By Clare Morin
There is an epic moment of euphoria that illuminates into the mind of nearly every 4 Deserts competitor when they reach the end of a grueling stage; they witness the sight of the finish line, and the campsite beyond.
They may see a fire burning, tents raised and a cast of helpers who offer the exhausted athletes a moment of blissful respite. The people who set up these camps and work behind the scenes, play a huge part in the success of every 4 Deserts event and are picked from the local area for their expertise and insider-knowledge.
Alfonso Almeyda is one of these characters, a camp staff member who builds fires, constructs campsites and raises the tents that competitors sleep in. The 41-year old has been involved in the event for the past five years. “It’s a great race,” he says. “Beautiful scenery and interesting people – they are very strong minded!”
When he isn’t out in the desert helping athletes accomplish the impossible, Alfonso lives in the nearby town San Pedro de Atacama where he works as a driver in the tourism industry. And although he doesn’t hike in the desert, he says has a deep respect for the competitors who head here each year to conquer it. “I understand the experience for them,” he says.
There is also a lot of driving that takes place, and 38-year old Felipe Staig is enjoying his first 4 Deserts race literally in the driving seat, as one of the event’s official drivers. “I like it a lot,” enthuses the Chilean of his debut role. “I’m surprised by people’s strength. I like running and sport, but I was surprised how people can run in these conditions. I don’t think it’s the easiest place for running but I admire their toughness – they have values and are special people.”
Felipe normally works as a tourist guide in the mountains and archeological sites of the region, and specializes in taking people to El Tatio – the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere that has more than 80 active geysers. “They are very special, says Felipe. “Every morning they look somewhat different. I take guided groups there, and love it.”
Felipe is also a walking enthusiast, and in 2010 he began to regularly climb the more than 30 volcanoes in the area every month – so far he has conquered ten. It was through his friendship with course director Javier Aguilera on these expeditions that he came across the Atacama Crossing, having been present at the finish line in 2010.
He says it’s the mindset of these competitors that he admires the most. “I don’t really know much about competing in 4 Deserts event but I do sports myself so I can understand the mental fulfillment,” he says.