Sunday, 17 November 2019 – around Taltal
With Ian and his Magnificent Seven now safely installed in Taltal, we had agreed to make a joined attempt at looking for a new location for C. krainziana, much more inland than our previous known locations.
We had already had a dummy run at this a few days ago, ‘dummy’ being the operative word, as we had discounted a very poor dirt track, with every risk of doing a ‘Cliff / Ian’ and getting cars stuck in the sand. We had therefore taken the wise (on hindsight) decision to take the next turn, on tarmac, turning into a salt road, sign posted for the VLT telescope at the Paranal Observatory . Showing no lack of imagination, the initials VLT stand for Very Large Telescope, which kind of sums up what it is. Needless to say, we did not see it or get there.
We stopped when the coordinates that we had been given for the C. krainziana spot started getting farther away. I took pictures looking at the four points of the compass and saw sand and hills – not a single plant in sight. This is the Atacama Desert at its most featureless and desolate, a place where you can imagine that if your car broke down, vultures would come and pick your bones clean!
With our crowd of 11 staring in disbelief at so much dryness, I suggested that we make a visit with the whole group to S3845, now S3860 – the Las Breas Copiapoa cinerea stop, where on 14 November, Al had complained of feeling claustrophobic at the number of Copiapoa crowding in on him!
John Bridgman complained that all that Ian W. had shown him so far were Copiapoa. Not quite true, but he did agree that feasting our eyes on so many plants was a magical experience. Sooner or later, even the most dedicated Copiapoa fan had taken all the pictures that they need back in the UK.
What’s next? Ian W suggested a climb to the radio masts at the top of Cerro Perales. Excellent idea! A climb (by car) from sea level to 1,084 m. altitude was a bit risky in one car, but with two Toyota RAV4 in support, Al relished the thought of a driving challenge. Our Suzuki had 4×4 capability while the RAV4s did not. So it was no surprise that we reached the top of the hill first, while Cliff in the first RAV4 decided to abandon their climb just before reaching the top as his wheels were spinning on the sand. Good H&S decission!
The plants, Ritter’s Copiapoa tenebrosa, the high altitude form of C. cinerea subsp. haseltoniana at Taltal, according to the New Cactus Lexicon, looked magnificent, with many heads in flower and the dryness emphasizing the spination, hard to match in European cultivation!
On the way back down, it was difficult to miss a group of ‘bulby things’, a John Carr expression from a few years ago, to be IDed back home (Ian Woolnough ID: genus Rhodophiala)
We returned to our hotels and around 17:00 descended on a newish restaurant, El Meson del Greko, near a former favourite, ‘Las Brisas’. Excellent food and drinks served by a couple of sisters from Sweden, of Chilean origin, who speak excellent English! Recommended!