51-Riding to Santiago de Chile

Another day through the dry dessert of Atacama, but every day brings some new experiences.

From San Pedro to Atacama rode to Antofagasta. 

Again... more endless straight road ....

While I was riding yesterday and today I observed along the road a lot of activity with trucks carrying dry material. My inquisitive mind decided to ask what kind of mining was in the area. I had also observed on both sides of the endless road some large diameter pipes following hundreds of kilometers. Not one pipe, but 3 or 4 pipes on each side of the road. It told me some mayor activity was going on here. It started in Calama all the way to Antofagasta. My initial thought was may be water from the mountains to the mayor cities, but why so many pipes.

It results, it is the copper mining industry who is pumping the copper in liquid form to the harbor of Antofagasta. OK now I know…it was good to ask, it was puzzling my mind for hours.

After more info, apparently they pump water from the sea up to the mining industry to somehow bring the copper in liquid form, or as would I guess, mixed with sea water through the pipes back to the harbor. I also saw many trucks transporting Sufuric Acid. Which was another indication of some serious industrial activity. Probably another use for the same industry. I am not a chemic engineer so just guessing.

Ok I do not know if all this info is correct, it is just what they told me.

Morning in Antofagasta, got to my bike which was parked in a parking ramp with all my stuff, checked again pressure of my tires after descending from 3000 m of elevation, they normally lose pressure and headed out. I just stayed one night.. Oh, I prefere much better the small towns, even if very simple, you can observe and start guessing the daily life about the habitants. Yes I say habitants because I do no know them and feel and I am a total outsider seeing things form a total different angle, an outsider just tying to understand the human behavior and rational of doing things.

So.....I continued my route South....I was not far from the famous 'Hand in the Desert' and of course had to take a picture!

The sculpture was constructed by the Chilean sculptor Mario Irarrázabal at an altitude of 1,100 meters above sea level. Irarrázabal used the human figure to express emotions like injustice, loneliness, sorrow and torture.[1] Its exaggerated size is said to emphasize human vulnerability and helplessness.[1] The work has a base of iron and concrete, and stands 11 metres (36 ft) tall. Funded by Corporación Pro Antofagasta, a local booster organization, the sculpture was inaugurated on March 28, 1992.

It has since become a point of interest for tourists traveling Route 5, which forms part of the Pan-American Highway. It is an easy victim of graffiti and is therefore cleaned occasionally.

From Antofagasta, one can take Route 26 or Route 28, both of which connect to Route 5.

Coordinates: -24.1583361; -70.1565444

Continuing on my long ride today I crossed several long distance riders heading North and of course waiving. It is a happy encounter to see them just passing. Yes it feels like...... yes!!! ......another of our small group of crazy travelers. :)

Later heading South two other BMW GS passed me and waved also, …little later.... I noticed they slowed down more to my speed and eventually they stopped on the shoulder.

What to do?? I slowed down and stopped along of one of them.

Opening my helmet and saying hi, the rider answered…..Nina????

WOW they know who I was???? Ha, ha…. it was some ADV rider heading the same direction and some how recognized my bike.

We chatted about things and my little worry being very low in fuel and they offered to follow me just in case. We made it to a very rustic gas station and the sat down at a even more rustic restaurant to eat a sandwich and chat about our experiences. This is so wonderful to meet some stranger on the road, but is in reality not a stranger at all. Feels like from an extended family and sharing your adventures is great and inspiring.

Eventually we continued each on their own pace, me the slow one, but met again later at the gas station refueling. Again sat down for a little while until departing again. I guess we will meet again somewhere down the road.

.....continued further until I found the little hotel I found online in Chañaral,  I was not sure if it existed at all,  but was there and could stay overnight. The town of Chañaral is a weird town.

The hotel existed on a street in reconstruction. It has very simple rooms, nice and friendly people and a good parking place for my mosquito bike.

What to do in a little town, walk around and find something to eat before it gets dark. Sitting in a little restaurant not the traditional time of eating I was all by myself. TV was on like in all places a high volume while eating my food. Some locals enter and go again but do not stay for dinner or sit down. Until an older man came in and wanted to see the soccer game. Unfortunately the channel was not available, so he was disappointed and left. Walking back to the hotel I saw a contrast in the structures of the town on main street. Some shops where very modern with clothing, or shoes but next to it some boarded up buildings.
Many of the buildings where in serios repair giving the town a sad uncomfortable feel.

Back at the hotel I was determined to ask questions about what was going on here. One of the few customers of the hotel was kind to give me some explanation.
A year ago they had some mayor flooding coming from the mountains and covered up to 6 feet the whole street with water and mud. The road along the sea was taken out too…. hmmm I thought, you see there is always a good reason why things look the way they are.

It was time for the soccer game and everybody disappeared leaving me with my thoughts.

Life on the road is so ever changing and enlightning at the same time.

I had a great day again.



From Acidman1968

Many of the mines in northern Chile export copper concentrate - a solid material which is shipped from the concentrating plants at the mines to the coast via pipelines as a slurry. At the coast, the solids are filtered out, and I'm guessing that they reuse the water by pumping it back to the mine area (because water is scarce in the Atacama Desert). The solids - called concentrate - is about 30% copper, and about 30% sulfur, and the rest is usually iron and other materials, is then loaded onto ships and hauled to Japan and China where it is smelted and the product copper is produced. 

There are some mines in Chile, such as the mine at Chuquicamata (I lived in the now abandoned city of Chuquicamata for one month), which have their own smelters. When the copper concentrates are smelted, they are burned in furnaces. This produces a lot of sulfur dioxide. The sulfur dioxide is usually captured in an acid plant which is part of the pollution control system for the smelter, and the product is sulfuric acid, which is typically sold as a byproduct of the copper smelting process. There's also another copper smelter outside of Antofagasta - about 15 miles inland at "La Ciudad Industria de la Negra". If I remember correctly, there are seven copper smelters in Chile...

I'm fairly familiar with the copper mining, concentrating, and smelting process, because I work at a copper smelter here in the United States, and I operate an acid plant - hence the name: acidman1968


Biomining - from Wikipedia "Microorganisms are used to leach out the minerals, rather than the traditional methods of extreme heat or toxic chemicals, which have a deleterious effect on the environment..." Well they have to use large amounts of Sulphuric acid so environmentalists are saying the process could be harmful for mother nature. But. It is a affordable way to utilise otherwise useless ore, brings work and wealth... Well... We have one large project here in Finland... State has it's hands deep in there (means taxpayer money)... 

Thank you for the info…I am learning every day!!

© Nina Boonacker 2012