The ride continued to awe me, the road twisting and turning through winding canyon roads, still under a beautiful blue sky, still under a beautiful crystal blue sky, so high I could almost each out and touch the wispy clouds above.
The brown desert contrasted magnificently with the sky. I passed odd patches of green, riding high on the altiplano, filled with a feeling that I was all alone, being watched only by the mountains that bracketed the desert road. I looked down on deep canyons, occasionally with meandering rivers running thousands of meters below me.
As I neared the coastline, I rounded another curve to see the road snaking through the desert below me like a massive scalextrix set in the sand.
I followed the road down, thinking I was finally approaching sea level, only to climb again to pass a final set of mountains, after which the road straightened out again, and I opened the throttle up. Garth slowly picked up speed, at over 4,000meters, the power was considerably lessened, but once I reached a cruising speed of 70mph /110kmh, Garth purred along contentedly. At this altitude, Garth was hardly using any fuel, and I went further on this tank of gas than I had on any ride before.
The road continued on through the Atacama desert, taking me along ridges looking down on more deep canyons, taking past the Geoglifos, past the deserted ghost town of Humberstown, and finally round one last final bend before I was presented with my first view of the Ocean since Peru.
The blue sea, streaked with tones of turquoise, met the desert sand, and there was Arica. I was disappointed that the road had ended, but also excited to be by the ocean once more.
Arica was not some sleepy surfer style beach town. Tall, modern high rises dotted the shoreline, and behind them, a maze of small buildings was crammed behind the beachfront condos and hotels.
Welcome to “civilisation”.
I curled my way down the road, back to sea level, back to the “modern world” and back to traffic lights, gas stations, junctions, and hooting horns.
I rode around for a while, and checked into the cheapest hotel I could find. I wasn’t really impressed with Arica. It was a bit of a shock to the system. Gone were the multicoloured ex US school busses. Gone were the traditional dresses and bowler hats, gone were the raggedy beat up pick up trucks and the crumbling colonial architecture of Bolivia, replaced by shiny new 4x4’s, modern high rises, and , well, civilisation. I pulled into a gas station to fill up, 250miles /400kms since my last gas fill, and Garth was still showing ¼ of a tank unused.
I couldn’t find a hostel in the city, so was forced to take a room in a cheapy hotel a few blocks back from the beach. I also had a hard time finding anything cheap to eat, gone also, it would seem, were the street vendors who had provided me with most of my dining requirements for the past weeks. The bonus was that bastion of the American dream, MacDonald’s.
I filled my grumbling stomach with the clown’s biggest burger, washed it down with Coca Cola, as opposed to the ridiculously high sugared Bolivian equivalent, and finished off my fine dining experience with a McFlurry. Things weren’t so bad after all.
Back at the hotel, feeling considerably better about life in the modern world, I turned on my air conditioning, and connected to proper high speed internet. There was an upside to civilisation after all!
I slept like a baby that night, well, I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night crying or mess my nappy, but you know, I slept well, and rose early the next morning, packed up, and left Arica for Iquique, in the hope of finding a slightly more relaxed beach town.
I headed back inland and followed another twisting road, riding through canyons until I was spat out again back on the coast at Iquique, an even more built up seaside city. I asked directions for the hostel owned by the guy I had met back in Peru, and made my way through the traffic, along the coast and to the hostel. I passed through the old part of the city, which was quaint, and lifted my spirits considerably, and arrived at the hostel, took one look at it, and went in search of another.
The old part of Iquique
With the help of the Lonely Planet, my bible, I found the HI Backpackers hostel a few blocks further down the beach. An infinitely better option, I was able to park Garth inside the gates, was closer to the beach, and had much better facilities. Plus, it looked as if the hostel was cleaned more than once a month!
After I checked in and unloaded Garth, I hosed him down, washing off the desert sand and Bolivian mud, and a few weeks worth of grime, before giving myself the same treatment down at the beach, washing away the dirt and fatigue in the refreshingly chilly ocean.
A million miles from Bolivia, Garth at the beach at Iquique
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