We forced ourselves away from the air-conditioned cabañas and went looking for Copiapoa on the way to Cifuncho. Miguel Finger, the owner of the cabañas, gave us directions to a location (S052) where a track off the main road leads towards some hills.
To the left (north west) of the road, the soil is light coloured while to the right (south east), the colour is much darker. Two species of Copiapoa grew here: solitary C. cinerea ssp. columna-alba on the sandy soil, while on the darker soil clumps of C. rupestris ssp. desertorum were found.
A few C. desertorum found a home ‘on the wrong side of the track’ but none of the C. columna-alba seemed to have strayed. We found no plants that could be regarded as hybrids between the two. I found this phenomenon all the more remarkable as there are no reports of different species of Copiapoa preferring specific soil types in cultivation. (But see the 2003 report, where, on 10 June and 16 June, we learned not to draw conclusions too quickly!)
A similar soil preference exists in the Quebrada Botija, where the species concerned are C. solaris and C. atacamensis. Or was this observation also premature?
We returned to the main track and drove on until we reached the Pacific Ocean at the bay of Cifuncho. The small settlement nestled at the foot of a hill, to the left (south) looked absolutely charming, but as we had come to look at cacti, we stopped (S053) to explore the foot of the low hills along the track to the village. There were some charming little succulents (Echeveria sp.?) that looked a bit lost in the middle of nowhere, a tiny yellow flowered plant with fleshy leaves and a Nolana sp. in flower, as well as Copiapoa rupestris and Eriosyce rodentiophila.
That evening we eat in ‘Club Taltal’, where the waiter tells us that on the whole, the climate has not changed here during the last 100 years or so, but that during the last five years (1996-2001, taking in the 1997 El Niño event), it had become colder and wetter. If we were in the middle of a ‘wet spell’, should we not be expecting to see more seedlings of plants in the Cinerea complex?
During our stay in Taltal (21 – 29 May 2001) the weather was rather overcast compared to the much brighter conditions that we found on our trips north and south of the town.