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SatNav reported that it was 453 km to Tocopilla. We took a bit longer, as we took R1 from Taltal up to R5 and then followed R5, past Antofagasta inland before turning west.

As a result, we stopped at the famous Mano de Desierto, a large-scale sculpture of a hand located in the Atacama Desert, 75 km to the south of the city of Antofagasta, on the Panamerican Highway. Jonathan said the this had been on his wish list to see – anything to oblige!

After turning west, we took another turn, to Maria Elena, credited some ten years ago as being the driest place on earth – I wonder if the March rainfalls had changed this position; in any case it was very hot and dry. We drove to the ornamental entrance gate to the city, and posed for pictures and a movie while avoiding getting run down by trucks. The official record figures originated from the old, now disused, airport where weather statistics could be taken. But, was the old airport still here? We sent Brian to speak to a young lad, who looked at Brian in confused amazement – the nearest airport is at Calama! Yes, this is an old, disused airport – one that he had never heard off.

At the top of the hill outside Tocopilla we joined a traffic jam that stretched for several kilometres, as they were working on road repairs.

We then had to battle with the rush hour to find a nice hotel, Carreta de Rosita, and enjoyed an excellent large helping of reinetta (fish), washed down with Cristal beer.

A lot of driving and not a cactus passed our shutters. Some days it’s the ‘getting there’ that is important!

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