While this coastal route in a desert isn't the most spectacular one, it is much better than taking on Ruta 5. And quite solitary. Except for a few trucks and two or three villages, there is virtually nothing and nobody here.
I am enjoying my standard when-in-camping slow start. With a morning check of emails I get a response from Urs who took this route a few days ago. His news are quite great. All the road before me is either paved or paved-like ripio so I don't need to fear that my bike will fall into pieces every second. I am also learning that a hiking trail in National Park Llanos de Challe is actually on the coastal road and there won't be any need to get inlands as I expected. This further shortens my route. So I am taking tons of water (ok, only kilos), plan to buy sardinas in Huasco Bajo and I am ready.
A short stop in Huasco Bajo reveals that sardinas are out of stock. To my delight, they have salami which means even better tasting dinner. After the shopping I am ready to ride out of the village but my progress is stalled for a few minutes because I am waiting for a veeery slow and long train to pass. Only then I can really leave the village.
I quickly pass a bridge over the river which makes Huasco valley so green. A bit further and I am learning that this valley is a huge producent of olivas. And then the desert route starts. First I see a signpost with my route in details. Then I see sand. And more sand. Actually, big sand dunes. And while the sun is blazing, the weather is as if from Hotel California -- [on a dark desert highway] cool wind in my hair.
The day's highlight is the interpretative trail in NP Llanos de Challe. I am learning that the huge rocks with holes in them are made by sand and wind. There are multiple types of cactuses growing here. And just when I am returning, the nature prepares a nice treat for me. I spot a playful Zorro Chilla (Andean fox) and it is nice enough to let me take a few good pictures. Delighted by this encounter I quickly finish the trail.
Now I have two choices -- either I stay in a camping right next to the trail or I continue on but I need to cycle out of the national park for camping. Looking at the clock I am risking the second option. I cycle for 11 more kilometers and then make a detour to Carrizal Bajo to check on local shops. Strenghtened by an empanada and a soft drink, I quickly cycle halfway back to the junction and set my tent just next to the road.
Today is mostly around the coast. But usually not too close to have stellar views of the ocean. The views aren't much exciting -- dry hills, lots of cactuses, not much sand and this repeats and repeats. When there isn't much to look around the road, one starts observing the road itself. For some reason this stretch is quite popular with trucks. And with bugs. For some reason there are dozens of them crossing the road towards the west.
This is also a solitary route because there is only one small village along the route -- Caleta Totoral is so small that there isn't even a kiosco, it is just a few houses.
The evening views change a little. Instead of dry hills it is now more like vast dry plains. And to my surprise the wind picks up only now.
The morning is full of surprises. First of all, I see clouds. I mean, lots of clouds! But even bigger surprise is the wind, which is blowing from the east (damn it!). My plan for today is go mostly east and reach Copiapó, my next big stop. As I progress towards the east the scenery starts to improve. Now I can see quite interesting distant hills.
I have the lunch break just before I rejoin Ruta 5. Unfortunately this time I cannot avoid it. Or can I? After 2 kilometers I am scouting a "calle local" and immediatelly taking this opportunity to get off the busy road. Of course, the local road doesn't go all the way to Copiapó so I am again forced to rejoin the autopista. But a few kilometers before Copiapó a ciclovia appears. This would be quite comforting apart from the fact that the bike path is in various states of construction/disrepair and so I am forced to switch frequently to the main road.
In Copiapó I take a bit of a time to locate the city center and discover a "hotellito" with a reasonable price. Now nothing holds me back from getting a dinner and a nicely sweet wine.
My plan for today is to go shopping for a week's worth of supplies for my planned attack on Paso San Francisco. Apart from that, I would like to get a new chain as I am not sure when will be the next time I will be able to buy one in Argentina. But this proves to be an utmost failure. I did not realize that today is Easter Friday and everything is basically closed (with the exception of the main supermarket, thanks God). Well, chain-no chain, I probably would easily survive (I still have one spare with me). What is more important that the laundry service is closed as well. And you can guess how I feel about that. Fortunately, I am able to solve this more pressing problem by convincing the lady from hotellito that she will run the washing machine for me. The only thing remaining now is to stroll around the city center and breathe the liveness of all the small shops which seem to be selling mostly mobile phone accessories or useless crap.
Download simplified GPX of a route here
Stats by activity:
| Pedal rotations
|April 11, 2017||59.0||0.52||20.3|
|April 12, 2017||83.6||0.80||21.5|
|April 13, 2017||65.9||0.30||26.1|
The next table is only for cycling activity.