Through The Desert
The Atacama desert, which spreads along the Pacific Coast of South America, covering the South of Peru and the North of Chile, is the driest desert von earth. I never planned on going there, but regarding the situation in Bolivia, I ended up going there.
Many kilometers of never ending straight roads. One would think, that there isn't a lot of climbing in the desert, but yes, there is! Going from Arica to Cuya alone, I climbed from sealevel to over 1.300 msnm several times. In the blazing sun.
And then there was Paso Sico, a mountain pass that connects Chile with Argentina and is in the middle of nowhere. I start in San Pedro de Atacama, tourist-center of the Atacama desert. I have had enough of the desert, but I try to keep a positive mindset and start yet another danceparty on my bike. "Happy tunes" Spotifyplaylist on shuffle and singing out loud, because there is nobody to hear my aweful singing.
Socaire is the last village on the chilean side, 200km away from the first village on the argentinean side. So the route has to be well planned, so that I don't die of thirst or hunger and so that my parents don't have to send out search troops.
I reach Socaire early afternoon and my stomach is yelling for food. I stop at one of the restaurants, that obviously live of tourism. Every hour a new "turismo van" pulls up and dumps several outdoor-wearing tourists and their guides, to eat lunch.
Somewhere between soup and main course, Salvador, the owner of the restaurant, sits down at my table.
"How much further are you cycling today?!"
"No idea, do you know where I could camp around here?"
"You can sleep here! And you don't have to pay for lunch!"
Still overwhelmed by the kindness, I set up my sleeping area between the tables. The next day Salvador hands me a huge bag, filled with freshly baked bread. I hug him goodbye and cannot put into words, how thankful I am.
The landscape, especially the colors seem to change with every kilometer. Except for the turismo-vans there is hardly any traffic on the road, so I am singing out loud again and the alpacas, donkeys and vicunas on the side of the road don't seem to be annoyed by that.
I want to camp at "Salar de Aguas Calientes" and when my eyes lay sight on it for the first time, I cannot help myself, but to yell "Holy shit!"
I am fighting against a strong headwind the last kilometers, until I reach the perfect wildcamping spot. A few hours after setting up camp, the saltlake fills with flamingos. During the night the temperatures drop below zero. When my bladder makes me leave my warm sleeping bag, I cannot believe my eyes. I look up and see a ton of stars and the milky way, so close, it feels like I can just reach for the stars.
The next day I am having a hard time getting up and leaving my warm tent, since it is still quite cold outside. But I eventually start the hardest part of Paso Sico, because this stretch is constantly somewhere between 4.000 and 4.600 msnm.
At a police control point I am surrounded by three police men. "You are traveling on your own? ON YOUR OWN?!". They give me water and fresh fruit. Later that day, after logging into the communal wifi, after three days of no signal at all, I receive a Facebook message from one of the officers - data protection doesn't seem to be a big deal here in South America ;-)
After the control point I can see the frontier. The part, that everybody had warned me about. Passing the border doesn't only mean "Bye Chile", it also means "Bye pavement!"
When my tires hit the corrugated gravel, I instantly know, that the following 130km will be a pain in the ass. I am thinking about the two french travelers I met a week back, who picked me up in the desert and gave me a lift with their Land Rover. "Imagine them passing by, right now..."
Five minutes later my thoughts are already somewhere else, when I hear a car approaching from behind. "HOLA CHICA!, I turn around and cannot believe my eyes. It's the french Land Rover! I start laughing and hug them. We cannot believe, that this just happened.
I am being saved from many kilometers, that are already painful by car. Later that day I enjoy the first shower after three days of middle of nowhere at a Hotel in San Antonio. The world is a village after all!