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Yes, I know, they are a little (a lot!) out of synch, but it will all fall into place in time.

The plan for today had been to climb in a panga and be taken to two of the islands (Isla Choros and Isla Damas) in the Penguin Biosphere Reserve, north of La Serena. Cabanas, shops and the boats taking paying guests were were all in resting mode after partying during the recent Halloween festivities and the excitement and tension of the recent civil unrest. Many Chileans seem to have stayed at home to protect their property (?). Ruta 5 was practically empty.

After a cold night we woke up to the sight of flags flapping in the wind – not what we wanted to see! When we arrived at the harbour it was confirmed: too windy to make the trip!

OK, so over to Plan B: show my compadres ‘my’ Eulychnia chorosensis. Even in the poor light and their dehydrated state, they still looked like interesting, attractive plants.

Some years ago, Angie & I risked driving from Punta Choros across a barely marked track on very soft sand, but in a Toyota Hilux built for such challenges, to Carrizalillo. Now this was very easy on a smooth newly tarmacked road that would put most UK roads to shame. We finally found a shop open where we could buy some chocolate to replace breakfast this time.

The top quality tarmac continued all the way to Domeyko. Our second stop today was 17 km before R5 at the site for Copiapoa domeykoensis, said to be a giant form of C. coquimbana, in the north of that plant’s distribution area.

We hit R5 at Domeyko and headed north for Vallenar, where we missed the turning to our favourite cake shop and ended up on the road to Huasco. Never mind – cake would have to wait until later!

At Maitencillo we turned left on the track to Ojo de Agua for the third stop today for Eriosyce thelocephala lembckei. It really was very dry and the Eulychnia, Copiapoa coquimbana and Miqueliopuntia looked like shadows of their former selves. No Thelocephala found, although I feel sure that they were there, buried in the sand, laughing at us. Perhaps a but farther along? We we passed a sign to El Mirrador, offering a magnificent view? but now over chicken farms! All the previous plants mentioned were found, but no T. lembckei. I could hear the cakes calling my name at the R5 cross roads, so we continued back. Ian requested a quick look at a very similar layby with all the usual suspects and after some searching he waved to the car and begged us over. He had found Thelocephala lembcki, as small and hidden as I have ever seen them. Well done, Ian! Once we had spotted one plant, some two dozen more were readily found, but it is that first plant that matters!

For the 6th stop of the day I wanted to take us to the traditional Eriosyce napina site in view of the monster power station that burns oil pellets and spreads cancer among the people of Huasco. This has always proved a popular spot but this time there were wooden poles wrapped in barbed wire that blocked the road and it seemed that office buildings at the power station were still smouldering having been burned down, presumably by rioters.

We decided not to hang around in case of trouble and returned to Vallenar where this time we successfully made Stop 7 of the day: the cake shop!

We’ll be here for two – three more days so you may get a few more Diary updates.

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