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

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