We left early as we had six stops scheduled today, taking us to the Botija Valley for a night out, camping. As a result, by the time we made our first stop (S061) at 7:37, the sun light was far from perfect for photography, as the sun was still struggling to get above the coastal mountains – after all, we were less than a month from the shortest day and the middle of the Chilean winter!. I see from my notes that we IDed these plants as C. cinerea ssp. haseltoniana, they certainly had the ‘haseltoniana factor’ of yellow / orange felt and spines at the apex, but an unusually (?) high rib count of around 32.
A bit later, but not much farther, near Playa Cachinales, we made our next stop (S062). Here we found C. haseltoniana again, this time accompanied by C. humilis as well as Eriosyce taltalensis and Eulychnia sp. There was plenty of evidence of the presence of mice – their faeces and the damage they had caused by gnawing at in particular the C. humilis stems.
Farther on again, near the Minas Santa Domingo (S063), we were fortunate to find a beautiful crested plant of C. haseltoniana and the plants here had much longer and denser spination than seen at the previous stop.
We reached the small fishing village of Paposo, another name well known to Copiapoa enthusiasts. From here, one track heads inland, to eventually meet up with Ruta 5, south of Antofagasta. Just out of Paposo, the track winds its way up the coastal hill. On one of the bends, there is a small shrine, dedicated to the Virgen de la Puntila and this was the goal of our next stop (S064). As we walked carefully along the narrow path behind the shrine, we found first one, then two then many small clumps of a tiny Copiapoa humilis form. There was some evidence of digging, more likely by humans than by guanacos. There were also a number of specimens of Eriosyce taltalensis ssp. paucicostata.
Somehow, we were the last car in the party of four to leave and we lost contact with the other cars. At a fork in the road we appeared to take the wrong turn, as we ended up on a dead end – the path finishing in an open, surprisingly green field, basking in sunshine, with only some Eulychnia in poor health on show. Keen to find the others, we turned back, drove up the other track for a few miles, but again, found no sign of the others. As they were due to come back down the hill to Paposo, the most sensible idea was for us to drive back to the village and park our car at the cross roads that they would have to pass. We asked some of the locals where we might be able to buy a cup of coffee. It seemed that there was no such facility in Paposo, as Leo and I were shown into the back room of one of the huts where the lady owner served us with a cup of coffee, watched by an army of young children – surely not all her own! Marlon and John had chosen to wait by the car, eager not to miss the others when they came by, which they did just as Leo and I finished our cuppa.
And so on, this time along the coast road, heading north, until Rudolf and Attila decided that we had reached a nice spot for lunch (S065). What a wonderful ‘lunchroom’ they had found us – surrounded by Copiapoa haseltoniana of all shapes and sizes, from young plants to large barrel shaped stems in a beautiful setting with a choice of backdrop consisting of either the coastal hills or the Pacific Ocean with a snow-white, guano covered island just off shore.
Refreshed, we carried on north until Attila’s lead car pulled off the road and headed for a gap in the coastal hills. At the foot of the hills we stopped (S066) and Rudolf announced we had arrived at the mouth of the Quebrada Botija. Our car party looked at each other in surprise – this was the exact spot where we had stopped earlier, on 21 May (S050). We finished off today’s ration of pictures, before setting up camp. For many of us, this was the first time that the tents, bought in England and Brazil, had been taken out of their wrapping, so instructions (why in Chinese?) were thrown out and ‘creative tent building’ ensued. We waived goodbye to Benjy’s car – with John Ede on board, as they had elected to drive back to Taltal for a comfortable night in the cabañas – before opening the absolutely essential (5 litre) bottles of ‘120’ (Chilean red wine, just a little bit more expensive then bottled drinking water, very drinkable) – the ideal way to relax before a night on the rocky desert ground.
As we were enjoying ourselves around the camp fire of dead Eulychnia wood, the head lights of a car approached from the south. We watched in amazement as it turned off the road and made its way to our ‘camp site’. The occupants, a man and a woman, greeted Rudolf and introduced themselves as Raquel Pinto and Arturo Kirberg, from Iquique. Rudolf had exchanged e-mails with them and told them that we planned to be here that night, and so they had driven some 500 km to meet us!