It was midday when Andrés Carevic saw something moving in the hollow of the desert through his binoculars. He thought it was strange. It isn’t normal to find people in this part of the desert. The geography of the area is so dry that neither rivers, nor trees, nor animals can be found; bacteria is scarce. There are parts of the desert that are inhospitable and so much so that neither insects nor fungi exist. The Atacama desert, the border zone shared by Chile and Perú, is the driest non-polar desert in the world.
Carevic and nine other Chilean companions, members of Team Tuareg, had gone out on their high cylinder motorcycles to practice for the Enduro Rally in the area of the desert that is called Frontera. Due to its characteristics, the Atacama desert is a great place to practice the sport. It has been the location of multiple competitions.
That Sunday, they decided to go to the desert even though they had practiced in the same track only a week before. It isn’t normal for them to repeat tracks. After completing the first kilometers of the track, they decided to stop and rest in order to be able to continue walking later. That is when they saw some figures in the distance. Carevic was able to point out through his binoculars that the figures were people.
Among themselves, they argued about whether or not they should approach them. They were afraid that the people would turn out to be “burreros” (what they call drug traffickers in Chile), and thought that they would be armed.
But they decided to go.
When they got close, they noticed that the people were barefoot, and others wore plastic sandals. They did not have the tools nor the clothing necessary to be able to support the heat of the day or the cold of the night. Their faces were lacerated by the sun and the sand, and their lips were cracked, similar to when the ground does not receive enough water.
Immediately they asked, “water please.” They explained themselves, saying they were Venezuelan, and have been trying to cross the desert for three days. The motorcyclists were surprised when they saw “una guagüita,” a baby girl of nine months in the arms of one of the migrants. The father covered the little one with a blanket to protect her from the sun. The mother said that the daughter had diarrhea. The “motoqueros” took out water, mineral salts, chocolates, and thermal blankets from their backpacks.
They were a group of men and women. They left Perú under the promise of being accompanied and guided by coyotes, what they call people who help migrants cross borders through clandestine means. But they were abandoned. A woman recounted that the day before she had called Carabineros de Arica, the police agency of one of the Chilean cities closest to the desert. An official told her to keep walking, that they were not able to reach them where they were, and that they had to get closer in order for them to be able to rescue them.
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