April 21, 2006 GMT
(6) Chile: El Norte Grande

We left Iquique and climbed up the ridge separating the town from the desert. The cool coastal air gave way to the dry desert heat. Soon we were basking in 25 C warmth; a far cry from the 12C on the coast.

Our first stop was Santa Lucia and Humberstone, the two famous or infamous ghost towns that were remnants and silent reminders of the nitrate era that reigned supreme at the turn of the century. The ghost towns were in exactly the correct state of preservation or decay, as the case may be, to make them interesting. Humberstone was an almost complete and intact town and nitrate refinery. Santa Lucia lacked the dwellings but had the industry intact. It was easy to consume two hours poking and prodding through the buildings wondering what was and may have been.

Santa Lucia.JPG

After leaving Santa Lucia we wandered aimlessly for most of the day. Most of the stuff we went to look at was only par or below. Finally we made one last stop at Cerro Unica, the largest geoglyph in the world. Surely we would not be disappointed.

We circled the hill looking for the artefact. The initial signs and scratchings we saw did not bode well. Then, suddenly there it was...all 86 meters of it, stretching from the middle of the hill to the crest...gratification at last.

Cerro Unita.JPG

Finally by mid afternoon it was time to make a plan. Where would we spend the night? More importantly, where would we get gas to get to the place to spend the night? The town I had planned to gas up in, Haura had no service station even though one was marked on the map. This was probably where Charles ran out of gas those many years ago, when he was travelling with a girl friend. Now, when you coast to the side of the road, in the middle of the Atacama, in the middle of nowhere, and you dismount and say to your partner "I ran out of gas", Just what do you think the first thing is that would cross her mind? "Sex in the Sand" or, "This could be serious". "If I have to make love because of this STUNT, we probably will not have enough energy to make it to the next town". Charles never did say what happened... come to think of it, I havenīt seen Charles since.

Back to reality. I had less than half a tank left and 250 km to go to the next real gas. It would not work. The desert warmed to 35 C. The head wind picked up. We could back-track and basically end up where we started, or...

I decided to ask around town for gas. This was too big a place to be without this precious commodity. "Try here, try there" came the answer. Their gesticulating hands marked all points of the compass and a few in between. So far all of the hereīs and thereīs were closed. Finally I had what looked like a solid lead. I banged on the door. The lady of the house came out and knew by my gringo looks (I never told her I was a Canadian) that I wanted gas. Surely she knew it wasnīt her I was after. Her old man would be back in ten minutes, she said. I waited in confidence.

Finally, he arrived. I am sure I could see a smile crease his sundried face. "Yes , I have gas," he said. "How much do you want?" "Ten liters," I said. I didnīt care about the price. I just knew I wasnīt going to be pushing this afternoon. 700 pesos per liter was the price. At 450 pesos per Canadian dollar, you do the math. Not a bad deal really as we had been paying about 610 pesos per liter at normal service stations.

Gas at Huara.JPG

Our coastal option for camping vaporized as it would have created another gas crisis. We headed north. As we headed north the earth opened into a gigantic gash, not unlike a massive fjord...except it was dry, with only the remnants of a river on its bottom. What a spectacular change in scenery from the dry, flat plain we had been riding.

Approaching Arica.JPG

Finally, near Cuyo we found a nice camp site with some real trees, and a restaurant only a mile away. Suddenly life was good. We set up camp and rode off to dine as the sun sank below the horizon. I dreamed of Charles and his feeble attempt to extract sexual favors from the age old "out of gas routine" and smiled with the knowledge that I did not know what the outcome was.

Arica held a few hidden gems from Europe. (Alexander) Gustave Effeil had been here...or at least he left his mark here and in several other places in South America, and as far north as Mexico. With a South American agent selling his masterpieces, he delivered two buildings to Arica...the Santa Clara cathedral and the Customs House.

Santa Clara.JPG

Posted by Robert Bielesch at April 21, 2006 12:16 AM GMT

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