Hello folks! We're trying to get better at updating more often and at least get to the same country...currently we're in El Bolsón, Argentina on the way to Patagonia and Torres Del Paine. Let's catch up, you guys!
Last we caught up we were leaving Arica after a nice bout of altitude sickness and heading southernly toward San Pedro de Atacama. Itching to get back out on the road again, we burned out of Arica down the coast line, through some severely large canyons (we still think it's funny one of them is called Shrimp Canyon). No issues on the drive, not a ton to see, but we were heading south again and in a fine mood. We wanted to break for the day somewhere near the large mining town of Iquique, where we also wanted to get an overdue oil change. It took us waaaaay longer than we thought to find a mechanic to change oil, pretty simple job, but finally made our way and had it done. By that time it was wicked late so we checked trusty iOverlander for spots to wild camp. We ended up pulling into a yet-to-green sand gold course that was under construction, and sleeping no more than 100 meters from the waves on the coast. Beautiful spot, free of charge, and great cooking and playing campfire guitar together...just us two.
Next day we headed south and inland, we hoped, to the famous San Pedro de Atacama. Masi was in fine shape, the coast line looked exactly like the PCH or Highway 1 in California, and all was right in the world—truly inspiring views and surf on the coast. We hit the town of Tocopilla and made the turn inland to the exhausting desert. Winds picked up quite a bit, to the point of steering corrections and then finally to me literally holding the wheel at a 90 degree angle to compensate for the nonstop gusting. Because of an alignment problem and compounded by super hot desert asphalt and the open angle of the wheel on the road, it wasn't long before we had our first awesome tire blowout. It was legit—the entire tire blew out from the sidewall, and shredded the whole thing. So there we were parked on the side of the road, 100km behind and in front of us, in the desert, with a blown tire. It also wasn't until then that we discovered the jackpoint nearest the wheel was welded almost completely shut, and the jack we had would no longer work. I tried inverting the jack, using rocks to gain leverage, digging a hole under the wheel, but could not get Masi far up enough to get the spare onto her. After an hour of trying, then another hour of trying to flag someone down for help, a drunk Chilean (he was drunk because 1) I know drunk when I see drunk and 2) they had an open case of Corona bottles sitting out in the car and all four of the people in the car were drinking them) pulled over to lend us his working jack and also berate us for not understanding more of his slurred Chileno. Cool bro.
Tire back on, short of light, and an alignment problem, we decided to park it for the night in Calama and get Masi checked up on and aligned. Alignment guys were funny, new tire was bought, so we messaged our friend and ex-kombi owner Jose to let him know we had our first issue but we're ok. According to good 'ol Jose, he said, "Well guys, please get out of Calama as soon as possible, because it is basically the worst city in the entire world", and added that Calama is known as the city of the Three Ps: perros, putas, and polvo. I'll wait here while you google translate those.
After a very respectable camp experience in Calama, we bought another jack, and then attempted to head to San Pedro finally. Masi didn't want to start for the first time since we hit up 13-14,000 feet in Putre, and we were starting to get concerned. Getting her going still worked in second gear, so we punted on the problem until we got to San Pedro. Drive went fine and we arrived in San Pedro to see our real first tourists of the entire trip! Both welcoming and unsettling, as we had made it into a commercial zone. We parked up in a great little camping hostel (Hostal Puritama), and paid what we felt was an extravagant price for camping, use of kitchen (but no cooking allowed...womp womp), and crappy wifi: $20 USD per night. It's a hit to the budget starting out the day especially with so many free wild camps around. But there I learned how to change the timing on Masi, gave it a go, and she started firing up right away—so I was cautiously optimistic that I've made my first actual auto repair.
Our week in San Pedro was pretty relaxing, although still expensive and touristy and we were glad to get going at the end of it. Highlights:
-Cabalgatas (horseback riding) through the desert and getting my steed into a full out gallop across the open sands. Shan1 was a bit more intelligent and kept her horse to a nice trot
-A couple nights of wild camping that bookended a full day at the Termas de Puritama where we soaked in stunning natural pools at the bottom of a red rock canyon
-Our tour to Valle de la Luna where we explored some awesome salt caves and watched the sunset from the top of the valley ridge
-A great, and well-earned "nice meal out" where we FINALLY had good Chilean food: a rich pesto veggie risotto and a very solid salmon dish
-Watching a local football (soccer) game in the stands...not great level, but we felt like locals for a bit
-A tour to the salt flats where we saw our first flamingos, and then up to 14,000 feet to see a few volcanic lakes—beautiful and we were thankful to have plenty of coca and a fast bus driver to get us down this time!
After a week in San Pedro, we started our drive back to Santiago to collect our official ownership papers for Masi but had a magical stop along the way in Punto de Choros and made some new friends. Stay tuned.