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The advantage of another driving day is that there are not many pictures to process and not much to report. We had just enough time to detour back to Los Choros for a visit to the Penguin Colony islands, but it was a fair drive without any guarantee that the weather would be good enough for the pangas to make the sailing. As we approached the the Eriosyce riparia population, it was decision time, turn west to Punta Choros or continue south to La Serena and then head east to Vicuna, along the Rio Elqui. We decided on the latter, as the clouds were very low and the waves on the beach later at La Serena looked rough enough to justify our decision.

We fought our way through the traffic in La Serena and were struck by the amount of graffiti plastered over buildings and statues. Another social comment!

We had stopped at the Copec just before La Serena where lunch was another hotdog at the Pronto – yumyum!

And so on the 41 where due to building and agriculture there were no obvious opportunities for stops for Eriosyce, Eulychnia acida and Echinopsis chiloensis.

By the time that we reached the Embalsa Puclara, we were ready for a leg stretch. Things had changed dramatically since my first visit in 2001, when we were free to walk over the hillsides and found nice Eriosyce senilis, including a crested plants. There was more water in the reservoir than I have seen for a long time and the formal mirador (viewpoint) now has a range of tourist shops including one that sold me two plant pots made of cactus wood that are coming home to England.

We arrived at the Hosteria Vicuna which had rooms for two nights, wifi and the same waiter who recognised me from previous stays. We then filled the afternoon by driving into the Andean foothills to the town of Pisco Elqui and visited the Distillery center where of course Ian and I had a Pisco Sour – a special one for Ian T.

The meal was not of the usual high standard (and price) of previous occasions, but was delivered with Fawlty Towers type charm. Al even managed to persuade the staff to wash our car to make it look more respectable before we return it to Andres, but that is before we drive to the Argentine border and over the hills to Hurtardo – not yet tarmac roads as I remember! Still, at least the top layer of dirt will be taken off!

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