December 27, 2017 – January 13th, 2018

The Waiting Game & End of Blog

While we were waiting for three packages to arrive from the States, we decided to explore the areas surrounding Santiago. 

We wanted to start with the Maipo River Valley. But first on Dec. 27th, upon trying to retrieve the truck/camper from the airport long-term parking, we discovered the truck wouldn’t start and because it was parked close to fence to allow vehicles to pass behind, we couldn’t access the hood release. With the aid of a friendly Chilean who wanted to practice his English, we called the mechanic we had used upon first arriving in Santiago who came out and his helper climbed over hood and while propped against fence, found the latch. Using their battery, they jump-started the truck. And told us that our battery was fine and didn’t need to be replaced.

So we left Santiago and stayed at Camping de Sauce in the Maipo River valley southeast of Santiago. Didn’t see many of the vineyards or wineries that the Maipo Valley is known for. 

The 28th found us continuing up the valley to the Embalsa (reservoir) de Yeso; us and 20+ tour buses. But the buses left around 3pm and we were just left with the numerous dump trucks hauling materials down the mountain. We boondocked overnight at the reservoir while the trucks rumbled by until 10pm and started up at 5am the next morning. 

Embalsa Yeso

Returning to the flatlands on the 29th, we tried to track down the wineries in Maipo but of the five we could locate, all were closed. We ended up boondocking at a Shell truck and rest area on Highway 5 south of Santiago. Large family traffic though since start of major holiday weekend. 

On the 30th we drove along the Ruta de la Fruta, a major agricultural area to Camping Naviocar located on the shores of Lago de Rapel. The Lago is a major reservoir and is nestled among low hills. It is a really beautiful spot even if the campground was rundown.  Editor’s Note: All the campgrounds are “run down.”

Lago de Rapel

The 31st found us celebrating New Year’s Eve at Naviocar; campground was full of Chileans enjoying the lake, pool and BBQs. 

2018 January 1

The New Year found us back on the road to Rocas de Santo Domingo. Beautiful beachside community reminding us of Carmel or an upscale Santa Cruz, CA. We boondocked in the beach parking lot and had a gorgeous sunset to celebrate the New Year. 

Jan. 2nd we drove to Cartagena just up the coast from Rocas. It was packed because of the holiday and summer getaway. We boondocked in its beach parking overnight. During a walk into town for lunch, we visited their equivalent of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.


On Jan. 3rd we first visited the Humedal Laguna de Cartagena, a very nice bird sanctuary wetlands. We saw the biggest flock of whimbrels we have ever seen. 

Brown-headed Gull

After spending a few hours at the wetlands, we drove to Camping Millantú campground situated on the Rio Maipo. 

We stayed at Millantú from Jan. 4th – 8th where we relaxed and did some minor work on camper during which time Dave fell on a small step stool and injured his ribs. And gashed his head on camper corner while doing work underneath the camper. 

On the 9th we decided to return to Santiago to see about the status of our packages in person. But once again the truck wouldn’t start. A campground worker gave us a jump-start directly. 

We drove into Santiago and parked in the Parque Arauco Mall to get a new truck battery, groceries and use the wifi at Starbucks. However during the process of opening and closing the truck hood to view the battery specifications, the pain from Dave’s injury caused him to double over and almost fall to the ground. Security staff rushed to his aid and wheeled him into the Mall’s paramedics station in a wheelchair. The paramedic couldn’t help him but made arrangements for an ambulance to take him to a private hospital to see a doctor. 

After 10 hours of doctors exams, two x-rays and a ct scan, it was determined he had fractured a rib. The good news was that it only cost $383 including ambulance ride. 

A political note here: The doctors were efficient, qualified and spoke English as well as Spanish. The hospital was modern with all new equipment. Puts the USA medical system to shame where the same tests and treatment would have cost possibly 100 times greater. We know from personal experience the ambulance ride alone would have been $3600.

By the time it was diagnosed and medication prescribed, we didn’t have access to the truck/camper locked in the mall parking lot since it was so late and after checking in with six different hotels, couldn’t find a hotel room until the doctor that saw Dave last, got us a reservation at a faculty that is a hotel for rehab patients.

The 10th was spent in the hotel while Dave recuperated. 

Dave felt he could move enough on the 11th to keep on with our errands, so we first went to the Aeropost delivery company and raised hell about the long delay with our packages. The local boss, Jaime, said he would look into it after we specifically pointed out which invoice pages he was missing and what added up to what items in each box. 

We returned to Parque Arauco Mall, purchased a new battery, installed it, bought groceries and settled in at Starbucks to use their wifi while waiting for Aeropost to call. 

At 5, we received the call from Aeropost and they had the packages. After an Uber ride there, we picked up packages and took Uber back to truck/camper. 

At which time we discovered some crook had punched out our truck’s passenger door lock and stole some of David’s camera gear and some camping gear while we were gone; although there were security guards and even a group of 7 Chilean police nearby.  

Feeling disheartened and in pain, we boondocked at a nearby gas station to re-evaluate what to do next. 

After a night of mulling over options, we have decided to call it quits after 21 & 1/2 months on the road and 25,000 miles and forego driving to  South America’s tip because in many ways, that would have been the most difficult part of our journey. 

Currently we’re in an airport hotel looking for ways to get the truck/camper shipped back to USA. 

This entry will end our blogging.

Two of the reasons we’re ending our trip in Chile are:

1. One of the camper’s roof motors is failing. Getting a replacement and installing it is impossible in South America, and

2. We’re just tired of worrying about security every time we walk away from the truck. And Brazil is notorious for notorious for property crime – and worse – against foreigners.  –Dave

December 13 – 26th 2017

Santiago – Big City time

On Dec. 13th we left Valparaiso, retrieved our truck/camper from the campground where we had parked it and drove to Santiago and checked into CityExpress Airport Hotel since they had free parking.

The first thing we did was take Uber to Aeropost to set up an account. Dave had been told by Aeropost in an online chat that we had to go to this particular office on Ave. Nataniel Cox to set up a RUT account (similar to a US SSAN) since we couldn’t ship into Chile without that number. Once there we were told we could have used our passport number to open up an account. The mis-information that Dave received caused us over a +two week delay and that’s why we stayed as long as we did in Santiago and its environs.

After getting the Aeropost account set up, we took Uber to mechanic Mario Oyance Lubricentro mentioned in iOverlander to set up an appointment to get regularly scheduled oil change, tire rotations, inspection of tires and various other truck maintenance items.

When we returned at 7:30am on the 14th, Raul, the mechanic, efficiently got everything done by 9:45. He and Mario were friendly, courteous and inexpensive. Mario, the owner, even gave us a bottle of wine as a parting gift.

Since we were on a roll, we drove directly to Camper Travel (a small camper manufacturer) on the northern edge of Santiago’s suburbs and Rodrigo, the owner, and his staff had our kitchen water line unclogged in 30 minutes. (Finding the plant based on the gps coordinates we had took more time.)(And also took more time for me to move items out of cabinet and afterwards returning them into cabinet.)

On Dec. 15th we drove to the Airport’s long-term parking lot and left the truck/camper and took a taxi into Centro and checked into the Hotel Sommelier Boutique on Merced.

We tried to take the Hop On Hop Off Bus tour but once we found a stop, discovered we couldn’t actually take the tour since we hadn’t bought a ticket beforehand. (In all the other large cities we have visited on this trip, you could buy the tickets on the bus.)

On Sunday 16th we were successful in locating the Hop On Hop Off bus and a newspaper kiosk who sold us a ticket. We rode the circuit with one stop at Costanera Mall and the Sky Costanera Tower.

Tallest building in Latin America – 62 stories.

The Tower is the tallest building in Latin America with 62 floors. It ranks in the top 15 tallest buildings in the world. We took the $30 elevator ride! up but it was so smoggy that only glimpses of the Andes were visible.

View from the 62nd floor of the Costanera Center

The 17th was Chile’s Presidential election and though we visited the Plaza de Armas, the cathedral and palace and everything was closed because of the election.

Monday the 18th found us searching for and visiting a dentist.

But the highlight of the day was after looking up at the sky, because everyone else was, to see a sun halo. It was our first sighting of this natural phenomenon and although we have seen moon haloes, this was very impressive and stayed around for hours.

(Halo is the name for a family of optical phenomena produced by light interacting with ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere.

On the 19th we were able to get into the central Post Office to observe the architecture, the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Centro Cultural Estaćion Mapoche (restored historic central train station) Museo Histórico Nacional where we were limited to only one floor due to maintenance and the Parroquia Milagroso Niño.

Restoring the artwork on the ceiling in the Metropolitan Cathedral.

The 20th found us wandering around looking for a medical clinic, a pharmacy, visiting the Iglesia San Francisco and walking along the Alameda (Ave. Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins.)

On the 21st we visited the Museo Nacional de Belles Artes, a restored 1910 Paris’ Petit Palais-style which now is home to traditional art pieces as well as modern visiting exhibitions.

Museo Nacional de Belles Artes

We were fortunate to hook up with Pacifican friends Deb & Kevin who are vacationing in Chile in the afternoon for lunch and into the evening for catching up.

The Hotel Somelier moved us into a suite and at this point I must say the Hotel and this room was just about perfect. This Hotel is centrally-located site within walking distance to all sites in Centro, bountiful breakfast buffet (even if the same every day) quiet and spacious room, big and exactly needed firm bed, friendly staff, and great bathroom and shower.

Our first outing on the 22nd was to take the funicular up to the Cerro San Cristóbal but after walking to the station, discovered the funicular was closed for maintenance but Turibus was operating a bus up to the top. Once on top, the smog again prevented a clear view up to the Andes.

After returning down to the Centro via a bus, we walked over to Pablo Neruda’s house. There was a steep entrance fee so we didn’t visit the house but we did get to see the pavilion outside the house set on a hillside lined with approx. 15″ pavers set slightly apart to allow water to flow around, through and down the terraces.

We signed up for a Maipo Valley wine tour on the 23rd. And once again off to a poor start since 20-25 minutes late. It is operated by a Southern California man who has moved to Chile with his fiancé and has studied to be a sommelier in Chile. He drove and navigated and we were joined by a mother/son from Ohio.

We first visited Haras de Pirque, a secondary business after horse racing for the wealthy businessman owner. Consequently there is a recurring theme throughout winery including the building shaped like a horseshoe to the wines named for some of their horses. It was recently sold to a big Italian family well known for their wines.

Haras de Pirque Winery

Our second tour and tasting (and lunch) was at Concha y Toro – one of the largest wineries in Chile if not the biggest.

Chile’s national grape. It was thought to be Merlot for about 100 years.

The 24th was quiet although we tried to see the new Star Wars movie in English. No luck with the movie.

The 25th was also quiet although we shared Christmas dinner with Deb and Kevin.

On the 26th we went back to Aeropost to see what was happening with our packages and was told maybe six more days. At least now, the packages are in Chile.

While in that area we visited the Palacio Cousiño – the former mansion for the Cousiño family – and had a English-speaking guide take us on a tour by ourselves since no one else was there. The mansion is gorgeous and the main floor and furnishings are original although the top floor was damaged in a fire and has been replaced by the Chilean government with lesser quality items and copies.

We tried for the movie again but the times just didn’t work out.

We decided to leave Santiago and go out to surrounding environs while waiting for Aeropost. For more on those locales, see next post.

December 3 – 12, 2017

Mid Coastal cities, Pisco tasting & Valparaiso (San Francisco’s twin)

On Sunday Dec. 3rd we took a taxi into the historic center of La Serena. The main plaza was empty of people because Chileans don’t get going until 8am and on Sunday closer to 10. The only area that had activity was the La Recova market.

So we walked back down to the Jardín Japonés – Japanese garden – located just north of the Plaza Nobel Gabriel Mistral. Nice size garden that Canon cameras is underwriting for the privilege of setting up booths in the park, renting out cameras and conducting photo workshops in the park. Several groups of ‘students’ were utilizing their services on this Sunday morning. The garden had a nice selection of bonsai on display.  Another walk along Coquimbo’s malecón along Avenida del Mar completed our day.

Grim accordian player in La Serena

Dec. 4 was a lazy day that included another walk along the malecón.

On Dec. 5, we left Coquimbo and headed inland to the Elqui Valley – prime Chilean growing region for the grapes that make Pisco (grape brandy).

Elqui (el-key) Valley vineyards
Elqui (el-key) Valley vineyards

After a brief stop at the Embalsa Puclaro Reservoir to check out the dam, we arrived in Vicuña.


We visited the Capel Pisco distillery and took a tour that was interesting and informative. Capel is a co-op of 1500 of the region’s growers, employs 5,000+ and turns out 10,000+ bottles a day. The grounds are gorgeous, the cellars are massive and the tasting room, restaurant/bar and sales room would rival anything in California’s Napa Valley.

Distillation tanks

After the tour, we set up a boondock site on Vicuna’s  main plaza, but had to move once because the plaza was extremely busy and our camper was too long for that parking space but we were able to find a parallel spot just around the corner on the west side of the plaza.


We wiled away the afternoon watching the local children present a Christmas pageant and musical show.

In the evening we took a tour up to the Observatorio Cerro Mamalluca for star-gazing. Tour groups had to actually hire a separate ‘business owner’ to provide transportation up the mountain. Our driver’s vehicle was not up to the task and the driver had to literally creep up the mountain and even had to stop and add more water to the radiator once the ‘Check Engine’ light came on.

After finally arriving, we took the English-speaking tour which was the smaller group and set off. The Astronomy guide spoke good English, was informative, interesting and obviously enthused about his career. This night the moon didn’t come up until later so we were able to see the stars well.

On the 6th, we drove further up the Elqui Valley on D-485 along the Rio Claro to the town of Pisco Elqui where the Mistral Pisco distillery is located. Along the way we stopped at Cavas del Valle – the only winery in Elqui Valley actually using their grapes to produce wines – not Pisco.

Pisco Elqui

After lunch, we retreated back down to La Serena’s outskirts and headed south on #43 to Ovalle and then turned west to Monumento Arqueológico Valle del Canto. We boondocked outside the Monumento’s gates on private land but received permission from the owner’s son who was out dirt bike riding.

Early on the 7th, we hiked around the dry and arid Monumento looking for petroglyphs and other signs of early Chilean cultures. Us and two busloads of teens who chatted throughout their hikes.


Then it was back to Ruta 5 and once again south along the Coast to Caleta Los Vilos where we boondocked on an oceanfront street across from the docks. For the first time we saw three southern sea otters frolicking in the surf.

Los Vilos fishing boats

We drove straight through on Friday Dec. 8th  to Rancho Casanova campground on the outskirts of Viña Del Mar and settled in after navigating their 400 meter driveway over and through road construction obstacles.

We left the truck/camper at Rancho Casanova on the 9th and took Uber into Valparaiso where we had booked rooms at the Hotel Da Vinci. We had decided to leave the truck/camper outside Valparaiso because this bustling and active port town has narrow streets set on numerous hills and is not known for its security and parking would have been impossible.

In many ways, Valparaiso reminded me so much of San Francisco. Numerous hills as mentioned above, active port, tourist town with cruise stops, old mansions and houses subject to restrictions on historic restoration, colorful murals everywhere, a 1906 earthquake that devastated the city and foggy, cool and damp weather.

But on our day of arrival, it was sunny and warm so we climbed one of the ‘hidden’ staircases to the Palacio Baburizza.

Palacio Baburizza

“Palacio Baburizza is the former residence of Croatian businessman Pascual Baburizza. It was built in 1916 by Italian architects, and eventually turned into a museum in 1971, and declared a historic monument in 1976.

In 1971, the palace was bought by the local government of Valparaiso to be used as a museum and a school of Fine Arts. Today, it gathers an important collection of works; many of these bequeathed by Pascual Baburizza. Mauricio Rugendas, Alfredo Valenzuela Puelma, Alfredo Helsby and Carlos Hermosilla Álvarez are among the most important painters.The building is an art nouveau chalet with remarkable details in its woodwork, wrought iron, and central turret.”


For our return trip down the hill we took advantage of one of the 11 still working funiculars out of the original 30 called Ascensor El Peral.

On the 10th we decided to take the Valparaiso free Walking Tour which turned out to be quite informative even if it did mean climbing hill and dale. And we did get to take two funiculars: El Peral and Reina Victoria. The guide pointed out the stories behind many of the murals as well as the staircases; many which are painted with their own story. Turned out to be foggy all day.

Dec. 11th found us in a cooking class with Gonzalo Lara. It didn’t start out well, he was late picking us up and then didn’t provide much information as we were going through the market. We just trotted around behind him.

After driving to his house, we met his wife, uncle and father. We spent the rest of the morning chopping, slicing and dicing preparing five dishes including a ceviche, a salsa, a typical Chilean tomato salad and two different, what he called casseroles, dishes. (More like risottos but with a cornmeal polenta base instead of rice.) Gonzalo was impressed with Dave’s knife work.

We had everything prepared around 1:30 and his family, who did speak some English, joined us for lunch. His father brought out a bottle of wine and we enjoyed the efforts produced by our morning of cooking.

Afterwards he drove us by Pablo Neruda’s Valparaiso house and we made stops at an empañada shop, a bakery with the oldest oven in Valparaiso, a meat carnicería and finally a sweets shop for various samplings.

During the 12th we just rested and only made one excursion on the Ascensor Artillería funicular up to the Paseo 21 de Mayo where we spent time watching the loading/unloading of the very busy container ship port and the approaching sunset.

How’d you like to climb this after a hard day’s work?
Any guesses?
Furnicular view

The 13th and later days’ activities in the next chapter.

November 26 – December 2, 2017

Leaving Atacama desert behind; Mostly

Antofagasta Chile – what another surprise. Dave and I are beginning to really like the coastal cities in the far north of Chile.

Antofagasta is similar to Iquique but its location isn’t set against such a towering sand dune like Iquique. It is, however, like Iquique set between the coastal range and the Pacific Ocean. Antofagasta is slightly bigger population-wise; both are major seaports servicing primarily the minerals being mined in the Atacama region for export, both have wonderful seaside malecóns, both have high rise condominiums and apartments scattered throughout their cities, both have interesting historic centers relating to the colonial exploitation of the Chile’s mineral wealth, and both have an arid climate with temperatures in mid 70’s and both are foggy in the mornings clearing by noon.

On the 26th, we wandered south along the Antofagasta malecón to a municipal beach and watched the Chilean families enjoying a variety of water activities and sunbathing. I became engrossed in watching one novice kayaker who spilled into the water trying to regain his seat in the kayak. No luck, he finally had to swim to shore towing the kayak.

Antofagasta’s shorline
Antofagsta’s public beach
Reminds me of Pacifica where you put on a jacket when going to the beach.
Antofagasta at night

The 27th found us wandering in the northern direction along the malecón and into the downtown historic area to the Plaza de Armas.

In the evening we made arrangements to take an astronomy tour to do some star watching since Northern Chile has almost ideal observing conditions to watch the stars and Chile has a number of international observatories scattered through the Atacama Region. Minimal water vapor in the atmosphere, little cloud cover, sparse light pollution and high peaks for stationing the observatories make for some of Earth’s best viewing of the stars.

I thought our tour was to an actual observatory; instead it was an astronomer phd. instructor and his student who drove us up to one of the peaks south of Antofagasta, set up his large professional telescope and ‘lectured’ us on what we were seeing. Interesting fact: the telescopes are now aligned using gps. He was knowledgeable and didn’t make it too technical so we could understand him and he spoke good English. So even though not what I was expecting, it turned out to be a good evening even when the almost full moon cast so much light it started to blur the stars and planets.

Sunset at our star gazing site

On the 28th we left the Coast briefly on Highway 5 to drive to Chañaral. But on the way we stopped at the El Mano del Desierto ‘weird’ sculpture set out in the middle of the windswept desert and a second even odder stop – an old huge abandoned historic cemetery for the mining company – Oficina Chile. After arriving in Chañaral, we boondocked at one of their oceanside parking lots above some docks.

Mano del Desierto
Oficina Chile Cementario

We have noticed, and there are big government billboards making the announcements, Chile is in a big infrastructure municipal projects boom. We have seen work on town boat ramps to service their fishing and tourist industries, bridges on small roads across, mostly in this area, dry streams and river beds, seawalls, roads of course, public housing, water canals, town central plazas, seaside malecóns and art projects. All for “Todos por Chile”.

On Nov. 29th we drove north from Chañaral to the Pan de Azúcar. This coastal nature reserve abuts the ocean and climbs over the coastal range so it has several different habitats for plants and animals. One of the islands offshore is a Humboldt penguin nesting ground. But they were not in evidence at this time of the year.

The dirt road leading to the reserve is in good shape but when we tried to take the side spur to the Mirador, it quickly became worse. So after a short while we returned to Caleta Pan de Azúcar and boondocked in one of their parking lots. And watched the bus loads of children and teens come through. After the buses left, it was quiet even if windy.

Pan de Azucar

The 30th found us back on the road to Bahía Inglesa and Caldera.

The Caldera fishing fleet

The most unusual stop during this mostly coastal road drive was the Santuario de la Naturaleza Granito Orbicular.

“The orbicular granite, also known as orbicular rock or orbiculite, is an unusual rare plutonic igneous rock usually of granitic composition in a general sense. These rocks have a unique appearance of “orbiculos” (concentric layers of spheroidal structure) probably formed by nucleation around a growth nucleus (mineral grain or strange rock) in a cooling magma chamber. On the beach there is a geological outcrop consisting of granite rocks with these elliptical orbits. (

Orbicular rock

In Caldera we visited the main square and had lunch at a restaurant in the fish market before driving to Bahía Inglesa where we boondocked in their new beach parking lot; quite a project with paved walking paths and covered awnings.

Boondocking in Bahia Inglesa

After another quiet night with only the sounds of the shorebirds, we left Bahía Inglesa on Friday Dec. 1 and turned inland. Only when we got closer to Copiapó and along the Rio Copiapó did vineyards and other farming areas start dotting the valley.

We made a stop at the Museo Minera de Tierra Amarilla just outside Copiapó but what a disappointment. The outside exhibits had limited signage so the numerous displays just looked like chunks of rock and the interior rooms weren’t even open. I had wanted to see the capsule that brought the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped underground for 69 days in 2010 up to the surface. Later we learned that the Chilean President delayed their release for several hours so he could get there for the photo op. Politicians are the same everywhere. (Speaking of that politician, he just won re-election on the 17th.)

What was interesting was when we continued west on C-411 back to Ruta 5 we discovered miles of vineyards covering the valleys’ floors and partially up the otherwise brown dry hillsides.

After driving for some time on Ruta 5, we turned west at Vallenar and followed the verdant Rio Huasco orchard valley filled with olive trees to the port town of Huasco. Where we boondocked in one of their beach parking lots after exploring the center on foot.

The desert in bloom along Ruta 5

Dec. 2nd we drove from Huasco to La Serena or more precisely Coquimbo, a beach community on the southern end of Serena to the campsite Turismo El Huerto. After ascertaining that we would fit into the individualized parking slots, we put up the roof and the vent cover just nudged up the net awning over each of the slots.

Coquimbo at night

An unusual campground in that each of the parking spots had not only their own table, benches, BBQ pit and shelving, each one had their own locked individualized bathroom with hot water showers. Was extremely handy to leave toiletries in your ‘own’ bathroom.

More on La Serena in the next entry.

Nov 17 – 25th 2017

Ruta del Desierto and One of driest places on Earth: San Pedro de Atacama

Nov 17th – was a down day in Iquique. Occasionally we need a day when we do nothing and rest up from previous drives. Weather has been glorious.

Nov. 18th – we caught a local bus and headed into the historic center of Iquique.

“The city was developed during the heyday of the saltpeter mining in the Atacama Desert in the 19th century. Originally a Peruvian city with a large Chilean population it was ceded to Chile as result of War of the Pacific (1879–1883). Today it is one of only two free ports of Chile.”

We started in the Arturo Prat Plaza to check out the Torre de Reloj (clock tower) and strolled up the pedestrian-only Baquedano Street with its colonial-era houses with balconies that are slowly being renovated and turning into restaurants, galleries, museums and shops. While there one of the two restored trolleys made its way slowly up the street. Reminded me of San Francisco’s cable cars.

Torre Reloj
Georgian architecture

Afterwards we took a taxi to “the Zona Franca of Iquique (free zone of Iquique) which has traditionally been called Zofri. There are around 2.4 square kilometres (0.93 sq mi) of warehouses, banking branches, and restaurants.” (

Iquique turned out to be such a surprise with its history, urban size, physical setting against humongous (technical term) sand dunes and nestling next to the Pacific Ocean, great weather for us Pacificans, lovely breezes and lack of insects.

Shot from a moving taxi.
Iquique’s waterfront.

On Nov. 19th, hating to leave Iquique but knowing we need to keep going south, we left Iquique behind and followed the Coast Highway 1 staying within a few miles of the Pacific all the way to our next destination – Tocopilla.

Along the way, I started noticing areas marked with white chalk on the barren sand dunes/sandstone. We couldn’t figure out what these irregular shapes were until we spotted several groups of people teeing off. They were golf courses on dirt; ‘greens’ outlined in white chalk.

This entire day the drive reminded me of the US Coast Highway 1 through California’s Big Sur with its towering cliffs (except for sparser vegetation.)

Tocopilla is a mining support town/port and is Not beautiful. But it was a good spot to overnight in; because we needed to head east the next morning up into the highlands on the next leg of our journey.

Tocopilla sunset

Nov. 20th saw us heading up and over the coastal hills, across the dry and sandy center basin around Maria Elena on Highway 24 to Calama up in the highlands.

The SF Giants marketing team left its mark in Calama.

After checking into Camping Casas de Valle in Calama, we walked into the downtown area looking for the Tourist Office to sign up for the free Codelco (government-owned) mining tour to the largest open pit copper mine in the world at Chuquicamata. Turned out to be a bust. Once we found the right address, the Tourist Office had been abandoned. And we couldn’t find where it had been relocated to – if at all.

Nov 21st – We spent the day driving to San Pedro de Atacama which is at approx. 8000′ but which is an oasis in the middle of the desert. Our first campground choice wasn’t open so we spent time driving around looking for the alternative choice.

Although San Pedro’s outlying streets are paved, they have kept the downtown area unpaved with narrow one-way streets (I guess to maintain its laid-back vibe). Plus the town is over-run with tourists who are walking down the middle of the dusty streets. Difficult to navigate; eventually we parked in the one parking area two blocks off the main square, even though we had been advised other Overlanders’ vehicles had been broken into there. Because there were so many people around, we hoped for the best. (As it turns out it was ok for us.)

Our first task was lunch and then to find a tour company to make arrangements to take us out to the Tatio Geyser Fields the next morning. We ended up booking with Terra Extreme an afternoon tour to the Laguna Tebinquiche south of town for an evening drive as well the next morning 4:30am pickup for the geyser trip. We wanted a tour company because we knew the road to the geyser fields was not paved and didn’t want to drive the camper over 50 miles of notoriously bad dirt road.

Weds 22 – Tatio Geyser Field.

It was our mistake to take a large tour; we should know better. The tour companies herd you through, insist everyone stay together in one group and there is limited time to photograph. And when we arrived at the geyser field (which pale in comparison to Yellowstone btw), we were one tour bus out of 20-25. So people were everywhere. On the other hand, their vehicle took the beating over the washboard road.

Tatio geyser field
Why we avoid organized tours when we can.

When we arrived back in San Pedro, we had lunch, retrieved the camper and drove south on Highway 23-CH to see if we could get into A.L.M.A. (Atacama Large Millimeter Array – a large grouping of radio antennas watching the skies.). But discovered not open to public unless with your group.

We ended up boondocking in laid back non-touristy Toconao on their plaza. But the tour companies make this an evening tour stop (to show off the historic church tower badly in need of repair) so around 5-6pm, the plaza was filled with tourists from San Pedro but they eventually cleared out so the locals could enjoy their Zumba class. Finally everybody settled into their small town sleepiness routines and it was quiet overnight.

Thurs. 23 Thanksgiving – We awoke early and drove out to Laguna Chaxa which was larger than the previously visited saline lakes, fewer tourists and more flamingos. Plus many other bird species and lizards. A couple came up to us and asked us if we had driven all the way from CA after they spotted our license plate. Turns out they were living in Washington DC and the gentleman grew up in San Bruno – a suburb close to Pacifica. And we exchanged Thanksgiving greetings – a nice touch for our Holiday.

Chilean flamingos at Laguna Chaxa
Lizard at Laguna Chaxa
Laguna Chaxa

After enjoying our walk along Laguna Chaxa, once again we headed south to the high Andean Lakes, Laguna Miscanti and Laguna Miñiques (mostly paved road except side road which was 6km one way). Beautiful terrain across flats and up into the lakes area.

The desert blooms!
Laguna Miscanti
Laguna Miscanti

We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn line (we’re slowing making our way south), surprising immense fields of lupine in bloom in this dry area, towering volcanoes and breathtaking views across the flats.

A capricorn at the Tropic of Capricorn

After returning to San Pedro, we checked into Glamping Alta de Quitor a few kms. northwest of San Pedro so we could get an early start on the Cordillera Sal as well as the Valle de la Luna.

Nov. 24th – we ended up spending all morning at the Cordillera and the Valle de la Luna with their wonderful and colorful rock formations, large sand dunes and canyons.

Ruta 23 running through the Cordillera de la Sal
Cordillera de la Sal
Valle de la Luna

After leaving the San Pedro area, we returned back to the upper plateau and boondocked at a Calama Shell station. Gas stations are generally noisier than other locales; on the other hand, they are open 24 hours offering a level of security.

Nov. 25th.

Leaving the high Andean plateaus once agin we headed down across the arid, and mostly barren, central Basin to drive to Antofagasta.

On the way we stopped at the historic mining ghost town of Oficina Salitrera Chacabuco to wander around. When we first arrived, we were the only one there and the dogs had to alert the custodian to let us in.

But more haunting was the fact that after the mining and processing operations closed in the 60’s, Dictator Pinochet after the military coup, used it in 1972-1974 as a detention camp for political prisoners who subsequently ‘disappeared’.

Another stop in Baquedano, didn’t yield us lunch (once again we were told “no food” even though there were other patrons eating. We don’t know if they’re trying to save it for the regular locals or since clearly we are not locals, they have something against foreigners eating at their establishments. This only started happening in southern Peru and now northern Chile. Not an issue anywhere else in 20 months of traveling.)

We crossed over the road, through the historic railroad station grounds to the railroad ‘museum’. Not really a museum as such, just abandoned train cars, locomotives and cabooses. Most interesting aspect was the repair house turntable that could bring in 13 locomotives at once.

Arriving in Antofagasta, we checked into the Holiday Inn Express – our third choice since they would allow us to park in their portico.

See the next blog entry for the continuing travelogue.

Nov 11 – 16th 2017

Northern Chile and Ruta del Desierto

On November 11th, we hired a taxi to take us into Arica since the Don Hugo Campground is in Villa Frontera – a small ‘resort’ area north of Arica approximately 11 km. The ‘resorts’ consist of numerous sandy lots that offer camping.

We first went to Arica’s historic center and visited one of the two buildings in Arica attributed to Gustave Eiffel (of Paris Eiffel Tower fame) – the Church of San Marcos. (The other building attributed to him, the Customs House is undergoing renovation and is closed.) The church is extremely interesting made up entirely of painted metal with a pointed vaulted ceiling.

Finding German influenced architecture in Chile didn’t take long.

But first we tried to locate the insurance company for the mandated Chilean truck insurance which supposedly was located in the Aduana Office on the Port but everything was closed up since it was a Saturday.

So instead we walked over to the 21st of Mayo Calle which is a blocks long pedestrian-only shopping strip to first get wifi at the McDonald’s and secondly to buy a new telephone SIM card to use in Chile.

The 21 de Mayo paseo.
We didn’t expect to see a McDonalds in Arica, Chile.

Problem is that Chile changed the rules regarding selling and activating SIM cards Sept. 2017. Now foreigners must register their phone through a third-party certification company with the Chilean governments and the process takes days to register. Of course, none of this information was available when asked of any of the major telephone carriers such as Entel, Claro or Moviestar. Spent hours on Saturday trying to get the SIM card. Then Dave had to spend hours online hunting up the process and for a certification company when he could get a wifi signal.

Sunday 12th we hung around campground since we knew offices would be closed. Numerous Chilean families came out to picnic, party and swim on Sunday at our campground so we had lots of company although no one else stayed overnight.

On Monday 13th, we took another taxi into town and after several false leads and starts finally located a small hole-in-the-wall store who would sell us truck insurance. And thought we had a lead on getting the SIM card activated but after waiting around for the blocks-wide power outage to be over discovered that company couldn’t do it either.

We then hired a taxi to take us up to the overlook at El Morro with a view over Arica. Arica is a big port city with lots of trucks coming down from Bolivia and bringing minerals (we assume) to the port. (Additional research indicated that after Peru/Bolivia/Chile settled their border dispute war in the late 1890’s, Bolivia – having lost their ocean access – was granted a untaxed route through Northern Chile to bring their minerals down to Arica’s Port.) Arica also has a major refinery area because we saw hundreds of gasoline tanker trucks parked by roads.

With Victor, our taxi driver, for scale. He turned out to be a Pinochet fan.

Our taxi driver took us to Unimarc supermarket to stock up and we headed back to Don Hugo’s.

On Nov. 14th we left Arica and headed straight up into the Andes with Putré as our destination at 11,975′. It was to be our launching pad for the next day’s foray into the high Andean lakes. We ended up boondocking on Putré’s plaza which had access to the free Chilean wifi in public places.

Nov 15th, we were up and driving by 5:30am and broke our rule of never driving in the dark. But we wanted to get to Lauca Natl. Park by sunrise. Turned out going up it was good because over the last 10 km. to the Ranger’s Station, there was roadwork underway. But since we got there before 7am, we could jump to the head of the long line of semi trucks (100 or so) waiting to continue their drive from Arica’s port to Bolivia. The road crew let us through.

We arrived at Chungará Lake at 15,102’and set up and Dave captured the Lake and Volcán Parincota – maybe his best photo of the whole trip. For sure in the top 10 and in my opinion, National Geographic worthy.

Volcan Parinacota is located near the Bolivian border and Lago Chungará at 15,000 feet.
View of Volcan Parinacota from the south
A southern viscacha at the Lago Chungará ranger station
You do not want to mess with this guy.

Coming back down was more difficult because road work had commenced and the road crew was letting eastbound semi traffic through approximately 15 semis at a time. But the distance was so far between the ends, we couldn’t tell if there was oncoming traffic or not. More than once, we had to pull into the lane being worked on to let semis coming up the grade through.

The biggest delays were when four large semis carrying extremely heavy and wide pieces of equipment met us; each had two semis tractors pulling and creeping, up the gravel inclines. The trailers had ten tires running front to back, duallys – so 40 tires on trailer alone. Dave and I speculated that they were probably carrying some big mining equipment pieces since this area is rife with huge mining operations.

After returning back downhill to Arica, we opted  to return to the Don Hugo RV campground in Villa Frontera and head south in the morning.

Nov 16th – We left Arica and went up through the verdant Azapa Valley known for its ancient and historic olive growing areas to the Chinchorro Mummy Museum. Interesting gardens and nice museum.

After returning to Highway 5 we drove south through the desert. Drove across desert up and down major huge mesas; one had an 18km decline.

On the way, we stopped for short side trips to the Presencias Tutalares (large stone carvings erected in the 1990’s that symbolize the cosmovision), el Gigante de Atacamba  petroglifo, and lastly visited the Humberto Saltpeter ghost town.

Church at Santiago Humberstone ghost town
300-seat theatre at Santiago Humberstone ghost town

It was super windy and originally we had wanted to boondock in the Humberto parking lot, but decided to press on to Iquique because of high winds.

On the drive west on Ch-16, when almost to Iquique there are painted spaced triangles on the roadway to show what speed you should be driving at depending on how many of the triangles you can see in the shoreline fog. What a great idea. Pacifica and Skyline Blvd. in Daly City should incorporate.

Iquique is unique. It is a huge modern city at the base of an enormous sand dune – 2000′ high. Looks like Honolulu with all the skyscrapers apartments and condominiums.

We stayed at the Altazor Flight School – a Hang gliding school. The hostel area is made totally from shipping containers. Our ‘view’ included to the north the main building section of downtown and to the south the cliffs. Gorgeous weather. Sunny after early morning fog in mid 70’s.

A hostel constructed from shipping containers.
(Pronounced ee-KEE-kay) View to the north from our campground.

View to the south from our campground.

More of our adventures in Iquique in next blog entry.