Feb 8, 2009

Bienvenidos a Chile 17/01/09
We arrived to Chile immigration, a modern complex, as expected. The Peruvian side was also modern and came as a surprise.
We quickly ate all our fresh food (not allowed to be taken into Chile). We tried our best but were sad to leave 2 garlic heads behind…
At the border we met a few motorcyclists (about 10 past us during the whole day!), an Argentinean/Bolivian couple, Marcelo and Melina, invited us to rest at their house in Jujuy (Argentina), after descending from the 4,800m Paso de Jama.

Welcome to Chile.

A modern country
Very quickly we noticed we’ve entered a modern country. The conversations with the locals at the border were ‘normal’ (no “rich Gringo” statements, etc.), the tap water were drinkable, the cars normal…
We fought the strong head wind for 20km to reach Arica, a big city, an oasis on the beach, surrounded by endless desert. We crossed to the relaxed malec√≥n and cycled 5km on the beach. It was exactly like the beaches of Hertzelia (Israel). It was Saturday afternoon and thousands of people were at the beach or parking their cars (urban jeeps) everywhere possible. There were surfers, kite and wind surfers, families, cool teenagers with their fashion, beech football tournaments… just like in Israel – at weekends everybody goes to the beach! We found a cheap place to sleep (relatively cheep), threw our stuff, bought 2 bottles of beer, 1 liter each and went to the beach to enjoy the sunset; just like back home. Gal was excited about not drawing attention – a woman drinking beer and smoking…
Enjoying the sunset reminded us of how we miss the beach in Israel

Big beer bottles!

On the way to the beach we passed a fish market and bought 5 huge live crabs for dinner. A $1.5 well spent. The fantastic dinner was accompanied with a cheap Chilean wine – the good life!


Today we celebrated a year in Latin America (and 9 years together). Since we left Mexico, we’ve been through 3’rd world and developing countries, where the average person was uneducated. We earned arriving to Chile!
We decided to stay another day and have a ‘beach day’.

And more seafood!

Good people in the desert 19/01/09
We left Arica for the 4-day journey, through the desert, to Iquique. The moment we left modern Arica, we entered the desert; nothing, except for a jail, 8km away.
We road 60km that day, in a boring, flat desert, with the strong wind playing with us. We climbed 1,000m to a plateau, cycling all day in the same boring flat desert, with nothing on the way – NOTHING!
We reached the second valley, Valle de Chaca, maybe 40 houses, spread in this oasis. We understood there will be no water till the next oasis, another 60-70km. The afternoon southern winds were already blowing, so we decided to stop for the day. We asked a restaurant, the first thing we saw, if we can camp. The only place for the tent was practically on the road, and the owners were not too nice to us, so we tried our luck in the village. We bought soft drinks in the shop of the village ( a small shack with no supplies), and Angi, the owner, a very warm woman, invited us to open a tent in her garden, showing us the toilets and shower and asked if we are hungry.
We had a very relaxed evening. During dinner, the turned on the generator, which broke the silence of the valley. At night time there was total silence and million of stars… a first relaxed evening in the desert.

Small tornado.
More desert.
Fertile Valle de Chaca.

We left early in the morning, with not enough supplies, for the nothingness of the desert.
During the next 3 days we learned to appreciate the tranquility of the desert and the kind people on the way.

Morning coffee.
Long desert road (fighting the head wind!).
Good Peruvians, spoiled us with fruits and Empanadas.
A nice German couple.
"Respect the pedestrians"

Back to the coast 22/01/09
Reaching a big oasis (situated on the beach), after a few long days in a dry desert, is exciting in many ways.
After fighting the Pacific winds, we enjoyed the small, winding, ‘back road’ to Iquique (no traffic!!!).
A turn in the road revealed the ocean and Iquique, 600m below us. We zigzagged the steep cliff and very quickly found ourselves in the middle of the modern city. We found a simple hotel (“simple” in Chile is not “simple” of 3rd world countries!). The worker, the 19 years old son of the owners, cycle-toured a bit, so he gave us a nice discount. Interesting, that the owner of the hostel in Arica, also cycle-toured (with a Bob trailer). Traditionally, we bought 2 huge 1-liter beer bottles ($1 each!) and went to enjoy the sunset. We were told that it is prohibited to drink in public places (the beach!!!), due to drinking problem, but, a relaxed couple will not be harassed. Another law that comes with modernization.

Iquique, from the cliff.

The beach.

Instant coffee 23/01/09
We ran out of the last of our Peruvian black coffee and said goodbye to the Latin America coffee world, after about a year.
We opened a bag of instant coffee…

Our first Caleta 24/01/09
We left Iquique, heading south along its beautiful promenade, with the coast to our right and the cliffs to our left.
The first 25km went quickly, but then the strong southern winds started, and grew stronger. After less than 40km we had enough and gave up. We started looking for a place to camp. There were beautiful beaches, but no water. It was summer vacation, hundreds of tents scattered all along the coast, some for the weekend, some for the whole summer. Maybe we open our tent next to one of these and ask for water.
Then we reached Caleta Caramucho, a small tranquil fishing village, except for the 40 tents of the vacationers. We entered the caleta, in search of a quiet camp spot and supplies. It was crowded, but we were advised not to camp alone – it might be dangerous…
We passed near a small beach bar. Claudio and Patricio, 2 brothers, running the new place (their grand father is a fisherman/settler in the 7-year old caleta) invited us to rest in the shade and to a local tasty cocktail. We chitchatted the whole afternoon, enjoying the ocean breeze (the southern winds!). They invited us to the birthday party of another brother, later that night.
We opened our tent nearby, near a family, so we will not need to worry about our stuff, while at the party.
The party was fun, with around 20 friends, manly students, studying at Iquique (mining engineering is popular), friends of the brothers. It was just a normal student beach party, music, alcohol and snacks and the good atmosphere of the beach; even girls, drinking and smoking (wow!), and everybody, very welcoming. Again, we had a feeling of home.
At some point we thanked our host; we planned on waking up at 04:00, start cycling with first light (the terrible wind arrives at 11:00). But the brothers persuaded us to stay – they’ll take care of us.
We enjoyed another day with the gang on the beach. Claudio cooked us tasty fish that his grandfather caught. In a heartbreaking ceremony (for us, at least), we gave them our precious traveling hammock, which Shay Reuveni gave Rami over a year ago. It was time to let it go; a half KG we were not using enough. It was also our crucial part of bringing the Latin American hammock culture to Chile.

Leaving Iquique.
Looking at the many kilometers we need to fight with the wind.
The beach bar.
Caleta Caramucho

In the afternoon 2 cyclists arrived to the caleta. We invited them to open their tent next to ours.

Company 26/01/09
The 4 of us woke up at 04:00, so we can start cycling as early as possible, before the terrible southern wind arrives, and, to be able to go to the open toilets discretely.
We started cycling with first light (who would believe). The road was zigzagging up and down on the cliff, with the ocean just beneath us, fierce and noisy. It reminded us the good old days of the beaches of west Mexico.
Dirk and Johan, 2 geophysics students, who for some reason decided to cycle together, were a strange combination. Dirk was cycling quickly ahead, all the time, while Johan stayed with us, relaxed, enjoying the company, just like we did.

Pictures of us???
Sea lion settlement.

Johan's pissing technique.

In the early afternoon, the winds arrived, so we decided to stop at one of the caletas. Beside these few primitive caletas, every 20-40km there was nothing – no village, no shop, no water…
We stopped at Caleta San Marcus. Rami went to investigate, while Dirk went to check the shop. A friendly, crazy local came to help, shouting “loco-loco-loco!” here & there, pushing a fresh clam (called “Loco” – ‘crazy’) to Rami’s mouth. Was he the person whose help we wanted? Will we later pay the price? Well, the choice was not in our hands anymore…
First, we went to the tiny port to buy dinner: sea-food. Luckily a tiny boat arrived. We bought about 5kg of clams, locos and huge crabs, for a ridiculous price :-)
Our ‘loco’ friend arrived, and led us to our truly beautiful camp spot. He explained us the process of cooking the loco – not as easy as we thought. In order to soften them, you must beat them with salt. He understood we need help and happily took the job, bringing a bag of firewood, a huge pot and a bucket for bringing sea water and keeping the seafood fresh, and told us: “go, build your camp!”. An hour later food was ready. The tents were built and we were clean, after washing in the ocean. We attacked the seafood and the cold white wine.
Early dinner was more than tasty – it was fun! Standing around the fire, on this beautiful beach, cracking the crabs on the rocks and sipping their meat, chewing the Loco and the clams and getting drunk… well, most of us. Dirk doesn’t touch alcohol! He never tasted it! Germans!
Loco! Loco! Loco!

Beating the Locos with salt, inside an old truck tube.

Caleta San Marcus.

We had 2 more beautiful cycling days on the coast, camping in other caletas. We reached Tocopilla in the afternoon. Gal’s knee was hurting due to the war with the winds. We had to stop. Dirk wanted to continue, he was on a tight schedule – a German with a mission!

Another Caleta.


Looking for crabs.
A tunnel.
Polite traffic.
Another picture of us.

We were left alone, lost, near the supermarket, thinking of a place to sleep in this dreadful ex-mining town. We went to the beach, 4km away. We passed the port, looking for seafood, but found only tiny fish, which were too much work.
It was not allowed to camp on the beach, and the town was sketchy, so we asked to open our tent near a restaurant. Just as we finished opening camp, 2 kids came and warned us that this area is dangerous; but the restaurant owners reassured us it is safe and treated us with tasty fish.
It was strange camping on a beach of a town, with people around you. We woke up early in the morning to shit between the rocks…

Camping in a big city...
Our toilets.
Gal filled with Aji (Chilly sauce).
Rami liked the CD on the backpack.

More desert 29/01/09
We left the beach behind us, for the last time in Latin America – how sad :-(
We immediately started climbing in a narrow gorge, a 1,000m climb. We finally had the notorious wind on out side (our back!!!).
We were happy with our decision to stay last night; the climb would have been too much; let’s not forget 6-8 liters of water!
When we reached the top we, we stopped near an abandoned ‘something’. Rami went to this huge toilet, but, then 2 female cyclists surprised us. They came quickly from behind (with their 700cc wheels and minimal language) and didn’t even stop till we called them. After a few minutes of conversation, we all understood that they have just climbed 1,000m in the wrong direction – D’oh!

Getting water directly from the water pipe.
Women power! Never ask for directions!
At least going back is downhill.

From that point the road went straight (like a ruler) for 80km – a flat boring desert.
We reached a tiny oasis – a huge water tank/station; Tocopilla’s water supply, coming from Calama. Angel, the lonely guard, invited us to stay. We had a very relaxed night. We took advantage of the fantastic warm wind and the huge water tank and did loads of laundry (in the middle of the desert!!!).
We continued on the straight road, a long nothingness. Rami hitched 12km on a side road, to a tiny town, to buy supplies, and even bought a 1 liter carton of cheap red wine.
We passed near a power plant and were given water. A sad incident occurred: one of our 3 water tanks (4 liters each) slipped from Ramis hands and exploded. It was with us for over 2 years and served us well.

Leaving the water station.
A straight road.

It was getting late and we needed a camp spot. Rami was, like always, afraid of camping alone: no water, no electricity and most important, no concrete!
Gal found the only hidden corner, in this endless flat desert. It was perfect, 300m from the road, between small dunes. We even found there wood for a fire. For half an hour we waited near the road, signaling cars for water, till we had enough. We enjoyed the beautiful desert sunset, sitting on top of a dune, sipping our wine.

Our perfect campspot in the middle of nowhere.
Hidden from the road & wind.
Sunset, drinking wine on the dune.

Breaking firewood.

Back to the road.
Another straight road.

Fooling around in Calama.
Another beautiful camp spot.

San Pedro De Atacama 03/02/09
We entered San Pedro De Atacama, once a beautiful, relaxed village, now a tourist trap; everything there was related to tourism. Rami was grumpy!
We opened our tent in one of the less crowded private campground ($10 for a tent!).
Diego, Raul, Claudio and Francisco, our neighbors, invited us for water and ‘Pis-Cola’ – Pisco and Coke. It was our first Pisco, Chile’s national drink (different from the Peruvian Pisco), the first of many in San Pedro De Atacama. We spent the next day and a half with our new friends, drinking Pis-Cola and eating tasty BBQ pork.
We gathered our strength and bought more supplies (in addition to the million instant noodle soups and bags of marmalade we’ve already been carrying from Calama, at “Leader”, the huge supermarket), preparing to attack Paso De Jama, crossing the Andean mountains to Argentina.

Diego, Raul, Claudio and Francisco.

Paso De Jama 05/02/09

Our current master plan was to cycle south, zigzagging between north Chile and Argentina, up and down the Andes, between their highest peaks.
The first crossing was to be Paso De Jama, 4,850m, 500km of an isolated Altiplano desert, with volcanoes, salt planes, llamas and no water. We were carrying food for 7-8 days and planned on taking water from trucks, on the way.
Excited, we arrived to Chile passport control, just at the edge of San Pedro De Atacama (more than 20km before the actual border), at 07:50, 10 minutes before the office opens. There were over 100 people waiting…
Rami stood in the middle of the crowd and gave an Oscar winning speech about the importance of the time for these 2 crazy tourists, and unanimously was let in first. At 08:02 we were off.
The road went up, a steady climb, with no turns; totally straight and totally boring. At any given point you could look back and still see San Pedro De Atacama. We climbed about 1,200m, it was enough for that day. We found a campsite (far from perfect – not so flat and no protection from the strong wind). We asked from passing cars for water, waving an empty water bottle. The 10 trucks of the day passed us together. Unable to stop, they threw out the window bottles of water, more than enough.
Dinner was a classic: 6 packs of instant noodle soup, 82 gram each. No wine today.

Replacing Gal's gear cable.

The next day we found a car willing to take the empty bottles and we continued the same boring climb. We reached the turnoff to a dirt road leading to Bolivia at 4,500m. we continued a bit and found a camp spot, this time with some protection from the wind.
Water was problematic, barely any traffic. While one was waiting for passing cars, for water, the other built camp, fighting the wind.

The Altiplano.

It was getting cold and Rami’s left knee, the notorious one with the 3 knee operations, started hurting.
That night we learned to keep the water inside the tent, with us; water, left outside, froze! (cooking time is longer: more gasoline… less instant noodle soup).

Another hideaway from the wind.

In the morning we were in serious trouble: Rami’s knee was very swollen, huge, filled with liquids. Rami could barely bend it. He couldn’t even help Gal with the packing. Like always, hoping that a warm-up will help the knee, we started cycling. It didn’t.
We cycled around 30km, in this beautiful Altiplano, sort of flat, gentle inclines. We passed the 4,850m pass (Paso De Jama III, we think) and reached a salt lagoon, filled with flamingos and llamas (‘j’amas – what a stupid accent). Rami saw the concrete view point of the lagoon, the first ‘thing’ in 100km, with its concrete wall and benches, and declared: “our camp!”
We enjoyed looking at the beautiful animals and landscape as the day passed by and we even sneaked a few glimpses during the night, in the freezing cold, with the almost full moon illuminating the valley, but every now and then, returning to the thought:
Was this our last cycling day?


Llamas & flamingos.
More flamingos.
Hitching to Argentina.

Goodbye Chile 08/02/09
We were only 3 weeks in Chile, and, unfortunately, didn’t get to return. We enjoyed cycling there: people are friendly, hospitable and educated. Seafood, wine and beaches, desert and remoteness, cheap good bear and the tap water – safe!
Exactly what we needed after Peru ;-)