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Old 03-06-2013, 12:51 PM   #11
porkandcorn OP
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Joined: Jan 2011
Location: Portland, Oregon
Oddometer: 296
antofagasta, chile to san pedro de atacama, chile

tuesday, march 5, 2013

i was completely exhausted when i reached antofagasta. it was an uncanny mix of longshoremen, and miners from the surrounding mega-mines that dominate this area of chile. i hearty bunch of boys, not to be trifled with. toss in a casino culture, and you got a recipe for disaster.

i drove into antofagasta in the dark. i wish i drove out in the dark. the highway leading out of town was one of the most tortured, trash-strewn horror-shows i've ever seen. the mining culture has left this place bereft of concern for the environment. strip it down for all it's worth, and then throw it back in dirty piles. it was a stark contrast to the pristine andes, barely touched by humans.

vast nothingness, north of antofagasta, chile by porkandcorn, on Flickr

copper mining is enormous in this part of chile. the freeways are packed with company-issued, little, red pickup trucks with long CB antennas. they swarm the cities surrounding the mines. i was stuck behind a caravan of enormous dump truck beds that take up both lanes of traffic, passed flatbed semis with gigantic shovels for the gigantic machines that scoop up the copper-rich aggregate. there were trains 100 cars long entirely of sulfuric acid, used in processing the ores. the entire landscape for 100 miles north of antofagasta is decimated, destroyed, and left for dead. it was an odd journey out of town. the wind in the valley was intense, pushing me and the bike to extreme angles.

huge dumptruck bed, calama, chile by porkandcorn, on Flickr

huge shovel head, calama, chile by porkandcorn, on Flickr

there was a long steady climb to 10,000 feet at calama, chile just west of san pedre de atacama. it was barren, dry, the air full of dust for hundreds of miles. it's not for the faint of heart… one altitude related casualty - the pressure build up in my tent tube shot the rubber cap off the back of the tube… it's probably in orbit somewhere.

ruta 23, west of s.p. de atacama, chile by porkandcorn, on Flickr

popped the top, east of tuina, chile by porkandcorn, on Flickr

to the heart of the atacama...

valle de la luna, atacama, chile by porkandcorn, on Flickr

outro valle de la luna, atacama, chile by porkandcorn, on Flickr

tourist at valle de la luna, atacama, chile by porkandcorn, on Flickr

road into s.p. de atacama, chile by porkandcorn, on Flickr

valley east of s.p. de atacama, chile by porkandcorn, on Flickr

finally, i reached san pedro de atacama. the entire town smells like dust. if you set something down for 5 minutes, it's covered in it. therefore, i've set all my things out neatly so that they can all be covered in this beautiful dust.

this town is a nice surprise. when i rode in, i was thinking "oh great, another shithole where i'll pay too much for a bad room and bad food." the streets are narrow, all of them about 12 feet wide. all the buildings look like they are made out of mud. and actually, they are - with rocks. if you were to just drive through, your instinct might be to step on the gas.

but once you turn off the engine, and start walking around, this place is a treasure chest of oddities, beauty, sincerity, and excitement. it is the gateway to one of the strangest places on the planet, the atacama desert - which is, among other things, the driest place on the planet. (i'll work on getting some photos of the town soon...)

downtown san pedro de atacama, chile by porkandcorn, on Flickr

the main drag, san pedro de atacama, chile by porkandcorn, on Flickr

it's hot and it's cold. depends on your perspective. it's full of foreigners. i haven't seen so many people from so many different places yet on my adventure. just during dinner, i heard german, french, spanish, british english, russian, japanese, chinese, australian english, and many more i couldn't recognize. make no mistake, it's full of tourists - but in a way that's not offensive like so many places. everyone is swept up in the surreality of the place. everyone is a stranger, everyone is a local.

down every tiny street are doorways that lead into the depths of the maze. restaurants are 100 feet deep, bars even further. and the food is good. there are little stores tended by peruvians, bolivians, chileans. there are musicians roaming the streets, playing for change and deserving it.

i've not even been here 6 hours, and i'm already falling for the place. i'll be here for a few days. i bought some coca(ine) candy and coca(ine) tea for the elevation! can't do that in the states.

and beyond this city is a natural wonderland of epic proportions, which i begin to explore tomorrow. now, off to follow my ears to some music and laughter coming from somewhere nearby…

porkandcorn screwed with this post 04-20-2013 at 09:27 PM
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