Our shiny four-door Mini has 601 kilometers on its odometer when we step into it, ready for the plunge into Santiago traffic, although not before we've admired its appealing white and black paint scheme, leather seats, and sizable sunroof. This attractive city is not the glinting metal logjam that so many capitals are, but it's busy. This is the only time we'll see traffic like this on our journey.
The warehouses north of Santiago soon give way to hills wrapped in dry, parchment-colored grass and curious half-tree/half-bush vegetation before we eventually turn east toward the beautiful Elqui Valley. The air in the valley is so clear that it has become a center for space observatories staring skyward, but instead of looking up we're soon looking down, prompted by a garden-sprinkler-like swish-swish-swishing noise. This is the sound of the Mini's driver's-side front tire suffering the kind of deflation you feel when your team loses a big game.
Admittedly, we've been driving on a Chilean dirt road, but it's quite busy and not particularly demanding. The good news is that we're on run-flats. The bad news is that we have no spare. Thoughts of continuing to our hotel are abandoned when we discover that we've taken a wrong turn -- instead we head for La Serena, famous for its long Pacific beach. It also has a Mini dealer and, we hope, fresh rubber.
So, no stargazing, but we do meet Carlos, the English-speaking head barman who will check us in to our hotel. We'll wait a couple days while our man in Santiago ships us two new tires -- a second tire has a bulge, and the Countryman's wheels are different from those on other Minis, so we can't get them from the dealer. Alas, the spare we request won't be coming. We have some time on our hands, so we attempt to track down an original Chilean fiberglass Mini.