Roadtripping through Chile

Roadtripping through Chile

WORDS + PHOTOS: Romain Leclerc

Chile is the longest country in the world. It goes through many latitudes and therefore offers a variety of textured landscapes. It’s a place that makes you believe in magic and fills you with the belief that it is made of a more beautiful, intense material than anywhere else in the world.

In the San Pedro de Atacama region, I discovered altitude sickness. This plagued me throughout my road trip across the country, sneaking up on me in places like the Lauca National Park, where we hiked at an altitude of 15,000 feet. It was there that I learned the local remedy of chewing coca leaves, to help with the headache and the shortness of breath.

Getting there means going through the desert: the monumental, magical, impressive, never-ending Chilean desert. Here, you drive on a ribbon of asphalt that goes straight for so long into the horizon, it disappears out of sight..

Entering Iquique, we drove along a 3,300 foot dune that overlooked the city that rested beside the sea. We caught it at dusk, when the light was distorted by the oceanic haze. That moment, through that prism of light, generated a moment of life hard to describe, as it doesn’t belong to our collective imagination.

The rain flooded a region and turned Chañaral into a scene reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic movie, with trucks are toppled onto their sides and a layer of mud covering everything. In the lake region, we experienced 5 days of rain and mist that turned into a snowstorm. We almost got stuck here – not only in a ditch beside the road, but in town for several days due to the inclement weather.

Driving in Chile from north to south for 6,500 miles in one month is an ambitious travel itinerary – long, arduous and tiring. But it’s all worth it. There’s something chemical that happens inside of travelers that make their treks slowly, look with intention and expose themselves fully to the elements.

I flew to Chile unsure if I would be able to see Patagona, a lifelong dream of mine. Because it was the beginning of the winter, we allowed ourselves the flexibility to let our trip unfold according to weather conditions. I remember the deep joy I felt when I realized that I confirmed the booking of the flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas, the most Austral city on the planet, in a region called the End of the World.

As we boarded our plane, I settled in a window seat on the left of the plane. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. 30,000 feet above the ground, the dramatic and untouched landscape that was passed before my eyes. My heart began to race. It was a moment of fortune and privilege that I’ve felt rarely felt in my life.

In the Southern Hemisphere, the sun paints a different ellipse in the sky, resulting in much longer sunrises and sunsets. One evening, we were all gathered around listening to Rotted Arp by Lapalux over the noise of the studded tires on the icy road, both humbled and dazzled by the golden light.

I’m attracted to cold, hostile and remote places. The first time I became aware of this attraction was in Yukon, Canada, where the vastness of the region brought forth an emotion that was almost spiritual. Since that first trip, I’ve found myself seeking that type of environmental refuge in all of my travels. I found it again in Patagonia. In my next life, I hope I can be reborn into that magical place so I can see it again.