Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Desert’s Been a Friend to Me

Angela writes:

Since entering Peru we’ve mostly been living in a desert climate. Hot sun, sand dunes and scarce vegetation is mostly what we’ve been encountering on our daily rides. It’s  nice when the scenery changes and we are riding along the Pacific Ocean.  The wind on the coast however seems to pick up which causes us to ride at an angle. At times we’ve actually seen little dust tornadoes on the horizon and a few times these swirling dust visions have crossed the highway in front of us but I’ve never ridden through one as I really do not want to know how this would mess up my steering. Often during our riding we are passed by huge tourist buses, sometimes even double-decker ones, looking like “ships of the desert”. These tour buses are forever passing us - even on up hill highway.  Years ago when we came to Peru we took an overnight bus from Lima to Arequipa a distance of 1020 km and it lasted about 14 hours.  This time while we’ve been riding between these 2 cities we did  the distance in 3 days.  These buses are travelling super fast!


From Arequipa we travelled to our last destination in Peru before crossing into Chile – a small city called Moquegua.  Since we heard that travel in Chile was much more expensive, we decided to economize and stay at a basic hotel without wifi which ended up costing us the equivalent of $12 CND. For dinner we had a meal of rice, chicken, salad, a drink and soup for $ 2.25 – for both of us. With full tanks of gas our last night in Peru made us and our budget very happy.  To top off a perfect night at our hotel we met a British motorcycling couple, Kev & Lorrain ( who had just come from southern South America and Africa. We sat on the roof top of our hotel sharing beer, stories and gazed at the glowing starry sky. Thanks guys for your great tips for the rest of our journey.

After a non-eventful border crossing into Chile which lasted the average 2 hours, (I am surprised that it didn’t take longer as Chile is obsessed about people bringing fruit/veg, meat, honey and dairy products into their country) we were on our way to Arica where we had Big Mac combos for dinner. Only our second stop at McDonald’s on our journey so far (our first was in Xela, Guatemala).  Anyway the burger and fries tasted exactly like they were supposed to, only the service sucked.  With this border crossing we encountered a 2 hour time change so we are now on Nova Scotia time, 2 hours ahead of Ontario and 5 hours ahead of BC.

 In Arica we found out that we had missed seeing the 2011 Dakar rally by like 4 days so we started to spend our riding days scouting for crazy tire tracks in the desert.  The resources in this desert area are extremely limited and gas stations are few and far between. Things are very expensive – gas has been $1.50/litre and we bought a 3 L jug of water for the equivalent of $4 CND. Considering that we rode though what claims to be the driest town on earth (Quillagua) I suspect the prices are warranted.  Even in the hostels we’ve been staying at have had notices in the bathroom reminding us about water consumption “Please conserve water. Remember we are surrounded by the driest desert on earth”.  The next city we stayed in was Iquique which was dramatically situated at the bottom of a desert cliff, shadowed by a sand dune the size of a 50 story building, along the coast of the turquoise Pacific.


We’re lucky the roads have been good and have been able to travel at 100km/hr which allowed us to have our longest riding day so far of 500 km.  This has brought us to San Pedro de Atacama on the outskirts of the Atacama desert. We are surrounded by salt flats, lagunas and Moon-like terrained valleys. We went for a leisure ride around the outskirts of town and the scenery was amazing. It was like being in a Salvador Dali painting where the volcanoes were a warm brown, the sky was a brilliant blue, the clouds were as white as I have ever seen, the sparse vegetation was one of 10 shades of green, orange and yellow. I think there was even a smiling sun!  This little outing however has made me realize how much I detest riding in sand!  Sand is NOT my friend!   In my mind I know the trick to sand riding is to go fast and keep weight on my back tire so that my front tire just skips over the sand but doing this in reality when I’m fish-tailing in the sand, trying to balance my 300 lb bike and not being able to have my toes touch the ground, makes this theory difficult to practice.  I’m sure though that I will have plenty of opportunities to practice coming up in South America and Africa. (I’ll keep you updated on my progress.)

While we were in San Pedro de Atacama we decided to camp in the town.  This is where we met 2 wonderful guys from Buenos Aires (Fredrico & Marino) who are doing a motorcycle adventure around Chile and Argentina. They fed us some great propaganda about their home country so we have now decided to cross into Argentina for awhile.  Within the next day or two we will also pass into the Tropic of Capricorn.

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  1. Greg writes... glad to hear things are going well. Angela, you will be a professional sand rider soon I am sure! Enjoy and ride safe. Greg and Jill

  2. Thanks Greg! I hope you're right about my professional sand riding status. I just don't want the bumps and bruises that might come with the effort - I'm adverse to pain!!!!! I am delicate dammit;)