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Saturday, June 24, 2006
By:  Matt Allner

Woke up this morning to a chilly –2 °C (about 28° F).  No water available at the station this morning as the pipes are frozen once again.  Things should thaw out by 8:30 am or so.  Those of us that have mummy sleeping bags have learned to master the art of heat conservation during the cold part of the mornings, along with layered clothing that makes us feel like Randy from the movie The Christmas Story. 

Twenty-four expedition members set out for Salar de Atacama today to make a loop around the salt beds by way of the cities Tocanao, San Pedro, Calama, and Antofagasta before heading back to Yungay for the night.  The morning started off with the overheating of one of our vehicles which caused for about a 30 minute delay in the trip.  This stop lead us (the teachers) to the discovery of the first flowering plant we had seen in the desert.  We admired the beauty of this plant, that on most ordinary days we would have just walked by in the US.  But in the desert this was a site for us to see.  After leaving the site we mentioned in the car how nice it was to have seen the flower.  Pierre immediately responded by saying, “What! You found a flower in the desert!? For now on, can you please tell the biologists when you see life in the desert.”  Oops. . .

photo of flower in the desert

Later in the afternoon, upon stopping for soil samples (again!) we detected a fast leak in the tire of one of our cars that we named “Caballo Blanco” (White Horse).  With 11 men jumping to the scene to help solve the problem, we became the joke of the day to the women as they would say, “How many men does it take to change a tire in the Atacama Desert?”  While using finger pressure to stop the leak we found that we were not well prepared to fix our tire.  Our spare was faulty, our air compressor we brought was not functioning properly, and our jack was missing a part which made it useless also.  Luckily Chris had given us a tire patch kit, so Pierre and I tried it out never having done so before.  After two patch fills the leak stopped, so we continued our drive for two more hours, on bad roads, with a low tire to the town of Tocanao.  Here the police helped us find a tire repairman.  The delay was about an hour, but it gave us time to see the town, learn some of it’s history, and shop in some stores.  The stop reminds me of the song “Breakdown” by Jack Johnson, as we were happy for the unplanned opportunity to “. . . take a walk around.  To see all there is to see.” 

photo of chilean teachers in car salty rocks from desert


Moving forward to San Padro we decided due to the time factor (due to the tire problems) we would get rooms for the night.  Again this allowed us a chance to see the town at night and the next morning. 

Matt, Ivan and mechanic

Concensus of the day was that Pierre and I are the official “pit crew” for any/all tire repairs for the rest of the trip.  We both agreed to the terms, but said we each needed one of the cool blue racing jumpsuits that the Copec men wore at the full service gas stations. 

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NASA Official: Liza Coe
Last Updated: April 2007
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