M/Cing to SA: We go exploring the Andes

We spend a day exploring the Andes at the San Francisco pass, which reaches 15,000+ feet. Ercio and his trusty 4X4 provide the guidance, instruction and mode of exploration for a wonderful day. The sign here gives the passerby two alternatives: the frontier ahead or the tallest volcano in South America to the right

Where upon we opt for a day of 4×4 exploration

Only reporters covering the 33 trapped miners have spent more time in Copiapo as we spent- three full days in this nondescript mining town.  As with most things on this trip, we didn’t mean to spend so much time here, but things have a way of moving s…l…0…w… here and our hotel was cheap.   Anyway, we took the opportunity to get some things done,  recharge our batteries and to spend a marvelous day exploring the Andes in a 4×4 hosted by our guide, Ercio.

The Events Since Our Last Report

My wife is telling me in her-cut-to-the-bone  way that nobody wants to read all the verbiage, they just want the pictures.  So, here’s the recap of what’s happened followed by the pictures.  It’s OK if you all write in and tell KR she’s wrong.

  • Sunday-Tuesday in Copiapo, the last day of which we spent riding high in the Andes with Ercio and his 4×4.  One of the most wonderful days of any trip.
  • Yesterday we rode from Copiapo to Antofagasta, a trip of 350 miles, and arrived in Antofagasta in early evening.  This was a (another) great motorcycle day in which we cruised the Chilean coast, tested Now Voyager in altitude and heat, and and made the trip with no problems.
  • The highlight of arriving in Antofagasta was riding around the town center (population of Antofagasta is around 500k, compared with Copiapo”s 125K) and having the entire left pannier, tool chest, spare gas tank and wet bag fall off into the street behind us.  Seems that the Touratech locking mechanism is subject to getting loose…
  • We’ll spend today in Antofagasta in the worst hotel we’ve come across yet and then push North/East to San Pedro de Atacama tomorrow.

COPIAPO. While Copiapo is a mining town not a tourist town, and thus very, very plain, I could spend quite a bit of time talking about it. For me, its a city of contrasts: old houses like the one pictured on the left still stand from the 1850's and are the predominant personal structure, yet there are a fair number of newer structures like the one above, which overlooks the town square. There are lots of gold and copper mines in the mountains surrounding it, thus its full of miners and those who do business with them. Yet, Copiapo has received little direct, lasting benefit from its commerce as it didn't have the power/foresight to force the mining companies to invest locally. As a result, most labor is temporary and living outside of Copiapo and most of the mining companies have no permanent presence here. There were a couple of "cool" cafes which we tended to visit often, but we spent most of our time at the hotel on the Internet. On the right, KR surfs the Internet while sitting in our hotel's courtyard.

THE ANDES. We spent a spectacular day exploring Tres Cruces National Park in the Andes with the amazing Ercio. We decided to temporarily trade NV for Ercio's 4x4 and we're glad we did. We covered more than 300 miles, climbed to more than 15,000 feet, and spent 12 hours driving around the upper regions of the Andes by the San Francisco Pass. Not only is Ercio a knowledgeable guide about the region, but we learned a lot from him about photography as well (second from left). We had our first lunch at 10,000 feet in a meadow covered in tall pampa grass. I'm sure Ercio was as excited to be with us and we were him.

ANIMALS. Lately it seems that all of our adventures are started because KR wants to see some animal in a far off place. This was no different. Not satisfied seeing the little ______ penguins, we go to 15,000 feet in search of flamingos. We also see lots of vicunas in packs. I guess there's no privacy even in the middle of nowhere.

People live up here, apparently. While housing leaves a little to be desired, the view, and (absence) of neighbors probably goes a long way toward "happy."

10,000 feet up and there's a lush meadow fueled by a half-dozen streams. Ericio says they can be a result of glacier melting, underground springs, snow melting.

The view inside can be pretty spectacular as well

Last year I saw this yellow grass on the other side of the Pass. They stretch as far as one can see.

KR takes a look at Laguna Santa Rosa, home to many a flamingo.

The birds are over there! Pretty nice place to get photography lessons.

It actually wasn't too cold at the high altitudes, though short sleeves isn't the gear to have.

Many will think of this as visual clutter -- why put us in this picture of Lago Verde? This picture is for us, to remind us that we were actually in this stunning place.

This is NOT a photoshopped image. KR and I take warm mineral bath at 15,000 feet, overlooking Lago Verde.

By this time, KR's starting to get excited. Flamingos, screwing vicunas, emerald lakes, mineral baths...

This is a hut that passes for a refugio at Lago Verde. I really want to go back someday and spend the night there.

Inside, it's something less than cozy. Here Ercio prepares some soup while talking with another guide. This guide is leading an "expedition" of Russians to the tallest peak, 22,000. They spend 3-5 days at each altitude getting acclimated. BTW, this place is a whole lot more inviting than the hotel we're stayinga at in Antofagasta.

Most of the 300+ miles we did were on roads like this.

The next day we ride the 350 miles from Copiapo to Antofagasta. About 100 of those miles were along this coast north of Taltal.

The road was an excellent m/c road. Here KR opens her eyes long enough to get this shot

ADVENTURE MACHINE AGAIN? NV had a really good day: lots of trouble free miles, up to 7000 feet, heavily loaded with extra gas, and running steady in 85 degree heat. The next test will be 10,000+ feet and the Atacama on our way to San Pedro de Atacama.

This is our plan: we're going this way until we decide to go that way ...

We end the day at a fantastic restaurant named for the little town we're going to next. Food, atmosphere and people were great.

11 replies
  1. guzzimon says:

    As terrific as the pictures are, I have to disagree with the lovely KR…am really enjoying your prose, and look forward to more of it as your journey unfolds…

    john in Denver

  2. Maria says:

    I vote plenty of pix, plenty of prose!!! Each is enhanced by the other! Karen just wants more pix of herself…HA!!!

  3. Gregg & Tish says:

    Oh yes, your travels have improved dramatically. And, as much as I love Ms. Rutherford, the prose is the main course of your adventures, the pictures are dessert. Please write often and much.

  4. Ryan says:

    I agree with the majority: pictures and text. KR just wants more FW time. Wouldn’t you, after seeing those randy vicunas???

  5. FHW says:

    Look at the third group of pictures (not counting the top one). The two vicunas are in the picture on the farthest right. fw

  6. Matt in Pasadena says:

    Keep the prose and the photos coming, including the conjugal camelid shots. It’s all fantastic. MD

  7. Cindy R. says:

    I love the way you write Fred, keep it up! Your stories are awesome! I loved the mineral bath.. lago verde and the San Pedro restaurant. Fun! Enjoy…
    Miss you guys!!

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