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Continuing South on the North Coast, CH


October 3rdth, 2018

We left Iquique and began the approximately 400 km south along the Ruta 1 – coastal highway to Antofagasta – the largest city in northern Chile and a major port.  The Ruta 1 was in good shape and with two stops we made it by early afternoon.

One of the stops we made was a at the tiny village of Punta Arenas where there was a huge rock off shore covered with pelicans

After a lunch stop in a rest area (yes, Chile has pull out rest areas on their highways!) we passed the turn off to Mejillones – the largest electricity producing plant in north Chilean – coal based and this was the only time the highway did not follow the coast.  Shortly before reaching our next stop, we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn – there was this sign

and a monument but the latter was on the other side of the highway so we didn’t stop but we later saw this photo of it:

We then stopped just north of Antofagasta where “La Portada” is located.  This is a symbol of the city, actually on all their buses and more.

The cliffs were cool and after they closed the beach recently, they claim more wildlife has returned although the only thing we saw was vultures.  It had been mostly overcast all day and here it was very windy and on the cool side.

We arrived at a wild camping spot on the south side of the city; it’s a parking lot on the beach (Playa Paraiso) and we parked and got all locked up tight and wandered over the Lider mall to check the movie theatre for a possible movie night (we struck out) and then walked into El Centro to check out the main plaza.  The clock tower in the centre of the square was donated by England and was a replica of Big Ben.

We stopped at a bakery and bought some treats; this is how they wrapped a take out order:

We are still in the Atacama Desert here and it continues to be so very dry.  The coast is pretty barren and a nice looking beach is rare but the ocean was on view most of the way down here.   Today was our first mostly cloudy day in weeks.

Thursday morning we dawdled a little and decided to try and go to McDonald’s for breakie for a change.  Good thing we were more or less up and ready by 8ish as the parking lot began to fill and the attendant had to stop a few cars for blocking our ability to get out  (we were parked horizontally along the curb and a car parked right behind us so he had her move).

We got to what we’d read online was a 24 hour Mickey Dee’s but Doug went to check it and it only opened at nine and they did not serve breakfast; we ate in the rig and then went in hoping to get wifi for a while; was not to be so we left.

Our first stop today was the Ruins of Huanchaca – which are the ruins of a silver foundry that belong to the Bolivian Huanchaca Company back at the turn of the 20th century.  The company extracted minerals from the Potosi mines back in Bolivia and during its time was the most modern in South America.

The museum of the desert, which is on the same site, opened a ten and we spent maybe a half hour touring it; it has a lot of info on the mining history of the desert (a great deal about nitrite mining) and some of its other features; lakes, salars, mountains, rocks and the celestial bodies which can be viewed so clearly here in the desert; much of this we knew about already.

Fun fact: the Mars Roamer: Nomad was protyped  here in the Atacama since the conditions here are deemed similar and team of Americans and Chileans tested it here.

We left Antofagasta before noon and drove to:

Mano Del Desierto – The Hand of the Desert.

This is a spot that has long been on our radar to see; it’s so cool, the middle of nothing, a hand just juts out of the sand….

It was constructed by the Chilean sculptor Mario Irarrazabal.  Its exaggerated size is said to emphasize human vulnerability and helplessness.  It stands 11 metres 36’ tall and is made of concreate with an iron and concrete base.  It was funded by the Corporacion Pro Antofagasta and unveiled in 1992.

We found a spot behind the hand in a gully to camp and stayed here to be able to capture the hand in different lighting.

Unfortunately we were not able to get sunset pics as it clouded over as the afternoon progressed.  However that night before going to bed, we went out for a final pee and the sky had cleared and we saw the milky way!


After brekkie we hit the road and made our way further south along the Ruta 5 (the PanAm in Chile) and continue to be in the utter dryness of the Atacama however we are seeing more hills/mountains then sand although we continue to see so many “rock gardens”.

We made a stop at a cemetery near and old mine site that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere but it had a lot of graves.

Then we actually drove across the old border between Chile and Bolivia as well.

We also stopped at a roadside shrine where tribute was paid to Germans who worked at a local mine:

Our destination today is the Pan de Azúcar National Park (sugar loaf).

As we enter the park at the northern end, we begin to see bushes and shrubs and dry creeks/river beds.

We attempted to go down a dirt road to a mirador called Los Lomitas but after 2km it became a trail to a lookout 10km away so we made a U turn.

We did go down a road further ahead to a trailhead for a 2.5km walk to a lookout over the ocean.

We saw several birds

Various cacti

and guanacos before reaching the end of the trail.

From the mirador at the end of the trail we could see the little fishing village and the island

before the fog began rolling in

We camped at the trailhead that night for free.

Tomorrow we will drive to the coastal part of the park on our way further south.

Saturday we awoke to pretty thick fog which dissipated somewhat by the time we had brekkie.  We had hoped for sun to check out the park’s beaches, but it is early spring and this area is known for its fog; after all that’s why there’s actually plant life in this part of the Atamaca, right?

Anyway, we headed back to the main park road, stopping in at the Park Office where there’s a good view of the island

to pay the entrance fee only to be told today was National Parks Day and the parks are all free today!  There are, of course, boat trips to the island but we plan to visit a larger park further south and the weather was not great anyway, so we passed.

Outside the interpretive centre was a cactus garden where many of the types were on display:

The park is not busy and we pretty much had it to ourselves.  We stopped to see a couple of beaches, especially the lovely Playa Blanca

And actually walked down to the water, and Fran tested the temperature

We continued on through the park and came across a field of Cushion Cactus

and then exited the park at the south end.

We stopped in the town of Chañaral for gas (we’ve been trying to keep the tank above half so the fuel pump doesn’t have to work so hard until we can replace it) where the employees were both from Venezuela.  On our way out of town, there was a guy with a sign (saying he was from Venezuela) and he was looking for a ride south so we picked him up.  He was only 18 but quite the artist; he gave us this picture in gratitude for the ride:

We dropped him outside the town of Caldera:

(we just had to stop – and there was a grocery store here of a substantial size to pick up a few things) and then drove a little further to Bahia Inglesa (English Bay!) which is known for its seafood, especially scallops.  We found some beach parking where we understood we could spend the night and went to find a place for lunch.

It was after two so we were quite hungry and Fran was really looking forward to scallops.  Well, despite the fact that the menu said scallops in English next to a Spanish work, it turns out only Chileans use the normal word for scallops to mean oysters!  Doug realized this right after we ordered so he caught the waiter and she changed her order to giant prawns as it turned out they didn’t serve scallops at all.

We returned to Tigger, went for a walks and Fran took pics of the town.

It’s a cute little town on one side of the bay but the boardwalk extends a good way around and we are parked near the end for a more quiet night.

The sun never really came out so we’re pretty sure the town did not show itself off in the best light but the bay is pretty and we actually saw people in the water and a few in bikinis (!) despite the cool temperature and lack of sun.  It may be hit 16C /61F but there was no way we were going in.

We are now about 800km / 500mi from Iquique, the furthest north we went on the coast.  There were still about 300km of Chile north of Iquique that we did not explore and we are still in the Atacama Desert! It’s quite difficult to explain the vastness that this dry area stretches especially when you consider that the coast of Peru is a further extension of it all pretty much up to the border with Ecuador.  The difference is that Peru is much wider than Chile and the countryside changes as you go east into the Andes and beyond; Chile is too narrow so when you reach the Andes, you then find yourself in Bolivia in this part of the country anyway; obviously further south, you end up in Argentina.  We’ve been in Chile for just over two weeks and we’ve already done 1400km/900mi but barely scratched the surface.  This distance is only possible because of Chile’s good highway infrastructure.  Speed limits around often 100kmph/60mph and there are no topes (speed bumps) on the highways.

Oh, and also, we are now 27 degrees below the Equator and the days are getting longer since it’s spring now; sunset happens after 7:30 pm instead of 6ish like it did back in Sucre (also there was a time change as mentioned in our last post).  When you think about it, we’ve come quite a long way; we began at 49 degrees above the equator in Victoria, BC Canada.  However, we are headed to 55 degrees below!  Still a “little” ways to go yet.  🙂