Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Desert Relief

After leaving San Pedro de Atacama, I continued north through the desert. Not as hot as you would think as long as you kept moving, but dry ... very very dry. The scenery was anything but interesting, after the first 30-minutes of riding, it was like someone kept pushing the replay button: sand, power lines, more sand, roadside trash, even more sand, trucks carry ridiculously large tires, followed by sand - repeat. The road was essentially a truck route for supplying the many different mines of the region. Thankfully, I had motivation to keep going. I knew that by the end of the day, I would be sitting on a beach dipping my toes into the cool Pacific.

Iquique, Chile is an odd juxtaposed place, sequestered from the rest of the world. It is one of the few places in northern Chile where the rugged terrain gently meets the ocean, rather than the inapproachable seaside cliffs. You would never suspect that there is an ocean nearby until you cross that last set of mountainous dunes. Then it’s a crazy set of switchbacks down to the water.

I found an aging mid-century hotel that had lost its original luster but sat on premium real estate at the edge of the natural harbor. My two days there turned into four, doing nothing but walking on the beach, eating fresh seafood, and having the lapping of the waves lull me to sleep.

It was all very relaxing, but Bolivia laid heavy on my mind. I was a half-day’s ride from the border and two days away from my goal of finally reaching Sucre. I was feeling tense. What if Sucre couldn’t live up to my initial impression made back in October? What if my memory of the place was being too generous? I had driven 1,000-miles out of my way to follow a hunch, not to mention another two weeks riding down through northern Argentina for a third time if it did not work out.

After four days of R&R, I loaded the bike up with two 4-liter jugs of extra gas. It would take me less than four hours to cross the entire width of Chile and enter Bolivia at the sleepy border crossing of Pisiga Bolivar. I say “sleepy” because at 3:00 in the afternoon the Bolivian border guard was still taking his nap, and answered my pounding on the door with annoyance, sleepy eyes, and “bed-head”. I met his annoyance with a double dose of my own. I am usually more patient, and do not expect anything that resembles competence at borders, but I was only halfway through my day’s ride, with only a quarter of a day’s sunlight left, which was not enough to get me to Ouro before dark. There was a lot of dirt road to cover and no place to stop before there. I sat down at his desk, with no less that 18-different rubber stamps on display – I kid you not.

By 4:00 I was back on the road, still wondering, “would I like Sucre?”

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