Atacama Desert, Chile, September 2008

I figured I should get off my butt and post up some pics and a little writeup of this trip. It was from last September actually. Part of my tardiness was that I didn’t even have a camera with me, but instead was relying on my buddy and cohort to send me the shots. Over the course of the past winter after repeatedly bugging him, he’d send me one or two at a time! Torture! haha Anyway, the pictures will do most of the talking, I’ll keep the verbage light.

First off the initial nature of this trip was for work. We were down there for a training camp that we do every September in La Parva, Chile. La Parva is a great little ski area nestled up high above Santiago in the Andes. It adjoins to both Valle Nevado and El Colorado ski areas. The first day we skied after arriving we had the pleasant suprise of finding that there was a nice blanket of fresh pow and bluebird conditions. We skied over to Valle Nevado and I shot some video, the video that follows. The reason us coaches have no poles, or helmets for that matter was because we were going up with the intention of training and after reaching the summit decided to call of training. haha The girls were on their gs skis, not exactly ideal but we all had fun…

Once the camp was over was where the real adventure began though. Shaun and I had arranged our plane tickets so that we had 6 days after the completion of the camp to explore. After MUCH finaggling at the airport we ended up rolling out of there with a nice bright red, crew cab, turbo diesel Chevy Luv. Only bummer was it was 2wd but that would not deter us! As we headed out of the airport and toward the Pan American Highway, we flipped a coin to see which way we would go literally! This trip was going to be completely by the seat of our pants. I had solicited some info from the Hackneys regarding sights to check out either direction but we were deliberatly going in without a plan. We had a the Luv and an assortment of our ski clothing to use for sleeping in the truck. We picked up a cooler at the Jumbo and some food supplies and that was it. The coin showed heads and North we rolled, towards the Atacama.

We spent the next couple of days working our ways up the coast. We cruised through small fishing villages, ate in little eateries that were sometimes nothing more then shacks along the coast. Los Vilos, Coquimbo/La Serena, Vallenar, then Copiapo which was really where you started to get into the Atacama. Even along the coast now it was a fairly sterile and harsh landscape. From the town of Taltal we took a dirt road that followed along the coast, then climbed up into the highlands were the landscape literally looked like they could have filmed the Apollo landings there. We spent a cold night here but with the most brilliant stars I’d seen. The next day we rolled down into Antofaghasta to get some food supplies.


This was the view we were treated to as the humidity from the ocean met the dry desert of the Atacama that morning.


Another shot along the Pan American Highway Ruta 5


Me enjoying a cervesa with lunch

After rolling out of Antofaghasta with a fresh supply of food we headed north again on Ruta 5.


Iphone shot. Regions of the Atacama haven’t seen precipitation of any kind in over 50,000 years! No plant life, no bugs, nothing lives in some places. Such a stark but beautiful landscape


Shaun my partner in crime. One of THE most well travelled guys I have ever met. He’s done it all, everywhere, via every mode of transpo possible


Shaun with our trusty Luv


We found this relic on the side of the highway. Unveleviably it was still being driven. It appeared to have had a bearing failure on the front end and was partially disassembled. This thing has seen some action! I have no idea what it was. It was so weathered I couldn’t find ANY distinguishing marks on it!

Soon we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and made it to the town of Baquedano. We were well inland at this point. the town was an outpost for miners and workers who toil in the mines and industries that work the region. I had eyeballed a route that I wanted to try that basically made a large loop inland across the Atacama in the general direction of San Pedro de Atacama. It was on a road that was made from crushed salt. Remarkably smooth. The only other vehicles that we saw out here were the tanker trucks that serviced the mines with water. We were going to cross right through the heart of the Salar de Atacama, a great salt flat in the heart of the desert.


Stopping to enjoy the view. The mountains in the distance comprise the border of Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia. We were very close, if we had a few more days we would have definately headed to Bolivia. There was some uprisings going on the week we were there and it would have been interesting.


Another shot on the salt flats


Shot of myself


Still rolling east

Our only map was a rather lousy Avis rental car map that we were navigating with. I was trying to get us to a town on the map called Peine. We ended up taking a wrong turn at an intersection in the middle of nowhere, with no signage of course. We continued down a toad that got worse and worse till it became a rough two track, then really vanished and would reapearr every quarter mile or so. Afer proceeding along for quite some time we saw a drilling rig in the distance. I convinced Shaun it would be a GOOD idea to aske for some directions. haha Well as we pulled up I could see the rig workers peering out from behind the drilling platform. They sent over the tallest Chilean I’d ever seen, long wavey hair with a sharks tooth necklace around his neck. I was a bit nervous. We looked like we just came from another planet. Shaun with his gold sun glasses, red hair, pink t shirt and flip flops, and me in not entirely different apparel. We definately looked out of place. haha Well, it turns out that the guy spoke PERFECT english which was good because I was exhausted, and when I’m tired, my bad English is well… worse. His name was Alejandro. He was born in Chile but studied in Miami before returnig to Santiago to work as a geologist. He thought it was pretty hysterical to hae two gringos roll up on him literally out in the middle of nowhere like that. We showed him our map which was even more entertaining. We were quite a ways off course. He gave us some landmarks to look for since the road/routes were unlabeled. We have him a couple of Coronas for which he was VERY thankful for and head on our ways again, in the proper direction.

We came across a cool little oasis with a stream and even trees! Wow it was nice to see some sort of vegetation. Apparently some goat/sheep herders lived here as there were some random, small stone shelters strewn about. We explored this little settlement before moving on.


Me scouting a section of the trail where it was quite rugged. The Luv did great though as it had plenty of clearance which was helpfull. In the background you can make out some of the small stone houses.

We made it to Peine which really was a small town. We didn’t see any other cars, just some people on horses. People came out of their front doors as we drove through the village, looking very curious.

At this point with our fuel situation, we had to head back west in order to not risk a fuel crisis. Peine had no fuel, the closest fuel was San Pedro and that was a good haul north. Back across the salt flats again, this time on a more direct route!

some areas of the salt flats had such an amazing surface to them

We ended up driving all the way back to Antofaghasta which was pretty late. The Luv racked up 450 miles on one tank of fuel alone that day. Pretty impressive! We splurged in Antofoghasta and got a hotel room at a Holiday Inn of all places, right on the beach. A shower was so nice and sleeping in a bed, not a Chevy Luv with all of my ski clothes on seemed like an impossible luxury!

The next day we began our trip back south to Santiago. To give you an idea of the distance, to drive nonstop on the Pan American highway, it is a good 16 hours minimum.


No trip through the Atacama is complete without a stop at El Mano del Desierto (hand of the desert) Located off of Ruta 5 it is a pretty stunning sculpture


can you tell which pictures were taken with an iphone?? haha


We pulled off in a little village called Obispito right on the beach to grab some food. The place was really just a few buildings, more like shacks really without proper walls, just screens for the most part that they would stick cardboard over when it got cold. I asked for a menu but then they explained that there was only one thing they served a day. Basically whatever they caught that morning! Nice, so I got a plate of Congreel with rice. Best eel I’ve ever had, absolutely succulent! While I was enjoying my eel, Shaun was having an adventure of his own!


After excusing himself to use the “facilities” which are pictured above…. he made a discovery that there was no toilette paper… a bit late…oh, and no sink with running water. Shame there wasn’t even a proper toilette for him to ponder the matter on either! haha

The place was cool though. In a building out back was an old partly disassembled diesel pickup, up on blocks, running with a belt around one of the wheels that powered a generator. Crude but effective setup!

Well all good things must come to an end. For us, a bit prematurely. The Luv started having some problems where it would stall and not want to start. The first time was embarrisingly enough at a toll booth. After the police and a few others tried to help us trouble shoot, it mysteriously started again and ran fine…. till we stopped for empenadas and it went kaput. Problem . After speaking with the Avis people in Santiago they reluctantly told us that they would send a flat bed that would bring us back down. Well, we weren’t all that close. We were just a touch south of La Serena!


After a VERY long wait at a gas station that served very poor empenadas (really do avoid oyster empenadas at truckstops! The dirtier the shack you get them in, the better they seem to be!) the tow truck finally arrived.


Me not looking so excited about riding in the center for 8 hours in the truck….


… but Pablo told us we could ride in the Luv, which was waaaay more comfortable. Worked out great, well for me, Shaun with the tiny bladder had to do an emergency wiz off the side of a moving flatbed truck on the Pan American highway. That was comical.

Well, after getting back to Avis, we had to fight with them for over 2 hours to give us a vehicle with which to retrieve all of our ski gear that was still up in La Parva. They finally sent us with a truck and driver ( I don’t understand how that was better for them to send an employee with us, but oh well) to get all of the gear. 26 pieces of luggage and equipment that we had to shoehorn into the back of a Nissan Navaro. By the time we got back to the airport we were pretty tired and ready to head home. It was a great adventure and looking back, wouldn’t have changed anything.

If anyone is interested in viewing more of Shaun’s amazing photography check his website. Its full of some great images from some of his travels and also talks about his nonprofit project that maybe some of the photography buff’s here might be interested in.

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Categories: camping, Chile, Overlanding | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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