Cycling on the Mars
Along the Coast

October 14 & 15, 2017

After taking a few days off in the big city of Calama, we headed to the driest place on planet Earth.

What happened…

Andrew writes: We had a couple of really nice days off in Calama, probably the most North American city we’ve been in since we left Mexico. We had a nice daily routine, which included going to the bakery around the corner and we even made a trip to the mall! It’s just like being in a mall back home.

When it came time to ride, we left early Sunday morning and up, up, up we rode high above the town, past one of the deepest copper mines in the world. The riding was really nice, and even when we lost the shoulder at the top, it was still a nice 60km descent. We stopped for lunch at a crossroads with the Pan-American Highway (Hwy#5), we had our own food but the owner was happy to let us sit and eat in the shade and she sold us some icy-cold Cokes. Being the desert and all, it was hot. It was also starting to get windy, head-windy. We didn’t ride for very much longer after lunch because of the wind, and there wasn’t a lot of shelter out there, but we figured it out and enjoyed a nice night camping out under the hydro lines (of which there are many!).

We knew we had a pretty easy ride ahead of us the following morning, as it would be only a short climb before we’d have a 25km descent to Tocopilla. Ahh, at long last, we’ve reached the coast again! It smells great! It smells like…garbage? oil? seaweed? rotting stuff? I dunno, it was just nice to be near the water. Walking around town later on, we saw some kids carrying around boogie-boards so there must be some surfing nearby. Maybe we’ll check it out.

Amanda writes: The Atacama Desert (Spanish: Desierto de Atacama) is a plateau in South America, covering a 1,000-kilometre strip of land on the Pacific Coast, west of the Andes mountains. It is the driest non-polar desert in the world. According to estimates, the Atacama Desert proper occupies 105,000 square kilometres, or 128,000 square kilometres if the barren lower slopes of the Andes are included. Most of the desert is composed of stony terrain, salt lakes (salares), sand, and felsic lava that flows towards the Andes. It hasn’t rained here in 500 years and our skin can attest to that. Something that shocked me was how many power lines there were. The entire landscape was covered with hundreds of lines; incredible! I wasn’t able to find actual stats online but some information suggested that the power generated by plants on the Coast is then sent along these lines we’re riding past to the dozens of mines in Chile. As Andrew mentioned we rode past one of the largest mines in the world which was like a city in itself. The massive and many mines are interesting to see. Another thing that was causing us a bit more grief that we had expected was the dryness. Not as it relates to water consumption as the salt flats in Bolivia taught us we’d be thirsty. It was the way our skin and bodies reacted to the dryness. I’ll spare you the gory details but it involves some uncomfortable chafing, sun burns, dry skin that won’t heal and just all around discomfort. The feature image of this blog post is pretty much what our skin looks like right now too.

The days rides were awesome. It was so nice to be on a nicely paved road and traffic was pretty light. In spite of the headwinds we made really good time and the cycling was really enjoyable. Our camp out in the desert was really peaceful even with the little buzz from the nearby lines. The next day as we came around the corner and saw the Coast I just felt tingles. I’ve loved the Andes mountains for so many months but now seeing the Ocean before us just felt like home. We searched intentionally for a hotel near the beach even though it wasn’t right in town and settled in for a couple of days before heading to our final destination in Chile before we set out to for the next phase of our journey.

The aerial view of our rides:

Today’s Photographs

Cycling on the Mars
Along the Coast