The desert

Before going any further, put on this music from Portland, Oregon’s own Federale.

First the trees got smaller and sickly looking. Then the bushes petered out. Finally, the thin cactus disappeared and I was left surrounded by rocks. A volcano loomed in the distance. I imagine a tumbleweed would have bounced by, but there was absolutely no vegetation to speak of. Besides, this wasn’t a John Wayne type of desert. I had found myself in a desert that more closely resembled a moon on the edge of decrepit solar system.

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I thought of back home. Portland has an average of 40 inches of rain a year; the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile averages 0.004. It’s extremely dry and rocky conditions make it an ideal spot for movie studios to shoot scenes of Mars. In fact, NASA tested rovers here. In one test, their instruments reported negative for any signs of life. But despite it’s striking differences, one thing linked this lifeless patch of rocks to the fern saturated Pacific Northwest. A bike.


By the end of the day I had pedaled 60 km from the oasis of San Pedro to Laguna Cejar and back again. This lake in the middle of the desert actually has a higher salt content then the Dead Sea. That means even I could float like my grandma. I’m not even sure what would happen if she somehow came here; she could probably just walk right across and not even get her suit wet. The Laguna is surrounded by salt crystals and the calmness creates a crystal blue mirror reflecting the Andes in the distance.

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In the end, I can’t say that I enjoyed every 60 kilometers of that ride. At times- when the sun was heckling me with ardent rays and vultures loomed overhead- only the thought of getting back to my hostel and having an Llama Barbecue with my new friends kept me going. That and this soundtrack by Federale. Even though my landscape was more martian then appaloosa, I couldn’t resist whistling along.

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