Once passing for human again post our sliver in Bolivia, we casually made our way out of San Pedro de Atacama. Upon leaving, the three of us bumped into some bikers from Santiago ‘two up’ on two bikes. Briefly acquainted, their proceeding word of cautionary advice was, “Be very, very careful in Argentina, it is dangerous.” Eh?! Sorry, it’s what now? Surely it had to be about thee safest country in South America – of which we’d experienced its length and breadth around a dozen times. I was fast running out of passport pages because of our unremitting infatuation with the country. I shouldn’t have but out of earshot, I chuckled to myself on and off for about half an hour afterwards. What exactly should we be so afraid of, I honestly wondered as we rode into the familiarity of Argentina. Vicious vicuna?
Plan A: To vacate Uyuni in Bolivia via 237 miles on routes 5, 701, skirting around lagunas Pasto Grande, Capina and Colorada, through the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve of Andean Fauna, by-passing Laguna Verde to eventually cross the border into northern Chile’s San Pedro de Atacama. Why the need to re-enter Chile for the nth time? It seemed silly to venture any further north when we’d made November plans in the southern most aspect of South America again.
Appreciating that only around 10 per cent of roads are paved in Bolivia, acknowledging there is only one road rule in the country: There are no road rules as well as knowing little and less about the true road conditions, we jumped straight onto the online forums and ascertained the consensus of our desired route to be a long six-day road that was “slow-going but not technical”. I was on board with that – vamoose, lets go!
Departing San Pedro de Atacama for the fourth time funnily enough felt like the final time. We waved a fond farewell to a woolly band of domestic llamas, sauntering over the tarmac and grazing atop the hillocks against an arresting backdrop of Lickancabur volcano. It was Siberia, the wind was screaming at the top of her lungs and the air hitting us at punishing temperatures. Whether Mother Nature was ticked off at something, I couldn’t quite tell but she was determined to ‘get my knee down’ on the straight as an arrow desert ruta 27. I wondered if she was playing with me because the more I leaned into her, the more she pushed back. My grunts made those of Venus Williams during her US Open tennis tournaments sound like soft newborn whimpers.
My motorbike to me is many things. She’s so much more than my trusty steed; she’s my home, an unbelievable icebreaker, a ‘Get out of jail’ free card and sometimes a swift little lifesaver. She is decidedly my ticket to travel, enlightenment and empowerment. Without Pearl, I’d have a gaping hole in my soul, a chunk eaten away like the hungry bite of a sandwich. It suddenly dawned on me astride the saddle – my moving world – that on English soil, my view of the planet was constantly narrowed by the media’s perception. On the road, my outlook is shaped by a world of perspectives, constantly evolving because I am continually changing where I am. Travel for me is the one thing you can buy that will make you rich.
Someone I once had to work alongside casually inquired where I took my main summer holiday one year. After outlining a fortnight’s touring the north west coast of Scotland on two wheels: with a bunch of male biking friends, living out of two panniers and a roll bag, wild camping most nights and covering around 3,000 miles, they informed me with a startling assertion as to how utterly horrendous that must have been. I couldn’t have related less to a person at that moment. I surmised one person’s version of horrific is another’s idea of heaven but could only wonder what they’d be thinking of someone doing this full time? I suspect it’d be uncomprehendingly challenging for them or worse still, trigger an irrecoverable meltdown from shock. I do hope that hasn’t happened.
Upon registering Pearl’s mileage clock 10,000 miles, without conscious volition I stopped seeing our trip as an extended holiday. This had now become a way of life for us. The honeymoon period wasn’t altogether over, it was simply the start of a new chapter having learnt the basic ropes of two wheeled travel. Namely journeying into the unknown and coping with all its capricious twists and turns – coming out the other end all the richer for it.
The beauty of having your own wheels means we executed our own sorties each day while using San Pedro de Atacama as a base. Our first self-facilitated foray into the desert took us to Valle de la Luna, Chile’s equivalent of Valley of the moon. I’d clocked the coaches carting around the day-trippers but thankfully the park was big enough to disperse everyone adequately enough. Its resemblance to the surface of the moon was remarkable, owing to its different stratifications and salt formations. We took ourselves on a cruisy circuit stopping when the urge took us; sauntered over the odd sand dune, bobbled over the bumpiest salt-stiffened road to date, siesta’ed in the sun post lunch and indulged in a light read. It was biking bliss. I overheard one young woman who, after completing a guided walk faced her tour guide and exclaimed, “Well that was absolutely not boring!”