We always have plenty of time to think as we cycle along. Everyone for himself. Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.

And it works particularly well when nothing much is happening. When the traffic is so tame that we almost forget about it. When the weather doesn’t torment us with wet and cold or heat and we don’t have to worry about storms or heavy rainfall.

We are cycling in a desert.

Our required water supplies are also moderate with overcast skies and maximum temperatures of 22 degrees. And our route planning? Never mind, there’s only one road for us anyway, the A1 highway. We want to stay by the sea. The Pacific to the left, the first foothills of the Andes to the right. The only serious change is the colors of the desert landscape. The Atacama Desert. From gray to ochre to a pale reddish tone. Sometimes sandy, but mostly a stony desert.

Atacama desert

It is difficult to describe the aridity of the Atacama. It is so dry that there are places where it may not have rained for 20 million years.  Somewhere there are always skeletons of cars lying around, again and again we see animals that have been half-heartedly buried under sand and rock and cemeteries where wooden crosses stand or lie around as if blown by the wind. Not a single green stalk peeps out. Even if there are blooming deserts from time to time, we see none of it. Seeds are lurking somewhere, waiting for the next drop of rain. 

I don’t know if you can get used to a landscape like this, but people cope with it. And so do we.  We need a different coping strategy and, for once, that means keeping an eye on the next destination. This could be the next spot for our tent, the next snack bar or the next mini kiosk. Although we never know if these places still exist. Google Maps is now our companion. With Streetview and the satellite layer. There’s not much to see, but we can recognize places that are otherwise not marked by the small houses. If a building has flags outside, then we will at least get water and probably an empanada. We keep a very close eye out and load up on water at every possible place. Our supply never runs out.


Of course there are no campsites. We take a very close look at the landscape so as not to be surprised by the unexpected the next morning or at some point during the night. Could water be flowing there when it comes out of the mountains? Ebb and flow? Of course, we don’t want to be surprised by that either. And the wind? Where does it come from? Will we find a rock or a hollow that could protect us from the freshening wind? Are there any dog tracks? Or are we too close to the rock faces so that they might break off and bury us under them?

The Atacama Desert has nothing to do with mighty dunes in the style of the Sahara. It is rockier, more barren, meaner. And strangely beautiful. A kind of infinity that we experience every day. And perhaps this feeling would be unbearable if it weren’t for the Pacific. Rushing, intoxicating, in infinite shades of blue, churning, alive. And this Pacific is the reason why people live here after all. 


Pacific with the Humboldt Current

The mighty Humboldt Current flows here and its cold waters create a fascinating wealth of marine ecosystems.  We almost regret not eating fish. Masses of algae are harvested here. The fishing villages are also the strongholds of Chilean seaweed fishing, an inconspicuous trade.

The ice-cold Humboldt Current, approaching from the Antarctic and flowing parallel to the Andes towards the Galápagos Islands, flows along the coast here with a water temperature 7-8 °C lower than out at sea. 

This prevents the development of rain clouds and so there is no rain. However, the cold seawater means that the Atacama is cool and there is often fog, especially near the coast. And that’s why we rarely have a blue sky. Normally very bad conditions for a photographer.

But so what, there’s hardly anything colorful here anyway.

Gray skies often mean gray light. Of course, this is not ideal for landscape photography.  Extremely soft light, lack of contrast. The perfect combination for this landscape. The softness of the sand in contrast to the hardness of the stones and occasionally a few rays of light breaking through the clouds.

But back to the algae, which are used in the cosmetics industry, as food and then also in an algae fuel program. I fear that this will also upset the ecosystem. They harvest vast quantities and this yield deprives other living creatures of their food base. As is always the case when humans interfere with nature for the sole purpose of profit. But this is not the topic for now. We keep on cycling. And every day we are surprised anew by our earth.

We love this closeness to it, this silence, this simplicity, the play of light and color.

And we are delighted by the many friendly waving drivers in their cars, buses and trucks and the respectful distance they keep so as not to endanger us.

Muchas gracias Chile!

Addendum: Wild dogs

Yes, they do exist and then we dismount and send the snotty dogs home. It’s worked so far, even if they sometimes race through the sand at full speed to catch us. And yes, here too I would like to pack everyone up and take them to a nicer home. But perhaps we’ve become a little jaded to the misery. We’ve seen much worse and, on the whole, people are very nice to the animals, including the free dogs. We share our food as much as possible with them, but that leads us to take almost every food spot we find 🙂 What a pity 🙂

Addendum: Peeing wild

I have one more little story. It’s about the plastic bottles on the roadside. Often thrown away half empty. Or should I say half-filled? We had all sorts of clever explanations for these faded liquids until this answer came: they are pee bottles from truck drivers. They save themselves the pee break. Nice idea for recycling. But unfortunately not thought through to the end. I guess there’s one every 200m. Here are 2 special ones in brand and size.


And now we’re in Iquique and reorganizing for the 2nd major stage north, just before the border to Peru.
We have to leave the coastal strip and will probably cycle through even more deserted regions. Until we reach the Pacific again in Arica.


For a desert, there has been actually a lot to see and to discover.

Some more impressions:

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