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The plan was for us to drive to La Serena and to get out again as quickly as possible, heading north and filling up with motion lotion at km 9 out of town. Wrong! On arrival we were told that petrol was due to be delivered at 16:00 hrs! So another 9 km drive back along R5 to the Copec there, fill up, then out again, each time passing a slow moving queue of traffic past the road works, with diggers and bulldozers setting the page.

We did not take long to reach the turning to Los Choros and to admire the scene at Juan Pablo Acosta’s first ever location – JA 001. Ritter reported finding Copiapoa pseudocoquimbana var armata ‘north of the Rio Choros. We were standing on hills to the south of it but it was hard to imagine how a usually dry river bed could be a barrier, separating ‘armata’ from ‘coquimbana’.  In the past we had always called these plants ‘coquimbana’ but a recent DNA study shows that it is different to the conventional ‘coquimbana’. Well, there were hundreds of Copiapoa here, most in full flowers – again very large in size, the name grandiflora would have fitted in that respect! There were some small ‘Copiapoa’ plants that had already flowered and bore fruit that clearly indicated that they were Eriosyce – E. simulans – close in appearance to the Copiapoa. It struck me after a while that there might be two Copiapoa growing here – one tuberculate at the apex, but turning to clear ribs lower down, and one that was ribbed from the apex down. Jonathan keyed out to plants and in both cases came up with ….. C. echinoides!

Reluctantly, we moved on from this cactus paradise, drove to Los Choros as headed off across the plain to roughly where I had tested the drone a few weeks earlier. Jonathan had brought along the paper copy of the user manual which proved very useful in swatting at the flies – here shaped like darts and aiming to stick the tips of the dart into any exposed bit of skin. They were very persistent and drove us back to the car from which we’d venture out to push a button or two before retreating back to Suzy the Suzuki. This time, after both the flying part and the controller had been on for some twenty minutes, the propellers were suddenly spinning. Hooray, we would fly at last! Another few steps on the checklist and it turned out that the control over the on-board camera was not working. It seemed that the number of flies had increased, waiting for a mass attack if we should emerge from the car. After some more failed attempts, we decided to abort today’s mission – no point flying the drone without the ability to film from above. Once again, there were time pressures – we wanted to get to Vallenar to meet Bart & Marijke.

We followed the track up the hill to where earlier we had decided to turn round. This time we progressed – past a herd of about a dozen guanaco. SatNav was happy that the track we were following would get us to Vallenar at around 18:00 hrs. That time became later and later as the track deteriorated.

The number of Cylindropuntia tunicate also went down. Eventually I found that the tyres balanced precariously on two bits of solid ground while the bit in between was getting wider and wider and deeper. Jonathan went ahead on foot to see if things would improve or not – they would not. Turn around was indicated – so we crawled back some 25 m + where the vegetation either side of the road suffered as I did a refresher course on a ‘n’ point turn. SatNav insisted that we should have persevered until we passed JA001 again. It then acknowledged that R5 was the smarter way home. ETA: 20:08. Pushing Suzy harder than usual (fine at 165 kph) we stopped in front of Hotel Atacama at 19:43, still (just) in day light. Bart & Marijke had already arrived and gone for dinner at the Club Social. By the time that we arrived, Marijke was on the edge of her seat as Uruguay were beating Chile 3-0. The atmosphere in the dining room was a bit like a wake, except for the waiter, who told us that he was from Peru.

We put the drone’s bits on charge and will attempt another flight tomorrow, this time along the coast in ‘Dealbata’ Country – weather (wind) permitting.

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