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This was going to be a calm rest day, to use up the spare day in Angie’s itinerary. What better way to spend the morning than to take more pictures of the flowering cacti on the rocks of the Pacific coast at Pichidangui? It would have been better if there had been a bit more sun. We also tried to find the lenscap to Angie’s Nikon Coolpix 8800, that had fallen through the hole in the pocket of her fleece during our previous visit. By late morning even we die-hard cactophiles needed a change of scenery and went on a drive through the Quilimari Valley. We had been through here before and increasingly had found signs of agricultural development with vineyards appearing on the hill. But things here were very dry – no water in the dried riverbed and apparently failed vines on the hill. At one point, the road used to ford the river and herons would stand guard as we drove through, ensuring that we did not steal their fish and frogs. That was in the past. Now the ford was dry and no waterbirds to be seen.

We reached the Embalse Culimo. I did not recall seeing the dam before. Clearly the intention had been to build up a reserve of water to provide a constant supply for irrigation. But the reservoir too was bone dry.

The plentyful Echinopsis (Trichocereus) chiloensis were in flower, but quite a few looked less happy, showing signs of heavy infection of the parasite Tristerix aphyllus. Time will tell if nature can recover here. Today, it all looked rather sad!

The loop returned to R5, at Los Vilos and we decided to have afternoon tea at the beach. In fact, I settled on coffee and some shellfish empanadas – all very civilised. No doubt the weeks to come would involve more cactus explorations.

Back in Pichidangui the streets were as crowded as they had been for New Years Eve; what was going on? It turned out that today was a public holiday – Reformation Day and that tomorrow, there was another: All Saints Day. And so the Chileans had come out to play – crowding into their holiday homes, as Pichidangui’s recent growth is mainly due to holiday homes for the better-off inhabitants of Santiago. Better go to dinner a bit earlier, as yesterday the restaurant had been full up by 8 p.m.

As we sat and enjoyed our last meal together in the newly discovered Restaurant Nautilus, news came on the always-on TV that there had been an earthquake of 6.4 on the Richter Scale near Coquimbo with the epicentre in Guanaqueros, where Angie and I had stayed earlier for our first night in Chile and where Jonathan Clark and I are planning to stay next Saturday, meeting up with Bart & Marijke Hensel. A quick look on the internet reveals that Coquimbo had experienced another similar earth quake during the last 7 days and a total of 14 in the past year, all around magnitude 6.

This one was at a depth of 29 km but the earlier ones had been at 55 km depth. Check out http://www.earthquaketrack.com for details.

According to the waiter, there were no fatalities or major damage. Traffic on R5 was busy according TV images.

As the sun went down, the fishingboats in the bay put their lights on. Are earthquakes not commonly followed by Tsunamis? We are staying in a prime potential tsunami area. The earlier quakes had no tsunamis reported, so we’ll assume the same this time, unless we hear otherwise. No tsunamis are expected according to the news, but coastal areas are keeping an eye out for any unusual signs.

Just now, the internet reports that earlier today buildings swayed in Santiago, but no details at this time. Earthquakes are very common in Chile and we’ve been in some before, notably the 2007 Tocopilla earthquake, when bouncing along the road in our 4x4s we had been unaware of what had happened until we drove into town. That time we drove on to Calama where we witnessed two more quite severe aftershocks – well, my fellow travellers did – I slept through it all.

We are watching CNN Chile, but apart from a regular mention reporting that it had happened, there’s nothing on, with the news focus on the national elections on 17 November,and the news that Barrick Gold has suspended its mining operation at Pascua Lama, but I’m not clear if there is any relationship between the two items or indeed the earthquake.

Tomorrow we drive to Santiago where we meet up with Jonathan Clark and where early Saturday morning, Angie flies back home to the UK.

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