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Overland travelers and certified geeks, based in Vermont.


21-Minute Read

We still haven’t gotten the hang of Chile time. Set the alarm for 7am, which is when we’ve been waking up, and it was barely light - sunrise apparently isn’t until 7:33AM. We hit snooze once and then the need to pee drove me out of the tent to our hole. My intestines seemed unhappy and threatened to make me use the hole for something else, but apparently I haven’t degenerated to a complete savage yet as I found myself unable to poo squatting over a hole in broad view in full daylight.

Packing up the tent was slow, as it’s been a while since we camped and we were both dragging. Also, my body was still under the impression that it was 5AM, and I’m a poor early riser, so I was grumping at poor Kay. I feel bad about it but I couldn’t seem to stop myself. Got the bikes loaded up, and I was grumpy and tummy achy and asked Kay to take my bike up the hill past the metal blockade thingy for me. I drove it to the bottom, but then I walked up the hill - I didn’t want to deal with the tightness of the space and the sandy bit right where we had to plant our wheels. Kay apparently enjoyed it, though, as he said it was a nice little diversion to start the day.

Because my tummy was unhappy, we skipped breakfast and hit the road. It was around 8:40AM when we pulled out from our hidey-camp spot, which is better than most of the hotels but slow for us for camping.

About 45 minutes later, Kay announces that the abandoned city he wanted to check out was just 68KM ahead. We’d be there shortly if we wanted to stop. One of the sort of compromises we’d made since we skipped the Salar de Uyuni and were a bit earlier than planned heading south that we’d stop and see a couple of other things he’d wanted to check out but didn’t think we had time for. The abandoned town was on the list, and it sounded cool to me, too, so we agreed to look for it.

From Route 5, we took the exit for Maria Elena, because we *really* needed gas by then. The city sign said we’d find gas and food there, and I was thinking breakfast might not go amiss, now, too, since I’d been awake and riding for a while. So we headed to Maria Elena, found a gas station upon immediately arriving on the edge of town, and then turned around and headed south down B-180 toward Pedro de Valdivia - an abandoned mining town Kay read about in another ride report. We were under the impression that there were two towns - one that had been abandoned, and one that was currently serving the mine from a new location a few kilometers down.

Down the road toward a sign for Mina Pedro, but that wasn’t the right turn off - it’s the actual working mine. There’s a gate across the road and a guy in a shack coming out to see why two motos are coming up. So back to the road and then south some more, around some twists in the road, past a random tree in the desert (huge effing tree - we had no idea how or why it was there) and then along side a town that looked fully functional from afar. As we got closer, we could see that the roofs were missing from many of the buildings, and we didn’t see any people moving around the town, although it looked fine otherwise.

The road ran along the side of the town, although all of the access roads were blocked by a 3-4 foot high pile of dirt. In fact, the entire perimeter was blocked off by this tall pile of unpacked dirt. The road led to the entrance of another working mine, which also had a gate across the road and a guy in a shack coming out to see why the two motos were pulling up. So we turned around again, and ended up behind a mining truck that was heading out of the mine, which drove slowly with us behind them - I assume they were waiting to see what we would do. We took the right that heads back toward Route 5 (and past the town on that side) and waited for the mining truck to pull out of site.

Then, to the problem of getting inside the place. But look! Next to that gate blocking the road (and declaring it a national monument) there’s a bit of a gap. Maybe our motos can go through there! Kay goes to investigate, as he’s the wider of us (and more willing to cram his bike in sticky spots) and is able to make it through, so I follow. And down the main road of the abandoned town we ride.

You didn’t see this either

It’s completely surreal to ride around this place. Aside from the fact that the road is dirt, and the doors and windows to many of the houses are hanging wide open, the place doesn’t seem abandoned. You expect to see people walking out of the buildings or going around the town any minute. Maybe they’re all at an important town meeting and will be returning shortly. It’s like they’ve just stepped out, except for the minor details that tell a different tale. A random boot lying in the street. Missing roofs. A fine coating of dust and dirt over everything.

Open door

Ghost street


Street corner

Kay has seen pictures from the school and he wants to find that, so we peer down all of the cross-streets that we pass looking for large buildings. Tons of houses, a few shops, what looks like a big church up on the hill… and forward, what’s that? A building that might be a school! We ride past and see a playground, and then turn right and look for a place off the main cross-streets to park our bikes in case someone is patrolling here. We take a right by a pretty peach building, and discover that it’s the town theater. There, we park, turn off our bikes and take off our helmets.

Town square

Town Sqare

Steering wheel

As soon as we pull our earplugs, we hear something - a radio. Not far away, from what appears to be a gazebo sitting in a park across from the empty theater, is the sound of a radio. It alternates between local talk radio and random music, but it’s clearly a modern station - not some sort of canned noise. “Are you sure this place is abandoned?” I ask Kay, who shakes his head - it’s supposed to be, but neither of us can explain the radio.

I wonder if some vagrants have taken up here and are hanging out in the gazebo with a radio. If that’s the case, they probably aren’t in a position to complain about us being there, but we are trespassing and I’m spooked by the sound. Kay wanders around and takes some pictures of the main square, and I follow but my interest is half-hearted because now I’m worried about getting caught here.

Is there someone over there?!

We check out the town square, and then a building that I take to be a school because it’s in a fenced compound that contains a playground. It may be *a* school, but it’s not the one that Kay saw pictures from that has him really interested.

Next, we explore the theater. Kay wants to get inside of it, and I think I remember seeing an open door on the side we passed when we rode in. We walk around the building, trying a few doors, and eventually we find one that opens into a darkened, well-preserved theater. The seats were wooden and folded upright, and covered in a thick layer of dirt or dust. The stage, too - everything was covered in the stuff. It was floating in the air. There were tracks on the floor; mud or dirt had come in and someone had been there since it happened. It was an odd combination of well-preserved with just enough decay to be creepy and surreal.

Abandoned theatre

Then I noticed an odd detail. “When was this place abandoned?” I ask Kay. He doesn’t know. I ask if he’s looked at the banner behind him, as he’s currently on the stage taking pictures out toward the auditorium… and he turns around to see the banner on the stage, which has dates reading from 1996 to 2010. We look at each other. 2010? Last year? Surely this place can’t have been abandoned just last year. The layer of dirt is far too thick for just a year. And the air of emptiness surrounding the place is far too pervasive for months or even a year of silence. It’s a mystery.

I’ve since done some research and can’t find a decisive date for when Pedro de Valdivia was abandoned. Apparently Chile ran it “until recently” and was perhaps operating it as a national monument for a while. The best I can piece it together, the mine may have been run as a mine by Chile until 1995-ish, at which point it was abandoned and turned into a national monument site. Which might have been active until 2010? I’m not sure about the banner that read “1996 to 2010.” And it’s driving me crazy that I can’t find the details. Inquiring minds want to know!

Anyway, we wandered around the empty town for a while. We poked into houses and found legacies and scraps from the people who lived there. Kay found an auditorium and checked it out, while I wandered off alone and checked out a few more of the houses and a shop. Eventually we met up again at the main square and headed out of town after like an hour and a half of exploring. Kay agreed at that point that the psychological effect of the radio playing was creeping him out a bit, too, and we headed off. There was plenty more to see, but we were ready to move on.

The people who lived here

Abandoned cloth

Is it stone or wood?

You didn’t see this


There are more photos in our Chile set on Flickr.

Kay’s note: apparently back in July the radio wasn’t playing. Dachary and I agreed that it was the best deterrent they could have put in place. You know you’re there without permission, but there’s this sound of voices and music that keeps you on your toes. It might obscure the sound of some guard coming to check on the place. We both thought that we could sleep there if it wasn’t for the radio, but there’s no way we could do it with it on. Also, we never did find the school things I was looking for, but judging by Panomoto’s pictures from the town there was way more to explore.

Back on the road, and it was lunch time and I still hadn’t had breakfast. Hunter needs food badly! (Or rider, as the case may be.) Unfortunately, out here in the middle of the desert, towns are few and far between. 70km later, we stumbled across a gas station in Carmen Alto, and I decided we should stop and get gas. Whilst there, we asked the gas station guy if the restaurant next door was open (it was) and if it was good (it was). So off to the restaurant.

When we sat down, I was looking at the map trying to think about how far we might get today when I realized… I had a blind spot. I couldn’t read any of the town names properly. When I looked right at them, I could only see some of the letters - others were obscured by the “blind spot” in my eye. I tried closing one eye, and then the other, and thought I determined that it was the left eye that was having trouble. I mentioned it to Kay and waited for it to pass, we ordered food, and I stared at the map some more.

Eventually I realized that it wasn’t passing - it was getting worse. Kay commented that since I had trouble putting the left contact in this morning (it burned in my left eye painfully, in spite of repeatedly removing it and dousing it liberally in contact solution, until eventually it calmed down) it might be a problem with the contact. He said that if it were him, he’d remove it immediately. I didn’t see how that could be possible as they were a fresh pair of contacts that I just put in yesterday, but it was really freaking me out at that point that I had a big blind spot that seemed to be getting worse. We were literally in the middle of the desert. The nearest sizable town was 100km away, and I was riding a moto. I needed to be able to see.

So I took the contacts out, hoping it would subside. It didn’t. It continued to get worse. I tried closing one eye, and then the other, to see if I could figure out which eye was having trouble… and then I got really freaked out. Because either eye seemed to function fine when it was just the one eye. But when I tried using both eyes at the same time (you know, like a normal two-eyed person) I got a massive blind spot. So I interpreted this to mean it was a neurological problem - somewhere between my eyes and my brain, the signal was getting messed up. It wasn’t the eyes. Here I was in a strange country and I was having a neurological problem. Oh crap.

I decided that there was nothing I could do about it at the moment, and to just chill and see if it was any better after lunch. Right around then, food came. I stopped paying attention to it and started eating. Lunch was surprisingly tasty, and I realized halfway through eating it that I could see! Like normally! I waited a few minutes more to be sure, looked around some more, closed various eyes and generally tested things, and then I told Kay “I can see again.” It was a huge relief to both of us, as I think neither of us had a clue what to do if it didn’t fix itself.

We agreed that I should wear my glasses for the rest of the day, since we didn’t know what caused the problem in the first place and didn’t want to set it off again. I hate wearing them in the helmet, as they don’t fit perfectly and I have to keep pushing them up my nose. Also, I hate wearing them on warm days because the pads of the glasses make my nose sweat. Alas, riding through the desert counts as a “warm” day and I had to deal because I was so relieved to see properly again that the other concerns seemed far more minor than usual.

Smiling Dach with GLASSES

After the oddly dramatic lunch, back to the gas station for the bathroom and then on the road again!

I think there’s a dog under that

quiet dog

Cement Factory

Some point along the way, we cross the Tropic of Capricorn. Kay goes back to take a picture because now that we know what it means (thanks to our educational lesson at the Equator!) it seems cooler and Kay wants a shot of it.

Tropic of Capricorn

We passed Antofagasta, and Kay commented that another thing he wanted to see was down the road past the city. Apparently there’s a giant hand sticking out of the desert - some artist sculpted it in the middle of nowhere off of Route 5. Since we’d be passing it anyway, Kay wanted to stop and get pictures, and I had no particular place to be, so when we saw the sign for it, we stopped.

It’s not obvious where you’re meant to drive out to the hand. There are several paths across the desert leading to it, and none of them seem particularly official. Then there are a few side paths between the main paths from the road where cars have apparently made their own routes. We rode up one of them, with just one car ahead of us, thinking we’d be able to snap our photos and be on our way.


The car in front of us was a black Tracker. There were something like 5 or 6 adults, and one baby. And apparently EVERYONE had to be in a picture with the baby in front of the hand. When we pulled up, they’d just moved their vehicle - they’d been taking pictures of their Tracker in front of the hand while they were driving up. Then they moved it, and started taking pictures of themselves. Four or five pictures of a person with the baby. Then the person changed places with someone else, handing the baby off like some twisted mascot, and got their own pictures. Oh, wait, lets get two people in here. Oh, no, two other people. Oh, wait, you wanted a picture with the baby, too? Then for some reason the first two wanted to go back and get *more* pictures with the baby.

It was a total clusterfuck. Every time we thought they were done, they changed positions and took more pictures. We must have been waiting for ten or fifteen minutes when I started getting annoyed, started my bike and drove around behind the hand so I could position myself to swoop in for the shot.

Two other people in a silver car had been there before us, and while the Tracker people were packing up, they walked over quickly and took their pictures. They were done in under 2 minutes. Kay ran over and took a picture of them together, which they appreciated, and they were walking off before the Tracker people were all piled into their car and ready to go. In the meantime, two more cars full of people had pulled up, and we were determined that they wouldn’t steal our spot in the queue.

As soon as the Tracker was started up, even before the people from the silver car got back in to leave, I started pulling forward to park my bike in front of the statue. At the same time, one of the women from the new carloads started walking up to the statue. Fuck that, I thought - I’ve been here forever and you just got here - you didn’t have to deal with the stupid Tracker people at all - so I kept pulling my bike up. Kay was pulling his up, too. And the stupid woman didn’t even blink to see us pulling up - she just continued walking over to get her shot in front of the hand.

She couldn’t wait her turn

We got off the bikes and waited while her car of people took pictures of her with our bikes in front of the hand. And then we swooped in before other people could get into the shot, because we wanted to get in and out. We were sick of waiting for pictures of us in front of this stupid statue, already. So Kay snaps a few quick pictures of me, we swap spots and I snap a few pics of him, and then the car of people offers to snap a pic of us together. Yay! So it’s done.

Kay at the hand

Dachary at the Hand

Us at the hand

I go back to my bike and start to pull off, and both cars full of people are walking toward the hand (apparently they’re together) and asking Kay to take a picture of them. “Just a minute,” he says in Spanish “we’ll move the bikes.” “No, it’s no problem,” they say and take pictures of them in front of our bikes in front of the hand statue. So weird. Then I go move my bike, and Kay follows, and we see them taking more pictures behind us, without the bikes. I have no idea what that was about, but it was weird. It’s been over a half hour since we pulled off to get a quick picture of the hand. That took way too long!

Kay’s note: I really wanted to get some better pics, but after waiting that long for the stupid baby people I couldn’t justify being a disrespectful ass myself and spending the time to compose some better shots.

Back on the road for more riding, riding, riding. The plus side of the change in time here in Chile is that there’s far more usable daylight. Sunset is after 8PM, so we can ride forever. Normally we’d stop at 6pm - on the flat, straight Chilean roads, we can cover 200km between 6pm and 8pm. I decide we should push for a town 200km down the road - Chanaral. It’ll be pushing it, but if we don’t run into any trouble, we should get there around 7:30 or 8. Hopefully we can find a hotel to park the bikes before it gets too dark, grab some food and crash.

Chilean Desert

The final push to Chanaral is harder than I expected. Shortly after 6pm, it starts getting *cool* in the desert, even though there are still more hours of sun. At highway speeds, the cool is cool. I zip up my vents, and my arms are still cold. I wonder if I’m getting sick, or if the altitude sickness was masking a cold from being cold and wet so much in Bolivia. By the time we pull into Chanaral at 7:30pm, I’m ready to crash.

Kay’s note: Dachary desperately needed to do laundry and we needed net to try and communicate with the folks at Revzilla to arrange to get a replacement for her electrics. Crossing the Andes Again would suck without them and Joe commented that both times he’s been to Usuaia before the mountain at the bottom has been covered in snow, plus there’s a freaking glacier north of it so… cold is in the cards and the electrics are a requirement.

We ride down the road until we see a sign for a hosteria, so we turn off and head over to it. From a distance, it looked industrial and lame, but up front, it actually looked quite nice. We parked and Kay went inside to check out the prices, and I was examining my bike. We’d smelled something burning a couple of times when we stopped for gas today, but I can’t remember when we noticed it was my bike. But when we stopped for the night, I got down and looked at my bash plate and saw that it was covered in oil and gunk. Kay’s wasn’t.

When he came back out to tell me the prices, I mentioned it to him and he got down and looked. Everything along the underside of my bike was covered in oil, from my side stand to my rear shock. We assumed that BMW Lima had failed to tighten the sump plug properly, and decided to deal with it when we’d parked the bikes. We briefly discussed the room price (it was way expensive, but apparently Kay was ready to drop - his shoulder had been bothering him for a while as we’d been fighting the wind for the last slog to Chanaral, and as I discovered when I checked our mileage, we did 400 miles today even with the long stop at the abandoned town, the hand of the desert, lunch panicking, etc.) and decided to stay here in spite of the price. I wasn’t feeling good, either, and they had a restaurant, and internet, and breakfast was included, so we went with it.

So we unload our stuff and park the bikes, and Kay brings out the tools and we grab the spare oil. He tries to tighten my sump plug, but it won’t budge. It’s tight tight. Kay thinks maybe BMW Lima over-tightened it, now, while I worry that it’s the gasket. Either way, there’s nothing we can do about it here. So I check my oil, which is low, and add some oil. It takes around 200ml. We’ve been debating about whether or not to go to BMW in Santiago, as we need to change our oil, but we could do that ourselves and don’t really need the dealer for that. But now, with my bike leaking oil, it’s decided for us - we’re heading to Santiago.

Wrap that up, back to the room and then to the restaurant for dinner. Dinner is surprisingly tasty, albeit expensive, but we discover that the internet we’ve been promised doesn’t work. Even though this is a damned expensive place, the wi-fi connects but the internet doesn’t do anything. They tell us we can use the computer at a second desk in the side room, but we can’t update the blog or do anything significant from there. It’s just enough to let me check my email, as I’ve sent off a note to the guys at RevZilla to find out if they can help me get a new Gerbing controller for my jacket before we hit Ushuaia. I’ve got a reply from Anthony at RevZilla, and I do a few work things before we head back to the room.

Where I tackle a PILE of laundry. Every article of clothing that I’m carrying is dirty except for one single shirt that I don’t like and usually keep as a spare, my thermal underwear, and a single pair of thin liner socks that I don’t like very much. All of my underwear, socks, and shirts are dirty. I normally try to wash frequently so I don’t have to do as much, because bending over the sink for laundry hurts my back after a while, but it’s been so cold and wet that I haven’t done laundry since Peru. There’s just no chance it would have dried in Puno or Bolivia. Too cold and wet. So I wash everything I own, with a couple of breaks, which takes FAR too long and then I’m completely pooped. Completely. Painfully. Kay works on writing up a day while I wash, as we’ve fallen behind, and then he squeezes my laundry for me, which he does far better than I am.

We’d talked about watching an episode of something before bed, but it’s almost midnight and I’m utterly pooped. So with no real downtime, we pass out.

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A couple with 2 dogs and a thirst for exploring the places in-between.