Back on the road




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Chañaral 17.07.02

Copiapó 15.07.02 1.25 km
No wonder it happend in this town. Yesterday afternoon I was rolling a bit on the bike. It's a huge town, but not many buildings worth looking at. Not even the church at the plaza. It's all just poor houses and the usual small shops and workshops.
I went north where I when I first arrived at the city saw some long lines up the mountain side. Nearly all going up. Few abeam. You could imagine it was part of a town. Now I get the explanation. The white stripes were asphalt streets. Other streets of gravel. It's a huge area. Not really slum compared to local conditions most houses has at least numbers and electrical supply, but many are not finished. They've stopped
when the most essential was done or they ran out of money. The rest awaits eternity.
Almost at the top there are some terrace houses, which a local entrepeneur has pushed up and for which the tenants pays a fortune, or are they owned?
As a strong contrast I suddenly hear the bell of the icecream-van. I look at it unbelieving - and no, it's certainly not icecream that is the matter, but gas. You use gas for cooking and for hot water if you can afford it. Only in a few supermarkets I have my empenadas warmed in a microoven. If I've asked my landlord this is certainly the place where I shoul NOT go, but I feel safe on my bike.
"My" paper is called 'Chañarcillo', like my residencial and is presented as 'el diario de la mineria', which means "the miners paper", and Copiapó is city of miners if any. But not all mines are going well, so it might not be that strange that one takes what one can put hands on?
I don't feel like staying in this damn city, but one more day... I'm just reading yesterdays paper where a page with international news tells that unemployment in Argentine now is 23%. That more have been killed in Kashmir, 20 civilians. That farmers protest against a new airport in Mexico and in the end an interesting case for me: 52 have died and 32.000 homeless due to bad wheather in Peru, it also goes for the border areas to Bolivia and Chile: Puno and Tacna.

10.10 a.m. The new edition is on the street. The picture is not there and the chance that an article that only take up 1/9 of a page in a paper with 24 pages will give a result is not worth speaking of. But they've done a nice article, I think. The headline goes: 'Roban mochila a turista danés', theft of a bag from a danish tourist. The word 'gratification' could have been in italic, but anyway?

5.45 p.m. I was at the tourist office (closed in the weekend). A lady spoke english. I also spoke to a scottich couple with a boy. They travelled by bus. Had arrived at Santiago the same day as I, but with Lufthansa from Frankfurt. Had seen me on the climb up from La Serena. Believed having seen
a touring cyclist in the other direction? If so he must have taken a side road.
No reactions to the newspaper article so far, but I've been to yet another official office for an hour or so. At the police station they told me, when I showed them their paper, that this was a 'constancia', I also needed an 'annuncia' in another office somewhere. This lead to a lot of phoning and asking and trying to find someone able to speak foreign languages. In the end I arrived at the local council for prosecution? ('fiscal'). Very nice and helpful people. I had climbed several educational levels. Not to talk bad about the police - I just can't use them in my situation. Another fine paper (3)
with a stamp and a signature. I was afraid they would keep the first paper, it's going to be framed some day.
I'm prepared for a negative result and have been trying the new panniers out. They'll do. I can have panniers, sleeping matress and gas cooker in the samee shop. They open at 9.30 a.m. so I can leave at 11.00 a.m. and besides an expected headwind it should be flat all the way through the valley to Caldera, which is a town at the coast. Only 60 km. From there is a full day to Chañaral, where I'll catch a bus to Taltal. Then it's completely desserted past the Cerro Paranal Observatory and until Antofagasta. I'll have to manage 4-5 days on gravel roads.
Before I left I told myself, that if one wants to experience other parts of the world, one can't expect everything to be like at home. I am the visitor and have to addapt, try to understand the agenda. Keep from getting irritated. Ask the locals for advice, they know their land better. Travel humble, I call it.
I've done well until now, I think. Now I just need to learn spanish.

8.00 p.m. Gone out to eat. First to the bus station to learn the time schedule for Chañaral-Taltal. The first was no good. Many companies but only long distance. Found another - not this one either. They told me to look for 'Tour-bus'. Found it. Leaving 8.15 a.m. from Chañaral. Could I bring the bike?
Yes, if I understood it correctly that would cost extra. I wait to buy the ticket. You never know what happens.
Now I'm tired. I need biking again. All this running around is hell.

Copiapó-Caldera 16.07.02 84.50 km
I don't leave until 11.30 a.m. A-waiting if something had turned up? Zero. Then at the tourist office and the english speaker. This night I woke up around 5 and words and phrases that could be useful appeared in my mind. I ended up turning the light on making a list. Then I go to buy the bags and the matress. I didn't buy the cooker. It was another type, actually two, for the same cans, but I didn't want them. So I had to go tp the mall. They were not open yet. And in this way the morning goes by.
On the road again at last. A light head wind as expected. The road quickly turns straight, flat and boring. The only bright spot is a salesman in a village. I have no bread, I planned to buy it en route. So I'm interessted in what's in his basket, which is covered by a white cloth. He doesn't seem eager to reveal the content.
I may not look like a potential customer? I have to ask, what he's got and if he sells, before he pulls off the cloth. Cakes. Ah.. no pan, I say disappointed, even a couple of cakes would be nice too. No but there a bit way back, he points, there's a 'almacen'. 'At the flag' he adds in english. I promise to return and roll along the village street. But they have no bread. But the lady points further back and - indeed - I've passed a shop at the road without noticing. I get my bread and buy two cookies of the round smiling man, who speaks several english words.
On it goes in the flat road. There's nothing at the sides. Not even something to lean the bike against. The shoulder gets worse and worse, the mountains disappears in the mist, there's a headwind and the new panniers squirks more and more the worse the road gets. It's like hell. But what ever - I think - it's the road to hell: Copiapó.
After some more km's the surroundings change from having a little growth to be pure sand. The road turns a couple of times with an interval of 3-5 km and I haul myself across some hills. In the end the road gets a little better, the wind lowers, while the only thing that doesn't get better is the visibility. And it goes on like this. Now when the mountains have withdrawn the wind is merely felt. The mountains have acted as a funnel and created the strong wind. At a spot where I stop (at last something to put the bike up against) I make an encouraging discovery. I've passed the first 1000 km. It happend 6 km outside Copiapó. So, until now I've covered 1/4 of the planned distance and 1/4 of the 2 months has past. I feel very contant at this fact.
A road down to the left leads to the (locally) famous english beach, Bahia Inglesa, but the ocean is not to be seen. The sand and the sky meet at the horizon. After 80 km I ought to be able to see the town, I fight excited up across a hillside... Some white piles, where digging is going on and a few buildings and not far away a restaurant and a 'posada'.
No town to be seen. I wonder if there's nothing else when it shows that we have to go down a bit and... in the end something turns up, that doesn't look exiting, but a town is it, and when I turn off the road in direction of something called "center", I see a church rising its wooden tower above the surrounding houses. With never failing certainty I find the cheepest and ugliest lodge in town. The town is very "flat", no house with more than two floors, but there's a small harbour with a minor army of fishing boats. Even it's out of season there is some life and a dozen of small shops, where I after some seeking and asking succeed in buying a towel, so I can have a shower tomorrow - so I get SOMETHING for my money. Here  are lots of restaurants but few seems open. But I have already decided that "New Charles" is where I'm going to eat tonight. When you enter this recidencial, you first encounter a hairdresser to the right, then follows a long straight passage with rooms to the right. Mine is the last before the toilet. To the left I've passed a room that's really just a bulge to the corridor.
There was a table with chairs all around it, a radio and a TV and I guessed that was where the breakfast is served (not included).
Now when I leave, I have for some time heard people talking, and when I pass the mentioned room, I suddenly stands in the dining room face to face with the entire family eating supper. The conversation stops and everyones eyes are fixed on me. What do you say in this situation? I stop, and in a fraction of a second, which is felt like eternity, I find the words I learned yesterday from my former landlord in Copiapó: 'una buena comida', to which all as with one mouth thank this polite stranger, who masters the spanish language so brilliantly, and I can leave for a well deserved meal.

Parking for the night