Huge skies and deserted spaces

Our time in Chile is nearly at an end. Lying in bed in the northern Atacaman town of Calama, I’m looking back and remembering the scenery we’ve passed, the people we’ve met, the many sleep deprived nights we’ve had on the road.

After leaving Santiago, we cycled along the Pan-American Highway heading north, past the cactus forests, aside the misty Pacific and through the dusty dry desert. We had a wonderful time in the capital, forging a strong friendship with Daniel and Luz as they showed us their town and surrounding areas (Valparaíso and San José de Maipo both deserve blog posts – the cycling and subsequent tiredness make regular updates a challenge for me) but Sophie and I both feel leaving the busyness of the city brought us back to the feeling of freedom we first found in Argentine Patagonia. The huge skies and open deserted spaces – unpunctuated by the manmade – brought a calm to our minds. Calling it Zen may be a little pretentious, but it would be on the right track. Sky and rock. Deep blue and a thousand shades of copper brown.

‘Desert compliments city, as wilderness compliments and completes civilization.” – Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey.

Drawings in the sand

Drawings in the sand

Arid in the Atacama

Arid in the Atacama

After an all night sand storm

After an all night sand storm

There are hardly any non-human animals. We’ve seldom seen animal life outside of town. It’s too arid to make a comfortable home for many. One night though, we were settling down to sleep when we heard a rustling and a scratching on the trash bag we’d tied to the bikes. In the darkness, everything sounds larger than the reality and we could only imagine it to be some starving wild dog, or maybe human intruders? I unzipped the tent and sprang out, full of bravado to find out what was going on. Nothing. Not even footprints. Whatever it was, it had vanished into the rock. Back in the tent though and the sound started again, louder. Trying a different tactic, I unzipped the vestibule slowly, silently to see – not 2 foot from my face – a Darwin’s leaf-eared mouse studiously working through the remaining food in the bag. Pasta sauce smears from inside the pack, a little tuna water from the tin. Probably the best meal it had enjoyed in days. I moved the bag 20 metres from the tent so the noise wouldn’t be so bothersome, tossed some cracker crumbs around it and let the little mite feast.

Another memorable night we camped not 2 metres from train tracks – the best place we could find under the circumstances. The trains continued all night long. Hearing the gigantic beasts crawl past us every couple of hours, screeching metal on metal, flashing lights and thundering the earth beneath us, our dreams were laced with the apocalyptic.

The south of the country is far away from this glorious open Martian landscape – both physically and in our headspace. Chile is 2,653 miles long, bringing the overlander through glacial mountains, temperate rainforest, fertile farmland and into the desert, and each ecosystem here provides the traveller with different natural wonders and fresh beauty. Our memories of the south are usually set against the backdrop of constant rain. North of the capital and rain comes only very rarely. We’ve come a long way since Torres del Paine and the Carretera Austral.

We've come a long way

We’ve come a long way

We’ve been in Chile for the best part of three months now. I love this country. But we both feel it’s time to move on. We’ll be climbing now, up to the frontier pass at 3,703 metres. We hope to be in Bolivia within four days.

Vida! Saúde! Felicidade!


As ever, if you’ve enjoyed reading these posts, or if you see value and a challenge in this trip, or if you’d simply like to support a wonderful cause, it would be great if you drop a little sum towards my fundraising goal for the Teenage Cancer Trust. Head over to to get involved. Thanks :)

3 Comments on Huge skies and deserted spaces

  1. Jack Moore
    July 13, 2016 at 2:23 am

    Sounds amazing Mike. I would love to do something as enthralling as this – need to shed a couple of pounds though !

    • ElCaminoMike
      July 13, 2016 at 2:29 am

      You’d shed them once you start riding mate! You’d be smashing out the miles in no time at all 🙂


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