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Angie was sad to say ‘See you again in two year’s time’ while for me it was ‘I’ll be back in approximately two weeks time’. Rooms have been booked provisionally. Francisca is also keeping her eyes open for a Gringo from Bolivia arriving by bus or by bicycle – Brian Bates.

And so we set off for Chañaral. We had seen the devastation as we had driven through the town on our way to Taltal a week earlier, but had been assured to see that the Hosteria appeared to have survived the floods and mud flows in March; it even had a fresh coat of paint to make it stand out more on the entrance to town.

We decided to first visit the visitor’s centre in Pan de Azucar where Pablo had soon made contact with the rangers. He explained our two goals:

  • For Angie to see Smiler, not far away from Caleta Pan de Azucar
  • For Pablo to see the extent of Cylindropuntia tunicata infestation in the Las Lomitas area of the park.

It was agreed that Angie and I would manage our first objective on Saturday and that one of the rangers would ask permission to show us around Las Lomitas – a full day’s drive around the Parque along R5, to Ritter’s TL for C.columna-alba before heading into the park by-passing the barriers that had prevented us to enter on previous occasions, to achieve the second objective.

Today’s stops were

  • a short ‘leg-stretch’ at the (blocked) eastern entrance of the Parque
  • Copiapoa in flower and Thelocephala malleolata around the ranger’s office in Caleta Pan de Azucar
  • Devastation caused by the floods in Chañaral.

Knowing that the Hosteria Chañaral was open for business, we headed for our favourite alternative, Aqua Luna Hosteles. This had clearly received way too much ‘moon water’. The lower two floors had been gutted while there were still curtains at the top windows, rooms where we had slept on previous stays. Through the archway into what had used to be the car park, we could see mud piled up to a height of some two metres. Unbelievable! Very sad.

Amazingly, the Chinese restaurant across the street was still standing and seemingly still open for business!. Next to it, another building had weathered the storm and received a new lick of paint to make it stand out even more amongst the wreckage!

The sign on the building indicated that this was Hotel San Nicolas, but it looked deserted – a work-in-progress? Pablo went to investigate and returned triumphantly! They were open, but still without wifi and credit card facilities, but at a price too good to believe and inclusive of breakfast!

The next morning we added ‘no hot water’ to the list of minor defects, but when we mentioned this to the managares, she promised to fight with a problematic master switch to fix it. When we had finished breakfast, there was warmish water from the shower, but the toilet now refused to flush! Fawlty Towers springs to mind. I’m sure that by the time we leave on Monday morning we will have completed the guest QA check list.

These people had never run a hotel in their lives. They had been very well to do, owning a mine and a fleet of trucks, all destroyed by the floods – 2 days of just 20 mm of rain per day in March! ‘I bought expensive shoes, wore them once, then bought another pair. We lost everything and had to start again with money borrowed from the bank. Now they employ a few local people to help with cleaning and 24 hour reception duties. The Chinese next door provides the eating facilities.

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