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Archive for May, 1999

Sunday, 16 May 1999 – around Morro do Chapéu

[I was surprised to see that during this 30 day trip, I only recorded 60 Stops, no doubt due to having to ration our 36 exposures per day. However, yesterday I noted six photo Stops and I recorded another six Stops! Be prepared for pure driving days to follow!]

Today we set off for America Dourada and by 8:30 arrived at site (S0340) that during the wet season is often covered in a few cm of water. Some of the Melocactus azureus were covered by white scale insects, or were they merely stains left when the water evaporated? There was a Bursera sp. here that Marlon suggested might be B. umberana. This area has been earmarked as a future nature reserve. It lies right along the main road and there is a small football pitch across the road. Kids from the small near-by settlement use this site as a shortcut to the main road and the football pitch. There is a small stream (dry when we were there) that crosses the site. According to Joao, during the wet season this area is often flooded when the plants spend several weeks below water! I took slides of the Bursera, a Bombax sp., Chorisia speciosa and on the cactus front Cereus jamacaru, Melocactus azureus, Tacinga inamoena, Opuntia ficus-indica, Pereskia bahiensis and Pilosocereus gounellei – worth getting up early for!

Still around America Dourada we stop (S0341) to photograph an enormous bottle tree – Cavanillesia arborea, in flower and (saving film) also record seeing Bursera  leptophleos and Stephanocereus leucostele. es

Next Joao took us to the farm of his cousin in Lapinha (S0342). We were guided through a forest of shrubbery with some impressively spiny Chorisia speciosa var. mulungi trees and reached a steep rock face overlooking a river, the Rio Jacare according to my notes, or the Ver. do Romao Gramacho according to our 1950’s topographical map. We saw two Melocacti: M. azureus and M. pachyacanthus ssp. viridis growing side by side as well as the usual Tacinga inamoena and Pilosocereus gounellei.

Still near Lapinha we stop (S0343) to photograph some impressive stands of Pilosocereus gounellei as wel as some orchids (Cattleya elongata ssp. labiata).

The next stop (S0344), back along BA 052, now heading back to Morro do Chapéu, was a real challenge for our limited film stock as here we found three different Melocacti (M. ernestii fa. erythracanthus, M. glaucescens and M. albicephalus (= M. erythracanthus x M. glaucescens), Cereus jamacaru, Micranthocereus flaviflorus ssp. densiflorus, Leocereus bahiensis, Opuntia ficus-indica, Tacinga inamoena, Pereskia bahiensis, Pilosocereus gounellei, P. pachycladus as well as numerous species of Velloziaceae, Euphorbia phosphorea and E. sarcodes but the undoubted star of this site was Discocactus zehntneri ssp boomianus. I recorded a total of 22 different taxa of cacti, succulent plants and other ‘plants of interest’. [PS this was a record that would take many years to better]

The last stop of the day (S0345) was east of Morro do Chapéu, at a bridge across a tributary of the Rio Jaquipe at the Ferro Doido waterfall. Sadly once again we had gone past the ‘best light’ point of the day (around 16:00 hrs) so long exposures with the camera on a tripod to get optimum depth of field were essential. Micranthocereus purpureus and Stephanocereus luetzelburgii towered over Melocactus oreas ssp cremnophillus.

Saturday, 15 May 1999 – around Morro do Chapéu

We started the day with a ‘cool’ 15 C and with a light drizzle.

Marlon had found that the owner of the restaurant opposite the Hotel Palace Diamantina, Joao Borges Carneira, is able and willing to show us a few good cactus sites. In best fisherman’s style he told us of a location where there are ‘short but fat cacti, up to 30 cm tall and almost as wide’.

Before setting off, we went into town to buy some provisions. Keith & I were taken by Joao to a small house where two young men, up to their arms in printing ink, were setting the type for the local monthly news paper.  Joao tells the chaps who and what we were and they promise to write a small article about our visit in the next issue!

[PS: After Brian dropped us off at Salvador at the end of the trip, he passed through Morro do Chapeu again (with his new, Australian, travel companion, Nola, who wanted to go to Sucre, Bolivia the scenic way) and picked up a copy of the newspaper which indeed reported the visit by the two prominent botanists from Kew Gardens in London, Keith Grantham and Paul Klaassen! Just goes to show, don’t believe everything that your read!]

We missed seeing Melo’s growing on the roofs of houses that Marlon had reported seeing while Keith & Paul were at the printers.

We set off and turn onto the BA 426, sign posted for Jacobina. After some 8 miles we stopped (S0334) and took a walk through fairly dense low shrubbery off to the right of the road. The large cactus mentioned my Joao turns out to be Melocactus cremnophilus, a form of Melocactus ernestii (according to Taylor) or M. oreas (according to Pierre Braun)

The form of Tacinga inamoena encountered here is the larger, more robust form that we found at most of the locations that we have visited to date.  In the large form, the mature, ripe fruits fall off easily, where as in the small form they remain on the pad.

Joao informed us that we had driven too far, so we turned around to arrive at S0335, opposite the entrance to Fazienda Catandova and again walked into the shrubbery.

In this place we saw what we believe to be an hybrid swarm between M. zehntneri and M. concinnus. This is also reported by Taylor in his Melocactus monograph.    Hybrid swarms are really confusing… Which is the ‘good’ species and the hybrids?

In the case of M. albicephalus (M. erythracanthus x M. glaucescens) it was easier, but in this M. zehntneri x M. concinnus population it was difficult to tell the plants apart – probably all the plants are hybrids, with varying characteristics from one parent or from the other!

We took the BA 142 South out of Morro do Chapéu and head for a hill with a radiomast on top, turning right on to a dirt track.to arrive at the foot of the hill. (S0336)

The town’s name comes from this hill (Morro do Chapéu means ‘Hill of the Hat’ – to the locals, this hill looks like a hat – or is it the clouds that shroud the hill-top early in the morning that form the ‘Hat’ on top of the mountain?  This seems to be how the plants obtain their moisture during the dry season: the dark humus rich soil was warm and dripping with water when squeezed.  The Cacti did not seem to mind!

The dirt track climbed and came to an end at km 562.5 at the site of a power station.  Steps took us to the top of the hill to the radio mast (still S0336).  The view of a hillside full of cacti below us was impressive.  The site was windswept and the black soil between the rocks was soaking wet.

Joao explained that Morro do Chapeu spends months at the time under a solid cloud layer that often shrouds this hilltop, although there is not much actual rainfall.

NB: Plotting the GPS reading on to the map casts some doubt over one or the other.  There is no road south of Morro do Chapeu that would allow us to turn off to the right to arrive at this location, BUT the date on the map is September 1950 and I guess that some new roads were built since.

We made several more stops as we drove along the dirt track back to the main road.  Joao wanted to show us a ‘crater’. We turned left off the main road through a gate marked Buraco do Possidonio and followed a dirt track to the end where we found vultures feeding on the carcass of a cow, reminding us that this area is still inhabited by jaguar and wolf. We park the car (S0337) at what became known as ‘the Meteorite Stop’, although other sources suggest that the 60 m deep hole is the result of an earthquake rather than of a meteorite impact. The area is renowned for its caves and cave diving is a major source of tourism for the area. Pilosocereus glaucochrous grows here and has more and much longer central spines. There is another thin stemmed cactus that Brian IDed as an Arrojadoa while PK believes that it is a Leocereus. The quality of the slides taken does little to help to decide the right name, but does not show a ring cephalium.

Joao seemed surprised that we were not more impressed by this hole in the ground – other tourists in the past had been – but Marlon explains that we are interested in seeing plant, not caves. He directs us back to Morro do Chapéu from where we took the BA052, heading west before taking a turn south towards Cafarnaum on the BA052. We turned west again and bump along a dirt track until we stop (S0338). Joao warned us to be very quiet as we walked along the base of a rocky outcrop and pointed at various caves which he tells us are inhabited by the infamous South American Killer Bees. The bees are apparently quickly angered by loud noise and chemical smells, which is why we left the car behind and I was not allowed to light up any cigarettes. At the entrance of one of the caves, Joao showed us some prehistoric rock paintings, but by now (after 16:00 hrs) it is already too late for good photographic light – flash is not an option as this too might anger the bees. [PS: wish I had one of my digital cameras along, which would have easily handled the light conditions, but a conventional slide film camera loaded with ISO 100 film brought with it a number of limitations!]

I did manage to get some pictures of Pilosocereus gounellei ssp zehntneri growing on the rocks above the cave.

Friday, 14 May 1999 – Salvador to Morro do Chapéu

After a full breakfast we leave Hotel Verdemare, after first making a booking for our last night in Brazil at the end of the trip.

We take the BR624 out of Salvador and make good progress until the empty boxes on the roof rack blow off while we are driving along at 100 km.p.h., causing a traffic hold up until the box is retrieved and secured back on the roof rack.

At Feira de Santana we stop for ice cream and directions. The area we have driven through since leaving Salvador used to consist of Atlantic Rainforest.  These days this land has been converted for agricultural use and only some 1% of the original rainforest remains. Having enjoyed the ice creams, we turn onto the BA 052 towards Morro do Chapéu (265 km).

Excited by the first Pilosocereus appearing near the road, we stop (S0331) for a can of softdrink and some pictures (Cereus jamacaru, Opuntia ficus-indica and Pilosocereus catingicola).

Another comfort stop (S0332) and photo opportunity, this time as we leave Mun. Serra Preta and enter Mun. Ipura.

As well as seeing cacti ‘in the wild’,  Opuntia ficus-indica, an introduced species, is cultivated for the production of cattle fodder.  We saw many of these small patches throughout our journey.  We did not see any evidence of the invasive powers of escapees that are well documented in Australia.

The next stop (S0333) is at a rocky outcrop, near the village of Ventura, 22 km east of Morro do Chapéu where we see our first Micranthocereus purpureus and Stephanocereus luetzelburgii.

Thursday, 13 May 1999 – Salvador, Bahia

After a good night’s sleep, Marlon took us to a Nissan garage to get the car serviced after Brian’s 5 day long trip from Sucre in Bolivia. While the car is being worked on, Marlon takes us shopping at Shopping Iguatemi, a large modern city centre shopping mall, the one with the 2 McDonald restaurants, one inside the mall, the other a drive through in the car park – impressive!

The centre of Salvador has many sky scrapers and modern architecture office blocks; just like any large modern European city centre.  Later, when we drove out of the city we saw many large crowded favelas build against the hills.  There are the usual crowds around at traffic lights, people who clean car windows and demand money, just as in most large cities anywhere in the world.

Brian bought a second spare tyre and we enjoy lunch at McDonalds and tea at Pizza Hut.

Given the summer like weather, it was strange to find that by 18:00 it was pitch dark.  Sun rise is around 6:00, so in the weeks to come, we would get up at 6:00 and would usually be in bed by 20:00, dog tired.

Late in the afternoon, Marlon took us to the Lagoa do Abaete (the Abaete Lake Park) in Itapoa, north of Salvador, near the airport, along the Atlantic Coast in sand dunes.

Unfortunately the light is too poor for photography, but we plan to return at the end of the trip for pictures.  Unfortunately the weather on our return had turned, so no photos other than the ones taken today, of Melocactus azureus. Other plants seen, but not photographed, are Cereus fernambucensis and Pilosocereus salvadoriensis.

[PS: writing these notes up today, in 2013, and after years of taking digital cameras on our plant trips, I need to explain that on this trip, we had each budgeted for one roll of 36 exposures per day and then would often queue up to take the same picture of the same plant!]

Wednesday, 12 May 1999 – Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

Brian Bates had an eventful day.  On arrival in Salvador he contacted Marlon Machado and arranged to meet at McDonalds in the main shopping centre in the centre of Salvador.  In the town centre Brian found McDonalds and assumed this was the only one.  Both Marlon and Brian sat at different McDonalds for some 2 hours.  Eventually Marlon went home and Brian contacted him again and arranged that Marlon would find Brian in his car on the road to the Airport.

Brian’s car had its hazard flashers on and was parked opposite a bar.  Two men walked up to the car.  One pulled a gun and said in Portuguese something along the lines of ‘ Give me your money and your car keys’.  Brian put his hands up and replied in Spanish ‘ I have no money – I don’t understand’.  The gunman nervously signaled for Brian to put his hands down, but every time that the gun appeared, Brian’s hands would automatically go up.

[Brian now takes over the story:] ‘After 10 minutes of stalemate, they got bored and considered the danger of prolonged staying on a very wide and busy highway. They eventually spoke amongst themselves and shook me by the hand and just walked away. By this time, I was in shock and shaking. I only had $100 bills and the bar couldn’t change them. I phoned Marlon and told him where I was. He duly arrived with his friend-with-a-car. I asked them to buy me a beer to help calm my nerves. I needed something stronger. Marlon suggested that I didn’t have enough information to allow the police to catch them, so I didn’t report the incident to the police. We all drove to the airport and awaited Keith & Paul’s arrival around midnight.’

Keith Grantham and I arrived on our flight from Lisbon, Portugal, as planned. As we had never met Marlon, I had promised to wear a bright orange T-shirt, a replica of the shirt worn by the Dutch team in the 1998 World Cup Soccer tournement. That should stand out in a crowd! … except that around the same time that we arrived, two jumbo jets full of Dutch football supporters arrived for a soccer tournement. As a result I was just one of some 400 peop-le wearing the famous Oranje strip. Fortunately Brian knew us, so we met up without any further problems.

In the southern hemisphere it is really ‘winter’, i.e. 12 May is ‘really’ our 12 November – but when we stepped off the plane at midnight the temperature was 25C! The UK concept of four seasons does not seem to exist, at least not in terms of day length or temperatures.

We arrived safely at a hotel that Marlon had arranged for us in Salvador and were glad to see our beds.

At midday the next day the temperature in the shade was 36C.  I explained the concept of a British summer – 3 consecutive hot days.  He understood immediately – just like a Brazilian winter: 3 consecutive days of cool weather.

[PS: Thanks to Brian Bates for augmenting my minimanilst notes some 14 years after the event]