In December 2007, Leo van der Hoeven and I stayed on for some extra weeks of cactus exploration with Juan. One of these trips led us to Vicuña, a nice small town in the Elqui Valley. From here we made a trip east into the Andean foothills, as far we could go without papers to take the car into Argentina at Passo Agua Negra. We carried on another 15 km or so on a side track to Mina El Indio, until the locked gate forced us to turn back.
In 2008, Angie, Cliff and I wanted to repeat this experience but soon after leaving Vicuña we ran into some serious roadworks, made it to the border post, but found the track to El Indio closed.
This time the road works were finished and it was a very speedy, smooth ride. S2060 was for some golden spined Eriosyce aurata and Eriosyce eriosyzoides, growing high on the rocks. It was only a brief stop – we knew that we’d see better on the way back.
The customs post had only re-opened on 1 November having been closed for winter. Juan went to investigate and came back with the good news that the mine road was open, as long as we left our passports at the customs office, for collection on our way back.
Great news, as we were once again able to visit the locality for Maihueniopsis grandiflora! (S2061). Just as in 2007 we were greeted by the first of these plants spotted being in flower. Wonderful large salmon-pink flowers. Eventually we found another three or four flowers. This is a very small and fragile population; let’s hope that they also grow elsewhere. Unfortunately there was no seed to collect.
S2062 was just for scenic views from the gate of the mine, where we had to turn back. No cacti or other succulent plants spotted.
S2063 was at Puente Los Terneras where in 2008 we had photographed some large E. aurata. At this point, two small rivers merge, one with dark water (Agua Negra), the other a milky white. This time, possibly due to the road works, E. aurata had gone, but I suspect will be back once the land has been left undisturbed for a while.
In 2008, our next stop (S2064) was a building site. In between the rocks some very nice golden yellow spined E. eriosyzoides could be found. Today, this location demonstrated beyond doubt how well (some) cacti are adapted to recolonise disturbed land. 40 images taken here are all candidates for future photo competitions, with the rocks, blue skies and white fluffy Andean clouds making it difficult not to get a good picture.
We had finished our trip earlier than anticipated, so made a detour into the other ranch of the Elqui Valley to the picturesque town of Montegrande, birth place of Gabriella Mistral. (S2065) was a ‘no plants’ stop.
Still in good time, we drove west, past Vicuña, we drove to the Embalsa (large water reservoir) to where in 2001, Leo had made his famous turn onto a a track with a large ‘No Entry sign. As we passed by this turning on later trips, a gate had always kept us out. In October I noticed that the gate was open, it seemed on a semi-permanent basis. So now we had the time to explore a bit further.(S2066) The area where we had photographed Copiapoa coquimbana and Eriosyce sp. in 2001 had been cleared and was now a vineyard. But there were still plenty of plants in the surrounding hills and we could see more tracks that looked promising for future exploration.
We made our last stop of the day, S2067, just west of Vicuña to photograph more of the same cacti. Juan’s GPS suggests that the Copiapoa here are growing some 48 km from the Ocean, measured in a straight line – quite far inland, but not as far as C. coquimbana ssp andina, seen earlier this trip.