South America Blog Posts

Weeks 9 & 10 – Bikepacking Chile. San Pedro de Atacama and getting ready to leave Chile.

I started week nine by waking up with a hangover in a tent in the desert. The party had been great the night before, but now was the morning after. We packed up our things and headed back to Bahia Inglesa. We decided to stay there on a campsite for a few more days to relax and enjoy the beach. Bahia Inglesa has a beautiful beach with turquoise waters, but the water is super cold. We only stayed for a few days before we took a bus from Caldera to Calama. The night before we took the bus, we stayed in a very cheap hotel close to the bus station. This was so that I could carry our boxes to the station, but also so that I could carry them back again if we got rejected. This time we were lucky and the bus driver was very kind. He actually repacked the luggage that was already on the bus so that we could fit all our boxes into the storage area. It was such a relief and we were really looking forward to being able to cycle again without relying on buses.

Applying for a visa in Calama

Calama is close to the border with Bolivia in the north of Chile. It is also very close to the town of San Pedro de Atacama. To keep things simple, we checked into another cheap hotel near to the bus station. We stayed in Calama for a couple of days so that Huong could apply for a Bolivian visa at the consulate. We were really lucky because the day that we went to the consulate was also the anniversary of Bolivia’s independence. So there was an event being held where people were selling different Bolivian foods. It was a nice little window into what Bolivia might be like. The best thing was a non-alcoholic spiced peach cider called Mocochinchi. It has a taste similar to mulled wine because of the spices, but a refreshing peach taste too.

San Pedro de Atacama

San Pedro de Atacama is an expensive tourist destination. There are tours that take you to see the different sites in the desert around the town. To avoid these costs you can rent a car and visit the places on your own. So we posted in a Facebook group for backpackers in Chile and managed to find some people to rent a car with. There were five us in the car all together. We headed to San Pedro and visited a national park area called Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon). Personally, I think it would be better to call it the Martian Valley as the rocks are all red and remind me of the footage from Mars. It’s a really beautiful area, especially to view the sunset as the light highlights all the texture of the terrain.

Getting stuck in the desert

We also drove out to see the flamingos in a lagoon in the middle of the Salar de Atacama. Google maps lead us to a blocked road, so we asked some workmen for directions. They told us to take this dirt road so we headed off. Unfortunately the road they recommended was for a local back entrance to the lagoon and wasn’t really suitable for our rental car. We soon ended up bogged and stranded in the middle of nowhere. There were five of us in the car, but it took us a few hours to be able to get free. We weren’t pushing the whole time, we took some time to walk around taking pictures and also eat some lunch. When we finally got out, we went to see the flamingos but they weren’t so exciting after our afternoon in the salar (salt flats).

Preparing to leave Chile

San Pedro is a really cool looking little town. The buildings are all made from mud bricks so they look really rustic and match the desert location. It’s a really cool place to spend some time and there are some cheap food options if you look carefully enough. For example there are some local restaurants next to the football field in town where you can get a menu meal for less than 5 pounds.

We headed back to Calama and organised our final bus journey with the bikes. This time we were heading over the border from Chile into Bolivia. The woman in the bus station guaranteed that the bikes would be taken on the bus. She was so confident that she actually let us drop off the bikes the day before so that they could be packed like cargo. It was such a relief to have everything sorted and know that next week we would be starting a new adventure in a new country and back on our bikes.

South America Blog Posts

Weeks 7 & 8 – Bikepacking Chile. The difficulties of bikepacking when you can’t ride and the joys of partying in the desert.

In my last blog post I talked about the wonderfully kind family that we stayed with while Huong was healing. What I didn’t get into was how difficult it was to leave. Not only because of how welcome they made us feel there, but also because we had all our stuff in boxes. Huong had healed enough that she didn’t need to go back to the clinic anymore. She bought some medical supplies and was able to clean and dress her knee on her own. Unfortunately, she wasn’t healed enough to ride yet and we were now way behind schedule. Actually, it’s not that we had a schedule, but we only have visas for 3 months and the border to Bolivia is a long way north.

From Bikepacking to Packing our Bikes

I don’t really class myself as a cyclist and I didn’t really class myself as a motorcyclist when I was travelling by motorbike either. I see myself more as a traveller. I just want to get to places and experience things. So I don’t mind if I take my bike on a truck or train, or even pack it on a bus to get where I am going. But the big problem with doing this, is all the boxes. When you ride the bike, all your bags are attached to it and it’s fairly easy to get around. But when the bike goes into a box, all your bags also need to go into boxes. It’s a real hassle. So I spent a bit of time on google and saw that a lot of people who cycled in Chile would take their bikes on the bus. They said it was simple. Just pack the bike in a box and book the bus ticket, then pay a small extra fee to the driver. This sounded so easy, but the reality was much different. During weeks 7 & 8 we took two bus journeys with the bikes. Both times we contacted the bus company, told them we had bicycles and booked our tickets. But on the morning that we were supposed to leave, the bus drivers rejected us and we couldn’t take the bus.

Our First Rejection

The first journey was as we left our wonderful host family in Cachagua. Maria-Jesus offered to drive us to the nearest city so that we could take the bus from La Ligua to La Serena. we had booked the tickets online after speaking to customer services. When we got to the station they actually loaded the bikes onto the bus. But then the driver came and told them to take the bikes off, then he just got on the bus and left us there. As I’m sure you can imagine, this was quite stressful in the moment. But Maria-Jesus helped us again. She spoke to a guy in the station who sells snacks. He told her that there is a place on the highway where buses stop to buy snacks from a friend of his. So we drove out onto the highway and waited with the snack seller. It didn’t take long for a bus to arrive. We spoke to the driver and he was happy to take us and the bicycles for payment in cash. We were so relieved and, as sad as I was to leave Cote and her family behind, it was nice to be moving again.

Working in La Serena

We arrived in La Serena and I spent some time working on my website and YouTube channel. I had accidentally left the charger for my new laptop at home when I took my flight to Chile. My parents helped by sending it to me. It was a 5-7 day delivery service, but when the package arrived in Santiago de Chile, it was delayed there for a month by customs. Luckily Byron, my first Couchsurfing host, helped me to pick it up and he shipped it to La Ligua. So I had just gotten it back before we got to La Serena. That is the reason that my blog and vlog posts have been delayed and I’m covering 2 weeks each week for now. La Ligua is a nice enough beach city, it has an old quarter that’s more inland and lots of hotels and restaurants by the beach. Their famous landmark is their lighthouse. After getting some work done in La Serena it was time to continue north.

Rejected Again

In La Serena we faced the same issue again. This time we booked with a different bus company and actually went to the station to buy the tickets. When we got there in the morning to take the bus, we were rejected again. We tried to replicate our last experience so we headed to the highway, but this time to a service station. We hung around for an hour or so, trying to thumb a lift with any truck that passed. We weren’t the only people hanging around the service station. There were immigrants who were trying to get to other cities and a guy who was selling USB drives full of music to passing drivers. Huong spoke to the music seller while I was attempting to thumb a lift. This actually turned out to be the solution to our situation. While he was walking around speaking to drivers, he found a guy who was driving an empty bus to the same city that we were heading to, Copiapo. We loaded the boxes into this old bus and headed north. From Copiapo we headed to the coast to a beach which is known as one of the most beautiful beaches in Chile, Bahia Inglesa.

An Awesome Weekend

In Bahia Inglesa we stayed with an awesome Couchsurfing host. Marcelo and his brother Mati are rock climbers and we arrived on a weekend when Marcelo was organising a regional competition. People came from neighbouring cities to take part. But it was open for everyone. Children took part in the morning and through the day there were different stages working their way up to the professionals. It was really fun to hang out there and I took some pictures and also some drone footage for them. But the best part was the evening. A whole load of people drove out to the desert for a party. We were drinking a popular Chilean party drink, Piscola. A mixture of Pisco (a sweet spirit from Chile/Peru) and Coca Cola. Then later in the night we had mulled wine cooked on the campfire. It was a really awesome night. We were actually the first people that Marcelo had ever hosted through Couchsurfing, but he was an awesome host. He and his brother are both really cool guys and I am really happy to have met them. Hopefully we will meet again somewhere down the road.