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Archive for January 4, 2009

Sunday 4 January 2009 – Around Vallenar

Many Copiapoathoners will be familiar with one of our regular stops at Maitencillo, just over the bridge, where, next to an electricity substation there is a plot of wasteland where since 2001 we have been finding Eriosyce (Thelocephala) napina ssp lembckei and Copiapoa alticostata.

Where we normally turn south, to Agua del Ojo, they have now built a school and some houses – started 26 November 2007, finished 25 May 2008. It already looks old and worn. As a result, the track to the Thelocephala lembckei and Copiapoa alticostata site has been moved, so that it now runs straight through the middle of that site, up to the electricity substation that has also grown. This time we made this S1153.

There were still plenty of plants, but as always here the Copiapoa looked stressed and you could not help but step on the Thelocephala.

In 2006, Angie & I drove on to see if these plants also grew there, and they did, but all of a sudden it seemed as though they were building a new town in 2006 with hundreds of porto-loos along the track. We carried on until the road went back to being a bumpy track and then turned back.

Yesterday we tried to get to Mina Algarrobo as a way to get from the Domeyko to Carrizalillo track to the Vallenar to Huasco road, but failed, so today I thought that we’d try it from the other side. from Maitencillo, and took this gravel road highway to where we made a stop in 2006, among rocks, about 10 – 15 km in. Today everything is now flat, with a signpost to Mirador Maitencillo (S1154). Now, a Mirador is a panoramic view point, so off we went to investigate, it was only some 10 m from the road. And what does it offer a view of? Of a huge chicken farm! Guess they have to feed all those miners somehow. But it was a weird Mirador.

They had also turned the viewpoint into a cactarium, claiming that they had replanted Copiapoa coquimbana and Eriosyce napina that were disturbed by the developments. So we made an inspection and found loads of Thelocephala that were in fruit, so we have lots of seed. But they grew just as abundantly outside the cactarium, I think there is a huge seed bank in the natural soil.

Anyway, nice of the government to have made the effort! Chile stands out as a champion of this kind of eco-consciousness – well done!

In 2006, the road development petered out and we turned back. Now the road went on! Still gravel, but good quality and fast. After a while, the track joined an even better gravel track, that should be the one signposted to Mina Algarrobo on R5, just before you get to Vallenar coming from Santiago. We were pleased to hit this junction as it seemed (for once) that reality matched with what we had seen on the map.

We joined the main track at km 16 and at km 25 made a stop (S1155) because we were seeing many Eriosyce aurata type plants among the masses of Miqueliopuntia, Eulychnia etc. We found some more E. aurata types with the ‘funny fruit’, so we have enough seed now to supply the world! Juan told us that an old name for this plant was Eriosyce algarrobensis. We’ve seen towns, villages and just name signs for Algarroba all over Chile and wondered which of these was the one that this plant was named after. So here it was! But it was not as convincingly bald as yesterday’s find. BTW Algarrobo is a type of tree found throughout the arid areas of South America.

I worked out that around km 30 – 35, we should get to Mina Algarrobo and we did. As I feared, barriers were closed and guards were on duty. This is a massive mine!

In our best Spenglish and with ‘butter-would-not-melt-in-my-mouth’ faces (yes, I don’t know how we did that) we pointed at the map and asked ‘Donde es la camino a Domeyko?’ He poured over the map, then the flow of Spanish, then a wave to his supervisor who was asleep in his car. He explained that we wanted to get through and had a map that was up to date but did not show that the road would be blocked.

Fortunately the boss said that we could drive through and pointed to where a track disappeared over the hill. I think that if it had not been the Xmas / New Year weekend, with no one around, we would have been sent back. So we followed the track, Cliff driving, as it zig zagged in between a load of concrete huts that had huge mounds of earth around them – i.e. the explosives depots, and got out of the mine area, after passing another guard post where again we used the map and an  innocent request ‘Which way to Domeyko?’ to get out.

Now it got interesting, because there were a myriad of tracks and no sign posts, so we followed our noses, down a main Quebrada. Eventually, we’d have to cross the range of hills to the north of the Domeyko – El Sarco track and sure enough, we climbed from 200 to 1,115 m altitude.

We enjoyed lunch (a bread roll with queso y jamon, pinched from breakfast) literally sitting on top of the world with glorious views. We could make out the Llanos (plain) de Choros, so tried to head down tracks in that direction. Just as we thought that we should be getting to the Domeyko – El Sarco track, we saw cars – a main road. But it turned out to be R5, which we joined at km 615, which we reckon is about 5 km north of Domeyko. So we were much farther inland than we thought and this explains the lack of cacti.

By now it was mid afternoon and we decided to head back to the hotel, some 50 km away in Vallenar, for an early beer and shower.

Tomorrow, Cliff, Flo & I return to Santiago where on Tuesday we hand the car back. Then on Wednesday, we hope to have a ticket to fly to Lima Peru and rent a car there.

And that’s all for today folks!