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So what does a Cactus Explorer do in between expeditions? e makes sure that all his images are sorted, that his Diary reports are up to date and starts thinking about planning the next trip. And then Florencia suggested a trip into Santiago, visit the National History Museum, then move on to a Plant Fair that included three cactus retailers, including our good friends Ricardo Keim and Ingrid Schaub and from there to a good vantage point to take pictures of the Santiago skyscrapers with the snow-covered Andes in the background.

Excellent idea, with Florencia offering to drive so that I need not get stressed by driving through downtown Santiago. We saw some very nice cultivated cacti at very reasonable prices, with as wide a selection of cacti and other succulent plants as you’ll find in the UK but at far lower prices. The plants looked more natural and less forced than their European brethren of Dutch origin.

For the views of Santiago and the Andes we moved to the home of yet another family friend with a home with spectacular views across the Maipu Valley, on the Pucara de Chena. The views were spectacular, but were more over the lower built suburb of San Bernardo than of the skyscrapered skyline of Downtown Santiago.

Once back at Lonquen, Florencia’s parents and some brothers and sisters with their kids had arrived for the weekend and I was made very welcome. Beer, Pisco Sours and wine were flowing with lots of different crackers served that included king crab and various cheeses. Then on the huge mussels (= choros, particularly interesting in view of my studies of Eulychnia chorosensis).  These were just starters for the main meal, around the table, of beef bourguignon and custard apple as a sweet. A very civilised way to spend a Saturday night.

Tomorrow there is a visit to an Oktober Bier Fest on the agenda, proving once more that the life of a dedicated Cactus Explorer is anything but an easy one. Ritter must have known days like this!

Meanwhile, Angie and David were ‘enjoying’ their own adventure. Here is Angie’s Diary report:

We left Santiago on time (very unusual, that should have sent alarm bells ringing). After about 4-5 hours we were served our dinner , then they closed the windows and switched the lights off; good night! Some 30 minutes later there was a commotion near the middle door, then the light went on and they asked if there was a doctor on board. Don’t know if they found one but the collapsed person was taken to first class, the lights stayed on. Turbulence notices were ignored by staff and everybody was wondering what would happen next

After another hour, I guess, they announced that we had to land in Recife/Brazil as the sick person needed urgent hospital treatment. Because we were carrying too much fuel they had to drop a lot, before they were allowed to land, I now know what that looks like. We stayed on the plane, even during refuelling (there were certain rules for that too). Every exit was manned by a member of staff in case of an emergency, everyone had to sit in their allocated seat, but the seatbelt wasn’t allowed to be fastened and toilet visits were not allowed during that time.

After about two and a half hours we were finally on our way – another 7 hours to go – minus the ill person and family. By then we reliazed that we had very little hope of catching our connecting flight.

We arrived at Madrid at about 5 p.m. Once off the plane we had to go to a desk where our details were recorded and we got our instructions of what to do next. When the nice lady at the desk said that we were going on the 8.05 plane we said, ‘Good, we get home some time today.’  But then she added ‘no, no, no tomorrow morning!’

Next we had to reclaim our luggage, pay a visit to the Iberia/Lan desk and then find the shuttle for the hotel, which we had been allocated.

As soon as we touched down and found out we weren’t getting to Heathrow, I phoned Peter and let him know our predicament. My phone has no problems in Europe.  I tried in Brazil, but of course that didn’t work. Peter had gotten as far as Fleet when he got my message and waited there for my second call, When I told him the bad news, he returned home.

The Madrid hotel was 4 star marble everywhere. We got free dinner but could not enjoy breakfast as we had to leave before, but we got a cup of coffee.

Dinner was a buffet and as we sat down, the waiter provided a bottle of red wine (Spanish) and a bottle of water, so we tried every thing and nearly finished the bottle. David took the whole adventure in good spirit, was funny and jokey and we toasted absent friends with the free red wine. David thought that this was a nice end to the trip, a pity that the others couldn’t be there. Shame that the reason for it was rather sad.

Iberia/Lan certainly did well to sort things out after we took off from Recife. Instead of arriving at Heathrow we were taken to Gatwick this morning. Peter kindly decided to swap his day off this week for today and David phoned his sister.

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