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Monday, 16 June 2003 – Taltal to ‘Secret Valley’ (near Esmeralda)

Ricardo and Rudolf had confirmed that the coast road from Taltal to Cifuncho was now passable again – it had come to an abrupt stop for many years, round about the point where Copiapoa rupestris ‘rubiflora’ is reported to grow. I wanted to see this plant, as I was a little sceptical about a ‘red flowered’ Copiapoa.

If you have any flowering size Copiapoa in your collection, you’ll observe that the bud is red in colour, yet when the flower opens, it is yellow on the inside. When the flowers close up at night, they can give the impression of being reddish in colour, as the red of the outside of the petals comes through. Clearly, if Copiapoa have the ability to produce red pigmentation for some part of the petals, then the extent of the red pigmentation can vary from plant to plant.

Having taken several wrong turnings in Taltal to get onto ‘the coast road’ (track), we made a stop (S0154) to look for cacti. We fanned out and reported back some 10 minutes later – not a very promising stop, with only Cliff having found some (mostly dead) C. rupestris plants.

So on to S0155 where to the west of the track we had more luck, finding quite a number of C. rupestris but, alas, none in flower, so that the question: ‘How red are the flowers of Copiapoa rubriflora?’ will remain a mystery for me for a while longer.

As we continued our journey, the track turned inland and the leaning stems of Copiapoa columna-alba appeared on the scene, beautiful plants growing on dark soil (see my comments for S0128 on 10 June) and worthy of a quick stop (S0156) and a picture. Our GPS indicated that we were indeed not far from S0128 and we kept the GPS running as we drove on, to find that this track did indeed take us to and past this previous stop.

We turned east on the Taltal – Cifuncho road, hoping to pick up the track south to Esmeralda a bit further along. As we reached the road from Taltal to Ruta 5 we realised that we should have turned west instead and so had to take the long way to Esmeralda, and on into the Guanillos Valley, where we had a lunch appointment with Rudolf, Leo, Ingrid, Ricardo, Peque and Frankie. Despite our poor navigation we were only 15 minutes late.(S0157). Where do you point the camera first? Take your pick from: Copiapoa longistaminea, C. grandiflora, C. esmeraldana and C. laui with C. longistaminea the only taxon in flower this time – in May 2001 all four were in flower at the same time and Marlon was seen running about the place following a small black bee that in turn visited flowers on all of these Copiapoa, making it more than likely that one of more of these taxa are natural hybrids. A mauve flower among the rocks revealed a small Eriosyce sp. (more reading to do! Anyone able to suggest a name?)

A closer look at the new growth on the Eulychnia revealed the wonderful white felted areoles that indicate Eulychnia saint-pieana, a name that certainly deserves to be retained for the hobbyists, although the botanists see it as the more widespread Eulychnia breviflora that does not always have this attractive feature. Unfortunately there was no seed on these ceroids as all the fruit had been found first by a borer insect.

Rudolf showed us a clump of C. longistaminea that is also pictured (from 1994) on page 93 of ‘Copiapoa in their Environment’ and duly posed for pictures standing next to the plant, a copy of the book in hand. It takes a little bit of mental agility to recognise the scenery, as the picture in the book displays a mirror image of what we saw.
Even the small dead clump to the right in the picture is still exactly as it was nine years ago!

Eventually we had feasted enough and moved on, as we had another appointment – with the late Alan Craig. Alan and Gwen had been to Chile on many occasions and in particular had enjoyed visiting the Guanillos Valley. So when Alan died in 2001, Gwen and friends decided to put up a small memorial on the beach at the mouth of the valley. I had promised Brendan Burke (one of the friends) that we’d drop by and say hello and we were glad to be able to keep our promise (S0158).

We had arranged to meet Rudolf and Leo for a night’s camping at the mouth of the Guanillos Valley, but arrangements had been a little vague and a group of Chilean sea weed harvesters had already taken up the best spot. So Benjy and I decided to take us to ‘Secret Valley’ (S0074) where we had camped in 2001. You won’t find this name on any map, as it was one of those location names that are created spontaneously during a field trip, in this case by Attila and Rudolf during their 1994 trip. It is not so secret these days as the GPS details were published in their book.

When we arrived I was amazed to see that time had stood still since 2001. The remains of our campfire were still as we had left them. At that time, Leo had put a large stem of Copiapoa columna-alba (these grow here in large numbers) on to the camp fire and Rudolf had taken its core temperature (21 C as I remember) as it went on to the fire and again, at the end of the night when we scrambled into our tents (same core temperature – indicating either the plant’s amazing ability to protect this critical part of its anatomy from the heat of the sun, or that Rudolf needs to get a new thermometer …☺). The remains of the stem looked exactly the way we had left it two years earlier – without obvious signs of decay. Tents were put up, dead Eulychnia wood gathered and pictures taken of our plant-companions for the night. As we were lighting the fire, Rudolf and Leo arrived, having guessed that we would make for Secret Valley.

We enjoyed another great night, this time perhaps being a bit more careful during late night calls of nature, as meeting a small C. ahremephiana (at Botija) is one thing, but tripping over a 100 cm stem of C. columna-alba is quite another!

 

Sunday 15 June 2003 – Taltal: Mt. Perales and beyond

I was a little concerned when I got up. A peek through the window revealed a bright sunny day. I walked outside and took a look inland – not a cloud in the sky. Ah well, the weather can change and clouds may drift in by the time we get to the top of the hill.

We had the usual quick breakfast, a couple of rolls with slices of cheese. One feature of the fridge in our cabana was that although it had various temperature settings, the result was the same – very cold. As a result, Angie would spend a few minutes with her hair dryer to defrost the cheese so that the slices could be pulled apart, while I made the coffee.

We made one stop (S0150) along the track about half way up the hill and saw Copiapoa cinerea and its forms Copiapoa haseltoniana and C. tenebrosa. The track had not improved during the last two years and the silence all round us was only broken by the noise of the Nissan coming up the hill. It had a metal plate that acted as a guard to protect the oil sump etc from damage from
stones and boulders and should be held in place by four nuts & bolts. It was now only held on by one and as a result, the sump guard scraped along the track, making a poor attempt at levelling it for our descend later. The Copiapoa were a beautiful white to bluish grey that combined beautifully with the clear blue sky!

S0151 was made at the top of the hill, and still not a cloud in sight to recreate the magical effect that we had witnessed two years ago. The ground was thick with between large Echinopsis (Trichocereus) and Eulychnia stems and small leafless shrubs, of which I was only able to recognise Euphorbia lactiflua (unless there is another plant up there as well that bleeds when a branch breaks off) and Oxalis gigantea.

But where as the action in 2001 had been on the east side of the hill, over looking the then cloud filled valley, this time I went to take a look to the west and found that the trip was still worth while as a beautiful view over Taltal unfolded. Last time, the clouds had prevented this. A few wispy clouds were beginning to drift in, but not enough to spoil the view or to recreate the 2001 view.

On the way up, we had passed a turn off where a track headed east along what Rudolf had very aptly christened ‘The Ridge Way’. We crawled
along this, as the track was in a very poor shape, but offered spectacular views, including the occasional steep drop either side of it. We could hear the Nissan scrape along behind us. We stopped (S0152) at a place suggested by Rudolf, where Copiapoa rupestris (and not much else) grew. This had to be a continuation of the population that we’d seen at the end of the Quebrada San Ramon, where it had been accompanied by Copiapoa krainziana but there was no sign of anything like a white spined plant here.

There was one more stop (S0153) to feast our eyes on ‘proper’ Copiapoa cinerea, white bodied plants with jet black spines, just one or two per areole, before returning to Taltal. Is there such a thing as cactus-indigestion after seeing so many beautiful plants today? And is there a cure? Sure there is – more of the same tomorrow!

Saturday 14 June 2003 – Taltal to Paposo and back

Two days earlier, we had passed a photo stop for Copiapoa eremophila because we had missed the ‘two dead busses’ turning off the main road. Today we would make up for this, but decided that the rather dust covered plants along the side of the main road would have to do (S0144). Also found were some nice Neops (Eriosyce taltalensis subsp. paucicostata). Looking at my images now, we also saw Eulychnia taltalensis and Trichocereus, but after seeing them at most stops to date, they seem to have become part of the general scenery and not worth jotting down in my notebook anymore.

Cumulopuntia sphaerica (aka Opuntia berteri) is another one that is found in most places and so doesn’t make it on to my list. I’m going through our digital images and slides (as they are returned from the processor – I send them in batches of 3 films at the time as I know of people who sent all their film from a cactus trip in one go, only to loose them all as the lab. had a disaster processing that particular batch), to add any cactus taxa in the pictures to my list of plants seen at a
particular stop.

For our next stop (S0145) we moved back down the hill to the northern edge of Paposo where, right next to a thermo electrical station, was a quaint, well maintained cemetery. Between the cemetery and the ocean, we found Copiapoa cinerea / haseltoniana and Eriosyce taltalensis subsp. paucicostata – plenty of opportunity to take some pictures of cacti with the ocean in the background.

Reviewing these images later, it seems that we may not have been as careful as we should have been to keep the horizon straight as in many you’d expect a water-skier to come in from one side of the picture and ski ‘down the slope’ to the other. A bit of trickery using Photoshop will sort this out – more work 🙂

We spent the rest of a relaxing day driving back to Taltal, making random stops along Ruta 1, which is lined all the way with Copiapoa – at least where the narrow strip of land between the ocean and the foot of the coastal hills is wide enough. Our next stop (S0146) was just south of Paposo and we found much the same plants as at our previous stop, although the cinereas here seemed be more green rather than bluish grey. When taking pictures of cacti in habitat, it is important to provide an object in some of the photos to provide a scale to allow the viewer to get an impression of the seize of the plant. Lens caps and coins are perhaps most often used – but will the audience know the size of a Chilean coin? For a big clump of Copiapoa cinerea, a lens cap or coin would not have been visible. I used my hat on a number of occasions to indicate scale and the final results are quite amusing, especially on plants where the apex has started to elongate to eventually become a crested head. Such plants gained the nick name ‘smilers’, and we found a number of these.

S0147 – and still the same plants as before, but here the Eriosyce taltalensis subsp. paucicostata was much greener – probably the form seen in cultivation as ‘viridis’. The diameter of the heads on the cinerea seemed to increase.

At S0148, north of Playa Cachinales, plants with heads of up to 30 cm (12″) in diameter were found with stems on some plants trailing along the ground reaching lengths to 180 cm (6 ft): these must have been the plants for which the name Copiapoa gigantea was erected.

But just as you think that they can’t get any bigger, at our next stop (S0149) we found some real monsters, as well as a ‘different’ Eriosyce (Neoporteria) sp. The spination on the Copiapoa was much lighter in colour – horn coloured to white – than the predominantly black to grey spined plants at Paposo.

Over our dinner that night I enthused about our target for the next day – early morning on top of Mt. Perales where in 2001, Marlon had taken his magnificent ‘Cacti above the cloud’ pictures.

Friday, 13 June 2003 – Quebrada Botija and back to Taltal

Rather like my notes for our explorations of Quebrada San Ramon, my stop numbers for Botija Valley (S0139 – S0142) are nothing more than points at the mouth, centre and end of the Valley, where concentrations of particular taxa are found.

S0139 was our campsite (at day time) and it was a delight to put your head out of the tent to be greeted by clumps of Copiapoa right in your face. In The Schulz & Kapitany book, these plants were called Copiapoa variispinata and although this name would be more than apt for a plant with a great variability in spine length and colour, it was suggested from various quarters (and agreed by the authors) that this name applied to a small member of the Humilis complex that grows at the mouth of the next valley south, the Izcugna Valley. This left the rather unusual and unsatisfactory position that there were now two undescribed possible species from the Botija Valley, as Rudolf and Attila also show pictures of a ‘Copiapoa sp. Botija’ in their book. The mystery remain how Ritter, otherwise apparently so thorough and keen to report new species, had ‘missed’ these two. Had he never been to Botija? He certainly had been to near by El Cobre and Blanco Encalada.

Nigel Taylor and Graham Charles resolved the problem by publishing descriptions for both as new species (Cactaceae Systematics Initiatives 13: 15, 2002) where the plants found at the mouth of the Valley were named Copiapoa ahremephiana. Further into the Quebrada some, mainly solitary, plants of Copiapoa atacamensis were found while about half way to the end of the valley (S0140), the other newly described species, Copiapoa decorticans was found. Note that these are newly described not newly found, as plant have been in circulation in Europe for a while, either under the name ‘sp. Botija’ or perhaps, for C. ahremephiana, labelled simply RMF 53 or Copiapoa rarrissima.

S0141 was at the end of the Valley, also known as ‘the T Junction’ as from here, one valley heads north while another runs south. The view approaching the T Junction is impressive as a fairly steep, hillside consisting of a dark coloured rock blocked our progress eastward. This hillside is literally covered by large clumps of Copiapoa solaris. In 2001 we were struck by how healthy these plants looked, particularly as we had only seen other stands where the majority of plants were dead and had probably been so for quite some years. This is another strange feature of the area, decay through rot, as we are used to see in GB just does not happen. Rudolf showed us some pictures taken in 1994 that

included some mounds of dead plants. Nine years later, the scenery, including the dead mounds, looks identical. With so much death in evidence, it’s easy to worry about the ability of the living plants to survive.

Having said that, it seemed to Benjy and I that the C. ahremephiana plants at the mouth of the valley did not look in such good shape as they had done in 2001. I cut one small stem (sure that it did not help the health of the plant!) and found that the tissue inside was orangey – yellow, under UK cultivation conditions a sure sign of a fungus with death eminent.

The C. decorticans plants by contrast looked a little happier than in 2001, or perhaps I just took more time as once again Angie & I decided to go at our own pace, rather than to follow the main party for a march up the Valley, just as in 2001.

I remember at the time, when suggestions for a name were bounded around that one person (was it Paul Hoxey?) suggested C. moribunda (excuse incorrect latinisation) as it seemed from the plants that we saw then, that its chances for survival in the wild were slim with no evidence of regeneration (seedlings, fruit or even flowers or flower remains) found. Later, an article in the excellent Cactus & Co indicated that high up the
hill the situation was more promising, with pictures of the plant in flower.

I looked at the steep, crumbly hill side, looked at Angie and walking on to the end of the valley to look for C. solaris seed proved the more convenient option.

Like C. ahremephiana earlier, the C. solaris at the other end of the valley too did not look as healthy as in 2001, with many (more?) clumps of dead plants. As mentioned earlier, these dead plants do not appear to rot, but rather seem to oxidise, turning first into a black wax like material before turning to grey ash, as though they had been burned..

On the way back in the car, Benjy and I chatted about how many possible ‘intermediates’ between the two new species and possibly C. atacamensis we had found. While we waited for the others to return, I went to take a look at the plants closer to the Ocean (S0142) before heading back towards Taltal.

We made one more stop (S0143) when the first (unusually small) Copiapoa haseltoniana appeared and ‘took tea’ (well Nescafe instant coffee actually) at the small shop and restaurant at Paposo, before arriving tired but happy back at
Caleta Hueso for the night.

Thursday, 12 June 2003 – Taltal to Caleta Botija

Although not yet half way through our trip, today we would reach our northern most point, north of El Cobre. This involved quite a drive and for me satisfied another curiosity – what, if anything, can be found on the road that runs north and inland from Paposo, past the Cerro Paranal Observatory, before eventually rejoining Ruta 1 – the coast road.

Our first stop (S0135) had been christened ‘The Paposo Shrine Stop’ in 2001 and we found the same plants (Copiapoa humilis and an Eriosyce (Neoporteria) taltalensis. The Copiapoas here are the subject of frequent damage – collectors? animals? In any event, the damage is usually limited to the heads being removed, leaving the tap root to produce numerous offsets.

Next stop (S0136) was an opportunity to take a more detailed look at a ‘nearly’ stop in 2001. Then, our car had lost contact with Rudolf’s car driving lead and we had taken a wrong turn. The track ended at on open space where the ceroids were covered with lichen, indicating that although the sun was beating down from above, this place gets a lot of fog (or rather, the cloud that drifts in from the ocean hits the hills at this altitude of just under 700 m.) That time we were anxious to meet up with the rest of the party. This time we could have a look around.

We had been right about the cloud / fog! As we parked the cars, lichen covered Eulychnia and Trichocerei seemed to step into view, only to disappear again as the fog closed in around them. We walked up to the rim of the hill and found large plants of Copiapoa humilis. A few of them had been damaged some while back, perhaps knocked over by an animal. Again, the taproot had produced offsets and these looked identical to the plants we had seen earlier at The Shrine. It seems that the plants there, for some reason, never get the chance to put on any size, giving the impression that it is a population of minuscule plants. The only objects to liven up this dreary, gloomy landscape were bushes of Nolana (rupicola?) in full bloom.

The scenery was not inviting for a longer stay. Back on the main road and about 100 m higher, we had escaped the clouds and were passing large clumps of Copiapoa eremophila, another high altitude form of C. cinerea and similar to C. tenebrosa, the high altitude form found east of Taltal. We had been given directions by Rudolf to turn right after passing ‘two dead busses’. ‘Dead busses’ are a relatively common feature in the landscape and we passed several, some on their own, some in groups of 3 or more, but not in a duo. As a result we missed the turn and the opportunity to see these Copiapoa, as by now we were well inland, with the coastal hills preventing any rain or fog from penetrating from the west.

This was the Atacama Desert – a moon scape, without plants. It was a fairly good road, thanks to its use as access to the Paranal Observatory. Still, any car was visible miles away, as its motion threw up huge clouds of dust. The game was to make sure that all windows were shut by the time the car passed us. I’m not sure if the crowd in the Nissan played this game too. They usually followed us, which meant that our dust trail would have been around them most of the time.

Eventually, we reached the turning to El Cobre, a confusing junction with seemingly three tracks to choose from. As in 2001, we picked the wrong one first, ending up at a dead end some 2 km further, but got it right second time round, as my memory told me to look out for a dead bus. Let’s hope that nobody ever tows these away, in an effort to clean up the Atacama – I, and possibly many others, would be quite lost without such landmarks. Was this ‘The long and winding road’ of which Paul McCartney sings? As it snaked down the hill, we could see (mainly dead) clumps of Copiapoa solaris but delayed our stop (S0137) until we were about to disappear into the clouds. Once at the coast, we passed the deserted workings at El Cobre, and pushed on in the fading day light, briefly stopping the car at Blanco Encalada, where C. solaris (still mainly dead plants) was growing along the coast road.

We were keen to get to Caleta Botija, where, at the mouth of the Quebrada Botija, we still had to set up our tents and meet up with Rudolf & Leo. Although I had been here twice before in 2001 and the pictures of those visits were firmly imprinted on my memory, things looked very different at dusk, especially with low cloud hiding the silhouette of the hills that should have enabled me to recognise the canyon. Using our GPS, we felt that we were close – in fact, had overshot the point where we should have left the track. As we were looking for a turning point, the very poor road finally took its toll, as we could smell burning rubber. A massive gash in the front offside tyre explained why.

So, all hands to the pump to unload the luggage to get to the spare wheel (another minus point for the Kia) to replace the damaged wheel. As we’re on popular expressions – too many cooks spoil the broth, so I decided to walk back down the track with my GPS, just in time to see a set of car headlights come down the road from the north and vanishing about one km. from where we were. This had to be Rudolf & Leo, and so, with renewed confidence I returned to the car, once again ready to go, and after about 1 km found the point where fresh tyre marks lead off the track towards the hills.

Rudolf and Leo were cosily arranged around a campfire, (S0138) not visible from the road due to a stonewall that had been built. They had brought plastic chairs from their hotel (only two of course) and had their potatoes and tins on the fire, while laughing and offering suggestions to us setting up camp – for many of us this was the first time that the tents especially bought for this and two other possible ‘camping in nature’ events, were taken out of their bags. By torch light, we struggled to read the instructions stitched on the inside of the bag in a variety of languages, unfortunately not one we could understand. Using common sense we all managed to put up our tents and enjoyed a good laugh at Rudolf’s expense, as he (or rather his tent) seemed to suffer ‘erection problems’ of its own, and collapsed spontaneously as we opened our welcome bottles of wine.

Reasonable quantities of Pisco Sour or wine are essential for our camping stops, as it numbs the back when eventually you lie down for some shut eye on the stony ground. Beer works too, but it is not highly recommended as the volume required to achieve the same affect is such that frequent calls of nature have to be made during the night.

Several trampled on cacti around the camping area were evidence that some of us had to answer such calls. Despite the discomfort endured, these nights of camping out are a must for any cactus trip.

Tomorrow we’ll explore the Botija Valley.

Wednesday 11 June 2003 – Taltal: Quebrada San Ramon

Today we only had a five minute drive up the road to park our cars at the entrance of the Quebrada San Ramon. The aim was to walk as far up the valley as we could and to admire all the various forms of Copiapoa cinerea on the way. These include C. haseltoniana (with yellow / orangey spination and felt at the apex), C. tenabrosa (a high altitude form) and C. albispina (white spined, as the name implies) – as well as C. krainziana and C. rupestris.

Angie found it heavy going through the loose sand and stretches with boulders that must have been attractive rapids in the days when water flowed through this canyon. So, remembering that after all, this was a holiday – and because I had already seen C. krainziana and C. rupestris in 2001 – the two of us decided to take the opportunity of a photo shoot of the wonderful variability of the plants found about half way into the Quebrada.

Although I recorded 4 stop numbers (S0131, S0132, S0133 and S0134) these were merely landmarks for notes taken at the mouth of the Quebrada, at the points where two side canyons join the main one and at the point where Angie & I decided that we’d gone far enough.

As the day progressed and many a flash card, film and battery had to be replaced by a fresh one, we slowly made our way back to the entrance, expecting the others to catch us up. However, we did not recognise the first figure we spotted in the distance, although he too seemed to be photographing the cacti and collecting seed. A bit later, now carrying a huge rucksack, he caught up with us and surprised me by his greeting: ‘Hi Paul Klaassen, I’m Finn Larsen’. Finn had heard about our Copiapoathon from Rudolf and had emailed me a few weeks before our departure from Europe. He too was travelling around Chile in June and I sent him a copy of our itinerary. As a result, he knew that we would probably be in Quebrada San Ramon that day. He had already met some of the others in our party at the end of the canyon, where he had camped for the night. He had to get back to the mouth of the Quebrada by 4 p.m. as he had booked a taxi to pick him up.

Later that night he joined us for dinner at Restaurant Las Brisas, right on the small fishing harbour, where that night we managed to drink the place dry of Cristal beer. It was decided that Finn + rucksack could be squeezed into the Nissan and so he became a welcome addition to our party until the penultimate day of our trip.

Tuesday 10 June 2003 – Bahia Inglesa to Taltal

Today’s plan was to make just a few stops along Ruta 5 and to find the turn off to Cifuncho and after some stops there, in particularly to see ‘Copiapoa sp. ‘Cifuncho’ as mentioned and pictured in ‘Copiapoa in their Environment’ by Schulz & Kapitany (pages 104-105).

Our first stop (S0126) was at km 910 on Ruta 5, where, once again with the Pacific Ocean in the back ground, we saw and photographed Copiapoa calderana. Our check list of Copiapoa taxa seen was now looking quite respectable with another one, Copiapoa calderana var. spinosior, added to it at our next stop (S0127) at, what we had christened ‘the Monument stop’ (S0097) in 2001. Here there was also a wispy white spined Eriosyce, E. taltalensis var. pygmaea – a taxon with a list of synonyms as long as your arm, from which the name Neoporteria pulchella is more comfortable to me. Another one for some more reading when we return home.

Tracks to out-of-the-way hamlets and villages are seldom sign-posted on Ruta 5, and if they are, the sign is often make-shift and appears just about on the turning, without advance warning. It came therefore as no surprise that we missed our turn and had to approach Cifuncho on the more established (and much improved since 2001) track off the Las Breas – Taltal road.

We could not resist a stop (S0128 = S0052 from 2001) as the first Copiapoa columna-alba appeared on the scene, although we were to see much more impressive stands later on in the trip. I was able to delay our stop until we had reached the spot where in 2001 we had found C. columna-alba growing alongside C. desertorum, very similar in appearance to C. rupestris but here forming huge mounds of up to 140 cm in diameter and up to 80 cm high. Here, C. columna-alba favours the lighter coloured soil on the north side of the track, while C. desertorum favours the darker coloured soil on the opposite side of the track. I found this quite striking in 2001, but this year found later on in the trip when we approached this location from another direction, that this apparent preference is just coincidental at this spot, as further up the track it is not the case.

Benjy’s excitement grew as we approached Cifuncho as he was keen to show us ‘his’ best plant of Copiapoa sp. Cifuncho’. (S0129). We clambered about on the rocks and found some nice single stemmed plants, but it took Benjy a while to find his plant, a nice 6 headed monster, poised on the top of a rock. The general opinion was that this ‘sp.’ is perhaps the most northern form of C. longistaminea. We also found a nice Eriosyce rodentiophila with its golden spines glowing in the late afternoon sun.

And so it was time to head for Taltal, but not before making one more stop (S0130) to see if we could find any ‘Thelocephala‘ as we had done in 2001. We split into two groups of 4 to search two distinct low plateaux. The group I was in found only a single Eriosyce rodentiophila, but the other group had more luck, finding some, which I guess, without having seen them or the pictures taken by the others as yet, should be Eriosyce krausii.

We finally got to the Cabañas Caleta Hueso, which would be our base for the next 6 days. It provided the ideal opportunity to catch up on some much needed washing – Benjy even gave up time at the bar so he could wash his socks! – plus the chance to sample the best sea food ever at Restaurant Las Brisas.