I have read many reports of exiting Bolivia, entering Chile and being greeted with beautiful smooth road happily containing road markings and squeezed between guard rails. No such luck for me, and the gravel, sand and salt flats continued. With no other vehicles around I had the snow capped mountains and salars all to myself. Three hours later, line markings gleamed on the horizon like a mirage. I had reached the promised land!
Plans of hanging around the main square in Calama quickly changed with one ugly square and one too many encounters with rude people. With all my strength I refrained from heading to the coast, instead going back inland to San Pedro de Atacami. San Pedro is a full on tourist town, and at times it’s draw power is questioned as it can be hot and dusty. For me a two day layup can be summarised in three words – espresso, sun and an internet connection. Sounds like a Saturday afternoon in Sydney.
After deliberating over other rides blog posts and photos of the road to Salta, Argentina via the Atacama Desert, I turned my back on the pavement, and headed for the washboard roads and high mountain pass. A very good route choice indeed, as the scenery was like nothing I have ever seen before. If you ever happen to be in the area, or the Continent for that matter, do whatever you can to ride from San Pedro to the Argentina border via Laguna Miscall. However, before leaving San Pedro, make sure to make one critical stop.
Having ridden for five hours, stopping very frequently for photos of this crazy landscape at an elevation of over 4000m, with cold wind trying to blow me off my bike, or at the very least, off the road, I was met with a boom gate. With all documents in hand, I went into the building to complete my exit documentation from Chile. With no acknowledgement of hello, or to the fact I had just ridden from Canada to this remote outpost, the police began writing my details in his ledger. Flicking through my passport, he asked where my stamp from customs was. I asked him where their office was, and I would go and get it. In San Pedro de Atacama. Sorry? San Pedro de Atacama. Customs and Immigration was back in town, 200km from where I was currently standing, 100km of which was very uncomfortable road. With a great level of satisfaction the clearly elated office called his fellow inhabitants of this inhospitable place, the pleasure of turning this white fella back so great they paused from their soccer viewing. No level of reasoning, begging or pleading would deter them. After I explained that I had no fuel, no food, it was freezing out, I had nowhere to sleep, sympathy was if anything, diminished even more. By this stage I was terrible upset and informed the officer that if I died, it was on his head, and he shrugged nonchalantly saying no, it was on my fault. Explaining I would have to push my bike 200km back, I was met with further shrugs. I do not recall a time on this trip, indeed my whole life, where I have met someone so rude and with absolutely no regard for a fellow human being.
Switching to english allowed me to express my feelings to the officer much better as he followed me out to my bike. Observing that he didn’t have a gun, I positioned my bike in such a way my rear wheel was point at him, planted both feet firmly on the ground, twisted the throttle, ensuring the full contents of the soft ground where deposited up his pant leg. Very immature, but it sure felt good. Darkness, and the resulting frigid air at elevation would be upon me in 90 minutes. My threats of running out of fuel were unfounded as I had luckily brought an extra 8 litres which had been emptied into my tank earlier in the afternoon. My many thousands of kilometres of off-road riding were cumulated into this one ride, ensuring I skimmed along the top of the corrugates, keeping the bike in a forward trajectory, hitting speeds that at the start of the trip where achieved even on-road whilst gripping for dear life. Two hours fifteen minutes later, I arrived back in a town I never thought I would be to again. Coffee in the morning to look forward to!
The option of continuing to Salta via the previous day’s route was eradicated when I let loose with 800cc of dirt up the police officer’s leg. The alternate was the paved route, which wasn’t a totally unpleasant prospect. Today, I visited the Chilean Customs and Immigration in San Pedro. It seemed the wise thing to do. The paved road allowed me to see the Atacama Plateau from a different angle, which in itself was spectacular. I was within 70 meters of our maximum elevation of 4901 meters, was close to our top speed which won’t be discussed here, and actually made it through the border. All up, a terrific day on the bike. Hello to Argentina!