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Guillermo’s itinerary indicated 4 stops – we made 5. Great!

I have always found it very interesting to plan cactus trips and, in a way, missed doing the detailed planning for this trip. It helps me to become familiar with the area that we’ll be visiting. This was particularly useful when I duties included driving and navigating. The end product can be a frighteningly detailed plan that would require military discipline to achieve – no fun to explore, ruled by a stop watch! Flexibility is key and one should never go on trips like this with the expectation that you’ll manage every single stop that has been planned – trust the tour leader! Although we did not manage all the stops listed on Guillermo’s website, in case you are reading the Diaries alongside the itinerary, we saw all the key plants we hoped to see and I came back with a greater number of pictures of a greater number of cactus species than I had hoped for.

S428 offered Tephrocactus alexanderi and T. weberi. Recent fruits suggested that there ought to be seed around and I showed off my cactus expertise by telling fellow travellers that Tephrocactus seed is quite unlike seed from most of the Cactaceae and showed others how to collect it. I was right in knowing that the seed was ‘different’, but wrong in collecting bags full of Acaciaseed instead – Tephro seed is really much more different!

More seed was collected at S429, but on the whole, most cacti we saw on the trip were in advanced bud. The late Spring had delayed flowering and there was no fresh seed to be had, apart from that of the Tephros. As usual on these trips, I concentrate on collecting data, including images, rather than focus on searching for seed. As I share my information and images with fellow travellers, they share their seedlings with me – one benefit of a team approach. In 2003, Benjy Oliver was the seed collector and I was able to include his seed list on the website version of that trip’s Diaries. I’m not sure who focused on seed collecting this time – there was just none to be found, but if any of the trippers want to advertise their surplus seed, I’ll be happy to list it. To solve the problem, Guillermo had a seed list from one of his friends in Cordoba, complete with habitat details of the seed’s parents. Guillermo, if you get a chance to send me your friends’ contact details before the Diaries end, I’ll include it in my final message and on the website version. All I have to do now is to find time to sow the seed, together with that collected on previous trips. I must do better!

S430was a stop with a difference: the Thermal Baths at Fiambala. Warm (hot) water comes from a thermal spring in the hills and cascades through a series of man made pools that become cooler as you go down. Most of the group took a dip, to swim with the small baby frogs that seemed to enjoy the environment, but as I can take a warm bath anytime I like in England, I went to explore the hillside down the road for more cacti.

There were spectacular views from ‘our hill’ (c 1,850 m altitude) on to the plane through which we had travelled earlier. I enjoyed the peace and quiet of a gentle breeze whistling through the spines of Echinopsis leucantha and indulged myself by taking more pictures of T. alexanderi. Wonderful spine colours from almost white, through tan shades to almost black. If the seed that I collected reflects the variability of the parents, I’ll be very pleased. Can anyone advise from experience on any special tricks for germinating Tephros?

A quick fuel & supply stop in Tinogasta provided photo opportunities for a typical north west Argentine town during siesta time, with some colourful and interesting graffiti.

S431 was a cultural as well as cactological stop, at the Ruinas El Shincal, which from 1470 to1536 was the regional Inca capital. I can be a culture vulture, but on this occasion focused on photographing Cereus aethiops, Gymnocalycium hybopleurum (plants also known by the synonym G. catamarcense), with Echinopsis (Trichocereus) terscheckii and Opuntia sulphureaas props among the ruins, to set the scene. The scent of the flowers of a local herbaceous plant (Viburnum sp.) filled the air and was quite overpowering. The Gymnos included the only variegated Gymno I saw during the trip and one of a small number of crested specimens – always useful to include in presentations back home.

On our way to S432we passed through the township of Londres (Spanish for London) and we made a quick photo stop to prove that we had been there. A colourful mural told us that the town was founded in 1558 by Captain Don Juan Perez de Zurila to celebrate the marriage of Maria Tudor of England to King Felipe II of Spain.

At S432 to the north of Londres, we found Gymnocalycium hybopleurum, Opuntia sulphurea and Trichocereus pseudocandicans, quite unlike London, England. Some of the Gymnos here had impressive heavy spination and made me look forward to seeing G. spegazziniin the field in days to come. Other were quite weakly spined. Were these really all the same species?

Ian had been quite dismissive about Gymnos before the trip, so I enjoyed catching him out with a quick enthusiastic reply to my question: ‘Any interesting Gymnos here?’

As I have so far succeeded in being fairly brief today, I’ll tell you about our wine tastings. It seems to have become tradition at private gatherings of cactophiles in the UK (and in Belgium, Alain?) to enjoy some bottles of wine from the country whose plants are the focus of that particular gathering’s interest. So during our planning meetings in the UK, we also sampled a few Argentinean red wines, having already become fans of the Chilean reds from the other side of the hills. This filtered through to Guillermo, who had spent some time in the Argentine wine trade in Mendoza. Most in the party happily took up his offer of regular (it seems daily?) half hour wine tastings, where we would gather in the Hotel restaurant and sample small quantities of three different bottles of wine. Guillermo taught us the differences between the various grapes (Malbec – my favourite; Cabernet-Sauvignon – a close second; Shyraz etc) and of the differences between cheap, medium and quality examples of each.

I doubt that many of us will progress to true wine-snob status, but we certainly enjoyed experimenting with a new range of facial expressions and terminology to suit the occasion. As Clifftonnaires disease took hold and blocked our sinuses, our ability to distinguish Mark’s Peach Brandy from Dick & Phyllis’ Rum & Cokes and Argentina’s Quilmes Crystal beer, in a blind-fold test, would have made an interesting experiment! Perhaps an idea for struggling Cactus & Succulent plant societies?

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