Apologies first of all to all perfectionists for the usual typos in yesterday’s missive – some people only read my entries to have a laugh at the spelling mistakes. The point is, that none would ever reach the light of day if perfection is what the aim is.
What a day! Great to be alive! We reported for breakfast at 8, and found ourselves to be the second couple to do so, to be met by a buffet breakfast laid out for hundreds. Lovely food and in plentiful supply. We can thoroughly recommend the Hosteria Copihue in Olmue..
Around 9:15 we arrived at the Weisser homestead where we took pictures of what was left of the cactus patch, a stand of ceroids that on close inspection contained Eulychnia and Trichocereus that Pablo and Hans Lembcke had collected during their travels in the 1950s and 60s. Some of the Eulychnia were coming into bud which revealed them to be E. breviflora. Those not in bud were more difficult to ID but if I was to hazard a guess, the procumbent plants were E castanea. There was also a small (considering its age) plant that I assume to be E. barquitensis. It looks almost identical to a plant from Bill Maddams’ collection under that name. The stems are thinner than those of E. saintpiana and they branch from the base. The hairy areoles clearly indicate an affinity with the E. iquiquensis group.
Another member of the Weisser family, Kurt, arrived to connect Pablo’s laptop to the internet. Kurt is also the historian in the family and had been busy copying the family scrap book onto his computer. Pablo leaved through the scrapbooks and came up with a page dating back to the sixties showing a Hans Lembcke watering the same stand of ceroids that we were looking at.
Around midday we set off to another quebrada, the Cajon Grande where the Weisser family had owned land. The valley offered a great view of La Campana, the bell shaped mountain (you do have to use your imagination to see it as a bell) that dominates the landscape.
Pablo was amazed at the amount of housing that had been added since his last visit tome years ago. He was looking for the distinct shape of the Ritter residence and explained the aspect that offered a magnificent view on La Campana. Why did he settle here? Apparently he saw an end to his travelling lifestyle and wanted a place to settle down to start developing his many years’ worth of rough notes. Olmue offered a tranquil location with a comfortable climate without the extreme conditions favoured by the cacti that he had studied. Everything looked very lush and green but, as we were to learn later, this was not the usual scenery but again the result of the current El Ninjo event, after seven years of draught.
Pablo guided us down a track that eventually lead us to some fog nets, where we parked the car. I had not expected to see fog nets here – they turned out to be netting put up behind one of the goals on the local football pitch where the local team (Ritter United FC?) were playing to an audience of about 20.
Pablo was still unable to spot the Ritter house but thought that the aspect where we were standing was not right. And so we went down a steep footpath that followed an 8ft high wire mesh fence that clearly marked the parcellas of the new housing that had mushroomed here. We stopped every few hundred meters as Pablo again came face to face with plants that he had studied as a youngster. He described in detail the features of the various plants and pointed out those that were native and those that were foreign imports. Of these the Californian Poppy with bright orange flowers, were to most obvious – I was tempted to declare it the Dutch national flower!
We could hear some people working in one of the gardens and Pablo called for their attention. The ability to chat to the locals in their own language is invaluable on such trips and Pablo is a master at this. He told the man and later his elderly father how his (Pablo’s) father had owned much of this land and that we were looking for a particular house where from c 1965 and 1973 a German by the name of Ritter had lived, next to another house where another German couple raised chickens and looked after Herr Ritter’s plants during his long periods of absence while exploring for cacti all over South America. The old boy seemed to remember bits of what Pablo had told him and pointed us down a narrow track along a stream. More fences eventually blocked the path and Pablo (aged 74) took to bouncing over the large boulders in the stream until Angie ended up standing up to her ankles in water. Our rucksacks and two heavy cameras each were just not practical for this kind of hike. Pablo agreed to carry on by himself while we would make our way back to the car park, enjoying a bit more photography of the wild flowers. Pablo can look forward to receiving numerous images of wildflowers once we are back home, with requests for IDs. Once identified I will update these pages with the images.
We got back to the car and waited patiently for Pablo’s return which he had estimated at around 15:00 hrs. ‘No chance’ Angie and I agreed, as he would have to climb over fences and wind his way up the hill back to the football pitch once his search had been completed. We dozed in the heat and at 15:05 were woken by the claxon of a bright blue jeep pulled up to the bumper of our car. There, in the passenger seat, was Pablo with a huge smile on his face. He had crossed the stream a number of times, got scratched by patches of dense vegetation, climbed fences and walked through various gardens, all the time following his instincts based on how things were some 50 plus years ago, when he would have done all this on horseback. He eventually knocked on the door of a house that he thought was the one. The door was opened by a 12 year old boy who ran to get his mum. ‘There is a man at the door saying that he knew a man called Ritter, who used to live here!’ The lady of the house was Isobel. After a brief chat, Pablo had confirmed that this was indeed the house and then explained that he needed to get his fellow travellers. He hitched a ride from the local passer-by in the blue jeep who then guided us back to the entrance to the property that was invisible from the road. Indeed, there had been no road in Ritter’s day!
Isobel treated us to a welcome glass of water in what was a very comfortable house. She was an architect by trade, married to a German, Thomas, who is an MD and works in the main hospital in Santiago, two and a half hours drive away. Pablo was allowed to take us round the garden and looked for evidence of some of Ritter’s plant collection. All that could be found were a number of large Trichocereus chilensis stands and a ‘wall’ of Cylindropuntia subulata. It could be that smaller cacti were hiding below the carpet of Californian poppies, although it is likely that they could not survive the competition over the years.
And so, on the second day of our trip to Chile, we found ourselves standing in what had been Ritter’s bedroom / study, with a window that overlooked the Cajon Grande towards La Campana. The German connection had been everywhere around – we had even passed a restaurant called Schwarzwald! He must have felt home-away-from-home. The room was now used as a spare room and study, where on Isobel’s desktop computer, she was showing us photographs of the same room when they had bought the place. A magic moment!
We exchanged contact details and invites to drop by each other’s places when ever we would visit Chile or if they should visit England. We live close to Stonehenge, the ideal project for an architect to design the finished product!
We dropped Pablo off at his lodgings and enjoyed a Pisco Sour and a nice meal at the Hosteria before dropping off to sleep, with the room lit by the lights of laptops, camera batteries and drone chargers flashing. Just imagine what Ritter could have done with laptops, GPSs and drones!
Tomorrow we head north, already with some huge ticks in the boxes alongside the aims of trip.