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Archive for October, 2010

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 marvelous 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 the Blossfeldia 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 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.

Sunday, 17 October, 2010 – West of La Quiaca

Yesterday’s predictions turned out to be right – the desiccated plants of Yavia cryptacarpa were hard to find, but not to the eagle eyes of Juan and Florencia and also for Ian. It’s difficult to see how many different pictures you can take of these tiny plants. After snapping just 32 images of Y. cryptacarpa, Parodia maassii, Echinopsis ferox and Cumulopuntia boliviana at the Yavia Type Locality (this time S1927) we moved on to S1928 for more of the same, although, as in 2008, the plants were more plentiful here. Juan and Flo were quite successful in spotting and collecting fruits. The name ‘cryptocarpa‘ is for the feature where the fruits (carpa) remain hidden (crypto) inside the plant body. It seems that these plants in December / January, after some summer rains, but that during October, buds are already present, pushing the fruit out of the plant body. So when the rains come, last year’s seed is ‘sown’ while this year’s production cycle starts afresh. Ian and Angie had walked into the hills north of the track, an area that may well be part of Bolivia. Ian came back excitedly with stories of a small mostly buried cactus with spines protruding above ground. He then found a plant in flower: yellow flowers and we agree with his opinion that he had found a Weingartia sp. possibly W. neumanniana. We decided to carry on west but soon found ourselves out of the hills (at 3,600 m altitude, it seems confusing to call the low hills around us ‘mountains’) and entered a flat plain. Juan advised that his GPS showed lakes in this area. S1929. The name of the village we arrived at gave us a clue: Cienaguillas indicates marsh land. A lonely policeman at the check point in the village was pleased to see passing traffic on this Sunday morning. He inspected my passport and car documents. Then asked me what ‘Nederland’ meant. ‘Hollanda’ I replied proudly. ‘Ah’, he said, ‘you keep coming second in World Cup Soccer finals!’ Thanks very much! We decided to go back to see Ian’s find at S1928. It seemed that as the track twisted and turned, there was an easier access point, so this time stop number S1930 was allocated. There were some nice white flowers growing in a sandy plain across the track. No idea for an ID yet. No leaves visible and we did not take the trouble to inspect below ground level. Ian strode up the hill and as we struggled to follow in his slip stream (this was 3,800 m. altitude!) he found time to find a Neowerdermannia vorwerkii in flower as well. At the top of the hill he quickly found the yellow flower spotted on his earlier visit and by the time I arrived, huffing and puffing, several plants without flower had been neatly marked by Cliff and David so that they could be easily found again for the benefit of my camera and Juan & Flo. An exiting find and full credit to Ian for his eagle eyed observations. Just wait until you get to our age! Angie, David and I decided that we had had as much excitement as we could handle today, but Ian, Cliff, Juan & Flo made one more stop to try to add to their Yavia cryptocarpa seed collection.

Monday, 11 October, 2010 – Huasco to Chañaral

Happy birthday to Juan!

We started the birthday celebrations with another visit (S1897) to a familiar spot, just before the thermal power station that continues to belch out its ugly fumes. The Eriosyce (Thelocephala) napina were looking in excellent condition, but it seemed that flowering here had been over for some months. Juan reports that in July the foot of Cerro Colorades had been covered with white flowers belonging to a bulb sp.

Euphorbia thinophila, in full growth and in flower here in 2004, could still be found, now that we knew what we were looking for, but was no longer in flower.

The new coast road from Huasco to Caldera was now complete, so we decided to use this rather than to go back to R5. S1898 was at Quebrada Mala, where Copiapoa dealbata looked as magnificent as ever. I took some more pictures of Eulychnia breviflora in flower.

A bit further along Juan had spotted a bright red flower among the annuals that were now becoming more plentiful. (S1899). This was Leontochir ovallei, a rare member of the Alstroemeriaceae, and there were lots! Some were crawling along the ground, others were hanging down rocks, yet others had draped themselves artistically over the cacti. C. echinoides looked bursting with health, obviously having enjoyed a good drink in recent weeks.

S1900 gave us a sizeable patch of the purple haze – not as plentiful as in 2004, but impressive none the less. Great photos. But I somehow managed to leave my jumper among the flowers. It was destined to remain in Chile anyway, to be replaced with some new Llama / Alpaca jumpers later on.

S1901 was caused by a traffic sign, warning of cacti (!) that Juan had recognised as the place where Eriosyce (Thelocephala) were found on previous visits. Sure enough, without too much searching we found some large plants.

S1902 was for the usual C. calderana / E. (Thelocephala) kraussii.

S1903 was again a favourite: km 950, known as ‘Hoot The Virgin’, so named by us as the statue of the Virgin Mary overlooking the Ocean receives a blow on the claxon on any car that passes.

Complete plant lists of all these stops will be available later, or for those too impatient to wait, by searching through reports from previous Copiapathons.

Saturday, 9 October, 2010 – Madrid to Santiago de Chile

I guess that things could have gone a little more smoothly as the flight with David, Angie and I was delayed by almost three hours. Stil, we arrived safely in Santiago, where Cliff & Ian, booked on an earlier flight that left on time, were already waiting for us. Andres Gabor, our car rental contact since 2003, was waiting to welcome us back to Chile.

The cars selected this time were a Chevrolet Captiva for an 89 day period and a Nisan D21 pick up truck for the next 3 weeks.

Florencia Señoret rang Andres to ask if we had arrived yet and apologised for not being able to meet us at the airport. I reassured her that we could remember the way to her parents’ fundo at Lonquen and only made one wrong turn (they had moved the sign where we should have turned right into her road). It was good to relax after a long 48 hours and return to the Chinese restaurant that had often served us well on previous trips.

Tomorrow we’ll be on our way!!!

Sunday 17 October 2010

Greetings from La Quiaca, Jujuy, Argentina, where the weather is warm and sunny.

Having a great time, but we have a very demanding schedule each day. Diary reports are up to date on my laptop, but the Internet Cafes will not acept memory sticks so that I can update the Diaries.

So, please be patient, as soon as we have a wifi connection I will post the detailed reports. So far: we´ve had 2 punctures and I have managed to lose my debit card

The Desert in Chile was partly in flower and we hope for more on the way back. This is the farthest point we are going from Santiago, so tomorrow we start driving back, but with lots more exciting things to see.

Cheers for now


Saturday, 16 October, 2010 – East of La Quiaca

Today our main target was the Oreocereus ‘forest’ known as the Harry Blossfeld site. It is where Juan and I were speechless with the sights we saw and promised to come back here with Florencia and Angie sometime in the future. Today, that day had come. Just as in 2008, we stopped off in the middle of a housing project between La Quiaca and Yavi. The plant list for S1062, made on 17 December 2008 is mouth watering: Cumulopuntia boliviana, Echinopsis (Lobivia) ferox (syn. Lobivia longispina), Echinopsis (Lobivia) pugionacantha, Maihueniopsis glomerata, Maihueniopsis hypogaea, Maihueniopsis subterranea, Tephrocactus nigrispinus, Tunilla erectoclada or was it Tunilla tilcarensis? Today the location received stop number S1924 and lack of recent moiture made for a much shorted stay and shorter list. C. boliviana was there, as were the Lobivias, shrunken into the ground and after a thorough search we finally found some M. subterranea, each requiring a ‘before’ and ‘after’ images, with paintbrushes in action in between, to make the plants presentable. Next, S1925, was the Blossfeld site, just as magnificent as we remembered it from 2008 and earlier from images shown by Leo van der Hoeven that gave it a ‘must see’ rating in our wish lists of cactus localities. owever, I already had so many images from the 2008 visit that I was struggling to find something different to take a shot at. This was presented by a llama that calmly walked between the plants and stopped occasionally to ‘graze’ at the flowers, buds and hair at the tops of the Oreocereus stems. One image has a close up of the beast looking curious at me, its mouth covered in the wool of the Oreocereus. Inspection of the plants visited showed that this was indiscriminate grazing, not looking for fruit as I had expected. Flowers were damaged and while I guess thare was a minimal chance of pollination resulting, I hardly expect to list Llamas among the pollinators of these Oreocereus. Angie took some movies as well that shows that it requires quite a yank to get the flowers and wool off. I also managed a couple of shots of a very large hummingbird briefly visiting a couple of flowers. The pictures are not sharp enough for inclusion in a talk. I made no attempt to match or add to the plant list for this location in 2008 which is included here for the benefit of those for whom this was the first visit: Cumulopuntia boliviana, C. chichensis (?), Echinopsis (Lobivia) ferox, Maihueniopsis glomerata (ssp. hypogaea?), Neowerdermannia chilensis, Oreocereus celsianus, O. trollii, Rebutia pygmaea,Tephrocactus nigrispinus, a taxon that seems to have mistified the botanists in putting together the NCL. It looks like a very dark spined form of C. boliviana to me. Finally, the white spined Tunilla corrugata and the famous hybrids between xOreocereus celsianus x Echinopsis ferox We decided to drive on beyond this location, S1926 into the hills, but after a short while regretted this as a sharp stone punctured one of the tyres of the Chevrolet. No drama, as the spare was quickly in place. As we drove into La Quiaca a tyre repair shop was easily found and although it was Saturday afternoon, the boss said that the repaired tyre would be ready for collection around 9 a.m. the next day. It was a nasty hole and he recommended that we’d only use the repaired tyre as a spare. Tomorrow we’ll be trying to find Yavias. As everything is so dry, this could be quite a challenge!

Friday, 15 October, 2010 – Maimara to La Quiaca

First priority today was to get some Argentinean money, so we popped into Tilcara, drove past the Hosteria from previous visits and found the bank just off the town square. It took ages for the paper work to be completed so that I could change my last US$ into Argentine Pesos. Why? They could not find The Netherlands on their computer’s list of countries to record that a Dutchman had exchanged US$200. Everyone else had been milking the ATM machine outside the bank so we could at least fuel up for the days ahead.

S1920 was a scenic stop along the main road. We found Echinopsis (Trichocereus) atacamensis ssp pasacana with various Tillandsia sp. growing between the spines, Echinopsis (Lobivia) longispina, Gymnocalycium saglionis and Opuntia sulphurea.

Oreocereus trollii appearing along the road caused the next stop, S1921.

We made S1922 stopped at a location where in 2008 (S1053) we had found Maihueniopsis (Puna) subterranea, but conditions were much drier now, so although we saw Echinopsis ferox and Maihueniopsis glomerata, M. subterranea remained hidden from sight.

S1923 was for pictures of the Devil’s Backbone, that remains a glorious sight no matter how often you see it.

We arrived in La Quiaca without incident, but unfortunately the Hosteria was fully booked. This is the only hotel that accepts Credit Cards. We were directed to Hosteria Munay that had space but only accepted cash. Never mind, there were banks in town. Accept that the two banks we found did not accept my credit card! Fortunately other members in the group fared better so that we could eat and pay for the hotel.