On the October trip we had taken on this stretch of our trip to Argentina and back as part of a full day’s driving between Vallenar and Chañaral. Today we took the whole day to make 10 stops along about 100 km of R5. So we are travelling at a much more sedate pace and seeing more than just the highlights.
After a quick stop at the Super Marcado, we were on our way, and took the turn east off R5 to Quebrada El Leon, where we made a number of short stops, first S2006, still on the flat stretch before reaching the coastal hills, where we found Copiapoa leonensis, a small growing plant, usually solitary here, but sometimes up to three headed, Eriosyce (Thelosephala) odieri ssp kraussii, C. marginata, again solitary plants and evidence that Euphorbia copiapina lives below the ground, with the remains of the leaves already dying back after a brief period of growth when moisture was available.
S2007 was just a bit farther along as Juan spotted the fruits of E. kraussi as we drove past at 30 km p hr – amazing!
We found much the same plants at S2008 at the foot of the coastal hills, but here the remnants of a few Eulychnia could be found. The woolly buds confirmed that it had to be either E. breviflora or E. iquiquensis, but the stems had been so beaten up that there was no fresh new growth visible to confirm wooliness of the areoles. y bet is on E. breviflora.
S2009 was a stop at the Sanctuary for a formation of ‘Granito Orbicular‘ where round lumps of granite appeared to be embedded in sedimentary rock.
We stopped again at Santuario Santa Gemita (S2010) where Copiapoa was extremely photogenic in the strangely shaped granite rocks. Where as two or so weeks ago it had been purple coloured Calandrinia flowers that had coloured up the Desert, here it was a yellow flowered Calandrinia that was in full flower. Seeing the Desert in flower, whatever the colour, remains fantastic. Also spotted Eriosyce taltalensis (pygmaea), Cumulopuntia sphaerica and a rosulate viola (yellow flowers). The Eulychnia seemed to be E. breviflora, but there was little new growth to look for woolly areoles.
S2011 was another roadside shrine near to where we had pulled over in October. Rollcall: C. calderana, Euphorbia lactiflua and fantastic granite rock formations.
The nest stop at El Morado (S2012) was a repeat of another October Stop and this time John & Mark were on their knees – for Thelocephala krausii of course – in flower, alongside C. calderana.
Another stop (S2013) came as we approached Barquito. I thought it was the same turning that we took in 2007, bit this track ended at a disused mine. C. cinerascens was here, the form that Backberg called ‘applanata‘. The Eulychnia now had a woolly hypanthium AND woolly areoles: E. iquiquensis or perhaps its synonym E. barquitensis? Tried as we might to spot Eulychnia along this stretch of R5, this was the first one spotted since E. breviflora at S2010.
S2014 was the turning that we meant to have taken for the last spot and which now brought us to the location where in 2007 Rudolf and a group of super fit climbers (including Juan) went straight up the hill but told the not so fit to take one or two alternative routes to see C. hypogaea. I believe that ultimately we (Juan) did find this plant, but in the ‘car park’ as well as high on the hill. This time there was little scope for stomping around.
S2015 was another quick stop to inspect the other side of the Quebrada, but only produced more small plants of C. cinarescens. Next time I’ll come better prepared!
Although we had been looking forward to Chinese food, this would have to wait until the way home, as the hotel opposite was fully booked. So on we went to the Hosteria, once the domain of ‘God’s Gift To Waiters’, no doubt a highly reliable gentleman but at one pace, without an overdrive facility when circumstances demanded it. Unless he was ill or on holiday, he seems to have been replaced by a team of ladies who between them managed to provide us Pisco Sours, fine red wines and excellent dinner and breakfast. Unfortunately the accommodation was still rather basic and small, so we have booked ourselves into the usual hotel for the return journey, on 14 November, if my memory serves me right. So the Chinese having to wait until we return.