We had arranged to meet Bart & Marijke Hensel at their hotel in Taltal at 9:00 a.m. and were ready in plenty of time. So, with about 20 minutes to go, while taking a last look at the rescued Copiapoa planted out at the cabañas, we were surprised to see Bart arrive in his car. Was anything wrong? It was a mutual question although we did not understand why Bart asked us, until he explained that we were 40 minutes late! Apparently, we had been unaware that the clocks had changed from winter time to summer time the previous weekend, so that for 8 days we had been an hour behind ‘real’ time. No problem, as we had no appointments with the cacti we had seen, but it would have been, in a few days time, when we were due to fly back to Europe!
The Pan Americana from Taltal to Chañaral can not be accused of passing through the most exciting scenery. In fact, battling boredom – as the lifeless scenery passes by – is perhaps the greatest challenge, until the road descends towards Chañaral and passes some interesting coloured hills. What a difference to the parallel route, along the much slower coast road / track that we had taken on 5 and 6 October, through Pan de Azucar, down to Esmeralda, followed by some ‘valley-hopping’ to Cifuncho – as that is prime Copiapoa country. But here, in the rain shadow of the high coastal hills, the scenery looks extremely harsh and dry – despite the signs that warns drivers to switch on their headlights in dense fog!.
In 2003, we had made a number of stops between Chañaral and Copiapó (S180 – S186) to study the different forms of Copiapoa as C. cinerascens blends into C. calderana that in turn seems to merge into C. marginata. At the same time, Rudolf Schulz and Leo van der Hoeven had visited some locations further inland and from this, Rudolf had given me some directions to a hilltop ‘above / behind’ Barquito, overlooking some prominent fuel tanks close to the Ocean. I had kept an eye open for suitable turnings as we drove north some two weeks earlier, but had found none. We did spot three prominent fuel tanks and so we tried a track into Barquito that unfortunately led to a large modern supermarket. Following our instincts we turned into tracks that seemed to offer the best options for getting up the hill, until spotting five (different!) prominent fuel tanks below us. The track ended at a private residence, so we decided to abort this mission and carry on south on Ruta 5.
We stopped (S292) at last year’s S180, near a sign pointing to Parque Diego de Almeida, where Angie and I had found some nice Eriosyce rodentiophila growing right alongside the road. Again, there were signs of ‘progress’ with the strip where the plants had been having recently been cleared with a digger. Fortunately, a little further from the road I still found the C. cinerascens intermediates with C. serpentisulcata and possibly with C. calderana var. spinosior. The others had combed through some land nearer the car, where in addition to the plants I had found, they had also found a good number of E. rodentiophila.
There was still quite some distance to go, so our next stop (S293) as close to Caldera – close to last year’s S185. Here, as at S185, we found some nice white waxed C. calderana, but also some green plants and a couple of C. marginata. This again offers the opportunity of lots of speculation as to what Ritter had in mind when he found and later described C. calderana – but this too would take up much too much space to discuss here.
And so we arrived in good time in Copiapó. Contrary to some speakers in the UK, I find it quite a nice town. We stayed again at Hotel Miramonte, right along the Pan Americana, with a secure, underground car park and only a short walk from the centre of the town. So, after our luggage had been safely installed in our rooms, we walked to the plaza and enjoyed a few beers in the very modern shopping centre.