Monday, January 31, 2011

Heading to the Galapagos

We spent our first night in the Centre of Guayaquil. We found a hotel with covered parking and within an hour, the heavens opened and it poured, well into the night. There was a lot of covered walkways, so we didn't get too wet when we wet out for dinner.

At 3:30 am, I was awakened. Grif was wide awake and very itchy! With all the rain Guayaquil has had, the mosquitos are very active. He had at least 10 bites within a few hours. The mosquitos were finding there way in via the space between the air conditioner and the concrete wall. After a sleepless night and lots of benadryl, we decided to find other accomodation, but before we left, Grif had a mission. To hunt down and kill the mossie that had bitten him. He succeeded! We packed up the bike, quickly, as the mosquitos were swarming in the shade of the covered parking, and we all know how much the mosquitos love English blood!

We booked in at Dreamkapture Hostel in the northern part of the city. Its well run, clean with comfy queen size beds, hot showers and has a lovely breakfast! They also have pets, including pygmy monkeys, parrots, parakeets, fish and turtles.

We went to a huge mall very close by and enjoyed a few hours in the air conditioning, shopping and loading up on sunscreen. We also managed to find Raid plug-in insect repellent for our room, just in case! We have sorted out parking for the next 10 days as we are heading to the Galapagos, yay! For the next couple of days, we will be getting ready for our boat trip as well as getting our laundry done.

Feb 2-9 in the Galapagos
Total distance travelled to date - 13, 999 kms
Total countries visited - 5
Days on the road - 64

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Going Bananas

We left Chiclayo in the morning and headed for Mancora, another popular surf town.

Along the way, Grif dodged lizards laying in the middle of the road. They were soaking up some of the Peruvian sun. Most were quite small, but there was one that was over two feet long! We couldn't believe how many there were and all in a stretch of road that lasted a few kilometres.

We had some problems with the toll road pay police. Motorcycles don't have to pay, but the Peruvians, especially in the North, don't want the motorcycles to ride through on the pavement. We would pull up, as normal, on the extreme right side of where the toll booths are, where there is a lane with no barrier, but then the employee or police would stand in front of us so we couldn't get by. They would then tell us to turn around, in a very narrow area, and go around.... Going around meant, a deep sandy road, completely off the highway, and riding back half a kilometre.. when there is perfectly fine pavement ahead?! It's absolutely ridiculous and didn't make any sense. At one point we told them that we would pay the toll to ride through on the pavement but they wouldn't let us. So, after arguing in broken Spanish and choice English words we ended up riding in the oncoming traffic lane to get through. Thankfully, there wasn't any traffic at the time. They want to make it difficult for motorcyclists, I'm guessing. The next couple of toll booths had a lane on the right side, as usual, with a sign that actually said 'motocicletas'. Good grief!

In Mancora, we found a quaint cabin on the beach. We went out to eat and got some great photos of the sunset. We fell asleep to the sound of crashing waves.

In the morning we left Mancora after having breakfast. We passed many beachside resorts on the way to the Ecuador border. Exiting Peru took about 5 minutes, but the Ecuadorian border crossing was not very conveniently located. We drove around, and then found out we had to go into a small town to get our entrance stamps. Then had to drive another four km to get to the Aduana for the bike papers. It took about an hour.

We rode to Guayaquil and enjoyed our first rain shower! It was nice and refreshing after the heat of the coast. Banana plantations lined the highway for over 100 km. Now I know where Canadians get their bananas!

Banana trees

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Heading North Along the Coast

After spending the night in Casma, we rode a short distance to Huanchaco. Even though the distances are not much, 200 km or so, it takes three to four hours. There are a lot of small towns with lots of speed bumps, as well as lots of trucks and buses to get past.

We found a nice place with a couple of pools and a kitchette. We had our lunch and later that afternoon we headed to Chan Chan, the largest adobe city in the world, or what's left of it. It was the Chimu capital, but El Nino floods and heavy rains have severely eroded the largest pre Columbian city in the Americas. It was a nice time to visit as the sun was setting and it wasn't too hot, about 25C.
Chan Chan

We made ourselves some dinner and headed to bed. The sun sets early, about 6:30 pm, but it feels like 10 pm, mostly since the sunrise starts at 5:30 am.

Huanchaco Beach
The next morning we left Huanchaco. We went past the beach where they were setting up for a surfing contest. Huanchaco is known for its long and well formed waves with a pipeline. The sea cloud kept the morning cool for at least an hour.

After an uneventful 200 km, we arrived in Chiclayo. The rest of the afternoon was spent doing much needed handwashing and a few things on the bike, then out for pizza.. and beer!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Finally Out of Lima

Our stay in Lima was longer than intended. Grif was working on the bike the next morning; we were to leave in the afternoon. He came up to the room and was really tired and thirsty, so he had a 3 hour nap! Then it hit him. He was ill from the food the night before. He laid in bed for the next 24 hours. I spent most of the day sending emails and searching for Galapagos tours.

That evening, I ordered MacDonald's take out! It came by motorized bicycle with a hot pouch on the back! Pretty cool!

By the next afternoon, Grif was craving food, but still was too weak to travel. Late in the afternoon, we found a Honda dealership, within walking distance and found a new front tire for the bike. We organized the tire change for the following morning. We both had a light dinner and went to bed. It was good to see Grif eating again.

The next morning, the tire was changed, and we were finally out of the hotel!! It was noon when we left and it took us a good two hours to get through Lima. There were detours and construction on the Panamerican highway... utter chaos! Buses, taxis, moto taxis, honking... grid lock! Somehow we managed to find our way through the city of 9 million people! The sun was hot, about 30C. Grif kept turning Sammy off to try to keep him cool while stopped in traffic..

The Panamerican highway... literally
We headed up the coast of Peru, following the Pacific. There were lots of crops and sand dunes, with the Cordillera Negra mountain range in the distance.

We were stopped by police just before Barranca. This area in known to be a problem, as police pull foreign bikers over supposedly catching them for speeding and then get bribes. I got off the bike and Grif did as well. We made it look thankful that we got pulled over as our butts were sore. The cop asked for documents and Grif gave him his license and proceeded to talk to him, only in English, no Spanish. I must say, Grif spoke in his best English accent ever!! Grif got his license back and we were soon on our way, all within a few minutes! As we got closer to Casma, our destination, the sun began to set and the temperature dropped; a welcomed change. At times there was sea mist drifting over the sand dunes and the road.
Riding at Sunset

We checked in at the El Farol Inn and quickly went to the restaurant. After a few beers and delicious chicken dinner we were off to bed.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

In Lima

In the morning, still in Nazca, we had breakfast and packed up our things. It was getting hot, so we decided to go for a quick dip in the pool before leaving. Well... the quick dip lasted longer than expected... and we decided to stay another night. Lisa had come down with a cold so we thought the hot weather would do her good. We had a good chat with Andre at the pool. He was one of the Polish guys we had met the other day. Andre also was joined by his wife in Nazca.
Grif in the pool
We used the afternoon to catch up on some paperwork and do a few things on the bike. We headed to our favorite spot for dinner, really cheap chicken and chips at the main square. There was also a display in the square of photographs and explanations of the different shapes of the Nazca lines.

We were up bright and early the next morning, had breakfast and said good bye to our Polish friends. We left Nazca and went to the viewing platform for the Nazca lines just outside of town.
The Tree

We had a quick stop for lunch at a fuel station, a couple of chicken sandwiches and Inka Cola. It total was less than $2! Grif noticed that Sammy wasn't running 100%. Something to keep our eyes on.

Inca Cola - tastes like cream soda, my new favorite!
After another couple of breaks, including one for ice cream, we were in Lima, in Saturday afternoon traffic. There was lots of honking... from impatient drivers! They honk at everything! We made it to the hotel unscathed.

After getting our room, Grif spent a couple of hours, riding around trying to locate a tire shop. He came back with no luck. The hotel is located close to Kennedy Park in Miraflores. There are lots of places to eat in the area, MacDonald's, Pizza Hut, Burger King... but we chose a local restaurant and had ceviche, salads, rice, chicken and more seafood!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Freebies and Freezing

We left Puno and headed for Cuzco. We saw many hillside terraces for growing crops.

Peruvian agriculture

During our lunch stop enroute, a couple of bikers pulled up to join us. A father and son, Mark and Michael, from Chilliwack, B.C.! We had a quick chat and decided to meet up for supper that evening in Cuzco.

Michael and Mark from Chilliwack
We arrived mid afternoon and checked into a hotel. We organized transport to Machu Picchu through the hotel. Our scheduled time of departure 4 am! We headed to Norton Rat's to meet up with Michael and Mark. Norton Rat's is run by a British guy who rides a Norton motorcycle and has a book for motorcyclists to sign and share stories. Grif signed us in. The book was dated back to 2005. A few burgers and beers later, it was time to head to bed.

 In the morning we rode in a van for an hour and a half to the Ollantaytambo train station. Then, we boarded the train to Aguas Calientes which took another hour and a half. Next was the half hour bus ride up to Machu Picchu. We got through the entrance gates and the views were spectacular. Absolutely breath taking. The environment had completely changed and we were in a rain forest. The clouds were moving up and down the mountain tops, spreading a fine mist of moisture on Machu Picchu. The temperature was 20C and very humid. A wonderful place to have a palace!

Machu Picchu
 After a full day, we returned to Cuzco. For dinner, we met up with Michael, Mark again and Martin, a German guy travelling south. The last morning in Cuzco, we got some money back from the hotel as the bus to Machu Picchu departure time was messed up. In the end, we received two nights of accomodation free and got back a small portion of the transport costs.

We left Cuzco late in the morning and had a full day of riding. There were lots of switch backs, climbing and descending mountain valleys and canyons.

Peruvian switch backs
The sun was setting and we were not close to any accomodation. We were also at 4500 m, it was cold and rain clouds were setting in. Grif made the decision to bush camp before it got too dark and started to rain. It was nearly 7 pm when we got our camp set up. Lisa jumped into her sleeping bag, with all her clothes on, plus toque and scarf to keep warm. Grif cooked up some pasta and we had dinner at 9 pm. The night was a chilly one! There was lots of condensation on the inside of the tent, and ice on the outside. In the morning, there was ice all over the ground and Sammy! It was -5C! Fortunately, there were no clouds in the morning, and the heat from the sun evaporated all the moisture, but it took a couple of hours!

Ice all over Sammy and the tent
After breakfast two motocyclists went past and decided to stop. Two Polish guys, Andrzej and Jacek were heading the same direction we were, Nazca on an Africa Twin and a  new Yamaha XTZ660 Tenere. They told us that the road was closed due to a Peruvian car rally! They left, planning on dodging the rally cars, and shortly there after, rally cars went racing by. They cars were going very fast, passing each other and driving on the wrong side of the road! Grif did not want to take the bike on to the road for safety reasons, so we waited an hour or so. By then all the cars had gone past and it was safe to travel!

Jacek, Lisa and Andrzej

Rally car in Peru

Shortly after we left, we met Charles, a French guy heading south from Colombia to Ushuaia. Grif offered to  help him with his Honda TransAlp, Charles mentioned that it was not running properly at altitude, so Grif opened up the air box and showed him a few things he could do to make it run better.

Grif helping Charles

We rode at  altitude, 4000 m, most of the way to Nazca. Rain clouds were closing in as we passed through Pampa Galeras National Park. There were lots of vicunas and it was freezing. We made a quick stop and put extra layers and rain gear on, even Grif had five layers on... that's unheard of! Both of us were still cold!

As we decended into Nazca the clouds dissipated and the temperature warmed up dramatically! It went from 5C to 25C within half an hour and the hillsides were all sand and scrub. It was nice to be warm!

Heading into Nazca

Nazca sunset
We took advantage of the warm weather in Nazca and aired out the sleeping bags and did some laundry. After chicken dinner and a few beers it was bed time!


Sunday, January 16, 2011

In Peru

The next day in La Paz we got up early and headed to Coroico. This road is known as "the world's most dangerous road". We had magnificent views down the valley and the sheer cliffs. The clouds were hanging on the tops of the mountains, and probably about 12C. Unfortunately, we missed the turn off for the gravel route, so we stayed on the asphalt. It was quite dodgy as visibility was 4 feet due to driving in the clouds. We had to ride with our visors open or else constantly use our gloves as windshield wipers! As we turned around, the clouds closed in and rain started to fall, so we decided to head back to La Paz and go out for pizza. Lisa discovered that evening that her face had begun to peel from a sunburn obtained in Salar de Uyuni.
Death Road

Leaving La Paz
We left La Paz in the morning and drove to Capacabana. It took us a good hour to get out of La Paz and the surrounding suburbs. The traffic was chaotic, and one driver tempted his fate when his van was only an inch away from the panniers. Clouds of black smoke pour out of the exhaust pipes of transport trucks, as the diesel is burned and there are no catalytic converters. We would have to hold our breath when we passed one.

The ride to Copacabana was beautiful, with the back drop of snow capped mountains and then Lake Titicaca. The world's highest lake at 3812 m. We boarded a very small ferry with wooden planks for vehicles to drive on. The big problem was that we had to back the bike off. This almost was a disaster as the ferry driver was pulling the bike to fast and it was on a narrow plank. We yelled at him, 'slowly, slowly'! Grif was able to save the bike from falling over.

On the ferry

Once in Copacabana, we managed to find a room with a lake view! The lake was dotted with fishing boats and touristy paddle boats, in shapes of swans and ducks. We strolled down the beach and the town. We bought some caramel coated popcorn and deep fried donuts with syrup on them. We went out for dinner to a lovely restaurant that overlooked the town and the lake.We watched the sunset as Lisa had fried chicken with fried bananas and apples and Grif had fried king fish with lots of cooked vegetables.
Lake Titicaca from room in  Copacabana

The next morning we headed for Puno, Peru. We tried to top up the tank in Copacabana, as fuel prices in Peru are twice as much, but the only gas station was out of gas until at least 4 pm. The Peruvian border was very unorganized. There were at least three tour buses loaded with backpackers, all of which were in line for the Migration office. It was a very long wait. After getting our passports stamped, Grif went to the Customs office to sort out the bike paperwork. The customs official was not interested in helping us, as he would rather watch television and seemed a bit upset when interrupted! Then we had to go to the Policia, where they asked to see insurance, so we showed our Canadian and that was fine. The border took us at least two hours to get through.The sun was hot, 20C, and there was no shade. We also remembered to reset our watches!

I  have to mention, the last time we headed into a new country, from Chile into Bolivia, it took us two days to figure out that we had the wrong time on our watches! We were early for our breakfast two days in a row... that clued us in!

The small towns in Peru seem to be better organized, with better roof tops on the family homes. Once in Puno, we saw our first moto-taxis. They are quite groovy! We found a great hotel with parking, Conde de Lemos. We were offered a suite for the price of a regular room. So, the biggest bathtub ever, laundry service, hair dryer, big flat screen tv with satellite, fridge, balcony and breakfast buffet! The front desk even organized our tour of the reed islands!

Peruvian Mototaxi

The next morning we had a great breakfast and then went to see the Reed Islands. There are approximately 1500 people living on reed islands on Lake Titicaca. Each little island houses 5 to 6 families. They depend on tourism for income and sell artisans. Lisa tasted some reed... tasted like a banana!
One of the reed islands

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Someone Called the Cops

We left Potosi headed for Uyuni. The road had stretches of pavement and shorter stretches of gravel and sand. We went through several valleys with lots of cacti with bright pink flowers. The valleys allowed us to see the upcoming road and we noticed four motorcycles ahead of us. Fifteen minutes later, coming downhill on a sandy bend, we met up with a family of three from Canmore and a Guy from Colorado (Canmore is only 20 minutes away from our home town in Canada). We had heard about this family of three travelling on DR650’s before we left Canada,  Michael, Jing and Sean. They were joined in Peru by Aaron from Colorado, riding a well prepared BMW F650. Jing had dropped her bike in some sand, which allowed us to catch up to them. Jing had broken her hand guard, ripped off her metal pannier and bent the skid plate, so Grif helped Mike and the guys with some roadside repairs. She also hurt her wrist but was okay to keep going. We also stopped later for a break, before Uyuni, and noticed we had picked up a construction road marker (3 inch nail with red metal tab) in our back tire. Grif hesitated to pull it out and decided to wait until we got to Uyuni.

Just after Jing's accident
We saw our first sight of the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat, from the mountains next to Uyuni. A bright white that stretched to the horizon.  Uyuni was dusty and windy, so we pulled into the first hotel we saw that had parking. We got ourselves settled in and Grif pulled out the nail. Thank goodness it went in sideways and did not puncture the tube.  All of us got cleaned up and went out for dinner. Dinner was great, a good feast with beer and stories from our new found friends! After dinner we booked a tour to the Salar de Uyuni for the next day. We would be in a Land Cruiser, just the six of us.
After we arrived back in the hotel, Grif was not feeling well. I went to sleep, but Grif did not! He was up all night… food poisoning. I quickly treated him with Cipro at midnight when he woke me up. Obviously he wouldn’t be able to do the tour.
In the morning the rest of set off on the tour, leaving Grif to rest and drink lots of fluids. The tour was spectacular. Our first stop was the train graveyard. An eerie place of rusted train cars and were told this is where Butch Cassidy fled. He was killed and supposedly buried 50 km away. We stopped at a small town on the outskirts of the Salar de Uyuni, Colchani. This is where the salt is extracted and processed, then sold to refineries or traded for foodstuffs and material goods. The Salar de Uyuni  is 12,000 km2 and 180 km wide. We saw hotels made of salt and a rock island, Isla Incahuasi, which is 80km from Colchani, across the Salar. We had lunch of fried chicken, pasta salad, and vegetables then toured the island and saw Trichoreus cactiUpon leaving the Salar, we also visited Ojos de Salar, which is an area where gases bubble to the surface of the large salt flat.
A balancing act!
Lisa on the Salar de Uyuni
We arrived back in Uyuni, and stopped at the tour office so I could pay (we didn’t the night before as we didn’t have enough cash with us). The tour agent wanted me to pay for both Grif and myself, but I refused, and only paid for my tour. After a long discussion, I exited the office and went back to the Land Cruiser, leaving money only for myself, on the desk of the tour office. I was followed shortly after by the daughter of the owner, asking me to go back in and pay for Grif. I refused again and exited the Land Cruiser and walked back to the hotel.
Grif was feeling better but was still pretty weak. Shortly after I arrived someone from the tour company was at the hotel. Grif went down to reception on my behalf knowing something was up! Sure enough, he was met by the police and the daughter from the tour company!! In the meantime, the Madill’s and Aaron had pulled up outside of the hotel and noticed the police wagon. They made jokes while still in the Land Cruiser, about the police possibly coming for Lisa! They were right as they soon discovered when they arrived inside the hotel.
Luckily Aaron, fluent in Spanish, was already speaking with the police when Grif got there. After explaining our story, that Grif did not go on the tour and should not have to pay, everything was okay.
After breakfast the following day, Grif decided to spend another day recuperating. During the afternoon, Jing and Aaron looked into taking a train back to Oruro, and putting the motorbikes in a rail car. Since it would save us a day of travelling, Grif and I decided to join the Madill’s and Aaron on this crazy adventure! The train was to leave at 01:22 am and arrive at 9:30 am! We had the bikes loaded by 6:30 pm, after finding a ramp in the worst of places. Then the bikes were roped and straw mattresses were used as cushions. We had a quick bite of pizza and went back to the hotel to rest. Awaking at 11:45 pm, we headed to the train station for 12:30 am and paid for the transport of the bikes.
The train was late by over an hour... good grief! It was the bumpiest, worst ride ever!! Back and forth and up and down for hours! We were also squished like sardines, three people to a bench seat made for two, rubbing shoulders and nodding heads! There were even people sleeping on the floor and kids sleeping under the benches wrapped up in blankets! This was one of the longest nights ever, as I got little sleep, maybe half an hour, and Grif not much more.
Tired and hungry we got off the train, eagerly waiting for the rail car door to be opened so we could see the condition of the bikes. We knew the train ride was extremely rough and Grif said we would be lucky if the bike was still standing! When the door opened, it wasn’t. The train tracks were so terrible it moved the bike from under the straps and it was lying partially on its side on the straw mattress, which luckily prevented any damage. Although, we lost about 10 litres of gas. Sean’s front wheel of the motorbike had bounced 5 feet across the floor All the other bikes were still standing up.
Sorting the bikes out after the train ride
So, after sorting out a flooded carburetor and air box on Sean’s bike, we were off for lunch as it was close to noon. We all decided to stay in Oruro as we were so tired from the train ride. Grif found some Castrol Syntec and did an oil change, while I did laundry and had a nap! In the evening we went out for a few beers and went to bed early.
We left the hotel at 8 am, after having breakfast. Shortly after leaving town, Sean was still having problems with his bike, so we stopped and did repairs for an hour. The spark plugs were dirty as his bike was running too rich. The spark plugs were changed and adjustments were made to the carberator. We stopped again shortly after as his bike was still misfiring and removed the air box cover. He now had a very loud and powerful bike, which made him ecstatic!

Group photo!
We reached Patacamaya, where Michael and Jing removed their air box covers as well. This is also where the Madill’s and Aaron left us and headed west into Chile and we continued north to La Paz. They were funny, quirky, wonderful company, kind and helpful - we miss you all Guys!!!
We arrived in La Paz, a city at 3660 m and population of almost a million, in a valley with high canyon walls; breathtaking and big! We booked into a hotel that the guys recommended and went out for pizza!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Coca Tea for Breakfast

We awoke in Putre to a very cold room. Unfortunately, Grif felt the need to leave the heater off! We headed for breakfast where we were staying, and surprisingly, coca tea leaves were on the menu. Lisa decided to have some to help with the altitude, Grif did not have any. Needless to say, Lisa felt great, whilst Grif did not.

We stopped at a police control point before the border and Grif made a friend! There was a local llama that would approach vehicles windows looking for hand outs. He didn't seem to mind Grif's presence.
Grif's new friend

Last look at Chile

On the way through Chile's National Park of Vicunas we saw snow capped volcanoes, big lakes with flamingos, along with vicuna and llamas. There was so much wild life activity at such a high altitude. We also saw one of the volcanos puffing out smoke/steam from a vent on the side
Volcano puffing

We arrived at the Bolivian border, and with the paperwork and photocopying, it was our longest border crossing, taking about two hours. The scenery changed. There were great big rain clouds!! We were racing to get past them! The mountains in Bolivia have a lot more color; oranges, greens and white.

Massive thunderstorm

Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in South America. There were small one room buildings made of mud brick, and for someone this was home.

We managed to find a place to stay in Oruro. It was late so we made our way to a street vendor, not far from our hotel, and had chicken and chips. The prices in Bolivia is a third of those in Chile, and gas, although around only 80 octane, is fifty cents a litre.

In the morning, while Grif was enlarging the hole in the air box to help Sammy breathe better over 4,000 metres, we met a guy from Sucre. We asked him about the road conditions to Potosi and Uyuni; he was very helpful. We had heard that the roads in Bolivia are very bad with lots of ruts, but he informed us that most of our desired route was paved.

We left that morning for Potosi, and the scenery was breathtaking. Riding in the Bolivian altiplano, there were fields full of llamas, high mountains and deep valleys so much grass and vegetation even though we were riding at between 3500-4300 metres.

We arrived in Potosi and hunted around for a hostel, after getting a couple of locals to help push the bike up the curb and a step we were in and time for some sightseeing and a bite to eat.

We are hopefully heading to Uyuni and to the Salt Flats tommorow......depending on how rough the piste is.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Adjusting to the Altitude

We decided to stay another night in Arica as Lisa was not feeling well. It was relaxing, catching up on paperwork and sorting out the bike. It was nice to have a swimming pool close by in the hot weather! We did some sightseeing around the main square in the evening. One building was made in France, by the man that designed the Eiffel Tower, then assembled in Arica.

We also noticed comorants sitting in the palm trees, making their homes for the night.

Comorants in the Palms

We had a short ride to Putre. Within two hours and 145 km we went from sea level to 3500 m. We left Arica and went through a river valley where all the crops are grown. There were lush crops and a small river at the valley bottom. We continued on, noticing geoglyphs on the sides of the rocky mountains.

Shortly we were climbing to the mountain top on a twisty road. We passed through an area where only the Candelabro Cactus grows! It only blooms 24 hours a year, obviously we're too soon. The annual rainfall is 6 mm, so it's amazing that anything grows!

Candelabro Cactus

Soon after, we saw vicuna grazing on small shrubs. We decided to stop in Putre to help with acclimitization before heading into Bolivia, which will be 5000 m.

Monday, January 3, 2011

On the coast

We spent New Year's in San Pedro de Atacama. It is very small and funky; lots of artisan shops and restaurants. Most of the buildings have mud brick walls. We picked up some sherberts for the evening and filled our faces with food. There were a lot of celebrations going on for New Year's Eve!!

The next day we spend sight seeing. We rode up Jama Pass (4800 m), past Volcan Licancabur, where we saw beautiful lakes, Vicuna and Llamas. This also was our first look at Bolivia as we rode along the border. Then we rode south of San Pedro to see the salt flats and lagoons. There was an active volcano, Volcan Lascar that was smoking in the distance. That evening we spent bush camping and went star gazing at 3 am!!

Star gazing in the Atacama Desert
We left San Pedro and headed back to Calama, where we past the largest open copper mine in the world. It is enormous! They mine 236,000 tonnes of copper ore a year.

From there we decided to head to the Pacific coast again...the thermometer on the bike was reading a steady 40 degrees C so it was time for some cool air and a sea breeze! Each side of the road there were Dust Devils - at least a dozen on each side, some were close and  Grif  raced a couple to get in front of them before they cross the road - or you get sand/shot blasted! It was a winding road through a canyon to the coast of Tocanillo. We saw our first golf course just north of Tocanillo... no grass, just gravel and sand!! That would be challenging! There were long stretches of beaches with no one around. It is too remote. 

Beach north of Tocanillo
 The partially sand covered mountains rise up behind the beaches There is a lot of sand that blows and causes drifts on the road. We stayed the night in Iquique. The next morning, we headed north, but stopped to take photos of Iquique, shadowed by an enormous sand dune from the top of the mountain. There were lots of paragliders floating on the thermals with the vultures!

Iquique with huge sand dune

Heading to Arica, we went through several deep valleys, going from 1200 m to sea level, and then back up again a few times, all within 300 km. The was lots of sand in the air, with visibilty down to 500m at times and difficult to see the valley bottoms. We found a place to stay with a swimming pool ...Yay! There was a lot of activity in the city as the Dakar rally will be here in a few days. It was again about 40 degrees C and total distance travelled, just over 9000 km.

Deep valleys enroute to Arica