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The Patagoniathon 2010 kicked off as planned with our departure from Lonquen at about 9:30.

The roads taken (Lonquen to Santiago ring road, past the airport, then R5 north, as for any regular Copiapoathon) until the turning east to Los Andes.

A fast dual carriage was got us into the mountains and when things slowed down a bit, as roads narrowed we made a brief stop to stretch our legs (S2076 – km 24, Los Espinos) and spotted a few Alstroemeria – a different sp. then encountered thus far on our travels. John was obviously more fired up and climbed through a fence to get closer pictures. Cliff was singing the praises of his new camera with incredible x30 optical zoom capability and claimed that he could almost count the anthers on the flowers some 50 meters away. Do check the lens for dust particles, Cliff!

The road climbed steeply and in places was covered by strong concrete sections not unlike a journey through the European Alps. Another leg stretch stop (S2077) and a chance to point zoom lenses at Eriosyce aurata on the opposite side of the valley. A fast flowing river made it impossible to get closer.

Then another example of the chaotic and pointless bureaucracy that is border control. It’s not just so here between Chile and Argentina, just take a look through past Diaries about the problems we have experienced trying to get ourselves and our cars in and out of Mexico / USA!

Things were not helped by the fact that there seemed to be a customs strike in progress that fortunately seemed to affect trucks and lorries only.  As usual we were passed from pillar to post – or kiosk to kiosk to be more precise, before a smartly dressed uniformed lady smiled and told us ”That’s all!’  Nice thought, but she was wrong, as 20 km down the road, at a police checkpoint, we were told that one of the forms only had three instead of four stamps. This on a form generated by the Argentinean authorities themselves. We joined another (Argentinean) car to wait to hear what should happen and were soon joined by a queue of motorbikes and cars in the same predicament. The outcome was predictable: shrugs of shoulders and we were on our way, despite the missing stamp.

It was not far to Uspallata and we made one more stop, so as not to be embarrassingly early at the hotel. S2078 gave us tall Denmoza rhodacantha, including one specimen over 2 m. tall, two Maiheniopsis glomerata and one (dead) Echinopsis leucantha. We returned to the car happy with today’s photo catch except that John, who had chosen to explore on the north side of the road, had not found any cacti at all.

We found Hotel Gran Uspallata without trouble on the outskirts of town. We’ll stay here two nights and hope that tomorrow we’ll be joined by Guillermo Rivera and a bus full of enthusiasts on his Patagonia Expedition. The passengers should include friends from Europe, so this should prove an interesting re-union! Perhaps a challenge to the annual ELK event in Belgium?

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