The Atacama Desert in Northern Chile is at times stunningly beautiful but to be honest at times it does get a little monotonous. All that sand and gravel starts to wear a little thin after more than a week of driving through it.
We left the stunning Valle de Luna near San Pedro de Atacama after school to head to the mining town of Antofagasta on the coast. A beautifully smooth tar ribbon wound down to the sea through the completely dry parched desert. As it is winter here it wasn’t particular hot unless the sun is directly on you. A lot of Chile’s wealth comes from mining, especially copper and for many kilometres the only signs of human life were the dusty tracks to mines off in the hills and elaborate memorials for people who’ve died in crashes on the sides of the roads. All though Latin America we’ve seem small memorials for loved ones who’ve died but Chile seems to have the biggest…and the most frequent. This seems strange as the driving is of a higher standard than we’ve seen so far. They also have a lot of roadside shrines for saints, these look like works of love by believers and are made of a random selection of materials.
We’d planned to spend the night in Antofagasta so we could get jobs like laundry done the following morning but to say the campsites left a little to be desired would be an understatement. I wasn’t keen on urban boondocking on the beach in the middle of town so we headed back out to the desert. The bizarre sculpture Mano de Desierto sticking out of the sand in the middle of nowhere seemed as good as anywhere else to park up for the night.
Still in desperate need of clean clothes (I love this overlanding lifestyle but sometimes even I miss things like a washing machine!) we made the detour to the small fishing and mining town of Taltal. “Every Day is Like Sunday” by Morrissey was on repeat in my head, there is something very melancholy about seaside towns in the winter. Especially when you’ve done a 80km detour to find no laundry. We’d hand wash it ourselves, if there wasn’t a constant sea mist near the coast and it seems ridiculous to pick an inland camp spot purely for its drying properties! We’d also have to find at least one tree to put up a washing line and we hadn’t seem one those for 100s of Kms.
Taltal: “…everyday is silent and grey…”
Our stop for the night, just outside Pan de Azúcar National Park cleared all the melancholy away though. A beautiful sunset on a perfect white beach, we parked up just off the quiet road for the night. The “sugar loaf” island just off the land is famous for its Humbolt Penguins but we skipped the opportunity for a boat ride out the following morning as it was expensive, freezing and the girls were more than happy examining the dead specimen we found on the beach.
Luckily the small town near the beach resort Bahia Inglesia came up trumps with a laundry, pretty good after a 500km search! We camped in what would in peak season be a campsite for 300 plus people but we had it to ourselves bar two tents. We spent a very relaxing day here doing next to nothing although the kids had fun putting up our tent and playing in it. It was nice to have a break from the recent long drives.
Making our way further down the coast to La Serena, only another 7 hours though the desert, we slept on the promenade for the night. It reminded us very much of Spain. The town was pretty but not enough to tempt us for another night, so we headed out to the fertile Elqui Valley to check out the Pisco and the stars.