DAY 695 - SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA
Day 695 - San Pedro de Atacama, Chile - 14961 km
San Pedro de Atacama, just over the border in Chile, is an odd little town in the middle of the desert. If you zoom in to the map it looks like there are more hotels than local dwellings. It’s highly popular tourist town. From here many tours are organised to visit the surrounding valleys, volcanoes, salt lakes and geysers. I arrive in the evening after a long, tiring day coming from the sandy roads of Bolivia and look forward to a proper meal after a lot of tortilla with peanut butter.
There’s many choices in restaurants. I haven’t checked in any hotel yet so my bicycle, fully loaded and covered in dust, waits in front of the restaurant. When I’m devouring my hamburger a cheerful, middle aged man walks in and greets me because of the bike. It’s probably pretty obvious that from all the people in the restaurant, I’m the cyclist -- tired, tanned and dirty. From his accent I hear he’s Dutch, his name is Arnold. He’s on a trans-continental bike tour as well and recommends me to stay at La Casa Del Sol Naciente hostel, where he and more cyclists are staying. I finish my meal, but not after first ordering extra fries because my hunger is hard to still, I head to the hostel.
When I enter the patio I got friendly welcomed by Nathan (Australia) and Toby (UK), they had been following me on Instagram. Initially they started individually, cycling northbound from Patagonia, but have been travelling together since 4 months until here. We’re all taking a break from long rides in remote sections of the country. San Pedro de Atacama is perfect for it, being at a milder altitude of 2400m, the weather is warm and dry.
Most of us camp in the garden. Maintenance needs to be done on the bikes, bags and gear. From stitching tires, to bleeding brakes and sewing tent zippers. I have more bad luck with the rear tire — the wire bead has come off which leaves a bubble and makes it impossible to pump it to high pressure. On the streets of San Pedro de Atacama I asked a lady if she knew a shoemaker, to stitch the tire as a temporary solution, after which she answered “I can do it...” I asked where she lived and she pointed a few blocks away. She was on her bicycle and she took me all the way to the outskirts of town at the edge of the desert. The street wasn’t even on the map. She lived here with her 4 children in a one-room wooden house, in the corner was a sewing machine. The tire is stitched, and she fixed the sleeve of my jacket as well. In the meantime Maxxis Tires - USA acknowledged this should have never happened, and will ship a new tire, but for now I will have to continue with stitches.
It’s fun hanging around the hostel for a few days with other cyclists. I hadn’t planned any of the route forward yet, so it’s great to have some inspiration from Nathan and Toby who are coming from the south. Not many roads go through the Atacama desert, there are roughly two options. Going south via the Pacific coast, or go south-east into Argentina, back on the altiplano. After scanning down Google Earth, the second seems the more attractive option. Attractive for the eye, not the legs, because it will again be a lot of climbing and sandy roads. We’re cooking big meals and binge eat ourselves round for the coming days on the road. For both of us it’s going to be a lot of remote riding. Arnold is the first to leave, the rest of us have some more work to do, writing and updating blogposts.