Week of June 13, 2004
We meandered down the coast and made it a whole 100 km or 60ish miles before we let Cindy have her way and park on the beach. Every turn and curve of the barren desert-ocean highway exposed what seemed to be endless beaches punctuated by massive and extensive rock formations or sweeps of unpopulated sand. Needless to say, we gave in to Cindy's whim and cozied up to the high-tide line of the ocean (near Chipana). The sunset, as expected, was rather average :-).
From there, we headed inland to the Atacama desert and to the copper mining city of Calama. The only trivial thing that is remarkable about this part of Chile is that the Atacama desert is the driest desert in the world and get this, the city of Calama has no, and yes, I said NO rainfall, none, nada, nunca, nyet, zero, nothing. You could make a million there selling skin moisturizers.
From Calama, we ventured to the oasis known as San Pedro de Atacama (a horrible little city) in order to access the Salar de Atacama and its Laguna Chaxa. Of course, Gerson found a 12th century fortress ruin called Pukara de Quitor and climbing its steep terraces afforded an incredible view of the oasis valley.
The Salar de Atacama is the third largest salt flat in the world - the largest being the Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia) and the second being the Great Salt Lake in Utah (USA). In the second picture of the Salar, it shows a volcano that erupted as recently as 2000 and those large crevices in the base of the volcano's slopes were caused by the glacial melting that occurred eons ago.
We also found yet another breathtaking desert valley called Valle de la Luna and it made for a picturesque, if not panting, visit. Those sand dunes are a tough climb. One foot up and a half a foot back.
Back to the Pacific wherein we ended up staying just south of the city of Antofagasta. As has been our pattern, the travel books that we peruse have panned this city and of course, we loved it. It was a thriving, living and working city. Buildings of outrageous color contrast brightly with the dun colored hills and boats of equal brilliance look like toys on the ocean blue pallet. It is not a city that you look for history at every corner but rather, at every corner you see the present and hopes for the future.
We found an excellent camping spot and settled Cindy in along the shore. It was easy to stay a few days enjoying our good fortune of sunshine, a trip into Antofagasta and watching the locals enjoy the beach (and even catch a few Octopi for dinner). We had a few tweaks to complete on Cindy and we took advantage of a good home building store for our supplies. Unfortunately, Cindy's fateful voyage from Panama was still haunting her and many screws and additional boards were needed to reinforce areas that were cracked or separated during her transit.
Oh, and lest I forget, we highly recommend Shrek 2. We saw it in Spanish and even though I understood extremely little of what was said, I was laughing to tears at many parts. I thought I would fall out of my seat at the Mission Impossible parody or when they entered the town of Far Far Away or during the "chase" scene. If you blink, you will miss something. I think the people in the theatre thought we were a bit off because we were laughing so hard. But if you saw it or when you see it, you will know why we were laughing so much. You have to be from the Los Angeles area, or at the very least had some time in Southern California to get most of the humor. It was a riot to see our beloved home so well ridiculed. We miss home, *sniff*...
While at the camp, we adopted a German-Shepard mix dog that was probably (and may very well still be) within a week or so of starving to death. Every bone you could imagine was exposed through his fur but even with his horrendous condition, he still energetically wagged his tail at the sight of us (he knew kind suckers with food when he saw them) and always had a few eager licks for any skin that was near him. We made sure he enjoyed chicken, T-bone steak, picana (a type of roast), bacon, eggs, bread, cheese and even the occasional pickle. "Dopey" did not really like the pickles but he rarely stopped food in his mouth to know what he had eaten, so a few pickles found their way to his stomach. It was sad to leave him behind but hopefully he will find another camper that will be taken in by those big, wet, brown eyes and that dopey look on his face.
That is one of hardest things about this trip is that people do not take care of their dogs. They have little concept of properly feeding their dogs let alone getting them neutered. We see an overwhelmingly amount of male dogs running loose. Why? Because the females do not last past 1-2 litters, which means they die at about two years old. It is really difficult to not want to shout at the top of your lungs at these people or to knock some animal kindness-sense into them. But, we are not in the United States anymore....we are not in the United States anymore...we are not...
We also had our first real experience with a theft attempt of our property. Aside from our shipping debacle from Panama and the bicycle incident in Costa Rica, this time it was a sly miscreant who attempted to abscond with the front bicycle tire. Gerson and I were asleep but a few slight tugs on the disconnected (after the thief removed the wheel's bolts) front tire and we were well aware of Cindy's movement. You see, our being the careful types, we had not only cabled and locked the bicycle's frame onto Cindy, but we also cabled the tires, hence the necessity for the tugging.
Gerson crept out of the bunk and casually peaked through the back blinds and could not see anyone nearby. He decided that this was the perfect opportunity to "relieve" himself and he stepped outside and casually walked around the back of Cindy. Lo and behold, about 50 feet down the beach, was a young man walking away from our camping area. Within a few moments, the same man turned and while trying to act fully interested in the ocean shoreline, walked back toward the camp, only along the water line. Thus, the man avoided coming within Gerson's close scrutiny and the man scuttled back toward the street. We were not awakened by any further "tugging" the rest of our stay.