Greetings from Hotel Rocas de Bahia in Bahia Inglesa. After three nights in cheap accommodation we’re treating ourselves to a night of greater relative luxury, but as usual, at a cost. Bart & Marijke have the nice suite above the swimming pool but when we got our room (same price) it’s on floor 1 (below the swimming pool) just behind reception. The upside is that I have excellent wifi reception but that Jonathan (his turn for the large double tonight) on the other side of the room, is out of range.It was dark, dank & overcast this morning as we left San Fernando in Huasco. Past Carrizal Bajo, I put on the windscreen wipers and could not see a thing! Fortunately Marijke had bought Bart some windscreen cleaner (Bart said that he would buy her some vacuum cleaner bags in return) and this cut right through the grime & grease of the specks thrown up from oil / salt roads. I guess that these are rare events in Chile – almost like a light drizzle,but actually just a matter of driving through a cloud – fog. By the time that I thought to take some pictures of Eulychnia in the fog, spines heavy with water droplets, it was dry again.
We took the new coast road from Huasco to Caldera as this road is now just as fast as Ruta 5, which still has stretches under construction with hold ups, avoids R5 tolls and saves miles as it cuts off the corner past the town of Copiapó. Plus, there are hardly any places where you can’t pull off to look for plants. We had hoped to succeed where Angie & I had failed to find Thelocephala a few weeks ago.(this time S2901) I need to check how the places where we failed to find any Thelocephala that time compare to those in 2010 when it seemed that with random stops, we simply could not avoid these tiny plants, especially as they were in flower. This time, nothing!
We found a few clumps of Copiapoa echinoides, some massive Eulychnia acida and one single plant with a pretty, delicate flower that Jonathan has tentatively IDed as a Scrophulariaceae sp (?). How could such nice little plant survive on its own or was it the first of many to cover the ground once the time had come this year?
Once we reached R5 it was just a few minutes until we reached the side road next to the Caldera Copec – the track signposted to Mina San Jose – the mine that was the subject of 31 miners stuck underground for weeks on end in 2010 before they were famously brought back to the surface safely.
First Bart wanted to show us a location (S2902) that he had found last year for some Eriosyce – maybe E. kunzleri? E calderana? Tillandsia landbeckii and another Tillandsia were also found here.
This mine now seemed more famous than any of the other – still working safely without accidents – mines in the area. We had been back to the mine about a month after the rescues in 2010 when the left overs were guarded by ten policemen playing cards. Today the area had been tidied up – 31 flags to honour the miners, were stood on the hill and a monument stood at the entrance, but behind the monument a huge wall of earth blocked the view of the true entrance. A man and half a dozen dogs stood on guard. I drove up to him and in best Spenglish asked if this was the famous mine that I had seen in England? He shrugged his shoulders, perhaps jealous of all the intention his comrades had received. ‘Is there a museum?’ I asked half seriously and half mocking. This time a smile and a shrug – this man was no trainee tourist guide practicing how to make friends and influence people.
We took pictures, waved and were off, looking for an excellent location for C. megarhiza from 2010. Frankly the plants at this spot were a disappointment – very dehydrated, just tight short columns of impenetrable spines. How can one ID such plants, other than by location – C. megarhiza is the only Copiapoa reported from around here. Yesterday’s C. andina had also been very tightly spined and dry. How different were these plants? Very difficult to tell from such dehydrated plants. If C. andina is a subspecies of C. coquimbana, could it be that C. coquimbana and C. megarhiza are in fact the same species – C. coquimbana would have priority as the earlier name, with C. megarhiza as the tighter high altitude / farther inland / drier habitat form – like C. cinerea ssp cinerea and Ritter’s C. tenabrosa, like C. cinerea ssp. haseltonia and Ritter’s C. eramophila and like C. cinerea ssp columna-alba and Ritter’s C. melanohysterix? More study needed I think.