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I’m getting more and more fond of the area south of the Rio Huasco, the Llanos de Choros, Carrizalilo, El Sarco, the track from Freirina to Labrar and all the unexplored roads to the numerous small mines. Today I wanted to find the road to Mina Algarobo that after the mine leads to  Maitencillo (where we found them building a 6 lane truck highway to the mine )

Now, naively, I expected to turn left at Domeyko and after 17 – 20 km find a road or track with a sign saying ‘Mina Algarobo, x km to go’

Around where we expected the turn to the right, we found a turn to the left instead, signposted to Cortadera, which of course is not on any map that I had with me. As we were on an exploring day and had no particular constraints, we decided to drive 30 minutes or 10 km (which ever came first) and then turn back to complete our intended plan. We reached km 9 after 25 minutes and then the km markers stopped, so when we hit a 3 way fork in the road, we decided to turn around. I took pictures of the km posts on the way back, to get their GPS coordinates, so I can map out on Google Earth where we went. I guess the 3 way fork was at km 11.

So we took a ridge each – mine a bit lower than Cliff’s, so that it was out of the wind: I found only dead plants and it was bloody hot, c 30C +. Cliff’s hill had a nice cool breeze, so we guess that it caught the fog more regularly, so had Miqueliopuntia, Cumulopuntia sphaerica, and Eriosyce aurata. And then we found an E. aurata with very unusual fruit, Not woolly but bald and ‘blown up’ like balloons and yellow in colour, protruding far beyond the spines in the apex and easy to remove. And Bingo! lots of seed! Juan tells us that Adrianna Hoffmann kept the name Eriosyce spinibarbis for these plants that are supposed to be transitions between E. aurata and E. rodentiophilla. To my thinking, they are ‘odd balls’. We only found one such plant (in fruit, that is) while the other specimens in fruit all had ‘normal’ aurata seedpods.

We also found a Cumulopuntia sp, like C. boliviana, but not in the Andes and here at only 500 – 600 m. Very nice with bright orange spination. This must be C. domeykoensis that the experts (have they ever seen it?) have lumped into C. sphaerica, which it is most definitely not – as I took pictures of both at the same location. I’d guess that conditions were once different and allowed a continuous population that split once things got much harsher.

When we got back to about km 1-4 on this new track we found many Copiapoa. You may remember from earlier trip reports that we regularly stop on the Domeyko to Carrizalillo – El Sarco track to see Ritter’s Copiapoa domeykoensis between km 17 and 19. There we found few plants, not very big. Well, this track to Cortadera is near by and the Copiapoa here (should be the same) form huge clumps and are very nice.

After taking far too many pictures (again) we returned to the Domeyko – Carrizalillo road (now nicely salted and almost like a hard top) and found various tracks sign posted to various named mines, but not the one to Mina Algarobo. We guess that they must want trucks etc to use another track, from near Vallenar, where ours should come out.

We found some helpful locals shyly crawling from their shacks, asked them if this was the road to Mina Algarobo / Maitencillo / Freirina, only to be met with a flood of words that we did not understand but with shaking of the head indicating ‘No Way Jose’. Again, we’d follow each of these tracks for 5 – 10 km take pictures to get GPS records so that we can map them out on Google Earth, but we found nothing new or different.

Just as the main road turns south, 30 km north of Carrizalillo, there was a track off to the north signposted for El Morado that I was sure would join up with the Labrar road and take us to Freirina. We met a truck coming the other way and asked in our best Spenglish if it lead to where we thought and were met again by the familiar shaking of heads. We then met 3 cars with Chilean students who spoke excellent English, who explained that they had been told by the truck driver that there was no pass that could be used to get to Freirina. There had been an old road, but not maintained for years. So we thanked them and all turned round. It was 5 p.m.by now and too late for adventures.

As we got back to the main track, I was mulling over what we were told and feel that the truck driver meant ‘not passable in these cars’ i.e. the students’ VW Polo, Renault Clio etc, BUT NOT A HILUX, as he had not seen us at that point.

We may have another go tomorrow.

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