Thursday, January 23, 2014

Chile Norte Grande Salt pan

During our time in El Salvador we had discovered that there was a Salar (Salt Lake) about 100km to the east.  We headed out on the good salt roads and before we knew it were weaving through a valley between amazing coloured mountains.  We passed neglected mining houses and started climbing higher and higher.  The temperatures also started to dip, and we were in a way happy for this taking a chance having bought pieces of meat for dinner. 
Somewhere along the line we had missed our turn off, and were happy to see some locals pulling purple flowered plants from the ground.  We asked them where the Salar was and were happy to hear that it was ‘only’ 5km down the road.  This landed up being 20km but nevertheless we arrived. It was an incredible sight, a big white salt pan with dam in between a long mountain range in the distance, although hidden by big grey clouds.  We stopped in and admired a few flamingos in the dam before heading towards the desert to find a place for a very late lunch.  Luck was on our side, we found an excavation site off the road which was well hidden and a good supply of firewood.  Assuming it would be a very cold night we figured this excavation would be good protection from the wind, hidden from sight and we could make a fire to braai our meat – Sold!  The evening was spent in awe of the silence that surrounded us, bar from the occasional donkey calls in the distance.  The full moon rose over the clearing mountains and we lapped up the heat from the fire a little worried about heading into the cold tent!!
Vultures every where like our indian mynahs 

Salt Lake

Altitude making the bikes a little unhappy !!

just chilling !!

Nothing like an old truck filter for an improvised braai grill !!

It gets a little chilly at 3500 meters above sea level !

Fire pit



Yummi steaks , grill worked like a treat 
 Being the earlier riser, Nick jumped out of the tent first in the morning and jumped back a step when he realised he was being watched by a curious fox!  Quite a shy creature, but clearly used to man as every time we took something out of a plastic packet it perked its ears and looked closely for potential food.  It was like our pet in the morning laying a few steps away relaxed while we drank our coffee and nibbled on muesli.  The morning views were amazing, snow-capped mountains, volcanoes, white salt pan all against a crystal blue sky!!
What does the fox say??!!

 After the chilly night it was an easy decision that we need to head to lower altitudes.  Wanting to avoid the Ruta 5 we travelled along a very good salt road past many more mining sites.  A short section of the Ruta 5 before turning off along the 37km dirt road to Cifuncho. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we arrived, it was like being in the med with calm seas and white sand.  There were quite a few campers on the beach so we figured we’d join in.  Nick went to get us fresh fish and chips for dinner and we enjoyed watching the stars and the full moon with our toes in the sand.

Top of the world !!

Amazing colours

Fish and chips yummo !!

The med ??!!

 The next morning we couldn’t resist a swim in the sea and were amazed by how many fish, jellyfish, seagulls and pelicans there were.  Children were playing in the water and we landed up only leaving around lunchtime after another delicious fish and chips!  The coastal road took us past the town of Taltal where we filled up with fuel.  The drive thereafter was like a cross between Chapman’s peak and the Wild coast in South Africa. We passed so many beaches that were filled with tents and locals enjoying the spectacular day.  Finding camp that night was a little more challenging as the road had become more rough without many offlets into the dunes.  After going up and over one dune we decided to flatten the ground and set up camp without finding much shelter from the wind.  The tent needed to be weighed down with sand as the wind was so strong and after a quick meal we jumped into bed to take shelter.

The wind had died down in the morning and it turned out to be an great spot we had chosen.  We had seen quite a few cars come along the road both during the late afternoon and evening and assumed the road should improve again. So we headed along the very rocky, rumple stripped and sandy road and after 80km thought we may actually be on the wrong road!! It was quite strange to see these make shift shelter homes come out of nowhere and many of them had a pack of dogs that were thoroughly excited by our motorbikes.  A few times we had to wait for the dogs either to get bored of us or for the owners to shoo them away because they can be quite aggressive and persistent as you drive past!!
The ride was probably the hardest we’ve had yet in Chile, and we both wished that we had brought our kidney belts to help with the vibrations and jerks our bodies were enduring.  This was all numbed suddenly when we saw about 15-20 dolphins jumping and swimming south! It was an incredible sight and we are so lucky to have seen them!
Route 1 ...bumpety bumpety all the way !!!

 Eventually we saw the road that would take us back to Ruta 5 and on to Antofogasta.  At the freeway we made a detour south to see the sculptured Mano del Desierto, a really impressive yet arbitrary artform in the middle of the desert.
The wind towards Antofogasta was crazy and we were flung around when either a truck passed us in the oncoming lane or overtook us.  At some stages we had to slow down to 60km to make sure we could control the swerving in our lane…not for the faint hearted! 
Antofogasta is the second largest city in Chile, but there are not as many high rise buildings as in Santiago.  We found a great hospedaje and were lucky enough to take our bikes off the main road and into the open court area right ourside our room.  We have now managed to print a copy of our padron for the bikes, organise international insurance for the Mercosur areas from Penta Security, buy spares for the motorbikes, stock up on a few more supplies and catch up on the blog. 


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