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We all felt a bit down after the lack of cacti on the previous two days and a night in a no-star hotel.

Progress  had been faster than anticipated, as we had not needed the ‘reserve’ days that we had built into our plans.  We could travel further north (through even drier areas) and look for Eriosyce laui, but instead decided on a ‘tourist’ excursion to San Pedro de Atacama, high up in the Andes and close to the Argentinean and Bolivian borders

We had a beautiful day travelling through some breath taking scenery with a small number of scenery stops, but only one cactus stop (S040) for large cushions of Cumulopuntia sp. S040a  at Valle de la Luna, just before San Pedro de Atacama presented a fascinating scenery of salt sculptures with snow-capped volcanoes as a back drop, but no cacti.

It did not take long to find and book into accommodation on the outskirts of San Pedro de Atacama and with plenty of daylight hours left, headed in the direction of the Bolivian / Argentinean border, climbing higher and higher. Marlon spotted some llama crossing the road ahead of us and Leo found a place to pull up to see if we could capture on film. As we crossed the low ridge over which they had disappeared, we were confronted by a completely unexpected view – a field of blue lupines with the 5,916m high Volcán Licancábur dominating the landscape against a clear blue sky. The llamas had disappeared, but who cares with a photographic subject like that? (S041)

We were still out breath (even walking across the road is a very tiring experience at 4,113 m altitude) as we drove off to find a suitable place to turn around and head back for San Pedro. As Leo completed the turn at 4,152 m altitude there was a bang from underneath the car and Marlon and I recognized the familiar smell of a burnt out clutch (the same thing had occurred during our 1999 trip through Brazil).

How we got off the hill (with snow forecast that night) and had the car fixed would take too long to tell.  Catch me at the bar at a cactus convention and I’ll tell you the story!

All’s well that ends well, although I can’t help but think what might have happened if the clutch had burned out a day earlier, on the way down from the Mantos de la Luna.

s041_042s

S041 Not cacti, but a field of wild Lupines in flower, close to heaven (well, 4,500 m)

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