For Angie, the northern point of her trip was reached a few days ago, at Botija. Taltal was the most northern accommodation. Today we headed back south, always a sad occasion, as the km numbers along R5 decrease to zero at Santiago. But this time, we’ll carry on, south of Santiago, down into northern Patagonia! But not today!
I was sure that we passed a turning on R5 to Pan de Azùcar, Minas El Luces and Cifuncho, but decided that we had probably gone too far when we saw a sign for Pan de Azucar & Las Lomitas. That would do. We were hoping that this was the track that would lead to the Ritter TL for C. columna-alba, around the point where you head north for Secret Valley and the Guanillos and Tigrillo Valleys. However, I had my doubts, as SatNav (which was unfamiliar with all these names – but I’m teaching it!) showed that we were too far into the Atacama Region. Many of the tracks in Pan de Azùcar look the same, so it was not until we reached a junction, with a sign pointing North to Las Lomitas, that I got my bearings – too far south was confirmed. After a km or two another sign warned us that in 7 km the track was closed and sure enough there were formidable crash barriers across various potential side tracks and a truck-proof chain across the main track (S2849). Open between 10:00 and 14:00 hrs, the sign proclaimed. It was 11:00 – they had lied!
I remembered that in 2010, Juan Acosta had been able to contact a friend who had been a ranger in Pan de Azucar and still had some influence there. After some negotiation, he was told that before this main gate to Las Lomitas, there was a side track – apparently also blocked by a crash bar, but with a gap where a car could pass through (S2850).
Before too long we had found this track and off we went. This was in fact a pretty well maintained ripio track, putting me in fear of losing the remainder of my fillings as we shook, rattled and rolled along the track. The one downside of the Dodge is that on ripio tracks, it bounces along to such an extend that it is difficult to steer it at more than 30 km. p. hr. so that became our top speed here. We kept an eye on the clock as what ever time and distance we travelled, we needed to travel back as well. SatNav was completely lost, but did at least show me that we were far too far inland and descending at quite a rate which was wrong for Las Lomitas which is high above Planta Esmeralda. Should we go back to look for another track to the west? By now I was curious where this track would end up, so decided to follow it for another 20 minutes. This brought us to a nice patch of C. columna-alba and Angie asked for a photo stop (S2851). This became our turn-around point to be added to the Chain and other key locations to date in SatNavs Favourites Folder. The plants here looked a lot happier here than at the Smiler location a few days ago – much larger apical discs and evidence of recent flowering. Also a number of ‘seedlings’, small plants that at the local rate of growth might easily be 10 years or more of age. Eulychnia iquiquensis (‘saint-pieanna’) was still at rest – or were they dead? It was hard to tell!
Our time-budget spent, we wondered if we could find the gate back, over the numerous tracks that criss-crossed here. No problem.
We took the usual pictures as we left the Pan de Azucar NP – across the sands with the town of Chañaral in the background. It’s always too hazy to get a good image and this time was no exception. The petrol stations around Chañaral were the usual mess with trucks fighting for a spot at the pumps – next fuel north is at Antofagasta, some 250 km to go, as big trucks don’t want to squeeze through the streets of Taltal!
On the way to Caldera we stopped at some old familiar spots of C. calderana, (S2852) again, small discs, but quite a number in flower – was Spring on its way or were these the last attempts at sex before death took over? In 2003, I photographed a single Opuntia pad, leaning against a leaking pipeline, presumably carrying fresh water. This had now grown to quite a shrub and a small oasis of local flora had formed around it.
Another stop was at a pull-off towards the Ocean that was a tourist attraction for large rocks of Orbicular Granite, apparently a rare phenomenon. Jonathan, please note, we’ll pass it again in November.
We made it to the Hosteria Puerto del Sol in Caldera and again are staying in the ‘Cabañas’ that look like deformed wigwams. As always, there was a smell of disinfectant, polish and pesticides around the place – a bit like an English Cactophile’s collection before the plants are put to rest for winter.
Tomorrow we’ll follow the new coast road south to Huasco.
BTW: We are having fun & games trying to get the internet to work here in Caldera. In the fight to try to get things to work it seems that any email I have tried to send is firmly stuck in my out box – refusing to budge. Sorry, Brian, Florencia, Jonathan, Anne Hill, Rudolf and Tony B. respectively. None of the messages were critical. As for tonight’s missive, it’s been typed up in OpenOffice Text and will be cut & pasted to my WordPress Blog as soon as I can.