A hard trip back to Calama




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Calama 07.08.02

San Pedro - Calama 04.08.02 72.28 km

This is the day I've feared. Back to Calama up across the steep gradient... 20 km? And an altitude difference of 1000 m. But first this little test: crossing the Moon Mountains. It's never good to start a day with a harsh climb. Especially not after having been riding relatively flat terrain for several days. I fail totally. I start out too hard and have to stop on the first small climb. Start again. Easy now. After 10 min's I find a rythm that suits both legs and breath.
That was the test. Here comes the real show. (At 2430 m and the meter shows 14.47 km) First 4.5 km was allright. This is also just the beginning, but it's absolutely quiet and the sun is shaded by thin clouds. Couldn't be better.
For 1 or 2 km's there's just ONE thing in this world: my breath. I try hard to hold a steady rythm but for each breath I have to breathe a bit harder, as if the lungs are to explode. The legs have to adapt to this rythm. 5 km/h. Lowest gear. And then. Little by little my breathing gets softer and softer.I keep the rythm and it is as if the body remembers what the head forget, that this was the big trial, now the worst is over. It's a long distance, but I succeed. Another break after some km. I keep the speed at 5-6 km/h so I also can look around. Even it's all gravel. Many good fix points for a distance. A fence at one side, then at the other, then a water canal, then a signpost. Now the road goes straight, and somewhere an unknown number of km ahead something's happening. Maybe the road flattens? I was right. I can raise one gear. But only to get steeper again, but shortly. A new flattening. 3 gears up. As far as I can see it's 1 km straight, then the road turns to the right for 1 km and then it turns back for the last deadning km up the high plateau. Have passed 3000 m's of altitude.
Wasn't quite right. At first it's not as steep as I thought, and for about one minute I'm happy. Then the wind starts blowing. And it keeps blowing. But it was like that when I went the other way too. The wind gets stronger and stronger, but luckily it's not exactly in my face. But I have to drag my bike past some spots where big parts of the road is missing, and there's 10-15 m down. The wind is so "jumpy" and I don't want to fall down there.
The rest of way up is terrible, but in the end I reach the flat part and the wind is from the side, there it's allright. And eventutally I see the green signpost, leading at Rio Grande, and as far as I remember, the bus shelter is near. 500 m in a direct headwind and I arrive. The wind is probably even stronger here, and only by pressing against the wall I find some shelter. I eat something and go on in a hurry to get across the pass and get away from this howling wind. (3395 m altitude and 40 km of distance).
After having crossed and been able to freewheel for the highest steepest part, I realize that this wind isn't just blowing here, it comes all the way from Calama - or farer away. Howling head wind - 60 km to Calama - NO shelter - nothing to lean the bike against, nothing to look forward to.
On the highest gradient it's still so steep that I hold a reasonable speed, but comes quickly to an end. I still believe that when I get a bit further down it will be blowing less - but no - on the contrary. Those are long hours. I was already exhausted from the ride up, and now I really have to work. Considerations on camping I forget. I am NOT going to try to put up the tent alone in this bare area. So Calama it is!
Once I succeed finding a big rock to put my bike against, and I sit behind eating a bun with cheese. I normally don't eat when I'm climbing like this morning, maybe a single block of chocolate. But NOW I know I have to have eat. Chocolate, juice, cookies, bread.
I often stop to have some more. This constant howling in my ears is the worst. Only when a lower my head and look down the asphalt the sound is bearable, but then I can't see where I'm riding. 60 km in howling head wind with no shelter. Not for humans. But I'm stubborn. And I go on, but time of arrival is estimated to be around 8 p.m., so I'll have to do the last part while it's dark. There's the possibility of the wind lowering at sunset, I think. And then I think: When I reach Calama I'll write in the diary that nature is not for sissies. At this time I still have 30 km left, so I've done half since the pass.
Then a pick-up stops ahead of me and I immidiately know: I'm offered a lift. Never has a lift been so needed!
When we've driven for a moment we pass two long distance cyclists heading for San Pedro. The first I've seen in Chile. And I can't even talk to them! They're my two canadian friends I guess, but I don't know. They had the wind in their back at least, but they'll have to sleep in the dessert, unless they go by night? But they're two to put up the tent.
So this turns out NOT to be another Chuqui day. I arrive in Calama at 6 p.m. and my room at Hostel "Camino del Inca" is waiting for me. The man claims it's 7000, but then I know a lot of spanish words, and he go back to ask, and yes - it's OK - 5000. Two or three days of relaxation where I have to repair the bike and the raincoat, that has been ripped a bit. The sissy consider what to do. I had saved some power for the last 30 km!?


On my way up from Salar de Atacama There WAS water at a time


Calama 05.08.02 22.84 km
I had no problems falling asleep yesterday. I wake up with a light headache, as I often do after severe physical work. Now after breakfast, coffee and a shower it's gone.
In the railway station they claim that a bicycle cannot be brought along. It's just seats. Later I brought my bike there and showed him. Gave him a hint that it maybe could be stored upwards and that I could bay a ticket for it. And the wheels could be dismounted. Mnn.. yes he thought it possible. But tickets can only be bought tomorrow and the day after.
It didn't take long to change the tyres. The laundry wasn't ready until 6 p.m. unfortunately, so I've been walking around in shorts and a shirt without sleeves. It's been a bit cold. Rode around on the bike and found the road to Chiu Chiu. The rest of the day I considered how to use the time I've left. These are my wishes: Salar de Uyuni (3 days), Lago Chungara in Chile at the bolivian border, La Paz, Lake Titicaca and Macchu Piccu in Peru, but there are lots of interesting places, but they have to stick together. The tour to the south western part of the Altiplano, I've given up. I'll have enough bad roads without it anyway.
I go to eat the same place as last time. Two dishes for 1100. Nothing special, but a good nutritious meal and lots of it. You can tell from the customers too. I'm sitting with the lonely men, coming to have "Moms meal". The waiter resembles one from a danish group called "Those Nightingales" just a bit older. Could have been danish if it wasn't for the language. Then I see "Calama by night". Most shops doesn't close until 9 p.m.
A lot of people. Not all shops are facing the street. There are a number of perpendicular alleys which have shops on both sides. Some are 3 x 3 m, others only 2 x 3 m. One place has only 4 tables with chairs, and you can be served. I wonder from where it comes, but the waiter has to get it somewhere. Once I feel like being in someones house with rooms and in one of those is Tattoo Jack tattooing a girl. I might as well have been in Denmark.

Calama 06.08.02 4.75 km
I have to confess. I had a rather bad night. It started last evening. At first a strenge feeling in my stomach. Then I felt something in my throat. Tried to ignore it, you can't get sick as a long distance cyclist. But during the night the pain in my throat got worse. Woke up a couple of times with a feeling of not being able to breathe. I had merely ended on my back which is my snoring position. My throat must have been swollen and the air through my nose been cut off. This morning I was feeling a bit better and some food and fluid have improved it even more, but I'm not fit. Take it easy. Had to get the bike ready to get new tins of gas. In the tourist info she thought 'Falabella' would have. And Falabella in Copiapů had. But not here.
Tried all the department stores: 'Johnson', 'Din', 'Corona'. Bad luck. So I went to 'Mall' outside the northern end of town. 'Lider' and 'Ripley'. Success. Had to leave my bike outside. Leaning against a fire hose. When I came out it wasn't there, but I'd seen the man with the shopping carts looking interessted for it. It had been moved into the entrance. Aha... that's how they do, when there are no cycle stands.
According tourist info there should be a 'comedor', a restaurant wagon in the train. I won't believe it until I see it. You're not allowed to bring fresh food across the border. You have to have eaten your lunch packet in advance. The sale of tickets isn't until 3 p.m.

It's 0.30 p.m. and I've been busy all day. Beside buying tins of gas I have glued the handle on the pannier together again - and the raincoat. You cannot do without 'La Gotita', as it's named here, on a trip like this. If I should mention some other things I should have brought, it is 2-3 clothes pegs. Just to have a shirt or a towel up hanging. But you learn to manage without - of course.
In the northern part of town are the worst asphalt roads on earth, which I already have acquainted. There must be something underneath which expand in heat. As a result the asphalt is broken up like a mountain range for every meter and a half across the road. Bad. Unbearable, if one was living here. Another unbearable thing is the exhaustions from the cars, especially if you're having a problem with your throat.

The tickets are bought and it's time for 'graving' pictures, meaning putting them on a CD. I've found a place with USB-port (the easiest) and a CD-burner. The machinery is busy so I wait. What's there to say about Chile here in the end? There aren't many fat chileans, a bit strongly built at the most, and when they don't grow fat of "Moms meals", it must be because they work physically! Another characteristic thing is all the 'Centro de Llamados', calling centers, from which you can telephone. In a town the size of Calama I guess there's more than 10. So it's very common not to have a telephone. On the other hand alot of people have 'cellular', mobile phone, which of cause is more expensive. All in all I see a Chile divided into - sheer guess - 5% upper class, 45% middle class and 50% lower class, and of the last part I'd be surprised if not a great deal are below the limit for powerty. But if you belong to the right part of the "global village" you can find all the usual goods and conveniances, you're used to: Hotels with aircondition, shower, bath, bar, svimmingpool, cars, internet, airplanes you name it. I havn't seen a lot of drunken people? Can you be too poor to get drunk?
My throat is not well, I have to rest a bit before going out to eat. I arrive in the middle of 'Fatal Attraction' with spanish subtitles. This is a good way of learning new words and expressions. Maybe I forget 95% after 2 minutes but some stick to my memory: 'bastard' is 'canalla' - you 'kanalje' (danish).
Maybe not the most useful word for me? I have a great feeling for pizza Napoli with ansjovis and olives. But when I see the size of a normal pizza, I reconsider for a 'Fettuchini Alfredo'. I don't know the name for anchovis, neither in english nor spanish. (I've learned later).
I'm out for an expensive dinner. At first I just see the prices are different but suddenly I realize that the SOUND is different. No noisy television. On the contrary soft piano music. THAT'S not a bad change. The visitors are different too - and there a just few. I've ventured ASKING what I can have for
dessert, and UNDERSTAND the answer. Progress. I choose icecream. 'Chico' or 'grande'? I'm not totally aware what the difference is, so she makes the choice: 'chico', and when it arrives she was quite right. The big one is very big, she says. The piano player has now been displaced by a mourning soprano saxophone. I know all the tunes, but I can only recall the title 'Thanks for good as well as bad years' (Danish title). Now at the account they play Hoagy Carmichel, something with 'star'? I've started calcifiing!
Back in my room it comes: Stardust. Is it the named gentleman?