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Yes, the original plan had been to stay the night in Ovalle and from there head to Pichidangui, my traditional first and last stop in a Chile trip but we arrived in Ovalle around 16:00 hrs so worked out (still without my trusted SatNav that we could be at Hotel Rosa Nautica by 19:00 and still enjoy a hot-dog at Los Vilos.

So what did we do for the rest of the day?

S3872 started as we crossed the very long single lane bridge from Vicuna to the main La Serena to Argentina border. Yesterday and the day before Al and Ian had uttered enthusiastic oohs and aahs at the spine length of the Echinopsis/Trichocereus species (E. chiloensis) in the valley of the Rio Elqui

Even before we reached S3873 we started to see large Golden Balls, Victoria Beckham’s nickname for her husband David.

I looked around the hillside and nominated a large E. aurata that turned out to be in flower once I got to it. The substrate here is medium sized stones that are keen to continue their journey down the hill side once humans step on them. With bad knees and hips and a sore back, my back muscles were soon in spasm so that it was a slow journey to the second nominated plant and from there to the third and so on. Al seemed to just skip along from one plant to the next while Angie looked for old favourites from previous visits to take their pictures. After quite a while and only having taken pictures of some 4 plants i decided that a better option for me was to return to the car and take more images from the backseat, through the window.

S3874 is for images as we drove through the Vade de Morrillos to Seron, through the densest stands of Trichocereus chiloensis that I know off. Particularly when a telephoto zoom lens is used to foreshorten the stems, the effect is impressive. It seems that due to the dryness the spines had kept growing while stems were thinner through water loss. Al also found some Eriosyce, probably Neoporteria sp., where the spines had grown inwards to protect the plant from the brightest sun and reduce water loss through evaporation. The sun was just at the correct angle in the sky to produce some great pictures. I tried uploading some of these but again, the band with of the WiFi facility was too low for three cactophiles to perform such technical trickery.

The drive to Ovalle, where we intended to stay the night, was longer than I remember and we could easily have gotten lost in Ovalle at rush hour. So the sign ‘Santiago – 365 km’ pointing towards Ruta 5 was a great incentive to change our goal to Pichidangui (and a Hot Dog at the Copec near Los Vilos).

He had dinner in Restaurant Pichidangui, where in 2009 (?) a bunch of us celebrated the New Year with a meal and Pisco Sours, the promenade crowded with Argentinians enjoying their annual break at the seaside and a firework display over the bay that put many displays from international capitals to shame.

I finish today’s report with a thank you to Al for a hard driving day through the mountains, on slippery gravel tracks. Well done!

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