Up the Sierra del Muerto - Mountains of Death




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Antofagasta 21.07.02 4.10 p.m.
Dear friends.
Here follow the latest news or at least most of it. From the above you can see how far I am.

Cha˝aral - Bahia Leones Marinos 18.07.02 27.64 km
Did the shopping and sent another travel letter, so you're now fully updated. I could certainly leave my bike at her place all morning, said my landlady,
and added scandalized that 16.000 pesos had been stolen at some hotel in town, implying such thing wouldn't happen at her. I trusted her and omitted my loss of more than 300.000. When she later had to go, I went across the road to wait for the bus. Was standing there in the dust for one hour andd a half. It's asphalt road but the pieces to gas stations, garages, busstops etc. are not. Every time a car enters such places it leads to a cloud of dust. The bus was half an hour late. The area we're passing through is the most dry I've seen until now. Dark brown mountains with lighter stones, gravel and dustplains in between. We have to cross a pass.
The bus almost stood still while the driver waited to overtake a truck, so it's steep. They're showing a syncronized film with Robert de Niro and... is Billy Crystal the name? I don't think I've seen it. The shoulder is here shear gravel so I'm happy to avoid this part. As the bus didn't start from Cha˝aral there already luggage all over and there are problems getting the bike into the luggage compartment. I have to remove the front wheel and after a lot of pushing and struggling (I wonder how much that's been bent?) the man succeeds. The prize for the bike I can't get until later, it's obvious for the drivers, they're two, to decide. They end up in 2000, which is 100 more than for me, but that was nearly what I expected. Around 50 d.kr. for 146 km + bicycle etc. - not bad. Contrasting yesterday there's not much variation. The only difference is if a single bush can be seen or not. Mostly not. Kilometer after kilometer with nothing living, but once I suddenly see a big green cushion like growth, which possibly is this llareta? I've been reading about.
On the way down to Taltal there are plenty of them. I'm pretty sure. They look soft and tempting, but are hard as a rock.
We arrive at Taltal 3.30 p.m. only a quarter later than I'd hoped for. My neighbour is a miner from Copiapˇ, and works in a mine 20 km from Cerrro Paranal. When he asks which countries Denmark borders on, and he as I mention Sweden, says oh... then you're european, I understand these peoples relation to Denmark: a name they've heard, and nothing else. I get off the bus. All is chaos like I know it from the bus to Bornholm at the main station in Copenhagen. A narrow pavement where everyone waiting stands with all their luggage, so that we can't get off. And in the middle I'm standing with a bike that has to have a wheel attached and furthermore be loaded. I dare not move away from the luggage with the bike so I stay stubbornly until everything is ready - then I move away to the other side of the road, to check it all. And then away out of town up north in a hurry. The road follows the coastline, my neighbour told me and you can't go wrong.

On my way out of town a man in a pickup truck shouts something at me. I wave back, but soon after he appears in his car to tell me something. The road is terrible, I understand and something about some kilometers. I thank him for the information, but go on. The road is actually fine, it turns into gravel but not so bad. But then comes a road construction and it gets worrse and worse. Suddenly comes a machine that is running. One of these pumps or comprssors with two wheels. I gather it's for removing water from a digging of some kind, cause there are no people around. But it is not. Just when I pass it two pneumatic drills start hammering the rocks above me and the rocks are almost vertical at the roadside. Luckily nothing falls down but I speed up forward. When I've done a bit I see 4 workers standing 15-20 m's up drilling the rocks to make pieces come off. When they see me they all shout loudly and make gestures. I can't figure out if they're telling me I'm crazy or if I can't go on. I'm perplexed for a moment. I don't feel like having rocks down on me, so what to do?
A car comes against me, a taxi. I stop it and ask if it's possible to go on? The road is very bad for the next couple of km's, I'm told, but then it will be fine. Calmed down I go on and the road is indeed very bad sometimes, but this bit of possibly 4 km is nothing compared to my trip from Putuendo to Cabildo, so I had my baptism of fire in the beginning?

I don't get as far as planned, but I find at 5.45 p.m. a place to camp, where the cars headlights won't reach me. Until it gets dark I can be seen, nothing to help that.
So now as I've done my first hot meal, finished night rituals as removing my contact lenses, tooth brushing and writing the diary I lie listening to the waves of the Pacific Ocean 50 m's away and scattered sounds from sealions. The night is not blackas coal. That's fine. Good night.


Camping at the Pacific The indomitable

Bahia Leones Marinos - The dust mountains 74.80 km
It's 6.15 a.m. and I'm aching all over. This thin mattress doesn't do my old body much comfort. The night has been an eternal tossing and turning. But is there anything you wouldn't do to lie here listening to the sealions through the roar of the Pacific? Especially the bass of the male has a characteristic sound. I've heard them from time to time all through the night, do they never sleep? I think there is a rock out in the sea, but I was too busy raising the tent and cooking to have a proper look. The name of this place I had to invent myself.
It's still dark, I lie looking forward to the coffee. Bought instant coffee instead of tea bags. I need something "strong" to get me on my feet.
A wonderful morning, bread with 'durazno' marmelade and coffee with sugar. I enjoy it. Go down to wash in the ocean - and do the dishes. The sealions are not to be seen. There's another rock in between.
I start off at 8.30 a.m. This soft drizzle soon starts, the road is passable, which means of changing but mostly good quality. I pass something called Santo Domingo, which is not in the map. Something connected with mining,
there are apparently houses too. After 24 km as reach the spot where the road is dividing and I have to turn up into the country. First one climb, then another tough one. Are we really going through those mountains? Yes and no. At first the road continues on a shelf in the mountain side and after a 180 degr. turning it goes back again. The road is ruined at some spots where the half meter gravel bank protecting me from the depth is missing. I stick to the middle of  the road there. A cable following the road is hanging in the air here, it's far the fall, but how far is uncertain, cause we're moving up in the clouds and the visibility lower to 20 m. In a turn a meet something I baptise "The chapel in the clouds", and soon after a new turn comes a revelation: a green oasis even with some flowers.
Some time later a truck moves in from behind. I move as far right as I can get, but there are these gravel barriers beside the road. The truck has got a good grip far to the right and I see it coming straight at me. I wave like a maniac and the driver sees me and avoids hitting me, but it was no fun. All this time it goes up, up, up. I calculate the average inclination to be 8%, that equals a speed of 6 km/h. Some time only 5 km/h. At a height of 900 m the visibility improves to 30-40 m and in 5 minutes I pass through to the open sky or the sun spreads the clouds, I don't know which. And up it goes. From the damp moisture of the sea air I've reached a hell of dryness. No wonder the mountains are called, and I avoid translating in case of soft souls, 'Sierra del Muerto'. From time to time blessed high clouds cover the sun and a wonderful wind cool my moist back and pushes me upwards - upwards - upwards. After 20 km and 1340 m's of altitude I reach what I've been waiting for so long. The road divides, to the left towards Paranal. 27 km it says. But soon after another sign with 'Observatorio' 40 km. The 27 km I'll do today, which means I only have to go 13 tomorrow - but that's going to be climbs. How much will show.
The miner in the bus thought the road was in 1600 m, which means I have to climb 1000 m in 13 km. The percentage I don't feel like calculating just now.

At 4.45 p.m. I'm up. In an altitude of 1945 m. I've seen nothing alive except I was overtaken by a truck. The road still inclines softly for some more km, but then it's probably over. According to the milage meter I still miss 10 km of the daily planned distance,
but it hasn't been that easy. How is it to go on roads like these? Exhausting. Of several reasons. Gravel roads can be bad from different viewpoints: the layer of gravel, sand or dust can be so thick that the tyres cut down into them and you loose speed, come to a halt. In worst cases you have the handle bar turned so much (because of the weight of the luggage it's not like usual) that you fall over. Another thing is they are uneven, rough, in worst case shear wash board up-down-up-down. If you enter this at a nice pace everything jumps and bounces around, and there's a risk of something being lost, pushed, broken. It's better when you climb because of the low speed. So the main thing is to find a good, firm plan track to go. Absolute concentration is needed EVERY second. There's no time to enjoy the landscape only when you stop. So you have to keep your eyes on the track and keep a pace, that you can maintain for hours. But you have to advance too. And less than 5 km/h in these roads is not possible due to the lane corrections you have to make.

It's been a day in the hell of dust, even it started damp this morning. After I turned off towards Paranal, the road turned REAL bad, and it was hardly possible to find a suitable track, all was just loose piles. This way I crawled for 6 km, then it turned a little better. When the sun broke through I took off my shirt, as it was soaking from both inside and outside. Put it over the luggage at the back and forgot all about it. When I stopped next time I found it still there I thought all was right, but after reaching this terrible part and the wind started blowing from the side, well the shirt disappeared at some moment. When I realized I sought it through the binoculars, but didn't find it and to go back... that would have been foolish. But now I miss it.
But back to the day: 48 km of climb ending up in 2.060 m, that only means an average incline of 4,3%, but most of the 48 km have been 8%! It really was a balance to survive. I'm a bit proud. And - "just the moon was there to congratulate..." (quote from a song by Helge KjŠrulf Schmidt and Henrik Blichman) - but it did, even it was not full.


The road was bad - but straight! Camping in the dessert