FROM CALDERA TO HUASCO: CYCLE ROUTE THROUGH THE FLOWERING DESERT OF THE IV REGION
(1) Meadow near Puerto Viejo © Bernardita, García C.for LOFscapes. / (2) Dunes near Puerto Viejo © Bernardita, García C. for LOFscapes. / (3) Hills in Caleta Pajonales © Bernardita, García C. for LOFscapes. / (4) Route between Caleta Pajonales and Carrizal Bajo © Bernardita, García C. for LOFscapes. / (5) Flor Cristaria glaucophylla © Alberto, Peñaloza A. for LOFscapes. / (6) Cactus Trichocereus coquimbanus © Bernardita, García C. for LOFscapes. / (7) Beach at LLanos de Calle National Park © Bernardita, García C. forLOFscapes. / (8) Flower Cistanthe speciosa © Alberto, Peñaloza A. for LOFscapes. / (9) Flower Rhodophialaphycelloides © Alberto, Peñaloza A. for LOFscapes.
In the winter of 2017, we bicycled the coastal road between the towns of Huasco and Caldera to see the desert in bloom, one of the main marvels not to be missed in the IV Region. This natural phenomenon, which occurs each time annual rainfall increases in the region, transforms a landscape commonly recognized for its aridity into a surprising meadow of flowers and lush vegetation. The bicycle in this case is perfect for slow contemplation. The colors can be observed from a distance and in movement, like the detail of a species stopped in its tracks, transforming the route into a multisensory experience.
How can something so indescribable be described? The body is immersed in the surrounding desert. On the front line, what the light illuminates is seen. The skin feels the cold of the night and by day the heat of a scorching sun, relieved only by the perpetual and gentle desert breeze. There is nothing but the sound of silence so that gradually the sensation of pedaling on the earth vanishes. Moving forward, we are detained in a constant — the desert. There are no certainties, only surprise wonders and the night.
A bicycle route is always a logistics challenge. You need to study the route and its difficulties along with the day’s program and itinerary. In this case, water was a determining factor to set our resting points and our lodging. It was time to get to know this natural phenomenon caused by the heavy rains of 2017 in the IV Region (1). The route was mostly coastal, so that in addition to the flowers we could also observe the intense growth of shrubs and cacti that were also benefited by the rains. Here was a landscape with meadows and hillsides covered with vegetation − something rarely seen in this region.
(1) Conaf, El Desierto Florido en Chile (The Flowering Desert) <http://www.conaf.cl/parques-nacionales/parques-de-chile/el-desierto-florido-en-chile/>
The start of the route was unexpected; we could not take the bus from Santiago to Caldera because they refused to accept our bicycles as luggage. After several hours of waiting and negotiations in the terminal, we managed to get on a bus willing to take us. This situation caused a five-hour delay for arrival at our point of departure on our cycle route. However, the delay also defined the construction of our own idea of the landscape as we started on our way at dusk from Caldera to Puerto Viejo. The probabilities of arriving at our originally planned destination were low, so we knew we would be camping that night under the stars. Once night fell, we were unable to see beyond our front wheel, but now and again, trucks appeared that illuminated the road ahead. We made our presence known with great care using our headlights and our reflective clothing before returning again to the darkness. Though we imagined a landscape of bright colors, we were distinguishing the chromatic and subtle complexity of the ground below. And though we were prepared for steep slopes, the change of level was not perceptible except for the extra effort we had to exert with our legs. When the night came, the references that usually position us on, over, or between things dissolved in a most fantastic way. Before a panorama of absolute darkness, in the area with the clearest skies on the planet, the Milky Way was magnificently revealed. The stars were the only vanishing points. Once the light of day arrived, we thought we had left behind the uncertainties of the night; nevertheless, the subtle changes of tonalities and reliefs in the landscape once again blurred the notions of space.
Over the next days of pedaling we advanced onwards and recognized varied morphologies from vast esplanades of flowers to slopes populated with vegetation and cliffs between land and sea. Finally, we arrived at the Llanos de Challe National Park that borders the coastal slopes until the central valleys − where its greatest exuberance can be found − crossing the coastal mountain range. This hotspot of the flowering desert has paths from which it is possible to appreciate species of flowers such as: Chilean bell flowers (Nolana spp), heliotropes (Heliotropium spp), alstroemerias, patas de guanaco ( Cistanthe cachinalensis, Cistanthe speciosa), Malvitas (Cristaria viridi-luteola), Añañucas (Rohodophiala Añañuca) and cacti such as: Eulychnia acida, Copiapoa cinérea, Copiapoa coquimbana and Copiapoa dealbata, just to mention a few. (2)
(2) Riedemann, P; Aldunate, G; Teiller, S., (2016). “Flora Nativa de valor ornamental – Zona Norte”.(Native ornamental flowers – Northern Zone) Santiago, Chile: Chagual
The beauty of the flowering desert lies in the evidence of a silent process. For years, the different species adapted to this climate remain dormant until just the right conditions of humidity appear to propagate and thus perpetuate their species. In this landscape of arid conditions, with its clay soil base and constant exposure to sun and wind, the temporary presence of species like the ones mentioned above is surprising, not only for the scene they create, but also for the possibility of recognizing the temporary condition of a landscape in constant transformation. This cycle route, with its few vehicles, good pavement conditions and sublime landscape, is undoubtedly an ideal tourist transect for lovers of cycling and botany.
Day 1 (29 km) Caldera – Point on the road to Puerto Viejo
Day 2 (71Km) Point on the road to Puerto Viejo – Caleta Pajonales
Day 3 (58) Caleta Pajonales – Llanos de Challe Campground
Day 4 (38) Llanos de Challe Campground – Huasco
Total 195 km
Recommendations for this Cycle route:
_Printed map or map downloaded to your cellphone
_Set of bicycle tools
_Reflective vest (in case of night riding)
_Containers for water (4 lt minimum)
_700 ml bottle at hand
_synthetic sweatshirt or thin fleece
_3rd synthetic layer (parka)
_700 ml thermos
_Quilted bike shorts
_Long sleeve jacket (for better sun protection)
Bernardita García Celedón. Photographer and Community Psychologist, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.
Alberto Peñaloza Aspée. Architect, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile and co-founder of the Ruta Ñuñoina platform, dedicated to dissemination and conservation of the material and immaterial heritage of Ñuñoa.