After the Elqui Valley we bee-lined it for San Pedro De Atacama, with a major unexpected stop in Calama. Again this drive took us about 3 days of serious moving. On the way into Calama we noticed that Alfonso was really lacking power driving up even the slightest hills, so we decided to stop in Calama on the way to San Pedro as it is a much bigger town and would have a greater ability to repair our boy.
Sorry Calama, review wise, things don’t get better for you from this point on. The first night we struggled to find a nice spot to sleep so we could go on a tour in the morning to the worlds largest open pit copper mine (Chuquicamata – say that 5 times fast). We tried a Shell station first but they didn’t have a bathroom so went to the Petrobras next door (another gas station) where we met an awesome Belgian couple, Thibault and Lou. They were in their own camper and are also trying to sell, and we spent the night eating delicious guacamole and chatting about our vanigan shenanigans. The next morning Alfonso had a serious problem with the whole starting thing, and we spent about 30 tense minutes in the parking lot spitting a lot of black smoke and making a small scene. We finally got to the area the tour started and were afraid to turn him off. We ended up mustering up the courage and shut him down for the 4 hour tour.
The tour was pretty cool! Chuquicamata is 1.2km deep and 3X5km in size. It takes a fully loaded truck 1 hour to get from the bottom to the top (which is only 12km), while burning 4L of diesel a minute (sorry environmentalists). The trucks are also gigantic, with their wheels being 3m tall and the total height of the ruck being 8m tall. They can carry 350tonnes of rock up from the bottom of the mine at a time and boy was that impressive. Beside the mine is the town where miners and their families lived until it was abandoned due to health issues. We got to explore the town as well which would fit nicely in a Walking Dead episode. Half of the town has already been covered in rubble from the mining activities which definitely adds to the post apocalyptic flair.
That night we got Alfonso in to get his brakes looked at (the first of many problems), and were helped by a great guy named Richard who was an all star. He recommended the next shop for us to get engine looked at as well. The next day we went immediately to Dunlop Mechanics and were helped by the owner Manuel, who over the course of 3 days would prove to be an absolute legend. Manuel let us sleep in the shop while Alfonso was getting looked at, where there was a nice bathroom and great wifi. He also let us shower the first night and plug our van into his house power (he lived attached to the shop). One night as well he brought us out bananas and was just an all around great guy during our tough times. Chilean hospitality for the win again.
Unfortunately his hospitality couldn’t fix Alfonso for fewer than 5 million pesos (about $11k). After 3 days of tinkering, it turns out that Alfonso’s piston seals aren’t really sealing anything, so we’re spitting gas and oil, which doesn’t help his already abysmal gas mileage. To fix the van would cost more than what we bought him for so we decided to cut our losses and try to make it to San Pedro where Alfonso could live the rest of his days as a cool-hip-retro cabin for a local campsite. This on its own is proving difficult. Not only can we not just hand over the keys and set up Alfonso as an AirBnb, if we did I may not be allowed back into Chile. It all has to do with the “Temporary Import Permit” that I get every time we crossed a border with Alfonso. It has my name and passport on it so after the 90 days, if Alfonso isn’t out of the country or sold in some legal manner, I run into problems. So we are now in San Pedro de Atacama trying to figure some of these problems out…stay tuned for the captivating story of Alfonso’s release.
(Photos are missing because who wants to take photos of the inside of a mechanics… also this city was sad so…)