Searching for a hotel in Antofagasta was interesting. Although it´s a major city, it was very difficult to find anything. At a stoplight I pulled up next to Robert and Shaundra Vinet, a couple of Canadians on a BMW, also looking for a place to stay. After looking together, we were able to find one room with three beds. If you think politics makes strange bedfellows, try motorcycling! Actually, they were a very nice couple and we rode south the next day.
Riding south from Antofagasta was -- are you ready? -- more desert. Then, suddenly, a few hundred meters off the road we see this, the Hand in the Desert:
It´s just there, in the middle of nowhere. Now why, you might ask, would anyone construct a giant hand in the middle of the Atacama desert. A very good question. Personally, I think it´s the mummy of a giant alien being that was improperly buried, and his hand was left sticking out of the sand. Other than that, I have no idea... but it is pretty cool!
I spent the night in Taltal, a little coastal town of no particular interest, then got off the main highway to visit the Parque Nacional Pan de Azucar (Sugar Bread National Park).
The northern entrance was a dirt road, but really pretty with many canyons and cliffs and incredible colors.
Then you arrive at the ocean, and more fantastic views. There was actually some plant life here, too, and after more than a month of nothing but sand I was thrilled to see something living. I even saw a fox cross the road, the first wildlife in a long time.
This place was so pretty I did something I haven´t done yet on this trip: I decided to camp! Although I have been carrying a tent and camping gear for months, I avoid using it like the plague. In Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru camping is neither common nor safe. However, I still much prefer a bed and a hot shower. But this time I spent the night on the beach, and enjoyed it.
A big part of the enjoyment was meeting Alberto and Ana Vargas, who were the only other campers in the area. Fortunately, Alberto is a Chilean chef, now living in Spain. We went to the next town, bought food and wine, and had a great barbeque... Alberto cooked and I poured. We all have to do what we do best!
From Pan de Azucar I went to Caldera. It was here that I finally saw a doctor about my breathing problem, and found out that there is a microscopic mite in that part of the desert that excretes a protein that many people are allergic to. This was evidently what was causing my sinus infection (damn them little buggers), and a course of antibiotics, decongestants, and antihistamine cleared it up. Unfortunately the little bastards had caused me to miss Bolivia.