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Day 8 (February 15, 2014) Today we moved from el Norte Chico into El Norte Grande, that is, we finally reached the Atacama Desert, the driest desert on earth with an average rainfall of 15 millimeters (0.59 in) per year. Atacama is also probably the oldest desert on earth since it has apparently experienced hyperaridity for at least 3 million years. As we rode North today we saw the vegetation disappeared leaving mountains that look like piles of dirt and rocks. Route 5 runs parallel and relatively close to the Pacific shore from Caldera to Chañaral. The entire Chilean coast is abundant in relatively protected bays that harbor small fishing villages. We visited the pretty settlement of Flamenco, approximately 60 kilometers north of Caldera. At Chañaral, route 5 turns away from the ocean and stays inland for more than 1,200 kilometers all the way to Arica, the last city before the border with Perú. We left route 5 to visit the city of Taltal on the shore and from there we took route 1 to Paposo. Route 1 runs on the narrow stretch of land between the coastal range—Sierra Vicuña Mackenna— and the Pacific. The few plants that grow in this area get their water mainly from the coastal fog (the neblina that is locally known as comanchaca) that rises from the ocean almost daily all year around. The mountains of the coastal range are quite high so the desert beyond gets very little humidity from the Pacific. From Paposo we took a paved road (B-710) that climbs up the costal range reaching altitudes of more than 2000 meters. A few miles away from the coast—and from the comanchaca—all plants are gone. The views from the road are stunning though. We reached Antofagasta in the later afternoon and hired a room (an expression I recently learned in Detroit, Michigan) at the Radisson with a great view of the ocean. We will be staying in Antofagasta for two nights to spend a full day visiting the area around the city. After enjoying a great sunset on the ocean from our room, we rode the bikes a few kilometers south to the fishing town of Coloso to get some dinner. In the way there we had to stop at a pharmacy to get some cortisone pills because the bites on my body are very swollen and itch like hell. For dinner we had more empanadas, seafood, and beer. We got to the restaurant at around 9 pm and it was apparently very late. Chileans don’t seem to follow the Argentinian late dinner tradition.