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We got up early, ready for an ascend to the top of Cerro Perales. The track that we had explored earlier (25 May) had seemed to deteriorate beyond the point where we had turned around (S060), so we decided to all load up into the 3 4xWD cars, with surplus passengers hanging on for dear life in the back of the pick-up. Leo was determined to prove that his driving skills would make up for the extra power of the 4xWD and managed to push through in our Nissan, but with an empty car, as we preferred to observe his skills from the relative safety of the back of one of the other pick-ups. He proved his point!

And so we zig-zagged past huge stands of Copiapoa cinerea until their spination became weaker but denser, C. tenebrosa. Each time the road twisted round the south facing slopes, the sun loving Copiapoa disappeared with Eulychnia dominating the landscape, until another series of bends and we were once again climbing along the sunnier east, north or west facing slopes.

At around 800 m (measured on our GPS), we drove through the clouds, to emerge in bright sunshine, eventually reaching a dead end near the fog nets at the top of the mountain at 1,036 m (S072)

This is where Marlon found a vantage point, close to the radio mast at the very top of Cerro Perales, from where he took pictures that were posted on various cactus forums and are still talked about as some of the nicest cactus pictures people have seen: ‘Cacti above the clouds’. While Marlon was taking his pictures, I discovered that all my cameras had run out of film, memory and batteries at the same time. Bad planning, but no fear, I had plenty of supplies. However, in the time it took me to reload the cameras, the sun had evaporated much of the clouds, so that the best pictures were lost for me.

John and I drove one of the car’s back while the majority of the party followed Rudolf, who lead them down the western slope of the mountain, into the back of Quebrada San Ramon.

John and I did some more sight seeing in Taltal before meeting up with the others at the cabañas and a drive to Esmeralda. In the Guanillos Valley we stopped  (S073) to take pictures of Copiapoa longistaminea, C. grandiflora and Eriosyce (Thelocephala) krausei.

Time had come to think about accommodation for the night, so we were taken to a small canyon that Attila and Rudolf had christened ‘Secret Valley’ during their earlier trips to Chile (S074). It was not that ‘secret’, as the GPS data can be found in their book, ‘Copiapoa in their Environment’. So there, battling for space with C. columna-alba and C. longistaminea, we set up our tents and collected dead Eulychnia wood for a campfire.

Later that night, as we ran out of wood, Leo brought a 1m long stem of C. columna-alba that had long ago become uprooted and had started to ooze from the base. Rudolf used a oven thermometer as a probe to measure the temperature at the core of the plant: 21o C. By the time that all wine had been drunk and we extinguished the fire, ready for a night’s sleep, he took the smouldering stem’s temperature again: still 21o C., demonstrating the tremendous insulating properties of succulent stems – or perhaps that Rudolf needs to get a new thermometer.

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