Since getting back to the UK, Nick Sanders has been working through a huge catalogue of images and diaries to bring you up to date with his Destination Adventure trip around South America.
“The Atacama Desert is a plateau covering a 1,000 kilometre strip of land on the Pacific coast, west of the Andes Mountains and is the driest bit of dirt on the planet. The surface area of the Atacama occupies 105,000 square kilometres, not including the barren lower slopes of the Andes, and most of the landscape is composed of stony terrain and salt lakes called salares, along, of course with lots of sand.
I like the Atacama Desert and have ridden across its length eight times. I have seen it’s heat rise from a cracked earth that was so hot, it was almost impossible to breath. Equally, the “Camanchacas” roll in as cloud banks off the Pacific. These massive patches of dense fog are as cold as the ocean and make it even harder than the heat through which to ride. And yet, there is the isolation of this desert, which I adore. Away from humans and their biting concerns this insulated ribbon of nothing much allows me to surrender my thoughts.
Hour after hour the Super Tenere bashes along the gravel road. The incessant nature of this mechanical perfection has an attractive tedium that is strangely reassuring.
Around the abandoned town of Yungay in the Antofagasta Region of northern Chile, the average rainfall is about 15mm per year. Some locations such as Arica receive 1mm in a year whilst some weather stations in the Atacama have never received any rain ever. Evidence suggests that the Atacama may not have had any significant rainfall from 1570 to 1971.
This desert is so arid, many mountains higher than 6,000 metres are completely free of glaciers. Only the highest peaks such as Ojos del Salado have some permanent snow coverage and studies by a group of British scientists have suggested that some river beds have been dry for 120,000 years.
Every day I saw impressions – how the surface of the road might alter, even its colour from grey then to earth. Everything quickly becomes a memory, nothing added, no details that I didn’t see for every minute of the day’s ride. Riding a bike can be so pure. Sometimes a day has expression, modesty and simplicity, everything I want from a ride on my motorcycle. Then, every night I slept out. The sound of a light breeze interrupted a bit of quiet thinking. How is it life can be so good when there is so little to do. Get up, tousled hair only to get onto your bike.
In a region about 100 kilometres south of Antofagasta, which averages 3,000 metres in elevation, the soil has been compared to that of In 2003, a team of researchers published a report in the journal Science in which they duplicated the tests used by the Viking 1 and Viking 2 Mars landers to detect life, and were unable to detect any signs in Atacama Desert soil. The region may be unique on Earth and is being used by NASA to test instruments for future Mars missions. There is no life in parts of the Atacama; nothing grows and not a single insect crawls on the ground. No flies, no birds, nothing. Maybe silica-based grains of crystal which on Mars might be cited as a form of life, but in your sleeping bag hidden away in the dark you are completely alone. How does that sound, as you sleep next to your bike?”
Get the latest updates from Nick on all his trips here.