.... in the distance. I had no high expectations in terms of finding food - but maybe water, I was hoping..... Interesting how the level of expertise can sink so low and to the basics. Well, there was actually a train station and a little store and the immigration office. We arrived around 12:30pm, but the office was closed from noon to 2:30pm and our time was spend cooking eggs which we purchased from the only little window store and eating all six of them along with crackers, canned sardines and chocolate. It's a crime to mention fish and chocolate in one sentence....but here we go....we were happy to fill our bellies and that is it. We hung around in the dust next to the snorting, puffing, growling train that had just arrived and were content to wait for the opening of the office. Patient enough, due to our full bellies.
The nice enough official person opened half an hour earlier than scheduled and stamped us out of Bolivia and we didn't waste a minute to head over to Chile - curious and excited ....Passing through the eleventh country on our way to the tip of Southern America. Twelve all together and we have come so far and close now - those countries are huge though...stretching long....
Ollague was the border town on the Chilean side and the wind had picked up as usual in the afternoon - we stayed the night in a pleasant little hotel - thank goodness there was one...even had a hot shower and a decent dinner and breakfast the next morning.
Talking about expectations ...I thought we were done with torturing ourselves riding bad, washboard-patterns, dusty roads, long distances between villages and unsigned turnss to nowhere. It got worse! Our destination was Calma and we hit the beginning of pavement with a huge sign announcing the paved road all the way to the coast town of Antofagasta
James with his thumb up...happy about the pavememt..he wanted to kiss the pavement...would have been a waste of a kiss..
which is over 300km away from that point, meaning it would all have been paved until Calma, according to the poster...but no such luck: the pavement stopped again a few miles after it began - no sign or explanation - and we found ourselves spending a lot of time trying to get ahead - with the headwind picking up more brutally and violently than ever before and our supplies dwindling rapidly with no way to replenish. I really thought Chile would be different - better, but in this part of the country the maps -just like in Bolivia- showed villages that don't exist and roads that go in different directions than it shows on the map. Pretty frustrated and a bit scared, because there also wasn't much traffic to bail us out, we reached a place with a few houses....
a mining village as it turned out- at the edge of a Salar. The friendly pick-up truck driver answered our questions for food and water.....a little store, perhaps....with "nada" not even the next and the next village after that, he promised. His partner in the truck picked up his walky - talky and was making some kind of arrangements and next thing we knew we were waved to the other side of the road into the village company dining -and kitchen area being served a splendid lunch with soup, meat - sauce spaghetti, fruit and bread at no expense! Now there is a generous and super friendly introductory to another country! James and I were delighted and totally stuffed ourselves and our pockets and soon head out again, not after hugging and thanking the cook and his helper profusely .
The afternoon wind was meaner than ever, aggressive and merciless. It literally pushed us over to the other side of the road at times and I had the feeling, that, if I wasn't holding on to my 60kg bicycle it would have lifted me off the ground.
Was I complaining about the wind before??? I had no clue what was coming!
Way before the day was over we made it through the wind to a church on the side of the road - THANK GOD!!! in another little mining village with no stores and services....not even people. We looked around to ask for permission to spend the night, but nobody seemed to even want to notice us. The wind was howling and maybe that was enough - people didn't seem to care if we were there or not. We caught one "homeless" looking person (well, what does that mean now? we are homeless too.....)- hardly any teeth and "the elevator didn't seem to reach all the way to the top floor" He carried a few bags of something on his back, like Santa. It was hard to understand his mumbling answer to our question for shelter in the church and we left it at that. The church had got to be ours for the night, we decided for ourselves, and slipped through the generously big and unlocked door to the altar of Jesus and out of the damn wind.
Enough room between the phews for us and our bikes. I washed my dusty body with hot water from the cooking stove and peeked over to the altar....hoping that the saints don't mind - though I have to admit, I felt it little more naked than usual!
The next morning the wind had calmed and we left early to climb the small pass. Overwhelming beauty surrounded us:
We thanked our luck to have been able to find shelter that last night and the day began hopeful.......only to give way to fear and exhaustion again in the afternoon of the same day. We had cycled quite a few km already and the road in front of us was as flat as can be, but there was no end in sight - we could see a long ways away - the volcanos WAY in the distance, but the valley was huge and vast and forever with the wind picking up just the same as the day before and the day before that.
Can that be, I asked myself? Trying not to feel caught up in some kind of a night mare or maybe some conspiracy.....feeling sorry for myself......I really thought it was going to be a better day, but here we are again....not enough food and water and no end in sight. .....A few ghostly looking houses - marked as a village on the map - opened up a water source for us and we were able to pump this questionable water in our drinking bottles. At least!
And on into the wind - heading to a village called Chiu- Chiu. I thought we just need to keep going until we get there, no matter how long it would take us, since we were again out of food and there was nothing I could identify to give us shelter from the wind. I felt some tears running down, out from under my sunglasses but the wind dried them up before I could even think....maybe it was just the wind - maybe my eyes were just watering? We had about four cars pass us during the whole day - not one stopped to ask if we needed anything, if we were Ok? WTF?
Some kind of anger started swelling up in me.......determination: Enough of this shit....I just want to get out of here and I need to KEEP GOING to a better place. This luna like landscape is unenjoyable because it is inhospitable and I am scared enough not to even care. The movements of my legs pedaling, the leaning into the wind -
my mind started to quiet down and I gave myself to the rhythm of the body pedaling.
Peace had enveloped me fully, when a red pick up truck - heading into the opposite direction - stopped and the driver asked me in German if we needed anything - if we had enough water in this god forsaken place. I answered in German with my heavy Berlin accent - yes, enough water, but we were ever so hungry....."FROM BERLIN" they screamed in unity, jumping out of the car hugging me and offering us a ride in their pick up to the village of Chiu - Chiu. We were hesitant to accept - didn't want to mess up there plans of a field trip to the Salar, but they insisted and we soon gave in
- we celebrated at a generous dinner in the village - paid by our rescuers...
I really got absolute NOTHING to complain, do I??
We camped at the pretty touristy village - blown away by the hotel prices and leisurely pedaled our way to Calama, past the biggest copper mine in the world (Chuquicamata) - such a sad sight:
The next morning we stocked up with enough food, camped again and made our way to S.P. de Atacama to the Salar Atacama. With a full belly, enough provisions and water, the highly unusual landscape in northern Chile doesn't seem quite so scary anymore.