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Monday, 12 November, 2018

Around Diamantina: – Mendanha to Inhai

Memories of today’s Diary pages – or for most of them – are a little bit hazy so I am relying on Marlon’s notes – in Portuguese and Google Translate. Marlon took a month off from his regular business of providing garden plants and services to local customers. He was taking numerous mobile phone messages from client’s chasing orders, so he needs to catch up.

We’re based in Diamantina for few days, ideally situated in the middle of Uebelmannia country, specifically for members of the U. pectinifera complex I was first here in 1999, with the late Keith Grantham, Brian Bates to meet up with Rudolf Schulz and join Rudolf and Marlon in explorations for their 2000 book ‘Uebelmannia and their Environment’, our first Uebelmanniathon.

Today’s program similar to the one for Monday, 16 November 2009 when I traveled with Cliff Thompson from Waterlooville. That time, Marlon was unable to join us for the Minas Gerais stretch of our trip, so that we relied on Google Translate for our communications in Portuguese. Today’s stop list records eight stops where we saw and photographed the following taxa: Cipocereus minensis
Discocactus placentiformis
Pilosocereus aurisetus
Uebelmannia pectinifera and its subspecies flavispina

This time our first stop was said to be the type locality for U. pectinifera. It had rained overnight. The rocks were covered in a cyanobacterium that gave the rocks a black appearance. This cover was in turn covered in Algae and Lichen making the surface rather slippery. Also, many of them were loose and so, within minutes I made my first tumble grazing my head, unprotected following Angie’s dramatically short haircut, both arms and a cut over by kneecap. The bleeding was not too bad, although it did seem to attract a large number of mosquitoes. But worst of all, the tumble seemed to have damaged my self confidence, so that although I had already started the day as the slowest thing on two legs, I was now being overtaken by snails. Hummingbirds flew by my face, but I was too slow to get their picture.

Uebelmannias grow on rocky outcrops, so I blame the lack of pictures of these plants on the slippery nature of the rocks that they grow on.

It’s not just cacti & other succulent plants that we enjoy on our trips, but also a bit of adventure. Well, we have had enough of the latter as I sit on an airport bench in Sao Paola Airport in Brazil where we missed our connecting flight to Belo Horizonte by a whisker due to the extra crowds trying to get into the country for tomorrow’s F1 Grand Prix which is held at… Sao Paolo! They seem to be the Max Verstappen fan club, with some 4 Jumbos of Dutch and Belgian fans, arriving at the same time that we did.

Our arrival also coincided with Brazil turning its clocks to summer time so it seems that we lost an hour …. off the 1:35 hrs that we had for our transfers.

This is the largest airport in Latin America but not the most clearly laid out one.

We Alain, John Child and Chris Hayes were all very tired, having got up at the excellent Premier Inn at T4 – so new that my SatNav did not know about it and took us to the one at T5. We could have taken a courtesy bus that was some walk away, but in the end, looking at the pile of luggage, it seemed easier to call a taxi, who, for £16 was very happy to take us ’round the corner’.

But I guess it all started a bit earlier when Chris arrived and we packed my car with the cases etc. When we were ready to go, I could not find my car key. Searched my place, #12, – Nothing. Then did the same at Angie’s (#10) where some of the packing was done. Nothing! Went through my many pockets, twice, nothing! Started going through my luggage and yes, there was the key! 3 layers down in the rucksack! I’m getting old!

As a result, we missed getting Marlon his requested jar of marmite.

Angie had a rotten journey back home with a pile-up on the M3/A303 on a dark and wet night.

So, up at 03:00, walk to T4, farther than expected with our luggage! Smooth flight to Paris -CdG and quickly to the departure gate at the other side of the airport, but everything went well. Then 12 hours in the air on seats that we failed to pre-select so we had the middle seat in the middle block of seats, needing to climb over fellow passengers to visit the toilet. I’m getting too old for this.

Then I fell behind the others as, already late from the struggle through immigration, I was sent the wrong way through security, who wanted to Xray everything again, yes, even the luggage destined for the hold, so yes, they confiscated the nice Swiss Army knife that Angie & I bought at the Waterfalls at Schaffhausen during our March holiday. It was the nice du-lux version with wooden handle and 100 Euro price tag! Looks like we have to visit the shop again!

We’re unsure when Air France open their office so that we can sort our tickets out.

Now let’s see if I am still in credit with the wifi!

It’s been a frustrating year, healthwise. Around this time last year, we were all set to travel to Chile. Angie had asked if we could include a short break for her to go horseriding high up in the Andes, at a farm near the town of Hurtado. After a year of visits to Salisbury hospital and initially placed under a ‘long-haul flying ban’, she will have some stents inserted in some two weeks time. Fingers crossed.

You can’t keep good folks down so in March 2018 Angie and I drove down to Frijas and Monaco on the French Riviera to visit the oldest cactus nursery of Kuentz and the Jardin Exotique respectively. We even bought some cacti to see how things might work after the UK leave the EU (Brexit), as we headed home via Switzerland, also outside the EU. No problem. The border officer was only keen that we bought a carnet, a sticker to allow us to drive on Swiss motorways. Brexit negotiators, please take note!

We also visited the Sukkulenten-Sammlung Zürich before crossing into Germany to visit the nursery of Uhlig’s.

We were back in Germany again in July to visit the Dahlem Botanical Garden in Berlin, the oldest cactus nursery in the world of Haage in Erfuhrt and to visit Angie’s mother in Cologne.

Today marks the day when in one month’s time I fly out, without Angie this time, but with friends Alain Buffel, Chris Hayes and John Child to Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil to meet up with Jared Marguiles from Mayland, USA and Marlon Machado for a month of cactus inspired travel in the states of Minas Gerais and Bahia.

As usual, I’ll try to find an internet connection to keep family and friends up to date with our progress and to tell cactophiles of the plants that we saw and photographed.

I hope that you can join us on the Blog and enjoy with us what we’ll see.

I regret that we’ve decided to postpone our forthcoming trip to Chile.

Angie has been feeling unusually tired of late, enough to visit her doctor, which led to a series of tests. She is now waiting for a date to have a Cardiac CT scan but it is unlikely that this will happen before our departure in 9 days time.

In the mean time, her specialist has recommended against long haul flights until after the investigation has been completed. Most of the time she feels fine and continues to go to work every day, so no cause for serious concern.

We’re considering to slot the Chile plan in for Spring 2018, so look out for the future message to update you.



Yes, just one month and Angie and I will briefly visit London Heathrow Airport to fly to Madrid, where we change for our flight to Santiago de Chile. During a three week period we plan to re-visit our favourite spots from the last sixteen years and meet up with old friends:- cacti, people and hotels and restaurants, between Pichidangui, some 240 km from Santiago Airport and up to Tocopilla.

The internet has been awash with stories and images of one of the best flowering deserts for years – they seem to become more frequent in recent years! Coincidence or a by-product of global warming? Let’s hope that the flowering continues on for another month or two!

Fingers crossed that unlike the rain that caused the desert to be in flower in 2015, there is not as much damage as there was on that occasion. The Chilean coastal hills have little, often no vegetation or soil to support it. So any water that falls here immediately finds the fastest way down, carrying any dust and gravel down with it as a thick sludge. In 2015 there were reports of Copiapoa megarhiza floating down the Rio Copiapoa. In Chanaral we saw the damage done to houses where the mud filled the ground floor up to their ceilings.

I have ordered the new Nikon D850 DSLR camera, so, at least equipment wise, I should come back with the best images ever.  Its release was oversubscribed, so although I am next on the local camera’s shop waiting list, the next box that they receive is mine. Hopefully with some time to spare to get used to its new features.

As usual, I’ll aim to send daily blogs to keep the folks back home informed, up to date and entertained.

Just a brief note to confirm that I arrived back home in Amesbury safe and well, having been picked up at Heathrow T5 by Angie and her son Peter at 13:45, having landed exactly an hour earlier. Not bad!

Over the next few weeks I’ll be correcting the worst of the typos and incorrect grammar from the Blog pages and ask my friends Brian Bates and Jonathan Clark to find time to proofread the Blog texts, but not before I have filled the gaps caused by lack of internet access and from my spell of being unwell at the start of the trip. I also aim to add some pictures of the best things that we saw.

The next cactus event will be a coach trip with Alain and other members of the Belgian C&S Society Grusonia to visit cactus nurseries in the Czech Republic at the end of April / start of May.

The next Cactus Trip to see plants in habitat is planned in October 2017, to Chile, with Angie.

These flowering gardens are known as Chinampa (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinampa for more than you’ll ever need to now on the subject) and the famous tourist attraction is found at Lake Xochimilco.

Being there on a week day was absolutely ideal, with hundreds or even thousands of brightly painted sightseeing boats lying empty. But during weekends and public Holidays, the canals must be heaving with them. In between the tourist bands, there are others selling food, drinks, souvenirs or even with musicians – complete Mariachi bands – entertaining the tourists. We managed to capture it all on digital images and video.

The floating gardens at Xochimilco

The floating gardens at Xochimilco

Apart from some display gardens that could be visited, with some plants for sale, there was also a small exhibit of reptiles.

Alain complained of being hungry. BTW the snake (below) is a real Boa constrictor!

Alain loves his snakes

Alain loves his snakes

The weather forecast had warned of thunderstorms around 17:00 hrs, and sure enough, 30 minutes earlier and safely at the Hotel, copying our image files, the rain burst out. By 17:00 hrs, it was all over so that we can venture out for a Margarita!