Despite the spotty electricity and running water, we were grateful to have a roof over our heads and heavy blankets under which to sleep! It was a glorious sleep and when we awoke we found everything outside to be covered with a decent blanket of snow. Our bikes were quite a sight!
We unpacked our own stoves and slurped down oatmeal and tea for breakfast, packed up, and headed out to the bikes to see what kind of starting shape they were in. It took some time, but eventually all five bikes were revved up and ready to to go. I was half worried and half curious as to how I would manage riding over snow covered, muddy roads with no rear suspension. I just told myself: “slow and easy” and was thankful that I had a supportive husband and crew of friends close by.
As we rode along it actually wasn’t half bad. The roads were so slippery you couldn’t drive that fast anyhow (or at least I wouldn’t have) and so I just bumbled along and did my best to avoid the bumps. Pretty soon we found ourselves at the next border check. It was busy! Lots of tourists and backpackers waiting to get papers checked so that they could tour through the Lagunas Route in 4x4s. It took some waiting but we got through no problem. So far it seemed that the guys at the remote crossing did the correct paperwork. Finally! We were officially in Chile! We all agreed it felt pretty surreal. This was the country for which we had been aiming for the last four months and we had finally made it! We excitedly hopped back on our bikes and headed down the dirt road to San Pedro de Atacama where we would complete the final passport check and vehicle import. And the road immediately turned to tarmac! Ha! I think the boys were a bit disappointed. I, however, was quite relieved as I found it much easier to manage the trampoline my bike had turned into.
The scenery was beautiful, the extremely high desert with snow covered mountains to either side of the road continued on for miles. As we rode I could feel the elevation quickly dropping. If not by the way my ears felt, then by my temperature. We pretty quickly went from wearing all of our layers to shedding most of them. And the llamas! Holy crap they were huge!! And liked to hang out in the middle of the road! As the road dropped towards San Pedro de Atacama it straightened out and the landscape flattened out as well. I began to see what all the fuss was about this Atacama Desert. It was a vast and beautiful landscape.
San Pedro de Atacama was a dusty and bustling little tourist town. Our first stop was to find the Aduana and get our import papers completed. It was a busy place! With the long lines of tour busses and backpackers, I could see that this was probably going to become more of a common sight as we made our way south. It was vacation time in this hemisphere, after all. After being pushed from line to line and being made to wait for over two hours, all the bikes got inspected and searched and paperwork stamped. The only thing we had to give up was some popcorn and I had been carrying since Peru.
Hot and hungry, we made our way through the town to find some lunch before attempting to find a hostel. We found a pretty decent place that was not too pricey, but we could tell by looking around that things were already getting more expensive than they had been thus far. After lunch we checked out a few different hostels and they all seemed to be either full of partying hippy backpackers or super expensive. We settled on one that was a little pricier than we hoped for, but quiet and had off street parking for the bikes. We were able to get a little suite with five beds and a little kitchen and it’s own bathroom. Split five ways it wasn’t too expensive. Next task: fix the suspension.
Linus took his bike and rode around town looking for it’s moto street. Surprisingly, there wasn’t much of one in San Pedro de Atacama. The one shop he found did not have the means or knowledge to help repair a suspension and so Linus decided he would have to wake up early the next morning and drive my suspension to the next biggest city of Calama to see what he could find.
In the meantime? Showers and beer. Oh, and to make researching where to go for bike parts even more interesting, there was no wifi. Anywhere. In the whole city. We were told when we checked in to the hostel that there was. But then the owner conveniently remembered to tell us that there had been a huge rainstorm the day before that had knocked out the internet. In the ENTIRE town. And no one seemed to have any idea when it would be repaired. Cheers!