Saturday, 15 October 2005 – Belen to Ruinas del Quilmes, Amaicha del Valle
Around 10 a.m. we arrived at S433 and were once again standing in the Spring sunshine, surrounded by cacti. Exactly a week earlier, the Brits and I were at London Gatwick, boarding our plane to Madrid, the first leg of our flight to Cordoba, Argentina. It seems a year ago. Today, exactly a month after S33, both events seem a life time ago, such is the human mind.
Cacti at S433 included Cereus aethiops. This too has a tendency to germinate underneath a bush or shrub, eventually poking its head above its nursery. Here however, was a beautiful exposed specimen, multi-branched, some 150 cm (5 ft) tall and wide. If any cactus show had a special Cereus aethiops class, this plant would have won it. Shame there were no flowers.
The cry Whats this Gymno? had become a familiar sound during our stops (sometimes provoking the response: Thats not a Gymno, thats an Acanthocalycium!). This time the consensus indicated G. hybopleurum (syn. G. catamarcense). It was easier to ID Trichocereus huascha and T. terscheckii and Opuntia sulphurea. And still the camera drifted skyward and recorded Tillandsias growing in the trees. The good news is that I have received offers of help to ID the Bromeliads. The only thing I have to do now is find the time to go through 3,562 images, select those of Bromeliads and get them to the volunteer. Patience please.
While the cameras were pointing skywards, the birders amongst us (Michael and Bryan) identified a spot in the sky as a condor, circling down. I find it difficult to share their enthusiasm. Why does the condor leave an image of the King of the Andean skies, when the somewhat smaller and much more frequently seen Turkey Vulture has a much less glamorous image. At the height that this bird was soaring, I could not possibly give an ID. Perhaps Gymnocalycium were not so difficult after all.
S434 had much the same plants, but the site was more exposed and as a result they looked different. Acanthocalycium glaucum was the new entry on our species list. The move of this taxon to Lobivia or Echinopsis seems an obvious one, as the plants were displaying woolly flower buds, rather than the spiny calyx that give the genus Acanthocalycium its name.
The scenery was increasingly becoming a distraction as an increasing number of images of cactophiles, lined up to take the photo of the colourful mountainsides indicate.
S435 had the same cacti as S434, while at S436 (Los Naciementos) the Trichos changed from straight T. terscheckii to a more white densely spined top stems of T. pasacana. The word hybrid was used, as was intermediates and over lapping distribution areas, once again showing us all that nature is difficult to pigeon-hole. As usual, I took the pictures, noted GPS data and will find out more later by comparing the plants from others to in what respect these plants are converging.
Lobivia huascha (or Echinopsis if you prefer) were very robust and densely spined. Just look up the list of synonyms for this taxon and youll understand that it must be quite variable across its distribution area. It would take quite a bit of time and space, sowing and comparing seedlings from different locations to determine how much of this variation is genetic and how much of it is due to different growing conditions (soil, temperature, exposure, availability of water etc.). This is true for most of the Cactaceae (and I guess plants in general) that have a reasonable wide distribution area.
Some of you have asked me about more information about each habitat. Im plotting our Stops in Google Earth and this certainly adds another dimension to the experience. Ill check with Guillermo about his views on sharing some or all this data on-line. Id leave some locations (e.g. the bonniae stop) off the list as numbers of this plant are very low and would not benefit from many visitors. There were other places where we respected Guillermos request not to take GPS readings.
And then we arrived for a night at the Ruines. Now Ive seen a few ruines in my life, my own home is irreverently referred to as the Klaassen No-Star Hotel by some (usually when the service (flow) of beers temporarily drops below expectation) , but the Hosteria Ruinas de Quilmes was a complete and very pleasant surprise. I took as many pictures of the Inca influenced architecture and ornaments as I usually take of cacti at one of our stops. Tremendous! Just enter Hosteria Ruinas de Quilmes into the Google search engine and select the Adventure Life link for a set of images that show better than words what I mean. In fact, the image top right in the set shows the location of that evenings wine tasting and the big pot in that picture is where Cliff and Mark took turns sticking their heads into the pot to make rude noises. Nobody said that these trips had to be serious, scholarly affairs! Doing searches on any of the geography names mentioned will show you a wealth of images that might fill your curiosity until I reach the end of the Diaries and create the website with (some) images. Of course, booking a space on one of Guillermos tours is a much better option see it live!