We have arrived in a place called Taltal, it's an old mining town, pretty run down but kind of beautiful. Well we have had a pretty rough time the last few days. We both know it will be one of those cases where you look back and think 'Jesus, what an experience' but for now it's just been tough. Relentless riding of bikes through the desert. Sometimes on busy highways and other times on tracks I really dont think anyone has ridden down in a very, very long time. Not even roads; rocks, sand and rubble- my motorbike skills are definitely improving. A few days now we have ridden for over 10 hours per day just because it took us way longer than we planned, or the plan wasn't quite long enough so we tried to roll two day's worth of plans into one day. We are getting better at it though...planning. We make sure we have our gps routes and back ups to make sure we are safe and have enough petrol.
We creep through the towns we pass because dogs don't seem to like the sound of our motorbikes and Tom managed to get bitten by one as we rode into a town late at night after 12 hours straight in the desert. He was ok because it got his boot and to be honest it made me chuckle. I couldn't believe it actually went for him, a full on pack came for us after that and the locals had to shout at them to keep them away. It must be something about the noise of the bikes because now when we spot one we creep past they don't pay us as much attention, although there have been a couple of intense stand-off moments where they appear to be deciding.
Today we went to a beautiful place called Pan de Azucar which translates to 'bread of sugar'. White sand and blue sea against the orange of the desert, pretty special. We took the rode to avoid the highway but had to head back after 30Km's anyway because rain (in the driest desert on Earth) led to mud slides in March and blocked the route so we were forced back onto the route 5, the Pan American Highway. To be honest, this part of the Ruta 5 in itself was an experience, nothing for miles and miles other than bright orange desert and mountains. The skies cleared and when we stopped for water or sunblock, you could feel the heat of the sun immediately. We have taken to riding a bit down the hard-shoulder when huge trucks and busses want to come past us; we're taking it easy and they certainly aren't.
We've been camping a lot, there is something really comforting about the tent, everything has a place and we are getting better at setting up camp and taking it down in the misty mornings. Porridge on and coffee to start the day. We've found that it's not as windy in the morning and less traffic when heading onto the highway so there have been a few 6am rises.
It's been a hard slog and we're only half way through the Atacama but there should be waves in a couple of days and we're making progress, slow as it is.
Tom's put a couple of links to the music that's been keeping us going at the bottom, under the photos, mostly Neil Young and Billy Bragg so far. Also we saw a Sea Lion jump onto a jetty to attack a woman, it was pretty funny to watch her panic and run up the steps, could have been Tom two minutes earlier - now that would have been funny.