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Challenging Chile! - News - bespk

Challenging Chile!

Posted on Monday, 11th March 2013 by Eunice

We crossed the Peruvian/Chilean border on the 25th of February after another long stretch of desert driving, with an increasing number of road side graves, most beautifully decorated with bright flowers. The border town of Tacna houses a large military base.  All the regimental emblems are created in a similar way to the Nazca Lines (by removing the surface to reveal the contrasting under soil/sand) in the cliffs above the town.  Photography is banned;  a shame as they are real works of art. 
True to form, we got lost having taken the route into town instead of what amounts to a bypass.  Having stopped at a petrol station and asked the way, a gentleman; working in the mining industry, driving a 4x4 Jeep helped us back onto the right route.  He was having difficulties getting his truck started and Guy ended up cleaning up his battery terminals to enable a better connection.  However when this was unsuccessful (the battery cable needed to be soldered to the connector), a push start was needed. 

We arrived at the border in the early afternoon. The long tail back was probably the result of the lunch break, as it quickly dispersed.  The crossing itself was relatively straight forward. On the Peruvian side a kind official helped us through the process and indicated where to go to get documents for the car's release.  The Chilean border was a bit more complex, mainly due to our lack of understanding and the games it is possible to play with 'stupid gringos'.

You cannot take any fresh produce into Chile, so the car park is littered with banned products.  We are sure there could be the makings of some re-distribution enterprise here.  You have to get your entire luggage scanned and sign a declaration to state that you are not brining any banned goods into the country.  Having done this and got our passports stamped we then had to take the car through its paces, which involved having all the bags scanned a second time.  Guy was not amused and in his anxiety to speed up the process hurt his back.

The most noticeable thing on the Chilean side of the border is the vastly improved state of the roads, with good surfaces and road markings; which is accompanied by a marked improvement in driving.  It maybe that here there are greater penalties for traffic offenses.  An obvious feature of Chilean road use is that the cars are newer, bigger and far better maintained. There are fewer taxis and no Tuk-tuks.  It was not a very long drive to the city of Arica where we planned to stop the night as border crossings always seem to be an ordeal (especially for Guy).  In this part of Chile they make up for the lack of colour in the scenery by painting their houses all the colours of the rainbow.

We found a pleasant hotel (Hotel Casa Beltran) close to the centre, which was very clean and comfortable, had a delicious bath and then walked around the town, before coming back for something to eat.  As usual the car managed to attract quite a crowd of people and many seem to find it incredulous that we have driven all that distance.  There are also many warnings about the next few days ahead and the trials and tribulations of desert driving.  On driving from the car park to the front of the hotel the following morning, Guy encountered a camera crew who wanted to know all about what we were doing.  They then did an interview with him, which might have explained the increased number of hits on Facebook that night (over 500).

The desert lived up to its reputation.  It was hot, extremely dry and the roads consisted of long steep ascents, boring straights over the plateau areas and hairpin descents. Many of the escarpments seem to have been affected by landslides which resulted in lengthy delays at road works.  All very dusty and unpleasant.  There are many more roadside shrines; which in Chile are larger and often surrounded by flags  and often road furniture (cones and the like).  adding colourful relief to the desert.  Not here the dried bones of animals, but the burnt out and abandoned remains of cars, trucks and buses.  There are hardly any places to stop and we did not see a petrol station on our 214mile journey.

The car was far from happy and required frequent drinks of water (4litres).  This meant giving it our drinking water, which left us in a precarious position.  Then surprisingly we are driving through an area of tamarisk forest, almost unbelievable that anything can survive up here.  Fortunately we were stopped by the Carabineros who wanted to see our papers, have their photos taken inside and outside the car.  All very friendly!  A good trade for refilling our water bottles which made us both feel a lot more comfortable.

As the evening approached we took a right turn off the Pan-American Highway (Ruta5) and began the descent into the city of Iquique.  There are few places to stop and although the maps show villages and towns there is very little there.  Iquique lies at the base of a steep cliff and some amazing engineering work has gone into the road that clings to the near vertical slope.  This has obviously been a settlement for some time as many of the buildings are very colonial in style.  One of the main streets appears as if a film set for Atlanta in 'Gone with the Wind'.  Not knowing where we were going we asked a man on a motorbike at some traffic lights if there was a good hotel.  Although at   first disinterested, he then invited us to follow him and took us to one right on the seafront. (Hotel Gavina)  The view from our room overlooking the ocean and watching the sunset was a welcome relief after such a gruelling day. We knew that the next two days were going to be equally difficult, with increased distances between towns.

After consulting the map we decided to head south along the coast road which is easier driving and less strenuous for the car.  This turned out to be a good move.  We covered the 280 miles to Antofagasta far more easily than any  driving for many days, using hardly any water and third gear on far fewer occasions.  Having the sea on our right also made a vast change from just desert, although it was ever present to our left.  The traffic density was also less and we managed a much greater average speed, Guy enjoying pushing the mighty Austin into the bends.   It was also a day of change.  We drove out of the Tropics, crossing over the Tropic of Capricorn and somehow managed to lose two hours on the day, due to clock changes.  Fortunately it is still light until 8pm.

The first hotel we stopped at in Antofagasta was full, but we were lucky to find a room at the second, (Hotel Diego de Almagro) again overlooking the sea, but slightly removed; so not too disturbed by the sound of the waves.  Both suffering from 'numbumitis' we took a long walk along the Malecon in an attempt to limber up and re-establish some circulation.  Guy's back is still painful and it makes these long days in the car more of an ordeal than usual.  We found a small Italian restaurant for dinner and were very soon in an exhausted sleep, waking in the morning somewhat refreshed.

And so to another day in the desert! Our original plan had been to continue along the coast, but when this turned out to be an unsealed road we rapidly changed our minds and began the long steep climb back onto the desert plateau.  More dust and bleakness, but now much more evidence of mining, with mammoth sized trucks waiting by the road side or in convoys to some new destination, red trucks and their flags frequent companions along the road, and more roadside shrines.  We do find petrol in an area named Aqua Verde but there is no water in sight except in the Posada next door.

From here the road begins to descend through long hairpin bends until it reaches the coast at Chanaral.  There are increasing signs of vegetation along the road side and then areas of increased habitation.  With our hearts lifting we begin to feel that we might be over the worst.  We stop overnight in Chanaral;  a very small town that straddles the Pan-Americana, at the Santa Antonio Hotel, which offered secure parking for the car and reasonable clean accommodation.  Whilst Guy repaired three broken spokes in an extremely dusty garage, Eunice took a walk into town to buy much needed liquid refreshment.  We then ate dinner in the restaurant across the street; there is no menu and you get what’s cooking.  That night a large helping of Covina (sea bass), papas frita and salad, washed down with a glass of wine and two beers.  Feeling more hydrated we went to bed knowing that the next day would be a short drive and hold the exciting prospect of meeting up with fellow Austin travellers.

River Dukes, Diana Garside, Jack Peppiatt, Amanda Peters and Stanley Price have recently started their journey on 20th Feb 2013 driving three Austin7s        
( from Buenos Aires to New York, following the route taken by John Coleman in 1959/60.  The original plan had been to meet with them in Los Andes, but due to our delay in Arequipa, we had to change  plans.  We have now arranged to meet them in the city of Copiaco, only 113 miles south.  It will be an historic event for all.

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