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On to the Pacific Coast, CH


September 24th, 2018

About 10km after we left San Pedro de Atacama, Tigger sputtered and didn’t have much power AGAIN!  We have to believe it’s the Bolivian gas as pretty much everything else has been ruled out.  We made it up the one long hill and then it was fine but still no power to pass.

Upon arriving to Calama we found a garage to look into the noise in the right front and they determined that the pit-arms had not been greased in a long time and were dry but would need replacing eventually.  They greased them up and sent us to the local Chevy dealer to see about getting new ones – we were not hopeful.  We also emailed the copper mine to see about getting a tour tomorrow – they are free but they only take one busload a day and reservations are by email and they have a wait list as well.

After asking a few people about cell service we figured out which company we wanted (Entel – hopefully the hotspot will work with them in this country unlike Bolivia) and a woman at the garage told Fran they had a store in the mall where the big grocery store was located.

We drove there next, but the Entel shop was not there, turned out it was the “other mall”  but we did our grocery shopping at the Jumbo and got something we needed from the hardware store.

We then drove to the big mall, which has a Lider store (it’s actually a Walmart – same symbol) and found the Entel shop but it was closed due to either not paying their rent or their business license – that wasn’t clear.  So now it meant going downtown; we knew where it was but also dreaded having to find parking.

Doug dropped off Fran in front of the shop and went to park; turned out no ID is needed for prepaid cell service in Chile and the hotspot worked so another thing off the list of to do’s.

We then tried to find a car wash (so dusty after the Laguna route) without any success so we went to the campground we had picked it.  Camping Casa de Valle was not fancy but it had power, bathrooms with finicky showers and Wi-Fi at the reception area.  When we pulled in lo and behold, Angela & Graham were here!  They had tried a few more places in San Pedro to camp without success and decided to hit a city to get groceries and laundry done before going south and back into Argentina.

Doug went out again to try and get some other things done including meeting a repairman for the hot water heater and Fran stayed behind using the WiFi and then chatting with A&G till Doug returned after 8.  He’d had success on the hot water heater but no luck with a car wash.

Tuesday morning, we’d heard back from the mine tour office and were told we were on the wait list. A&G decided they’d like to come with us.  Doug went out again in the morning to run some errands with Tigger while Fran stayed behind on the Internet.  A&G went shopping and we all got together at noonish, had the camp ground owner call us a taxi and we went to the tour office to wait.  We almost made it after they had the reserved people on and a few people ahead of us on wait list – they had ONE spot left; darn.  Oh well, we tried. We took a cab back and Fran emailed again trying for tomorrow.  30 minutes later she had a reply and after another email and a phone call we were now booked but A&G wanted to hit the road so we’ll go alone.

Around five we started happy hour and three hours later it got too cold to be sitting outside!

so in we went for the night.

We are still in the Atacama Desert, and it gets quite nice during the day – mid 20’sC/70’sF but by dawn it does drop down within range of freezing and we are putting heat on in the mornings.  Our cab driver yesterday told us that last time it rained here was FOUR years ago and for about a half hour!!!

Despite Chile being more expensive, there are perks:  good roads with signs and shoulders, proper traffic lights, decent sidewalks, malls and better drivers!   There are even Walmarts – although as mentioned above, they are called “Lider” here.  Camping has been costing us about 15,000 CLP which is about $22; we are not used to paying over $20.  There is definitely less garbage around as well.  Oh and a sign of a more affluent country:  large motor homes – not rigs like ours but 35-40′ long ones.

Angela and Graham left this morning and we did chores for the morning and then walked over to the mall for lunch before taking a taxi to the Codelco Mine Office for our tour.

Today, there was only a half a bus worth of people for the tour which made things move faster and we were on our way about 1:30.  We were given orange vests and helmets to wear and it took about 20 minutes to reach the world’s largest open pit mine at Chuqicamata where mining began in 1915.  Currently, the “pit” measures 5 kms wide by 3.2 km long by 1.1 km deep (3.2 mi wide by 1.9 mi long by .7 mi deep).

The first stop on the tour was the former town where all the miners lived.  This was closed over a period of time between 2004 and 2008 but in its heyday, contained everything the miners and their families needed including schools, shops, theatres, fire and police departments and a hospital; at its peak, there was a population of 25,000 which was said to have a Chilean/America/mining culture.  A US company owned the mine in the early days and eventually the Chilean government took it over. They town was closed for health reasons: too close to the pit, so too much dust.  Currently approximately 20,000 people work here at this location which is open 24/7, 365 days a year.

The mine is located at 2800 m / 9100′ and here they called mine dumps “cakes”.  This mine also contains the world’s largest roasting plant.  It produces 190,000 tons of copper per year after moving 400,000 tons of rock each day!  Now in order to mine, a great deal of water is needed but here they are in the driest place on earth!  Water comes from the snow runoff in the nearby volcanoes and they reuse about 70% of it.

satellite image of the mine

Some of the world’s biggest trucks and shovels are/have been used here and some of them cost over $5M!  They have also begun mining underground here and the operation will to switching over completely in 2020.  After this, it is expected that the Rio Tinto Copper mine near Salt Lake will surpass this pit in size.  They currently have a tunnel 7.5 km (4 mi) long to access this type of mining.  They claim the entire periodic table can be found in this pit and they do produce some gold, silver, platinum and uranium.We were taken back to the office by 4:30 and took a cab back to the mall to pick up a few things and another back to Tigger.

Fun fact:  Chile is trying to get rid of plastic bags; some stores don’t even offer them and we noticed at grocery stores the limit per customer is two – this will apparently keep decreasing until they are no longer offered. 

So Thursday morning, we got up early and hit the road; we wanted to try and make it 600 km / 400 mi to Arica – almost on the border with Peru; we know, lofty plans in South America but the roads are so much better here in Chile, it seemed possible.  Our hope was also that Tigger would have little or better yet, no issues with hesitation anymore now that we had less hills to climb, better gas and Doug had added some gas cleaner to the tank. We will still buy a new fuel pump on our next trip home, but until then, we believe we’re good (please hold thumbs for us!).

About a third of the way there, we rethought why we wanted to go almost to the Peruvian border and after checking out the sights up there, decided it was not worth it.  One of the reasons it had been on our list was a national park with viscachas – the Andean rabbit looking creature which is actually part of the chinchilla family but as we’d seen one on our tour in San Pedro, we didn’t need to add nearly 800 km / 500 mi to the trip.

So our final destination today would be Iquique on the Pacific coast but first we stopped at the Atacama Gigante – a giant geocliff

and then at the ghost town of Humberstone.  This town is an abandoned nitrate mining town much older than Chuquicamata and sure looked that way.  It was a underwhelming to us as we’ve seen many a ghost town and most of this was falling part.

We reached Iquique mid afternoon driving nearly 400 km / 250 mi (we cannot remember when we drove that much in a day let alone in half a day!) with no hesitation trouble and our first port of call was to get our propane tank filled.  Propane is near impossible to get in Bolivia as a foreigner so we’d be careful about using our stove, hot water and furnace so we’d have enough to cook and keep warm in the Salar and on the Laguna Route.  We did “good” as we still had over a quarter of tank since filling up back in Cusco, Peru.  Filling up was easy thanks to iOverlander and then we went to our chosen camp spot, Altazor Flight Park – a paragliding school that offers camping and a hostel (which is made of shipping containers).  Here we had bathrooms, water, power (which didn’t like our transformer so we just used a power cord for our laptops and relied on solar for the rest) and three WiFi networks one of which was the fastest we’ve had in South America!  We even have an ocean view and life is good!

It’s a bit cooler here on the coast during the day; temps reach only high teens/low 20’s C and around 70 F during the day; there’s always a breeze and at night it doesn’t get cold.  It seems to cloud over come late afternoon and so far we’ve had one night with no sunset and one with only a fair one.

Friday, we took the bus into the city to check out the “free zone”.  Iquique is a port city and there’s a section of town that is supposed to have no tax.  The bus took us through the city (so much better than driving Tigger through) and in just under an hour, we arrived at “Zofri”.  It’s a HUGE mall with lot and lots of shops and a food court.  There are lots of duty free liquor stores and Doug found Sambuca which he’d not been able to find since Peru and we bought some new Mylar covers for our truck windows.  We had lunch in the food court, indulging in burgers at Pedro, Juan & Diego’s

And caught the bus back to Altazor.  Enroute Doug got off at the Lider to pick up a few groceries and Fran returned to the fast internet.

Saturday was a chore day including cleaning out the storage boxes and seeing what, if anything, we had left in our suitcase from our last trip home so we could begin a new shopping list.  Doug figured out what kind of pit arms Tigger needs and we’ll order those too.  It helped that we had lots of picnic tables to spread out on and the boxes are now dust free and better organized.

Sunday, since we are camped at a Flight Centre for paragliding, Doug booked himself a flight and was taken up to the take off zone around 10:45.

over Iquique and the highways above the city
along the coast now

He returned by one after landing near the beach (he had to find his own way back!).  We then took the bus back into the city to check out Iquique’s few sites:  the  main plaza called Plaza Prat with a lovely clock tower

The pedestrian street, Calle Baquedano,

and the beaches

We walked along the ocean front on and off a boardwalk.  The water was going to be way too cold for us to venture in – we saw surfers in full wet suits and only kids playing in the water.  The main big beach seemed quite nice but this is no central America and Chile is not known for its beaches but we so love being near the ocean – it just feels right

Then walked to Mickey Dee’s (first one in months) and had a McFlurry and a drink before catching a taxi back to Tigger.

Our campsite in Iquique

As we had great WiFi here, a nice view and good bathrooms/showers, we decided to stay an extra day or two.

Tuesday morning we headed out to fill the gas tank and the fridge, then we chilled, read, walked and planned our upcoming route.  It looks like we may be doing a lot of wild camping over the next two weeks so staying here to be all caught up internet-wise seems like a good plan.