It took us 3 days to get to Calama from Antofagasta. Calama is situated at 2,300 m above sea level, while Antofagasta is on the ocean´s coast. Except from the initial ascent from Antofagasta, we barely felt the climb, thanks to the back wind. On the way we passed 2 nice towns, Baquedano and Sierra Gorda, where there was a variety of restaurants. We lunched and filled water in both towns.
There was a gas station on the junction between Ruta 5 and Ruta 25, where the tap water wasn´t potable, and potable water was very expensive. There where 2 other restaurants around the 73rd km of Ruta 25. We saw a lot of ruins of Ex-Oficinas that where active at the beginning of the 20th century, and slept in such ruins in the second night.
In the third evening, we started seeing snowy mountain tops in the horizon, of almost 6,000 m above sea level.
We slept near the rail way, and were woken a few times during that night from the roar of the train. During these days, the wind always blew in accordance with the sun´s movement - in the morning we had face wind, and back wind in the evening. Surprisingly, there is life in the desert: in every water station there was a small forest, and we saw some flowers and butterflies just by the side of the road.
There were some trucks with unusual cargo. One had 30 m long steel bars, that were supported by a truck in the front and in the back by a disconnected set of wheels.
Another had a bucket of huge tractor, and there where also big tires, and something gigantic in the width of 2 lanes.
In the entrance to Calama on Lattore street, we found a bicycle shop, Turbikes, which was simple but cheap. They kindly agreed to manually elongate the threads on 20 spokes. Another good bicycle shop in Calama is Oxford, which is run by a former world champion and sells mostly Bianchi products (made in Chile). We liked the Napolis bakery in Granaderos street, where we ate cheap yet delicious Budins - cinnamon cakes with raisins with Manjar (Dulce de Leche) coating. The kids from the private schools where protesting in the plaza.
They shouted something like: "Uff uff que calor, el guanaco porfavor". The cops got stressed, and the kids started marching on the street. After a few hours of interneting, we ate in the most famous restaurant in town called Osorno.
Eventhough it was very luxurious there, we could afford their lunch menu (3,000 CH$), which was a bit more interesting than the typical Chilean lunch. Most people prefer the grilled meat (or Parrillada in Chile) option (14,000 CH$). The waiter from Colombia was excited from Amit´s choice to eat the Colombian typical dish: Milanesa de Higado (liver Schnitzel).
The proof this place was luxurious we got after waiting half an hour for dessert which was a delicious apple in wine. On our way to the Hyper Lider huge supermarket, we crossed the clothes market where they sell good smelling food. After shopping Amit cooked a delicious Mejadera dish. We hoped to take the guided tour to the biggest open copper mine in the world, which is 16 km north to Calama, but all the tickets were sold. It is highly recommended to book a few days ahead in the tourist office in front of the city hall. We changed money for an outrageous rate (we lost 15% of the money´s value) in Western Union office, but still it was the best we could find in the city.
Our CouchSurfing host, Oscar Encalada, let us taste his great Seitan he likes to make and eat. From 2 kg of flour, after a process of 24 hours of soaking the flour, washing and cooking it, he gets about of half a kg of Seitan. This was the first time we tried it, and it was good even without any seasoning. We used it to make a stir-fry dish.
After we met Oscar´s parents and sister, we realised he wasn´t the only nice person in his family. Oscar taught himself English from books, and started hosting through the CouchSurfing website to practice the language. Thanks to this website he and his family traveled a lot around the world. The Encalada family are members of the Christian health cult (this is not the official name) where they teach you how to make Seitan.
The basis of this religion is the 10 commandments, that´s why they don´t work on SHABAT (Saturday). They love Israel and the bible stories we have never studied at school due to our periodic and selective educational program. Oscar watches many documentary movies, which makes the conversations with him rich and interesting. As we started being addicted to the Chilean TV, we watched the movie ¨The Ramen Girl¨ about an American girl whose dream is to become a Ramen Chef. To know the end you will have to watch this movie. We had breakfast with Oscar and his father, and they both where thrilled to discover you can cook bananas (with porridge, as usual for us). When Oscar helped us do our laundry we discovered they have a castle, 3 stories high with 11 bedrooms. They built it 40 years ago as a residential, and today they host only mine workers and CouchSurfers.
Oscar started building a new house for his family in their huge backyard, but it will take a while as he is in no rush. When we told him about the Casa de Ciclistas in South America, he was thrilled from the idea of becoming one himself. In return to his kindness Amit revived his 10 years old bicycle which looked so sad before in the corner of the backyard.
Betty, his dog, helped by entertaining us by endlessly running after her dirty eaten ball, never missing one and never stopping to rest. When packing to leave, Oscar couldn´t resist weighing the bikes loaded with water and food. Apparently, Shoham´s bike weighs 55 kg, and Amit´s bike weighs 77 kg (more than his weight!). After having lunch with Oscar, we headed out towards San Pedro de Atacama.