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We started the day with a stroll back to the Plaza in Vallenar for more pictures of the cylinder that brought the 33 miners to the surface in nearby Copiapó. This time there was no opportunity to pose inside the cylinder. Never mind.

On to Huasco to the usual E. napina spot (S1985) where most evidence of any field flowers had gone, but the cacti still looked healthy and plumped up. All the cacti previously listed were found.

Then to Freirina, for a look at Copiapoa alticostata. (S1986)

 Finding the track out towards Labrar was the usual puzzle, until we stumbled across a brand new dual carriage way, the Freirina by-pass. We had signs of this as we drove from Vallenar to Huasco, but the entrance and exit to the by-pass bits were still coned off.

I suggested that we’d drive to the Labrar Chimneys without further stops, and look at interesting spots on the way back. I really enjoy the drive with its two Cuestas, leading up to passes before zigzagging down into the next valley. But minutes later I asked for a brief stop at a Eulychnia in flower (S1987). Buds, flower position (lateral) and spination on flowering stems (non-differentiated) confirmed that this was E. acida, but the stems had the procumbent growth habit of E. chorosensis. Copiapoa alticostata now grew side by side with C. coquimbana. Miqueliopuntia miquelli was in flower, here with nice pink flowers. A rather more spiny form of E. napina ssp lembckii also grew here.

S1988 marked our arrival at the chimneys of Labrar. I was happy that they had survived last January’s earthquake. The had done so since 1830! Yes, the cracks were showing and they had a worrying lean, but the British house bricks, brought over as ballast on the sailing ships that came to collect the coal and copper ore, had done very well to stand the test of time. Another Miqueliopuntia miquelli with pink flowers was photographed. Our arrival coincided with the camanchaca rolling in over the hills. The temperature dropped by some 7C. Light also went flat and it was rather darker than desired, so before long we headed back north.

S1989 was one of the stops that we’d promised ourselves for the way back. It was near a spot where previously we had spotted white waxed Copiapoa coquimbana. It was still foggy, but the plants looked in excellent health and were well worth a picture, despite poor light. Also another M. miquelli in flower and I did a double take as I saw a strange looking Eulychnia. It turned out to be E. chorosensis and Echinopsis (Trichocereus) deserticola growing intertwined with each other.

S1990 was for five images taken at Cobaltaria (?), a former cobalt processing plant. We did not stay long. Who knows how much toxic waste could be found here. No cacti found.

Not far on, and Juan spotted two large Eriosyce aurata growing on rocks (S1991) but even before we had walked over to the plants we stumbled across another cactus. Naming seems to have gone mad for this plant for which growers would have to squeeze ‘Eriosyce eriosysoides ssp atroviridis fa huascensis‘ on their labels.

Mark took over the driving duties and as we headed back to Freirina he thought that he had gained extra engines as the rest of us were having a snooze, accompanied by the usual snoring.

Back on tarmac, on the Huasco – Vallenar road, on previous visits we had spotted a big aluminium built structure that we understand is a massive meat processing plant. It’s an eyesore, stuck behind low hills but still visible at times from the road. Juan directed us on to a track leading up to a couple of these low hills near this factory (S1992). As soon as we got out of the car, we started seeing cacti. Tiny Eriosyce napina ssp lembckei were everywhere, no challenge spotting them here. In the distance we could make out the electricity substation at Maitencillo that used to be our standard site for these plants on previous visits. Here the plants were so plentifull that we had driven over them to get to where we had parked. E. villosa and C. alticostata were also around, as well as some miserable looking Eulychnia acida. It was an interesting stop, as although this plant location would not survive much longer – there were already plenty of bulldozer tracks to see that this site would be developed – but is was more evidence that once upon a time, E. napinas would have been thick all along the Rio Huasco. Let’s hope that it there will still some spots left that will remain undeveloped.

Back in Vallenar we went for another picture shoot at the Copiapo Miner’s Rescue cylinder followed by an excellent value for money meal at the small restaurant on the corner of the plaza.

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