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Archive for January, 2011

Back home

A faithful reader, Ian, reminded me today that the Diaries currently end abruptly on 3 January 2011 in Vallenar. Were we OK, did we arrve home safely?

Sorry folks. Yes, we are all safe and well and arrived back in the UK after a completely unremarkable journey from Vallenar. In brief:

4 January: Drive from Vallenar to Lonquen. We were still a bit concerned as we were on 3 dodgy tyres plas a risky spare, unable to find replacement tyres of the correct size. We were a bt more confident after the rubber had behaved itself yesterday, so Cliff pushed the self exposed max speed up to 100-120 km.

I took pictures from the car window of the Eulychnia mainly from between Vallenar to La Higuera, just before the Cuesta Buenos Aires. Were these E. acida or E. breviflora? Particularly as we got stuck behind small convoys of trucks and busses, which brought our speed down to c 80 km.p.hr. it was possible to distinguish ceroids with lateral buds/flowers/fruits (i.e. E. acida) from E. breviflora with its large, woolly honey coloured hypanthia. The poor quality of the images shot on the move mean that they are extremely unlike to ever appear in a talk or publication, but they help to confirm that E. acida is the prominent Eulychnia inland, as R5 heads south from Vallenar, but that it is replaced somewhere between El Trapiche and La Higuera by E. breviflora as R5 turns towards the coast. Juan reports observations from his previous trips that E. breviflora is the common Eulychnia in Quebrada Honda. Yet, above Los Hornos at our regular leg stretch stop, E. acida is the prominent Eulychnia, with just the odd E. breviflora found. All these images are recorded as S2195 and this is the last stop number of these trips.  We started at S1894 on 9 October 2010, so I make that 301 photostops.

We arrive back at Lonquen around 6 pm and by 8 sit down for a meal at the local Chinese restaurant.

5 January: a rest and packing day when I start logging all the Stops into my access database. When the day starts to cool down a bit (Lonquen in January is a hot place) Juan and I go and get the car washed. Unbelievable that this gleaming white car that drives away from the car wash is the same as the filthy dust covered car (inside and out) that has been our home for the last 89 days.

The punctures are more a natural consequence of driving 23,180 km then a defect of our vehicle. Although we had mainly used national highways, such as Ruta 5 in Chile and Ruta Nacional 3 and RN 40 in Argentina, the Argentinian roads can be very variable in quality, changing from smooth asphalt to long stretches (100s of km) of gravel roads with some poorly maintained stretches catching out the driver.

We went out to eat at a local Chilean Steak House and then dropped John off at Santiago Airport, around midnight. John’s flight was due to leave at 7:00 a.m. the next morning, which meant a 4 a.m. check in or a 3:15 departure from Lonquen if we were to drop him off. We were very happy when John suggested that we’d drop him off around midnight so that the rest of us could enjoy a good night’s sleep. He reports that he slept well on the airport benches.

6 January: Cliff and I are due to leave around 8 p.m. Cliff is on a flight departing some 20 minutes earlier than mine. In Madrid we will join the same flight to Heathrow IF flights depart and arrive on time. After some haggling with airport officials I manage to get myself transferred to Cliff’s flight.  We leave Santiago exactly on time and arrive at Madrid ten minutes earlier than scheduled, easily making the connection to our flight to Heathrow.

We had joked about all the snow and ice that Europe experienced while we were sunning ourselves in South America but could this weather prevent Angie and Cliff’s daugthers from picking us up for the ride home?  Fortunately the temperature rose a few days earlier and there is no trace left of the snow and ice.

Let’s hope that these roads are still clear on 3 February, when I leave from Heathrow for some two and a half months in California and Mexico. The Cactus Trip Diaries will continue again on 3 February.

Monday, 3 January, 2011 – Taltal to Vallenar

Not much to report; we made it safely through (roughly) the first half of our journey home. The road builders had performed miracles on the work to turn R5 into a dual carriage way from Caldera to Copiapó. The extra width was not yet available, but looked to be ready any day soon.

Some 5 km out of Copiapó we were directed onto the new Copiapó  by-pass that went through a virgin piece of desert to meet up again with R5 some 20 km south of R5. The road was as smooth as a baby’s bottom, but John still kept the speed down to be on the safe side.

Tomorrow is the last stretch to Lonquen.

Sunday, 2 January, 2011 – in Taltal

Today can best be described as another Cactus Explorer’s Admin Day.

Top priority was to track down a vulcanisation tire fixer to fix the tire. Eventually we found one, who was recovering from a hangover. is friend offered to open up for him and take the tire off the wheel. We thought it best not to hold a match too close to this gentleman. We found the hole, but also ‘the next potential hole’ – a cut along the wall of the tire and asked for a ‘just in case’ patch to be put there too.

The actual patching surgery was performed by the man himself. We left with his warning to only use this tire as our spare. Great! Now we had three tires like that!

The rest of the day was spent updating Diaries, sorting pictures, watching TV and dozing.

At 8 p.m. we went for our last planned meal at Club Taltal where we were joined by Elizabeth and Norbert Sarnes from Germany for a great evening of cactus talk. We look forward to continuing the conversation at E.L.K. in September.

We have c 1,200 km to drive to Lonquen over the next two days, sticking to R5 and to speeds of 80-90 km.p.hr.

Saturday, 1 January, 2011 – Around Taltal

Less than 12 hours into 2011 and we picked up another puncture! Not a good omen for the new year!

We had decided that it would be OK to give the car some gentle exercise by taking the Taltal to Cifuncho coast road to show John some nice views of Taltal and to show him Copiapoa desertorum and Thelocephala weisseri.

We stopped just past Bahia Isla Blanca (S2194) as the first cacti – Copiapoa columna-alba – appeared on either side of the road. We wondered if Eriosyce occulta might grow here. We did not find any, but that does not mean that they do not. ‘Occulta’ means ‘hidden’ and few cacti are better at playing hide-and-seek when not in flower. We did however find a few plants of C. taltalensis, not at their best. The C. columna-alba added a few more pictures in the ‘Cactus with Ocean background’ category.

At the Playa Los Dos Amigos we decided to follow the good quality gravel track along the coast for some unexpected exploring. But before we could reach the end of the track, Cliff, with his window open, reported a hissing noise and sure enough – the puncture.

Today is the first day that 1 January is a compulsory holiday in Chile, except for restaurants and hotels etc, so all Vulcanisation places are shut, leaving us to again catch up on Cactus Explorer’s Admin. And that included a phone call with Angie at the Hotel.

We had established that most places would be shut today, but Club Taltal had said that they would be open for lunch until c. 17:00 hrs. We were there around 14:00, but they were closed. Fortunately Las Brisas was open and the new Peruvian waitress was rushed off her feet. We timed our arrival just right – thirty minutes later and people were waiting outside in their cars until a table became available.

Nothing wrong with having dinner during the afternoon! Except – what do you do in the evening. We took a stroll into town in the hope to find somewhere to at least have a beer, but everything was closed. Back on Capt. Arturo Pratt (aka Taltal High Street) two policemen seemed to be trying to help a tourist couple with the same challenge. We walked over, keen to learn their advice. Juan was the first to recognise the couple: Elizabeth and Norbert Sarnes from Germany, whose Patagonia presentation we had enjoyed at ELK 2010.

The policemen could not help, so in desperation the six of us returned to the Plaza where at least the kiosk was selling Coca Cola and Sprites plus crisps, Duritos etc. An amazing 4 bottles each! A whole evening of mainly cactus related chat and without a drop of alcohol to pass our lips! It is possible!

Saturday, 1 January, 2011 – Taltal New Year’s Celebrations

After New Year’s Eve in Pichidangui 2007/2008, I had high expectations for New Year’s Eve in Taltal.

Not knowing what to expect, we had made some advanced enquiries – first at Club Taltal where we had learned that the fireworks would be set off at midnight on the hill above ‘the Taltal Flyer’, the little steam loco and two carriages that remain as a memorial to the local railway service. To be able to join in with the festivities, the staff explained that they would open thirty minutes earlier than usual at 19:30! And close at 21:00. Great, we would not be hungry leaving 2010.

We turned up at 19:45 but everything was still shut. We looked at other options: Las Brisas, the fish restaurant at the end of town was closed; Las Brasas, the ‘new’ find tried on 30 December had said that they would be closed and only re-open on 4 January. The new ‘sometimes open’ restaurant opposite Hotel Plaza had its doors open  but all the chairs were stacked on top of the tables, suggesting ‘closed’. Not keen on a rumbling stomach New Year’s Eve we walked back towards the square and were very pleased to see the staff of Club Taltal turn the corner to open the restaurant at their regular time of 20:00 – the routine is just too deeply ingrained.

It was only 22:00 hrs as we left, fully fed and watered (wined) when we were back on the Plaza – the ONLY people on the Plaza – where was everybody? We decided to go back to the Hotel where I promptly fell asleep.

Juan was good enough to wake me at 23:30 and within minutes the four of us were walking towards the Taltal Flyer. The streets were still empty, but there were now Guy Fawkes type dummies along the road – either stuck on small bikes, too small for previous owners or on stakes with very surprised looks on their faces. The UK has a tradition to do something similar on 5th November – Fireworks Night – when dummies of Frenchman Guy Fawkes are set on fire to commemorate his attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605 as part of The Gunpowder Plot.

We reached the Taltal Flyer and stood around with twenty or so other people who, prompted by their mobile phones, suddenly started to kiss each other and wishing each other Feliz Nuevo Año!

And that was that. We walked back over the Plaza, but apart from a dozen policeman hugging each other as they passed on best wishes to each other.

Back at the Hotel there was a family party in progress. I went to bed and went straight to sleep again. Others complained that the party went on until early in the morning.

Happy New Year everyone!