A pre-breakfast weather check showed Cerro Perales shrouded in cloud. Not good to drive through to the top, even if there the sun was shining.
Plan B was to drive to Las Breas and fly the drone over the Copiapoa cinerea.
As we drove off after breakfast, Cerro Perales was now completely clear! So back to Plan A. As usual, it took a while to find our way through the warren of tracks to get to the exact start point of the track to leads to the top. We had already checked through Brian with Osvaldo Chavez that the track was passable; no problems reported and so we arrived in full sunshine, looking down on clouds to the north in the direction of Paposo.
At the top we went through some stretch exercises before starting today’s challenge, descending down to a population of Copiapoa krainziana that Bart had found, just 330 m from the top, in 2013. Sounds trivial, but there were no tracks or paths to guide you down, just gravity, on a surface that was still bedding down after floods and rumbles, so that every step was liable to get you down a lot faster than planned. At 6ft 4″ my centre of gravity is not designed for such descends and after cataract operations in 2006 I struggle with descends in general but needs must! Before long the others had disappeared from view, popping up from behind distant rocks to point me in the right direction. My thighs clearly had not received the right training for such work and began to hurt and at times just refused to do as told. As my head popped over the top of yet another small crest I could see Bart and Jonathan bent over, taking photographs next to a huge rock that I firmly printed into my memory. ‘We have found the first plants already!’ they shouted. On previous trips, with Leo van der Hoeven, he had a theory that the best plants always grow at the top, so as we had started at the top, these must be the best plants! It still took me a good 20 minutes to reach the rock and to be disappointed ‘just’ more huge lumps of Copiapoa tenebrosa. I took another step forward and there they were, a dozen or more plants of C. krainziana, beautifully shaped and draped as soft grey-white cushions over the sharp rocks. I could see Brian some way off to my left, sitting down. ‘Are you OK?’ I shouted. ‘Fine!’ came the reply, ‘just having a Condor moment.’ referring to the cigar advert from decades ago.
I decided to spent some more time in attempt to get the best pictures possible of these wonderful plants and then, knowing that it would take me longer than the others, started the journey back. Going up hill is a lot easier for my built & vision, but the strain on different leg muscles is still great and my back was also having a moan at my antics. We should do these things when we are young and fit, when our lifestyles demand that we chase members of the opposite sex rather than cacti up hills.
I got back first, exhausted. Jonathan had done very well keeping up with Bart and they had gone much farther and seen many more krainziana than I had.
Brian had managed to hurt his toe and limped back last – worn out sandals are just not the most sensible climbing footwear.
It was still before 3 so there was time left for Plan B. I had been to the Las Breas site with Angie and Pablo a few weeks earlier and had been disappointed by the number of cinerea that had been destroyed. Bart took up up a different track and once again we were in a sea of plants, ideal for a drone flight. The pre-flight checks went smoothly, contact with the camera was established and to loud cheers and the clicking of cameras PKDrone took off. It made two flights and then we raced back to the hotel to look at the images, but not before joining Bart & Marieke in a celebration bottle of wine.
At the hotel, we discovered a flaw in our pre-flight check: not only do we need to establish contact between the control unit and the camera in the drone – you also have to remember to press the ‘record button’, something that we failed to do.
I’ve worked out that we should have time for another go on the way back from Tocopilla, weather permitting. AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!