Following our 2001 trip, Marlon Machado’s ‘Cacti above the clouds’ pictures, taken on the summit of Mt. Perales, rapidly became everyone’s favourite cactus picture. I always regretted that both my SLR cameras and my digital camera at the time were having minor problems, with batteries, film and memory running out on each, just as I wanted to capture the moment. By the time that they were all up and running again, the sun had burned away the clouds, so all I was left with were pictures of nice cacti growing on a hill.
In 2003, I had really built this location up to my fellow travellers and was bitterly disappointed on the day that we were to repeat the experience, to wake up to a clear blue sky. We drove the tricky track to the top anyway and enjoyed the wonderful views over and beyond Taltal – a breath taking view in its own right. So, when the top of the Cerro Perales was veiled in clouds when we woke up this morning, things looked promising for a repeat of 2001.
As you drive from Ruta 5 into Taltal, there is now a sign post indicating the turning to Cerro Perales. Things seemed to get easier all the time – but ….. On previous occasions, after turning off the main road, we followed a track that ran parallel to the main road for a few km before heading up into the mountains. We did so again this time, but failed to recognise any landmarks. There were some large Copiapoa cinerea around, so we made a couple of stops (S267 & S268), as much to check GPS references as to take some pictures and look for seed. I was worried though, that as time progressed, the clouds would evaporate, as they had done in 2001, before I had taken my pictures.
We went back to the point where the sign took us off the main road and this time did the obvious thing at the first crossroads (cross-track?), i.e. continue in the direction indicated by the earlier sign, instead of following the track alongside the main road. This proved the right thing to do – as soon the familiar sight of the small farm house with 3 palm trees appeared – the half way mark for our ascend.
And so we arrived at the summit. The clouds were still there and I wasted no time to get to the spots that I had selected on previous occasions. (S269) I can’t complain about the results, and yet, third time round, to my eyes they lack the impact that the wonder and surprise of the first visit added to Marlon’s pictures.
As usual, we paused on the way down hill at a spot that probably best shows the track winding down the hillside, with the Quebrada Taltal and the Taltal to Ruta 5 road in the back ground. It also has, to my mind, the finest stand of white-waxed, clean Copiapoa cinerea (S270).
It was still early, with plenty of time to have lunch in Taltal, followed with a trip along the coast road south to Cifuncho, to check up on the flower colour of C. desertorum – or should it be C. rubriflora – at around 2 p.m. We made a few short stops:- S271 – with a few C. columna-alba; S272 near sign post to Las Guaneras – no cacti found; S273 – no cacti found and S274, marked on the map as Caleta San Pedro, where we found C. desertorum.
Then, the moment of truth, as we reached S275 – the same spot as S260, two days earlier. There were the plants, there were the flowers – as open as the spines were going to allow them to be, and despite being colour blind, I had to admit that these flowers were red enough to justify the name. Having taken all the pictures possible, we headed back to Taltal, only to be tempted to a sign to Las Tortolas. The track leads through a fairly wide Quebrada with a dense population of C. columna-alba. These reduce in number as the valley narrows, close to the coast. On reaching the coast, the track splits, one heading north, the other south. This is Caleta Tortolas (S276), and has been marked on the map for future exploration, as now, we had once again run out of time. We made one more stop on the way home (S277), among the C. columna-alba, more to get another GPS reading to plot on the map, rather than to explore and report on.
S275: But C. rubriflora is supposed to be synonymous with C. rupestris, not C. desertorum
OR There are red flowered forms of several taxa of Copiapoa.