Crossing from the Bolivia Altiplano to the Chile Atacama Desert we were immediately struck by the similarities and stark contrasts. The imaginary line in the sand distinguishing the two countries didn’t change the landscape much, but the perfectly paved highway including guardrails was a clear indication of a first world status.
The primarily adobe pueblo, San Pedro de Atacama was a welcome refuge from the outback of Bolivia. With stylish boutique hotels and eating options including some attempts to deliver fine cuisine the town wasn’t shy about charging big city North American prices. Oases attract flocks and the tourists keep coming to dish out their dust covered Chilean Pesos. The native “Atacamenos” whose ancestors defeated and tamed the driest desert in the world mix with citizens of the world in a place that is strangely dusty low-brow and hip at the same time.
Herman, a Californian cycling solo from Cuzco, Peru to Ushuaia, Argentina was our passenger for the crossing. We met our new friend unceremoniously on a deeply rutted, sandy road in Bolivia when his bicycle tires dug in fishtailing into a fall in front of us. The bike rack accommodated his bike and our cama (bed) in the back of Amelia provided him with enough space for a lift. We enjoyed some sights together and his Spanish came in handy at the border. We admire his strength and drive to undertake such a journey!
The Atacama, the most arid desert in the world is the archeological capital of Chile. Could it get any drier after Bolivia we wondered as we looked down at our shriveled and cracked skin resembling the salt flats? What happened to Jay’s curly hair? We found ourselves longing for the formerly disdained Midwestern U.S. humidity. Recalling what a moisturizing blast would feel like we had to laugh at our changed perspective.