Today my agenda entails hanging out at my host Patricio's home in Copiapo, Chile until around lunch time. When Patricio returns from work we will go to Casa Norte' just minuets away to check out the base camp for Raid Atacama, which is set to take pace next week. Raid Atacama is the largest recreational 4x4 gathering in South America. I would describe it as the Easter Jeep Safari of Latin America.
Two years ago I visited Chile for this event and back then Chile's economy was in better shape. Similarly to what the US has experienced in the past year and a half Chile's economy is on a downward trend. However the down turn here is nothing like what is going on in the states.
To put things into perspective:
A small brand new home in a decent area would run somewhere in the $50,000.00 (US) price range.
Two years ago it would have been almost $56,000.00.
In terms of economic strength people are still able to afford things like ATVs and new cars because Chileans are much less dependent on home equity and more so on individual income for purchases.
One of Patricio's good friends is a automotive mechanic here in town. He recently added a turbo, intercooler and water methanol injection system to his 2003 Suzuki Grand Vitaria. Last time I was here the vehicle was pretty much stock.
He took me for a thrill ride in it two days ago and didn't seem concerned about the speed limits through town. He said he wasn't working that much these days but rather going to school at the University.
Let's see, part time student, able to dump money into his toy, yup I think things are still ok in Chile.
Patricio told me that this years attendance for the Raid is down only slightly over previous years. Typically their has been around 300 registered participant vehicles in attendance.
I think the economy here in the Atacama region is going to benefit significantly from the stunning imagery brodcasted all over the world thanks to the Dakar Rally. Example.What was pretty much unknown to many is now a place of epic terrain and a welcoming culture. These deserts for the most part are unexplored. I would love to bring a four seat LS7-powered sand buggy down here to really do the dunes right.
The largest hill at Sand Mountain, Glamis and Dumont could be dwarfed by the faces here, indeed a sand lovers paradise. Currently no environmental pressure either. No rare butterflys to worry about, no endangered plants to avoid, in fact very little vegetation can even exist at all in this region. I found just one type of plant growing in the sand,
and it seemed to keep to the areas where uplifted mounds of sand would make for a very uncomfortable ride in a sand car.
So what's to come of the vehicular recreational activity here? Your guess is as good as mine, but if things really went south in the US, I could see myself packing up and heading down here to start a tour company that would take visitors out into the great sandy region for day trips.