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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!

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