Almost out of trouble …

Since we left lake Titicaca in Peru life has been interesting for us. We started this trip looking for an adventure and we found some on the Bolivian altiplano as expected. What we didn’t expect was an adventure of a different type. Right now both Bolivia and Chile are expecting serious civil unrest and that has caused us to change our plans and avoid our second entry into Bolivia. We will not do the Salar de Uyuni unfortunately since we decided to retrace our steps through the north of Chile, back to San Pedro de Atacama, then to Argentina. We drove through Peru with just one local protest and road block against a local mine. We were safely cleared through after about an hour. Then we reached customs and had to go through the same non-sense as on the way up, such as required forms to fills that are not provided. You have to go buy them from a snack vendor! Each country has three steps that you have to go through, so six in total, and you never know where to start, what they want, and where to get the forms. Anyway, the officials are generally helpful if you ask politely for help. After driving the whole day we reached the Chilean town of Arica where we went straight to the same hotel where we had stayed on the way up, the truck safely parked. The next day started well enough. We got fuel, payed by credit card and were on our way. About an hour later we were facing our first road block. We waited a bit but I wasn’t feeling very comfortable just sitting there at the mercy of a few protesters. We eventually backed up and took a dirt track that got us into the village and out of it in a few minutes, back on the pavement on the other side of the road block. Thank you for GPS and 4-wheel drive.

Just before reaching the gas station we had planned to stop for gas and lunch, more trouble. The protestants had dug trenches across some of the highway exit ramps, burnt heavy truck tires across the highway in various places and created major road blocks during the morning. We were lucky to arrive just as the blockades had been cleared, the fires still smoking. The gas station was crowded with semi-trailers either trapped there during the night, or now stopped for lunch. We had seen very few vehicles that morning since the country was paralyzed by a national strike, but here it was just a jumble of big rigs. Somehow the restaurant managed to feed everyone. We had to change our order three times but ended with our stomachs full, and ready to continue our journey. We had no planned stop picked for the night, content with putting some pavement behind us. We didn’t find a roadside stop we liked when the sun started getting lower on the horizon, so we pushed further than anticipated and ever closer to a town, and possibly closer to trouble. We passed the town and continued on towards Calama, a big city, and possible trouble during the night. We turned off the highway once and explored some track into the desert but didn’t really feel like spending the night there. So back to the pavement, the sun setting gradually and not many options in sight. But suddenly we saw a sign for an archeological site 13 km away from the road. We couldn’t drive off the gravel road so we ended up at the gate, still open. The attendant lady was nice and I told her we wanted to visit the site but were also looking for a place for the night. She offered us to use the small parking area. We had a very quiet evening and night. We took our breakfast watching the sunrise on the desert, then went to explore the site, and finally got back on the road. We drove through the city of Calama without delays but many road block fires were still smoking, all signs of a tense night. Before lunchtime we reached San Pedro de Atacama and the safety of the campground. After a shower we walked to town for lunch. There are visibly less tourists than last time we visited, the local natural parks are not open due to the strikes, some stores are closed, travel agencies are visibly not busy since there isn’t really anywhere to take the few tourists to. We did find lunch and a bit of food for our dinner and breakfast tomorrow. We plan to leave early and cross the border to Argentina, which is so far quiet. Stay tuned!

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