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(96) Cheerio to Chile

February 17, 2015

It has been hard to write these last few blogs, and spend time re-capping our experience back in Chile. But it has been nice re-thinking of the time we spent together, and what Sharon had achieved. I’m posting this on the day I return to Chile to visit an amazing family, and continue my ride northward to visit the site where Sharon lost her life.

It may seem strange to some that I am continuing to write these blogs, and being almost 10 months ago, but to do what Sharon did and to be has strong as she was was truly incredible. I find it hard to come to terms with losing Sharon, and going back is my only way I can find of moving forward. I just hope it helps some of you to.

 

Waking up in Chile after completing Argentina felt amazing and such an achievement. Adding to this, being so close to the end of Chile felt like we were really starting to make progress. We were however not going to rush this bit, with it being so stunning, it was worth savouring the experience, and looking forward to a few rest days in San Pedro De Atacama.

Sunday 16th April

Heading to bed we checked the temperature just after sunset, and it had already reached -3. It was only going to get colder, so being fore warned we rapped up and fell asleep. We both woke around 3am, and needing to pop out for a quick wee wasn’t something either of us wanted to do, but gave us chance to check the temperature. Both our bottles in the tent were frozen solid, so it wasn’t a surprise to find it was now -12. We snuggled down even more glad there was no wind and woke with the sun starting to rise. Tim popped a of couple bags out of the tent to find it was now -15. When we say popped, he threw the bags out, and said something we couldn’t write on the blog about how cold it was.

Tim quickly zipped up the tent and waited half an hour for the sun to warm the tent, and clear the ice crystals that had formed. It wasn’t long before the temperature was at 0 and we could slowly get warm by the ever rising sun. DSC_0625

Breakfast seemed to take ages but being sat next to a huge volcano and other multi coloured mountains, we were in no rush.

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We set off down the rough track, with the police check point in the distance, when another salar came into view.

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It was just an amazing landscape.

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From the plateau it looked like a little hill, little did we know!

With what looked like a little slope up to the Chilean police checkpoint, it turned out to be more of a climb, but we soon met one of the border police who was very nice. We chatted for a while whilst our passports were being checked.

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With 350 metres still to climb we slowly made our way up to our highest point on this pass Abra El Laco at 4,578 metres.

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 It seemed to take ages to climb but we didn’t mind

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Sharon nearing the summit

Although the gravelly steep road was in good condition, at this altitude it made it hard going, but with numerous high passes under our belts we were both pleased at how we had acclimatised.


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At the top of Abra El Laco at 4,578 metres.

We took a picture at the unmarked summit before descending into the next incredible multi coloured valley, all surrounded by volcanos.

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It was magical. The road was rough on the descent, which gave us an excuse to take more pictures and take in the scenery. We had been told about about a mining camp called Mina El Laco on this side of the mountain, and soon spotted it off in the distance.

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We arrived at a few buildings which we had been told we could get water. We were greeted by the resident fox, then Oscar a Colombian and Alex a Chilean who told us we could stay.

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These 2 seemed quite content to sit and wait for their breakfast

Seeing as we had only done 11 miles we said our thanks, but we needed to continue. We asked if we could fill our water to which he lead us to a large water barrel where we filled our water bag. He told us we must stay as it was getting very cold and wouldn’t have time to find a place to stay warm.

The more we thought about it the more appealing it became, and so we wheeled our bikes inside and were shown a room.

Knowing Manu, the Belgium cyclist couldn’t be far behind, we told Oscar and kept an eye out for him. About an hour later Manu arrived, who also said he must keep going, but after some persuasion, he changed his mind and ended up staying.

We could see the same determination in him as there was in us, and once he had decided to stay we could see his body relax, and start to rest. It was amazing to see how driven we were, and focused on getting over the pass, but had been great to have been convinced to stop.

We soon made ourselves at home and while we had a few moments of spare time backed up all the new photos on to our hard drive and put things on charge. It was cold in the building, but once the heater was put on and we had had a well needed shower we were on top of the world literally.

We joined Alex in the kitchen, who chatted to us and told us about the mine and that there was an active lava flow 1,500 metres below us. As we were at 4,400 metres that lava flow was 2,900 metre above sea level. The camp was there for the mine which was for extraction of iron, and was on standby for when their other mine was finished or the demand for Iron ore went up. We had a brilliant evening and was great to hear about their lives here on the altiplano and also at there home. It had also made us relax and rest when we really needed it especially as we didn’t know we needed it.

Monday 17th April

After a great evening we went to bed much warmer then we would have been outside. The only difference was we were at 4,400 metres so trying to sleep was proving a bit harder. We would drift off then wake gasping for air. It wasn’t so bad as we still got a good night’s sleep. We joined Manu and Alex for breakfast and chatted about the route ahead. It looked cold outside and were happy to leave it for a while longer before setting off. With the tv on in the dinning area the news came on saying there had been a massive fire in valparaiso. 2,900 homes had gone up in flames and with the onset of winter it couldn’t have happened at a worse time.

Valparaiso was a beautiful city full of colour amazing art and amazing people and real shame this disaster had happened.

What was great to see was everyone was helping each other donating food and offering practical help, this just showed what can be achieved when we all work together.P1120515

such a lovely bunch of guys

We wheeled our bikes out into the cold air and said our thanks to Alex, who had not only given us great company and a place to stay, but also the well needed rest we didn’t realise we needed.

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From the moment we went outside we were taken back by this incredible scenery, with vivid pastel colours sprouting out of the many volcanos that surrounded us, the brown moraines that clung to their edges and the almost electric blue sky with the hint of black from being so high.

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The road was hard work, with lots of sand on inclines. As Manu wanted to go his own pace we headed off, descending down to the long road that followed the edge of the first salt lake of Lago Tuyaito at 4,050m.

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 we felt like we were in a magical land

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The stunning lake Tuyajto

It was stunning to see, and we were looking forward to the next one, Agua Caliente, as it had a hot spring. With a short climb we rounded the corner to see the Salar spread out in front of us, with volcanos as a back drop, and vacuna’s grazing in the sparse yellow grass.

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 We just sat amazed at what we were looking at

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Being lunchtime, we turned off the road and headed down to the edge of the Salar and out of the wind, only to find a lovely family having their lunch. P1120545

We were soon offered red wine, smoked salmon and chicken – what an improvement to soup and pasta!DSC_0789

Shazza in a world of her own, often thinking of home or food

We ate the lot as we were so hungry, and wished the family a good trip. It was so nice taking a break with good food and company, and in such an incredible place.

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We finished lunch and climbed the short steep climb up to the road, and continued on along side the Salar before the road turned right away from the salar and continued to climb.

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By this time the wind had picked up which made the climb harder, still being on a gravel road we spotted Manu’s tyre tracks meaning he must of passed us while we were supping wine.

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The climb was hard work but during it a Brazilian couple stopped to give us some chocolate and water!

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 climbing away from the Salar 

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Tim loves chocolate!!

We felt so lucky to meet such amazing people and being well fed. The road continued to meander up and down and Shaz had a puncture which felt like hard work and tiring in the wind and being still at 4,000 metres.

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The scenery was incredible which made up for the tough riding and we finally found ourselves going downhill on Tarmac! The downhill didn’t last too long and it undulated which felt hard work.

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Vacunas grazing out in the harsh expanse of needle grass

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We were hoping to camp low to reduce the risk of another freezing night, but as the sun started to set we had give in and pitched the tent still at 3,900 metres.DSC_0896

The last couple of hours of light was stunning but the cold was starting to creep in

The temperature soon dropped into minus’ and had to work hard to cook our dinner before we could snuggle in our tent hoping it wouldn’t get too cold. Since the morning we hadn’t seen Manu even though we kept an eye out for him and so assumed he had camped ahead of us.

Tuesday 18th April

After a much warmer night only dropping to -3 we both slept well. Only disturbed by 1 car that must have thought he was seeing things when he drove past our tent and bikes. When the sun came up this time the tent was much warmer.

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We sat and had breakfast with the sun on our face as the early morning tour groups headed up the way we had come, some asleep others waved and others bemused.

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looking down to the salars and the Atacama desert floor

We set off down the road, and after 3 miles the road dropped towards the town of Socaire and the huge wide valley floor and it’s salt lakes. It was stunning, but being up at 3,900 it was still chilly so still wrapped up we wound our way down into town.DSC_0910

An old mud church in Socaire.

It was a quiet town with a small church and a few tour busses. We stopped to take a look and to buy a couple snacks before continuing to drop to the valley floor at 2,500 metres.

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The long down hill to the desert floor

With a steady descent it was a great feeling going down and felt like we were making progress. The volcanos to our right continued like a line of pawns on a chess board towering above the plateau below.

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This is the active volcano Lascar at 5,550m

With a long straight road to Toconao, it felt like we would never get there. With no shade, and being lunch time,  we spotted a road sign which had enough shade to sit out of the mid day heat and have lunch.

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We sat enjoying the view, and the smoke coming out of one of the volcanos before riding the last few miles to the next town. We picked up enough food for tea along with an ice cream each and sat out side the shop enjoying chocolate for the first time in a week. It was around 3pm and with 30 miles to San pedro we thought it would be good to stop before the town to rest saving a nights accommodation and get ready for the intensity of having hundreds of people around after seeing hardly anyone for the past 9 days.

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The long straight road to san pedro

We rode towards a line of trees and saw there was a free camp spot on our left and pulled in to take a look. It was perfect, and so we wheeled the bikes in pitched the tent and cooked up a feast while fixing a couple punctures and relaxed looking across at the giant Salar as the sun set. Just what we needed.

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Wednesday 19th April

We woke to a chilly morning but much warmer then we had been exposed to in the mountains. We heard the odd vehicle pull in full of tourists heading up to the Salars and Altiplano which was our cue to get up. We soon had breakfast out of the way and the tent packed up, and were making our way out to the road. It was easy going only with a slight headwind, and with 18 miles to go to get to San Pedro we wouldn’t be long before we reached the town. As we reached the outskirts we rode towards 2 Chilean girls and a Colombian guy, sat on the side of the road with bicycle wheels everywhere. We stopped to help and found that both the girls bikes were riddled with holes from the devil thorns. After mending 10 punctures both bikes were ready to go, and very happy to be able to continue with their ride. They were off to Salar Cajar.

We were invited to join them and soon riding out with Dayse and Katherine to the Salar. After another 6 miles we arrived at a car park and walked out to a stunning lake that was like a mirror with sparkling white crystallised salt edges.

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We then made our way to another lake that we could swim in. It was so salty it reminded us of the Dead Sea we had been to several years ago.P1120601

Even though we were in a desert region and very warm, however the water felt freezing, and so took some getting used to the temperature. After a bit of floating, and enjoying this amazing natural sight, we headed back to have a salty shower and start the 12 mile ride in to town.DSC_0977

It was tough for the 2 girls as neither of them had ridden a bike since they were kids so to do 25 miles in the day was tiring. As we got closer to the highway Katherine went into some sand and stopped dead, then ploughed into a earth bank which was mostly made of a fine brown talcum powder like dust. She was covered from head to foot and quite shaken.She was however very good about what had happened and soon was back laughing all be it a little dusty.

Once dusted off we reached the town and found a great place to eat. We ordered steak and chips each only to find it was massive.  At around 500grams of steak and a huge amount of chips, onions and 2 eggs we could hardly move. It had been really good fun and totally unexpected with the girls being great company. We left them in the restaurant and headed off to the immigration as we still hadn’t stamped into the country. Once legally stamped in the next test was to find somewhere to stay. In a tourist town this should be easy but being Easter weekend it wasn’t going to be hard but it would be expensive. The streets were packed with tourists and after the 4th full campsite we arrived at the 5th to hear Yoann call our names. It was great to see him and with 14 tents crammed into a tiny court yard we weren’t sure if we could stay. After some juggling we were given 2 beds in a dorm that were free for one night and a told there would be a space clear for the remainder of our stay. Feeling lucky we had found somewhere and with our friends we could finally relax. We spent the evening with Yoann enjoying a catch up on our ride across Paso Sico and what lay ahead.

While we prepared our tea, Sharon said to Yoann what an amazing pass Paso Sico was, when he looked at her and told her it had nearly broken him. He told Sharon he couldn’t believe how strong she was, and that she was still smiling and loved it. I was so proud of her, and to see someone like Yoann who had achieved so much and was so strong tell Sharon that, and see her glow showing a massive sense of pride was unforgettable.

We were however both shattered from the pass ourselves, and It was now time to rest. We had jobs to do, like catch up on our blog, do our washing and check the bikes over but we wouldn’t do that until we felt ready and rested.

20th April  and the 21st April

San Pedro de Atacama

San Pedro was a popular tourist destination in Chile with so much to see, and access to one of the driest deserts in the world, Valle de luna, the Altiplano, the salt lakes and easy access to the the south west of Bolivia, it had a lot to offer.

Spending time in a tourist town felt strange after spending so much time on our own with hardly anyone around. It did however, give us time to rest after the pass, and spending so much time at altitude, having time to catch up on our jobs and relax with Joann, Manu and another lovely french couple was just what we needed.

It felt good to wander around the town, look in shops and buy all the food we loved to eat that we had missed out on while we were away from the big towns on our bikes.DSC_1053

We booked a tour out to see the Valle De La luna which is one of the driest places on earth as there hasn’t been a single drop of rain for hundreds of years which is why a prototype for a Mars rover was tested there by scientists because of the valley’s dry and forbidding terrains.DSC_1049

Valle de luna and the mars buggy test site

Even after witnessing the lunar landscape over Paso Sico, this landscape and the its background of large planes, wind carved multicoloured escarpments, a Volcanic background and a waining sun leaving massive shadows cast over large sandstone escarpment was breathtaking.P1120647

From this point up in the cragged red and orange outcrops, we could see the route we would take up to the Bolivian border, and the end of Chile. It looked like a short climb up between two volcanos one of which being Licancabur on the left but we knew it would be a height gain of over 2,000 metres.DSC_1050

looking east to paso jama and volcan Colorado

We still had time to catch up on our rest, sort our kit, and write our blog. We spent the evenings with friends, and enjoying our time off the bike.P1120611

Tim, Magali, Sharon, Yoann, Sébo and Manu

We were both pleased at how well we had done, and with the few days off, and being at a much lower altitude we soon recovered, and felt invigorated for our next big climb and a new country.

Sunday 22nd April

After a couple of nice days off finishing our chores, it was time to get back on the bike. We were in for a long tough day, but with a few things to do before we set off, we got up and started charging everything that had gone flat. While we had breakfast we posted another blog, then got our bikes loaded ready for the off. Needing to change money, Sergio the manager told us that there was a girl who wanted to change some money, and with captive market we would both get a better deal than if we changed it in the town. With at least £50 changed we said our goodbyes and headed into town.

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The sun starting to rise over Volcan Colarado

It took a while to find a garage to buy fuel, but once we had found it we set off for the immigration. We timed it right with loads of people filling out forms, we managed to stamp out in good time. We had the same officer stamp us out, who stamped us in a few days before, and came out to see what we were doing. Tim offered him a go on his bike, and he loved it, but was more then happy to hand back the bike with a weeks worth of food on board and 10 litres of water he couldn’t believe the weight.

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 Our kind border guard enjoying the ride

We waved goodbye, picking up some lollies for a bit of energy before we tackled the wall, that wall that was in front of us. When we say wall, what we mean was the Andes. It rose up in front of us, not looking massive, but we knew having come down from a plateau it rose to over 4000 metres before easing to a steady slope to 4,600metres.

DSC_1082It was like a massive ramp climbing up to the pass and the border

The road was flat at first, with a slight dip then we started the climb. We rose slowly all day stopping at 1.30pm for lunch before continuing to climb a hill that was around 8%. It doesn’t sound much, but starting at 2,400 metres and climbing to the turn off at 4,660 metres it was going to be tough.

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As we climbed we rode very close to Licancabur a huge volcano to our left standing at 5,920 metres and dominates San pedro de Atacama and then mount Nelly at 5,676 metres. Even at the height we were at these giants didn’t lose their grandeur, and closer we got the bigger it got, cycling around them to enter Bolivia was incredible.

 

As we slowly climbed, gradually gaining height, we rode towards some lamas and their young, we saw a fox run for cover, and we wondered whether by riding past it, it had prevented the baby from being fox food.DSC_1074

We had been climbing since 11.30am, and had covered around 25 miles, all of which was up hill, but we were pleased with our height gain, considering the weight we were both carrying. As the sun slowly started to set, and the distant lights of San Pedro starting to flicker, we knew we had about 45 minutes of light left. We looked around for a good spot to camp, when we reached a corner with a good flat area and pulled off.DSC_1073

We were now at 4,140 metres, which would leave us with around 500 metres of height gain in the morning, and wouldn’t leave us too tired to reach the summit before heading north into Bolivia.

Spotting other fairly fresh bike track, which we could only assume was Yoann and Manu, meant we must have reached the same point as them. After leaving so late was a good boast, but with the temperature hoovering around 1 degrees before the sun set, we needed to get the tent up and in the warm. With cold wind blowing in from the west, Tim positioned the tent and Sharon positioned herself at the sheltered end, and set up the stove and put the tea on. Once the tent was built around her, and sheltering her from the wind, we could enjoy some good hot food. A new star filled sky ready for the rest of the climb tomorrow, and the Bolivian border and the end of another incredible country ‘Chile!!!’.

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Completing country number 25 felt incredible and for it to be Chile was the cherry on the cake. It had taken us almost 5 and a half months to zig zag our way up through Chile and Argentina, and yet it had been incredible. The route we had taken, the passes we had climbed, the stunning roads, hanging glaciers, wild oceans, the vivid blue and green lakes and rivers and most of all the incredible people. Chile was all in all, amazing. 

Spain conquered and colonised Chile in the mid-16th century, replacing Inca in Northern and Central Chile, but failing to conquer the independent Mapuche that inhabited south-central Chile then declaring its independence from Spain in 1818.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the country experienced severe left-right political polarisation and turmoil. This development culminated with the 1973 Chilean coup d’état that overthrew Salvador Allende’s left-wing government and instituted a 16 year long right wing military dictatorship that left more than 3,000 people dead or missing, suspected to have been dropped into volcanos or out at sea for voting for the wrong leader.

Despite this,today Chile and the Chilean government seem to be working together to make a better Chile. The people are keen to make the best of their lives without restrictions and high taxes from a corrupt leader, this was visible in almost all of Chile and with a growing economy many people were moving there from abroad and from neighbouring countries.

Chile’s topography was also interesting as it was not only reportedly the longest country in the world but also the way it could be seen as an island for many animals.

Although Chile is connected to Argentina to the east, Bolivia and Peru to the north, any land animal in Chile was naturally restricted to certain areas. With the pacific ocean to the west, the high Andes to the east, Antartica to the south and Deserts to the north gave an Island type environment which in some cases helps with disease control.

With diversity of flora and fauna and the diverse climate change from antarctic to desert, kept Chile interesting, and exciting.

We loved this country, and would be sad to leave, but we the draw of the next country was too great, and we wanted to explore.

Chile stats:

Total miles in Chile: 2,369 miles/ 3811km

Total Altitude gain in Chile:  52,095 metres

No. of days in Chile:   93

Average metres in height gain: 21.99m/mile

Total distance in from Southern Cape:  4,592miles

Total Altitude gain from Southern Cape: 88,443 metres

Total distance form Norway:  20,740miles/33,370km

Total Altitude gain from Norway : 282,228metres

                   

 

Thank you Chile

Thanks for reading xx

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Sara permalink
    February 17, 2015 1:03 pm

    Dear Tim Your courage is boundless to keep writing up these memories for us all to read. Sharon would be so proud of you, you were her rock and she will be with you every step of the way. The photos are stunning, such a lovely country to cycle through and I have very happy memories of our time together in the far south. I look forward to seeing you very soon in Bolivia. I hope we can keep you well fed and not hold you up too much as we all get used to the altitude coming out straight out from sea level! See you soon and lots of love xxx

  2. Mum and Dad Pitts permalink
    February 17, 2015 6:53 pm

    Tim you are incredible. It must be so hard for you to write the blog. As always wonderful pictures and great writing. Keep it up. We are SOOOO proud of you lots of love from Martin and Wendy XXXX

  3. February 17, 2015 7:00 pm

    Incredible photos and wonderful memories. Thank you for sharing, Tim. I am reading your blog – big grown man crying here … All the best for your next part of the adventure! Wish you a lot of courage and strength!

  4. Mark Hill permalink
    February 17, 2015 7:03 pm

    Hi Tim, I think you are amazing to head back out to Bolivia and have total admiration for you. I think I would do the same and I hope you get what you need from it.
    Once again thanks for the blog, always a great read.
    It was only yesterday that once again I was telling someone about yours and Sharon’s amazing adventure.

  5. Jan Underwood permalink
    February 18, 2015 6:58 pm

    Hi Tim. Amazing blog as always. You have got the days wrong though…I am not complaining. Love the photos, absolutely stunning. I hope this next trip is really good for you. Lots of love. Janx

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