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Arequipa Peru to Iquique Chile – PanAm Hwy

Arequipa Peru to Iquique Chile – PanAm Hwy

Singing the song.. “On the Road Again”.  The 2700 km marathon is like a full time job, and I treat it as one.  I want to be on the road by 8 and off again between 5 and 6. My headlights are literally useless, so riding at night is not an option particularly in the big desert alone. There’s not likely to be a stop for lunch, so extra food and water too. A border crossing coming up with Peru and Chile, so documents out and prepared. Fuel up.

Do these photos seem redundant?  Out of choice, I could opt not to include such boring shots. However this is my life this week and the sandy road goes on and on……all day, every day.  I never used to think that so much of our planet is dead (in the sense of growing food).  It reminds me of the landscape on the old movie “Planet of the Apes“.  I’ve ridden through deserts before. Heck most of my own country of Australia is one! But I’d swear we have more living plants and animals in our Australian deserts. Not sure about that, but it seems like it today from my motorcycle seat.

I was so excited to see a bit of life ahead, I got my camera ready.  Is it a tree?  Nope.. the photo above is a MAN walking on this road.  Where is he going?  I have to admit, I look forward to passing that bus.  They travel very fast, so passing them on the long stretches gives me something to do.. ha!

And the one below is..

two living plants, actually! I have noticed this a lot.  These roadside memorials are always looked after.  Quite often I even see a candle burning inside, in the middle of nowhere.  Somebody comes all the way out here from wherever they live to water these plants; to keep them alive in a desert!! Or in other cases, to light a candle.  Very dedicated.

Sometimes I just need to stretch the legs, even if just a moments worth..

Ah! Check it out!  A shop!  Lucky surprise!! An opportunity for a coke. I hope they have one. Caffeine to keep me from nodding off while riding.  It still amazes me that such a thing is possible. I shouldn’t be tired, I slept well last night.  Same thing was happening when I rode across Canada.  As soon as I start to nod off, it’s important for me to just stop the bike. Even if I get off the bike for 2 seconds without cutting the engine, I’m good to go again somewhat.  But caffeine is even better.

And check this house out.  It is the one and only house with a garden I have seen in all these days.

Where in the heck do they get the water.  There are no car tracks, so it’s not carted in from what I can tell. I don’t expect they have underground plumbing.  I look at the neighborhood in the photo below and wonder so much what their daily life is like.

Yes!  The sign I’ve been waiting for, Tacna.  Which is my goal destination for tonight near the border of Chile.

It took quite a while to find a place to stay here with safe parking for the bike.  Once I did, quick shower and the next search for dinner begins. I scoured the streets to find green food, more than anything I just wanted a salad.  I don’t care what it costs, but if it’s raw and green, I need it. Maybe it’s simply a mental thing of being deprived of the color green so many days in a row.  Found it! (I included a bit of purple too, nice glass of wine.. 😉

Welcome to Chile!

Excited to be in the 42nd country so far on my motorcycle!  Not so excited to see how many dag gone kilometers yet to go.  Copiapo is the goal. So far I’m still on schedule.

I went in to Arica first.  Different country, different currency so I need to find Chilean ATM to give me Chilean pesos to buy fuel.  I hope they have an ATM there!

They did, but I have an even bigger problem.  My chain has become very loose.  Even though I have the tool to loosen or tighten my chain, every man or mechanic who has tried to use that KTM standard tool can’t make the big nut budge.  So I’ve got no bloody hope in making it work myself. Arica isn’t a super huge town, but big enough to have a moto mechanic around.  I searched and searched with no success. I finally got a cab driver to meander all the back streets until we found a little shack completely full with a pile of metal parts.

I asked the old man if he has big tools to help with my chain. He dug some out of the shack, and even though there were a couple guys waiting for their little motos to be fixed, he took mine on straight away.  I could smell the alcohol on his breath, but very nice old man.  His super size wrench wasn’t going to do it either.  So he jumped on his little scooter without saying a word and was gone for about 10 minutes.  Gee whiz, dude… where did you go!  I can’t hang around!  It’s okay, but I wish he told me how long he would be.  He came back with an even bigger wrench.  Lord have mercy..

This one did the trick along with a leverage bar to loosen the bolt.  We made the appropriate adjustments. The chain is tighter now, thank goodness (on the hot street outside the little shack full of pieces and parts, and plenty of locals watching the crazy foreign lady check the notches). I feel better to carry on now.  Also feeling a bit nervous about the time I’ve spent in Arica.  Finding money took a lot of time, finding a mechanic took forever… let’s get out of here!

I was buzzing along (head down, bum up as the Aussies would say) and around 100 km away, it hit me.  I didn’t get fuel!!!  Crap.  Checked the gps which said there is a town coming up in 80 km.  I can make that.

Found these things on the side of the road.  To this day, I had no idea what they are about, but they look cool!

After some online research, I learned these were sculpted here in the Atacama desert by a famous Chilean about 15 years ago. Called the Tutelar Figures, they represent the origins of the ancestors. The sculpture in the background is called “Planet Earth”.

These two are called “Man and Woman”

I watched my gps counting down to the upcoming town.. So disappointed when I arrived and it’s not a town at all!  There were only a couple shacks selling snacks like the one I stopped to earlier with a coke, and a couple of big trucks. No fuel AT ALL!!  I got goosebumps, I got totally cold with worry on a hot day.

I managed to talk to one of the truck drivers and double checked.  “Where can I get fuel in this town?”  He said, “No fuel here.”  How far to the next town?  He said, 230 km.  Not possible, not even a consideration.  He kept shaking his head and said Arica is the only town with fuel.  Bugger bugger bugger!

However,  I’m 180 km down the road, and turning back is just as impossible.  I won’t make it that far either.  Oh man, I screwed up and I’m in trouble now. (The reason that I screwed up is because I COULD HAVE filled both my fuel tanks giving me 26 litres of fuel.  (Depending on the quality of the fuel and the elevation, I can get between 450 – 550 km in one big fill). In Peru, there were always plenty of fuel stops, never a problem. So I assumed Chile would be the same.. MEE-STAKE! Due to the extra weight, I usually only fill up my Safari tank in the front. The Safari tank is ideal because it’s 14 litres on it’s own, and I can fill it from the front of the bike. Whereas the rear stock KTM fuel means I have to pull my black bag off every time I fill up.  I don’t fill up both tanks unless I know I really have to.  (Which would have been today if I had done my research properly!) I asked the man if he had any fuel to sell, but he was driving on diesel.  Crap! This really is a big mistake, one of the biggest I’ve made on this entire journey!

I sat there for a while, still ticked off at the time I’m losing. (I originally budgeted for a screw up day or a problem day, but I traded that spare day for an extra day with Kevin in Lima).  So time is of the essence! I wasn’t comfortable to just stay here, and it was stupid to leave.  But I did. I don’t have a solution to the problem, so I decided to just ride anyway.. okay then!?  Even I don’t know how my head works sometimes.  I should have about 70 km of fuel left and if nothing else, when I run out, I can set up my tent and sleep in the sand until I manage to flag somebody down who may be traveling with a fuel tin.  I’d rather screw up more on my intended route, than attempt to reverse 180 km back to Arica).

Slowly I moved on.  If there was any bit of a slight decline or curve, I let off the throttle and coasted.  All the while coming up with heaps of scarey scenarios in my head of how this night might turn out.  When the odd vehicle passed me in another direction.  I was ready to stop the bike and flag them down.  But there was no point.  Every single passerby was a gigantic truck, which runs on diesel.  Where are the cars?  Does nobody travel in this country?  And why are there no fuel stops?  My bike can go as far as a car, so they wouldn’t make it either without a fuel stop! I was angry and scared on the edge, and a bit over the top. There are many routes in Australia that you HAVE to carry extra fuel as well, it’s part of life. This is my first day in Chile…

Out of nowhere, there was a construction stop on the road.  I remember thinking that if anything happened, I can mark their location on my gps to get back to them if needed. I asked the nice young guy in an orange work suit if any of the work vehicles had fuel I could buy.  He said no, they are all diesel too, but there is fuel only 30 km ahead. (I’m looking at my gps and it doesn’t show anything ahead).  Really?? Are you sure?  (Estas seguro???) The last place was marked on my gps and didn’t have any fuel.  I made it clear that I am out of fuel and he has to be sure.  He tells me he is very sure, so I carried on.

Please be right.  I am totally riding on fumes and was stressed for the next 30 km until I came to the intersection he described.  I expected to see a fuel sign, prices, maybe even gas pump.  NOTHING!!  OMG, I’m panicking now.  This mustn’t be the intersection, or I totally misunderstood him in Spanish, which is very possible.

The good news, is there is one small truck here.  I hope he has some spare fuel we can pull from the tank. I peeked inside the open door of the shack.  The man said I can buy fuel, go around the back.  I walked around the back to where the barking dogs and chickens were.  About 4 doors, and none of them open.  I went back to the front.  He said, yeah yeah, go around the back.  I went around the back and waited again. What is going on with these people, do they have fuel or not??  I don’t get it!

So I went back to the front door.  He told me to go around the back and I was stressed enough, I nearly kicked the guy in the shin.  I said no, I will wait here until you show me the fuel.

Eventually he finished what he was doing and started through the back room.  He pointed and showed me to go back out the door and meet him at the back, and I said No.  I stayed right on his heel and followed him through the very scary shack.

But it’s there… FUEL.   It was like the golden liquid to me.  I nearly had tears.

I’ve been warned about this plastic jug fuel, and never had to use it before.  Is there dirt or water in the fuel that is going to cause my motor to fail down the road.. I hope not!

I wanted a filter, but didn’t know what to use.  I have since learned I could have used a t-shirt or some people carry a coffee filter for these times.  Smart!  There is nowhere in the world I have needed to buy this dodgey fuel, even in Siberia.  My bike does go far enough between fuel stations even in desolate areas, if I had only filled both tanks.

Anyway, the man was quite humored about my worries, and he did his best to assure me not to worry anymore.

Oh, thank God.  I’m back on the road and I can think about other things in my helmet other than the unpleasant evening in the dark desert is going to be like.  I do have plenty of food and water.

This was a wacky day, with the border crossing, the chain tightening in Arica, the fuel, and now I am finally pulling in to my goal destination of Iquique, Chile.

Don’t tell me, is that a freakin’ sand dune hovering over this town?  What a sight!  I’ve never seen a sand dune like this in my life.  How do you keep it from burying the town below if the wind shifts!?

Coming down the big hill into town reminded me of the higher elevation I have been traveling.

Then came the long search of finding a place to sleep tonight.  At the time, I didn’t realize that Chile is so much more expensive than Peru.  I must have searched for over an hour to find a cheap’ish place with secure parking.  Didn’t like spending that money, would have rather camped.  But I did get to talk to Kevin on skype and tell him about my dreadful day.  He was a world of support and reminded me as he often does, that it amazes him whenever I need help, I seem to attract the best people right on time, like magic. He put a positive spin on it, and yes, he is right.  I made it again today and it’s because of the wonderful people who helped me.  Thank you….

Originally from America. Proud citizen of Australia. Currently riding my motorcycle around the world. 44 countries so far and counting. ;-)

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