Happily rested we cracked on once more, further into the Atacama that was now becoming almost lunar in appearance. Having scoured the maps for something different than the Pan American we turned left onto a small road that lead through a coastal national park. It proved to be a wise decision and soon we were riding through an untouched star trek landscape with the mighty Pacific Ocean crashing to our left hand side.

Angry seas

After stopping at a beach worthy of the Sahara where the currents claimed Franks swimming shorts, the road turned to a sun baked strip of sand flanked by wide open desert with mountains on the horizons. It was simply breath taking and the solitude made it feel almost unreal, the bikes had given us the freedom to roam and delivered us into a wilderness, it made all that hardships worth it, this was what we were here for. We made camp at a beach just past the town of Taltal, unpacking our two $14 tents and  boiling up some gourmet hot dogs on the stove before watching the sun set over the ocean and drifting off to the sound of crashing waves.

Pacific currents claim Franks boxers

A sunbaked highway

a night on the beach

The next day we tried a repeat performance, sticking close to the coast on a lesser used route but the degrading road surface fought us back and not even a mile in we turned back for the comfort and speed of tarmac. We didn’t know it then but soon that kind of road would be the only kind of road. Instead we climbed high into the mountains surrounded by cacti and  followed the road before it re-joined the Pan American and took a steep dive at an almost ridiculous angle to the Northern Chilean city of Antofagasta where, once again, a tent by the beach became our home.

Paposo, where the streets are paved with sand

The last view of the sea at Antofagasta

It would be a while before we would see the Ocean again and we almost felt sad to see it disappear in our mirrors as we ascended the road that left the city. We were headed East, inland towards San Pedro de Atacama where we would make preparations for the toughest leg of the journey, passing through the Lagoonas  route into Bolivia, high up on the Altiplano where altitudes sometimes exceeded 5000m, the air was thin and roads consisted of sand, stone and not much else. It was the domain of  the well prepared, the experienced and the smart. We were none of the above and as one tour operator later put it, we were stupid to try but with criticism adding only fuel to our fire and our tiny bikes itching to prove their worth, it was always going to happen.

An eerie ghost town out in the desert

As we rode further east passing through the last big city of  Calama, the snowy tips of a mountain range rose into view like a ruffled duvet on a perfect brown desert bed sheet, covered by the first clouds we had seen in days. We were at the doorway to the Andes, the gateway to the Altiplano, we were looking at what was yet to come.

...Into the Andes