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Well, it took a considerable amount of research, tapping friends and acquaintances for information and endless searches of the area in the Mexican State Oaxaca where Mammillaria bertholdii was found. Today was D-Day and we set off for what on paper was a simple 63 km journey through the mountains. Also on the schedule was Ortegocactus macdougallii. This plant had already been visited by Alain as part of the 2016 trip to Oaxaca by Alain and a long list of friends who had seen these plants in March when they had been in flower. Locals told us that it had been very dry, so no such luck this time. We also found a few Ferocactus, still with last year’s fruit. One plant looked remarkably like F. haemathacanthus, others will need a bit more reading up later.

And on to the small village where M. bertholdii resides. We had been supplied by different sources of a contact in the village.  Driving through the almost deserted town we asked three men if they knew our contact. ‘Follow us’. We made a quick U-turn and soon had caught up with the pedestrians and followed them to a yard where we were invited to park the car and come in for a chat. The man explained that he was the uncle of the man that we were looking for. We were also introduced to the wife of our contact, whom I recognised from a YouTube video.

We were treated to a shot of Mescal, home made and to me, as tasty as paint stripper, and as strong. Our contact was away – could we come back tomorrow? No, because our planes would leave Mexico City in a few days time. We were joined by the son of our contact and told that if we were to be taken to the plants, we would not be allowed to photograph them! Memories of a visit to an archaeological site early on during the trip sprang to mind.

Eventually the talk turned to financial reward for the uncle and his nephew to take us to a site where the plants grew. We knew from others that a fee of MX$ 300 (per person or per party?) was a reasonable reward for their troubles, but the amount requested this time was MX$500 per person. With a falling Peso on the currency markets it was about what I had expected and prepared to pay. The others agreed – after all an hour earlier it seemed that we had flown half way around the world, bounced over some 5,000 km of variable roads and their topez (sleeping policemen) not to go  away with at least a picture or two.

And so we set off, the nephew in the lead on his motorbike and the uncle in the backseat of our car squeezed between Jonathan and Chris. After a fair amount of zigzagging through the village’s streets we arrived in the countryside. The nephew stopped – would our car be able to make it down the track ahead? Let’s try, until we say ‘no farther’.

We did not go much farther when the motorbike stopped and parked up. We got out of the car, laden with cameras. Down a fairly steep (for a 63 year old aching back) slope of what seemed to be volcanic material, into a gully and up another fairly steep slope with rocks that seemed to be of the fossil petrified wood type. Through a small wooded area and on to an exposed rocky plateau. ‘We’re here!’ our friend announced. I am sceptical by nature, so smiled and asked ‘Where?’ We started bending our backs and scanning the rocks. It was Chris Hayes who was the first to spot the tiniest of plants. Jonathan was the first to confirm the ID ‘I’ll be a Dutch uncle if that is not M. bertholdii’ he announced. Hi, Oom Jonathan! But he was right. And as usual, once our eyes were in, we started to find small clusters of five to eight plants at the time. Uncle was pleased too as he had warned that this was the wrong time to look for them, we should wait for rains when the plants are bigger and in flower. ‘When is that usually the case?’ I asked. He shrugged his shoulders ‘when it rains!’ a rather irregular and unpredictable event. Anyway, we were all in heaven, clicking away with our cameras until reality reminded us that we still had to make a long journey ‘home’ to the hotel.

As we walked back the way we came, it was again Chris who announced that on the volcanic rock there were more Ortegocactus macdougallii, an important find as hitherto official records had reported just one population for this taxon. The nephew pointed out the tiniest signs of a yellow bud, a sure sign that flowering might be in a month’s time.

On the way back to our contact’s home, he stopped off at his Mescal factory where we were given a guided tour of the operations. Not sure if the manufacturing process would pass European health & safety laws, but then I had seen some cider farms in Somerset in the 1970s that would struggle to meet today’s standards as well.

Back to where we had started, the nephew managed to sell some of the Mescal to Alain and Chris. This morning they still manage to pass the ‘how many fingers?’ test to see if this near neat alcohol was affecting their eyesight.

A great day that we’ll remember for many years. Back in the UK, Storm Dorris was doing her worst! What a contrast.

We headed into the mountains – three SatNav systems coming up with different solutions to arrive ultimately at the same address. We became quite possessive about ‘our’ systems and critical of the others, particularly when Jonathan’s system got us to a dead end. My system also got lost but we could see the workmen laying wet cement waving a warning not to come nearer. Of coarse, such events rendered that SatNav system useless for a while as it persistently tried to get back to the point where that road was closed. Jonathan’s system had an irritating English lady’s voice while Alain’s system did the same in Dutch. My aversion of being told what to do, particularly by a female voice, is well known. No offence intended, Angie.

Much of today’s route was recorded by my dashcam that gives an excellent impression of the changing scenery. I started spotting huge deep green Agave along the side of the road and I’m sure that some will appear at 60 kph on the dashcam output. But we made one actual stop S3598, to take some proper images, with various people included to provide scale.

The sole purpose of staying in Miahuatlan was as a jumping off point for tomorrow’s adventure, the search for Mammillaria bertholdii

 

Today, the umpteen times revised itinerary said ‘rest day’, well earned and needed as we had travelled long distances in hot temperatures and feeling below par health wise. So today, we did …. nothing! Well, not quite true. We got up an hour later than usual, had breakfast and drove to a charming little cove where we sat at the Los Gueros Restaurant at Playa la Bocana. Huatulco, Oax., Mexico. We saw a few ceroids on the hill overlooking the bay, but could not be bothered to lift the camera to take their picture. I did take some images of pelicans, cormorants and white egrets fishing off shore, while we downed a bucket of freshly squeezed orange juice each, enjoyed two family plates of guacamole and, once the clock moved past midday, allowed ourselves a bottle of beer.

We drove back to the hotel and started planning tomorrow’s drive, when the internet collapsed. So I backed up my images to my hard drive, quite a lot, including all the dash cam images.

For Chris and Jonathan, this is the farthest point of the trip, so tomorrow we start the journey to Mexico City Airport and it becomes a matter of what other stops to make, other than ad-hoc leg-stretch stops.

As unlikely as it seems, it is getting hotter and more humid, so that the most comfortable environments are hotel rooms and the car, with the air-conditioning system set to somewhere between 16 and 20C. Not very good for sinuses and eyes that tend to dry out, but at least we are over the worst of the medical issues that befell us at the start of the trip.  Today was a reasonably easy day with  172.07 km driven from door to door of our hotels. The character of the towns has changed from ‘olde-worldy Mexico’ to any modern resort, anywhere, with large groups of Canadians moving from bar to bar.

We made two stops with a third stop included as we walked ahead of the car to the final stop of the day. And the target plant today was not a Ferocactus, but Melocactus oaxensis. Well, that seems to be the local name, but there is a huge list of synonyms that will require a closer look back home (Melocactus obtusipetalus, Cactus obtusipetalus, Melocactus delessertianus, Melocactus caesius, Cactus caesius, Melocactus humilis, Melocactus lobelii, Melocactus ruestii, Melocactus salvador, Cactus salvador, Cactus maxonii, Melocactus maxonii, Melocactus ruestii maxonii, Melocactus guatemalensis, Cactus oaxacensis, Melocactus oaxacensis, Melocactus ruestii oaxacensis, Melocactus guitarii, Melocactus dawsonii, Melocactus loboguerreroi, Melocactus holguinensis, Melocactus jakusii, Melocactus maxonii sanctae-rosae, Melocactus ruestii sanctae-rosae, Melocactus ruestii cintalapensis).

The first stop was at last year’s AB668 at the Blue Rock Restaurant, a rather grand name for a shack selling beers and Pepsi before we continued our journey. Cacti included various Opuntia sp. including one that was losing its fight against a mealy bug infestation. I photographed just four Melos,  none of which looked very happy – in fact very thirsty, growing exposed to the elements on a high rock.

We drove on to the second Melocactus location but before reaching it, stopped to photograph Pereskia lychnidiflora that had been reported from here last year. Then it was included under AB669 but for the purpose of my S numbers, I’ll give the plants photographed along the track today’s S#2, as the habitat is distinct from the Melocactus hill at the end of the track. S#2 had a Hylocereus sp., near where we parked the car. Along the track, on the raised side, were clumps of Mammillaria (M. voburnensis?), a yellow flowered Opuntia sp. (same species as at S#1) and one or two more taxa waiting for an ID.

Arriving at the final destination, there were some tall cerioids that need an ID. Here the majority of the Melocacti looked better watered than at the first stop, but at the expense of their attractiveness, as many had been protected from excess evaporation by a thick layer of grasses and herbs that now, with Spring approaching, were dying back, covering the Melos with their remains. There were magnificent views over the Ocean, where pelicans and frigate birds were showing off their prowess of fishing just off-shore. Close to the edge of the hill, the Melocacti were more exposed and offered some great shots with the Ocean in the background.

It seems that the Canadian contingent is hell bound on celebrating the result of the Winnipeg v. Ottawa ice hockey game that was broadcast all over town. Every time a point was scored a large bell in the restaurant was rung and more beer was requested.  I’ll rely on sleeping on my good ear, with the deaf ear blocking out the BeeGees singing Staying Alive and Abba singing about the Dancing Queen. I must be getting old!

 

We woke up at 7 a.m. as usual and by 8 were enjoying a very civilised breakfast on the Cathedral Square. We needed to collect the car from the off-site car park by nine and we anticipated some delay there as last night cars were parked bumper to bumper, using up every inch of space. However, this morning we were only one of a few cars left and there were only two turns between the car park and the hotel, and no traffic so early in the day.

The drive out of town was also not the nightmare of last night and so we found ourselves on the road to Tehuantepec. We had just one stop planned, AB666 from Alain’s previous trip. But some 10 km before getting there, we asked for a quick stop to photograph the Pilosocereus sp that had started to appear along the side of the road.

The next stop, at AB666, gave us Mammillaria nejapensis growing in the shade of a dark rock wall, as well as Pachycereus pecten-boriginum and Ceiba pentandra (kapok tree), Stenocereus (Isolatocereus) dumortieri, Neobuxbaumia scoparia and the Pilosocereus. CactiGuide.com lists the following taxa for Oaxaca P. chrysacanthus, P. collinsii, P. purpusii and P. quadricentralis. That will take some more sorting out when I get home.

 

We had really enjoyed our stay in Hotel Blancavilla, but it seems that all good things come to an end, until we could visit again on our way back to the Airport in some ten days time.

Today we’d aim for some more AB stops from his 2016 trip with others, starting with AB662. On that occasion Ferocactus flavovirens, Coryphantha reduncispina and Mammillaria carnea were listed, but I’m sure that I photographed many more taxa this time. More homework for rainy days in England. For a Ferothon, it seems important to mention F. recurvus. As a general observation, after last year’s Baja Ferothon, the Fero’s here seemed to much more in favour of partially shaded forest locations as opposed to the Baja plants that were mostly happy to battle it out on more exposed places and so were easier to spot. The ceroids were again numerous and varied and often in flower. And Mammillaria sphacelata seems a candidate for a semi mat-forming plant with elongated stems, cowering in the shade.

We walked back on the track through sugarcane fields to the main road where we had parked the car.

The next stop was due to be AB663, but we found a nicer spot with the same plants, according to Alain so had an early leg stretch to see very large plants of Ferocactus recurvus growing under trees on hillsides with clumps of Coryphantha calipensis (?) and giant Pachycereus (Lemaireocereus) weberi. This was near San Juan de Los Cues.

AB664 was a view point over scenery with dense stands of P. weberi.

The large modern hotel in Tehuacan seemed deserted, should be full of coach trips at the peak tourist season.

 

The lodgings at Hotel Villablanca in Tehuacan proved so comfortable last light with excellent food, that we decided to stay another night.

Our first goal of the day was a newly opened archaeological site at Tehuacan Viejo. We were greeted on arrival by an army of …..soldiers. We were asked to go and register at reception where the girl was clearly impressed by the multinational make up of our party. Unusual for such a huge new tourist attraction all the signage was in Spanish and none of the guides or soldiers spoke English. We were told firmly that we would not be allowed to take our ‘Professional Cameras’ inside as they did not want foreigners steal images of their national treasure. So Chris, with his Sony Compact (excellent camera) acted as our official photographer, supplemented by images by Alain & Jonathan taken on their mobile phones.

The Archeological content was disappointing – piles of old rubble with the centre piece newly restored with fresh cement and plaster and paint. Alain thought that it looked like Lego Town. If I had been able to take pictures, they would have been ruined by heavily armed security guards making it difficult to imagine that we were not in some science fiction film like Planet of the Apes.

We did see some interesting plants, duly photographed at our request by Chris. The first was a tree with attractive flaking bark, covered in red flowers and with Tillandsia.. But wait a minute, these flowers were Fouquieria flowers, coming from the tips of the tree’s branches, but not from the Tillandsia. So which Fouqueria is it? Once I receive Chris’ images I’ll send them to Eunice for ID.

 The second interesting plant was Ferocactus flavovirens – large heads, some 90+ heads to one plant! We’d see them again at later stops.

 Stop#2 of the day was along MEX125, south of San Antoinio Texcala, AB658 in 2016. That time Alain reports finding Ferocactus recurvus, Cephalocereus columna-trajani, Myrtillocactus schenkii, and Echinocactus platyacanthus. This time, I also photographed Ferocactus flavovirens and Beaucarnea gracilis, the latter making a useful addition to the pachycaul / caudiciform trees seen when I was in Madagascar on the previous trip.

 Stop #3: We arrived at the Jardin Botanico Dra Helia Bravo Hollis, set right in the middle of the densest stand of Cereus cacti I have seen – it easily puts the Argentinean Oreocereus forest to shame. Individually they are not the prettiest, most impressive plants in town, but en mass, they take a lot of beating! Just look at them and remember that they are all endangered species. The road to this place was the perfect road for the Dashcam and I sweated to get the thing working. All the right lights were flashing and the monitor was showing some extremely impressive images, but back at the hotel, the card was empty. It would have been the icing on the cake, but not mission critical.

I found the solution to this problem, The Dashcam came with a 32GB SD card and I thought that I had done the right thing by replacing it with a 64GB card. Wrong! Not compatible! I put the smaller card back in and everything is fine – until…. I managed to lose the tiny little card a few days latter! Aarrgghh! We are now hopeful in finding a replacement card in an Oxxo Shop!

Most of the Fero’s on our hit list were here, as well as some impressive Ponytail Palms (Beaucarnea sp.) plants. We walked in the heat up a steep stairway (to heaven?) followed by a walk along Fero alley to a view tower. Up to the top to film a 380 degree view, then back to the reception area for an ice lolly each, made of frozen cactus berries – mine were xlotl (?) berry juice. I knew that I should have photographed the wrapper.

The ceroids here were mostly Neobuxbaumia tetetzo. Fero recurvus and F. flavispina were there, as well as some very impressive Agave.

 Alain asked us to make one more brief stop, at a Salinas, a place where traditionally salt was harvested from large pans.