Back in our Apr. '09 issue we brought you a look at a wheeling event in Chile ("Raid Atacama 2008 Desert Trophy"), and this issue we are doing it again. Raid Atacama is an annual event put on by the ARA, die-hard 4x4 nuts that love the sand and desert of northern Chile. The land is touted as the driest desert on earth and claims the tallest sand dunes as well. We just know that it's an incredible place to wheel that we hope to enjoy again and again.
As guests of the tourism board of Copiapo we flew to Santiago, where our friend shuttled us hundreds of kilometers north in a modified Grand Cherokee SRT-8. It made the trip far quicker than flying, and we could scout future wheeling sites as well.
The town of Copiapo is the center for the raidistas (riders). Every hotel and campsites fills to capacity, much like Moab does during the Easter Jeep Safari. But unlike Moab, most of these 4x4s are a daily driver as well. The buggy craze the U.S. currently embraces has yet to overtake regular rides in the Southern Hemisphere. In fact, 35-inch tires are considered quite large, and even though Chile is well aware of what's available, the high cost of importing many products from the U.S. keeps the 4x4 industry from booming as much as it could. Lucky for us, the country's ARB distributor, Juan Carlos Cruz, is a wheeler himself and brings in as many products as possible and shows off his wares in the dunes.
The Raid Atacama is unlike most U.S. 4x4 events, as it is truly run in raid fashion. Our leader, Patricio Rios, starts heading out of town, and the entire contingent follows in some 400 rigs. At the dunes, once everyone is aired down, the group roughly follows a route the club has scouted. Instead of a single-file trail ride, the entire group rushes after the leader, with no set schedule to follow other than camp or home in the night. Alternate routes are available should you break down, allowing your rig to get to the highway, and guides within the group ensure safety and happiness.
After three days of wheeling, the main event starts at the big hill Medanosa, the tallest dune around. This is the elimination runs for another competition event later in the year. While we can't make it back for that, we look forward to some South American rockcrawling as well, with some swamp running thrown in for good measure.
For more info, visit www.raid-atacama.cl. Get an English version by Googling "raid atacama," clicking on the site, and then clicking Translate this page. Or try www.twistedandes.com.