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A lazy leisurely start to the day saw us make it to breakfast at 09:00 hrs – that is their earliest time in the Hotel!

We discussed what we should do today and I had been interested to read in Ian Woolnough’s Diary that they had been able to visit the site at Totoralillo, L&S0002, where on my birthday in 2001 we had also stopped for pictures. Subsequent attempts had been thwarted as a big solid gate across the access road prevents access to what is now a gated community. But again, as we visited in Ian’s tire tracks, we found a gate off to one side and a track that led to a small boat yard and the plants that we had photographed in 2001 and again in 2003. Nice find Ian, thanks for sharing! This is now Stop 3875, but remains Location 0002.

We headed east, following signs to Quilimari and after passing the village, stopped alongside the road to allow Al to fulfill his wish to photograph Echinopsis (Trichocereus) litoralis in flower S3876.

Not far on (S3877) the hillside was full of these cacti but not many in flower. There were however Eriosyce which, taking a lumper’s view, were Neoporteria subgibbosa and Horridocactus curvispina (but with straight spines, identified in 2003 as Horridocactus mutabilis.

S3878 is for a variety of images taken today that do not merit a single stop number, including a monstrous plant of Trichocereus litoralis, the advertising doll outside the place where we enjoyed an empanada (shrimps and cheese!) and beer in Los Vilos and a friendly dog begging for crisps at another stop. Well, it’s the last full day of our holiday! Why not!?

The others have gone back to the rocky Pichidangui shore line to take more pictures of cacti and Angie, no doubt, more pictures of waves crashing on the rocks while I finish off this episode of the Diaries. It’s a hard life!

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!

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!

W

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!

Apologies for the silence during the last few days. Wifi was not available to my laptop, no matter how hard we tried, although others with mobile phones had no problem.

This morning started with a sterling effort by Al, despite last night’s generous intake of Pisco Sours. Despite his protestations, I don’t think his stomach upset had anything to do with the part eaten pizza that he had. 4-5 pisco sours might tell a more believable story. Anyway, congratulations to all of last-night’s revelers for surviving and to Dave Appleton with his birthday sometime this week!

We had an early-ish breakfast (07:30) and by 8:30 we were on the road as we had 503 km ahead of us to Vallenar where we now rest at the same hotel as on the way up, the excellent Hotel Atacama! We managed to reach the Vallenar Cake Shop at 17:30 hrs where we managed 1.3333 cake portions each, with the exception of Al who passed, claiming to still feel delicate.

Ian took an image of the lady who contributes to making the cakes and asked her to pose with today’s produce. She was so pleased and impressed that she went and told all her colleagues around the shop!

Plant wise we managed to make a Stop at km 912, as once again we had overshot km 910. It featured the same plant: Copiapoa calderana, looking a bit better than two weeks ago, after a light rain. Many plants now in flower – that makes all the difference!

We tackled a few retournos as both fuel stations had been the subject to vandalism with as a result, no hot dogs for lunch and credit card payments for fuel only at the Copec.

Then we followed the Ruta del Desierto along the coast – slightly longer but much more varied, with both live and dead Eulychnia along the road.

We made a leg stretch stop and I joked – ‘mind where you are standing, there are Thelocephals here’! Angie laughed in disbelief, looked down and sure enough, there was a single headed T. odieri! Al found another one near by.

We drove on until some 30 km before Carrizal Bajo I saw clumps of C. dealbata in flower along the road. The back-row of Ian and Angie were asleep and Al was concentrating on driving so it was no big deal that I spotted them. Again, the plants seemed to have had a drink of water and the recent dry spell seemed to make their spination stand out even more!

Angie had walked on a bit as always and reported a ‘different plant’ probably a Copiapoa species. A closer inspection revealed large clumps of C. echinoides, Nice find!

Ian is waiting to join us for a Chinese meal or at the Pizza bar at the Plaza – the latter sells large Schopps (pint glasses of Cristal beer. This has been in poor supply up north, possible due to the social unrest affecting supplies.

I’ll try to catch up on missed days later, probably not until we are back in England, with pictures at that stage.

With Ian and his Magnificent Seven now safely installed in Taltal, we had agreed to make a joined attempt at looking for a new location for C. krainziana, much more inland than our previous known locations.

We had already had a dummy run at this a few days ago, ‘dummy’ being the operative word, as we had discounted a very poor dirt track, with every risk of doing a ‘Cliff / Ian’ and getting cars stuck in the sand. We had therefore taken the wise (on hindsight) decision to take the next turn, on tarmac, turning into a salt road, sign posted for the VLT telescope at the Paranal Observatory . Showing no lack of imagination, the initials VLT stand for Very Large Telescope, which kind of sums up what it is. Needless to say, we did not see it or get there.

We stopped when the coordinates that we had been given for the C. krainziana spot started getting farther away. I took pictures looking at the four points of the compass and saw sand and hills – not a single plant in sight. This is the Atacama Desert at its most featureless and desolate, a place where you can imagine that if your car broke down, vultures would come and pick your bones clean!

With our crowd of 11 staring in disbelief at so much dryness, I suggested that we make a visit with the whole group to S3845, now S3860 – the Las Breas Copiapoa cinerea stop, where on 14 November, Al had complained of feeling claustrophobic at the number of Copiapoa crowding in on him!

John Bridgman complained that all that Ian W. had shown him so far were Copiapoa. Not quite true, but he did agree that feasting our eyes on so many plants was a magical experience. Sooner or later, even the most dedicated Copiapoa fan had taken all the pictures that they need back in the UK.

What’s next? Ian W suggested a climb to the radio masts at the top of Cerro Perales. Excellent idea! A climb (by car) from sea level to 1,084 m. altitude was a bit risky in one car, but with two Toyota RAV4 in support, Al relished the thought of a driving challenge. Our Suzuki had 4×4 capability while the RAV4s did not. So it was no surprise that we reached the top of the hill first, while Cliff in the first RAV4 decided to abandon their climb just before reaching the top as his wheels were spinning on the sand. Good H&S decission!

The plants, Ritter’s Copiapoa tenebrosa, the high altitude form of C. cinerea subsp. haseltoniana at Taltal, according to the New Cactus Lexicon, looked magnificent, with many heads in flower and the dryness emphasizing the spination, hard to match in European cultivation!

On the way back down, it was difficult to miss a group of ‘bulby things’, a John Carr expression from a few years ago, to be IDed back home (Ian Woolnough ID: genus Rhodophiala)

We returned to our hotels and around 17:00 descended on a newish restaurant, El Meson del Greko, near a former favourite, ‘Las Brisas’. Excellent food and drinks served by a couple of sisters from Sweden, of Chilean origin, who speak excellent English! Recommended!

Today we set out for the hardest walk of our trip – down the Quebrada San Ramon to see Copiapoa krainziana and Copiapoa taltalensis – the one that I still prefer to call Copiapoa rupestris. There was also a very diverse collection of C. cinerea, including white spined plants (‘Copiapoa albispina‘), plants with yellow wool and spines in the apex (Copiapoa cinerea subsp. haseltoniana / C. tenabrosa) and with an Eriosyce, E. neohankianus.

Eriosyce taltalensis (Hutchison) Katt. (syn. Neoporteria neohankiana)

There seemed to be more places with ankle deep water and grasses and sedges than in previous years – or had I taken a wrong turn. Ian had taken a number of GPS readings and when I get home, I’ll map these on to Google Earth and check if we had followed the main route in the Quebrada, or had taken a wrong turn. Angie decided that she had enough some 5 km in – and promised to stay put and take lots of images. We returned here some four hours later, but by then she had gone – walking back to the mouth of the Quebrada? She was not at the car on the beach, but had written a message on the car that she was walking back to Hotel Plaza. Back at the hotel, there was no sign of her at the hotel – she had managed to get lost and eventually made it back, long after we arrived back. She seemed confused and dehydrated – this walk was not for the faint hearted, but all’s well that ends wall.

In the mean time, Al, Ian and I had marched on in semi robotic mode. I was continuously plagued by uncertainty – had I taken the correct turnings? I found the first Copiapoa rupestris, a sure sign that C. krainziana would appear soon. My legs and knees were hurting; Al marched on; Ian decided that he had had enough – there was still a long walk back to the beach where we had parked the car! I struggled on to tell Al of Ian’s return. I saw him soon after the Quebrada turned left – waving wildly. I walked on as fast as I could. Al had found a comfortable rock and sat down next to a great plant of C. krainziana

Copiapoa krainziana – Quebrada San Ramon

It felt like a great achievement! As Al had had a rest while I struggled to meet up with him, we suggested that he should walk back to where I had left Ian, in case he was still there, waiting to catch us on the way back. Soon, he and Al came round the corner. We were all very happy, but there was one thing seriously amiss – it was the only krainziana where in the past there had been quite a few plants. Had I taken a wrong turn? Would I be able to find the way back? I promised to never walk back here again! During the walk back I thought that I might do it again in the future, but only if I had brought my SatNav along or if we could find the ‘easy to reach by car’ location that Ian had been given by Elizabeth and Norbert Sarnes. Ian and his Magnificent Seven in days to come.

We took the coast road from Taltal to Cifuncho. Again, we made a familiar stop near the Quebrada Bronce (S3847). There were some Copiapoa cinerea subsp. columna-alba, but we’ll see much better stands later. There were also small clumps of Copiapa taltalensis here – all very dry! Of course we sang the chorus of ‘We do like to be beside the seaside’! – our theme tune for this trip!

Next, at S3848, the clumps were larger – Copiapoa taltalensis subsp. desertorum = but I’m still not convinced that there is a close affinity with C. taltalensis. For me I prefer the name C. desertorum until detailed DNA research sorts this issue once and for all. Also here were clumps of Nolana sp., in flower. Although they are not ‘true succulents’ that are considered to use their leaves and pachicaul stems to store water during periods of drought, these plants’ leaves shrivel up when they need water.

Nolana sp.

Our next stop was just past Cifuncho in search of a plant that we called ‘Benjy’s Plant’ as Benjy Oliver first showed us this plant on our trip in 2001, 18 years ago. It is also known as ‘Copiapoa ‘ sp Cifuncho’ but for me it is the northernmost form of Copiapoa longistaminea.

Ian posing with Copiapoa longistaminea – Benjy’s Plant

Later today we’ll see this taxon again, at its southern most stop at ‘Puma Bay’, then in the Quebrada Huanillos (Quebrada Guanillos), Quebrada Tigrillo and Quebrada Madera. At Puma Bay, C. longistaminea grows alongside C. grandiflora where the two taxa are very distinct. As we visit the quebradas farther north, hey seem to ‘morph’ into one single taxon. Rudolf called a northern location ‘Confusion Hill’, for obvious reasons, but this year there was no time to visit that spot.

For some reason, Benjy’s plant was always keen to play a game of hide & seek – Angie and I were convinced that we could find it without the need for a GPS and eventually we did! It’s a beautiful plant in a spectacular location, overlooking guano covered rocks just off shore.

Al covered a larger area, including at the foot of the hill between our spot and Cifunco and found many more plants. I did not see those this time – the rocks were quite difficult, loose and not very stable – not easy with a touch of arthritis in my knees and hips and a bad back. I promised myself a closer look next time, possibly in 2020.

I suddenly felt unsure on how to get to the locations for the day – there were quite a few excellent stops in this area, but how to get to them without a SatNav system! I saw a sign to Minas Las Luces, my first clue. We drove through an inland Quebrada and I remembered seeing an Eriosyce here – Eriosyce rodentiophila or is it E. megacarpa? If only Roger Ferryman was to finish off his Eriosyce book to clarify the names of these plants!

S3850 Eriosyce rodentiophila

S3851 was for Ritter’s type locality for Copiapoa cinerea subsp. columna-alba. A few years ago, Rudolf Schulz had tried to take a photo of the exact plants that Ritter had photographed here and that featured in Kakteen in Südamerika Band 3. Again we were overwhelmed by the large number of plants here, but the star of the show was Eriosyce (Thelocephala) esmeraldana, with a flower stuck above the soil giving away where other plants were seen on previous occasions, this time hidden below the soil.

The Copiapoa columna-alba must have had some moisture as many were now in flower.

S3852 was our regular spot to say hello to Alan Craig, whose ashes were buried on the beach after he died of leukemia on 31 January 2001.

Alan William Craig R.I.P.
S3853 – Another plant, first photographed in 2001. The C. longistaminea has grown quite a bit faster than the C. grandiflora. The two taxa are very distinct, but farther north the seem to have morphed and almost indistinguishable.

We headed ‘home’ to Taltal, driving through the Guanillos valley and our last challenge – finding Copiapoa laui in the extreme drought! This time it was Ian who performed a war dance as he believed that he had found C. laui. Well done Ian!

S3854 Copiapoa laui – not in the best light conditions!

As we wanted to get back to the car, I had my only fall of this trip – nothing too dramatic. Everyone helped me get back to the car and got out the tubes of antiseptic creams. A trip down the rocks now seems to have become a part of any cactus trip for me!

Not sure if the social unrest yesterday was to blame, but we were without internet for most of the day, so the page for Wednesday 13 September covering our trip to Botija will be published later.

We started with a visit to the Taltal Museum where a friend from previous visits was now working. We kept in touch on Facebook, so it was the least that we could do to pay her a visit. We enjoyed a lengthy chat before the call of cacti in the hills became too strong!

After yesterday’s rather long trip to Botija via El Cobre, we had decided on a rather easier day, a stop some 20 km east of Taltal at Las Breasas where in the past we would visit a huge population of Copiapoa cinerea subsp. cinerea. Ian and Al were suitably impressed, both by the number of plants (the comment: ‘Enough plants for every C&S Society member in the world!’ was heard. Yes, and on several planets more!)

They looked in reasonable health with small apical patches of white wool showing that they were in growth and even buds showing on a number of plants. This is the spot that we flew my drone on a previous visit in 2015 with Jonathan Clark as co-pilot and Brian Bates as himself. Bart and Marijke Hensel were on hand to lend moral support. On our first attempt we flew the drone very well and celebrated with a bottle of bubbly that Bart & Marijke had brought along for the occasion. We then raced back to the hotel to download the files on the disk where the movie file of the flight were stored. Disappointment awaited as either Jonathan or I had failed to press the ‘record’ button on one of the control panels. But this is not a blame game, so we promised to come back after first racing to Tocopilla as Brian new of spots where C. tocopilliana and Eriosyce laui could be photographed.

More disappointment as the track that Brian had used on a previous visit had a huge 10 m wide whole in it either caused by an earthquake or the heavy rains that had caused havoc in Chile early on in 2015. There was no obvious way to circumnavigate the hole and too hot and far to walk around it, tired as we were from the long drive from Taltal.

We left early the next day to drive back to Taltal and made a second attempt at flying the drone. This time Jonathan and I must have checked three times that the ‘record button’ had been pushed! Success!

But back to the here and now where Ian and Al had closed their mouths and seemed to be involved in a project to photograph every plant from at least two angles. We climbed a low hill offering a view along the valley that we were in, the valley next door and another flat area in the valley beyond hours. So why are cacti considered to be so endangered? At the entrance to this spot are huge concrete works to control water and sludge running down the hills and causing serious damage to the people and property in the town of Taltal. On that occasion, the flood must have wiped out a large number of plants. As the flood defense works were built another significant number of plants would have been destroyed. The plants grow in a material that appears ideal for building material. The beginning of the area is a huge quarry with truck in an almost continuous stream driving in, to be filled up and drive out again. These activities seem to have moved at least a km. into the area where the plants grow. Taltal is a growing place with lots of the ramshackle houses now replaced by modern but basic homes. There are posters showing the building plans of 2-3 floor apartment blocks, reminding me of similar building activity in Salisbury, UK. So why should the people in Taltal not enjoy similar living standards? No reason at all, but lets hope that in sourcing their building material they do not destroy their nature!

Friends in Europe had suggested that there was a new location where we could photograph Copiapoa krainziana without the need for the 7 km walk through the Quebrada San Ramon.

In 2015, while flying our drone at Las Breasas, Brian Bates found one lonely multi-headed plant of kraiziana among the billions of C. cinerea. Google Earth suggested that this location may be connected to the Las Breasas area and that this plant could reasonably have been washed down the hill, although I would have expected to find more plants then just the one.

So we decided to drive on as far as we could; a good deal farther than I had expected but not getting closer to the krainziana coordinates that we had. Ian had a number of SatNav / GPS tools on his mobile phone each providing different suggestions of where we should go, all agreeing that we were getting farther away. Cliff Thompson will be familiar with this when we were hunting for Uebelmannia spots in Brazil in 2009! Very frustrating!

We decided to return back to the main road where we could ask our tools for directions again. The mobile phone apps seemed in general agreement so we followed their instructions obediently, although it was blindingly obvious that nothing could grow in the area that we were being led to. Right on the spot indicated we stopped, on a good track but without any plants or signs of life. Angie volunteered to walk up a hill so that she could sing ‘So we do like to be beside the seaside’ but as she was facing east rather than west, that sea would have been the Atlantic Ocean, with the Andes and the whole of Argentina in the way! Thanks for the heroic effort, but clearly none of us were thinking straight!

We got back around five and enjoyed the new room that our hosts at Hotel Plaza had provided on the ground floor, having seen me struggle carrying bags up and down the stairs. Early signs of arthritis we think – must check what the impact might be on Travel Insurance costs and what can be done. More tablets? I already rattle like a pair of maracas since 2006’s heart-attack!

We’ll await until Ian Woolnough and party arrive in a few days time and use his geography expertise to find the most eastern Copiapoa krainziana!

But now it is time for food and check out the Chilean’s ability to make Margaritas! It will make a nice change from the Pisco Sours.

Today’s stops would be north of Taltal, over the ‘back road’ to El Cobre which some 50 years back was probably one of the largest ‘Plantas’ for copper mining. There are a number of routes that we could take, but I decided on driving to Paposo and then heading inland, past the monument of the ‘Paposo Virgin’ and past the Observatories at El Paranal, currently considered the largest Astronomical Observatory in the world, to the turning to El Cobre – the most northern point of our trip. This is now a very good road and there is even a small airport – well, at least a run way – to allow scientists to be flown in rather than have to dress up as cactus explorers for the journey from Antofagasta. We made several short stops to stretch our legs and stare in awe at the empty moonscape that had been used to test the lunar vehicles in the past – or had the whole moon landing been staged here? Images filed under S3840.

What once was ‘the turning with the three dead buses’ in ‘Rudolf Schulz speak’, was now a proper sign post, pointing us down a track with safety barriers and all sorts of traffic signs, winding down to the coast where Ian and Al promptly burst out into song about their love of the seaside.

S3841 was for images taken at the last part of our descent down to El Cobre. There is now a small settlement of fishermen and just scars on the landscape of what had been a very busy place 30-40 years ago. Most of the clumps of C. solaris were dead, but there is little here to enable Nature to recycle its dead.

As El Cobre disappeared behind us, the side side of the road was free of cacti. The salt track was in better shape than I had ever seen it this far north so we made good progress at about 70 kph. There were some bends coming up where in the past, rain had often washed away the track, but clearly, with the small settlement at El Cobre, the urgency with which this was patched up had increased. One year, Cliff and I had left the group at that time playing with the cacti at Botija and had taken a look at one of these bends where Copiapoa solaris (var. luteus) made a brief appearance, but like before, most of the stems had been dead. But don’t write off a dying clump of Copiapoa too soon! Through stem sacrifice, the clump might look dead, but there is probably enough life left in some stems to recover when conditions improve! And so it was at this spot. The road workings must have encouraged the truly dead plants to be removed and what was left was enough to satisfy the appetite for cactus images. Al spotted some much smaller cacti between the clumps: Copiapoa atacamensis seedlings that was a new site for me. Well spotted! So the desert was slowly fighting back? (S3842).

There was no need for a GPS to find Caleta Botija (S3843). Copiapoa ahremephiana was in flower and so helped to find what we had come to photograph. There was no time to walk to the T junction at Botija. I had hoped that we might have been able to drive in, but there was no evidence of the track that had suddenly appeared some eight years ago.

We made some short, leg stretch stops on the way to Taltal to record the variability in size of Copiapoa cinerea subsp. haseltoniana.

It had been a long day but tomorrow we’ll visit the habitat of Copiapoa cinerea subsp. cinerea, this time without a drone to add to the entertainment.