When there is no thing to look forward to, when all you do is what you want to do, when your current lifestyle exist of what you love to do only, when there is no thing to work for, and every day a free day, even though you might cycle 10 days on end, it start to become rather unrealistic. The difference between you and others is so obvious: yóu are still playing around, already 4 years!
I don’t have something in the future to look forward to, because it is all fantastic. There is no deadline, no return ticket, no one waiting for me. I do not hold the belief I am the one and only special employee for a certain job (sometimes I wish I was). I just cycle the Atacama desert in a slow mode and I am enjoying it. Extremely much so. Life, I realize, could never be like this if not I was cycling. To find exciting and dreamlike places to sleep, in a vastness not to imagine, on landslips magnificent, without a focal point I am just enjoying life. It kind of is an art. To live like a loose projectile.
Slowly the days become more often cloudy. Colder too. Slowly, from National park Pan de Azucar, dry bushes appear. Slowly more animals too. Tiny holes in the ground houses mice. Or a fox, searching for food but on their wits, they suddenly appear right in front of me. Their tails so lush, perfectly round eyes, friendly faces. To meet with a fox is enough to feel that ultra strong peculiarity for life. Unfortunate slowly more bullets too. Because humans are able to do so much more than an animal…
Waking up in absolute silence is genuine and soothing. It probably is as it was in the Stone Age.
The coastal ride from Caldera to Huasco is mostly over a mixture of sand and one thin layer of asphalt. As I prefer it is not directly at the ocean but a bit inland, the sea often in view. Views are absolutely pacifying.
Caleta’s, little fishing towns, stop existing when the summer comes to an end. So now I hit villages with no one living in it, but with some luck there is a tiny shop. Always accompanied with timidly begging dogs.
Dew start to form on my tent. I wake up with magical bird songs but peeping my head outside I see no birds. It must be mice. Along with barks, shrieks and never heard sounds before, it is a mini orchestra. Then, as if a conductor moves his hands, birds play along, and suddenly I realize how long ago it is I woke up with living sounds of nature.
As with every high, an anticlimax soon follows up. Arriving at Huasco and its flowing river is suddenly coming into an unrealistic world of green. My astonishment is big but soon my disappointment too. People live in one long string along this river, understandable. My first night is in an abandoned olive grove and the second night under a tree in an agricultural field. I don’t like those places as I am hiding. I do like the figs and olives, and a woman selling olive bread inspires me.
But truthfully, I long for the desert. And I do not want to be done with it already!
Getting into Vallenar is all about trying to find a place for internet. I have a chat with Romani gitana’s, a young green-eyed girl feeding her dirty baby Coral fizzy cola from a tumbler. She is reminding me of India, or the Turkish Rom. It is a small village but the cars and shopping masses are too much for me when I try to find a restaurant or cafe with WiFi. Nothing works. It dawns on me I can’t handle the crowd and noises, so I speed away right into the first open space in the desert surrounding Vallenar. This spot, as often is the case right outside a town, is more of a garbage dump. I walk higher and higher and end up in a clean space where I can’t see dirt anymore. Now I overlook the highway from high above, and think by myself how insane I actually am: beauty over functionality.
I feel at once good and settled and calm. It is the openness and freedom of movement. That’s what the desert does.
This isn’t a good sign as I have 200 kilometers left in the Atacama desert.
Thirty kilometer before La Serena I find a camp spot, again I choose beauty over functionality and that costs me 4 punctures divided over two tires. Because of using SlimeTubes for two years the only usable glue I carry I have given away in Argentina to two motorbike boys who got a flat. They never returned it to me and now I am stuck with 3 useless tubes of glue. I go through all my stuff and empty every pocket. Luckily I find old adhesive patches which still hold. That is, long enough to buy new glue and 2 new inner tubes.
My nights are of a long, deep sleep. Yet I feel movements of the earth. The slight shaking always have me wonder whether I am away from sliding rocks.
The route continues with more up hills, climbs, fierce winds and beautiful named places, Cachiyuyo. I see slender elegant guanaco’s and patch some more punctures, just when I called myself ‘the Creative Camper’, upon finding such great trespassing camp spots.
Upon searching a camping I fall into the hands of Sebastian. He sports a mustache, lives in a prefab plyboard house with a little piece of grass, a shiny new car secured by an electric fence and he doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. He tries to have the two closed down camping’s to reopen for me, and if that doesn’t work out he says for the 5th time ‘now I have an idea, this is my last option.’ I am long ready to stop the search and go to the beach for a good night sleep. But I think it is rude to interrupt his search for my sake. ‘Can she sleep at your house, she only needs a wash and electricity?’ he asks his friend, a blond beach boy kind of ultra hip youngster who walks bare feet on the sandy streets of La Herradura. ‘Sure,’ he says. And within a minute I am set up in his girlfriend’s house brimming with art and good vibes.
The two girls who live here are Spanish, Cecilia Amor an artist who made a beautiful wale image and designs tattoos, among much more she keeps herself artistically busy with. But really, the best thing is cat Pacquetito who sleeps with me all night long.
The desert is over at La Serena. Then the sand gives way to the goats and all land is fenced. Seriously so. Now, my skills in trespassing and alertness are on a high. I dislike the highway Ruta 5 now the desert is finished, land still extremely low in human density, but much more noisy. The many lines on the map doesn’t look good, and I decide I am going to leave the country before Santiago or Valparaiso.
The Ruta 5 is still hard work with lots of ups and downs and very few almacen for a slow cyclist like myself. Doing my laundry at a public beach doesn’t seem to be so out of normality though this is behavior of the homeless. The cold has set in, no one comes here to do anything else than making money with fishing or collecting manejo.
The change from quietness, openness and low density of population goes gradual, and well to such an extent that I hardly notice it, was it not for the difficulty in finding places to camp. About 150 kilometer before Santiago farmland start to appear. Had I already come in touch with shepherds, now I am right in the middle of their pastures. The ride is still beautiful and never turns ugly, cycling between a narrow leveled gap between the high Andes and the mountains facing the ocean. I fall right into a decent autumn once I turn east to leave the country.
Sleeping at a mechanic workplace is having someone level the stony ground with an iron hark, to pitch my tent.
When I sleep under a tree at a mandarin orange farm, I have 7 very hungry dogs around. Their ribs are a visual pain, and it breaks my heart. I share some pasta, and in the nighttime I have Puppy in the vestibule, his baby-sounds giving me a hard time to fall sleep.
Some days the wind is beginning to start earlier, slowing me down ever more. When the wind is in my back I can’t believe it at first. I am riding for months with a head wind now, and hail to myself: I am not slow.
Almost each night I need earplugs to block out the traffic from Ruta 5. I desperately need to get away from this tarmac torture. Or am I just so spoiled with the Atacama freedoms that even this desolate countryside is not good enough?
The land start to become less barren the closer to Santiago. Gas stations are modern and plenty and they have WiFi. Villages appear nearer to each other, there’s no need to carry supply for days on end. Even the camp spots are a natural mixed bag, I always need to cross a fence or ask permission. It soon dawns on me how comfortable being in lived land is, but far from comfortable cycling it is.
Instead of racing through the capital Santiago, probably unable to find camp-spots, I choose the hard way. ‘You better be quick, the pass can close within two weeks,’ had said a woman I talked to at a gas station. So I cycled in a slow manner very quickly towards Los Andes, where clouds already packed together.
A day after I passed the Cristo Redentor pass, it was closed due to snow. I was sitting in my tent, surrounded by frightening thunders right above my position, rain splashing down, and remembering why a house does makes sense.
The sudden richness in green and yellow and the sound of running water startles me.
Again, I was anxious to do a climb counting more than 3000 altitude meters. It was steep and curvy but it turned out to be rather easy, either that or I have adjusted to climbing with a load of 30 kilograms.
At around 4 o’clock I meet with a Peruvian mountain-biker who woke up at 6.00 in Santiago and won’t stop before he has reached the tunnel. ‘Come with me, we do the climb together,’ he challenges me. My reaction is to start a splendid selfie session with the mountains in the background.
And find an appropriate camp spot. It takes me some hauling with the bicycle and bags, but in 4 rounds I have all my load at a spot I like.
Next day I am ready for the pass. My mind is out-balancing my body and slowly I gain altitude on a road climbing steep up in 21 symmetrical curves. When I pass a huge group of motor-bikers, they choose to ignore me. I think because I am kind of pulling their brave adventurous mood down.
When a guy, who loves cycling, stops me, he shows me a photo he’d made. He says goodbye with an embraceable kiss on the cheeks. Those Chileans!
I am supposed to see the Aconcagua, but I have no clue where this mountain is. The surrounding is beautiful nevertheless, and I am proud with my achievements. The climb, which I was nervous about, went smooth. Only a few pushes, walks and supersonic speeds through the frightening tunnels I have made it over a 3400 meter pass again.