A quick rain and health check revealed that all was A OK. We decided to take a drive to Paposo, to see how the weather had affected things along the coast road. Another guest staying at the cabañas was Michael Dillon – amongst other things – a well known author of many papers about the South American flora, particularly of Chile and Peru and particularly on the vegetation of desert oases – lomas regions – and the plants in the genus Nolana. We had some correspondence in 2001 in advance of my first trip to Chile. Michael reported that there had been two short showers in Taltal during the previous couple of weeks – presumably those that we had witnessed. One had produced 20 mm of rain, the other 35 mm. However, without detailed rainfall statistics, I have no idea if this is usual or very rare – more things to look up when I get back home.
After getting our punctured tire fixed, we set off for Paposo and noticed the intensive work that was in progress to straighten, widen and surface the coast road – Ruta 1. As we drove past the entrance to the Quebrada San Ramon, scheduled for a visit in two days time, we noticed that the quarry at the Ocean end of the valley was back in use – the first time that I had seen activity here. It took exactly an hour to drive the 56 km to Paposo – a great improvement, despite some hold ups where diggers and trucks had been blocking the road as part of their activities. But at what expense to the plants? In 2001 we had come across a large number of uprooted Copiapoa albispina / gigantea along the road. The plants had been tagged and treated with sulphur dust against rot. At first we thought we had stumbled on a commercial collector’s pick up point, but later Attila and Rudolf met a lady botanist, employed by the military, who also seemed to be responsible for the actual road building work. She explained that her task was to scout ahead of the road-crews and identify populations of plants that had to be moved and that would be replanted in a safe place.
In 2003, we found many of these plants replanted a little distance from the road. They had not appeared in top shape and obviously it would be difficult to provide the extra care required for a plant to re-establish itself in these harsh conditions. Some of the rescue plants from mining projects had found their way to the Cabañas Caleta Hueso, to the small garden belonging to the mine manager, next to Quebrada San Ramon and to the small botanic garden being constructed in Taltal. Here, with regular care, the plants would have a better chance, but with plants rescued from a large area now standing side by side in the open air, pollinators would soon ensure that some not-so-natural hybrids would result.
Our first stop (S261) was at the Paposo Cemetery, where the expression ‘Rest in Peace’ seems inappropriate – right next to the power station. There was evidence of some recent rain, with clumps of Copiapoa haseltoniana close to the track looking as if they had been placed in recently prepared cement that was still setting. Only time will tell if we should modify our soil tips for these plants in cultivation – the rain had been too recent to produce a reaction from the Copiapoa or from Eriosyce taltalensis ssp paucicostata or the Eulychnia.
Next stop was at the Virgen de la Puntila -‘ the Paposo Shrine’ (S262), on the road above the village that ultimately leads to Ruta 5. Again, things had changed, with a huge caterpillar (the digger, not the butterfly larva type) taking up the spot where in previous years we had parked our cars. The Copiapoa humilis and Eriosyce taltalensis here were in good shape.
The track leading to the fog zone above Paposo (S263), that is part of the Reserva Nacional Paposo, seemed to have suffered from rainfall since June 2003. It seemed as if water had washed away most of the sand, leaving large boulders to bounce the car off. Unlike 2003, the fog was out, with the cloud base around the tops of the electricity pylons that form a neat row up the 700 m. hill from the power station below at the cemetery. There is a plot of rescued Eulychnia iquiquensis along the edge of the hill and Euphorbia lactiflua was in full flower as was another yellow flowered non-succulent plant believed to be Balbisia peduncularis. The improved light conditions, compared to 2003, enabled me to get the digital images that were difficult to get last time round.
There was time to take a look at the high altitude Copiapoa cinerea from Paposo – C. eremophila, but once again, we just had enough time to look at the plants growing along the road to Ruta 5 (S264) – not the best looking plants, covered in cement-like dust. There were several lilies and other wild flowers that cheered up the otherwise grey hill side.
On the way to Paposo, we had noticed that the effort of straightening the coast road had involved ‘clearing’ some large rock formations, presumably with explosives. As a result, an entrance to a Quebrada had appeared that I can’t remember seeing on previous trip. We agreed to take a closer look (S265). There is no name on the topographical maps we have, so for now, I’ve called it ‘Quebrada Nova’. We walked into the Quebrada for about 45 minutes and found a range of Copiapoa cinerea, rather like in San Ramon, that might be called C. haseltoniana or C. gigantea, depending on your taxonomic preferences. However, the range of variability was significantly less than that found at San Ramon.
Time was getting on and there was one more newly exposed Quebrada to take a look at, nearer Taltal. The time was now 5:30 p.m. and the light was not good for more photography, so we limited our efforts to taking a GPS reading that, according to the maps, corresponds to Quebrada del Hueso Parada (S266) (NOT Quebrada Hueso, near the cabañas where we were staying). This quebrada will have to wait until a future visit for a more detailed look.
S263: C. humilis, above Paposo.