There was some logic behind our non-cactus day, yesterday. We had rapidly climbed from sea level to around 2,500 meters in altitude. Before climbing to greater altitudes, to look at the local cactus flora, a day’s acclimatisation was no luxury, and arguably not enough.
Our first challenge was to find fuel for the Toyota in San Pedro. The map showed a fuel station in the town, but the one we had found in 2001 had been moved. Eventually, after driving several times around and through the village, as much by process of elimination as thanks to the directions from the local population (are there any native San Pedroans or are they all tourists?), we found the Copec station, hidden in a back street. We took a GPS reading so that we could find it again in future.
And so we set off in high spirits, on the unpaved B245 to El Tatio, only to be over taken by two cyclists as we experienced our one and only puncture (S252). The cyclists were a couple from Belgium who, some 10 km out of San Pedro, were hardly out of breath as I introduced them to the suffering Alain. After we had changed the wheel, we looked and photographed some of the large cushions of Opuntia / Tephrocactus / Cumulopuntia, depending on your taxonomic preference. As far as species are concerned, there are plenty of opportunities for splitters to give a different name to each of the huge range of spine colours. I’m happy with the common names ‘sleeping sheep’ or ‘mother-in-law’s seat’ for all of them. Some of the spines were around 11 cm (4 inches) long! We photographed even more of these cushions later (S256).
In 2001, we had found some Oreocereus (Arequipa) leuchotrichus (or variicolor?) along this track (S044) and with the aid of the GPS, we found the spot again (S253). The plants were still there and, once Anne and I had clambered down the steep gravely hill side (Alain, weak from his stomach bug and the effect of high altitude, stayed on the road), we found ripe fruits and flowers on some of the plants. The high altitude really did not encourage long walks to explore the extend of what seemed just a single, small group of plants. However, we returned to the car with plenty of pictures.
For the same reason, we were happy to wait until the Echinopsis (Trichocereus) atacamensis came to the road, particularly when Anne spotted some in flower (S254 & S255), even though we had spotted them on distant hill sides for a while, like groups of telephone poles.
We passed the famous Hot Springs at Puritama, to cactus tourists no more than a puddle with small groups of fat naked tourists paying money to sit in muddy water. We did not stop, other than to check for Echinopsis (Lobivia) formosa (= Soehrensia uebelmannianus) that Graham Hole had reported from here on his 1999 trip with Walther Rausch and Franz Kuhass. Non were spotted here this time, but one was found on the way back (S256a), near to the Cuesta el Diablo – and in flower!
In addition to these cactus stops, we saw some breathtaking (due to the high altitude?) landscapes and some marvellous alpine grasses and miniatures that I still have to find names for – any assistance gratefully accepted.
S256: Pycnophyllum macropetalum, an Alpine member of the Caryophyllaceae,
the Carnation Family had us fooled into thinking that we had found
the first Chilean Anacampseros.