Dakar Day 4: Can I have some Sand with that Mountain Please!

Jan 7, 2011 by     No Comments    Posted under: Activities, Motorcycle adventures

Wow!  I feel like I survived an ordeal, and that I was hit by a truck.  My body ached, my brain hurt, and I wondered what today’s new adventure from Calama to our first night of camping in Iquique would bring.  Vic’s whereabouts were still unknown.

One thing we did all know is that at the end of today’s ride we were going to witness the stage ending at the bottom of the world’s biggest sand dune, nearly 3km in length with an average gradient of 32 degrees (for all you skiers/boarders out there, you know that’s steep).

Jim Hyde had been able to clear the Rawhyde truck out from the Argentinian customs hassle (one of the hardest import borders in the world) and had arrived along with another instructor Keith.  The truck looked impressive (it actually turned out to be a giant marshmallow, but more on that later), and Keith is a fantastic bike instructor as well as being a police SWAT dude, so the new arrivals brought a sense of increased confidence.

As the morning progressed we learnt more on Vic.  Last night he had become an official Missing Person, and the US authorities, police and Chilean equivalent of the FBI all involved.  While alone in the dark on the windy pass he had been blown off his bike a few times, and made the wise decision to dump the bike (where we saw it) and hitch hike his way to safety.  It would be the last time he rode a bike on the trip, and he became a resident of the truck.

With a straightforward route today, groups split up.  I left later with Jim’s group, and we were soon flying on a road across very high desert, one of the driest places on earth, the heat creating mirages not of water but of sand on the road.  We basically made a left turn and rode hundreds of kilometers in an absolute straight line to the coast of Chile.

The descent to the ocean was fantastic, with the final few miles rapid descents and sharp corners in a narrow valley.  Finally the monotony of the same colored sand was broken by the brilliant blue ocean.  A quick refill of the gas tank in Tocopila, admired some great graffiti art in the most unlikely of places, and north we went, all the way the coastline revealing bay after bay, gardens of rock, and giant sand hills.  Condors swooped close to our heads and floated in the hot updrafts.  Shrines were on almost every corner, some the most intricate and beautiful we had seen.  A reminder of the huge road death toll.

One negative observation is that Chile is a country still in development and hence with no concern yet for its environment.  The place is one big open dump.  Hopefully over time this will change as it is a country beautiful in its desolation.

Near Iquique a motorbike racer flew past us on the sand, just several hundred meters from the road.  The race stage finish was at the base of an impossibly big sandhill.  Small dots sliding down its face turned out to be the big race trucks, motorbike riders too small to be seen on the scale of the hill.  Robbie Gordon was there, rumored to be out of the race due to a time penalty, but putting on a show for the fans who had trudged or driven through the deep sand.

To give you an idea, here is a great vid of Robbie Gordon chasing Vladimir Chagin at the bottom of the sandhill last year:


9 hours after leaving Calama we sat down at a beachside restaurant to eat, and limped across to our makeshift camp beside the beach, the next hour much mirth as people set up their tents and sleeping quarters.  Will looked like a human hotdog, as the biker tent was clearly not long enough for his 6’2″ frame.  I opted for the simple method of using my tent as a groundsheet, and sleep came to me as I watched stars through clear skies.

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