Table of Contents    |    Chapter Thirteen    |  |    Chapter Fifteen

The Daily Grind
A Cyc-o-path Loose in South America
A Motivational Book About Cycle Touring Through South America

A Book by Ranger Bob Bob Lutsky

"Always strive to make other people feel important."

Chapter Fourteen


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Arriving in Copiapo reminded me of most of the other large cities in Chile. They all have the Plaza De Armas which is in the center of town and surrounded by the typical vegetation found in that region and the main cathedral in the town can be seen from the square in the true Spanish style. I must visit the mineralogical museum here not only because it was highly recommended but it will also be the first one I've ever been to. I brought my bike into the foyer and was about to secure it when a man came up to me and asked where I was from and how far I was traveling. We had talked for about 15 minutes when finally he said the museum was going to close for lunch and I should get in now. I went to lock the bicycle and he insisted that it wasn't necessary because not only would he watch it for me, but he also spoke to the woman at the entrance so that I wouldn't have to pay. I had to ask myself, do I look like a charity case? Why is everyone I meet being so kind and generous to me? I honestly believe its just the nature of the Chilean people.

Inside, there were rocks and crystals of every shape, size and color one could imagine. Some of them actually looked like enlarged snowflakes and there were little plaques under each one indicating where they were found and which scientist discovered them first. The museum definitely merited a visit for it was incredibly rich with unique wonders. Not willing to spend a lot of time in a big city, I restocked on food and began the 320 miles journey to Antofagosta, the next big town along the coast. Copiapo is the southern limit of the vast Atacama desert. The desert stretches from here to the Ecuadorian border, 3000 miles away, although the desert itself is no more than 100 miles wide. It is the driest desert in the world.

Leaving Copiapo was the start of a new part of the trip for me. For the next month I will not be seeing any trees, or even anything green, except for the very rare river valleys. For the most part there is nothing but sand, rock and the ocean. For the most part, the road is paved and in excellent condition, relatively flat with occasionally low-grade climbs. There's a river here that passes through town. Nothing I would consider drinking from or swimming in. It actually has very little water despite that it has flowed over 100 miles from high in the Andes. The towns in this region get all of their water from the river or underground wells which are fed from snow-melt in the Andes mountain range where most of the precipitation falls, above 1500 ft. After about 60 miles, I stopped at a restaurant for some tea and some soup and around back, there was an abandoned building where I built a fire and cooked up some pasta. I then took a walk over the hill and sat and stared out into the vast desert. I just sat down and thought to myself how much more comfortable this is than a 4-star hotel. Fresh air, scenery, no hassles, as a matter of fact, it was so silent, I could hear my heart beat. This perfect evening was completed by watching a bright orange moon rise over the rapidly cooling sand. In the morning, the people who owned the restaurant came over to where I was sleeping. Upon hearing their footsteps I awoke and they invited me to the restaurant for a complementary breakfast. Again I keep asking myself what I had done to deserve such kindness.

They had a 10 year old boy who was having breakfast with me before school. We spent an hour talking in Spanish - for some reason I found it easier to understand him than almost anyone else. After a friendly farewell, I set off into the open desert. Considering this is still route 5 the only major highway in the country, there is very little traffic. About one vehicle every 10 minutes, fortunately the wind is from behind, making it easy to hear them well in advance.

After about an hour, I stopped at a turnoff for a detour to the coast. This side trip to Bahaia Inglesia will add about 10 miles to my trip, but it would be well worth it to see the ocean for a while. Just as I was about to turn left, I saw coming up the same road another cyclist. He was about 1.5 miles behind so I stayed and waited for him to catch up. This guy looked like he was from Indonesia, but in reality, he's from Holland. His father was Indonesian and his mother was Dutch. He's been following the same route I have so it's surprising that we haven't met before - perhaps it's because he was always just 1.5 miles behind me. I started speaking to him first in Spanish and he just looked at me and said "Dutch, French, German, Italian, English? What?" So I responded in English asking him if he spoke all those languages. He actually did because he had done a lot of work with young children in all those countries. He also spoke Indonesian and I thought it must be such a treat to have such communicative ability. After a brief conversation, we decided to cycle together and take a detour to the beach where we stopped for lunch. He brewed up a fresh pot of coffee and I made sandwiches. We noticed a local couple down by the water, and Joery spoke the language fluently and they had a long talk together and they invited us to their place for dinner, a shower and a place to sleep for the night.

On the way there, about a mile down the road we noticed a dog with a litter of puppies in front of a house. They went over and picked up one of the puppies and strapped him under the bungy cords on the back of my bike. I put aside my questions and as we rode the 10 miles to their place, the puppy fell asleep contentedly.

They lived in a very small house well off the main road, no carpet, cement floors, tiny shower and everything was quite lived in and run down. We dined on another wonderful dinner with great conversation, then we did our laundry, showered and settled down for the night on the kitchen floor. Naturally, we were spoiled with a sumptuous breakfast and headed off again north along the coast. The road from here was completely deserted surrounded by nothing but red volcanic rock sloping down to the ocean. No sand, no trees, nothing built, nothing growing - just rock contrasted with blue ocean and blue sky. Yet, it had an air of unique majestic beauty.

We rode about 60 miles and just outside of the town of Chanaral, we brought our bikes as close as safely possible down to the ocean and managed to find a small patch of sand and set up camp for the night. I had been carrying a rather expensive bottle of wine that had been giving to me as a gift and since Joery cooked up dinner, I decided him to surprise him with a delightful Cabernet to accompany dinner. Joery recognized the value of the wine and had immense interest in my appreciation of good wine. I told him it was given to me as a gift but I was saving it for a special occasion. We drank a toast to the beginning of a good friendship. The waves were crashing on the rocks and the wind had stilled and the smell of the ocean mist was in the air. Despite the moisture of the sea, we decided to sleep out under the stars without setting up a tent. In the morning, everything was a little bit wet but well worth the minor inconvenience for the serenity of the atmosphere. The temperatures were about 50 degrees at night and 70 during the day. Of course, this was winter. In the summer it would be unbearably hot here. After the sun came up and everything dried off, we packed up and went into Chanaral for lunch at a restaurant. We stocked up on groceries and bought another bottle of wine. When you're traveling with 140 pounds, what's another pound or two for a bottle of wine.

From here, the road turns east and then goes inland before turning North up through the interior part of the desert. Just as we were leaving town we saw the sign - the next nearest town was "Antofagasta 240 miles"! From this point there will be nothing but sand for about 4 days. About a mile later a flat bed truck pulled up in front of us and asked if we wanted a ride to Antofagasta. I looked a Joery, and he at me, and almost in unison, we looked at the driver and said "Thanks, but we'll cycle it". As the road started to climb, we started to question our decision but fortunately, we had about a 20 knot tail wind, which, together with the scenery, reassured us that our decision had been the best choice. An interesting thing to remember in this area is that the wind blows uphill during the day and downhill at night. Very similar to a sea breeze in the afternoon along the coast and a land breeze at night.

The first 3 days were basically uphill and with the wind so we managed to cover about 40 miles each day. We climbed to a height of about 6000 feet. The days were pleasantly cool but the nights actually got cold, down to around 32 degrees. Each night we camped on the open sand in an area that looked like the Sahara desert. The only difference is that to the east of us, off into the distance, was the Andes mountain range. The rock varied in color from brown in places to dark black. I was presented with quite a challenge in setting up my Megamid pyramid tent in soft sand. My tent is basically a nylon tarp with four stakes and a pole in the center that is not freestanding. Driving stakes into soft sand was futile so I put the stakes away and went on a rock hunt. Fortunately, it was not too difficult to find four large rocks which I placed on each corner of the tent. This proved to be more than sufficient. Only one time in my entire life did I have to use my bicycle bags to help support the tent, and that was on the deck of a ship.

On the fourth day, we cycled relatively slowly because the wind had come against us because we were now going downhill. We came up with the idea that because we had a full moon, we should cycle at night when the wind changed direction. About 4:00, we stopped and did a long, early dinner and relaxed for about 2 hours. About 7:00 PM the sun set and a beautiful full moon rose over the mountains. As darkness settled in, just as we expected, the wind shifted to come from behind us, and by 10:00 pm, it was blowing at 20 knots so we continued through the night for a total of 22 hours of cycling. At midnight, we noticed that because we were near the tropic of Capricorn, the moon was directly overhead, thus casting no shadow except directly downward. By 7:30 in the morning, the sun was up, the wind was back in our face and 125 miles were behind us - officially the biggest day of the whole trip. We thought that we had earned our right to set up camp and get some sleep. After about 4 hours, we were both up and by 1:00 PM we were back on the bikes. We made it all the way into the grand city of Antofagasta. There was a relatively steep canyon that led down into the city. Normally, we would be flying down this hill, but because of a 25 knot wind right into our face, we actually had to work to maintain any speed. We cycled all the way through the city and found a place to camp just out of the city and to the north up on a hill. It's now dark, and we're looking across the peninsula back on the city of 150,000 people with lights that rose up the hillside.

Joery had an amazing ability to drink coffee - he even actually drank 5 cups of coffee before bed - 5 tablespoons of coffee, 5 tablespoons of sugar. Just looking at the caffeine was enough to keep me awake. I also did an experiment with eating. One time we made pasta and ate out of the same pot. I'm often penalized by eating slowly so this time, I actually kept count of the number of forkfuls throughout the meal. He ate 3 forkfuls of pasta of equal size to every one that I ate. For this reason, I'm always very insistent on having my own bowl whenever we eat or else I would always go hungry.

In the morning we cycled into the city with the idea of having some work done on the bikes. We went into this one bike shop, Joery having the language talked to the two mechanics, both of who were about 22-23 years old. They started on his bike, I bought 2 new tires and the owner of the shop, had one of the mechanics put them on for me. Next thing I knew he had the bottom bracket off, and discovered it was well worn perhaps from an uneven bearing. He dug around in the used equipment box and put together a new one for me, and installed it with new bearings. He also relubed the wheel hubs and bearings. They ended up doing a complete overhaul on both our bikes, working for over 8 hours, scrounging around to salvage free parts and they did an incredible job, all without accepting anything in return. This same operation in the states would have easily cost over $100 in labor and $70 in parts. We insisted on taking them for lunch, with only cost about $3.00, but even so, THEY were very grateful to US. Once again, the boundless generosity of the Chilean people shined through without even asking.

The rest of the afternoon we tended to all the necessary chores, repairs and usual administrivia. That evening, we went to the fish market and picked up an assortment of shellfish that I personally, have never seen before. To add to the kind offerings of our famed bicycle mechanics, they had invited us to sleep at their place and we stayed with them for couple nights.

As much as Joery and I enjoyed each other's company, having an uncanny ability to make each other laugh, almost to the point of tears, we decided to separate. Our decision based solely on geographical directional choices. Joery chose to go North-east to the town of Calama, a town of close to 100,000 people, which, in the history of keeping records has never reported rainfall. From there, he would continue on to the famous San Pedro De Atacama an area known for its colorful rock formations and moonscape terrain. From there he would return to Calama and proceed north-east to the town of Ollague on the Bolivian border. This is an outpost community where the road proceeds to cross over into Bolivia and then disappears. My choice was to follow the coastline all the way to Arica. I have become obsessed with the idea of cycling Chile from the southern tip to the northern tip - a distance equivalent to going from Maine to Los Angeles. The road the going along the coast is well-paved and, for the most part flat, with a steady southerly wind, 10-15 mph. This region virtually never gets rainfall and is relatively mild in the winter and brutally hot in the summer.

As the sun was setting, I left Antofagasto. About an hour out of town, perched by itself out in the middle of nowhere was a building with screened walls all the way around. Nothing but a short wall, no windows. Because the weather was the same year round, there was no need to ever close up the building, and when you were in it you were surrounded with the sounds of the ocean and the wind blowing through. It was an outpost restaurant and gathering place for truck drivers and people traveling along the road. Inside, there were a few dining tables, but the life revolved around the Ping-Pong table in the center of the room. There were a few people hanging out, playing Ping-Pong and naturally, I couldn't resist the competitive lure of the challenge and we played Ping-Pong until about 2:00 in the morning.

They invited me to sleep on the floor and I chose the cozy nook under the Ping-Pong table. In the morning, not only did they spoil me with breakfast but they also loaded me up with one of everything they sold in their store such as coffee, tea, chips, bread, chocolate. I was always surprised by the shift in treatment as soon as anyone realized that I was cycle-touring through their country. As a traveler, they were polite and courteous, but when they hear I'm a cyclist, it's as if they idolized me and went above and beyond all expectations to cherish me and spoil me.

About 10 miles further north and 1 mile west of the highway is the great arch. This is a unique creation of rock sculptured by the wind and waves over many centuries. Here there was a little visitor center and a restaurant that actually had a small swimming pool. Since it was not the season the owner invited me for a free swim which normally cost a few dollars. The temperature was about 65 degrees but it was refreshing none the less. Because of erosion problems they don't let anyone hike down to the arch but you can easily see it from the cliff top about 40 feet above it. After my brief little stop over I returned to the main road and continued northward. The next 250 miles of cycling will be along beautiful coastline scenery. To my left about 100 yards is the clear blue south pacific and 100 yards to my right is a 1500 wall of sand. At the top of the wall of sand is a 50 mile level plateau of sand followed by the climb into the Andes.

Alone and with a good tail wind I'm averaging 60 miles a day, with some great private, seaside campsites. The first night I cycled until after dark and found myself looking for a place to sleep with the skill of a blind person. I left my bike by the road and walked on all fours over rocks for 100 yards looking for a good place to sleep for the night. I then returned to the road, and waited for a car to pass, so I could see where I left my bicycle. I returned to the road 50 feet further south than I left it, not too bad for blind orienteering. In the morning I could not believe how foolish I was to try to hike over such steep rocky terrain without the use of sight. But it was well worth the effort for the spot where I slept was nestled on a ridge away from the road just above a cliff with crashing waves sending a spray up over my bed. I would have never found this spot for I would have never stopped here if it had been daylight.

The following night I slept behind a piece of heavy equipment which provided excellent protection from the wind and lights from the occasional passing car. This time it was to the right of the road, just at the base of the wall of sand. The reason I chose this location was because the front end loader was digging into the hill side, exposing unusual colors of various layers of rock for the purpose of which I had no idea. The wall of sand was steep and very loose, but at this very spot the sand was very shallow (underneath was rock) making penetration into the mountain relatively simple. The greenish teal color of the rock indicates copper, a mineral that Chile has more of than any other country in the world.

After my mineralogical discovery, I continued north and easily made it to the town of Tocopilla. Just before going into town I stopped to watch the large powerful waves crash onto the rocks just below someone's house. Nowhere in the states have I ever seen such large waves except in Hawaii. Even North Carolina during a hurricane had waves smaller than this. I guess they accumulate a lot of momentum from the big storms in the southern ocean, and travel as far north as southern Peru. Between 56 degrees south latitude and Antarctica, there is no land all the way around the world. This ocean is called the southern ocean.

I remembered that the women who ran the hospedaje in the little town north of San Antonio had given me the address and phone number of her sister who lived in this town. I called, disconnected. I went to the address, all boarded up, rats! So I looked in the small opening in the door between boards, saw nothing, turned around and saw a neighbor a few doors up come out. I asked him if he knew the women who used to live here and where I could find her. He said she runs the seafood restaurant down by the docks. Sure enough when I finally found it and went inside, I recognized the face of someone I never met before. They were not twins but had similar facial features. I told her I met her sister who said I must look her up If I make it to Tocopilla. She asked a few questions just to confirm that I was sincere, then sat me down with a friend of hers, a local fisherman. We all had dinner together and what a feast she presented.

Her fisherman friend had a brother further up the coast in a small village not even on the map. He said its the second collection of shacks after you cross the Rio Loa. There are no streets just a collection of shacks, go there and ask for manual, he will take you in for the night and fishing the next day, providing you can get up at 4:30 am. He said just tell him Roberto sent you. Well that will be easy to remember. About 2 hours later unable to eat another bite, she invites me to stay at the hotel where she is living. I had my own room, good shower, caught up on laundry, I told her this wasn't necessary but she insisted, she was insulted that I would not be her guest for the night.

While staying at the hotel I met a girl 16 years old with 2 kids no husband naturally. Seems its quite common for girls to have a child by the age of 16, and to marry much later. A catholic country yet this situation is quite common and accepted. She lived and worked at the hotel but no longer attended school.

In the morning after much restocking of supplies and a tire repair, and more good byes to a wonderful lady, I continued on to the north. After about 50 miles of cycling, I passed a small hut on the right side of the road, nothing else around for miles. As I passed by I noticed a women with her husband standing in the door way. They waved for me to stop and come to their house. I had a good momentum going and felt especially strong today so I just waved and cycled on. About a half mile down the road I thought to myself what a great opportunity to meet a family who live in a shack in the middle of the dessert. Then I did something I almost never do, I turned around and cycled back.

They immediately escorted me to the table and placed in front of me a bowl of fried lapa. These are small abalone, a mussel that clings to the rocks just below the low tide waterline. They are difficult to spot because they blend in with the rock, but are easy to pry off the rocks with a crow bar. Tear them out of the shell wash 'em off and then pan fry. There is no better tasting thing you can put in your mouth. mmmmmmm goooood!! The kitchen table was on the left side of the house outside, under a tarp supported by four 2x4's. On the right side of the house was the same set up only this is where her two brothers and I slept. They laid down a pallet for me to sleep on. The house itself was four large pieces of plywood with a vertical 2x6 at each corner, a roof made out of rows of 2x6's with a tarp thrown over the top. Inside was a dirt floor, a double bed, a small boom box powered by two 12 volt car batteries, a propane light, a propane camp stove and a small mirror. This is where they lived, no rent, no taxes, a comfy chair and a couch outside facing the ocean and a friendly wave from just about everybody that happens to pass by.

They regularly collect the plankton that washes up on the beach, lay it in stacks to dry, and once a month load it on a tractor trailer, to sell to manufacturing companies who will use it to make nylon. How about that the original source of things like my tent, my rain jacket and my sleeping bag. The people you meet, the things you learn just riding your bike down a lonely desert highway. Everyday I insisted I was leaving the following day, and this continued for six days. Everyday was something different. One day we made bread, rolled flour, yeast and a little water into small rolls, placed them on a piece of round sheet steel. Put the sheet half way down into a tall barrel and put a lid on the barrel. In the small opening at the bottom we put several small pieces of wood and lit the fire. Twenty minutes later we had the best tasting bread. Another day we went down to the sea, caught a few small crabs running around, broke them in several pieces, placed them on a fishing hook. Then tied the hook to about 20 feet of fishing line, wrapped it around a piece of drift wood, swing the line like your about to lasso a small cow, throw the line into the sea, and in no time caught us six of the ugliest best tasting fish I've ever seen in me life. Now this is living!

Another day we went out and pried Lapa off the rock, collecting about 100 or so in two in a half hours. Another day we collected Plankton and dried it on the beach. Another day we hiked up into the canyon and up to near the top of the mountain. Each night we sat out side at the kitchen table and played gin rummy, a game they have not heard before. It was a good challenge to teach a card game in language I did not speak. I have a little Spanish from listening to my cassettes, and a dictionary, but it was good fun. One time Anna, Raul's wife got caught with a lot of points in her hand and in frustration threw everyone's cards into a pile, just like a small child, it was so funny. She later apologized and felt bad but we all said its not necessary since it was good fun.

After a week it was time for more good byes and moving on, I really enjoyed their company and told them I would try to write them a letter in Spanish when I got home. Shortly after I left these good people I crossed the Rio Loa. At this point there was a major check point where they asked for my passport and many questions. This is the northern most region of Chile with road access to neighboring Bolivia and Peru, therefore security is tight.

With the formalities behind me I went back to the bridge that crossed the tiny trickle called the Rio Loa, went down under the bridge to cook up lunch and to see something green. In and near the water were clusters of moss and small shrubs, it doesn't take long to miss seeing green, something, anything as long as its green. Later I stopped in the small village to ask for Manual, but naturally he was out fishing and since I was eager to progress after 6 days of rest, I just left of note saying I was sorry for not sticking around.

That afternoon I came to the salt processing plant, where 100 foot piles of salt stood glistening, snow white and actually blinding to look at. One truck after another was coming down the mountain from the mine full of salt. Not wanting to cycle up, I hitched a ride with one up to the top of the 1500 foot wall of sand and 20 miles across the plateau to the mine. Strangely, for security reasons I wasn't allowed in which tells me they are probably doing something illegal. Nonetheless this was a fantastic detour that offered me the chance to see what was on top of this wall of sand I've been cycling along for the past week. Nothing, just endless miles of sand and sporadic salt flats. Realizing I was making no progress arguing with the guard, I hitched a ride back down and continued cycling northward.

About an hour later I was treated to a spectacular air show. Five Air craft were drawing stars, hearts, and other designs, going straight up, stalling into a free fall and flying in formation. Apparently they were practicing for a show this weekend in Iquique, the next city to the north. I cycled and watched the show for about half an hour. At one point I looked up and a plane was in a free fall dive directly for me, so I got off the bike and quickly drew a bulls eye in the sand next to the road and got out of the way. About 100 feet before he hit the bulls eye, the pilot pulled out of the dive. I couldn't believe he chickened out, what a wimp. I just laid down in the sand and watched the rest of the show. It was great not to worry about security or safety or even deal with crowds. It was my own private show, just for me.

That evening, just before getting into Iquique I stopped on a peninsula on top of a hill overlooking the bay and the city. To my right looked like a couple of abandoned houses so I went over there to investigate a place to sleep for the night. I was about to unpack my bicycle when somebody came walking over from behind another building. After the basic questions, he immediately invited me into his house, about 100 meters further up the hill. He brought me inside and his wife served us all dinner and dessert with more questions about who I was and what I was doing. In the morning the man brought me out to his truck to show me how he made surf boards. I don't know what the substance is, but there were two jugs of liquid and various colors. You mix the two liquids together with the appropriate color and within a minute, it boils up into Styrofoam. He had a mold for various size surf boards which he would pour the mixture into. He wanted me to stay another day but I was anxious to get into the city and always fearful of overstaying in a stranger's home. I thanked him and cycled about 8 miles down into the Iquique.

As I got into the city, I could not believe what I saw. In all honesty, with no exaggeration, waves in excess of 30 feet were crashing onto the beach. You could feel the ground shake. I walked out into the sea until I was about knee deep in water, and the next thing I knew it was over my head. Moments later I was standing on the beach with no water anywhere. These were tremendous currents. I thought about wanting to swim, but I knew that it would be a fatal mistake to even take one more step further out. Never before have I been so intimidated by the force of water. I talked to a couple local people who said that every year, two or three times a year they would get such a surf and I just happened to be there on that day. I guess this just proves the theory about the horse shoe wedged up my butt. It was so beautiful to look down the beach into the pipe of the waves. After the earth shattering crash, the splash from the waves would rise up equally as high and the mist created a thick fog down the beach.

Thoroughly wet, I got back on the bike and rode down into the city center. I remembered that I had the phone number and address of the sister of the husband of the woman who ran the hotel back in the little town down in San Antonio. I called the number twice but it was no longer in service. It turned out they had moved so I went to the old address and the neighbor brought me to their new residence. They took me inside but were somewhat reluctant to believe my story. Later they told me that it was because they couldn't comprehend how someone could cycle that far. The made a call to my friends in San Antonio who confirmed that it was me and I instantly became a member of the family.

I stayed with them for three days to have an opportunity to explore all that the city had to offer. Most of the time I spent wandering through the nice hotels, swimming in their pools and of course walking the beaches. Much to my delight I came upon a secured Yacht club and noticed that there was a Canadian boat in there from Vancouver. Naturally, a little bit of security fencing is nothing for old Ranger Bob, so I hopped the fence and inched my way along the inside of the fence toward the boat. When I got within earshot, I called out the name of boat "Orifin", and the owner came out to see what was happening. I mentioned who I was and he quickly got into his skiff and rowed over to pluck me off the fence and to bring me into the boat for some good old Canadian hospitality. We poured over maps, exchanged stories and went out for a sail. It was a little rough getting out and not a lot of wind but it was soooo great to be back on a boat, how I've missed it. Ray, the owner told me that most of the way down the South American coast was calm and always into the swells, mostly a motorboat trip, but his ultimate destination is the fjords of southern Chile. He asked me if I wanted to join him. I thanked him for his offer but my cycle trip is the most important thing for me right now. I offered to help him fuel up his boat. This is no easy process. We had to make several trips to the yacht club in the skiff with empty 3 gallon jugs. First fill them, return to the boat, pour each one into the main tank then return to the yacht club for more fuel. Chile doesn't receive many foreign yachts and are therefore not equipped to fuel them. After the ordeal. I thanked Ray again for his company and returned to the city.

The north end of Iquique is lined with endless rows of wholesale warehouses and retail tax-free shops of everything you could possibly imagine. Like a Walmart city in the middle of the Atacama desert. I feel like a circus clown as I cycle up and down these narrow streets packed with delivery trucks because everyone stares and smiles and shouts "out donde venien?". Where are you from gringo? This gets old after a while, so usually I just smile and ride past with a wave.

My list of needs were very small - a new bicycle tire and a pair of ear plugs. Camping in the sand without showers has it's drawbacks and since I was starting to sense that sand dunes were building in my ear canal, I felt it was high time I splurged the whole 5 cents for a new pair of ear plugs. And so, not wanting to leave my one true love, the bike that is, out in the streets alone and vulnerable, I decided it would probably enjoy a little tour through the store for a change of pace. This was the grande finale to the earlier Clown performance in the street and I wanted to ensure that everyone in the store was satisfactorily amused. By contrast of course, in the States, my bike and I would have been abruptly escorted right back out the door. No sense of humor!

On the way out of town, a guy in a van stopped to talk to me, thankfully in English. He was a musician from Bolivia who was performing at a music Fest at a very small community at the base of the Andes, about a two hour drive from here. He personally invited me to the four day fiesta that was starting today, teasing me with the tales of free food and wine and lots of live music for four days and insisted that I join him as his guest! I was very excited to take the directions from him and kept the idea in mind as I continued along the road.

It was time to embark on the journey up to the Atacama desert plateau. Now, when one hears the word "Plateau", it naturally brings to mind the vision of a high, raised platform of land... with very steep sides rising up to it. As matter of fact, the cliff up to the plateau rose directly up from the edge of the city at about a 45 degree angle and cliff was mostly loose golden sand the entire way up. The road up to the top of the plateau started at the edge of the city and was a straight, gentle climb all the way up the cliff face for about 2 miles with no switchbacks. Now when one says "gentle climb" it may create an image of a casual cruise along a pastoral country road. But the reality of the matter is, I'm cycling up hill, requiring maximum oxygen intake to do the climb, competing against the volume of mini-buses and trucks coming up from the port town. Oxygen becomes a rare commodity once it's polluted with the leaded fuel fumes from the trucks that are pushing themselves in maximum overdrive leaving massive black clouds of choking smoke. Luckily, their main destination is the town at the top of the road, which means that once they've made their deliveries, they'll turn around and go back down again. This gives me great inspiration to continue, knowing that I'll be able to leave the trucks behind soon.

Once I had climbed the 1500 feet to the top, I looked back out across the ocean and the big city below and bid adieu to the scenic coastline and faced the barren plateau of sand and rock and road. As I turned away from the coast to head through the small town where the poorer people lived, I could feel the chill of about 55 degrees due to the winds from the coast. By the time I had traveled the 30 miles inland to the Pan Americanna highway, the climate had shifted up to desert temperatures of about 80 degrees, and this is the WINTER temperature. In the summer, the temperatures here would be unbearably hot.

As I get to the intersection of the Pan Americana, two guys in a pickup truck stopped to ask where I was from. When I mentioned I was from Ohio, the one fellow, who was originally from Chile, mentioned that he had studied in Pittsburgh and was now an Engineer working for a mining company in northern Chile. Interesting, I told him he was the second person I met on this trip from South America who studied in Pittsburgh. They insisted that I join them for lunch and we threw my bike into the back of the pickup truck. We drove about 8 miles South to a really nice restaurant where we had our contented fill of meat and rice for a change, we each had a glass of Coca Cola (which always costs more than the meal itself!). Through the course of the two hour meal, they managed to convince me to make a three day detour east up into the Andes to the resort town of Pica. After lunch, they drove me another couple of miles south to drop me off at the start of the dead-end detour road. Naturally, I would have to come back this way to return to the Pan Americanna, but like all detours, it proved to be far more attractive than the sticking with the Pan Americanna stretch. Since I know that most of the joys and wonders of life are discovered by chance when you venture off the beaten trail, I face the new road with excitement.

After about 20 miles cycling due Eastward on a road that is pleasantly flat with good pavement, as the sun set behind me, the Andes mountain range ahead of me was illuminated with a brilliant fiery red glow. It was as if the mountain range was rising like a phoenix from the flames and I was so awestruck that I was hypnotized by it's beauty. Now, the town of Pica was a spa resort town with a natural hot spring pool, which, in itself wasn't very noteworthy, but the view of the sunset was the inspired moment that made the detour truly worth every extra mile.

After the sun set, I noted that perhaps it would have been a good idea to set up camp before being hypnotized, for now I found myself feeling may way around a field of thorny bushes to try to find a space to lay out my camp. After a futile 20 minutes, I made my way back to the road and noticed some lights toward the north about 300 feet from the road. I made my way toward the lights and when I got there I discovered that it was actually a water pumping station. Since there is no rainfall or rivers in Iquique, it is totally dependent on an imported water supply. Water is pumped from up in the Andes to this station which regulates the flow into the city based on the demand. I assumed that the source into the pumping was from an underground well fed by the rivers up in the Andes.

I went up to the little trailer and asked the night watchman if I could stay there. At the time he was very busy with work and he quickly agreed. I found a spot under several huge Palm trees in a circle of about 200 feet in diameter that are surviving solely on the water from the pumping station. For hundreds of miles around this spot, there is NOTHING but sand and rock - no trees, no grass, no tumbleweeds. I would assume that the grove of trees had been transplanted to this area.

Underneath one of the trees, illuminated by the pumping station lights, I excitedly spread out my tarp and thermarest and settled down to read and relax. After about 20 minutes, I happened to look over to the right and found myself almost face to face with the beady eyes of a suspicious 6 inch Scorpion with his tail raised up over his back waving a cheery hello to me. Now my first thought was that perhaps I had not made such a prudent choice for my campsite, but I relaxed and took the opportunity to play "Stick" with my new pet. I would tickle him with the stick and he would giggle so much that little drops of liquid would ooze from the tip of his tail. I thought that it might be a delicious nectar to add to my tea later for a soothing relaxing nighttime drink.

Soon my scorpion pet became tired of our play and started to show signs of getting agitated. At this point I decided to stroll back up to the office to ask if there might be a better location to set up a camp.

About half way to the office, the man came out and started walking towards me. When we met, he spoke first and asked if I would like to sleep in his house for it can get rather chilly at night. I agreed without a moment's hesitation and then regaled him with the tales of my scorpion encounter. He brought me into the empty building with concrete floors and walls and I set up my thermarest in one of the rooms. He cooked with a camp stove, had a tiny pot, couple of plates, cutlery and cups and that was about it. There was no running water so we had to carry it in buckets.

The next morning, I left my gear at the station and cycled about two hours into Pica. There was a church with a bell tower and a man invited me to join him while he did his bell ringing duty. We donned the headphones and went up to pull on the thick rope to chime out the 11:00 hour. The hotsprings proved to be disappointing since it was like a swimming pool roped off for swimming laps. The one redeeming feature is that the one side of the pool abutted the natural side of the cliff. The combination of the showers, change rooms, attendants and $5.00 admission charge was enough to negate any interest I might have summed up for partaking of the unnatural natural wonder. The town itself, despite its remote location had a very touristy appeal but held very little interest for me, keeping in mind that my tastes are always the opposite of the general population and I'm sure that there are many people who would delight in the relaxing atmosphere of this quaint resort town.

As I cycled out of town to the east towards the Andes where the road deteriorated rapidly into rough gravel. After about three miles I stopped and looked out at the valley below. According to the map, this road stretches out for over 100 miles with an icy cold barren moonscape terrain as far as the eye could see. I coasted down the hill back through Pica and the valley below and I came upon an orange grove, obviously irrigated from the pumping station. I stopped to ask if it was possible to buy some oranges and as usual the answer was an adamant NO but they insisted that I take 20 pounds of oranges for free as he handed me two bags full of oranges.

I headed back to my friend's house, gave him half the oranges and cooked him up a feast for dinner to thank him for letting me stay there. The next morning, I packed up early, thanked my host and headed back out to the Pan Americanna to resume my journey northward. About 4 hours later, I had made it back to the restaurant where we had lunch before the detour. I decided go in to treat myself to lunch, went into the washroom to clean up and came out to find that my friends had also stopped in for lunch at the same time! We had a joyful reunion celebration and settled down to share the experiences I had Even though I had sacrificed the music festival invitation, I was very grateful that I had taken the detour for it took me to a place that I may not have otherwise seen. After I left my friends, I retraced my trail back to the intersection where we met and once again I was still just 20 miles outside of Iquique.

That night, I cycled a further 10 miles up the Pan Americanna to a town called Haunan. Interestingly enough, this is where the turn off to the music festival was and I pondered the mysteries of the choices we all make in life. Who knows what would have happened or who I would have met if I chose to attend the music fest. I have discovered in life we never regret the things we do, only the things we don't do.

Today's new experience was attending a funeral in the traditional Chilean custom. I wandered into the local church as I usually do when I enter a town, but this time it was a funeral. The whole church was lit up and about 100 people gathered around. Not wanting to intrude I sat quietly in the back, but soon a man approached me and we talked briefly in Spanish. He said that a local women died at the age of 103. Not everyone knew her but everyone knew of her. She was well known for her handmade blankets and quilts with native drawings on them. He said the calling hours were all day and that every member of the community made an appearance, over 6000 people.

As I cycled through the town, a woman came out of a dilapidated building and asked me who I was, where I was going and whether I'd be interested in talking to the town about my travels. Turns out that she was hosting a local town radio program. I got my dictionary out, wrote down a few phrases in Spanish and after she introduced me and handed the microphone over, I talked about who I was and what I loved about Chile, where I was going next. Finally I introduced the song I had selected, "Homeward Bound" by Simon and Garfunkle and my 15 minutes of radio fame were over.

About 8 people from the town rushed down to the radio station to chat with me after the broadcast, one of them was actually the mayor of the town. You'd think I was Michael Jackson out for a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard. The mayor thanked me for coming into the town, welcomed me into the city and commented on how noble it was for me to be taking my time to experience the country at a slow pace to fully appreciate it. He made arrangements for me to stay at the minor's dormitories in the center of town. This was probably the equivalent of the finest hotel in their town and I was very honored by the offer.

Going north from Haunan, after about 3 hours, I noticed something odd. Not a single vehicle had passed me and this is the ONLY road in this part of the country and it's the main road heading into Peru. All the traffic coming into Chile from Peru has to pass along this road. I'm not complaining by any stretch of the imagination and I'm relishing the peace and quiet. However, I still had a concern that this seemed somewhat odd since the day before, there had been a fair amount of traffic. I thought nothing further of it and chose to enjoy the peace and quiet.

For the most part, the road was flat with a few dips down into dry river beds. I came to a bridge where a 30 foot stretch of railing was broken off. When I looked down, about 100 feet below, upside-down in the shallow river bed was a tractor trailer. I went back to the end of the bridge and started heading down the side of the hill. there were no other footprints so there was a strong chance that I was the first person to arrive. The cab of the rig looked like a tin can that had been crushed flat but I couldn't see any signs of any person in or around the cabin. I was fairly confident that it was empty. Later I was to learn that he had only suffered a broken leg by jumping out of the truck before it crashed over the bridge. The real excitement came when I peered into the back of the truck and much to my surprise it was half-full of UNBROKEN glass bottles of first pressed virgin olive oil from Italy! An incredibly expensive delicacy for this area and must have been imported for the upper class restaurants. Thinking that these would make excellent gifts for hosts along the way, I gathered 6 bottles to take with me. At a kilo a piece, the added weight made this a rather foolish idea however, for the next three weeks, I thoroughly enjoyed the treat of having fresh olive oil on my salads and pasta.

The following day I took the 9 mile long descent into the river valley to the town of Cuyo where I confirmed that the officials knew about the truck accident and that there was no problem with taking the olive oil. Actually I was hoping that they would confiscate the oil so that I didn't have to lug it back up out of the valley.

Cycling back up the river valley, you can see and smell the mist from the sea that was 20 miles away as it rolled up the valley. The river itself doesn't really contain any surface water since the water flows underground. The water supply however creates a great mile-wide oasis, a river of vegetation rather than water. Mother nature can sometimes twist your reality. Since the descent into the valley was westward, there was a strong headwind that forced you to peddle hard to go downhill. Conversely, there was a tailwind as you ride the eastward road to come up out of the valley, ironically making it slightly easier to go uphill. Psychologically, it's frustrating to have to peddle downhill since you usually look forward to the chance to be able to coast.

Because of the infinite nothingness of the desert region, the good flat road and the lack of distractions like interesting people, I was able to cover more than 80 miles a day for about 3 days.

The scenery continued on in much the same manner until I started my final descent in Chile. Another river valley - only this one opened up into the ocean with a meager flow of water through it. As the road leveled out, up ahead in the distance, I could see a mob of people. In front of the people there were no less than 35 tractor trailer rigs lined up perpendicular to the road so that their trailers were completely blocking the road. I got off the bike and wove my way around the trucks for about 100 yards. By the time I made it past the last one, there were approximately 600-700 people picketing on the road, waving their signs. As I advanced towards them, they started moving towards me en masse and shouting and screaming at me in Spanish. At first they said that I had to go back the way I came and could not pass through. Then, they said that if I wanted to pass through, I would have to pay them. I asked them why and what the protest was about. They just smiled and laughed at me and waved me through the crowd because the protest was only targeted at the truckers.

I eventually found someone that spoke English and I learned that they are trying to prevent any commercial vehicles hauling any form of cargo from entering or leaving. All the trucks that were lined up were being held because they couldn't pass through and weren't going to turn around and go back so they joined in with the crowd. The protest was against the government because there is a tax free zone in Iquique and up in Peru was another tax free zone town called Tacna with a lot of commercial goods. Arica itself, between the two cities near the border, was not considered a tax free zone. The significance of this issue is that nobody would consider starting up any business in Arica and everybody goes up to Tacna or down to Iquique to shop. Consequently, this means that all the tourism, hotels, shopping, businesses and most importantly the jobs, leave Arica. I asked my friend who spoke English to announce to the crowd that I was in full support of their issue. This resulted in a big roar of cheers from the crowd and they took one of their protest flags (a broom pole with a black plastic trash bag attached) and secured it to my panniers so that it was standing up 10 feet into the air. One of the guys warned my that the government and the military police were not in support of this demonstration and that I should be very careful moving through town. Totally unafraid, knowing it was for a good cause, I set off into the city with this banner of justice waving high above me. Without fail, everyone who passed me smiled or cheered or honked their horn in support and seemed to be so excited to see a foreigner understand and participate in their cause. I cycled around the town for about an hour and then headed out towards the coast to make my traditional pilgrimage to the end of the road.

The road ended at the coast where the plateau cliffs dropped off into the sea. In Iquique, I went as far north as possible along the coast to get to the end of the road and found myself blocked by the cliffs dropping off into the ocean. I have now cycled south from Arica as far as I could go along the coast until I encountered the Northern face of the plateau cliffs. If I had a kayak handy, I would have found it particularly fulfilling to complete the circuit by kayaking AROUND the cliff coast line back to Iquique, but I'll have to save that challenge for some future trip.

I spent some time on the beach with the waves crashing up on the rocks and around the natural arches that continued north up the coast. I could see in the distance a mile-long stretch of fish processing plants running full steam ahead with smoke billowing out of the stacks. I stumbled upon a hut and thought that this would be an ideal place to set up camp for the night and breathe in the beauty of the sunset.

I stripped down to the old birthday suit and did the polar bear plunge ritual into the ocean and frolicked quickly back to the hut serenaded by the honking from the passing cars. The concession hut consisted of one large room on the interior and a large roofed porch. I settled into the evening rituals of making dinner and watching the sunset from the porch and eventually fell asleep. About 2:00 am, I heard a loud drunk staggering man stumble into the hut and passed out for the night. In the morning, he found me on the porch and was thrilled to welcome me with a hot coffee. I offered to make him breakfast but he declined and had to run off to work at the fishery. I finished my breakfast, packed up and cycled back to Arica.

I came upon a posh hotel in Arica called Hotel Americanna and decided to go in to have a look. They had a fabulous all-you-can-eat American style brunch set up in the restaurant which is free for the guests and $10.00 for others. I wandered back into the lobby where I met 2 musicians who were part of a traditional folk band from Hungary, complete with their traditional costumes. They had been hired as entertainment for the guests that were there for the Tennis competition. The Hotel manager was also sitting with them. Naturally, everyone was very curious about who I was and what I was doing. I hinted to the manager that I wouldn't mind passing out some promotional flyers and writing about his hotel in the book that I was going to write about this trip in exchange for an invitation to partake of the buffet. He was hesitant to agree at first, but since there was only an hour left for the buffet, he finally felt comfortable and rolled out the red carpet for me. He put a sticker on my helmet that said "Hotel Americanna" but wouldn't accept any of my offers for promotional foot work.

The Hungarian band invited me to sit by the pool after lunch to watch their performance. It was such a bizarre sensation to be listening to traditional Hungarian folk music being played in a typical American style Hotel in a Spanish South American country. While I was watching the band, the concierge had filled all my water bottles with fresh water, and replaced the old recycled plastic bottles with brand new sealed bottled water. Once again, I was overwhelmed by the amazing thoughtfulness of everyone I met that day.

I took some time in the city to stock up on more supplies, definitely not any more Olive Oil. I headed out towards the North of the city, past the high-rises and the condos. As I'm climbing upward and looking back on the city, I come to a four-way stop about 5 miles north. It is with great euphoric zeal that I stand and look out over the ocean and think that I had just cycled the entire length of Chile, about 4000 cycling miles since I was Ushuaia. This was the biggest milestone in the entire trip for me because it was the completion of a major personal goal. It was such an exciting feeling to have achieved such a significant goal safely and with such phenomenal warmth and hospitality along the way.

3 miles to the north is the Peruvian boarder where the Pan Americanna continues northward for 2000 miles through the desert up into Ecuador. I'm not at all interested in continuing through the desert region any longer and so it's time to make another end-of-the-road pilgrimage. From the four-way stop, I took the unpaved bad gravel road-less-traveled westward about 3 miles to the ocean where the river meets the sea.

Being that I'm a really Big Geography buff, I have a great passion to always try to physically touch all the wondrous points of the globe. There's one last geological landmark in Chile that I am determined to touch - the mouth of the Llute river. This river opens up into the ocean at the major bending point in the South American continent. Just a few miles south of Peru, the coast to the north of the river bulges out towards the North-West with the Peruvian coast. The coast to the south of the river does a turn outward to the South-south-west. The mouth of this river is the exact corner of the 120 degree angle which is the bend in the continent. I was surprised to see how obvious this corner was when I actually was standing on it. But the biggest significance of this for me is that whenever you look at the view of South America from any satellite image, you can precisely pick out this geological landmark. Now, every time I look at a map or an image of South America, I know that I stood on that exact spot on June 3, 1998, where the ocean meets the land and the continent bends.

I spent about an hour at that spot meditating on my accomplishment and what it meant to me and basking in the glow of the moment. Considering this was the tropics, you'd think that the glow would have been warmer, but the reality is that is was pretty darn cold there, considering it was winter by the ocean. I finally had to tear myself away from the moment to continue on the journey. I cycled back up the road to the same intersection. I looked back at the ocean and realized that from this point, I would be leaving the pacific until I reach the northern point of Peru. To bypass the north west desert region through Peru, I now turn myself due east and start the climb from sea level up to 15,500 feet at the Bolivian border.

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