two lanes are for two vehicles and not for four, no shoving and pushing. Already almost something boring ;-) but only after walking 3 hours along the pier and across the city I realized what was really “missing”: no one honks .....!!!
But not only concerning traffic but also otherwise the Chilean cities seem somehow much more relaxed and quiet; it has less of everything: people in the streets, cars on the roads - the only exception here again make the dogs. Although slightly less but still far too many straying dogs around - and disturbing as ever with their barking and howling the night's rest; Well, if it there’s nothing else I can complain about ... .. sounds like having a good time, doesn’t it?
On the way towards Santigao, respectively Valparaiso - where I'll leave the bike for shipping back home – I stop in several mostly small, cute towns along the coast. “Relax” is the keyword now.
Or at least that was the plan – but one day messed that plan quite up. As the rest of the days passed without any really exciting or noteworthy incidents, I dedicate this day a few more lines.
 
"In theory, there are still around 1500 km to Santiago de Chile. But already one or other detour is still scheduled. And I'm already sure that it will give me neither on the way there yet on the coast itself boring ;-) "
 
By a Chilean motorcyclist I got the tip to take a different coastal route to Antofagasta; not faster but far more scenic and interesting than the boring Ruta 5. Although the road was partially gravel it should be ok for me to drive. Said and done, I enter start and finish point into my Garmin and my GPS shows me promptly a perfect looking route along the coast. So no rush the next morning as it is only a 235km-drive. But fist I take a brief detour to the "Mano del desierto", a monument in the middle of nowhere built by the Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal in 1992. 11 meters high it comes soon into view but only standing in front of it you realize its impressing appearance. 
 
After that back to the original track and having left the Ruta 5 the asphalt soon turns into "Vichufita" and then gravel; the road winds along the hills towards the coast; a sometimes quite violent wind makes me drive around the blind curves sometimes quite carefully. And still I am completely fascinated by the desert colors. After about 20km then a first intersection but the road numbers on the sign and on my GPS are the same  - so on we go.
 
The gravel is taking now a bit more of attention as ever now and then corrugated parts as well as little sandy but it's still easy to drive. Then another intersection but this time street numbers on the sign do not longer match with my GPS. There are also two village names on the street sign but as the GPS and my maps do not find these I decide to follow the GPS and happen to come to the "base camp" of mine Lilia. The mine is only open from January to May and therefore not a soul there; almost no. While I stand next to the containers and slightly confused check with maps and GPS – because the road that seems to lead towards the coast is in fact not more than an extremely gravelly dirt road - a man comes out of one of the containers. He guards the base camp while it is closed and friendly gives me the information I need: yeah, the path leads to the coast; although not easy but with caution I should be able to get down to the coast. OK! I dare to go on, with the knowledge that I always can stop and drive back if necessary. Curve for curve the path leads down towards sea level. But after about 5km I have to stop. The river which probably has water any other year has off interrupted the path. 
 
Hmmmm .... I get off the bike and walk to the other side. Since I see that the path goes on and I even can see some tracks of cars in the riverbed I dare to give it a try. I carry the luggage roll, the backpack and my jacket to the other side in order to make Suzy a little lighter and therefor easier to handle and drive carefully on. Not an easy task as always large boulders and sand prevent me from a speedy ongoing. And of course it comes as it must; at some point I lose my balance and fall down; unfortunately I try to keep Suzy up with all my strength and like that don’t get away from the bike fast enough. I fall as well and I'm lying now halfway under the motorcycle, my foot pinched from the engine. Nothing hurt but just quite stupid – as there is indeed no one there who could help me. And 1000% that there will nobody show up. With sorrow and distress (the swearing I do not mention in detail now), I manage to pull my foot out of the boot – for once I’m really happy that the boots are a little too large! After that I manage to move Suzy a little and pull out the boot as well. With even more sorrow and distress (and ....) I lift Suzy up and walk the remaining meters to the other side alongside. I continue quickly as slowly but surely running out of time. It is already 4pm and still are quite a few kilometers in front of me; mentally I already prepare myself to sleep on the beach ;-) but my joy is short-lived. After another kilometer the path gone again but this time the river has done a great job. I walk for about 500m but it is clear now; I’m not going to get through here. A Pro like Graham Jarvis would probably manage it with a hard enduro – but not me and not with my Suzy. Well fine! I’m not only running out of time but also of water. In about 2 hours it will be dark and I have to struggle back the whole way. Honestly, at that moment I wish I could just sit down and do nothing anymore. My energy level is on a critical deep state - not to mention the motivation. But lamenting is not really helping here, I have to return. So again I drive as far as possible, carry the luggage to the other side and lead Suzy walking through the riverbed. Before driving on towards the mine I eat a tomato, some cookies and drink the remaining water. I have less difficulties driving uphill and reach the mine camp at 7.30pm. Luis, the mine guard, greets me joyfully - for him, of course, a welcome change, as normally nobody comes by – and meanwhile I do know why! After several cups of water he asks me if I want to drive on; if not he offers me to sleep in one of the empty living containers of the miners. I am that exhausted that I gracefully take advantage of his offer. While having a nice cup of hot tea and eating the remaining biscuits Luis tells me about his life as a mine worker: when the mine is open they work more or less without holidays or really days off (means during 5 months). Free time is spent directly at the base camp of the mine; when the mine is closed (when the rainy season comes it’s too dangerous in the tunnels!) Luis guards the mine alternately with a colleague. After 7 days the chef brings him back to his family in Copiapó; three days off then it goes back to the mine. Vacation? Nope. But Luis seems quite satisfied that he has this work. I ask him what he’s doing all the time alone here; he just smiles and shows to the surrounding mountains: a walk up here, a walk up there. Right now there is no electricity as the generator has first to be repaired (for 3 weeks now); gas for cooking, water, a toilet and a small solar lamp. That’s all he has. And if he wants to call his family he has to walk 2 hours up on the hill to have a signal at all.
 
So I sleep this night in a bed of a miner; no pillows, no duvet ... but honestly, I don’t care. I’m just happy to have a place to stay. I've never been so grateful to have a bed at all. However, what is extremely impressive here: complete silence and complete darkness and millions of stars ..... Somehow nice here anyway!
 
The next morning Luis makes me tea again and as expected I’m not allowed to give him anything for his hospitality; he even refuses as I want to share the little brad and salami I have: “you need that for your travel!” So I give him one of my stickers and my last small Swiss army knife. He is thrilled about these presents and we say warmly goodbye. Honestly, I admire people like him!

The remaining days until Valparaiso proceed without further "incidents" – as I resist to drive any other tricky roads from now on. By the way: my GPS “insisted” on having showed me the right road down to the coast! As it turned out, the intersection showing to the two villages would have been the right one. But I somehow didn’t feel driving there anymore. Now I just wanted to relax for the rest of my trip - the little adventure at the end of my journey was just the right ending ;-)

However, I have also learned a lot out it : I am capable of a lot more than I thought ; if needed incredible energies can be released ; but I became also very aware of how little it takes (to be taken literally in this case ) to be put in real hearty trouble...
 
But as I always say: "it will be ok….in the end" ;-)
 
Hasta luego, mi amigos