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Today was a partial replay of what we did on 12 October. This time starting at Taltal, we drove south down R5 to the turning to Pan de Azucar that eventually takes you to Planta Esmeralda – more of a concept then a physical entity these days.

S2029 was the RitterTL stop for Copiapoa cinerea ssp columna-alba. The sheer volume of plants here really makes you wonder about the concepts of conservation where collecting by hobbyists for their own use is still said to be a major issue. I disagree in general, although I do know of many individual cases where this is true. Commercial collection, with its enormous waste of plants dying between habitat and customers is of course a completely different matter. John & Mark had now joined the ranks of serious Thelocephala spotters – I bet John will be able to spot a GBP 1 coin in Dorking High Street without any trouble on his return. So, once we had stopped being overwhelmed by the number of big cacti here, we started looking for seedlings (many found, although small, possibly already 10 years of age ) and of course stumbled across Thelocephala – E(T) esmeraldana. Again it was plants in bud and flower that helped the process.

As we drove away we saw two gentlemen with Cactus Explorer camera gear deeply engrossed in taking pictures of a cactus in flower. ‘We’re not alone’ I noted.

S2030 took us into the Guanillos Valley to the same stop as the one on October. All the same plants were found (C. laui, C. esmeraldana, C. gradiflora and C. longistaminea, plus Eulychnia iquiquensis and Echinopis (Trichocereus) deserticola. I went to the other side of the valley, opposite the hillside that we explored in October and soon had found ‘Angie’s lauis’, that she can find without the aid of a GPS. It seems that the plants are incredibly more plentiful this time round

S2030a was another opportunity to say hello to Alan Craig – Mark comes originally from Tee side and knew Alan well

Mark had included C. longistaminea on his list of ‘must see’ Copiapoa so S2031 took us to ‘Puma Bay’ where John Childs got lost in 2007, waiting for mermaids. It was also the place where, after the usual large volume of wine, consumed to prepare for a night on the desert floor, Juan and Flo led an attempt of finding Thelocephala in the dark. Without success as I recall. And guess what? today we found a number of T. esmeraldana there – these plants are also more plentiful than you might consider on a first visit.

We went back through the Guanillos Valley (S2032) to find a location of a picture taken by John in 2001, where a stand of Eulychnia creates an impressive scenery. The white saloon car was parked here and the two gents were bussy on a low hill. Juan and I went over to introduce ourselves, while the two shy Brits pretended to look at cacti (lots of C. laui here as well. We had a chat with one of them who did not seem to want to reveal his name but said he was a Mexican and a member of the IOS. e knew John Pilbeam and David Neville from a trip a few years ago in Oaxaca. He introduced his fellow traveller as Jean Marc Challet, Director of the Jardin Exotique in Monaco. They did seem to know who I was (probably using copies of past Copiapoathon Diaries as their tour guide. Jean Marc carried on taking pictures, seemingly embarrassed that I knew of the strained trip he had been on several years ago with Roberto Kiesling and Leo van der Hoeven.

We succeeded where we had failed in October, to find the site where in 2008 we had found Rudolf’s new population of C. esmeraldana and C. laui (S2033). It turns out that we had relied too much on incorrect signage in October and what we thought had been Las Maderas was in fact still the Tigrillo Valley. The C. esmeraldana stood out as extremely green plants and were easily found. But this time we could also add Thelocephala esmeraldana to the list, and in flower!

Members of the October Expedition may remember that on our way through Guanillos / Tigrillo, the track was very bad in places. Now, some 4 weeks later, all these spots had been patched up. uch better than Wiltshire road maintenance!

In 2008 I found a huge crested longistaminea or was it a grandifora plant that unfortunately had been dead for a long time. In my WISLW 2008 – 2009 talk I used to show it and say – Magnificent, even in death’. Well, the recent wet spell must have worked miracles as it showed signs of growth! It was so close to death that we encouraged Juan to take three of the least dead heads to try and get it going again in cultivation.

Then to the C. desertorum with red flowers site where T. weisseri also grows, (S2034 this time) but this time there were no plants in flower. Then back to Taltal via the coast road where we sat down for dinner at Club Taltal at 8

Tomorrow we are off to Botija!

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