First camp in the dessert




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Copiapó 13.07.02

Vallenar - Mina Transito (somewhere in the dessert) 115.87 km

Asked some policemen for a residencial yesterday. There was one nearby. Found it straight away. Rooms at two different prices. Decided to have a look at them both first. We went for a longer walk in labyrintic corridors. The expensive one at 5000 had shower and toilet in the room. With hot water...
The other with shower in the corridor was 3000. I bet on that the water COULD get hot. This morning it showed to be a fact. Very hot. And it was a bit difficult to adjust. When another person opens a tap or flushes the toilet it changes the balance and you have to adjust and adjust and so on and so.... But it was nice. And clean underwear!

Yesterday I met with two girl in the internet café who spoke english. One had recently come back after a year as a aupair in... Finland. The other had studied a year in New York and was now teaching english in Calama. Now she was visiting her parents for the winter vacation here in town. Like always it was nice being able to SPEAK to someone.
After having traveled they considered Vallenar a rats hole. To me it had all a city ought to: lodging and internet connection. This morning I'm ready at 8.45. Just need 2 x 1.5 l's of lemonade and a new ballpen. I'm dragging my bike along the main street, all shops seem closed. Only restaurants and a 24 hours pharmacy are open. I ask some ladies when they'll be open?
At ten, they show with their fingers. A little later I ask a young man where to buy a ballpen. "Boligrafó" according to the dictionary, "lapis" according to him. It's too early, I'll have to wait until 9.30. Offers me his, search his bag, no, he hasn't got one with him, sorry! I trudge on while the town awakes and so - a bookshop, which is just going to open. Can I buy a ballpen?
Yes certainly. The bars are raised and here I am - writing. Now I just need lemonade, but it's past 9 so perhaps? The hours don't seem to be equal for all.

At 9.30 precisely I'm back on Ruta 5. Yesterday I asked the two girls if there was ANYTHING between Vallenar and Copiapó? Yes, there was at least "una posada" exactly midway. A place with food, drink and a bed. Sounds absolutely appropriate. I cannot do it in one day anyway.
Just outside the town I stop at two hitch hikers (chileans). They are on their way to some religious feast at their home town up near Arica. One is coming from Vina del Mar, the other has been with some family. The landscape has flattend a bit, there are mountains at both sides but there are not so big difference in altitude between them and the plain I'm crossing. There is more gravel and dust at the sides. Yesterday I entered Región de Atacama. A great dead tree stands at the right as a last guard before what's to come: el desierto, the dessert. One thing I've forgotten: canned tuna, the lunch. I have only a can of peas and not too many slices of bread, but I have oranges and chocolate. It'll do for today.

The stagecoach drags it's dust trail to the east. Oh no, a car! Soon turns up a side road leading at Chihuaque, it wasn't there. Now a quarter later the dust is still to be seen somewhere in the horizon. I havn't met any other touring cyclists. The hitch hikers recently had seen some in april or mai. But the latest were seen by the family in Las Poertas. There two canadians had passed 15 days ago - not two weeks, they counted very accurate - on their way to Paraguay, and they had taken the same road as me, so they're probably also going to Bolivia first.
After 32.5 km the road turns to the right. A nice variation. We have to cross the railway we'd followed. I notice by looking at the rail that this one is in use and remember some distant sounds this night: da-dung, da-dung... On a red sign is written PARA (stop) and all do. Even you can see far away to both sides that no train is coming. It's not just danes that are law abiding. For this reason a group of salesmen has gathered. Cheese, clementines etc. I go for a net of clementines: 500. Afterwards I wonder that the oranges I bought the other day only cost me 500. Did he cheat on me? No, he just got a good bargain. I could have negociated. But then I'm offered a bag of 5-6 goat cheeses the size of camemberts. I just want one for my lunch, but that's not possible.

After 60 km there's a posada, but I'm not midways yet, so I pass. It's hot! I put on my shorts. For the first time I feel very small and vulnerable. But I've bought water both for today and tomorrow. Anyway I think the first bottle is emptied quicker than usual. Our opinion of EXACTLY was probably not the same. But just as I've passed the half way point up comes a sign: "Pueblo" and in the distance something looking like houses can be seen.
It was true. A restaurant, but no lodging. Cola is the only thing to get. I sit down and have one and suddenly I notice how the heat has drained me. It has been easy terrain, I've taken it easy, but nevertheless I'm totally worn out now after 80 km. I havn't had anything to eat except oranges, that's a mistake. I don't feel like it when it's that hot, but I think I have to change that! A sign with something looking like a condor, a birds farm? There are really a lot a cages outside. "Otra" is what you say when you want another one (cola), I learn. It's not only birds in the cages. Silk moneys? (silbador) from Bolivia and Equador. Budgerigars from Australia. Alpaca sheeps and goats etc. A minor zoo here in the middle of the dessert! I put 100 pesos in the box for feeding. It doesn't sound like anyone else has done so. At the road I saw a coyote or whatever that kind of fox is called, so I won't be complety alone in my tent. When I step outside again the air doesn't feel that hot, but I take a look at the watch, the bike has been in the shadows: 31.3 degr. I roll on. Trying to keep a sunday pace. Might as well go some more miles. Looking for camping areas. It's all flat.

A blooming miracle An unexpected zoo

At 96 km is a bus shelter at a side road. When I enter the shadows I feel how the sweat is all over, when I'm rolling I don't notice. I could make it all the way to Copiapó, 50 km left. Max. 3 hours. (I'm no wiser than that). If I can see the white line in the middle I can roll through the night. I have a rear light that blinks and I can just stop those few times someone appears. I consider it.
Then I sit here in the light from the front light and sums the last episodes from today. It's 19.15. The tent is long standing the matress rolled out and so is the sleeping bag, I'm ready for the night.
I had to cross a couple of hills to see if a town in the map was getting nearer. No sign of neigher town or houses and I passed a spot suitable for camping: an old dried out river bed or digging from the construction of the road. Can only be seen from south and I don't think the lights from the car can reach it.
A quick decision, it was 17.50 and I think it will be dark at 18.15. The tent was raised in a second. The plugs couldn't be fastened so it's tied to 6 big rocks I gathered. I had to l lie down for some time before I pulled myself together to find diary, ballpen and light. Just now a slight breeze - besides which it is totally silent. It's not darker than I see the tent canvas. The moon is just a thin nail. I have to step outside to watch the starry sky. Inside is only 23.7 degr.


Every flower seems a miracle in these dry surroundings The mountains disappear in the haze


13.07.02 Minas Transito - Copiapó ca. 50 km I forgot the computer on the bike.
It's been a quiet night. Hardly no wind. The temperature not below 11 degr. - inside the tent. The trucks have been going all night - I only heard them when I was awake of course. The older models sounds like jumbojets.
On my way to Copiapó. Have to cross a minor pass. One of those where the road just go straight up over. The railway that has come back, which was meant to happen according to the map - that's about the only correct thing in the map - makes some big turns to get across, but we have to crawl upwards. I have almost ended the first bottle already. It's only 9.30, but even then quite hot. When we
cross the rails for the first time there is a sign saying: "Attention driver, in this area live wolves and guanacho's, be considerate, they are threatened spieces". I wonder if the wolves are given same message according me?
I had hoped for a quick morning ride, but it goes slow. More up than down - eev. Then at last a posada. I'm greeted by two truck drivers on their way out. Where do I come from? Dinamarca! Ah, el grande danes! says one of of them and even I show him my little size, you are 'grande' when you ride the bike here. We end up patting the shoulders and shaking hands: Feliz viaje!
I get my well-earned breakfast: Tostada con café. Here is the nescafé and the margarine on the table so help yourself!
The dry brown mountains are seen on both sides, only here in the plain single plants tempt the hard conditions, but scattered rain ravines tell that even here it rains sometimes. The road inclines again. I crawl for 2-3 km. The pace tells about the climb: 7 km/h. It's steaming hot, but the sweat is not to be seen. Due to the dry air it evaporates before turning to droplets.
On top I sit in the shadows of a chapel, bigger than most, and write a bit. Now only 10 km can be left for today. Candles are burning in some of the sticks, so it's a place people use. Just when I write this a car arrives and a family gets out. Then down it goes. In the beginning at an uncomfortable high speed - 50 km/h - because the road is bad here. They're working at it. Big machines with buckets that can fill  a truck in 2-3 times, make the dust come up. Luckily the wind blows the opposite direction. For 12 km I roll downwards, the longest until now. At the sign 'Copiapó' I have to step again. The air has cooled on the way down. There's a wonderful breeze.
After being in the town for some time - I trotted around to find an internet café, which is open - I find the breeze too cold. It's coming from the sea and blows up through the valley. What a contrast to 12 km's ago.