Laurent and I are making the best of our self-confinement which we see in some ways as being a blessing in disguise. During our 3 months on the road we have found ourselves repeatedly frustrated with the lack of time we have had to dedicate to simple things such as reading a book or watching a film. This may sound strange to many of you, who may be thinking that a year on the road would surely leave us with ample down-time for doing absolutely nothing. This is what we thought as well before the start of our trip! It is perhaps only something that fellow overland travellers can understand when there is an ambitious objective at stake (9 countries, > 45,000 km), a relatively limited amount of time in which to reach it (12 months), and a now reliable but still heavy and slow truck to deal with (it is not uncommon for us to drive uphill at a maximum speed of 10 km/hr when over ~2000 meters altitude). Anyways, we now have time for life’s basic pleasures (including baking bread and cooking mushroom risotto), unlimited wifi for chatting with family and friends, and above all, we have time to catch up on all those blog posts that were due well before our confinement! So here we go!
After leaving the area around San Pedro de Atacama, we headed back towards the coast and southwards. During the following nights we found ouselves camping in the most amazing spots including a windy lookout point (mirador) close to Antofagasta with an exceptional and magical view towards the ocean and above the clouds. Amazing sunset and equally amazing sunrise the next day, penetrating first through, then over the clouds coming in from the ocean. The view we had overnight on the dark cloudless sky pierced by bright stars (some very tiny) and highlighting the milky way was incredible and unforgettable.
Have a look at what we saw: https://onzroadfr.files.wordpress.com/2020/03/img_1372-1.mov
The next couple of nights were spent beach camping in Pan de Azucar National Park, close to the city of Chanaral. As we were entering the low season, we had this large campground almost all to ourselves…….until the second night when a group of 20 motorcycles arrived!
On the way we stopped by the mythic « Mano del Desierto » (Desert Hand), a sculpture by the Chilean Sculptor Mario Irarrazabal, found next to the Panamerican Highway south of Antofagasta, which is unfortunately now the target of graffitti.
We also stopped to visit a beautiful graveyard dedicated to those who lost their lives while working at the former mine. The tombs range from the most simple to most elaborate. The northern half of Chile is full of such mines, both currently operational and non-operational ghost-mines, and many have their own cemeteries and memorials.
Driving along the coast we stopped for lunch in the town of Caldera, a beach resort and fishing port. Along the Panamerican Highway positioned parallel to the ocean, we frequently encountered peculiar climatic conditions with clouds rolling in over the mountains and often covering the highway.
Our next stop was the city of La Serena, on the coast, known for its beaches and colonial/neo-colonial architecture. We left Tommy at a campground and took local transportation into town. What surprised us the most was the aftermath of the recent social protests and manifestations which started up again after a break during the summer months. Walking around the historical center and main avenues, building after building from banks to stores, were either boarded up or behind protective metal sheets. Fresh graffitti was written across government buildings, on statues in parks, and on the walls and doors of churches. It was clear that the social unrest would amplify and the current state of emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic obviously has both political and sanitary objectives.
The next couple of days were spent in the Elqui Valley, most famous for its world-class astronomical observatories and its Pisco distilleries and vineyards. Due to bad timing, we arrived a few days prior to the full moon and therefore the skies were far from optimal for star-gazing and many observatories were not conducting any tours. From our isolated campground we could still appreciate the good views of the stars during the night. The campground was in a branch of the valley reputed to have mystical powers and to generate good vibes and the campground itself had a 70’s hippie feeling to it. We drove past buildings with UFOs and aliens painted on them as well as a buddhist temple complete with stupa, but unfortunately there were no noteworthy enlightening experiences for us….despite the good Pisco we sampled during a tour of a local family-run distillery.
On the way from the Elqui Vally we stopped to visit the « Valle del Encanto », an open air collection of petroglyphs and pictographs mostly dating from around 500 to 700 AD, with some traces potentially dating as far back as 2000 BC. What is amazing is that visitors hike from one site to another and can climb up to where the artifacts lie in their natural surroundings. There is no protection around most of the works and nothing to prevent people from touching them. What is even more amazing is that one can just wander around on their own without the presence of a guide!
We overnighted in a huge campground along the coast, the largest one we had yet seen on our trip. Despite the end of summer holidays, there were still lots of people enjoying the good weather and beaches. The next day we were up at the crack of dawn to prepare for the drive into Santiago.