Salar de Surire Into Atacama

Snorting like a dog with flattend face, the 150 cc Kenton made it over 4500 meter altitude. We are at salar de Surire, a bomb of beauty. Both muted by the sound the engine makes upon turning the key one single turn, we praise our Kenton for starting without hesitation.

Note: the area’s around Colchane, Reserva Nacional Las Vicunas, Parque Nacional Volcan Isluga and Salar de Surire are so stunning that I had to split this post with the former post due to too many photographs. Here is the first post.

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In our camp at night, I can not sleep. I am filled with excitement of where we are. That it is minus 5 is not the problem, but the eternal beauty, the vastness, the colors of desert are the causing elements. Although I have placed myself upside down in the Big Agnes tent due to the uneven grade I choose to park my tent. Here I wake up with the tent cloth caked in ice and the foot-end being so confined, I sort of wake up suffocating. Yet, it was a heavenly night sleep, now it’s time to get out. It’s 5.30 in the morning. Let’s enjoy the beauty!

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I take a wash in salar de Surire. My underwear gets a good rinse too, only to find out that it not easily get rid of the musty egg smell. Salar de Surire is probably not the purest of baths anyway.

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I feel we are truly in unspoiled nature. I feel this is where I belong. I would want to live here, although perhaps my sense of reality to actual being able to live here is of a very different nature. I think I could, given the fact I am taught how to be a shepherd, how to skin an animal and how to built a water well.

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The sight of synchronous moving vicuñas is spectacular. When Geo sees this unexpected happening he is overruled by pure emotions. He is touched to see the unspoiled majestic nature, it’s strong connection with our Creator.

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With a motorbike we move too fast. Too furious. Too quick. Although the odometer never really goes above 25 km/h. I decide not to shriek ‘stop’ all the time, only when I can not withhold the screaming beauty any longer. Even with a bicycle I felt at times I could not catch the beauty, only camping has that effect…

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Being here is abusive to the mind. It can not grasp it. And I want more of this loftiness. The opposite of not being able to enjoy the beauty is happening to me.

What a magical camp spot Geo has found. An abandoned corral, surrounded by a lot of bone dry wood. Sitting on the back of the motorbike I was already long on the look out for a camp spot and found this area suitable since it had some sort of vegetation and a wind barrier. We came upon an abandoned house, which I found perfect, but Geo not. He rather not camp in someone’s previous house. So, Geo went around the hill and found the spot in the corral better. I agreed; now we had a double wind barrier.

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Feeling the cold morning turning to a warmer daylight is the purity of living outdoor. Is bliss. Aliveness. Sure, I feel altitude troubles too but with a motorbike I can cover distances much more easy than on a bicycle. With the bicycle I was drained quickly. Now, I have more energy to enjoy where I am.

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We pass flamingo’s but I lack time to observe the pink birds and slowly get closer. Sometimes we just need to move. Geo feels sickly and want to get down, rather today than tomorrow. He not only suffers inwardly from altitude sickness, also from the appearance aspect.

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We have to search persistently to find someone who can sell us gasoline. When we stand opposite policeman Genaro, he says: ‘Oh, they say that?’ and makes a movement of playing the ball to another person. ‘They do that, not only in Chile, in Bolivia too’, I think as a reply. Saying that the next village has gasoline, has a gas station even, and when we get there, it appears to be a falsity. And so we run out of gasoline in Guallatiri.

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Barreness leads us to green, over curvy roads, slowly winding us down. It is beauty in it widest form but constantly getting on and off the motorbike while Geo feels sick makes me enjoy the beauty through my eyes more than capturing it with a tiny machine.

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Policeman Genaro is very approachable, friendly and generous. He fills Geo’s jerrycan with 5 liter gasoline, without accepting money. He takes Geo in a friendly, warm hug several times, me luckily not. We are able to fill the tank again in Putre. Not that there is a gas station, but we find a lady who sells by the 20 liter. We pay 27.000 Chilean peso (31 euro), instead of 16.400 (19 euro).

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From Guallatiri we drive through incredible vast landscapes where no wood neither shelter against wind is easy to be found. We are in Parque Nacional Lauca and while I wish to camp here, we can not settle on a place. It is either too barren, too windy or too uninviting to Geo’s eyes. We drive on and end up in Putre.

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Putre leads us to Arica. All too quick. Our plan to camp in the desert enabling us to visit Arica’s mall on a Monday, fails.

I desperately need a gas burner, and since we arrived so quick in Arica, we can buy that piece of extremely needful gear right now. I bite the bullet and go on a search through the busy commercial district of Arica. Mallku is the shop to go to, although the mall has a supermercado which sells a large variety of the brand Doite as well.

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But before we arrive in Arica, we have some stretch to go. As usual I keep my eyes open to any possible spot to camp. Again, we need a place with wood. Once we are out of the narrow mountain surroundings, the desert opens to us. Wood is to be found yet we are too close to Putre and too far from Arica to start camping.

Then, a green valley appears on the route to Arica, it won’t stop and since the green valley is squeezed with population, we are forced to check into a hostal. A terrible experience awaits me. That of many young families with loud children and strollers in the doorway to the kitchen where moms cook meals.

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So, we are down. If feels as if we have tumbled down. Head over heels. Sea level. The city feels as an unreal world. As a farce. A comedy. Life feels as a parody compared to the Andes. I know it can be different, the Atacama, having slowly cycled the full length of it. Being down in the city, where people seem to carelessly spend money, feels too easy, too unfair. I knew it would feel blue after the Altiplano, I would feel the missing out of the altitude. Of being back on earth -crashed out of heaven- where mundane and richness and easiness seem to rule. Now wedged between pressed wood and chipboard. Between people, among rubble and that typical mess where Chilean towns are built up with. Down means easiness. Down is for the common crowd. Down is boring. Uninteresting too, is a hostal.

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Geo is happy to be back. He likes to be among people and see interaction, as an enjoyable opposite of what was recently. The altitude depleted him. He felt a lack of about everything, except the desire to go down and the want for green hilly forests. For that, Geo has to wait a bit longer…

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I think we do a pretty good job in concession-making here. The deal is to get out of the hostal, an Airbnb place which I dislike and check into the desert of Arica. Here we will spend the weekend, with a new gas stove.

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We go to the two sculptures erected in 1996 in remembrance of the ancestors. We find a place to camp, with a wall to protect Big Agnes tent. After we have removed the dried out poop, left behind by the many campers who seemed to be party goers, and the rusty tuna fish cans, plastic bottles, toilet paper, pieces of junk and all else disturbing, we settle down for 2 nights.

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The city. It always feels hectic. Its a place where life is chosen, perhaps. Where boredom, time formatting, criminality, depression, gender issues, confusion, redundancy are on a high tide. Also, the city is the place where I can replace my forgotten gear. The city is the place I despise. The Altiplano is the place where life is being lived, although people are leaving, flocking to the cities, to an easier way of living. The Altiplano, where life is being lived as how I imagine it to be meant. Working. Cultivating. Eating. Resting. ‘That could very well be true’, says Geo, ‘but when you have a choice, what would you choose?’

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My sound-securing system for foxes trying to get into my kitchen

From Arica we head to the border and on to Tacna. The drive is most off putting…

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Novemeber 2019. Reserva Nacional Las Vicuñas, Parque Nacional Volcán Isluga, Latarana, Salar de Surire, Guallatiri, Parque Nacional Lauca, Putre, Arica, Atacama desert.

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