Thursday, 5 June 2003 – Pichidangui to Ovalle
Eventually, we were all showered and ready to go. First stop was a vulcanizion where for the equivalent of £ 1.50 (c. US$ 2) the tyre was fixed, the valve changed and the spare wheel swapped back for the original, so that we had matching sets of tyres.
Along this part of the Chilean coast, access to the rocky shore line is rather limited as land has been fenced off in preparation for sale and building of some very nice weekend retreats for the better off Santiago workers. While this urbanisation does have an impact on nature – we were able to see this already in Pichidangui – the pressures of people in search of better housing, even only as a break for daily city life is irresistible. It would be wrong for us to criticize this situation, as we had been quite happy to make use of the facilities at Hotel Kon-Tiki, which previously would have been nice cactus habitation.
The next opportunity to see what could be found at the coast came at Punta Totoralillo (S0002 from 2001, S0109 this time), some 15 km up the coast. During my previous visit, signs of tourism,
encouraging housing development, were already to be found, but now more sections of the coast were fenced off and a few summer houses had been built. The same mix of cacti and succulents that we had seen at Pichidangui were to be found, but with easier access from the bottom of the rocks rather than from the top.
S0110 was an unscheduled stop at a petrol station off Ruta 5. While the cars were being fuelled, toilet breaks were taken and legs stretched. This last exercise took us to a barbed wire fence, no doubt put up to stop passers by from falling into a dry gully. Here we found some very fit Eulychnia acida and Trichocereus and all of us were persuaded to get our cameras from the car to photograph a nice crested plant. Hence this was entered into my Stop list. Sequential Stop numbers were allocated to each place where we stopped to take pictures of cacti.
Next we pushed on until we reached the turn off to Parque Nacional Bosque de Fray Jorge. In 2001 we had learned that during the winter season, these parks were only open during the weekend, so on this Thursday, we made three stops (S0111, S0112 and S0113) along the road up to the park entrance gate, which in 2001 had been chained off. However, this time it was open and we made our way to the Ranger Station to make some enquiries. We were assured that the park would still be open on 26 June when we were due to pass by on the way home. We decided against camping this time as we had not bought provisions (read beer, wine and bread rolls) for a night out. At the Ranger Station I was able to take a picture of Copiapoa pendulina, a form of C. coquimbana that is regarded as the most southern Copiapoa. This plant had been moved to a small garden so that the people could recognise it later on their walks through the extensive Park.
The stops on the road in and out of Fray Jorge proved a treat in their own right, as we found the only Eulychnia plant (Eulychnia acida) on the whole trip, that was in flower. Various attempts were made at catching the flower, some 2.50 m (8-9 foot) off the ground, on film. Time will tell if the slides I attempted to take, hanging off the side of the car, are any good. In addition to the ceroids (Eulychnia acida and Echinopsis (Trichocereus) skottsbergii). other cacti included Cumulopuntia sphaerica although we still tended to call it by Ritter’s name Tephrocactus berteri and Eriosyce aurata, the form previously going under Ritter’s name Eriosyce ihotzkyanae or Backeberg’s E. ceratistes var. jorgensis. These plants were giant barrels, to 88 cm tall and 50 cm in diameter. Some still had the characteristic woolly fruits in abundance, while others were bear of fruit, but with the plant’s depressed apex full of seed, ready to be scooped up by ants, mice and keen cactophiles.
Aware that we still had some way to go before a hotel bed awaited us, we drove east to Ovalle, making short stops to capture the best sunset of the entire trip on film and digital camera. Ovalle turned out to be a typical Chilean town, with some 53,000 inhabitants and a grid system roads where getting to the planned hotel usually means driving twice around the Plaza before you have found the one-way street that gets you closest. Hotel Roxy was no exception, with it’s neighbouring porn video shop probably helping to keep the price for accommodation down. As often, behind the plain and unassuming entrance was a nice courtyard leading to simple but clean rooms – a welcome bed for the night.