Today was the longest day’s driving on what poses as a ‘plan’. We left at about 10 in the morning and arrived at Hotel Plaza, Taltal at 17:00 – we’re booked in for three days at about half the price of the Hosteria in Vallenar. Club Taltal is just around the corner and opens at 8 – hope they have a Pisco Sour ready for me!
So today’s impressions: Ruta five has become a lot faster now that sections of it are dual carriage way. Just stick in the fast lane and pass all those trucks that used to cause us to risks our lives in the past. At least with the power of the Dodge I could have taken a convoy of 5-6 trucks at the time – wow, is it powerful! But you can see the fuel gage go down when you put the hammer down, so as befits my age, I have set cruise control to 100 km.p.hr. (S2835 for images taken from the car as we drove on).
I have already mentioned that R5 is now a ‘corridor’ fenced off either side to make sure that future toll collectors know what they are responsible for. As a result, many familiar signs to turnings that we used to take in the past seem to have been lost. Or perhaps they are still there but the sign posts are not yet up, or instead of pointing to names, such as El Donkey and Totoral, they point to C- road numbers that I am not yet familiar with. We’ll find them in weeks to come I’m sure.
I intended to take the ‘new’ Copiapó by-pass that had only just been opened in 2010. I could not find the turning, until I realised that I was actually on it. It is now the default Ruta 5, with another road number allocated to the old road. So much for the folks who used to identify plant locations as ‘off R5, 20 km south of Copiapó – which Ruta 5?
So with the luxury of dual carriage ways, the tolls were introduced. I have made a note but from memory it adds another 10,000 pesos to the toll bill. Things go back to two lane hard top past Caldera, but the fence posts are up in places, so I think the river of asphalt is coming! We stopped as usual(S2836) at the monument of a Virgin overlooking the Ocean, south of Barquito. A sign invites motorists to honk their horn for good luck as they pass. As a result, we christened this spot ‘Hoot the Virgin’ – said with a strong Scottish accent. The statue of the Virgin seems to have fallen victim to vandals or a storm, and her shattered remains were scattered at the foot of the monument steps. The cactus at this stop was Copiapoa calderana, Ritter’s variety spinosior, ‘the spiny one’
At Chañaral they were working on the road right where the Guanaco statue indicates the turn to the Pan de Azucar NP. We had made good time so decided to take the scenic route through the park and put a tick next to Angie’s goals: a 2013 picture with Smiler, a Copiapoa column-alba that she has now photographed on four separate occasions. The clump of Thelocephala was still in place, near-by, as well (S2837).
The chain across the track to El Mirador had moved a lot closer to the view-point, but was too far to walk to this time. Signs suggest that Los Lomitas is accessible again – we’ll try in weeks to come.
Everything looked still very dry. The felted discs at the apex of the column-alba were very small, as though the plants were still at rest – perhaps in between El Niño years.
Not sure what is going on along the stretch of R1 from R5 into Taltal – major works on what looks like building some huge water reservoirs along the road. Are they expecting a dramatic increase in rainfall? Perhaps pump the town’s sewerage to the top of Mt Perales and then generate electricity as it runs through the concrete structures? A good part of the track to the top of Cerro Perales seems to be asphalt these days – again to be explored later.
Angie is waiting impatiently to go for a stroll and catch the new Taltal Church before sunset (S2838). More tomorrow, when a drive to Botija is on the schedule.
PS: The new church turned out to be a very attractive brick building: light, airy and modern on the inside, yet with some traditional statues to retain its history.
We were greeted like old friends by the brothers who run Club Taltal on an annual basis. It’s been a long time! one of them observed. Three years to be precise. Angie & I raised our glasses in a toast to absent friends, this time specifically for those whose voices from previous visits still echoed around the room. It was fun to remember every one and the year(s) of their attendance – quite a list of who is who!
Today’s photo stops: S2835 – R5, Vallenar to Caldera; S2836 – ‘Hoot the Virgin’ (Copiapoa calderana var. spinosior); S2837 – Pan de Azucar National Park: Smiler(Copiapoa cinerea ssp columna-alba); S2838 – Taltal Church