All night I rolled around and woke up at odd hours. I should have bought a sleeping mat, camping on hard rock isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. By the time my alarm went off at 6am, I had just fallen into a deep sleep. No way was I gonna let that go, so I hit snooze and slept on till 8am.
I missed the sunrise, but I have some level of confidence it will rise again. First things first, I rolled over and munched on the empanada I saved for breakfast. After about 30 minutes more of laying in a hazy state, I packed up camp rather quickly and went on my way. An hour of cruising down the coastline, sandwiched between the ocean and towering mountains, the road abruptly turned and zigzagged it’s way upwards into the Atacama.
The Atacama is an unusual desert, it’s an altiplano, which means once at the peak of the mountains, the “mountains” meld together and flatten out into one wide, flat, towering plane of nothing up in the clouds. If you stood on the edge of the desert along the water, you would be looking straight down hundreds of meters into the Pacific. It’s a unique landscape for sure, albeit one my bike had no interest in. My ears popped and my gas mileage plummeted thanks to the intense wind and high altitude. The higher up you go, the less oxygen there is in the air, on a carborated bike this is asking for trouble. It now took at least twice as much gas to go 2/3rds the speed, and I was only half way to Antofagasta. an hour later, I was below half a tank, by my 3rd hour on the road I was bordering red. With no cell service or people for dozens of miles, I started to get worried that I wouldn’t make it to the next gas station. A sign ahead pointed in two directions, one towards Antofagasta and the other towards a supposed town just over some hills. I could go to the town and try to get some gas, however if there was no station, which was extremely likely, I certainly wouldn’t have enough to make it even close to the rest of the way. So I kept straight, and much to my pleasure the road started to descend; the Honda Falcon picked up speed and I ultimately rolled into an outlying industrial town with a completely empty tank. I stopped by a Shell to refuel my bike with gasoline and myself with coffee. All of a sudden I hear a startling noise from behind. English. It had been a few days since I heard the language, and I instinctively turned around and said hello as if I had known the three gentlemen personally. They were three older guys, Jonathon, Brian, and Paul, with thick British accents, “cactus hunters” they told me. We sat down and had a chat over our instant coffee, and they asked me what I thought about the Mano del Desierto, the hand of the desert. I instantly recalled the landmark in question as something I had wanted to stop by on my trip, but hadn’t seen it yet. Apparently, I overshot it by about 50km and would have to turn back around if I wanted to see it.
They left me pondering my next move in the gas station. I had made good time, and after much deliberation, I did the unthinkable. I went back into the desert. The coffee helped the time fly by, and within a half hour I had made it. It shot out of the ground in the middle of nowhere, a pretty cool site to.
A couple truckers stood by admiring it and offered to take photos, both with me and the hand as well as me in their truck.
Satisfied, I turned back towards Antofagasta and arrived by 3pm. I didn’t spend much time in the city, I just stopped by the mall for a gas can (scared after the close call earlier) and some other supplies. Before long I continued onto Tocopilla, a city about 3 hours north the Brits had recommended. I got there on time with only one problem along the way. They had told me there were potholes, but I had figured I’d either see them in time or there would be signs warning of them. I neither saw this one nor were there signs. I barreled towards it at 100 Km/hr and bounced about half a foot in the air. A bungee snapped on the back of my bike and piece of luggage flung into the middle of the road. As I pulled over I heard load honking from behind and clenched my teeth as I awaited the semi truck to barrel right through it. Instead, I turned around and saw it screech to a halt, the driver waving me over to collect my belongings. Thankful, I grabbed it and went back to the bike looking for the bungee cord along the way. No where in sight I was about to pull off when I decided to look under the bike. There it was, wrapped around my sprocket and chain.
I spent the next 20 minutes prying it out of my bike, happy it wasn’t the bungee holding the gasoline and that the metal hook didn’t mess anything up. I made it to Tocopilla an hour later, found a cheap hotel (after some significant haggling), and was shown towards my room. Or should I say closet with a bed, because that more accurately describes my quarters. Better than nowhere, I showered, got some fish by the water, watched some soccer, and talked with the hotel owner for a bit before heading to bed.