• The pursuit of

  • Mates - and an open road

  • The original horsepower

  • Patagonia

Heather.   As to be expected from timely people such as ourselves, we crossed the border from Peru and arrived in Arica, Chile the day the swell was starting to fill in. The 30-minute ride from the border crossing left us plenty of time to find a hidden camp spot beside an old bus to bunker down in and ride out the swell, which was predicted to be rather grande.   _dsc9898   We quickly set up camp and went off to check northern Chile’s most famous spot, El Gringo. The wave looked like something a giant two year-old sitting in a bath tub would create by picking up bucketfuls of water and then dumping them back in the shallows, all in the name of chaos and destruction.   img_1663   It breaks on a shallow and sharp, rocky reef, the left reeling off down the line in a fast tube until it connects with another wave and closes out with a thick surge onto dry reef.   The wind blows from the South almost every single day in Chile, so in the week there we never had any offshores, but most mornings were glassy, and almost every wave at El Gringo produced a wildly spitting tube.   img_1684   The next day the swell was pumping. We ran into an awesome Argentinian guy named Pablo, riding his old bicycle with a surfboard jerry-rigged to the back of it from Lima to Arica, with shoes, clothing and books hanging off of it in some sort of organized chaos, on his way home to Buenos Aires after a year of surf vagabonding.   Together we watched El Gringo’s thundering triple-overhead hollow tubes show promise of brilliance, but in between the good ones, huge closeout sets would detonate on the reef – it would be a rather dangerous session at best.   Matty spied an outer bombora and convinced Pablo to paddle out with him, it looked to be at least 4 times overhead, the barrelling left handers complimenting the wally righthanders beautifully.   Matty grabbed his 7’2” widowmaker from and classic Pablo grabbed his tiny 6’0” from his rickety bicycle. What a guy that Pablo is –up for anything, and always with a smile.   img_1844   I graciously offered to film them, because, like, my shoulder was really sore after the last quadruple overhead wave I got. It turned out to be worse for me just watching them navigate the paddle out past El Gringo.   They entered the water and paddled for their lives, narrowly escaping a few scary bombs, but as I watched, even bigger sets rumbled out of the horizon, towards the shallow reef. My heart pounding with my hand covering my gasps of relief as their boards vertically climbed each wall that then doubled up on itself and exploded onto the dry shelf behind them. Pablo, slightly slower to paddle on his smaller board, had a few on the head before he made it out, and was washed perilously close to the rocks, but somehow made it. Action packed paddling as I’ve never seen it, so close to shore.   These photos aren't from the same day, but you get the idea...   _dsc9427 _dsc9512 _dsc9449 _dsc9480   There are waves all around the island that on regular-sized swells don’t usually break. We were lucky to see La Isla working on the opposite side, the huge and scary sets that hit El Gringo refracted, halfed their size and bent their way around until they became a friendly and long point break. I surfed that one...   img_1601   It’s a very strange wave. Catching the whitewater and belly boarding to the face seemed to be the most effective, in order to hop up amidst crazy backwash off the breakwater, and dodge the other people sitting deep to catch the whitewash.   Fun though, I had a few days of surfing it.   img_1615   El Gringo got a bit less gnarly as the swell dropped, those crazy thick close-out sets having all but disappeared. It was still heavy, still snapping boards everywhere, the peak magnifying its energy into one heaving and throaty detonation before reeling left and right.   Matty reckons it would be a perfect wave with a bit of offshore wind, but that’ll be the day…   Here he is trying anyway…   elgringo   Our camp spot was in front of a big long beach covered in various exotic types of shorebirds that I’d never seen before.   There were gulls, but with distinctly different markings, and some that looked like a mix of a puffin and a gull, all having in common their numbering in the thousands along the beach. We had fun chasing them..   ..and admiring the massive energy exchange of thousands of birds taking flight just metres away.   _dsc9649   Beautiful sunsets; the clear, dry, hot desert air meeting the cold, wet Pacific is a sight to behold.   _dsc9726 _dsc9733   After about a week of revelling in the fun surf and funky vibes of Arica, along with our astonishment and delight at how different and comfortable Chile felt, we realized that it is a very large country, and that there was plenty more to see.   Plus we had big plans to organize; more on that later.   First we had the world’s driest desert to cross, and I was dreading the week-long ride ahead, only a little bit…   So we packed up camp and put off leaving as long as possible, by doing yoga to prepare for the long stretches of riding ahead, eating yet another meal, and making just one more coffee.   _dsc0160   We finally took off at about 2:30 pm that day, into the desert, into the southwest winds battering at our helmets, into the first 200 of the 2000 kms of Atacama yet to cross.   _dsc0276 img_1580   We pulled off that night and experienced our first of the Atacama night sky, but I think I was too overwhelmed by the distance we were trying to cover, unimaginably daunting given what I expected of the landscape. It’s beautiful in its own way, but for 2000 kms? I was quite anxious about it. Matty was “enjoying the moment.” YEAH WELL I HATE THIS MOMENT!!!   _dsc2533   Somehow the hours passed, somehow I made it through another terrible day of hardship, of sitting on a motorbike through the windy desert. Poor me!   The next evening, on sunset, we crested a ridge and descended above massive dunes and equally massive skyscrapers to the city of Iquique, mostly remembered to us by our epic campsite that night. We rode just south of the city, entered a guarded dumping site with a sign that read “no dumping,” and set up our tent here, right next to the softly lulling ocean and some smashed glass…   _dsc0369 _dsc0716 img_1943   Matty did some memorable time-lapses of the hills to our east…   img_1925 img_1934 img_1937 img_1941   ..And I envisioned the perfect shot of our man up on the hill, doing his time-lapse thing, and got to press the shutter button after he showed me all the night-time settings, woohoo!   img_1873   Woke up to fishermen in small rowboats just offshore, preparing for a morning dive in the tranquil waters totally devoid of any swell, which was conducive to the distance we were trying to conquer in the next week. The lack of swell definitely made it easier to ride past a few sweet set-ups as we sped along the coastal road.   _dsc1620   Got through the next day of riding too, somehow, weaving along the coast, powering through vast deserts with not a single plant or sign of life, just sweeping purple pink and brown hillsides and distant mountains. It was beautiful; the coast is all rocky headlands and tiny coastal clusters of makeshift homes, housing miners and spearfishermen, unable to drink the water not for typical Latin American reasons, but because of a mining ‘mishap’ that polluted the groundwater. Gas stations were mostly non-existent on the main highway, so we filled up tanks and our jerry cans, at tiny places like this…   _dsc0277   …arid and desolate, with nothing to hear your cries of loneliness but the wind, who swallows them up whole as if they were never worth anything anyway.   We kept our eyes peeled for any sign of something surfable, at least to rinse ourselves of the past few days of desert dust and grime. Almost serendipitously, whilst we were pulling back onto the highway after a spot check at some unknown point, we were passed by a pick-up truck whose passengers were waving wildly out the window, doling out shakas and the thumbs up, making wave gestures and pointing, and beckoning for us to follow them. They must have seen our four surfboards strapped to the bikes or instinctually knew we were hunting waves. The motorcycles have been such a unique tool for meeting people. So, what to do but laugh and follow along?!   We followed them for 10 minutes, pulling into the tiny community of Portofino, and followed them to a groovy surf shack right in front of a small and peeling right-hander.   _dsc3119   Three smiling legends jumped out of the truck, invited us to stay for lunch, insisted we set up the tent in the backyard, filled our glasses with wine, and told us all about the world-class waves in the little bay in front, all while showing us around the ideal little house.   _dsc3098   We all went for a surf together, and that night had a sweet little barbecue with some other folks from the community, which is not actually a legal town yet but rather a spot that anyone can build a house on. It serves as a bit of a summer resort community of plywood shacks, for the cities a couple hours away, and was pretty empty when we showed up, but the waves get pretty epic there. Considering that the one in front was shoulder high fun with some little tube sections during a current lack of swell, we believed them.   _dsc3125   The water was unbelievably clear, much colder than Arica, and all the guys were divers and spearfishermen. Fun to chat about the things you find you have in common with people who wave you down in the street, and also to learn a bit about the mines. All three of them had spent time working in the various mines scattered all over the Atacama desert, and after a long time putting in long, dangerous hours for foreign companies whose profits rarely stay in Chile, but whose ‘mishaps’ gravely affect Chileans, decided that they can live more rewarding, fulfilling lives doing what they enjoy doing.  They are now surf instructors, builders, and artists, and all have more time to surf and be with their families, and have all-night barbecues with foreigners they’ve hauled in off the highway.   _dsc9512   For the next few nights of camping through the Atacama, the stars seemed to explode in number. One evening, just after passing a few turn-offs for various international astronomical observatories, we rode off the highway, straight up a hill covered in flat rocks that was hard-packed enough for our heavy bikes. Matty, rather poetically, wondered where all those rocks even came from..? Oh, the wonders of the world…   img_2612   The desert is so straightforward, devoid of so many distracting things like plants and animals and other humans, that it allows your thoughts to wander in directions you’d never imagined possible for wandering, like where all the rocks of the world came from.   The dry air of the Atacama, perhaps getting the better of us intellectually, opened the sky to a world we’d never quite seen before.   One evening we routinely set the tent up, but in the end choose not to sleep in it because the stars were too good to bid farewell to, and the next forecast rainstorm was about 7.5 years away.   img_3817 img_3729   Woke up completely dry, as no dew falls in the night, nor in the millennia of nights before…   img_3789   The next few nights followed in the same footsteps, we’d set up camp, pretty exhausted from the day’s riding, then cook dinner, and watch the stars that almost always conjure contemplation of life philosophies and deep thought, until we fell asleep.   img_4223 img_3074   On our last day of desert riding, going about 110 km/hour, I was passing the time by counting the seconds it took my odometer to click 1/10th of a mile. Such was the monotony of the land… All of a sudden I snapped back to consciousness, without knowing I had lost it, if indeed just for a split second, and quickly over-corrected my steering. I wobbled hard for about 150m, and it wasn’t until about 30 seconds after I had straightened out that my heart started racing, adrenaline firing, making my legs and arms weak with the realization of what had just happened. And what could have happened. We pulled over and I laid on the ground in the shade of my bike to have a quick nap, to settle my nerves and refresh my cloudy sleepiness. Rode up behind another desert rock mountain a couple hours later to find a camp spot, ready to leave the scarily barren desert behind the next day.   _dsc3079   I’M ALIVE!!!!   And so as the dusty the landscape slowly changed (check camera sensor!), foggy slopes leading to the ocean bore big, blooming cacti and other shrubs in various shades of green, flushing out after recent rains, everything covered with opportunistic wildflowers. Soon there were grasses and scrubby trees, pastures with horses and cattle, and roadside stands selling local fruits and cheeses. I wanted to stop at each one and taste the delicacies of Chile’s fertile lands, but we can only carry so much…   img_4760   The renewal of trees and birds and bugs and flowers into our lives after 8 days of desert starvation, sent our senses into overdrive and there was no way to feel anything but happiness for the wonder of living.   Of course, the California-like landscape of perfection meant more traffic, many tolls, and lots more houses, but we were grateful to see fruitful earth again. That night’s stealth campsite, right on the side of the highway in wine country, was surrounded by ‘weedy’ wildflowers who had taken full advantage of the newly disturbed soil from the building of a new offramp. Including some native alstroemeria, oh my heart, how good it felt to be surrounded by flowers I knew, that I’ve picked for countless summers at home…   _dsc3135   That night we could smell the ocean in our dreams at night, and our destination was clear: the little town of Pichilemu, and the famous big-wave spot, Punta de Lobos.   It felt amazing to ride through the big eucalyptus and pine plantations, looking so much like somewhere in California or Victoria, Australia, past countless horse paddocks, and finally down the highway with the open expanse of mother ocean in sight.   _dsc3232   We showed up to a good-sized swell, even with a few breaking behind The Morros. I got convinced me to do the high-tide rock jump off the Morros (or ‘tetas,’ guess what that means ;), the two guano-covered rocks that give the famous spot its easy recognition.   I was aided by Matty, who helped me with timing, as I haven’t done too many rock jump entries before. At first it was magical being out there, surrounded by hundreds of massive pelicans peering down at us with their knowing eyes, and gulls sitting in nests at eye-level feeding their babies regurgitated fishy matter. Then I recalled Damien’s story of the day before, recounting the wave he took on the head before he cleared the impact zone that snatched his board from his hands and held him down for ages, all right in front of various rocks and a ripping current that washes you into them. I had no time to dwell on this though, as the time was now, scamper down, watch out for the algae it’s ridiculously slippery, after this wave, go now!   _dsc3505   Somehow I landed on my board, ungracefully, and paddled faster than I ever had, although not really moving at all, was I going backwards? One panicked eye to the horizon. Phew. I had just made it.   _dsc3514   The next day was not so lucky, we went to the low tide jump off, a bit sketchier, and I was a split-second off my timing and was sucked back, towards the rocks and then onto the rock, unable to duck dive because I was on a rock, rolling over it and trying to grasp my board for sure flotation device. I was sucked around a through a maze of them getting bashed by surging walls of whitewater. Luckily the rocks are covered in kelp, so are mostly harmless. Except for the effect it has on one’s state of mind.   Those first few days were fun; it’s a difficult wave to surf, with lots of different sections and lots of backwash on certain waves. Matty caught a few double overhead ones right next to the Morros, but the outside wasn’t quite linking up to the barrelly section called Mirador, about 200 metres down.   _dsc3488   During that swell the sweep was so strong, that it was better to catch a wave and walk the 1.5km back around.   _dsc3446 _dsc3468   Such an interesting wave, with many different faces. It’s never flat, and holds up to just about as big as waves get. Matty thinks you could surf there for years and never be bored, there’s always something different.   _DSC3305 _DSC5105 _DSC5065   Such an interesting wave, with many different faces. It’s never flat, and holds up to just about as big as waves get. Matty thinks you could surf there for years and never be bored, there’s always something different. We camped for a couple of weeks in front of a wave called Infiernillo, that I thought looked small one of the days so I gave it a go. Walked past divers cleaning various daily catches and seaweed harvesters arranging their goods on the beach to dry, and, feeling confident after (sort of) mastering the Morros at Punta de Lobos, slipped into the water between the rocks, timing the sets. Paddled across the impact zone a bit too eagerly, caught one on the head, and was washed back in over the rocks I had come from.   They don’t call it ‘Little Inferno’ for nothing…   _DSC5054 _DSC4940   Whilst camping there we used the cob pizza oven to its full effect, making some killer dough, hosting lots of friends and eating endless amounts of pizza amongst the foreign luxury of a kitchen – even if it was dirt floored, made from odd recycled materials and lacking utensils.   _DSC3692   We surfed La Puntilla a lot, right in front of Pichilemu town.   Apparently this is the first year since the tsunami in the 90’s that the sand has filled in, and the clean swells send fun, reeling walls down the wind protected point. I got my longest wave ever there, super fun, it’s as if the wave wants you to stay on. Never gets mushy, just fun walls the whole way.   _dsc3591 _dsc3554 _dsc3525   Christmas day we were lucky enough to be invited with our friend Tomas and his awesome family to a secret lake in the hills behind Pichilemu – the water was warm, fat trout swam around everywhere without a care, and we made music on the little beaches.   _dsc3663 _dsc3671 _dsc3680 _dsc3619 _dsc3630 _dsc3610 _dsc3636   Inspiring family, Tomas’ Dad, Orlando used to be a professional skier and at 70 years of age still has the energy of a grommet, Tomas himself is a great musician and has set up an awesome life in Cahuil, sister Valentina is the Pan-American women’s bodyboarding champion, and Orlandito (Tomas’s younger bro) is a ripper on any sort of board and has just built himself a little wooden home in front of a more secretive wave further south.   IMG_4881   We ended up camping at Tomas’ place for a couple of weeks, which was super kind of him, hanging out and skating an epic bowl, surfing and making music whilst we preparing a big transition.   IMG_4856   Even showed us a secret sand bank, that offers spitting left hand freight train barrels when its really on, we had it pretty fun – and its always nice to surf with no one but your friends.   _dsc4642 _dsc4750-edit _dsc4778 img_4826   Pichilemu is quickly becoming one our favourite places of the trip... uncrowded, country-styled goodness