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Sorry for the brief silence; no internet services in the facilities in Los Choros. I’ll catch up later.

Today we set off without breakfast – well a few crackers with goat cheese, of which we have plenty, and a cup of coffee.

The weather was much the same as on the previous two days – low clouds and the phenomenon that our goat herders friends called the garûa. Wikipedia reports that garûa is a fog that is so clear that it poses no problem to visibility but so wet that drivers have to use their windscreen wipers (we did!), where as the camanchaca is clearly visible, or rather, reduces visibility. We decided to take the road back to R5 and drive along the Eriosyce ripparia site. As we joined R5 at Trapiche – a large new proper motorway junction, except that the safety rails had become undone and could have speared the car if I had been less awake. The stretch from La Serena to Vallenar had never been one of my favourites, except for the Cuesta Buena Vista where cars, stuck behind lorries snaked their way up and down the mountain side. The whole stretch was now dual carriage way which greatly reduced the comfort and speed of the journey as we no longer needed to dodge from behind lorries when a gap in the oncoming traffic appeared, to overtake as many as possible before it was best to seek the relative safety of our own lane again.

As a result we arrived at the old Vallenar cross-roads on R5 with the two petrol stations – Petrobas on the side heading north and Copec on the side heading south. In 2013 we had discovered a marvellous cake shop opposite the Copec Station where today we discovered they have expanded to also serve omelettes, burgers etc. As we had missed out on breakfast, we enjoyed topping up here. At these pit stops, Pablo tended to follow the ‘mean and lean’ traditions of his travels with Lembcke, when money had been very short. He still had some biscuits in the car so had a glass of water while joining a chap of his own age at a table for a chat. It turned out that this man had connections with Hotel Atacama on Serrano, near the Plaza. He gave them a ring and was able to confirm that he had booked two rooms, including breakfast at a discount, for significantly less money than Hosteria Vallenar where we normally stay.

The pavements around the hotel had been pulled up for renewal so the first impressions were of a rather run-down place, but once through the door we were in a well maintained clean courtyard, all within the recorded sound of the bells of the church in the Plaza. We decided to do our own thing, with Pablo taking a rest and checking his emails while Angie and I walked to the Plaza to see the preparations of festivities this weekend, milked the ATM and visited the electronics shop where in 2013, Jonathan had managed to get a charger for his 3D camera.   I had brought my Surface Pro3 along and asked in my best English if they had a charger that would fit my laptop. The three members of staff walked confidently to the part of the shop where all sorts of chargers were stored and displayed, looked at the socket on the Surface and then their faces dropped. I believe they were asking each other if any of them had seen anything like it!? With a sad expression they handed the machine back to me – ‘No, Sorry!’

I tried the advice received of how to get my emails on Angie’s laptop, only to be told that there had been suspicious activity on my account. They would send a text to my mobile phone (I have none) or to my home number in the UK – no body home – or take me to another page where they asked lots of info to verify my ID. It all felt very safe and moving in the right direction until I had completed the page and was told that it would take up to 24 hours for the verification process to be completed!

In desperation, I switched on my laptop which reported to have 8 hours of juice left. I quickly opened my emails only to find some 187 messages including loads from Brian Bates. I was expecting a message from him to say that his passport had arrived and that he was on his way to meet up tomorrow in Taltal. Most of his messages turned out to be his usual drivel as self appointed football pundit, on anything from no hope English  nth division teams to out bursts against the top teams in the league and their managers and anywhere else for that matter. They are often quite amusing and I even respond from time to time but with limited juice in the batteries, it’s tempting to adjust the spam filter, but would then also miss the important message that would enable us to meet up.

Angie and I cooled down with another walk to the Plaza and a litre of draft beer in our usual Pizza restaurant.

It had been much of a driving day today, so only Angie too images – from the car. It was difficult to spot the location for Eriosyce ripparia, but Angie believes that she spotted a turning off R5 that should take us to the site for an inspection on our next pass by. That time, I’ll make sure that the GPS coordinates are in the SatNav so that we can slow down in time. At least the area’s function as a heavy duty road building car park seemed over and at 120 km p. hr. it looked as though the ground had been returned to its original state. But would the plants still be there? Time will tell. Fingers crossed!

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