Desert & geysers in the north: Chile has it all!

After leaving Huépil, we were determined to make a lot of kilometers north. But first a necessary stop in Santiago, to get the car axle fixed, finish the last car paperwork, eat our last Chilean completos (for now) and do some shopping (so great to wear jeans again!). We stayed through Couchsurfing in a nice house with great company and they took us to a Peruvian restaurant, a taste of what we will encounter more north.

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Our first detour on our way north was the Elqui valley, a beautiful yellow-colored valley where they make Pisco. Unfortunately we arrived too early in the day to join a tasting, and as we tasted already quite some Pisco in the rest of Chile, we decided not to wait and continue our way further north.

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We found a great spot for the night on the beach of Bahia Inglés where we enjoyed a sunset the way we like them the best:  the sight of pink, orange & red colors in the sky accompanied by some red colored wine in our glasses.

In the morning we towed the car of another couple out of the sand, always good for our car troubles karma!

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Unfortunately, our karma level peak didn’t last long as a few hours later we were stuck in the sand ourselves on a beautiful beach in Parque Nacional Pan de Azucar. Guess twice who’s idea it was to go cruising on the beach 😉 .

In the beginning, when Benjamin started do dig a bit of sand from under the wheels it was quite funny. Three hours, rising temperatures, some broken parts of the wood of our bed, a hitchhike ride, a local helper who digged the car deeper in the sand and a call to the police station in some broken Spanish later it started to become less funny :-) .

But the grua (towing jeep) arrived half an hour later, so thumbs up for my broken Spanish! Unfortunately no thumbs up for the towing jeep as he didn’t want to enter the sand itself as the sand was too fine and he didn’t dare to go on the sand. I wish Benjamin had the same lack of courage a few hours earlier 😉

However, it took some time but in the end the guy managed to get us out, by deflating all the tires, using the gato (the jack) at all 4 wheels to put sand under them again. We were saved!!!

The only challenge left was driving 20km to the next town on a gravel road, with a pressure of 5 PSI on our tires. At 10km/h you can easily calculate how much time it took us…

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With driving in Bolivia ahead (where the roads are much worse), the history of our 6 flat tires and being stuck for 4-5 hours in the sand, we lost a bit of confidence in the car/the road/ourselves/… and needed some reassurance to continue further up north. And that’s were Luis came into the picture!

Luis has a garage/workshop in Antofagasta, where Lien & Julien (the Belgian-French couple) were “stuck” for 1 month waiting for spare parts for their Defender, and as they had nothing but good things to say about him, we dared to contact him during the weekend and asked if he could check on our car before we continued our way to San Pedro de Atacama.

We slept a few kilometers before Antofagasta, at el Mano del Desierto (the hand of the desert), where we had fun taking pictures, drinking wine, … and forgot about our sand adventure earlier that day.

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The next morning we continued to Antofagasta, where Luis welcomed us at noon (on a Sunday!). The friendliness, hospitality, helpfulness, … that we encountered at that moment cannot be put into words!

By the next morning our car was checked, we bought a compressor, we had lunch together with Luis and his family, we did some sightseeing in Antofagasta, we got lessons on how to check the car and how the 4WD works, we slept in the garage, had breakfast with other overlanders (the term used for people traveling by car, moto, truck, … overland) that were also waiting for spare parts, … but the most memorable of all was how Luis took us to the beach and learned us how to drive in the sand. He showed us that our car is even capable to drive in sand dunes, which was a crazy adventure!

With the guidance of Luis, Benjamin drove off a 60m steep sand dune full speed, while I was in the back trying to keep my eyes open and wishing to survive :-) . And back up again, and back down again, and so on… Luis made his point clear: our car can do way more than we thought. We were reassured! (No worries, we have video footage for our next movie!)

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Back on the road, with some more desert kilometers on the radar, before we would reach our main northern destination: San Pedro de Atacama. There we met Daniel (a guy from Philadelphia whom we met in the south of Chile) and Maike (his German girlfriend) and over some pisco sours and mojitos we discussed our plans for the next days. They are travelling by motorcycle but as the roads in Atacama and into Bolivia are very bad, they joined us for a few days in the car.

First day (Recovering from a slight headache, is it the altitude to blame?! Or the mojitos?!) we discovered Valle de la Luna, with moonlike landscapes, crazy sand dunes, salt mines, … and the Salar de Atacama, a salt flat with beautiful lagoons where flamingos feed on the small brine shrimp.

Did you know?

Flamingos get their pink color because they eat brine shrimps, which hold a lot of beta-carotene, the same substance that can be found in carrots.

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The second day we visited Laguna Miscanti, had lunch in San Pedro de Atacama and drove up in the afternoon to sleep above 4000m and visit the El Tatio geysers the next morning at sunset. As Daniel is a great guitar player and singer, and Maike a wonderful cook & fire wood spotter along the way, the evenings camping were very enjoyable. The nights at these altitudes were unfortunately less enjoyable as both Benjamin and I suffered from headaches, shortage of breath & insomnia.
Flashback to our Himalaya days :-) .

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On day 3, after our visit to the geysers, we turned back to San Pedro de Atacama to prepare everything for our ride and border crossing into Bolivia that day.

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Time to say goodbye to Chile for a while, which has been so great! Now that we drove from south to north, we can say that Chile has it all: volcanoes, glaciers, lakes, lush forests, desert, salt flats, lagoons, geysers, … But what stole our heart the most, were the friendly people we met along the way. Chileans do everything and beyond to help you out, to give you a great time, … We really hope we can take a bit of this attitude back home!

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