I once was inspired by a piece of indigenous art from a museum in Peru. On a clay pot were depicted mythical beasts and from a hostel in Lima I took an indigenous pattern to fill up the space around the fantasy animals. This piece of fabric gave me tremendous joy as I worked on it in the most lonesome, spacious and incredible beautiful camp spots. Mostly in the Atacama desert and prior in the Peruvian desert along the coast. This is a post about cycling through the Atacama desert.
Equally welcoming was my dad who decided to come over and see me. Together we traveled by bus through Peru, Bolivia and Chile. Our travel was not altogether a success but not because we were not a good team. I’d always loved traveling with my parents and now, with my dad left behind, we did some good bounding. Including while I kept embroidering a bit in the bus to some touristy trap like a floating island.
My dad mentioned how incredible boring the Atacama desert seemed to him, and indeed, when driving through with a big coach, sitting behind a glass window and not realizing the air-conditioning unit blowing a soft cool air, it looks as if nothing happens out there. But to me the Atacama desert was one piece of perfect round bliss-ball, to bite through little by little, to savor each little particle and to not swallow but have it linger there where the palate munches over it again and again.
This stretch of 1100 kilometer desert, the driest on earth, was pure enjoyment to me. Not one day was annoying, not one of these days I wished it to be over. Indeed, I was sad when I reached the 200 kilometer signboard towards the first town, leading to a string of towns and having the desert come to an end. I didn’t find it hard to cycle long stretches without possibilities to stock up, as the climbs were never too hard on me I was able to carry a lot of supplies. Water was an issue but I tackled that by asking truck drivers for some.
The places I camped where all of an incredible beauty to my eyes, as far as they could see, becoming blurry at some point. Sometimes I had the ocean accompanying me, sometimes a seal wondered what I was, his barks sounding scary in the black night. Other times I had an abandoned refugee town to camp in, with a cemetery full of bubonic plague victims, all persihed in the same year.
There were places where the only thing I had to do was sit back and accept the offer, with the words: ‘I normaly eat white bread with marmelade, but now I have company (me), so I spoil myself too’, said Claudio. Claudio treated me to fancy dinners and 5 nights in a homestay-hotel, one I later stayed at with my dad as well. There were spots where the only thing I had to do was find the best views. Preferably out of the wind. National parc Pan de Azucar was a place that could have last an infinity… but it didn’t.
I stayed with a couple for two nights, she was from Belgium and he from Chile. I stayed a night at a Spanish artist, she was a tattoo designer. I stayed two nights at a scrap yard for vehicles and was brought food by the man who lived opposite. I stayed at an abandoned church, positioned at a crossroad towards a big town. Always tried to avoid staying near towns and surely could not stand the activity in it anymore.
By now, towns always made me get out as soon as possible, though Chilean towns do have a lot of charm. Yet, the noise and the endless possibilities, but also the feelings of anxiety every time I had to park the bicycle at a supermarket made me flee the scene as soon as possible. I always half expected my panniers to be opened and emptied. It’s a lot of money, 350 euro for my sleeping bag, same price as my Lenovo tablet, to be stolen… Nothing like that ever happened in South America.
I had to calculate the places where I could stock up with water and buy food and around this logistic art I could sit back, relax and be certain I would be rested enough to make another 80 kilometer a day, sometimes more, sometimes less. I choose to take it easy, to enjoy where I was and to soak it in for extended hours out of the saddle.
Almost every spot I pitched the tent I felt I wanted to stay an extra day but this was almost never possible. The only spot where I was able to do so was when I rode out of a town, knowing the distance I had to cover before I could buy groceries again and able to stock up more than I needed, I felt I could find a great spot not too far out of town, not too far to cover a distance truly overloaded. Here I was, in the driest desert, they say, with a sprinkle of rain while I enjoyed the solitude, the incredible wideness and the total stillness, while embroidering on this piece of hemp cotton fabric. It was pure bliss. It sure was as I even could make a tiny fire. And do not look over the specialy formed boulders…
Another pleasant long stay in the desert was one week in the outskirts of Calama, waiting for my dad to arrive. He’d visit me for a month, as I mentioned earlier, so we could be together, be a dad and a daughter traveling together. I wanted to be sure to arrive in time to meet my dad, yet being in a desert for a week and trying to find shade is needing your imagination. Of course, water and food are necessary too, and embroidery is a fine practice to get through the heat. Especially when there is always need for battery power and never having plenty of it, I rather keep busy with something that does not eat nor need batteries, except the camera. I would once every three days go to Calama, dine at a Chinese, use WiFi and electricity and stock up luxurious at the supermarket. Yes, pretty comfortable, once again…
Moments like these, described just now, makes me want to cling to those memories, to this very piece of fabric. Seeing this tiny part of organic matter makes me think of one of the best moments out of my cycling trip but I unlearned to cling to things, and so, this piece may go out. It took me nearly 4 years to have this one transformed into something better. Though, a most certainly Chinese made, bulky plastic zipper may not be the most esthetical, it is very practical.
I like this piece a lot, not so much because of the intricate pattern but the thoughts behind it, that I undid the stitching which made it into a round pouch with a drawstring. The drawstring never really opened smooth, so I made it into something better.
Zipper pouch Iquique € 43 is sold. But my travel website offers plenty more such stories, click the button below.