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I had a score to settle.

In 2007, Juan, Florencia, Leo and I visited the Parc Nacional de La Campana, specifically to photograph the two Eriosyce that come from that area: Eriosyce curvispina ssp robusta and Eriosyce garavantea. E. garavantae is a challenge for any one; it grows near the top of the hill that dominates the park at 1,800 m altitude. On that occasion, I gave up about half way while the remainder of the group made it to the top and happily shared the pictures they took with me. But it was not about having the pictures, it was about having my own pictures. I’ wise enough to know that when you get older and less fit, there are things that you’d like to do but simply can’t. But it’s not easy. And the brain always looks for a solution to make it possible after all.

So while waiting for my fellow explorers to return, I was interested to learn from posters and had outs, that there is a track that can be used by 4×4 vehicles that goes to within 1.8 km to the top, as opposed to the 17 km that took 4-5 hours each way to conquer. At the time we were in Renault Clio, hardly the car for such an adventure. But this time ……

And so we sat having breakfast at the base of the hill, covered in thick cloud as we woke up, but becoming clearer as the sun was burning off the worst until by c. 10 a.m. we were ready for the challenge. Guns & Roses ‘November Rain’ was playing on my iPod that acts as the Explorer’s Juke Box. The month was right, but the outside thermometer indicated 18 C as the song was talking about walking in a cold November rain. By the time we had reached the point where the car track finished, the gauge read 27 C.

It was not the easiest track, in fact I’d put in on par with the climb to the top of Cerro Perales or the drive to the T Junction at Botija or the drive up ‘Horror Hill’ in 2003. At one stage the car was only 3 wheel drive as the rear wheel had plunged into a major pot hole and had tipped the car backwards with the opposite front wheel hanging about a foot in the air! But all crises were overcome and we managed the 10.5 km from the gate to the Mine area where the car track finished. I was under no illusion that the way back would be any easier!

We made one stop (S2073) for a handsome stand of Echinopsis (Trichocereus) chiloensis in flower and also found Eriosyce curvispina ssp. robusta in bud. So I had completed most of the trip to the top without a drop of sweat spilled or a sign of getting out of breath. But that was about to change.

The 1.8 km that remained on foot was covered at my own pace and I’m really grateful to Juan for being patient as my beta-blockers, busy protecting my heart, stopped me from going up at anything but a snail’s pace. Still, I got to the point that has a plaque dedicated to Charles Darwin in 75 minutes. Darwin is said to have reached this point on a clear day, 17 August 1834 and noticed how narrow Chile is, being able to observe from this spot, both the Andes (border with Argentina) and the Pacific Ocean. Today it was a bit more cloudy but we certainly knew that we were high up. Juan suggested that we did not make for the actual peak at 1,800 m where in 2007 only two plants were found, but instead to make for an area that was signposted as ‘Cuidado / Warning: Rodados y Pendiente fuerte’ (= land slides) where in 2007 they had found plenty of plants.

Mindful of the two light shocks that we had experienced at Ricardo’s yesterday I briefly thought about the wisdom of this proposal, but it seemed churlish after what we had already accomplished to abort the mission now. Juan discovered that he had left his best climbing shoes at Lonquen, so every step he took was hurting. Yet he risked life and limb and soon reported finding lots of E. garavantea plants, many in flower. But sadly he also reported that he thought it too dangerous for me to join him as he had already triggered a couple landslides. So I stuck to the path, or at least the series of markers on a different part of the landslide area that had been marked out at such. Eventually Juan found about a dozen plants that were near enough to the track for me to risk my life. And so an old score was settled.

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