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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.

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