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Archive for October, 2010

Sunday, 24 October, 2010 – Taltal to Chañaral

I have a reputation as The Martini Sleeper, as I can sleep anytime, any place, any where. I have slept my way through thunderstorms, earthquakes and even the snoring of my fellow travellers. As I woke up at my usual 5 minutes before the 7 a.m. alarm clock call, Angie told me that there had been ‘a bit of a party’. At breakfast, the others were in uproar. Apparently a hen party started up right above our heads as soon as I started my snoring and did not let up until 4:30. Never mind, we got a 10% discount for our two night’s stay and I did not even lose a wink of sleep. A result!

David wanted to see some ‘true’ Copiapoa cinerea, so we headed towards Ruta 5 and turned left past the base of Cerro Perales. (S1954) The light was not brilliant but the plants were, so the end result will be in the hands of PhotoShop once we get back to Lonquen. Other field flowers played again an important part.

S1955 was a stop for Eriosyce rodentiophila appearing alongside the track. We were on our way to Las Maderas to look for the northernmost location that we knew for Copiapoa laui.

We failed to find the exact location – probably did not get close enough to the Ocean before we had turned north. Never mind, we found ourselves in a side quebrada surrounded by Eulychnia iquiquensis in full bud and up to our knees in Copiapoa columna-alba, so this became S1956.

Saturday, 23 October, 2010 – Around Paposo

As it was David’s first time in Chile, I thought it might be nice to show him C. cinerea ssp haseltoniana. It was also on Cliff’s wish list. To appreciate the high altitude C. haseltoniana – C. eremophila, you had to be familiar with the ‘normal’ sea side plants. 

S1950 was therefore at the Paposo Cemetery, another old and trusted site since 2001. All the usual cacti from previous year were there, and then started to take a closer look at some of the herbi – annuals that had appeared. December’s trip to Patagonia promised a number of rosulate Violas on the plant menu, but here they were too, in large numbers.

Next we moved on to the fog zone above Paposo (S1951) – well named on this occasion. We found the final part of the way blocked by an inconsiderate camper bus, just left in the middle of the path. It turned out that the driver had done us a favour as a bit farther along the track it was completely impassable and there were no turning points. Water and possibly an earth quake had destroyed the track. So we proceeded on foot. Although all the usual cacti from previous visits were photographed and looking good, the main attraction this time were again the field flowers, annuals and perennials who were showing off there colour. A family from Paposo came up for a day’s outing. The father said that they had not seen anything like this for over 50 years!

S1952 was for the excellent 2007 stop, more inland, of giant clumps of C. eremophila / haseltoniana. Eulychnia taltalensis looked in the best shape that I have seen it in – not saying much – and was in bud and flower. We cut up some flowers for cross section pictures for the Eulychnia book project.

With a little time left before sunset, we decided to make another quick visit to the Copiapoa desertorum site near Chifuncho. We again found only red flowered plants (Ritter’s C. rubriflora) and also found Eriosyce (Thelocephala) weisseri, the most northern Thelocephala, in flower. I wonder how many times I have walked over these plants without knowing of their existence. Who said that it must be boring to keep returning to the same spots year after year?

It was again approaching sunset as we returned to Taltal. Another exhausting day and we were glad to crawl into our beds. But what next????

Friday, 22 October, 2010 – Calama to Taltal

We had agreed on the rather ambitious plan to drive from Calama to Taltal via Botija and Paposo. Juan & Flo had made sure that Hotel Gali was expecting us late and had checked with Taltal Police that the coast road was clear.

S1946 was scenery as we approached El Cobre.

S1947 was the same place where we had stopped in 2001 and had found mainly dead Copiapoa solaris. Nothing had changed, although some Nolana in leaf and flower suggested that there had been some moisture here in relatively recent times – a week or two ago? We had also stopped here in 2003 and 2004.

The difference this time that we had the eagle eyed Juan and Flo with us and Ian had also proven his plant spotting ability (although we kept asking if he could find a flowering cristate plant of what ever he had spotted this time) I’m not sure who was the first to spot the novelty for us: Copiapoa tenuissima! An excellent find as none of us had seen this plant in habitat before, although it is quite common in cultivation in Europe. The plants were in good shape, easily recognised as C. tenuissima and much more positive than the shrivelled up plants that I had seen in other publications. Great find!

S1948 was at the surprising sight of the otherwise bone dry desert being in flower with hill sides covered in light blue flowers of what I assume to be a Nolana sp. David was not as impressed as the rest of us I think, as he had never seen the ‘normal’ bone dry landscape to compare this relatively lush landscape to. Don’t get me wrong: this area still looked dry and not lush by UK standards, but compared to previous years this was stunning!

S1949 was at our usual place at the mouth of the Quebrada Botija. There had been some dramatic changes! Our usual campsite had been bulldozed and many C. ahremephiana with it. But there was now a good track to the ex-campsite and beyond. It was getting rather late and David, for whom this was his first time here misunderstood my comment that those who wanted to walk to the T Junction had better get a move on, as time was ticking by. We had all assumed that it was too late to make this walk and consoled ourselves with taking some spectacular shots of C. ahremephiana close to the track and the Ocean share. We wanted to move on to Taltal, but David was missing. Ian thought that he had walked to the sea shore for a paddle – very dangerous on this rocky coast with water temperatures at 10 C and unexpected currents. Cliff was convinced that David had climbed into the hills, had slipped and was laying somewhere with a broken leg. Both rushed off on what turned out to be wild goose chases. Had he walked into the Quebrada on his own? and got lost?

There seemed little point in joining Ian and Cliff, so Juan & I drove into the Quebrada to see how far the track would take us. And perhaps to find avid here. And sure enough, as we rounded a corner, he came strolling towards us, happy smile on his face as he had seen healthy C. solaris at the T Junction and blissfully unaware of the commotion of his absence had caused. Walkie Talkie messages were passed back to the mouth of the Quebrada and a cheer went up as he rejoined Big Red and we could all start the rather delayed long, last stretch to arrive in pitch dark in Taltal. Angie, Florencia, Juan and I made it in time for a meal at Club Taltal, while Cliff, Ian and avid settled for a meal in a new restaurant along the sea front after Las Brisas had declared itself closed for business at the late hour.

Another exhausting day and we were glad to crawl into our beds. But what next????

Thursday, 21 October, 2010 – San Antonio de Los Cobres to Calama

I find San Antonio de Los Cobres quite a bleak place. Everything seems covered in dust carried here by an ever present wind. The high altitude (around 4,000 m) makes life more difficult, the only hotel in town is expensive both for accommodation and food. As soon as you set foot out of the door, there are people selling Andean craft work and children begging, although their number has reduced since 2008. Still, the town is a necessary step on the way from where we had come from to where we were going.

Not long after leaving S.A. del Los Cobres (as it is known on signposts) Juan spotted large globular plants to the left of the road, growing on rocks. Echinopsis (Lobivia) formosa! A very pretty, shaggy looking form of what used to be called Soehrensia. (S1944)

The remainder of the day was spent driving through flat plains surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the world, but only some 1,000 m higher than we were already. Llama, Alpaco and Guanaco were grazing peacefully, keeping us guessing at which was which. All images taken as we passed through the Pasa del Sico are filed under S1945. The SAG man (Ministry for Food & Ag.) was friendly and helpful in getting us to submit the paper work. A bonus! When we later arrived at the Immigration point at San Pedro de Atacama, the SAG man made everyone open their bags for a detailed inspection. As we already had the paper work stamped and approved, we could just pass through.

A quick stop to take a picture of an scenic church at Socaire turned out to take a bit longer than planned as we had picked up another puncture. We drove on carefully to San Pedro de Atacama, where they were once again selling Diesel at the only filling station in town. The tyre was repaired – we seem to have become expert at collecting nails, even if there is no building in progress anywhere near by.

The sun was setting as we entered Calama and eventually managed to find Hotel Quitor where we had stayed in 2007.

Wednesday, 20 October, 2010 – Campo Quijano to San Antonio de Los Cobres

We enjoyed a nice and relaxed breakfast but then found that Angie & I were locked out of our room. The lock was broken, Never mind, a lock smith was called but about 30 minutes later had still not arrived. He arrived eventually on a little moped from a near by village and the problem was fixed in seconds.

It seemed a good idea to fuel up before we attempted the Quebrada del Toro. However, there was no fuel to be had in Campo Quijano, so we followed the locksmith to his village where eventually gas & diesel were found.

The main difference between today’s ascend and the one in in 2008 is that the lower 20 km of the road now follows the (dryish) river bed while road work crews are preparing the main road and taking down the rock faces where in the past we had found Rebutias.

Stops made tended to follow the 2008 stop list – not because we have lost our sense of adventure but because we were trying to fit so much into these three short weeks (I was amazed to look back and see what we had done already), so that it was best to drive straight to known places rather than explore for different sites. Stops for today were:

S1936 with Rebutia minuscula the main plant of interest. Synonyms include R. marsoneri and  R. wessneriana.

S1937 with some scenic Echinopsis (Trichocereus) terscheckii

S1938 was at a dense stand of E. terscheckii where holes in the soil indicated that folk had been digging for Gymnocalycium spegazzini near the road. A bit farther from the road there were still plenty of plants. There were also a number of Cleistocactus hylacanthus (syn. C. jujuyensis) with red flowers.

S1939 was a few hundred meters before the Ing. Maury police control. As we went higher and higher E. terschecki gave way to E. atacamensis ssp pasacana but we had difficulty to spot the exact point and suspect that there were some intermediates for quite some distance before only ‘the true’ E. pasacana persisted

 S1940 was for more scenery with E. pasacana

At S1941 we had to decide what to point our cameras at first E. pasacana, G. spegazzini or Eriosyce umadeave. My 74 images suggest that I did all three.

Now the search was on for a spot that Cliff had christened his ‘field of dreams’ in 2008 – another population of E. umadeave. S1942 was not it. The main attraction had been a crested E. pasacana spotted from the road.

 S1943 was not it either, but gave a very similar crop of E. umadeave with as high light for me, a five headed plant with nearby a clump that put most Copiapoa across the border to shame – E. umadeave with some 40 heads! Cliff was more than happy that we had found another ‘field of dreams’.

Tuesday, 19 October, 2010 – Maimara to Campo Quijano

Hotel La Casa de Tata (= The house of my grandfather) was not only comfortable and photogenic, but the restaurant had an excellent kitchen and a great house red wine of which many a carafe were sampled. Despite this we stuck to our 7 a.m. alarm call, 8 a.m. breakfast and 9 a.m. on the road routine. At least that was the plan. As I stood under the shower, nicely soaped and ready to rinse myself down, first the hot water, than the cold water stopped flowing. These things happen in South America and are usually fixed in minutes. This time word soon spread from hotel management that there must have been a fault with the town’s water supply that had been updated in recent weeks. Never mind, at least I had my shower, sort of, but the others were less fortunate.

It should again be a relaxed drive to our next destination as in 2008 we had managed the full La Quiaca to Campo Quijano stretch in one day. The only unknowns were the ease with which we could negotiate two state capitals: San Salvador de Jujuy and Salta.

But first we went to check out a stop that Brian Bates had sent through that morning for Blossfeldia along RN 9, near the turning to RN 52, the road to Purmamarca. Rather than a set of GPS coordinates, he had provided a set of cryptic clues rather like those of a treasure hunt rally. There was no information as to how old this data was. We were to look for a picnic table along the side of the road – not found – and from there go past a ‘prayer shack’ – small church? road side monument? Again, nothing fitting these descriptions in the widest possible sense were found. No disaster, as we had found Blossfeldia near by yesterday, but it would have been nice to have added another spot to the list. We took a wide angle picture to send to Brian in due course to show him what we had seen. May be we were miles off the spot where we should have been, but no picnic tables were spotted between Maimara and the turning to RN52.

SS de Jujuy turned out easy to negotiate as there was a nice modern highway style bypass.

We followed RN 9 as it turned from a multilane highway to a very narrow, in places single track, tarmac road that took us through the subtropical rainforest that had amazed us in 2005 and 2008. Not so much the flora itself but the great contrast with the conditions when we left this morning.

We had moved from dry Andean conditions, waiting for the summer rains in December – February and were driving through a subtropical rainforest with epiphytic cacti, all kinds of Bromeliads, ferns and Orchids hanging from the trees, some of which were in flower themselves.

But wait a minute! These trees were also much drier than on previous trips and some were showing the effects of lack of water by stem sacrifice, shedding branches. Some were just coming into leaf – it is Spring here, after all, but others had not and could be dead?

S1933 and S1934 were for pictures taken at various brief stops along this very scenic section of some 30 km of RN9, then it was on to do battle with Salta.

I felt a bit more confident with Juan and his SatNav leading the way. That was until the right turn it recommended turned out to be a one way street! They were improving the roads (much needed) which meant diversions which sent SatNav in a spin. Ian, Cliff and David behind the steering wheel of Big Red were following closely, at times confused by my last minute turns. When ever possible, Angie would communicate Juan’s instruction via the Walkie Talkie’s. It worked well and the team ended up on whet looked like a motorway being built. Just a lonely truck in front of us, no other traffic or traffic signs or road markings and by UK standards not yet ready for traffic as the surface had not yet been swept.

We passed a sign that said that bicycles were not allowed on the road. Next we passed a couple of cyclists. At last we came to an intersection where motorways petered out and found a sign to Campo Quijano, our destination for the night. A cheer went up in both cars.

We found the hotel that had served us well in 2008 and booked in again for the night. After some prompting, the owner remembered us. Not much had changed. Even the Christmas decorations were still up. Or was it ‘up already’?

With plenty of daylight left, we decided to make the stop at Campo Quijano Station this afternoon. It left us unimpressed, plant wise, again lack of water being the issue. Pictures recorded as S1935.

Monday, 18 October, 2010 – La Quiaca to Maimara

A nice and relaxed day, driving 227 km from the Bolivia border south, once again passing the marvellous Devil’s Backbone. You just can’t help but take a few more pictures.

We made a quick stop in Tilcare to ‘milk’ the bank’s ATM machine, which here, fortunately, was happy to pay my card 400 pesos.

Then on to Purmamarca to see if ythe Blossfeldias that we found in 2008 were still there. They were, but Ian confirmed that the location where we had seen them in 2005 was no longer there, now part of an expanding housing project.

S1931 was therefore the only plant stop and Juan, David and I were the only ones to manage to very eroded slope to the rock where we had found the plants in 2008. As well as a couple of dozen very dry plants, we also found that the hornet’s wing of the Argentinean Airforce had some nests here. I believe that Cliff found Blossfeldia’s at another tricky location around the corner, but Ian turned hero again by finding them growing in a much more accessible rock wall so we could all walk back to the car happy at having some variable quality images. It’s difficult to deal with the contrast of the bright conditions and plants growing in deep shade in crevices.

S1932 is for images taken while shopping in Purmamarca.