Leaving Perú took but a moment- I even stopped and had a leisurely breakfast at one of the stalls nearby.
Entering Chile took five hours of queueing- evidently as a consequence of industrial action on the part of the Chileno border staff.

Peru and Chile have been to war over the Atacama- but not in living memory. Nevertheless- Chile seems prepared to defends itself. Bunkers close to the border (‘Ventanas en la tierra!’ I was told), mines, and a military presence that .. while not excessive, can hardly be with any other purpose. Mining is a massive industry- nitrate and iodine extraction having been consigned to history, huge copper mines seem to supply much of Chile’s wealth.

I stocked up on food and water in Arica, and cycled off for my first experience of the Atacama desert.

A gentle climb, passing the largest coca-cola logo in the world (a geoglyph in itself- I can’t decide if putting it there us an abomination or a good place to hide such a thing) and descent into Chaca canyon. The canyon floor looks almost lush and verdant from above – it is so only by comparison; the vegetation is sparse and thorny. The posada in the canyon was closed- I’m not sure if permanently or not.

A long climb from the bottom of the canyon up to 1600m- by halfway up, I was nursing a slow puncture on my front wheel (not surprising given the ragged state of that tyre after Peru) and my rear tyre was again trying to escape through the spoke holes. My front tyre was easily patchable, but the combination of tyre patches and rim tape on the rear was proving unequal to the task. I limped up to the km2008 posada at the top of the hill- daylight, food, and coffee would help.

The next day, I wasn’t able to fix whatever ailed my rear wheel- I think the particular combination of that narrow rim and relatively wide tyre was the problem, amd was causing it to burst with monotonous regularity. It seemed foolish to press on further into the desert this way, not least as the new rim, spokes and tyres I had ordered from the UK would be arriving with Olivia soon enough.

I met Aldo and Nico- two Chileno lads who’d also had tyre trouble with their camioneta. They weren’t going to Calama, but were able to drop me at the Marie Elena crossroads where I camped overnight, and and got another lift the rest of the way. So in the end I reached Calama a couple of days early- met Olivia (our adventures are the subject of a guest entry), rebuilt my wheel, and eventually got the bus back to the km2008 posada to start again.

The Atacama desert has in theory at least a much harsher climate than the Sechura- most of it has an all but unmeasurable amount of rainfall, and no useful groundwater. There are places where water is evident, but they are rare indeed. It is a bleak and forbidding landscape- even cooled by a breeze, it’s hard to describe just how strong the sun is. That said- cycling through it not unpleasant. Hay paz en el desierto.

Cycling past the posada at Cuya, the road runs next to a riverbed – the wind has carved the sediment into bizarre shapes clearly untouched by water. I was flagged down by Ignacio – he was driving in the other direction, but had cycled this way before. ‘The real desert starts here! ‘ he warned, and gave me some water.

I continued south – camping in the desert us unproblematic, save for the need to be careful about water. Thus far, this hasn’t been that difficult, with sufficiently frequent truckstops. Sometimes there is a haar – a gentle mist apparently drifting from the sea (the closest to rain that ever happens) – but most of the time the stars at night are clear in a way I’ve rarely seen.
The air at night is cool and dry, and there are no animals evident, not even insects.

I passed the oasis town of Huara, and turned for the coast at Humberstone. (abandoned nitrate mining town- home to 3700 people as recently as 1960, now a faintly spooky museum)

Cycling directly westward was a little harder- the wind coming from the Pacific can be quite strong. Nestled into a small strip of low lying coast is Iquique- a good place for paragliding and surfing it seems, and quite a large town.

My route is directly south for now, along the Pacific coast – bound for Antofagasta.