We crossed into Chile on the 2nd of March from a remote border in the high mountains of Bolivia. We felt as if we were in no mans lane, dirt roads for the last 3 days only to get to a dinky little office they used for immigration. But wait. As I lifted the gate to leave, crossing into Chile, 10m away was a paved highway?! Can this be real? And why on earth did they pave a highway all the way out here with good road signs? Maybe only to send an impression and it sure did. Just 5 minutes down the road we arrived at the beautiful, new Chilean immigration and Aduana office. For how informal it was to leave Bolivia, Chile made this the most formal entry we have encountered yet. We processed our temporary vehicle entry permit, then proceeded to empty out our car inside a garage. They took all of our food possible, even our fresh sausages we were going to grill that night, but all in a formal matter. It turns out the reason they take any and all food and leaves is because they have a natural barrier which keeps out many destructive insects and fungi which destroy entire crops, forests or wine grapes. After 3 hours of waiting, we were out. Still on great paved roads!
2000m of downhill driving let us out into the desert city of San Pedro de Atacama. There is only one gas station in this town, strangely enough in a hotel complex, with long lines, charging 5$ a gallon!!! We were mad in Bolivia for being charged a Gringo price but their Gringo price was still lower. The first day was shell shock for us, a little bit of a slap back to reality in terms of expenses. Lunch and gas were not even American prices, they were European and even worse than Europe which we thought was impossible. Camping is about 15$ per person and our budget is screaming that camping is now a luxury. Hotels? Yeah right, not an option now. So we got some good tips from our biker friends who are now a couple days ahead of us, that we should shower at the gas stations on the road and wild camp. Well it has been a week now and we have wild camped….but the gas station showers haven’t started. Saltwater does the same thing, right?
The Atacama Desert
Well, the Atacama desert is, fun fact, the driest desert in the whole darn world! An impressive feat, which explains the crazy costs. San Pedro is this tiny brown hipster looking town filled with tourists, we were so blown away. Why!? What is everyone doing here in this remote part of Chile? Well, the town is perfectly situated for tourists. You can bike to everything or take guided trips to the highest geysers in the world and over to Bolivia. Chile has its own nearby salt flats, just smaller. It also has lagoons nearby filled with flamingos. Although it was too expensive for us, we realized when we arrived, there is a lake so saline that you float! But the main attraction is the Luna Desert. This is the only place in the world, again so many claims to fame, which most resembles the moon. So just go here and you can say you’ve essentially walked on the moon.
The park was much more regulated than we had become accustomed to, so we were a little bummed but conservation is a practice we both support. With your entrance ticket, you can crawl through salt caves, see old salt mines, take panoramic small hikes to see the terrestrial like landscape. Normally people end their day sitting on top of the giant sand dune, watching the sun set beautifully over the desert. We were there too early to wait so we found our own little perch and set up camp. It was a beautiful but windy sunset where we were joined by a few other travellers who saw our car and decided that looked like it’d have a good view.
Beach Camping for Daayyyss
After a very painful morning of trying to buy car insurance on intermittent wifi, we left for the coast. The Atacama desert is enormous and we would end up taking over a week to drive through it. Seeing as there isn’t much happening within it, as we drove past many ghost towns that day, we figured the beach was our best bet.
There ghost towns that are scattered throughout the desert were once upon a time huge thriving mineral mining towns. They were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s and now many are in ruins yet kept as national monuments. We visited one that had a similar history, except in 1974 during the year of the military coup, after years of no one living there due to the industry collapse during the great depression, there were political prisoners. Before we started our self-guided tour we went through the photo albums of the towns glory days so we could pictures what the hustle and bustle must have been like. It was an amazing jump back in time to a remote part of the world. However in this tightly built desert community of workers and hopeful entrepreneurs there lived 7000 people! Now there is one guard and I cannot imagine the eerie feeling living in a decrepit place like this you’d have at night.
We arrived in the big city of Antofagasta that day, taken back by its cleanliness, layout, orderliness, energy and overall similarities to California. I think we have just been through so many struggling cities (in our standards of living) thus far that this blew us more away than it should have. But either way, we slept in our car on their public beaches both nights. The first night, after grilling our own steak, a family beside us came over and offered us a sample off all the meat they had just cooked! It was mouthwatering, the meat just fell apart like butter in your mouth. And Frederik was then on a mission to find a steak shop that served food of the same calibre.
Wel,l we did on our way out of the city. It was a giant butchery! Every cut and kind of meat you could ask form Frederik was in heaven. We now had our Lollapalooza tickets in hand, phone plans and the best meat in town. We were off and ready to wild camp for a while, making some of the best ribs and sausage we have ever had over a fire that night. The two nights later we followed it up with bacon wrapped salmon, wrapped potatoes, onions and tomatoes with a bowl of balsamic and butter-drenched veggies. We are becoming campfire chefs. One of our first nights on the beach Frederik had a little surprise of marshmallows over our stove but we finished them off right over the fire.
National Park for Humboldt Penguins
We had camped at a beautiful beach just outside the little town, and by the time we finally got ourselves together, which is really late these days as with all the fast time changes we just decided never to adjust and wake up at 9, it was noon. Wel,l perfect timing there was a group we joined and just like that, we were off to see penguins! They mentioned we would also see different types of sea lions, maybe dolphins, lots of birds and the possibility of whales. WHALES!? I had always dreamed of seeing a whale and didn’t even know I signed up for a whale tour! Wel,l it ended up being over half the time spent following whales and we couldn’t have been happier.
There were 4 fin whales, the second largest in the world, just cruising beside our boat. They would go deep, pop up somewhere else and the driver would be off to the races to catch up again. It was amazing. They are so big and seemingly peaceful creatures. Frederik had 0 interest in any of the birds however if that’s your thing I am sure you’d have liked that portion of the tour as well. The sea lions were plenty full, laying about and popping their heads curiously out of the water beside the boat to take a look at us. We were in luck, it was that time of the year when all the little sea lions cubs were born and trying to figure out how to awkwardly wiggle up the rocks. It was a ruckus of noise but entertaining to say the least. Finally, we came to the penguins. I was slightly disappointed because the island is named after there penguins and it was the least amount of all the species we had seen. But I guess they were all hanging out on top for the day. The ones we did see were just as you’d imagine, waddling up the side of the hill, looking funny, trying to catch up with their friends. After some shrimp and cheese empanada,s we were back and looking for the next wild camp.
Is it Lolapolooza yet?
We have 600km until Santiago now and we have 6 days till we have to be there. In our entire 6 months, we have not gone this slow for this long (about 11 days at 100km per day average). It is killing is slowly. We don’t have surf borders so we cannot occupy ourselves that way. I am making a magazine series of our trip, and Frederik plays chess on his phone, but now all that and even movies are getting a little tedious as we spend our days sleeping in, eating, driving, eating, watching a movie and then sleeping again.
Its been 6 days wild camping and swimming so we stopped off in a city and for laundry (its been 2 weeks for laundry!). It’s gotten so bad that instead of paying an arm and a leg for laundry in the desert we just bought some new undies. So here we are, camping and now showering in a Serena and we still cannot find a darn laundry! And when we do they say it’ll take 2 days, which means paying for a camp, and that’s just too expensive. It now looks like a body bag. If it was in a big garbage bag with duck tape around it we’d get pulled over for sure. So here we are waiting till Santiago for clean clothes…..that just might mark a nasty 3 weeks
The last couple days we spent on the coast were nice, as we were brought back to civilization but made it much more difficult to find sleeping locations. We entered very upscale beach neighbourhoods for the first time in 6 months. They even had green grass and trees! It was quite a beautiful area but with that comes a huge price jump….again. So we sucked it up, not having our beautiful quiet beach campsites to ourselves, and listened to the city noises as we tried to sleep in parking lots just for a few more days to pass time till Santiago.
In Valparaiso, the neighbouring port city, we took a talking tour. It is known to be a gritty city. Once having a golden era and since abandoned by many old Europeans rich families the buildings have been left to age beautifully, which is a nice way of saying a slow decay. Graffiti from local and international artists gives this city life however and the colourful houses as well brightens up this rough community, giving it a little charm.
We couldn’t find anything else to do to pass the time so we just gave up and went to Santiago a day earlier than planned. Luckily we found a camping parking lot within the city, which when approved, they will let overlanders stay in for free! It was guarded all night and squished between a nice quiet community and a beautiful forest, a overlanders dream city spot. After suggesting for a week that we could go see the movie Black Panther for a week we finally did! However, Frederik unknowingly bought us VIP tickets, which is the constant issue we have ordering online in Spanish we can never figure out truly what we are buying.
Lollapalooza Music Festival
FINALLY…. finally we are checking into our hostel, Lollapalooza two days away, ready to meet everyone who is going to the concert. Well, we find a couple of spirit-crushing things out. The festival is dry, that means we cannot drink a beer and watch pearl jam, only water. We cannot leave the festival at any time. There is only 1 other girl going and Chileans and the most boring group of citizens to ever attend a festival (sorry if you are from Chile and reading thus however many who live here said the same as us!). Despite constant set changes, late singers, or sets done an hour early we managed to make the most of it, Emma and I dancing our lives away while Frederik had a nice bob going on. If you can believe it during every concert almost, even the Red Hot Chili Peppers, besides the people in the mosh pit, no one was singing or dancing! Not even a sway!
I have never been to a festival before this, however, Frederik has been to many, and both of our consensuses afterwards was that it was a picnic in the park which randomly had music people casually listened to. Defiantly wasn’t what we had in mind but the event was enjoyable.
All in all, Pearl Jam put on an amazing show. We were up close, a little to close for comfort in fact as we couldn’t control our surroundings with the crowd constantly crushing us. But his voice, sincerity and political messages really made for an amazing concert for a band we have both always wanted to see. The Red Hot Chili Peppers were an awesome performer. The last time Frederik saw them they did not preform well, so our standards were set low. They well exceeded them and the base guitarist Flee was a freaking show in himself. Tash Sultan was another artist who stole the show for us. She is a one women band, who plans everything from a pan flute, beat boxing, drums to rocking on the guitar. I almost cried in her last song because I loved her music that much. Every song last 10 minutes because she just jams and you cannot help but feel what she is feeling up there. Some other names that stood out for us for good performers were Anderson Paak, Imagine Dragons, Mac Miller, Mon Laferte, Tumu Tapu, Chance the Rapper and of course LCD Soundsystem who put on a banger of a show.