Well, to be accurate, we went as far as the customs post on the border with Argentina; the actual pass and border lies in Argentina, some 100 km farther along. Checking on Wikipedia I learned that plans are approved for a three bore tunnel to be built that will ensure that the pass can be open all year round. The project may be ready by 2027!
We made our first stop (S3869) near the gate to Fundo El Calvario, where the road crosses what used to be a fast flowing river, where Eriosyce (Pyrrhocactus) eriosyzoides used to grow. The stream was now bone dry and seemed to have been so for a while, but this may simply be a case of the water being diverted, as a bit farther along the river was full with fresh melt water. There was some snow on the mountain tops but not as much as in past years. Al walked along the dry riverbed a bit farther and shouted excitedly that he had found a globular cactus. The spination was darker than I had seen on E. eriosyzoides in the past, but I don’t know how variable the spine colour can be or what else is supposed to grow here.
We drove on the the border control but sadly the road to El Indio was closed, so that we could not go to Cumulopuntia grandiflora that grows along that track.
Plenty of time for the journey back, so we kept our eyes peeled for more golden spined plants on the rocks. There had been lots of places in the past where lots of plants would tumble down the hillside, but over the years we saw roadworks destroy these. The benefit of a smooth faster road is a plus point although it makes plant spotting from the car quite a bit more risky as trucks come speeding round tight corners at around 100 kph!
I am so pleased with my 300mm zoomlens as little blobs on the hills could be confirmed as E. eriosyzoides and cropped to useful size for next year’s talks.
Back in Vicuna, Al and Ian asked to see the ‘Cactus Shop’ that we first visited in 2001. This time no huge Eriosyce aurata from nature for sale, but there were three nice Eriosyce eriosyzoides potted up (in the bottom half of 2 litre cola bottles). Priced at the equivalent of £10 each it was one of those moments where you swallow hard and forget the temptation of buying one to bring back to the UK. Our friend would only go back the next day to collect a fresh one from nature to replace his sale.
Tonight we’ll walk into the town to eat and do some sightseeing!