Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Copiapo and Caldera

Today is Tom’s birthday and our (my) main goal is to be somewhere where we can find a restaurant for dinner. Leaving the Penguin reserve behind, we go back down the same dirt road that we came in on to route 5. From here the Pan-American heads inland and we soon start to climb in elevation. Passing through the town of Vallenar, we toyed with the idea of going to the Huasco Valley and Parque Nacional Llanos de Challe. This park is extremely remote about 60 mile out of our way on yet another dirt track and is really only supposed to be interesting in the summer or in the winter on the years when there has been a lot of rain and so the desert has what is known as a “desierto florido” when latent, parched plants explode in a multi-colored display of wildflowers, turning the area from a desert landscape into a flowering garden. Since this has not been a particularly wet year and it is still a little early for the desert flowers to show, we decide to keep going. We had thought we would stop and stay in the larger town of Copiapo. This has been a mining town since the 1700’s. First attracting gold speculators, then silver and now Chile’s multi-million dollar investment in copper mining. Chile is the world’s leading copper exporter. In spite of all the money that has been poured into the city and maybe because of its blue-collar roots, the town turned out to be disappointing. It has a seedy, well-worn feel to it and neither Tom nor I really wish to stay. The next town of any size is the beach town of Caldera. This will make for a long drive day for us, about 300 miles total, but we go for it. Built in 1852, South America’s first railroad, from Copiapo to Caldera was begun and as we continue on route 5, we catch glimpses of the old, narrow gauge track as we meander through the mountains before dropping back to sea level at Caldera. Caldera is on the south shore of a bay and during the mining boom it was the second largest port in the country. Whilst we had read that it is a popular resort in the summer, right now it is deserted with much of the town boarded up. We cruise the road along the beach looking not only for a place to park overnight but a restaurant for Tom to enjoy a birthday dinner. The beach is run down and a little dirty and to our dismay had lots of tents where it looked like the destitute lived. We move a little further down and find a level area for the motorhome. Close by is the pier where the fisherman haul their fresh catch in every morning and there is a market plus a couple of restaurants. We walk Winston on the beach and after feeding him, set out for the wharf, passing some more tents along the way. At the pier, we browsed the few stalls that were still open but did not buy anything. We will come back in the morning to purchase fresh fish or shellfish for dinner. We also spied a restaurant at the end of the wharf with outside tables to watch the sunset. After looking at the menu, we both settled on crab dishes for dinner and their specialty, cerviche mad with Chilean Sea Bass for a starter. We also ordered a couple of pisco sours and settled in to watch the setting sun. I toasted Tom and quietly sang “Happy Birthday” to him. It may not be the fanciest restaurant in the world but the view across the ocean was brilliant and the food was very good and fresh. Happy birthday to Tom!

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