M/Cing to SA: Surprises in Calama

NEW BMW ADVENTURE KIT. I purchased BMW's new Atacama Desert Survival Kit to make sure we get from Calama to Iquique. The kit includes two jugs of antifreeze, three (count'm 3) different size radiator hoses, an assortment of glues to attached new make-shift rubber patches in case the current patch blows. I'm planning on not using any of this, but we BMW owners need to be prepared to take care of ourselves when "adventuring." Let me know if you need the Part No.

Calama, sweet Calama

We rolled out of San Pedro de Atacama so early that the Rastafarians were still asleep and the mud was still thick in the streets of this desert town where it never rains.  Even our hotel manager, the Chilean version of  Norman Bates, wasn’t awake to give us a morning grunt and a rock-hard biscuit.   We were putting San Pedro de Atacama in the rear view mirror so early because we wanted to give ourselves plenty of spare time to slow-crawl our way up the mountains and down the valley to Calama, the next “city” 65 miles away.  For those of you who only occasionally tune in to the Shit Happens Express (shame on you), we were trying to get to Calama to find a way to “really” fix the leaking radiator hose that Ruben and I had gerry-rigged a temporary fix.  We were assured by the locals that Calama had two things:  (1) a motorcycle mechanic or some  semblance thereof ; and (2) lots of copper and little else.

Then  a bunch of surprising things happened:

  • We made it to Calama with no problems.  The Ruben-designed temporary fix did not leak one, single, solitary drop.  NV ran like a champ.  Lindsay you’re a good kid, way deep down.
  • Lady Garmin (our GPS) took us right to the front door of Hotel El Mirador, our targeted establishment for the evening.   The El Mirador is the finest hotel we’ve been in since sometime in Argentina.  It even has a real lobby for god sakes.  And people who smile and are happy to help you.   And this in the city which the Lonely Planet called a “shit hole.”  As I write this there’s the unfamiliar, but oh so welcome, sound of a TV in the background.
  • I was able to find the aforementioned BMW Atacama Desert Survival Kit without needing a BMW dealer. Each of  the half-dozen small hole-in-the-wall auto parts stores I visited each couldn’t have been more helpful to the dumb-looking Gringo couldn’t buy just one size hose,
  • Instead of spending the day tearing NV apart and putting him back together, I made the executive decision (another unfamiliar operating mode)  that we were going straight to Iquique without attempting open-heart surgery in the desert.  This left us time to catch a tour of the world’s largest open pit mine, the Chuquicamata copper mine, which makes one slack-jawed  by its scope.

The situation as of 10:00 PM on Monday, February 7 2011

We are off to Iquique on the northern coast of Chile tomorrow AM, with new adventure kit in hand.  If we arrive, then I’m going to find me a real motorcycle mechanic to fix NV.  Once that is accomplished, KR and I will contemplate the decision that’s weighing heaviest on our shoulders:  Peru and then Bolivia.  Or Bolivia and then Peru.  Thoughts?

We've seen a lot of highway signs -- most of them we don't understand by the way -- but few have been as welcome as this one.

This photo doesn't do the mighty Hotel El Mirador justice, but it gives a sense of its charm. In a city that (admittedly) doesn't have much charm.

Gee, look, it's a real lobby!

No picture will capture the scale of the Chuquicamata copper mine. It's five kilometers long (3.0 miles) and they've been taking dirt out of this hole for 100 years. Proudly, we Norte Americanos were the first to start mining this area for copper (the Guggenheims). Copper exports represent 40% of Chile's GNP. And from the new mines that they're starting on in/around this site, this will be operational for decades to come.

The obligatory miner statue in front of a museum piece -- a relatively small 20 ton shovel that need 12 guys to drive it. Today's version are in the 100 ton range, but take only one driver.

Trucks at the mine are big, very big. There's nothing in this picture to give it scale, but the driver has to climb stairs to his cab that are more than a story tall. I think they come in three sizes of load capacity: 20, 30 and 40. Tons

Right next to the mine is the epitome of a "company town," which is was an entire town including houses, markets, gyms, movie house, etc. a few hundred yards away from the mine. Only one problem, they discovered copper underneath the town and quicker than you can say "you're moving", they closed the town and moved everyone into Calama.

Good advice, especially if you're trying to convince people to move to a new town so you can get the copper under their old one. I think the sign says, "Live better" from your caring "Welfare Department."

7 replies
  1. Cindy R. says:

    That Copper mine photo was amazing. B comes before P. Go to Bolivia. Correction: go to the place with the biggest/best BMW dealer. 🙂
    Love to you both.

  2. Chuck Brown says:

    Best of luck with NV. Which ever way you go – I’ll follow along.
    I would love to have ridden down to the bottom of the mine.

  3. Sam and Jill says:

    Our choice: Puerto Vallarta with a giant margarita and Lilly on your lap. You’ve had your share of “adventures” for a while.

  4. Gregg & Tish says:

    Wow, the mine reminds me of the Grand Canyon, only man made! Glad to hear NV is behaving – we will continue to keep pace with your high adventures.

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