Saturday, May 28, 2011


In the late afternoon we left Taltal, after cooking some food for the way and baking Granola cookies. This left us only an hour to get away from town. We considered camping in a cave next to the road but eventually preferred the rocky beach, in a flattened area surrounded by a wall that seemed to have been made especially for us. The nice sunset could be seen from inside our tent.


After a peaceful ride along the coast, we got to Paposo just on time to eat lunch in the only restaurant there, chicken soup and a huge piece of fried fish. While eating, we watched the ceremonies of the Chilean independence day as well as the violent protests that seemed to be part of this day. The restaurant owner couldn´t spare any of her drinking water so we filled in some washing water. It took us some time to choose where to continue from there. There was either a newly paved road that started with a long climb, or a road that according to our map was paved and went along the coast all the way to Antofagasta. All the people we asked agreed that we shouldn´t take the coastal road as it was actually a bad unpaved road. We wanted to enjoy the sea a bit more before heading east towards Bolivia, so we chose the coastal road. The road was indeed really bad, but also very quiet.


Until the evening we met only 3 cars, all packed with black algae. It wasn´t hard to find a nice place to camp in this deserted road.

When we were ready to leave, we met Fransisco who was taking a walk with his dog. Fransisco is a cheerful guy who collects algae for a living. For a ton of dry algae he gets 120,000 CH$ from a mediator who later sells this on. In a day he collect a ton or two, depending on the sea. The algae are later used for medicines and shampoo. Fransisco brought us to the shed of Jose, who kindly let us fill in all our empty bottles. Jose has an international background: he spent a few years in Quebec, Canada, and his sister lives in Ancona, Italy. He speaks many languages including English, French, Italian, Greek and German. In exchange for their friendliness, we let them try our Granola cookies.


The road was hard to ride on and very sandy, but at least drinking water wasn´t much of a problem. Along the way we saw many sheds of people who, like Fransisco and Jose, collect algae for living. They each had 2 blue containers filled with drinking water that they were willing to share with a smile.


After a long day of hard work, in which we only managed to ride 60 km, we camped next to a lively lagoon: crabs, squids, many types of clams and tiny fish.


As we still cook vegan for ourselves, we abandoned the idea of boiling crabs for dinner and instead made pasta and Polenta for the following day using only sea water, to save drinking water. The pasta came out a bit too salty but with a nice ocean flavour. However the Polenta was so salty it was almost inedible.

El Cobre
A short ride brought us to El Cobre, an abandoned open mine that was now house to 3 guards and a lot of equipment. The guard we met, Nacho, was the only person with clean clothes on this road.


He was happy to explain to us about the history of the place. The mine was active until 15 years ago, and soon it should be reactivated. There are piles of rocks there containing various minerals. These gurds are there to protect the place from theft of the expensive equipment that was left. About a month ago was the last armed robbery attempt during the night, were the robbers tried to take the expensive satellite phone (20,000 US$) the guards use. Nacho let us fill in water and we finished the water tank, so Amit went with him to fetch a new one. He made us an interesting traditional drink from toasted flour, a bit of sugar and a lot of water. Surprisingly it was very tasty and also quite filling.

The End of the Road
Shortly after leaving, we reached a junction. The road to the right snaked all the way up the mountain, and it was easy to choose to avoid it and continue along the coast.


After some 10 km, the illusion was gone. On way or another we would have to climb, as our road turned right towards the mountains. We weren´t even sure if the road would lead us to Antofagasta, so we hiked down to the coast where we spotted a shed.


After some shouting and whistling, a couple appeared. The guy, Javier, had a long knife with him that he uses to cut the algae, and his wife, Lucia, had binoculars she uses to find out where the algae are floating to. To our surprise, we weren´t the first cyclists passing there. Just a week before, a brave German cyclist who met them decided to continue along the coast with his bike and a huge water bag, without any kind of road. Javier and Lucia have been professional algae hunters for the past few years.


They make about 3 million CH$ (about 6,500 US$) per month, and spend almost nothing due to their humble living conditions. This income plus the huge smiles all the algae hunters have made us think they are all quite rich. Javier told us how they cheat the people who buy the algae from them by soaking the algae in water to make them heavier. They know a lot about sea food which is abundant in this beach where they have been living in the past 4 years. As they assured us that the algae was edible, we tried some and it wasn´t too bad. Lucia loves collecting stones from the area, and insisted on giving some to us. She said she was trying to clean the beach from the garbage people left behind, but as it seems, she still has a lot of work to do. Eventually we had to leave, and started the climb by foot due to a bad road. Soon we could cycle it again, but we went up slowly.


During the climb, we where debating the option of hitch-hiking. A decision about that matter wasn´t necessary though, as no vehicle passed us that day. After riding uphill for 13 km, we camped, exhausted.


Dead Stove
As usual, we wanted to cook the usual poredge for breakfast, but this time we had no luck. Our stove just stopped working. Amit tried to revive it, but with no success. Eventually we gave up and ate the oat meal raw with sugar and cinnamon. This turned out to be quite good and easier to make! We proceeded to climb again. It was 5 km to the junction with the road we saw the day before near El Cobre, and 3 km more to the top.


It was mainly downhill from there, and after 17 km we finally reached asphalt. This was the new road from Paposo. It was indeed neatly paved and almost empty from traffic. When we reached the junction with Ruta 5 after 15 easy km, our hopes for cooked lunch were lost, as there was no Posada near us and we were starving. We ate dry crackers and peanuts. From there it was face wind for 30 km. We were able to cheat a bit by riding close to each other thus shading the wind. We reached a row of various stinking factories, and where happy when we left the road towards Antofagasta.


The entrance to the city for trucks and buses is only allowed at certain hours of the day, but we were unlucky, and so had the company of many. The entrance to the city was quite impressive with skyscrapers and a lovely promenade along the beautiful beach.

For more photos of this post click here


                       Shoham & Amit
                     South America by Bicycle

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Nice Rocks

World Run
We were very surprised to meet a couple of Dutch cyclists, but they weren´t friendly. On our way to Caldera, we passed many unique bays. In town we found a nature shop where we bought dried fruit and nuts for reasonable prices. Later we had great lunch for a ridiculous price (1,800 CH$) in the "Casino de Alimentacion". We then returned to Ruta 5, and had a quiet night hidden from the road behind cliffs.


We got up at 5 AM, by 8 we were already cycling towards Chañaral. At 10:30 we were too hungry to ride, so we stopped for an early lunch. While eating, we noticed a man jogging on the road, and we wondered whether he was a professional runner, and why he was running on this busy road.


When we caught up with him, we had a chat while running / cycling. This was Jesper from Denmark, on his world crossing run ( He runs about a marathon every day and is almost finishing cycling around the world twice. He passed in Punta Arenas in January, about the same time we did, so in general he is running in our pace.This part of his trip he does with Alex from the US, his photographer and escort (in the car). Jesper hoped to finally buy a new pair of running shoes as he needs to change them every few hundred kilometers. We were all disappointed when we reached the ugly town of Chañaral, which was especially useless as it was Sunday. After wasting 4 hours there we escaped back to the road. We camped near a mine, in a full moon night.


Mine Keeper
Before starting the cycling day, we had a nice chat with Luis, the mine guard. He gave us an explanation about the whole mining infrastructure in Chile, and showed us different kinds of mineral they excavate from this mine: copper, sulfur, gold, pyrite, iron and more.


The whole Chilean economy is based on the mining industry, and except that Chile doesn´t produce much more. He estimated the annual mortality rate from mining is about a dozen. Luis claims to be saved twice from death through mining accidents by Jesus. To pass his time alone there, he does a lot of Macrame, and he gave Shoham a nice necklace of the pyrite rock, "fool´s gold".


We enjoyed also his kind companion, his dog, Perla who goes crazy in the sight of passing cars, and chases them like a typical Chilean dog.


In the middle of a long and windy climb, we gave up our try to get to the next Posada, and ate lunch on the side of the road. This turned out to be a lazy decision as it was just 30 minutes away. The people in this restaurant were delighted to fill our water bottled and were willing to sell us some bread and fruits. The night we spent behind an altar in the memory of Marcelo, a truck driver who died on December 2010 at the age of 35.


His friends put there tiny trucks to entertain him in the after world. This is just one of many other altars for road accidents casualties that we saw along the way.

Cursed Bicycles
We spent the whole morning fixing 2 broken spokes (on the cassette´s side), and doing general maintenance for the bicycles. After this late start we bravely survived until the next Posada, and were rewarded by an excellent lunch. The waiter expected us to choose the only dishes they serve there: Loco clamp soup and fish or steak plate (2,700 CH$).


From there we proceeded towards Taltal, to get away from Ruta 5 to the coast. After 2 km of riding, Shoham had a strange accident as a piece of metal entered her tire from one side and went out from the other. The air from the tube came out only after we took out the metal. We had to use our last of 7 tubes that started this trip with us, and to finally mount the tire we carried for over 2,500 km from Argentina.


The valley going down to Taltal was charming.


In Taltal we spent 3 nights at San Marco´s Residencial (10,000 CH$ for the room). After a week without a shower we enjoyed very much the hot shower. Marco was exceptionally kind and offered us to do all our laundry there for free.


In profession he is a history teacher, so we got a good review of the Chilean short history. He explained that the war Chile had with Bolivia and Peru in 1879 was all about the money. They wanted to conquer Bolivian and Peruvian terrains in order to benefit from the sulfur that was abundant there, especially to make more explosives from it. Marco was very interested in the Israeli politics and mentality. In Taltal you would find everything you need in small shops and for high prices. It is surprising how diverse the products are in every shop there. You have about 50 department stores selling almost the same stuff. There is not much to do here, yet it is a pleasant town.



The only interesting thing happening here is the high school kids protest for a cause unknown to us. They blocked the entrance to school with a huge pile of chairs and they stand on the roof and shout slogans. No one here takes them seriously, but they enjoy themselves very much.


We plan to cook here a bit, and then leave towards Antofagasta on Ruta 1.

For more photos of this post click here


                       Shoham & Amit
                     South America by Bicycle

Colors of the Atacama

La Serena
Our last few days in La Serena were very relaxing thanks to our wonderful host, Cristian.


We cooked a lot in these few days: pumpkin soup, potatoes and chard (Shoham´s family´s recipe), filled tomatoes, rosemary roasted potatoes (Amit´s family recipe), bread, carbonated apple cake, a huge fruit salad and a delicious almonds and (imported) chocolate tart.


We cooked so much that it was enough for the 3 of us for 3 days. On our spare time we had a nice walk on the beach next to the famous light tower.


The beach dogs got wild, and this mixed wonderfully with the huge birds flocks with the background of an astonishing sunset.


Missed Penguins
We left La Serena in the afternoon and managed to cycle 50 km before camping beneath the road. After a long winding road that ascended very slowly, we finally got to the top, and from there it was very easy to get to El Trapiche. At the northern entrance you would find Gary and his great meat Empanadas in this nice Posada (a road inn). He was very kind and even let us do our dished in his sink. His restaurant got a free photovoltaic panel as part of a national project to raise awareness for renewable energy usage. Not far from there we also saw a wind power-plant.


There we met a local guy who recognized us from the road he ride on every day. He offered to drive us to the village Caleta Punta Choros, where we could take the organized boat tour to the Humboldt penguin island (8,000 CH$). We had to refuse as this is a bit expensive, too far, and we have already seen these penguins near Punta Arenas. We bought boiled eggs for dinner and camped far from the road in an old quarry.

Sick of Climbing 
At night Amit started feeling sicker and sicker. Therefore, after a 2 hour climb we had to stop for a half an hour Siesta. We found an exceptionally bad restaurant near the turn to Domeyko. That was the worst meal we had in Chile. We left the restaurant hungry, and to make up for it we ate a lot of cookies. Luckily, after another seemingly endless climb, we had a long descend all the way to the nice town of Vallenar.


We slept next to the Petrobras gas station, in the orchard of Gonzalo, and took a shower at the gas station (500 CH$).

Ghost Towns
We were happy to leave the busy Ruta 5 for a road that led towards the coast. Unfortunately we got delayed by another flat tire caused by our last silicon strap that is supposed to prevent flat tires. After we finished fixing it, we got quickly to Freirina, the last decent town in the upcoming days. There Amit got a bad hair cut and we had the chance to visit a photography exhibition entitled "Colors of the Atacama", which was just a nice photos show of the Atacama region flowers.


The delta of this valley´s river gives life to many different kinds of plants and animals we could not recognise.


After crossing the river, we got to the coastal road (Ruta Costiera de Atacama) which is the nicest road you can imagine. It is an old and a bit broken asphalt road going throgh the National park where almost no car passes. We filled water in one of the ghost town along the coast.


These towns are apparently crowded during the summer, but now almost no one lives there. We camped in front of the see, and cooked lunch with the slow sunset in the horizon. We spotted small flowers near our tent.


After crossing the nice Llamos de Challe national park, we had a very good lunch in a very expensive restaurant in Carrizal Bajo.


The view from this restaurant is amazing, and all the people there are very kind.


We found many flowers we recognised from the exhibition near where we camped.


The ride of the following day was fast due to the huge planes.


We managed to reach Puerto Viejo by the evening. This big town inhabits only 50 people in the winter, but by the number of houses, during the summer there are probably thousands of people there enjoying the beach.


There we got free water from a grumpy lady. Usually you would pay a lot for water in these isolated villages. We camped above a green valley which benefits from the Copiapo river´s water.

For more photos of this post click here
and here


                       Shoham & Amit
                     South America by Bicycle

Friday, May 6, 2011

La Serena

Chilean Sunday
We hoped to spend the following day in the internet, writing some updates and maybe find information on how is it to cycle the Atacama desert ahead. Unfortunately, it was Sunday. We couldn't believe it, but all the internet places were closed for the day. So we decided to pack and leave our cheap residence. While Shoham was packing, Amit was fixing our stove, and chatting with the other residents. They were all road workers, a part of 300 people (!), assigned to the task of paving 14 km of an existing road for a copper mining company. This project costs about 2,000,000 US$ per kilometer of road. They unsuccessfully tried to justify why so many people and so much machinery (about 50 bulldozers, tractors and trucks) are needed to pave such a small piece of road. We went to eat in the residence's restaurant, and had a nice Cazuela (a typical soup with vegetables and a piece of meat) with goat meat - the same goat that we saw being slaughtered in the garden. 


Amit defined the goat meat taste as something between beef and sheep meat. We also had an excellent seafood soup. Our original plan was to elongate the way and pass through the religious fiesta called "la Virgen de la Piedra " which excited the whole town. Its a catholic-pagan festivity, and every year about 20,000 people arrive from far away to participate. But as we left quite late, we abandoned this idea and took the easy paved road. After passing the junction that leads to the fiesta, the road became full of cars and buses bringing people back home from the fiesta. Many people were riding horses instead, singing happily and wearing funny Sombrero hats they got at the fiesta. 


We were really glad to see so many drunks on horses in contrast to all the drunks in cars.  It made the road a bit less crowded and much safer. Finding a place to camp between villages and cactus was not an easy task, but we manged to find a quiet hidden camp on some hill.


Wineyard valley
The road from there was quite flat and went through a beautiful valley, where grapes are grown and dried for making raisins. 



We lunched in a very cheap restaurant in Monte Patria. The food wasn't of very high quality, but we couldn't complain as we got a salad, Cazuela soup, a chicken schnitzel with rise and a frightening dessert of orange colored jelly. and all that for only 1,900 CH$. 


We rode for a while along a the lake, and this was a nice view variation in this arid valley.


Later we did some shopping in Ovalle, and slept a few kilometers away from this busy city. 

Hostel Search
We got up very early and after just a few kilometers on Ruta 43, we saw a camping and regretted not having ridden a bit more the previous night. It was nice and sunny, until at some point we saw a cloud blanket below us. 


A few minutes later we were under it and had to dress heavily against the cold. We passed many closed restaurants, as all Chileans lunch between 1 and 1:30 PM with no exception. We somehow survived riding until that time, and then entered the first open restaurant, "El Esfuerzo" at Pan the Azùcar village. 


We ate a good but a bit overcooked bean soup, and of course Cazuela soup, as well as grilled chicken accompanied by rice or pure and tomatoes. The food was great and quite cheap (2,500 CH$ for each of us), and the women there were extremely nice. The waitress and chef were both very interested in our trip, and we enjoyed chatting with them. 


After riding a bit more, we reached La Serena. To our regret, we couldn't find a CS host, as we reached there one day earlier than planned, so we took the cheapest hostel we could find, that was still quite expensive (6,000 CH$ per person after some bargaining). Nevertheless, we enjoyed very much our stay at Hostal Vergara


We spent the following morning preparing a lemon spongecake as dessert for the lunch they served (2,000 CH$ per person). A big table was set for the hostel´s guests together with the owner and chef. We enjoyed speaking some English with a couple of Chilean tourists who have been living in the US for the past 50 years. We had great chicken Cazuela, and Chilean bread (which is the most boring bread one could imagine, but Chileans love it) with amazing homemade mayonnaise, and Aji Pebre (hot peppers paste). Of course our cake was a success. 


In the evening we rode to our current CS host, Cristian Araya. It was easy to find his street, but the house itself was more of a problem, due to illogical numbering of the houses on this street. He lives in a huge mansion he inherited from his grandparents. Cristian spent 10 years studying in Arizona (U.S.A.), and therefore speaks perfect English. He works as a translator for a Canadian company in a copper mine near Calama. We hope to get there in about a month of riding. As it is so far away (more than 1,000 km), he flies to work there every second week. In the spare week he enjoys surfing various beaches of La Serena and any other extreme sport: snowboarding, skateboarding, BMX bicycle racing and probably many others. That's how he recently broke his knee. We plan to spend 2 more days here, hopefully we will get to see a bit of the city, when we are not on the internet. We will then continue riding north, into the desert, and along the coast.


                       Shoham & Amit
                     South America by Bicycle