In the morning we drove down the hill and were at the booking office at 09:30 hrs. The policeman said that the boat would leave around 10.00 hrs however everything was closed. A Chilean couple came by. Nicola spoke very good English. They also wanted to go to the nature reserve. After asking around it became clear that no boat would leave from this harbor. We drove some 11 km further up the coast to the next harbor, Punta Chanaral. The chances of spotting whales here was said to be higher. Also there everything was closed. At around 11.00 hrs several more Chilean tourists arrived and later also a skipper of a boat. We were now with enough people to make the boat trip. We all got a life jacket and plastic covering to prevent getting wet from the sea spray. The sea was reasonably rough when we sailed to the nearby island. We saw only 2 of the endangered Humboldt penguins and on a rock in the distance there were sea lions. No whale showed up. May be lucky next time.
We drove on over a small sand road back to the main RN5. After some 50 km we turned off at Vallenar to go back to the coast. We followed the excellent beautiful coastal road till the Llanos de Calle national park. The park just protects this stretch of the coast and the mountains behind it. Fog comes in and hangs around the tops of the mountains. The coast line is rocky with here and there sandy beaches. Everywhere between the rocks are tracks towards fisherman’s huts. We followed one of the tracks and made our camp in-between the granite boulder, in view of the sea and out of view from the road. The rock type varies a lot while driving, sometimes it is rounded granite rocks and sometimes sharp broken black stones of another type. Along the coast and the roads leading inland there are a lot of small and bigger mines. I assume they are mining copper ore. I do not see many trucks with rock driving on the road to a processing plant so I am not sure how that is done. You do see tankers with sulfuric acid driving around. That must be used in the copper recovery process.
We continued to follow the coast. Mostly on a sand road with a very thin tarmac layer. Here and there it was worn through but there were no significant holes. We continued to Bahia Inglesa. This is a touristy beach town. Not much was happening now. Only a bus load of ladies were strolling along the beach front looking for an open trinket shop. The next town, Caldera, had an interesting wooden church. It felts run down and poorly maintained. Back on the RN 5 we speeded up north and made a detour through the Pan de Azucar NP. The park was already closed for the season but the road through the park was open. The road follows a valley with lovely mountains on both sides towards the RN5. At a few points you hit the sea where there are large desolated beaches. The tour boats to the nearby island have also stopped sailing. On the RN5 we once more turned towards the coastal town of Taltal. In general the RN 5 runs through the middle of this narrow country. It lies at a height of 500 to 800 m in between the coastal mountains and the high Andes in the distance. Back on the coast we quickly found a suitable camp spot like before on a fisherman’s track in between the rocks. Here there is a different type of cactus. Big fat ones.
Today we followed the RN1. The old road follows the coast. But a new version cuts through the mountains back to the RN5. After an initial hairpin drive up the mountain to some 700 m the road becomes reasonably straight and slowly climbs to over 2100 m before descending back to the RN5 at 800 m. You are driving though a high altitude desert. Along the way you see again rock dumps indicating that there are mines nearby. To release the tension of driving some rocks are painted like strawberries or water melon.
Continuing on the RN 5 we turn off before Antofagasta towards the mining town of Calama. At the junction there are many workshops and chemical plants. They must be all working for the mining industry. Some buckets of the extremely large mining trucks are lying around. All along the road towards Calama you see heaps of tailings (residue rocks from the copper mine) along the road. They almost look like natural mountains with a flat top. There must be many mines here. At the hamlet of Baquedano there is a service station along the (paid) highway where we stopped to have a free shower and a (self made) sandwich. A bit further along there should be a railway museum. We found the place after spending some time searching for it. This was nothing more than the left over circular locomotive station where there still were 3 or 4 rusty steam engines left as well as an endless amount of different types of wagons. Along the way, when we had internet, we sent an e-mail to the mining company in Calama requesting to join the mine visit tour the next day. Since we never got an answer we drove quickly the remaining 130 km to go to the registration office before it closed. We were lucky that one of the workers was standing outside of the closed office. He had not seen our e-mail but there was still room for us on the bus. After some serious shopping in the nearby big supermarket (they sell TV, computers, toys, clothing items, shoes as well as grocery like fresh vegetables, meat etc), we drove some 30 km out of town. The whole area is a desolated desert with rock heaps everywhere and the large snowcapped Andes volcano’s on the border with Bolivia in the distance. We went off the road towards a small fast flowing stream where there were some green plants. We slept at a height of 2500 m. Till now we have been very lucky with the weather. Lots of sunshine and very little rain. Temperature range from 35 deg at noon but cool down to 15 deg at night. We will see how far it cools down at this height.