Chile is NOT chilly (in the north!)
During our last few days in Colombia we met an Argentine couple who had a farm North of Buenos Aires. They invited us to stay when we reached that area and we exchanged WhatsApp Numbers.
A couple of weeks later we received a message and they gave us some great advice on the most beautiful places to visit in Argentina.
The first on the List was the Paso De Jama mountain pass between Chile and Argentina so that is where we were heading.
To get there however meant a 700km ride through the Chilean desert, something we were not looking forward to after our previous week through the Peruvian desert.
So with gritted teeth we headed off from Arica early in the morning prepared for a monotonous ride.
It soon became apparent that Chilean desert was different! For starters it was clean, and the appearance and altitude of the desert changed every 50 kms or so.
Instead of being monotonous and boring the time flew past as new new sites continuous peeked our interest.
There were lots of dust devils and also petroglyphs that were thousands of years old.
After around 400kms we came across a customs checkpoint in the middle of the desert, we'd like to say it was a town but it was more like a cluster of shacks with a large impound car park full of cars and trucks so covered in sand they looked like elaborate sand castles.
The Adunana (customs) officer who checked our motorcycle import papers told us this was one of the driest places in the world and that it never rained there. Luckily all our paper were in order; because while we hadn't actually seen and motorcycle sandcastles, we had no doubt that they existed somewhere in that carpark!
At this point it was hot BUT we were kind of used to the heat by now so thought nothing of it. we got back to our bikes the temperature gauge was off the scale!!
We couldn't help thinking that the people is the customs industry most disliked probably got posted out here ...I mean you would have to be crazy to chose to live in this place. It was so desolate that there were no towns, no shops, no fuel stations for hundreds of kms. At one point we got so low on gas we had to stop and use our reserve can of fuel for the first time in almost 7 months.
We eventually came to a mining town called Calama and found a fuel station. It was a rough around the edges places but we weren't expecting to see a passed out druggie on the forecourt in full sun! We retrospectively found out some fellow travellers lost all the bags from their motorcycles in this town from a secure and guarded carpark!
Shortly after Calama the road started to climb into the mountains again. We had booked a room for a couple of nights in a town called San Pedro de Catalana, and as normal we knew nothing about the place or what to expect.
We reached the a brow in the desert and snow capped volcanoes and mountains came into view
...wow, wow WOW!
We were not expecting this; yes we knew we would be heading over the Andes but... well, not this!
It was splendid, it was awe inspiring and it knocked our socks off!
It struck us at that moment ...this is what we came for; moments like this and views like this. our hearts felt like they might explode with happiness.
San Pedro was a touristy but still quaint town with low level buildings traditionally built with mud and straw. The town square was lined with enormous peppercorn trees and on the Sunday there were traditional festivities going on with a ceremony in the town square that involved burning of leaves and an offering, and then later in the day a procession and signing and dancing.
The hostel we stayed in was perfect and because Chile was the most expensive place we had stayed for over 3.5 months we opted to cook in the kitchen there.
It was lovely to be able to cook again!
A lot of hostels are like this with an enclosed courtyard where you can securely park the motorcycles and seating.