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Even Cactus Explorers occasionally need a day off, or so it seems, as around 4 p.m. each day, Cliff or I would ‘hit a wall’ and just need a few minutes of shut eye. Signs of old age, I hear you say. Aged 28, Juan also enjoys a doze around this time. Fine, as long as the driver stays awake!

We had asked Mario and Gladys (honestly!) who ran the main comedores (eatery), appropriately called Comedores San Nicolas on the plaza, if they would be open for breakfast. Yes, after 10. So we had a lie in and arrived at about 10:15 to find a young lady waiting for us. The Christmas Day Mass in the church across the Plaza was being broadcast via the restaurant’s sound system. Around 11, a gentleman nervously asked if we were the owner of one of the cars in front of the eatery. And please could we move it as after the mass, at around 12:00, there would be a procession around the plaza. Having seen religious processions in South America before (Chile, Calama, 2007 springs to mind) I knew that these could be joyous, colourful affairs, so while Cliff parked the car, I put myself in a good position to video the procession. This one turned out to be a very quiet, pious one, with a group of guitarists in the middle of the small crowd accompanying the singing of hymns.  Some of the senior people in the group wore curious head dresses that reminded me more of Inca than Roman Catholic / Spanish styles. Every few minutes, a large firework banger would be let off. And so the procession shuffled around the Plaza in rather disorganised fashion.

After one side of the Plaza, we had seen enough and went back to the car and returned to the area where yesterday we had had rather a good day, intending to take the other track at the junction where yesterday we took the left fork.

S1116 was for the same stretch of track from the R11 junction to the sign posted fork in the road that we recorded yesterday as S1114 and was just to allow us to take pictures of Echinopsis huascha / candicans that had been in bud. We found one with a white-with-pink-flush and one with yellow-with-red-tipped-outer-petals flowers and also returned to yesterday’s red flowered plant which now had one flower wide open and the other closed.

So we took the right fork, sign posted to ‘Lavadores de Oro’ Washing of gold – as apparently presentations by prospectors panning for gold could be witnessed. We drove past to S1117, to consider Juan’s observations that this track did not go to the locations that we had wanted to go to for more E. famatinensis sites. We decided to have a quick look around and found A Gymnocalycium sp., flat as a pancake on flat terrain. G. rhodantherum has been reported from here, but this is not a name that I’m familiar with, so one to look up once I’m back in the UK. Theprocactus alexanderi – a densely spined form, was here and all the other cacti reported at the other stops yesterday, except E. famatinensis and Eriosyce andreaeani.

Back to the fork and down the left fork that we had taken yesterday. We needed to drive for 2.5 km before taking the right fork. When we got there, there was no sign of a fork in the track, unless you counted the river bed. The usual thunderstorm was early today and it was heavier than the few drops we had had on previous days. In fact, it was a classic down pour, making the dirt track a bit more slippery and convincing us that the track we were looking for must have been washed away. This was not good weather for photography and I had a small paranoid notion that the sum of the water falling around us and in the hills above us would at some stage want to come past us through the brooks and streams that we had crossed before and that were already fast flowing with muddy water. We decided to head back to R11 and take a look farther north, which seemed to be dry.

We picked up a hitch hiker, a chap in his early fifties, dripping in his rain coat with a massive back pack, standing in the pouring rain. He was from Buenos Aires and had spent the last 6 years here for the Christmas period, on holiday, hiking in the hills. Nice to help somebody with a lift to the main road as a Christmas gesture.

Along R11, we made two stops close together, jointly recorded as S1118. The rocky outcrops along the side of the road were made of very coarse granite, very crumbly, similar to the rocks just north of Caldera in Chile.  The cacti here were disappointing, a few Echinopsis (Trichocereus) huascha (?), including one with yellow flowers, a few Gymnocalycium sp and one Echinopsis sp. but the area did not ‘smell of cacti’ like some other spots we had been, so we decided to have an early finish and went back to our Hospedaje.

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