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Archive for December, 2010

Friday, 31 December, 2010 – Taltal: Las Breas

Yesterday’s puncture required a bit more thought. We now have a dodgy off-side rear tyre, the original spare, of unknown quality, as the near-side rear and a dodgy spare that required us to have an inner tube fitted in November. The sensible thing would be to buy at least one new spare tyre, even at GBP 140 and only a week until we go home, but it turns out that the Chevrolet is such a new model that it’s unusual tyre size (17) is not held as a stock item. We had already experienced this in Santiago at the end of November when we had tried to get a replacement.

The dodgy tyres are at the rear, so should be OK if we keep the speed down to 100 km.p.hr. and take it easy on the bends. Taltal is c. 1,100 km from Santiago and another 30 km to Lonquen and we all feel optimistic about making that. In the case of further problems, we have a roadside assistance number to ring, so the trick is to stay on Ruta 5 where there is plenty of passing traffic to get Juan to somewhere in reach of phone mast. Routes where it’s unlike that we’ll see another car all day or be within reach of a mobile phone signal, such as a drive to Botija, planned for today, or Vicuña to Ovalle via Hurtado (the ‘Golden Balls’ circuit, planned for Monday) are best cancelled. Apologies to John, for whom these locations are all brand new, but he agrees that at this stage safety is best and everything that we’ve seen since 24 December has been a welcome unplanned bonus.

How will we fill the time? We went to the ‘mass cinerea site’ north of the Taltal – Ruta 5 road near Las Breas and spent a relaxed morning taking pictures of these magnificent plants in amazing numbers. Also looked for Eriosyce occulta that we found here in November, but this time But after an hour in the hot sun, even large numbers of Copiapoa cinerea can become a bit same-ish. Hoorah for cristates and other unusual things happening at the  growing point. Plus there were plenty of plants in flower with the nectar sucking hover-fly that we’ve seen before on Eulychnia was having a drink here. And finally I found one or two E. taltalensis in flower so took some more pictures of them, but unfortunately there were no ripe fruits yet – flowering seems to be late on E. taltalensis, so I hope that Juan and Flo will have better luck on an upcoming trip to the north during the next few months.

We all had plenty of things to do for the afternoon, back at the Hotel: cleaning and sorting seed, sorting images and catching up on the Diaries so that they can be posted once we have a wifi connection that works.

Tomorrow, once our heads have cleared after seeing in 2011, we’ve planned a short trip to C. desertorum, C. columna-alba and Thelocephala weisseri near Cifuncho – on good asphalt, with more ‘Cactus Explorer’s admin’ in the afternoon.

Hope you all have a great New Year’s Eve – we will!

Thursday, 30 December, 2010 – Taltal: the Guanillos Valley circuit

Just as was the case for yestreday’s ‘Paposo’ circuit, the last few months had established a ‘Guanillos Valley’ circuit. We decided to take Ruta 5 to the turn off to Pan de Azucar / Esmeralda but it seems that the Park wardens had not only closed access to the north of the Park from within it, but it seemed that the usual signs had been removed and replaced with signs to Cifuncho / Minas Las Luces, so that I ended up on the track that takes you to the centre of Pan de Azucar.

No choice but to turn back and try again on the ‘next’ track east that I had rejected nearly one hour earlier. We arrived a little later than planned at Ritter’s Type Locality for Copiapoa cinerea ssp columna-alba. (S2188) Every time that we get here, the light is a little different and the area presents new photo opportunities.

This time I focussed on the Eulychnia (iquiquensis I assume, but there were no buds, flowers or fruits to confirm the ID). It appears in Ritter’s image in KiSA, with a man and a woman standing next to it, to give us an idea of its height. This time it was John who offered to be ‘the Bowdery’. It seems that the plant is now 3/4 of a Carr in height – not much growth considering the c. 45 years that have past since the original photo was taken! And not surprisingly there were no signs of recent growth, although the plant looks to be alive. Compared to the Copiapoa that grow around it, this individual seems to have almost stood still! John and Juan managed to find a few Eriosyce (Thelocephala) esmeraldana between them – the easy ones, with fruits sticking above the surface to draw attention to their pressence.

S2189 was an ad-hoc stop near Secret Valley, but on the opposite side of the track where Juan (who has never been to Secret Valley) saw C. columna-alba and C. longistaminea growing together. It made a nice picture, especially when these two were joined by Thelocephala esmeraldana growing at the feet of the columna-alba. Also nice views from the top of the hill of the cactus covered hills, although many of the plants were ash-mounds, having died probably many years ago. Things seem to be getting dryer here in general.

S2190 was another visit to Alan Craig’s memorial. It looked as though the stones and shells had been tidied up since our November visit. Juan found T. esmeraldana here too.

S2191 was just after our Puma Bay camping spot, again for the magnificent (although suffering) C. longistaminea and C. grandiflora below the hills of Las Lomitas.

And finally S2192 was the regular spot for C. laui, where this time we pointed John in the right direction with instructions to find the miniatures (he did!) and C. angustiflora (still C. grandiflora ssp esmeraldana in my book). I climbed one of the hills in the other direction and took some nice wide angled shots of the track.

Around 4:30 it was time to head home and we decided to take the track that eventually takes you to Minas Las Luces. This had become rougher than I remembered it in November, but clearly maintenance has been reduced now that they seem to discourage visitors to Las Lomitas from the north. While driving my mind wandered what this track would be like on a future visit and thought ourselves lucky that we had not had any punctures since we started this trip on 1 ecember, via Patagonia. Always a bad thing to do. Five minutes later, Juan reported that the wheel under his backside had a puncture. Not a disaster in itself, as we were well rehearsed in the changing of tires. But with a dodgy spare going on to replace the puncture and some 40 km of rough track until we would reach a Vulcan. in Taltal, we needed a certain amount of luck with the remainder of today’s journey.

We celebrated our luck with ice creams while the vulcanisation man gave us the bad news. Either this time, or on a previous occasion (the tire had been repaired before we reted the car) it had been driven for a while when flat. As a result the inside walls of the tyre had worn badly. He could patch it and recommended that we’d keep it on the back and keep speeds down, especially around bends. 100 km p hr max!

We have to look at the options and have some rescheduling to do.



Wednesday, 29 December, 2010 – Taltal: the Paposo circuit

These last three months it has become a regular routine to introduce newbies to the charms of Copiapoa cinerea ssp haseltoniana by a trip to various locations around Paposo. Today we made the following stops:

S2183 – north of Taltal between Ruta 1 and the Ocean – not the stop that I had hoped to have made as I was looking for the place where John Ede and I saw C. haseltoniana and C. cinerea growing side by side in November. Instead we were treated to a number of white spines C. cinerea that we’ll call C. albispina, although this Backeberg name was never published validly.

S2184 was at Quebrada Matancillas where in November we had found C. haseltoniana, C. humilis and Eulychnia taltalensis almost overwhelmed by field flowers. Now the cacti were covered by the remains of that flowering explosion – not very attractive but perhaps an explanation why Copiapoa scorch so easily during the early days of Spring in Europe. The grasses and weeds that practically cover the plants in habitat will also protect them against the sun. E. taltalensis had put on tremendous growth compared to the other Eulychnia species but they were late with flowering, with many buds, only half a dozen flowers spotted and no fruits.

S2185 was our regular visit to the Paposo Virgin where we saw C. humilis and C. haseltoniana, E. taltalensis and Eriosyce paucicostata. There are usually very few mature C. humilis but this time Cliff found a nice plant actually in flower!

There was still a good show of flowers at S2186 – the fog zone above Paposo. Not the cacti (same selection as at the previous stop) but Nolana and a range of bulbs that are another interest for John.

We finished off with the C. cinerea ssp haseltoniana ‘eremophila’ population (S2187) at the pylon service track. This time we only went as far as the disused caravan as there was no benefit to be gained by going all the way to the end as usual.

Tuesday, 28 December, 2010 – Caldera to Taltal

Once again I’m paying ‘Diary Catch up’: full days and struggling with the internet connection at Hotel Gali and a relatively high number of stops to process. But all are old familiar locations as we continue our attempts to impress John with Chilean cactus flora. I think that we are succeeding by showing him areas inland where nothing grows, combined with areas along the Pacific Coast where temperatures are very pleasant with the light sea breeze and where exploring for cacti with the sound of waves breaking on the rocks is the norm – not much chance of this in landlocked Bolivia!

Eight stops today, starting with a stop (S2175) not for out of Caldera where we saw Copiapoa calderana, relatively small plants with lots of young plants coming through – no goats or cattle! We failed to find Eriosyce (Thelocephala) krausi here this time.

We made up for this at S2176, a dead-cert krausi stop and were not disappointed. John is getting a Copiapoathon, Thelocephalathon and Eulychniathon all rolled into one at double fast speed! C. cinarescens was here as well, although not in great numbers. This location is a quarry and the plant’s days are numbered.

We drove past ‘Hoot The Virgin’ as this is more and more resembling a public toilet with paper and nappies everywhere.

 S2177 was on the way from Chañaral to the Pan de Azucar National Park at the usual stop for C. serpentisulcata. Again we failed to find any seed or plants in flower.

S2178 and still just outside the Park was our regular ‘C. cinarescens-on-dark-rocks’ stop – just too photogenic to pass by.

S2179 was at the hillside marked Copiapoa cinarescens and where in October and November we had found Eriosyce (Thelocephala)  odieri ssp. krausii (s.n. T. malleolata in October and in November, but this time, a month on, it was just too hard – no more plants in flower and any seed pods seemed to have gone as well. Without these features, plants are very hard to spot!

S2180 was a continuation of the ‘Smiler’ site, but across the track that ultimately leads to Ruta 5. We were here in 2001 when I admired many young seedlings (small yes, but probably 10 – 20 years of age) many covered to various extends in ‘Nostoc’ the cyanobacterium that grows on the lower part of C. cinerea ssp. columna-alba. If ‘Nostoc’ grows too fast, it covers the body of the small Copiapoa, making it impossible for sunlight reached the chlorophyll in the Copiapoa and so condemning it to death.

For S2181 we had moved to Cifungo and were relieved to find ‘Benji’s Plant’ in better shape than I can remember. We had not been here for a few years (2004?). People are still calling it ‘sp. Cifuncho’ but I have little doubt that it is no more than a northern form of C. longistaminea. Seeing it, or any of the solitary plants that grow nearby, in flower would help to see if the stamens are indeed longer that the petals, as the nae implies. Clff had followed John to a spot where 2-3 plants were looking good – then fell and cut his leg quite badly – bad enough to need paracetamols, but not bad enough to require us to stay longer than planned.

The last stop of the day – S2182 was to satisfy our curiosity as to where Ritter’s Copiapoa rubriflora grows. Ricardo and Ingrid reported finding red-flowered C. taltalensis at the northern end of the Bay of Cifuncho. We found quite a few plants and took some pictures of a large clump in good shape, but as none of the plants were in flower, there was no way of telling if this was indeed a red-flowering Copiapoa. egular readers of these pages will remember that we have found red-flowering plants of C. desertorum along the Cifuncho end of the coast road to Taltal. I have never found a yellow flowered form of these plants that are now classified as a subspecies of C. taltalensis.

We had booked ourselves into Hotel Gali for five nights as it appears to be the only place in town that accepts credit card payments. Shame that they have still not resolved there wifi issues, with Cliff being the only one to receive a signal intermittently. Even when I plugged their cable straight into my laptop I was unable to get any signal. Sorry for the delay in transmissions!

Monday, 27 December 2010 – Vallenar to Caldera

After last November’s Thelocephalathon, John could have expected to being taken to a few cactus locations, to be bamboozeled with names and to enter up utterly confused. We kept making stops at acknowledged cactus locations and yet it seems that we could expect Thelocephala to occur anywhere that we would chose to look.

It is certainly true that Theloocephala can be hard to spot. If they are part of the flowering desert scenario their flowers are a dead give away. Now that things have dried up, plants with fruit are certainly easier to spot plant that have not yet woken up. As well as known locations we made some random stops and found Thelocephala there as well! We agreed that south of Caldera, if Thelocephala were the size of Eulychnia, we’d be driving through a forest.

We took R5 north from Vallenar – big road works going on here to turn the Vallenar to Chañaral stretch into a dual carriage way (with tolls to be charged for the favour.). Having already been along the two roads from R5 to Carrizal Bajo, this time we took the road to Totoral.

First stop was S2168, only 3 km from R5 as I wanted an ID for the Eulychnia that grew so far inland. It turned out to be . E. acida as expected. Cumulopuntia sphaerica was here as well. 

S2169 was our usual stop at km 22, just about at the inland limit for C. echinoides here. The Eulychnia were still E. acida and Cumulopuntia sphaerica again attached itself to my trouser legs. An attempt to escape the Atacama?

For S2170, Juan took us to a track off the main road where we found Eriosyce (Thelocephala) odieri ssp glabrasence. Plants described from this area were originally described as Thelocephala fulva, now reduced to synonymy.  C. echinoides Cumulopuntia sphaerica and Eulychnia sp (no identifying features but assumed to be E. acida) were the companion cacti.

A bit farther on it was my turn to shout ‘Stop’ as the Eulychnia now had honey coloured woolly buds and fruits – Eulychnia breviflora (S2171).  The C. echinoides had a much darker body colour – probably Ritter’s C. dura came from here.

S2172 was for a surprise remainder of the Desert in Flower experience specially laid on for John as he missed out on the October and November mass flowering here. This time they were light pink plants in the Family Malvaceae that were putting on the display, but not as dense at the flowers seen earlier. There were some wonderful stands of short E. breviflora here, almost resembling decorated Christmas trees with 2-3 fruits at the top of each stem. The Copiapoa here was C. echinata and woolly seed pods kept giving away Eriocyse (Thelocaphala) odieri ssp glabresence.

Just to illustrate their abundance, we stopped at one of the ‘cactus warning’ traffic signs (S2173) for more Eriocyse (Thelocaphala) odieri ssp glabresence.

The last call of the day was Morro Copiapó (S2174) where we found the expected C. marginata and T. odieri. Usually their was a stiff wind here but today it was nice and sunny, offering some glorious views across the bay.

We reached Hotel Puerto do Sol where this time we had ‘proper’ rooms. And we managed to find Restaurant El Teatre, which was much better than any eatery we had tried in Caldera before. I’ll be back!

Sunday, 26 December 2010 – around Vallenar

What did you do on Boxing Day 2010?

We woke up with the sun streaming through our hotel window. After breakfast we set out on Ruta 5, heading north until the turning east to El Donkey.  After some 30 km we started seeing individual globular cacti and some small clumps growing on the hillside to the south of the road: S2161 – Copiapoa coquimbana ssp andina. We were here before in October but it was a first time visit for Cliff and John. None of the plants were in flower so we were unable to doublecheck the orange flowers.

On the way in, we spotted some low hills – ideal Thelocephala country – time for some exploring. But all we found were lots of Cumulopuntia sphaerica and Eulychnia acida in fruit. (S2162).  Thelocephala would be difficult to find now, as they were not in flower and pulled down into the ground.  Must come back during the flowering season to check.

Saturday, 25 December 2010 – Pichidangui to Vallenar

Merry Christmas!

Hope you had a wonderful day – we did!

So, what does a dedicated Cactus Explorer do on Christmas Day? He goes looking for cacti to take their pictures of course!

But first, as the cabanas did not have breakfast included, we went to the COPEC/Pronto north of Pichidangui for breakfast. We had checked yesterday that they’d be open and they were glad to see customers, because there’s nothing worse than being bored during your shift. Juan managed to negatiate a special deal for scrambled eggs, ham and toast plus coffee.

Cliff was our driver today,  so the simple instruction was for him to drive 200 km from Pichidangui to Fray Jorge. S2157 was a stop necesitated by mother nature as Cliff could not cross his legs anymore while driving. Eulychnia acida had been used as a fence here along Ruta 5 around km 355. But this E. acida did not have the bald, smoth fruits prescribed in their description – there were some spines from the areoles on the ripe fruits! Not enough to look like tall upright growing E. castanea but enough to be unusual! – S2157.

Soon after we turned west onto the track to the Fray Jorge National Park, which itself was closed for Christmas.  We made two random stops, S2158 and S2159, along the track to the National Park. We did not care that it was closed because all the cacti that we wanted to see was growing along the track. We saw Eriosyce aurata, Echinopsis (Trichocereus) chiloensis, and Cumulopuntia sphaerica.  I had been here about one month ago with John Ede and Mark, so really did not need to do more exploring here, but since then my 18-200 mm lens had broken and I was forced to use a 60 mm fixed focal length lens and a different lens makes you see the world in a different way, so I still managed to take some 73 images, mainly close ups of the Eriosyce’s fruits and still the odd flower.

Next we drove on to El Trapiche – most of the stops on the remainder of this trip will be repeats of well known stops, just to show John the neauty of the Chilean cacti. Here, at S2160, he was introduced to Eriosyce (Thelocephala) napina ssp. riperia, which is perhaps too similar to E. napina ssp tenebrica for comfort, E. (Horridocactus) heinrichiana, Copiapoa coquimbana, and Eulychnia and Miqueliopuntia miquelii – all old friends to Juan and me but brand new first time in habitat for John.

There’s lots more to come John! 

It seemed that we would be the only guests at the Hosteria Vallenar. As a result there was no catering tonight. However, some more guests arrived and the catering staff were tempted away from their Christmas festivities. We managed to find three bottles of an excellent Cabernet Sauvignon wine called Cassa de Lonquen. We must track the origins of this down for a future visit!

Thursday, 23 December 2010 – Santa Cruz to Lonquen

Although we had seen some rather creative attempts at Christmas decorations (a decorated Araucaria tree in Argentina springs to mind) the effort made by our hotel in Santa Cruz really brought home the fact that Christmas is nearly here.  We agreed to have a group photo around the Christmas tree in their sitting room and I tried this shot with the camera balanced on the table. The staff of the hotel then insisted that they would take the picture but the low light conditions and my choice of not using flash (wide angle lens and Nikon D200 flash do not get on) meant that these pics went into the recycle bin.

So here is a pic of me wishing you all a very merry Christmas and best wishes for health and happiness in 2011.

 And so, on to today’s report. We headed for Pichilemu where, on the rocks above Chile’s famous Surfer’s beach at Punta Lobos, we had found the then recently described Echinopsis (Trichocereus) bolligeriana and Eriosyce subgibbosa (very large plants aka as Neoporteria castanea).  How had this habitat survived the 2010 earthquake and the Tsunami that followed? Remarkably well, it seemed – S2152. Sure, nature seemed to have performed some pruning and tidying but to me there seemed to be little difference between today and our visit in 2007.

Our next goal was to check on the small and very vulenrable habitat of Eriosyce (Horridocactus) aspillagea, also visited before in 2007. At the time we had found the area being prepared for redevelopment for holiday accomodation with a second threat arising from serious erosion that threatened to deposit the whole population into the Pacific Ocean.

We made a wrong turn and ended up one cove too far north (S2153) where similar developments were well on their way. Juan reported that they had looked here as well on earlier visits but had never found E. aspillagea here. Still, another look could not do any harm. We found E. bolligeriana and E. subgibbosa, but not E.aspillagea. The area did however allow us to take picture across the cove to the actual population that would be our next goal.

When we finally arrived at S2154 we found that since our 2007 visit two more houses had been built, but well away from the water’s edge. Hoever erosion had indeed caused more of the area where the plants grew to crumble into the sea. It seemed that for now, all the development was aimed at nearby S2153, so that for now, erosion is the main threat. Again, we harvested seeds to help to maintain the existence of these plants when nature and human development ultimately destroy this habitat.

We then had a three hour ride to Lonquen where Juan had hoped to deliver Christmas presents for Flo and her family but where we had been pursuaded to stay the night. We hope to take some better pictures for our Christmas E Cards later.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010 – Osorno to Santa Cruz

A very brief report to say that we ‘at up’ some 750 km today to run out of steam around the town of Santa Cruz on the Ruta del Vino. Juan and I are staying in the Merlot Room – they could not split the double bed in the Malbec Room and we do like ouir space. Cliff and John are in the Pinot Room. The whole place is like a museum full of wine themed antiques, but with a price to match.

No cactus stops today (2nd day running) although we did see some Echinopsis (Trichocereus) chiloensis on the hills along the road as soon as we left Ruta 5, some 160 km south of Santiago.

We have cooked up some ambituous plans for our remaining time in Chile and this includes showing John, who is still a Chilean cactus virgin, a wide selection of plants farther north with hopefully New Year’s celebrations in Taltal! We’ll see.

In the short term, we hope to see Echinopsis (Trichocereus) bolligeriana at Punta Lobos and Eriosyce aspillagea a bit farther north tomorow.

PS: It is not often that I add a postscript to a day’s Diary entry, but today is an exception. We were told at the hotel that there was a good restaurant on the plaza. A few years ago I joined Angie and her kids for a family Christmas in Cologne, Germany. Christmas Markets are a big thing in Germany. Well I can tell you that they are also big business in Chile and the advantage is that the weather allows you to walk around in shorts and shirt sleeves rather than wrapped up in umpteen layers of clothing.

I realised by now that I had been in Santa Cruz before and had bought a rather expensive artisan belt during a visit with Leo, Juan and Florencia in December 2007. In fact I was wearing the belt as I walked past the shop where I bought it! Today I bought two identical belts for a fraction of the cost on the market. This will test if my sons read my Diaries and as a result have some idea of what I got them as a Christmas present. There was also a wonderful statue of a horse, made out of gypsum that I know Angie would have loved, but when I tried to lift it, I realised that its weight was probably more than my total luggage allowance for the flight home, and so Juan took a picture of me holding the statue but I’m afraid that the statue stays in Chile.

The stall holders suggested that I should stay in Chile and send the horse to England. I suggested instead that Angie should come to a future Christmas market in Chile and personally admire the horse and be prepared to leave all her other luggage behind in order to take the horse statue home.  Again, time will tell……

Tuesday, 21 December 2010 – Esquel (Argentina) to Osorno (Chile)

Today is the longest / shortest day, depending on where in the world you are. or Cliff and I it is the sixth ‘longest day’ in a row, having spent the last three 21 Decembers in the southern hemisphere and celebrating 21 June in England. No regrets there, especially when we listen to tales of doom and gloom from the UK.

Our plan had been to spend our last night in Argentina tonight, in Villa La Angostura, but the roads out of Esquel were much better than we had dared to anticipate, so there we were, 2 p.m. and only 34 km from the Chilean border. We decided to do a bit of shopping to spend some of the last Argentinean Pesos, then did the usual battle with uana and Immigration. It all went very smoothly. We did have to empty the car at the Chilean SAG control, so that a totally disinterested dog could walk through our bags before we could load up again. Scenery wise too, this is the nicest pass I have used between Argentina and hile to date.

Just 33 pictures today – I was driving, otherwise I would have taken many more – just scenery, no cacti