The last day of this extended (to Argentina) Copiapoathon consisted of three plant stops and at Ian’s request, a visit to the small town of Combarbala that is famous for a type of stone, Combarbalita, from which ornaments are made. At the source, prices were much more affordable than say at Santiago Airport tomorrow. The shop owner was very pleased with the amount of business that Juan had brought him. Was he a tour operator? No, just travelling with friends, looking at and photographing cacti. Did we want to go on a guided tour of a quarry? No thanks, we planes to catch tomorrow. ‘Adios, come again!’ he urged us, as we left. Perhaps next month?
Plant stop wise, it was a disappointing day, or had we just reached that ‘cactussed-out’ stage that can creep in towards the end of a trip, when even the most ardent Cactus Explorer has had enough and thinks of going home. At least I can charge my batteries at Lonquen before the next one.
So what did we see? S1973 had Echinopsis (Trichocereus) chiloensis, Eulychnia acida – the typical tall growing form, as was to be expected so near to the Type Locality near Illapel, Eriocyse curvispina and the smaller E. heinrichiana. We had hoped to find E. senilis, that is reported from this area. I believe that only Juan and Ian, who had ventured to the top of the hill, managed to find one specimen. A ‘goatery’ with hundreds of these flora destroyers bleating away was probably the reason for this relatively bare hillside.
We fared no better at S1974 where again E. senilis remained illusive all the other cacti mentioned earlier were seen and photographed.
Next was the souvenir buying stop and so we headed west to meet up with Ruta 5. As we approached Pichidangui, it seemed tie for a final leg stretch and for what has become a traditional first and last plant stop of a Copiapoathon (even though the Copiapoa distribution stops a good 200 km to the North). S1975). Cactus fatigue had now really set in, with Cliff not even bothering to get out of the car.
Just when it seemed that nothing could go wrong, we lost Big Red, who had so far stuck to our bumper in town traffic. We waited for at least ten minutes but every red pick up coming round the corner was a different make with different occupants. We moved on to the road overlooking the bay. If they had taken one of the other roads on the peninsula, they must come past here. Or had done so already? Time clicked by and we moved on to the southern junction with R5. Still no sign of Big Red.
Earlier avid had said that if Ian and Cliff had known the way back to Lonquen, they would have driven on without the photo stop. So we surmised that we were now looking for The Lost Boys. Had they managed to pick up a puncture as they drove off? We had done so in almost the same spot in 2003!. To we drove back one more time, to where the cars had been parked, looking into every side street – without joy.
Once back on R5 we speculated that they must be ahead of us and, given the crawling qualities of Big Red, we cruised south at around 140 km p. hour and sure enough, some 60 km out of Santiago, there was the red Nissan with the tell tale tail light failure on the near side.
Juan had been keeping Flo informed of our progress by phone and so we had learned that Santiago was experiencing strong winds and hard rain. We could see the clouds as we came out of the hills and before long had the windscreen wipers going full strength. We arrived at Lonquen in the rain and in the dark and dinner was accompanied by the drumming of raindrops on the plastic roof outside the kitchen.
The Weather Gods were preparing the Brits for their return to autumnal England.