Previously, I was doubting whether or not I could afford to do the famous route 701 from Uyuni to the Bolivian – Chilean border as it is a looonggg off-road but offered spectacular views along the way. However, after thinking deeply, I decided that I’ll give it a try. I left Uyuni at 7.40am. The view was indeed amazing and the off-road was not as crazy as I thought it would be. Well, the hardest part was yet to come. It took me 4 hours to reach Avaroa, the border town. The border was in the middle of nowhere. It was 12pm then and the officers were gone. I had to wait to get my exit stamp and cancelled my permisso. Then, I rode approx 3kms in no man’s land into Ollague, Chile. I stamped my passport and got my permisso. No fees or mandatory insurance required to bring my bike into this country. However, there was an inspection done on GD as animals & plant products are not permitted to be taken in. But the nice officer just took 2 secs to check my top box. Overall, it took me about 2 hours to clear both borders.
I then continued my ride to Calama via route 21, passing an amazing salt lake and beautiful volcanic mountains. It is unbelievable that all the SA countries that I have been to are sooo contrasted in views and landscapes. All are unique and beautiful. However, the road was not. It was worse than route 701 in Bolivia. There were many stretches of soft sand and loose gravel which I need to ascend and descend. The wind was stronger here too. It was a big relief when I finally met paved road again. Ohhh…I love paved roads, and who ever made them. In total, I rode 450kms today on ripio – dirt, gravel and soft sand. Only less than a quarter of the distance I rode today was paved. The most km of off-road in a day that I had ever done!!!
My next destination in Chile was San Pedro de Atacama, which was only 110km via route 23 from Calama. The road was good, but it was a bit windy because I was crossing a vast desert. Tourists from all over the world came to San Pedro de Atacama not for the sake of the town: there’s nothing in the rustic town except dust. However the surroundings are soooo spectacular.
There is lots to see, the desert, geysers, lagunas, salt flats etc. Due to my tight budget, I could only manage to visit Valle de la Luna, or Moon Valley. It’s not far from the town. The view was incredible. All this while, when talking about desert, what we have in mind will be sands, dunes and perhaps one or two barren mountains. However here, you can see a mountain range, Cordilerra de la Sal, which is made from salt, and the amazing rock formation which was formed by wind erosion. Another of God’s creation which left me speechless…
Northern Chile is dominated by the Atacama Desert, so it is very dry and windy. My skin and lips were peeling by now due to the dryness. Even my lip balm didn’t help. Anyway, after 2 days, I left San Pedro de Atacama, heading back to Calama and then south via route 25. I made good time to Antofagasta, within 4 hours (had to brave the morning chill though). Upon reaching Antofagasta, I started to look for a cheap place to stay. Unfortunately, after wasting 2 hours going around the city, and the cheapest room I could find was US$35, which was waayy too much for my wallet, I decided to continue riding to the next town, in hope that my luck will change this time. However, it was 2pm by then and the wind was blowing like SUPER CRAZY!!! I bad never faced such strong winds before, not even in Peru. From a distance, I saw HUGEEE cloud of sands being blown away. It was really scary and my poor GD was zig-zagging helplessly. The next town was a few hundred kms away and all around me was nothingness but desert and sands. I was praying real hard in my heart while riding slowly and gripping the handle firmly. Thank god I saw a Shell station next to the highway. I pulled over and begged the owner to let me camp behind the station. He was reluctant in the beginning, but agreed when he saw tears started to pool in my eyes…
The next day was not easy for me either. Ever since I entered Chile 6 days ago, almost every day I got surprises. The off-road, the crazy wind, the high price on everything…and now, another surprise. A country which is said to be amongst the most developed and expensive in SA, but the gas stations were very far apart. It’s hundreds of kms before you find one!!! I made a big mistake which I learnt well and will never repeat. I didn’t refuel at the gas station where I camped last night because they no longer had the cheaper gas. Since I still had a half tank of gas, I asked the attendant, where the next station was? He was talking so fast and I thought he said “dos” “tres”. So using fingers, I pointed two and three and he nodded. I thought it was 23kms away, so I proceeded. After 50kms, there was no gas station in sight. I checked my GPS, it said there’s one 150kms away. I started to get worried as GD didn’t have much gas left. I asked the locals but everyone was giving me different answers. And what scared me most was, yesterday, the gas station listed in my GPS was of non-existent. What if the one which my GPS said was 150km away didn’t exist too?
Finally, after almost 3 hours of a really slow ride of 160kms, there it is…the gas station. And GD had almost reached blinking level, but not yet blinking. Approx 450km was done since its last refuel. A new record set. Phewwwww…
Anyway, even though the experience of almost running out of gas was scary, I achieved a remarkable victory today when I reached Mano Del Desierto, or ‘Hand of the Desert’. This sculpture was on my wish list ever since I got into adv riding, and it was only today that I rolled my wheels here. I also managed to locate the landmark for the Tropic of Capricorn.
The next few days, I continued riding further south via route 5, passing towns such as Chanaral, La Serena and Valparaiso. Chile’s landscape is very unique. It felt like being on a different planet. The wind was still strong at certain stretches, but the beautiful blue Pacific Ocean view down the cliff compensated the unpleasantness of having to fight the wind. As I rode further south in Chile, I could see more colours and more cactus & bushes in the pampas, compared to the sand, dunes and barren mountains in northern Chile.
The houses in the bigger towns in Chile were similar to in Malaysia. The roads were good, but motorbikes have to pay tolls 🙁 Along my way to Valparaiso, I could see locals waving and flapping white flags to attract people to buy cheese which they sold by the road side. The view got greener later on. I stayed 2 nights in Valparaiso and explored the historical city which is also a sister city to Malacca.
My last destination in Chile was Santiago. I rode straight to the Malaysian Embassy and was given a very warm welcome by Dato Dr Rameez, the ambassador, and all the staff. Lots of delicious food being served such as nasi lemak with chicken rendang, rojak and Malay delicacies. Dato Rameez even invited me to stay at Malaysia House. I spent 3 nights and managed to send my bike for maintenance service at the Yamaha HQ here and attended a tea meet with the Perwakilan Ladies. I wished to thank Dato Rameez, lovely Datin Noor Zulaikha, the Malaysian Embassy in Santiago and Yamamotor Santiago for their hospitality.