John Ede and I enjoyed an uneventful Lufthansa flight from London, via Frankfurt, to Buenos Aires, where Leo van der Hoeven joined us.
The last leg, Buenos Aires, Argentina – Santiago, Chile took us over the Andes, with some spectacular views over the snow capped peaks, arriving safely at Santiago Airport where we were met by the representative of our car rental firm. Fortunately, Leo is fluent in Spanish, down to the arm and leg movements that to us northern Europeans are a little unusual.
We had rented a Nissan double cabin pick-up truck and this rather squashed vehicle was to be our home for the journey. With my long legs, I found the back seat particularly tight – still, a good excuse for frequent stops to stretch our legs, look for plants and take pictures. I exposed 30 rolls of 36 exposure slide film – 1080 slides in all – and took another 2,000 plus digital images using a Nikon Coolpix 990 that I was privileged to have on loan from Nikon.
Again, without incident, we drove north along Ruta 5 to Rungue and then followed a track to Calue. We found the El Parador cabañas, run by a Chilean who was born in Belgium and who had lived in Birmingham, England for some 3 years before returning home. Here we met up with the 4th member of our ‘car party’, Marlon Machado from Salvador, Brazil, who had flown in the previous day and had been picked up at the airport by the owner of the cabañas.
Our first stop, (S001) covers an area of c. 5 km radius around the hotel where we found Neoporteria curvispina, Echinopsis (Trichocereus) chiloensis and Cumulopuntia sphaerica. The lush green hillsides around the cabañas at Hotel El Parador, some 60 km north of Santiago Airport, west of the Pan America Highway (Route 5), presents the perfect opportunity to stretch our legs and see our first cacti in their Chilean habitat.
Before long, Marlon was taking pictures of a globular cactus: Eriosyce (Neoporteria) curvispina var. curvispina (Bertero ex Colla) Kattermann
The low shrubs provide ideal nursery bushes for a ceroid: Echinopsis (Trichocereus) chiloensis (Colla) Friedrich & Rowley. First described as Cactus chiloensis by Colla in 1826. The name ‘chiloensis’, meaning from the Isla Chiloe, is incorrect and has been corrected by some authors to ‘chilensis’ (from Chile), but according to the rules of botanic nomenclature, the original spelling must stand. Friedrich Ritter lists 5 varieties of this variable species. The form common in this area is short spined and was given the name varietal name conjungens by Ritter.
Although lichens are common features growing on other vegetation, the bright coloured growth found growing on the stems are actually the flowers and fruits of a parasite: Tristerix (Phnygilanthus) aphyllus. These parasites have a sweet taste and are the favourite food of guanaco – the ‘sheep’ of the Andes.