On the road to San Pedro de Atacama

After a couple of false starts we were on the road again to San Pedro de Atacama about 1000km away. Unfortunately we didn't even make it to Chanaral 150km down the road without being plagued by yet another problem on the Russian. She was leaking oil and sounded decidedly unhealthy, Axel was livid. Side of the road surgery showed that the nut on the rocker was once again loose. This probably meant something more serious caused it to keep loosening, was the bolt pulling out of the engine block?
50km down the road this was confirmed with oil leaking again. We camped out back of a 'Posada' -a restaurant in the middle of nowhere-  where Axel stripped the motor down to try and figure out the problem. The next day we made it another 200km down the road before spending the night at a very hospitable roadworkers camp. We didn't even have to put up our tent or unpack our stove - the surveyors office was our bedroom and the industrial sized stoves used for analysing soils our cooker!
Then we made it into Antofogasta where Axel consulted the internet and Paul back in Switzerland, it seems to be a common BMW problem that the bolts pull out of the engine block. It could be solved using Helicoils - a kind of thread repairer and taps to enlargen the hole. So Axel spent the next two days being sent from shop to shop to find the elusive Helicoils and taps aswell as a workshop where he could work.

Antofagasta to San Pedro de Atacama

With the help of two very hospitable mechanics, Jaime and Dagoberto, Axel got the job done and we were ready to leave for San Pedro. With some trepidation we set off on the 340km trip hoping the fix would hold and that Axel could finally have a break from mechanics. The landscape stayed pretty much the same the whole way - desert with a mountainous backdrop, dotted with abandoned mines and towns from the saltpetre days. The approach to San Pedro was quite a few notches up on the grandeur scale. After gaining altitude onto the precordillera we descended, via the valleys fromed by the spiny ridges of the Cordillera del Sal (the salt range), onto the preandean depression known as the Salar de Atacama. This was ringed by erosion wrinkled edges of the altiplano and the volcanoes and peaks of the Andes.

San Pedro was an oasis of green over the next ridge and in the fading light the mud brick houses and dusty narrow streets reminded of similiar villages on other continents.
A walk down the main road - a pedestrian area - produced an entirely different impression. Jam packed with souvenir shops, internet cafes and trendy bars revealed it to be  seriously touristy but overall hippie sort of town. It's not surprising that it is the major tourist attraction of northern chile. It's popularity not only due to it's convenience and charm but also to the immense number of impressive natural wonders within easy reach of the village.