It seems to have become a kind of tradition that I post my daily diary pages from a recent cactus trip, aiming to cover the events of exactly a month ago (see Copiapoathon Diaries for 2003 and 2004). Judging from a reasonable number of positive reactions (and no negatives), I assume that readers don`t mind putting up with my ramblings for the next 21 days, that cover a recent trip in north west Argentina.
I am a registered speaker for the BCSS, giving talks / lectures at various branch meetings (or `programmes` as my new American friends call them). Often people tell me how lucky I am to be able to make such trips and expressing the wish to be able to make such trips themselves. One of the purposes of these Diaries is to share with you how easy it is to do this. Some of those that asked the question, later came along on subsequent trips or used the diary reports as a means of mapping out their own route.
So why Argentina? My previous 3 trips to Cactus Country have been to Chile, with a particular focus on Copiapoa. During these trips we would drive up various river valleys until we hit border posts with Argentina. I am Dutch and like flat, open country views. Like most of my fellow countrymen, when we see a hill, we are curious to learn what is at the top and on the other side. The Andes have some of the highest `hills` in the world!
During chats with fellow `cactus trippers`, a question that would pop up regularly would be: `What is your favourite cactus country?` And the number one choice was Argentina.
One particular champion is Leo van der Hoeven from Holland, who has visited Argentina in pursuit of cacti on numerous occasions. During his frequent visits to my house while working in the UK, he convinced me by showing numerous brilliant slides of a wide range of cacti in some spectacular locations. `Where would you recommend?` I asked, and an avalanche of names of towns and villages in north west Argentina came forth, in no particular order. We poured over maps, leaving many red circular marks where we left our glasses of fine Argentinean wines a little too long. While surfing the net to get more information about these places, I remembered Guillermo Rivera`s Cactus Expeditions website and found that many of the locations that Leo had recommended appeared on his trip itineraries. In fact, the match was so good, that I wrote to Guillermo (with whom I had previous correspondence, as we both have a passion for seeing cacti in habitat) and asked about the possibility of a `customised trip`, a bit longer than his usual trips and one that could take in some of the locations on Leo`s list that were not on his, provided that I could get enough people together to fill a small coach. Guillermo agreed, but I failed in getting the required number of participants.
Fortunately Guillermo had the solution: inviting Woody Minnich from the USA to join with a group of American cactophiles on this `more cactus-intensive than usual` trip.
And so it came to be that exactly a month ago as I write this, I sat down with 6 Brits (Anne Adams, Bryan Thomas, Cliff Thompson and Ian Woolnough – all participants on some previous trips, and Mike Harvey and Paul Shipsides, both new to Cactus Country) and 8 Americans: (Woody Minnich, John Bleck, Phyllis and Dick McEuen, Mark Muradian, Chris Rogers, Rob Skillin and Charles Spotts) in a conference room at the Holiday Inn in Cordoba, for a welcome dinner and introductory talk by Guillermo and Diego. Each of us received a printed itinerary (a printed version of the outline published on Guillermo`s website) and a list of plant names for the Argentinean Cactaceae following the classification of Roberto Kiesling. I will follow his taxonomy in my Dairy Reports, in the certain knowledge that some of you will disagree with it, but sure that from the names used, you can arrive at the names used in your preferred systems.
In the past, Guillermo (and others) have been accused of advertising on forums / groups, such as these. I ask those that are sensitive on this point to accept these contributions for what they are – factual reports of some of the plants, places and adventures that a group of cactophiles experienced during October 2005. In keeping with my objective of previous diaries, to share information and enable readers to undertake similar trips themselves, I plan to include details of how to contact Guillermo, and the URL for his website, in my final report. I would ask the owners of the group to contact me privately if they feel that this is inappropriate for their particular group or forum.
Finally, the diaries meet a very important but selfish need – to force me to firm up my often scanty notes before the brain forgets, and to ask fellow travellers to correct me if this has already been the case.
I hope that you`ll enjoy reading about our trip as much as we enjoyed being there!