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Today started off as well as it could. I woke up early, was greeted by breakfast in bed, and all of my belongings were still in tact. Confident in my ability to make it to my next destination in time, Antofagasta, I took leisure in getting prepared and was out within a couple hours. First stop: Chilean Walmart. Aka, Lider; I had to buy a backup hard drive for all of my photos and videos, I wasn’t about to let something happen to them with my luck. I waited outside for it to open, got what I needed, and then made my next stop: the diner I had gone to the night before. There wifi awaited me; my hotel didn’t have wifi and my phone’s 3G is not sufficient enough to sustain my social media needs.
I rode back in the direction I came to find the restaurant, right beside were I had filled up my tank. I see a gas station on my right and think it must be immediately up ahead, but it wasn’t there. After driving back and forth a couple times I drove back to the gas station and parked on the side of the road for a few minutes pondering what might have happened. Maybe it shut down? Overnight? But the building would still be there right? Utterly confused, my mind started to drift into some rather preposterous thoughts. “Well, I am in the Atacama. And the Atacama looks like Mars. And Mars might have life. And another word for life in space is aliens. And oh my god. Aliens abducted the restaurant. It’s the only plausible possibility.”
Still bewildered, I drove back through the city north bound, hoping to find another café with Internet. And what do you know it, a couple miles down the road, there’s the same dinner from the night before. I knew aliens had moved it!
Well after a cup of coffee and some social media posts, it dawned on me that it had been here all along. Riding 6 hours in a day really wears you down because I was completely convinced it was elsewhere.
So finally I could head out, now almost noon with over 500 kilometres ahead of me. Excited to get out of the desert, I headed for the shoreline and watched it disappear in the mirror. Or at least that’s what I hoped for, ’cause the damn thing followed me to the ocean. There’s no escaping the Atacama, even an entire ocean can’t quench it’s thirst. Barren mountains and scattered rocks jutted into the water, creating a profound juxtaposition (thanks for those vocab lessons Mrs. Weber) of the two landscapes.
I sped on, taking solace in the new scenery, stopping only for the occasional photograph and a little exploration on foot.
Well we all know how that goes and 4 hours after leaving Copiapó I had actually traveled maybe an hour and a half’s distance. By the time I realized this I was passing by a deserted beach. One more stop, I told myself, then I need to get going. I pulled aside onto the surrounding cliffs above, and within seconds lost traction in the sand and had fell over. Thanks to some advice from my friend Pearce Bloom, I was able to react much quicker this time and get it upright. Of course, it wouldn’t start anyways and I offered to give it some time. I peered over the cliff and was immediately enchanted by the bluest waters I had seen yet, lapping at the shore. I decided to put on my swim trunks and go for a dip, and right after I had changed the bike decided to start. So being stuck with the decision to go on my way once more or follow through with my swim, I gave up my goal of getting to Antofagasta that day and hopped in the ocean.
It was entirely refreshing and worth every second, I left a quick message in the sand afterwards and was on my way to god knows where at this point.
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It wasn’t hard to stay on the bike from there on, the road shifted back inland and I found myself in an even more desolate part of the Atacama. While vegetation had already been sparse, now it as well as the odd boulder were non existent. Blank rolling hills spotted the landscape and I had no desire to stay put. I managed to put in a solid 2 and a half hours of straight driving before ultimately getting to Taltal, the last big city under Antofagasta which itself was only 2 and a half hours further.
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While I had the energy to push on, the sun was coming down and I wasn’t eager to drive at night. I pulled into downtown Taltal, filled up the tank, and went to the main hotel. It was booked full for the night, I later learned there was a miners convention in town (who knew miners had conventions), and I was eager to camp anyways. So I bought an empanada, a small pizza, and a bottle of Johnny Walker before my search for the perfect spot. I found it shortly after, set up camp, ate, backed up my photos, and am currently about to fall asleep. I’ll start my day tomorrow at sunrise to make up for lost time, and hopefully be able to get to Iquique, about 8 hours away…. We’ll see about that one.