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Archive for the ‘Chile’ Category

Tuesday 1 March 2016 – San Quintin to Catavina

It is becoming clear that our main focus this trip seems to be the Ferocacti that we pass on the way south. Jonathan has learned that it is better to read Nigel Taylor’s paper published in Bradleya (1984) in the hotel rather than as we speed past a myriad of cacti. He’s happy that we have seen F. gracilis in its various forms but what happened to F. fordii? Angie and I concentrate on spotting the Feros and taking their pictures, happy to worry about their names when we get home.

Jonathan has developed a technique for his 3D videos of approaching the plant with the camera skimming the grass and low vegetation and slowly rising as he approaches the plant. Although we are all on the same trip, I’m sure that we’ll end up with three quite different presentations.

We are also finding numerous Mammillaria of the M. dioica complex. We’re a but later in the season than usual, so I might be lucky and spot some of the named flower colour variations on a theme – fingers crossed.

The Catavina boulder fields always provide a scenic settings for cacti and succulents, so we’re adding many hundreds of images to the already overflowing image database back home!

Mammillaria dioica

Mammillaria dioica I presume!


Saturday, 27 February 2016 – Amesbury to LA

After a couple of months of dark and often wet weather we’re off!

Nice bright sky as Peter drove us to T3 at Heathrow Airport without any hold ups. Although we had a BA Flight Number, we were directed to the American Airlines desk for check in. Who are they kidding with these multi numbered-all on one plane deals and of course every provider with a different price ticket.

During the online check in process we found that Angie and I had been allocated seats at opposite ends of the plane. Not a problem as I tend to sleep most of the way while Angie plays computer games to pass the time. But neither of us had the sought after aisle seats that allows me to stretch my 6ft 4 frame along the isles and so trip up the air hostesses while Angie avoids climbing over people on her way to the toilets. We could change seats, but at £54 per person (and no doubt again on the way back) you have to draw the line somewhere. We did change seats so that we were at least sitting next to each other – me next to the window and Angie on my deaf side. At take off, the aisle seat next to Angie was still empty so a swift game of musical chairs saw her next to the aisle and the central seat empty for stretching. Great! and all for free.

We arrived at LAX two minutes early; this was all going very smoothly, until …. we hit immigration! Lots of signage to say that US Citizens and folks like us with ESTA approval could go to the automated control stations, except that there, a man directed all non-US passport holders to the ‘visitors stations’. This coincided with the arrival of a number of mega airliners from China so that we still had to endure the mega-shuffle to the manned kiosks where eventually we were welcomed into the US. That was the first 75 minutes on US soil.

Eunice was there to meet us, having anticipated the queueing. We loaded our luggage in Elsie, her Land Cruiser that had been our home on various trips since 2008 and headed to Dollar Rent-a-car as this was the only car rental firm in California as far as we were told that allows rented cars to be taken into Mexico, at an additional cost of US$ 27.50 per day. The rate had changed from US$ 15 in 2008, but comparing total rental cost with those in Mexico were still slightly cheaper.

While queuing an irate customer came in, loudly insisting on seeing the Manager. She had paid for an SUV, only to find that there were none to be had! Slight concern, as that was the type of car that we needed.

After completing the pile of paper work – during which the strongly recommended International Driving Permit and the new Unique Driving Licence number for UK drivers were NOT required, off we went to find a car.

The lady had been right. Their stock was down to – (yes, minus!) 36! We could wait until the next car was returned, checked and cleaned inside and out, expected to take another hour OR take a KIA van: similar size to an SUV but no 4×4 and less clearance. I negotiated to take one so that we could at least go to the Naples Rib Factory where last year I had enjoyed one of the best steaks, washed down with a Blue Cadillac Margarita. These trips are not all about food and drink, but there are standards to maintain! We could swap this for an SUV at San Diego the next morning. We had to pick Jonathan Clark up at SD, so the car swap was not too much of an inconvenience.

The steak was excellent. We even got a US$ 10 discount voucher to celebrate the fact that we had visited them 12 months earlier!

One month and we’re off again!

We may be enjoying one of the warmest / mildest winters on record, but give me a bright sunny day with a light frost any day!

In exactly one month Angie and I will be flying to LAX to meet up with Eunice Thompson and introduce Angie to the delights of a Prime Rib at the Naples Prime Rib Factory, exactly where we left off on my last visit to California in 2015.

The next day we head south to meet up with Jonathan Clark again, who has also caught the ‘seeing cacti in habitat bug’.

The four of us will head across the border into Baja. Our goal is a visit to Isla Cerralvoa / Jacques Cousteau  Island.

On the way, our goals include:

  • Photographing Cochemiea maritima
  • Visiting the habitat of the monstrose form of Stenocereus (Lophophocereus) schottii, the Totem pole Cactus
  • Showing Jonathan the various taxa of Ferocactus in Baja

We’ll return to Alto California a few days before flying back to England after recording some aerial film clips of the Anza Borrego Desert State Park and meeting up with friends at a meeting of the Los Angeles Cactus & Succulent Society.

As usual, I aim to bring you daily notes, health, wealth and Internet access permitting, on these pages. Once back home, some 30 presentations will keep me busy for the summer.

I hope again that you’ll follow our adventures here. Once back in the UK I will clean up the text and add images and produce a book version of the adventures.

By the way, the book version of the Chile 2015 trip can now be viewed and bought at http://www.blurb.co.uk/b/6792181-the-cactus-trip-diaries-chile-2015


Sunday 29 November 2015 – Madrid to Amesbury

I’m writing the last report of this trip from home in Amesbury. The washing machine has just finished the load of washing that I have dragged with me for five weeks to ensure that it is ready for February 2016 when Angie, Jonathan and I will be doing it all again, this time for three weeks in Baja California.

Many thanks also to Pablo, Bart & Marijke and to Brian Bates for their companionship these last few weeks. Angie and I have pencilled in our next visit to Chile for 2017 – health & wealth permitting, as always.

We’ll be off for a short break to Angie’s family in Cologne and to visit the Christmas Markets, all without the internet. I’ll be selecting the best images from this trip for the Cactus Trip Diaries book for this trip and to add a selection of the images selected to these pages. I’ll post a message once the job is done, so that you can take a look over Christmas.


The last days of a trip are not the most interesting pages of any blog – some folks leave them out, but that leaves the reader hanging in mid-air. So, here we go, for the sake of completeness.

We left the Hosteria Scala De Milán at 9 a.m. on the dot. SatNav put us on the right way again, predicting arrival at the Airport at 10:14, despite Brian suggesting that it would take us via Arica. Wishful thinking.

The Cuesta de Dormida is a beautiful route through fantastic scenery, much more enjoyable than the alternative of R5, the Pan American Highway, close to Santiago, that is busy and industrialised. Only downside this time of day and this time of year is that the low sun is straight in your face as you negotiate the zig-zags.

We found fuel to be able to return our rental car back at the required level and had an ice cream to make up for the fact that we had left without breakfast.

We were still on time for an early arrival until we got close to the airport and SatNav suggested that we’d take the back road that took us all the way around the airport. It helped to avoid tolls, but used up the spare time, so that we rolled up at the agreed bay in the car park at 10:40-ish, as promised. Next time I’ll pay the tolls and stick to the main road.

We had arranged to meet Pablo Weisser around this time, but were keen to lose our check-in luggage, so sent Brian to the coffee bar on the ground floor, near Exit 4. Check-in again was without any hitches.

At around 11:00 we joined Brian – who of course had never met Pablo – so no wonder that he had not made contact.
Time for breakfast, so I treated myself to a nice omelette, toast and coffee. No sign of Pablo, but time ticked on regardless, so we said our goodbyes to Brian, who was going to catch a bus back to Taltal – lucky so and so!

Nothing else left to report – hope to be back in Chile in 2017!


On arrival in the UK I received a brief email from Pablo to say that he had more computer problems and had not received my email announcing our visit to Olmue until after we had left again. He had stayed in a different ‘hut’ which is why we had missed him there. He had also been unable to let us know that he would not be at the airport.

Never mind – we look forward to meeting you again, sometime, somewhere.

Friday 27 November 2015 – Pichidangui to Olmue

We had hoped to spend today with Florencia in Lonquen. Flo would have loved to have come with us tho ‘her’ Norte, but as she was expecting the birth of her first baby sometime during our trip, that was not a very practical proposition. Brian recalled how last year’s trip, Giggly Girl made it one of the happiest that he can recall.

I am not a great fan of mobile phones etc that in South America seem to have replaced computers and email to stay in touch – my eyes struggle to read the screens unless I’m in a well shaded room and my ‘blind’ left ear (a Brian Bates expression as for many years he did not know the word for ‘deaf’ in Spanish) means that I also struggle to hear a caller on a mobile device unless I’m in a very quiet room. Yesterday Flo dropped me a line on Facebook to say that she had given birth to a son, Atilio, who at two weeks of age, demanded all of her time. We understand and send mother and son our very best wishes and look forward to seeing both of them in the field, surrounded by cacti, in years to come.

Pablo Weisser had asked to meet us tomorrow at Santiago Airport, so we thought we might provide a surprise for him by looking him up ‘at home’ in Olmue, and sent him an email to announce our change of plans at very short notice.

But first of all, we allowed ourselves a final cactus photo shoot on the rocks at Pichidangui.

We enjoyed a leisurely drive to Olmue and arrived at the Weisser family’s residence, but it was all locked up. Never mind, we had arranged to see Pablo at the Airport on Saturday before take off. Jonathan and I could use the time to do a final repack and tidy up Suzy who had picked up quite a layer of dust on the inside during the previous five weeks!


Thursday 26 November 2015 – Taltal to Pichidangui

As I’m sure you all know by now, Chile is a very long, thin country and driving from Tocopilla to Pichidangui in two days is like a summary of the four weeks and three days (?) that have gone before as well as of the other many trips since 2001.

‘Look, there is the spot where in 2006 we met Juan & Flo in 2006!’

‘There, behind the road fences is where we used to stop, above Los Hornos’


It was quite an ambitious goal to do the c 800 km today in one go, and it was very much a matter of discipline as we drove through the dealbatas around Carrizal Baja – my five images today were all from here, nothing special, just a reminder how you can randomly take some nice images anywhere along this road, from around Tutorial to past Cardinal Baja.

We made sure that we stopped for fuel when it was available, rather than when it was needed, and that included fuel for us – i.e. the cake shop opposite the Copec in Vallenar.

The setting sun provided a great end of talk slide somewhere between Los Villos and Pichidangui. We made it to the cabanas at Rosa Nautica where again the owners recognised me and greeted us like long lost friends, around 21:00 hrs. A quick run back to the harbour but the two restaurants there had shut up for the night since we had driven past.

Plan B was to drive back to the Pronto on R5, north of town, but by now, having done most of the driving, my batteries were drained. The Supermarcado was still open so we bought a bottle of Casillero del Diablo, some cheese and biscuits that made sure that for yet another night, the boys did not go hungry – a prime requirement for any cactus trip!