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On previous trips, a feeling of depression crept in as soon as the km readings on Ruta 5 started to drop below 1000, north of Chañaral. The last week however had been so full of unexpected and new experiences that the feeling did not hit me until S318, yesterday.

We had made it to the Bahia cabañas at Guanaqueros, where we had also stayed on my birthday in 2001. We had breakfast at one of the many truck stops along Ruta 5. From here it was a relatively short drive to Fray Jorge, as I had promised Alain to show him some ‘big’ Eriosyce and in the hope of collecting some more seed. And so, at 9:15 a.m. we presented ourselves at the entrance gate  (closed) to the Parque Nacional Fray Jorge (S319), where the sign proclaimed a 9:00 opening time. The warden arrived at 10:15, just as we set off to our next stop (S320), on the track back to  Ruta 5, where on previous occasions, if we had brought a small vacuum cleaner, we could have collected kilos of E. aurata seed. This time I had brought my adopted seed sucker, with a larger bore tube, but like Ian’s last year, it too got blocked by the third seed, so that it was back to tweezers to top up supplies. Being foreigners, we felt we had a good excuse to ignore the ‘Private property – no admittance’ signs that had now appeared along the track. There were more fences going up, so in Bob Dylan’s words: ‘The Times, They Are A-Changing’.

There were two more stops to make before the trip was over – bar the journey home. S321 was last year’s stop in the Quillimari valley where this time Eriosyce curvispina was in full flower. Again, agricultural development was progressing at pace. Some of the neatly newly planted out vineyards on the hillside across the valley reminded me of the war graves of allied soldiers around Arnhem in the Netherlands and filled me with similar sadness in the knowledge that it would not be long before the cacti that we had pictured would be ploughed under.

S322 was a celebration – the coast at Pichidangui that had become an unplanned, almost accidental, last stop in 2001, only to provide the continuity for trips as it became the first and last stop of subsequent trips. In a way it offered the promise of being the first stop on the next Chile adventure, provisionally planned as ‘Angie’s Birthday Tour 2007’. We had the rest of the afternoon to feast our eyes and cameras on the numerous plants in flower before returning to our cabañas and doing the final packing. Where had all the extra luggage come from!?!?!?
(Same question each trip!).


S322: Eriosyce chilensis (albidiflora) can be ugly plants, with beautiful flowers.

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