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Archive for October 18, 2005

Tuesday, 18 October 2005 – Cachi to Salta (San Lorenzo)

Aahh, Cachi! That’s Cacti with an h. Did it live up to its name? Well, on entering the charming local church, we were impressed to find the ceiling made of cactus wood. So was the lectern and confessional. So, does that make cactology a religion instead of a science, obsession or hobby?

S446 was on the outskirts of town, where we found an Echinopsis sp. (or was it Acanthocalycium thionantha?), Gymnocalycium spegazzini, Parodia aureicentra, P. microsperma (syn. var. cachiana) and Tephrocactus weberi. Another point of interest was a string of huge black ants carrying bits of leaf, neatly cut into chunks up to three times the size of the ant. They seemed to be taking a complete bush apart, carrying it in pieces across the piece of wasteland where the string suddenly disappeared. Were they rebuilding it there? What? Why? How? Nature is fascinating – it makes you think!

As yesterday at S445, we found P. aureicentra, growing in slate. I think it was Cliff, who pointed out the small papery wasp nest with half a dozen huge wasps, clinging to the nest, waiting for the temperature to rise. It looked like a scene from a science fiction film: fighter space ships, clinging onto the mothership before flying out on a mission.

S447 was in the Cachi mountains. Again, we found P. aureicentra, again on slate. I’ll have to ask Angie if she has this species in her greenhouse. If so, I’ll suggest she repots it into slate as well. Maihueniopsis boliviana, one of the higher altitude cacti, reminded us that we were now at 2,828 m (9,285 ft). The opposite hillside was very attractive, worthy of a picture as well, particularly as a back drop for the numerous T. pasacana.

Back on the bus, the Coolpix 995 came into its own: just switch on the camera, no need to twist the lens in the traditional position for taking pictures, this leaves the lens pointing at the scenery passing by the bus, leaving you to look out through the front windscreen to see what’s coming and occasionally to press the shutter to share the view with others back home. Tip: at the next
stop, score brownie points by being amongst the first on the bus and get one of your mates in trouble by making them the last on board, by asking them to clean your window on the outside. Beware as they seek their revenge!

S448 was a scenery rather than cactus stop in the Parque Nacional Los Cardones. We were now at 3,376 m (11,084 ft) according to my GPS, 3,348 m according to the sign along the road announcing that we were at Piedra del Molino. We were up in fog (= clouds) and was cold enough to be glad for the warmth of the air-conditioned bus. We had zigzagged to the top and could now
enjoy the sight of the road zigzagging back down on the other side of the hill.

Still in the Parque, but 250 m lower, we parked on one of the bends (S449) and took a stroll in the cold along a hillside path and found tiny Rebutia marsoneri (syn. R. wessneriana), almost the size of a 10 centavo piece (useful to indicate scale to anyone who knows the size of this coin – useless to any one who doesn’t). Why do we do this? Because we don’t carry a pocket full of our homeland’s currency around Argentinean mountainsides, I guess. In Chile, I used match sticks to provide a scale for Copiapoa laui and humilis and for Thelocephala – I had only recently given up smoking then. These days I no longer carry matches. In the UK, I’m more used to see this Rebutia filling washing-up bowls, completely hidden under hundreds of flowers for about a week sometime during end April / early May. So its size seems to be an environmental rather than genetic feature.

Among the lichen clinging to the rocks, John (or was it Charles) spotted some small Opuntiods, some very red (stressed?) in colour. Were these Puna sp.?
Later we saw some larger plants: Cumulopuntia? Maihueniopsis? Tephrocactus? Which one?

The views and scenery were impressive, even on a cold misty day. Just imagine on a bright sunny day!

We dropped another 250 m to S450. Just behind some barbed wire was another ‘first-time-on-this-trip’ cactus: Trichocereus smrzianus, in bud. I felt cold and miserable (Clifftonnaires Disease and altitudes don’t mix). I could not be bothered to climb through the wire fence, so my images show it as a convict plant, behind barbed wire. The mystery Opuntiod made another appearance too.

Two and a half hours later, we found ourselves along a dried up riverbed (S451), with trees dripping with epiphytes: bromeliads, orchids and, if we’d looked long enough, cacti (Rhipsalis and Pfeifferi) and between the mosses on the steep rocky sides of the road, R. marsoneri (R. wessneriana) again. So you can’t draw many conclusions about a plant’s cultivation needs by recording conditions at just one habitat, during a 30 minute visit. If it has not reported from anywhere else, then you have some clues. If it is reported from various locations, you can’t assume that they are all like the one that you’ve seen during that snapshot in time. Guillermo picked some great spots to illustrate the point.

We arrived in the bustling town of Salta and were amazed to see how the traffic flowed without traffic controls. We passed some camera shops and were let loose on the large plaza in front of the cathedral in the failing light on an overcast evening at around 6:30. To help organize my images I have filed them under S452. We managed to find the camera shops, where Mike was able to find a charger for his camera batteries, but Woody failed to find a replacement for the transparent protector bit for the monitor on the back of his D70. Rob had accidentally left his home-made light diffuser some stops ago and failed to find a purpose built replacement.