After a surprisingly comfortable night (well, for me anyway) we set off around nine and made good progress on R9, heading for La Quiaca. We even allowed ourselves time for a brief stop (S1060) to photograph and film ‘the Devil’s Backbone’, an impressive display of colours imbedded in the hills to the east of the road. The light was just right and those magical fluffy Andean clouds where hanging in an azure blue sky. We could not help but point our cameras also at Maihueniopsis glomerata, in flower, with black bees diving in and out of the flowers. We also found one Maihueniopsis subterraneae in flower.
Finding Brian Bates was never going to be as easy as just driving into town and find him waiting next to the appropriate lamp post. We could not even be sure that he was able to come, because last night in Iturbe, they had heard of the Internet, but did not have it in town. At just after 11 we were on the outskirts of La Quiaca. In a long row of busses and lorries. We were advised by a military policeman that the road was blocked by strikers and that we would have to turn around and go back At Tres Cruces, a military check point some km before La Quiaca, we were told that the road might be blocked but that at Puesto de Marquese, the advice was that the road was clear until La Quiaca. At least to the outskirts it seemed. An alternative road meant driving back to La Intermedia and then taking a dirt road to the east of R9.
We finally arrived at La Quiaca at around 13:15, looked for the ‘mining truck’ where Brian had suggested that we’d meet at noon, but found only an old bus, now serving as a snackbar at the end of the road to the border crossing.
While Cliff refuelled the car, I walked around the crossing area and back to the ‘snack-bus’ where we asked if a short balding Englishman with poor Spanish had been there earlier in the day. No. We decided to at least get a roof over our heads for the night and booked in to Hotel Turismo La Quiaca. Next we went to an internet cafe to check news from Brian. Yesterday he had written to say that he was definitely coming and would arrive early and probably take a look at ‘the subterranea site’. But which one? I sent him an email to confirm that we were here and where we were staying. There seemed little point to hang around so we decided to go Yavia spotting.
We quickly found the road west out of La Quiaca, and there, standing by the side of the road, was Brian Bates! His bus had also been delayed and had assumed that either we would go Yavia spotting, or had already done and would be coming back this way.
After exchange of greetings we went Yavia spotting, while Brian told us the last 20 or so hours of his life history. His bus had arrived 4 hours late from its 740 km, 16 hour journey. Good to see that we were still on the same wavelength.
We passed lots of Lobivia ferox / longispina in flower along the side of the road and decided we would photograph them on the way back. We made it to the ‘Antenna site’, the same one that we had visited in 2005 and that is probably the best known location (S1061). So well known in fact that it had been rumoured to have been cleared by collectors. Seeing is believing. Fortunately, there were lots of plants that looked well watered, as well as Cumulopuntia boliviana, Rebutia haagei or R. pygmaea, Parodia maassii, Oreocereus celsianus, Echinopsis / Lobivia ferox / longispina and Tunilla soehrensii.Some Yavia were in bud, others seemed to have just flowered and Juan found a small number of fruits that contained just a few seed.
As the light became less than perfect for photography, we drove back – great day! But there was more to come. There was a herd of some 50 llama coming down the hill to cross the road right in front of us. We drew to a halt (1061a) and I took some photographs and then decided that video would be better. It was. The herd was being driven by a shepherdess making blowing noises and a sling with which she was able to encourage strays to rejoin the herd. It seemed that it was the end of her working day as she asked us for a lift in to town. Sure, we can squeeze one more in! Juan managed to take a photo of himself and our new passenger. I don’t think you need to worry Flo, she looked a bit like her llamas and smelt the same.