The surprise, to wake up to the sound of rain on the cabaña roof, was not so great this time. In Europe, we’re well used to days-on-end of rain. The advantage of a plan, prepared in great detail during the previous nine months, is that you can ignore it on arrival, or, when conditions or events indicate, that you can shuffle dates and places around to suit.
We did some sight seeing in Taltal and noticed the progress that had been made at pace, with new schools, housing and roads and major road improvements to Av. Arturo Pratt in progress. The town is also proud of its ancestry, with it’s museum and tribute to the railway system (Plaza del Tren) and recognises the need to entertain the population and tourists alike by having created a mini golf course and outdoor sport facilities near by and is even in the process of creating a small botanic garden (S246) to display the wealth of cacti that occur between Paposo and Cifuncho.
But the weather showed little sign of improving, and so we decided to head north, reaching Ruta 5 in low cloud, with puddles of water on the road and the windscreen wipers going. Soon however, the sky brightened slightly and the fog turned to steam coming off the tarmac. We made good progress and stopped off for a bite to eat in one of the many truck stops along Ruta 5.
We pushed on, reaching the impressive, but graffiti covered Mano del Desierto, (S247) a massive sculpture of a hand rising out of the desert, some 70 km south of Antofagasta. No plants here, but my stop numbers are designed to help me to retrieve digital images, they are not Field Collection Reference numbers.
The only other stop of the day (S248) was an un-manned railway crossing on Ruta 5, just south of Baquedano. Throughout Chile, motor drivers slow down religiously, as signs warn of a railway crossing further down the road. Signs warn road users to stop (and presumably look and listen) for any approaching train that – by virtue of its size – has (takes) priority. At many of these crossings, no train has passed for years, the rails having been removed a long time ago. And yet, cars, busses and lorries slow down, almost as a tribute to the past days of steam. In 2001 I had been told of police traps at these crossings, with drivers fined significant sums for not stopping at locations where the line was no longer in use. I do not know how true the stories are – I never saw any evidence of police near these crossings. Yet it is curious to have unmanned railway crossings (here with the line in use!) on the Pan Americana, mile for mile the busiest road in the country. The pictures taken illustrate why it is good to stop where the signs suggest.
That night we reached Calama and found comfortable accommodation at Hotel El Mirador, where we enjoyed a few glasses of Chilean wine with some fellow tourists from Alaska, whose main interests were the Chilean wine offerings, but who had just been to our next target, San Pedro de Atacama, for a no-vineyard break.