Happy 2014! It's always auspicious to start a new calendar year with something living and blooming so I hope this takes the edge off your hangover. Will post some more serialization soon, just finishing off painting the bedroom. Black. Ah ha ha ha ha!
This guy's about 6 years old and I received it as a seedling. I'm proud of my little Kermit-green pillar of velvety dinosaur humps; though it spikes me all the bloody time, it never gives me a moment's anxiety vis-a-vis its wellbeing, flowering two-three times a year in fits and starts, so I'd say it's pretty happy with the extreme neglect I lavish on it. No water over winter under an unheated verandah and water when I remember (about twice a month) over the quite lengthy summer growing season.
I'm not sure I'd call it a beginner's plant, despite the ease of cultivation. Neochilenia are Atacama natives, adapted to very notional soil and little more than sea-mist for all their irrigation requirements. Our mild maritime temps and seaside humidity seem to suit them to a T, as long as they are kept dry over winter; lack of atmospheric moisture might be a problem if you're somewhere mid-continental.
If you leave them alone, they are eager to please; overwater or pamper and they'll turn into a stump of soggy brown within a week. That's been my experience, anyway.
Here's my Neochilenia jussieui or Eriosyce heinrichiana simularis (or Pyrrhocactus something/1000 other names for the same damn plant) in full flower, early summer.