Just another WordPress.com site

It’s not over until it’s over and that is the moment that I put the key in the lock of my front door at #12. That was not actually until 09:00 on Monday morning, 25 November, although we arrived at Angie’s, at #10, next door, at 23:00 hrs on Sunday 24th November.

So, if you read this blog for the stories of us visiting cacti and other succulent plants in their habitats and to see some of the images that we took of amazing plants in glorious scenery, then you might skip this page.

Instead you’ll find some stats and details that have often faded by the time that they might be useful in planning future trips, especially to answer questions of people who travel for the first time in a new area, such as

  • How do I get there?
  • Where will we stay?
  • How much will it cost?
  • What will we see?
  • What should I bring with me?

and many other questions. This page may well grow in time to come, so do revisit it from time to time. The answers may differ depending on what country the future trip intends to visit, but here I’ll just focus on experiences and notes on this 2019 visit to Chile.

The planning started quite early. Angie and I had planned a trip to Chile in 2017 to celebrate Angie’s 60th birthday and would include up to a week at a farm near Hurtardo, in the Andean foothills, to allow Angie to combine some childhood fantasies of horse riding in nature, her love of cacti and our love of Chile and her people that we have enjoyed over the last twenty years.

On Saturday 13 April 2019 I bumped into Ian Thwaites at the BCSS AGM meeting in Leicester. ‘Going anywhere nice this year?’ he asked. Just another trip to Chile to visit old friends, i.e. the easy to get to cactus spots. ‘That is at the top of my ‘must see’ cactus spots’, he admitted. So come along, I suggested.

A week later he wrote to confirm that he was in. So on to the third question in the list above: How much will it cost, roughly? I mentioned quotes on flights and car rentals and web pages of places that we might stay in, to get a rough idea, but added: ‘There is a spare seat in the car, so fuel costs and shared rooms will work out a lot cheaper if you can find a fourth person that we can all put up with and he with us!’ And so Al Laius volunteered to leave his Sansevieria to look after themselves for three weeks and come along to Chile.

TO BE CONTINUED

We all finished our packing and were ready to embark on our long journey home at 11:00. There was just one last formality to complete after we had shaken hands with the retired owners of Hotel Rosa Nautica and their daughter who had taken over. This was of course the final (until the next time) goodbye to ‘my garden’ on the rocks overlooking the Pacific waves crashing on the beach. A quick look at the three different taxa of Eriosyce that grow here confirmed that flowering was over, a bit earlier than usual, I belief. I’ll enjoy looking up dates and flowering reports of previous visit to this location in the build up to Christmas 2019.

We still had the issue of finding a car wash to resolve so that we could return the Suzuki to Andres in a good state. We considered driving to the Copec to check if they had a car wash and if it was open, but that was some 10 km farther away along R5, in the wrong direction. There will be other Copec stations on the way to the airport where we could get the car clean and pick up a hotdog as well.

Although the number of fuel stations along R5 has increased greatly since 2001 and cars have become more economical they were still reasonably scarce, with more appearing on the other carriageway, heading north, than along the southbound one. They increased as we got closer to Santiago, but here most seemed to have suffered damage by the recent social protest activities, so that they were either burned out or boarded up. This was also the case at my usual stop at Llay-Llay, where the wind seems to always much harder than elsewhere. We filled up the tank for the last time so that the fuel gauge level indicator would match that of the car when we picked it up from the airport three weeks ago. No car-wash obvious, but fortunately my craving for hot-dogs was satisfied by a mobile emergency stand.

I had been quite chuffed with my ability to find most places we wanted to go without the use of my trusted Garmin Nuvi SatNav. Ian’s mobile phone had a TomTom App that had been useful to add some fine detail at some locations, but by Ian’s own admission, he was not very experienced in its use when it came to finding the right turn off from the now busy R5 for the Aeropuerto, so we became familiar with some more of Chile by me taking a wrong turning so that we were now heading west towards the coast again. The car must have misunderstood – yes we do like to be beside the seaside, but now the airport was our priority.

Ian and his phone soon got us back to the right road so that we arrived in very good time for our drop off of the car. Al and Angie plus the luggage were dropped off at Departures and Ian and I drove on to the massive roadworks in progress that will, in time, be a beautiful multistory car park. Finding Andres’ associate to hand over the car, the keys and the car park ticket had in the past always a bit stressful, as by now our minds were firmly fixed on getting our luggage checked in and settling down to a final Pisco Sour and checking on the departure times of our flights. Ian’s mobile that had worked the best in Chile was a great help. It photographed the final readings of the milometer, the fuel gauge, the block and row number where we left the car and the ‘for the record’ shot of me kissing the car as thanks for the reliable and comfortable service that it had provided during the last three weeks. Thank you, Andres and his team.

As usual, I like to have plans for my next trips already planned by the time that we get home. Currently plans are for a trip to Baja California sometime in February / March and another trip to Chile in November 2020. In between there will be short trips to Germany to visit Angie’s family and to the Netherlands to visit friends and of course, to the annual cactus festival at E.L.K. in Belgium in September. All plans are HaWP (Health and Wealth Permitting) as always.

PK thanking our rental car as we return it at Santiago Airport.
Photo Ian Thwaites
Thank you, Andres!

A lazy leisurely start to the day saw us make it to breakfast at 09:00 hrs – that is their earliest time in the Hotel!

We discussed what we should do today and I had been interested to read in Ian Woolnough’s Diary that they had been able to visit the site at Totoralillo, L&S0002, where on my birthday in 2001 we had also stopped for pictures. Subsequent attempts had been thwarted as a big solid gate across the access road prevents access to what is now a gated community. But again, as we visited in Ian’s tire tracks, we found a gate off to one side and a track that led to a small boat yard and the plants that we had photographed in 2001 and again in 2003. Nice find Ian, thanks for sharing! This is now Stop 3875, but remains Location 0002.

We headed east, following signs to Quilimari and after passing the village, stopped alongside the road to allow Al to fulfill his wish to photograph Echinopsis (Trichocereus) litoralis in flower S3876.

Not far on (S3877) the hillside was full of these cacti but not many in flower. There were however Eriosyce which, taking a lumper’s view, were Neoporteria subgibbosa and Horridocactus curvispina (but with straight spines, identified in 2003 as Horridocactus mutabilis.

S3878 is for a variety of images taken today that do not merit a single stop number, including a monstrous plant of Trichocereus litoralis, the advertising doll outside the place where we enjoyed an empanada (shrimps and cheese!) and beer in Los Vilos and a friendly dog begging for crisps at another stop. Well, it’s the last full day of our holiday! Why not!?

The others have gone back to the rocky Pichidangui shore line to take more pictures of cacti and Angie, no doubt, more pictures of waves crashing on the rocks while I finish off this episode of the Diaries. It’s a hard life!

Yes, the original plan had been to stay the night in Ovalle and from there head to Pichidangui, my traditional first and last stop in a Chile trip but we arrived in Ovalle around 16:00 hrs so worked out (still without my trusted SatNav that we could be at Hotel Rosa Nautica by 19:00 and still enjoy a hot-dog at Los Vilos.

So what did we do for the rest of the day?

S3872 started as we crossed the very long single lane bridge from Vicuna to the main La Serena to Argentina border. Yesterday and the day before Al and Ian had uttered enthusiastic oohs and aahs at the spine length of the Echinopsis/Trichocereus species (E. chiloensis) in the valley of the Rio Elqui

Even before we reached S3873 we started to see large Golden Balls, Victoria Beckham’s nickname for her husband David.

I looked around the hillside and nominated a large E. aurata that turned out to be in flower once I got to it. The substrate here is medium sized stones that are keen to continue their journey down the hill side once humans step on them. With bad knees and hips and a sore back, my back muscles were soon in spasm so that it was a slow journey to the second nominated plant and from there to the third and so on. Al seemed to just skip along from one plant to the next while Angie looked for old favourites from previous visits to take their pictures. After quite a while and only having taken pictures of some 4 plants i decided that a better option for me was to return to the car and take more images from the backseat, through the window.

S3874 is for images as we drove through the Vade de Morrillos to Seron, through the densest stands of Trichocereus chiloensis that I know off. Particularly when a telephoto zoom lens is used to foreshorten the stems, the effect is impressive. It seems that due to the dryness the spines had kept growing while stems were thinner through water loss. Al also found some Eriosyce, probably Neoporteria sp., where the spines had grown inwards to protect the plant from the brightest sun and reduce water loss through evaporation. The sun was just at the correct angle in the sky to produce some great pictures. I tried uploading some of these but again, the band with of the WiFi facility was too low for three cactophiles to perform such technical trickery.

The drive to Ovalle, where we intended to stay the night, was longer than I remember and we could easily have gotten lost in Ovalle at rush hour. So the sign ‘Santiago – 365 km’ pointing towards Ruta 5 was a great incentive to change our goal to Pichidangui (and a Hot Dog at the Copec near Los Vilos).

He had dinner in Restaurant Pichidangui, where in 2009 (?) a bunch of us celebrated the New Year with a meal and Pisco Sours, the promenade crowded with Argentinians enjoying their annual break at the seaside and a firework display over the bay that put many displays from international capitals to shame.

I finish today’s report with a thank you to Al for a hard driving day through the mountains, on slippery gravel tracks. Well done!

Well, to be accurate, we went as far as the customs post on the border with Argentina; the actual pass and border lies in Argentina, some 100 km farther along. Checking on Wikipedia I learned that plans are approved for a three bore tunnel to be built that will ensure that the pass can be open all year round. The project may be ready by 2027!

We made our first stop (S3869) near the gate to Fundo El Calvario, where the road crosses what used to be a fast flowing river, where Eriosyce (Pyrrhocactus) eriosyzoides used to grow. The stream was now bone dry and seemed to have been so for a while, but this may simply be a case of the water being diverted, as a bit farther along the river was full with fresh melt water. There was some snow on the mountain tops but not as much as in past years. Al walked along the dry riverbed a bit farther and shouted excitedly that he had found a globular cactus. The spination was darker than I had seen on E. eriosyzoides in the past, but I don’t know how variable the spine colour can be or what else is supposed to grow here.

We drove on the the border control but sadly the road to El Indio was closed, so that we could not go to Cumulopuntia grandiflora that grows along that track.

Plenty of time for the journey back, so we kept our eyes peeled for more golden spined plants on the rocks. There had been lots of places in the past where lots of plants would tumble down the hillside, but over the years we saw roadworks destroy these. The benefit of a smooth faster road is a plus point although it makes plant spotting from the car quite a bit more risky as trucks come speeding round tight corners at around 100 kph!

I am so pleased with my 300mm zoomlens as little blobs on the hills could be confirmed as E. eriosyzoides and cropped to useful size for next year’s talks.

Back in Vicuna, Al and Ian asked to see the ‘Cactus Shop’ that we first visited in 2001. This time no huge Eriosyce aurata from nature for sale, but there were three nice Eriosyce eriosyzoides potted up (in the bottom half of 2 litre cola bottles). Priced at the equivalent of £10 each it was one of those moments where you swallow hard and forget the temptation of buying one to bring back to the UK. Our friend would only go back the next day to collect a fresh one from nature to replace his sale.

Tonight we’ll walk into the town to eat and do some sightseeing!

W

The advantage of another driving day is that there are not many pictures to process and not much to report. We had just enough time to detour back to Los Choros for a visit to the Penguin Colony islands, but it was a fair drive without any guarantee that the weather would be good enough for the pangas to make the sailing. As we approached the the Eriosyce riparia population, it was decision time, turn west to Punta Choros or continue south to La Serena and then head east to Vicuna, along the Rio Elqui. We decided on the latter, as the clouds were very low and the waves on the beach later at La Serena looked rough enough to justify our decision.

We fought our way through the traffic in La Serena and were struck by the amount of graffiti plastered over buildings and statues. Another social comment!

We had stopped at the Copec just before La Serena where lunch was another hotdog at the Pronto – yumyum!

And so on the 41 where due to building and agriculture there were no obvious opportunities for stops for Eriosyce, Eulychnia acida and Echinopsis chiloensis.

By the time that we reached the Embalsa Puclara, we were ready for a leg stretch. Things had changed dramatically since my first visit in 2001, when we were free to walk over the hillsides and found nice Eriosyce senilis, including a crested plants. There was more water in the reservoir than I have seen for a long time and the formal mirador (viewpoint) now has a range of tourist shops including one that sold me two plant pots made of cactus wood that are coming home to England.

We arrived at the Hosteria Vicuna which had rooms for two nights, wifi and the same waiter who recognised me from previous stays. We then filled the afternoon by driving into the Andean foothills to the town of Pisco Elqui and visited the Distillery center where of course Ian and I had a Pisco Sour – a special one for Ian T.

The meal was not of the usual high standard (and price) of previous occasions, but was delivered with Fawlty Towers type charm. Al even managed to persuade the staff to wash our car to make it look more respectable before we return it to Andres, but that is before we drive to the Argentine border and over the hills to Hurtardo – not yet tarmac roads as I remember! Still, at least the top layer of dirt will be taken off!

Apologies for the silence during the last few days. Wifi was not available to my laptop, no matter how hard we tried, although others with mobile phones had no problem.

This morning started with a sterling effort by Al, despite last night’s generous intake of Pisco Sours. Despite his protestations, I don’t think his stomach upset had anything to do with the part eaten pizza that he had. 4-5 pisco sours might tell a more believable story. Anyway, congratulations to all of last-night’s revelers for surviving and to Dave Appleton with his birthday sometime this week!

We had an early-ish breakfast (07:30) and by 8:30 we were on the road as we had 503 km ahead of us to Vallenar where we now rest at the same hotel as on the way up, the excellent Hotel Atacama! We managed to reach the Vallenar Cake Shop at 17:30 hrs where we managed 1.3333 cake portions each, with the exception of Al who passed, claiming to still feel delicate.

Ian took an image of the lady who contributes to making the cakes and asked her to pose with today’s produce. She was so pleased and impressed that she went and told all her colleagues around the shop!

Plant wise we managed to make a Stop at km 912, as once again we had overshot km 910. It featured the same plant: Copiapoa calderana, looking a bit better than two weeks ago, after a light rain. Many plants now in flower – that makes all the difference!

We tackled a few retournos as both fuel stations had been the subject to vandalism with as a result, no hot dogs for lunch and credit card payments for fuel only at the Copec.

Then we followed the Ruta del Desierto along the coast – slightly longer but much more varied, with both live and dead Eulychnia along the road.

We made a leg stretch stop and I joked – ‘mind where you are standing, there are Thelocephals here’! Angie laughed in disbelief, looked down and sure enough, there was a single headed T. odieri! Al found another one near by.

We drove on until some 30 km before Carrizal Bajo I saw clumps of C. dealbata in flower along the road. The back-row of Ian and Angie were asleep and Al was concentrating on driving so it was no big deal that I spotted them. Again, the plants seemed to have had a drink of water and the recent dry spell seemed to make their spination stand out even more!

Angie had walked on a bit as always and reported a ‘different plant’ probably a Copiapoa species. A closer inspection revealed large clumps of C. echinoides, Nice find!

Ian is waiting to join us for a Chinese meal or at the Pizza bar at the Plaza – the latter sells large Schopps (pint glasses of Cristal beer. This has been in poor supply up north, possible due to the social unrest affecting supplies.

I’ll try to catch up on missed days later, probably not until we are back in England, with pictures at that stage.