After a beautiful breakfast of fresh fruit, avocado, home made jams and good coffee, we finally leave Vicuña for our slow ride up to Antofagasta. The morning is so cool at 13 degrees that we pull over after 30′ to put one layer of thermals on – what a difference that makes!!
So often on our trip, I’ve found that I forget to mention or take photos of commonplace sights. We see them so often, we forget to even mention them. Time to mention one of them now as the road from La Serena to Vicuña had some of the more elaborate ones we’ve seen: roadside shrines. The first ones I’d noticed outside Santiago looked more like small colourful kennels – you may have noticed the odd one in some of my previous photos. I had taken a photo of some of them where we stopped and had some of Mitch and Mary’s sandwiches but didn’t post it as they were just before Anthony’s accident!! Anyway, the shrines we see are either religious ones (to the Virgin Mary, Christ, a local patron saint), or to Difunta Correa (Deolinda Correa had set out with her infant son in search of her husband who had been forced to join the army in the 40’s – she died of thirst, but not before putting her son to her breast and he survived. Bottles of water are left to calm her thirst) or to victims of car accidents. Sometimes, the accident ones are often placed at very distracting places, often on both sides of a bend or on straight stretches of road with several crosses, presumedly where many people died, in a coach accident maybe?? You know never to focus on an obstacle whatever you are driving as if you do, you are likely to end up where you are looking, maybe that’s why we often see multiple shrines in one spot… I haven’t wanted to take close up photos feeling it was intruding, but the first ones here were taken where we stopped to put on that extra layer of clothing.
The Ruta 5 north of La Serena is being upgraded so we end up stopping many times as the traffic is controlled one lane at a time. North of Vallenar, it is back to perfect dual highway. We feel we might even make it to Bahia Inglesia which I have been told many times by different people is an absolutely stunning place and worth a visit. But the road is so perfect and easy, it quickly becomes boring and as we get close to the Copiapo by-pass, Anthony tells me he is getting tired. Time to stop, change of plans and find a place for the night in Copiapo.
The sole reason for Copiapo being of any size is to support the mining industry in the area. It soons become obvious that people are there because they have too. One miserable place, miserable hotel receptionist, sad hotel which had seen better days but had been left to slowly decay, and very very aggressive drivers. We couldn’t wait to get out of there.
No photos of Copiapo!!
A short ride to Bahia Inglesia where I have tentatively eyed a place for 2 nights, on the outskirts of the village. We park the bikes and go for a walk along the beach. It has a gorgeous little bay, as per the photos, many restaurants along the beach front, but that is it!!! It was too cold and windy for us to have a swim so we had a lovely lunch. We pick one of the few places that doesn’t have music blaring. Oooh those fresh scallops were delicious!!!!!!!
We ride out to the cabanas I’d found. Oh dear…. On a rocky desert beach, with a couple of trees planted for the website images no doubt – so unappealing… Quick turn around and change of plan again, and we head to Chañaral.
It is now early afternoon and the winds have definitely picked up. The road hugs the coast and the scenery is quite dramatic, with lava flows right down to the ocean. Yet again, a geologist’s paradise. Our neck muscles strengthen as we ride at angle for a while.
After riding around Chañaral for a while, we find another hotel listed on Anthony’s GPS which has a nice name: Aqua Luna. It is interesting how places always have an instant feel. The receptionist at this tiny hotel was so friendly and shows us to our room. It is a funny little hotel where all the rooms are towards the back so the only natural light and fresh air come from a central passage way. Outside our room is a plastic fountain with trickling water – maybe not to our taste, but they did try!!
At one stage, I asked for some water and the receptionist immediately organised a huge urn. Later she asked if we needed some more. For dinner, we went through town to a restaurant she recommended. On the way, we enjoyed seeing what shops in Chañaral stored. We find our favourite type of store: it has everything from the brightest bras to industrial strength compressors. At the restaurant, we ordered pizzas, zin queso for me (no cheese) explaining that I am allergic (all in Spanish!! i don’t know much but . When they arrive, I take my first mouthful and immediately taste the unmistakable taste of queso. I quickly grab a tissue, dispose of my mouthful,and inspect my pizza. It’s not too bad, it will be fine I tell Anthony. But the young waiter spotted what I had done and comes over. I say that I can cut the piece off and I’ll be fine. No, he will get another one made he insists. What service!!! A tiny restaurant, in a tiny place and what unbelievable service.
Chañaral was a lovely spot to stay over – time to head off to Antofagasta. First main stop was Taltal, also on the coast. I got chased by two big dogs which was a bit unnerving but we stop outside the Victor Hugo school for a fresh juice. Although the waterfront has been renovated, and the council wanted to make it a pleasant place, the locals thought otherwise… The public toilets are permanently locked, need I say more… We did enjoy watching the seals and birdlife but decided to move on and have our lunch on the road.
What a ride to Antofagasta!!! Absolutely stunning. We chose to take CH1 then B710. Yes, it was windy, very windy at times and a painter’s paradise. Any home renovator would know how many shades of white there are: natural, china, bone, limed, porcelain, shell. The scenery was magical. We saw more than 50 shades of grey: celladon, mallard, bilby, yarwood, dove, moon. So many shades of brown: raw sienna, burnt umber, Gold oxide, nutmeg, walnut, leather, burnished bark, caramel; of red: burnt sienna, indian red oxide, burgundy, carmen, terracotta . So many shades of beige too. It is difficult to capture the beauty of this desert but I hope some of the photos show some of it.
More neck strengthening hours on the bike. We find a sheltered spot to stop and have lunch, near the Paranal Observatory, which is closed except on Saturdays. As we eat our tuna and dried crackers on the edge of the runway, a truck slows down, the driver shaking a carton of juice at us. We do a thumbs up, he stops, he hands over a full litre of apple juice and he takes off again. So nice!!!!
A couple of hours later, we get to a great sculpture, El Mano Del Desierto.
We make good time and get to Antofagasta just after 4pm. We head to our apartment on the northern end of Antofagasta for the next 2 nights but the concierge was only given a bunch of envelopes with apartment numbers on, but with no name, so couldn’t help us. We ring a few numbers, but I have been given wrong numbers. Hmmm, strange… So we are left with having to find another hotel!! At 6pm, rush hour, not my favourite time to find accommodation. We turn the bikes around, I get chased by a very angry barking Alsatian, and stop at another hotel. After being told they are full, they search some more and miracle, they have one last room!!! Bliss. Thank you!!! It is luxurious. Great place to catch up on washing and photo uploading :-). I immediately contact booking.com who apologise and tell me they will do what they can to compensate us for any additional costs incurred.
We spend a day stroling around Antofagasta and basically lounging around in our room.