Today’s plan was to make just a few stops along Ruta 5 and to find the turn off to Cifuncho and after some stops there, in particularly to see ‘Copiapoa sp. ‘Cifuncho’ as mentioned and pictured in ‘Copiapoa in their Environment’ by Schulz & Kapitany (pages 104-105).
Our first stop (S0126) was at km 910 on Ruta 5, where, once again with the Pacific Ocean in the back ground, we saw and photographed Copiapoa calderana. Our check list of Copiapoa taxa seen was now looking quite respectable with another one, Copiapoa calderana var. spinosior, added to it at our next stop (S0127) at, what we had christened ‘the Monument stop’ (S0097) in 2001. Here there was also a wispy white spined Eriosyce, E. taltalensis var. pygmaea – a taxon with a list of synonyms as long as your arm, from which the name Neoporteria pulchella is more comfortable to me. Another one for some more reading when we return home.
Tracks to out-of-the-way hamlets and villages are seldom sign-posted on Ruta 5, and if they are, the sign is often make-shift and appears just about on the turning, without advance warning. It came therefore as no surprise that we missed our turn and had to approach Cifuncho on the more established (and much improved since 2001) track off the Las Breas – Taltal road.
We could not resist a stop (S0128 = S0052 from 2001) as the first Copiapoa columna-alba appeared on the scene, although we were to see much more impressive stands later on in the trip. I was able to delay our stop until we had reached the spot where in 2001 we had found C. columna-alba growing alongside C. desertorum, very similar in appearance to C. rupestris but here forming huge mounds of up to 140 cm in diameter and up to 80 cm high. Here, C. columna-alba favours the lighter coloured soil on the north side of the track, while C. desertorum favours the darker coloured soil on the opposite side of the track. I found this quite striking in 2001, but this year found later on in the trip when we approached this location from another direction, that this apparent preference is just coincidental at this spot, as further up the track it is not the case.
Benjy’s excitement grew as we approached Cifuncho as he was keen to show us ‘his’ best plant of Copiapoa sp. Cifuncho’. (S0129). We clambered about on the rocks and found some nice single stemmed plants, but it took Benjy a while to find his plant, a nice 6 headed monster, poised on the top of a rock. The general opinion was that this ‘sp.’ is perhaps the most northern form of C. longistaminea. We also found a nice Eriosyce rodentiophila with its golden spines glowing in the late afternoon sun.
And so it was time to head for Taltal, but not before making one more stop (S0130) to see if we could find any ‘Thelocephala‘ as we had done in 2001. We split into two groups of 4 to search two distinct low plateaux. The group I was in found only a single Eriosyce rodentiophila, but the other group had more luck, finding some, which I guess, without having seen them or the pictures taken by the others as yet, should be Eriosyce krausii.
We finally got to the Cabañas Caleta Hueso, which would be our base for the next 6 days. It provided the ideal opportunity to catch up on some much needed washing – Benjy even gave up time at the bar so he could wash his socks! – plus the chance to sample the best sea food ever at Restaurant Las Brisas.