Madaru moto - motorbike adventures in South America 

DAY 12: I set off from Sunny Days Hostal a little later than I planned, due to an extended and interesting conversation I had at breakfast... but as my destination was a mere 88kms away, I figured I had plenty of time. I was heading to the highland spot known as Mallku, a mere dot on the map of the A-213 road, which connects the port of Arica with Bolivia. Not far out of Arica I chanced upon the old Rosario railway station.

I ventured up to the window. The station appeared gutted, but in maintained condition; I cannot tell if if was still in use. There was some graffiti on the wall apparently left by someone who lived there as a child in 1934; the place felt like it was waiting for a ghost train.

I shot this panorama then rode off; the lonely station was a little creepy, a bit like something from the set of the "Blair Witch Project"!

The Atacama is home to many geoglyphs, some of them of extreme antiquity. Here are some geoglyphic figures I shot from the roadside; in the first shot they are visible in the centre and extreme right:

Here they are cropped and enlarged:

From this point on the road started to rise in altitude; there were some spectacular views of the barren desert and some precarious hairpin bends. Although many trucks use this road, traffic was fairly light as it was a Sunday. Just as I was wondering if I had taken a wrong turn, and considering turning back as my bike was labouring in 3rd and 4th gears due to the altitude, and storm clouds were looming, I came upon Mallku. Although the sign says "Pueblo de Mallku", it is home to just one family of eight, all members of the Troncoso family.

They all live in this old English train carriage, at an altitude of 3123m (10,246 ft).

The other half of the building was made from adobe and cactus wood.

This piece looked like a sculpture of an elephant T

Broken potsherds probably dating from the time of the Incas lay on display.

...while this sign by Alexis, the founder of Mallku, announces: "This work is in response to a prayer by the thirsty garden that lives in the desert":

The family relies entirely on wind and solar for its energy needs:

I found Alexis's wife, Andrea, with 5 of her children and four others whom she was babysitting. Andrea was feeling unwell with a blocked ear; although she herself was a qualified doctor, she said she thought she could treat herself, but longed for her late grandmother, who "candled" her earwax with burning paper when she was a child. 

Here Andrea and the children are in a huge military tent out the back of their owner-built house, watching something on my laptop. The tent is used as accommodation by visiting trekkers, weary travellers, astronomers, even sometimes geologists. In fact their last visitors were  a group of geologists from BHP Billiton, assessing the area for gold - gold which until a few years ago was mined near here; that is how the old rail carriage came to be transported here, it once housed mineworkers at a nearby mine that was abandoned.

The Troncoso family make their living by providing accommodation, and guiding people to various natural and archaeological  attractions. They have lived here for 22 years, and all their children were not only born at home, but also home-tutored.   One of their mainstays are people who come up to study the stars at high altitude. Unfortunately, Andrea explained to me with more than a hint of sadness, a stranger had pulled up in a red sports car just 3 days before, asked the children if their father was home, and while they ran out the back to tell Andrea, he stole their main telescope, which cost them $4000, one of their most expensive possessions and main means of earning income. The heartless thief left the motorised tripod base behind, meaning the scope itself is virtually useless.

Andrea and Alexis invited me to join them for dinner and stay the night, and as it was getting a bit late, it was an offer I happily accepted. Here you can see how they used glass bottles set into the adobe wall to allow sunlight illuminate their kitchen/dining area:

Here is my delicious, home-cooked dinner:

One big happy family:

One  thing I noticed, being a former Primary School teacher, was how well behaved all the children were. I don't know if its because they don't go to school, or because their parents are so dedicated, but they were extremely polite and I never once heard any of the children fighting. I wish I had had them as my students back in my teaching days! Here they are playing dominoes.  

At the end of the night a bed in the Visitors' Tent was prepared, with four thick blankets and even a blanket-curtain that semi-enclosed my bed. "It will keep you warmer" said Andrea "these tents can be very cold if the wind picks up".

Day 12's route:

This speed vrs altitude graph shows how Mallku is almost straight up from Arica:

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