Hitchhiking across Chile to Atacama Desert

Welcome to a new country
After travelling in huge Argentina we looked forward to enter Chile that seemed to be smaller. The truth is that the shape of Chile is not very wide because of natural mountain border but it’s long as hell!! It’s more than 4000 km long! In comparison it’s like crossing all Europe from Lisbon to Moscow!

We crossed the border from Argentina and our trip started in Osorno. We had to get use to new currency of Chilean pesos. We also tried our first Chilean food which was famous Completo (hot dog with tomatoes, avocado and mayonesa). Osorno wasn’t the prettiest city we’ve visited and so we decided to move on towards the North.

How to miss one of the most beautiful places in Chile
If you hitchhike you can’t be sure you always get to your destination. It’s not like going by bus and that’s why it can be a lot of fun. Some people can invite you to another place or sometimes they don’t even know where they are going. Read our stories that proves it. From Osorno we started to hitchhike but we only made about 100 km during the whole day. Each driver we stopped took us only a little bit and once we even had to come back to find a gas station for better chance. It’s usually easier to stop a car at a gas station because you have a contact with drivers and you can ask them before they start driving. We were about to set our tent right at the gas station when Kate talked to 2 Chillean guys. She asked if they were going to Pucon. „At first we are going to Valdivia but then we will be passing Pucon. Let’s go!”

After long hours of driving we got to the crossroad which was about 60 km from Pucon. The guys realised they were not going to Pucon. "We don't turn here we continue to the North" They said. We were considering the option of sleeping somewhere by the road in the tent but we were told i wasn't very safe. "Stay with us! We are going to the next town. Tomorrow you can come back during the day." They said and we agreed to stay. Next town was not coming and hours were passing and it was clear we were not going back to Pucon. Karel said: "We missed it but at least we travel or free and we will move a bit!" After that we all fell asleep. We woke up when we were passing through the mist that is very common in this part of Chile. It was very hard to see but the driver kept going. Even thought he was very tired he drove until 4.30 A.M. all the way to Concepción, the second biggest city in Chile. Pucon must be beautiful with its lakes and volcanoes but you can't visit all the places. We left something for the next time. After that crazy overnight hitchhike we slowed down and went through many interesting villages and we arrived in Valparaíso. Valpo is full of street art and its overall atmosphere is great. The only bad thing was that Karel got punched into his head by three nasty robbers. Fortunately, he managed to escape them. You have to be very careful in South America because there are more robberies and violence that we are used to.

Visiting our Chilean friends and a change in our team
We made a lot of friends from Latin America during our stay in New Zealand. Now it was the right time to visit them! Firstly, we went to visit Felipe to Santiago de Chile and later on we went to see Sara in La Serena. We finally stayed a week at each one’s place and it was awesome! They showed us the cities, local food and they took us for trips and parties. The best of all was to see them again after one year and see how they live in their country. We actually see them more often than our parents. :-)

During that time there was a big change in our travel4ever team because Edita switched with David! Edita couldn’t postpone her problems with the teeth anymore and decided to come back home after 20 months of travelling. David’s illness was finally gone and so he was able to join us again. We were waiting for him at Sara’s place. He arrived right on the day of Karel’s 30’s birthday! We went to celebrate to a pub called Biblioteca (Library). Local student usually say: ”Let’s go to the library!” In Biblioteca you should ask for a drink called Terremoto (Earthquake) which consists of white wine, pineapple ice cream, grenadine and often fernet. You will understand the meaning of its name after you drink it!

Crossing Atacama Desert and experience the life of truck drivers
With a new energy that David brought to the team we continued hitchhiking. The task was hard because we had to cross never ending Atacama Desert to San Pedro that was about 2000 km! We thought it would be difficult to hitch in Chile because many Argentinians told us that people in Chile are strict at following rules and that they don’t stop. For us hitchhiking in Chile seemed to be fine and maybe even easier than in Argentina. Again quite fast we stopped amazing truck driver Gonzalo and experienced the real life of truck divers! We spent 2 days in his cabin, slept on the truck in the tent, went to all buffets, had seafood for breakfast, drank a bottle of whiskey with Gonzalo (not while driving) and most of all drove 850 km through incredible Atacama Desert almost to San Pedro! He told us he has 11 brothers! The parents desperately wanted a girl. “You can build a football team!” We made jokes. “Yeah we even have one extra player!” He laughed and we could see that he also liked our company. He said he lives with all 11 brothers in the same city of Concepcion. They always party because every month there’s a Birthday of one of them. :-) Imagine the number of people if each of them invites his family. Gonzalo himself has 7 official kids with 3 different women. As he says: “The life of a truck driver is like the life of a sailor. They both have love in every port.”

Atacama Desert seemed to be never ending. We could see a lot of crosses by the road because many people did not make it and died. The desert gets even more magical and scarier at night because of incredible visibility of the stars that is one of the best in the world! According to Gonzalo many paranormal things that are not from this world also happen there. „Have you ever experienced anything like that?“ We asked him. „Sure! Several times! Once I was followed by two lights that looked like a plate for about an hour! But the worst experience was one day just before the sunset when I saw a girl hitchhiking by to road with a big backpack just like you have. I stopped and waited for her to come. I open the door and shouted. Are you going or what? But nobody answered. Nobody was there! I didn’t get it and I kept going. After a while I turned my head around and she was sitting on the bed behind me just like you now! I stopped the truck and run away screaming. Even now I get scared when I remember it.” And we could really see goose bumps on his huge truck driver arms.

After that we passed a local fool that lives at least 15 years in the desert on the place where all his family died in a traffic accident. He says that they talk to him there and so he built kind of house to stay close to them. He is actually a desert survivor. We still don’t understand how he can survive in that heat! It wasn’t even summer that must be killing!

Arrival to San Pedro
Gonzalo left us at a gas station in a town called La Negra. This mining town is not very pretty and the air is also very bad there. It got dark very soon and so we didn’t manage to stop any other car even though we had a nice paper sign and we asked everyone who was around. At the end we set our tent on a dusty ground and we spent a night close to the gas station. Next day we tried it again and after one hour we got finally lucky.  An elder couple took us at least a few kilometres to the next crossroad. We stopped two more cars before we stopped a family going directly to San Pedro de Atacama. They said they have a house there and after short conversation they invited us for a lunch. We of course couldn’t refuse because it’s always better to be in touch with local people. After the lunch we agreed we could do woofing - working for food and accommodation at their place.

And so we built our tent inside a Dome in their garden. The dome was built by their son Fernando that is studying architecture. He is interested in unusual and mystical things. "Life is happening outside not inside!" He told us while we were having BBQ. He likes to have connection with nature. He loves San Pedro for its energy and the best night sky. Next morning we started to clean up the yard. The family cooked for us and took us for a trip by car to see some villages and oasis with a river and fruit trees. The family came to San Pedro only for 2 days and they had to come back to Antofagasta. We gave them some money for water and electricity and we kept staying in our tent. We were happy because the atmosphere of their historic mud house and garden was great!

If you are arriving in San Pedro you're going to pass beautiful Canyon Piedra del Coyote and Death Valley - Valley de la Muerte. After that you will finally see some green and oasis of San Pedro de Atacama. We totally fell in love with this town! Although it's now very touristy it still preserves its mystical atmosphere. For instance local management doesn't allow people to build the second floor of their house or to have a shiny sign of their shops. You can't park your car in the centre, most of the houses are made of mud and the roads are left dusty on purpose. From the centre it's possible to see incredible range of mountains with may high volcanoes. Every evening the sunset turns them into red and violet colours.

San Pedro is a town situated in the middle of the desert in altitude of 2400 m. And so the temperature drops significantly at night! Days are usually very hot because of strong sun but you should never forget to bring your jacket for later. We repeated the same mistake several times before we got used to it. The town centre consists of nice square with a beautiful historical church and tiny narrow dusty roads with shops. You will also find there our favourite bar in South America which is called Barros! You can go there for Cazuela - a typical soup with huge pieces of beef, corn and pumpkin. There is also a life music every night which is great!

Surroundings of San Pedro and crazy bike trip

It can easily happen that you will get stuck in San Pedro for a week or two! This place has something that holds you. It's hard to explain. It's something between Aztecs, Maya, Inca, and UFO. :-) We managed to leave in 10 days! There is a lot of things to see around San Pedro. The best way how to explore this beautiful area is to refuse all offered tours and a rent a cheap bike to go to all important places by your own! We firstly biked to Moon Valley - Valle de la Luna. You will see really incredible sceneries there! We watched the sunset from the top of the dune and it was just perfect. You can also see a beautiful sunset at Piedra del Coyote canyon.

Another great activity is sandboarding in Death Valley - Valle de la Muerte. You will get a cheap board also in San Pedro. You tie the board to your backpack and you can start biking towards the valley. We had so much fun and it was cheap! You can also visit ruins Pukará de Quitor from where there is a nice view of the desert and San Pedro. You will also find big Indian heads made of sand.

One day we rented bikes to go to thermal pools Puritama out of the town. A Chilean guy told us we should easily get there. After 4 hours and 30 km of steep uphill we ended up in 3 500 m above the sea level. The air was really low and we couldn’t believe what we did. Local people were also very surprised we made it on bike. We have never been biking in this altitude and we have to say it was very hard.

During the last metres we were only pushing the bikes. We were glad we finally jumped into the hot pools. However they were not that hot and so we felt cold quite soon. We had to continue back down in a very strong wind which wasn't helping at all. Although we were freezing we didn't regret because we have experienced beautiful sunset close to the volcanoes that turned into amazing colours! At the end we were exhausted. Next day we couldn't even sit on the bike. It was probably our hardest biking trip ever and very strong experience from Chile!

At least we got used to higher altitude before entering Bolivia because in there we will be at 4000 m many times. We are looking forward to it! In Chile we’ve spent more than a month and we loved it! You find there beautiful mountains, volcanoes, ocean, desert and moreover a lot of great and friendly people!

Video from our adventures
in San Pedro de Atacama

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