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This was the first time on the trip that we’d stay two nights in the same hotel, so a good opportunity to arrange for a bag of laundry to be processed while we were enjoying a day at the Quebrada del Toro.

I forgot to mention in previous reports that Diego, our other guide, had to return to Cordoba and would then be flying out to Mexico to attend a botanical conference. For one day, Guillermo had to fill all the tour leader functions unassisted, but today’s images show that Guillermo’s brother-in-law, Emilio, had joined us.

So it was Emilio who joined Guillermo in the daily shopping trolley race to stock up with supplies, this time in a huge hypermarket on the outskirts of Salta. We also indulged in a bit of shopping and Rob bought a transparent washing up bowl to act as emergency stand in diffuser. A diffuser is a very useful tool when taking pictures in high contrast light conditions, such as Gymnos underneath bushes, partially exposed to full very strong sunlight, partly in the shade. Another useful tool is a reflector, such as the one that Woody had clipped to his belt, that could be unfolded to a disk, about a meter (1 ft) across. This could be used to reflect natural light into dark shadowy places. In Brazil, we would ask follicly challenged (bald) Brian Bates to fulfil the same function, but he was stuck north of the border with Bolivia.

I have 7 stops recorded for the day, ranging from 1,665 to 2,789 m (5,466 – 9,157 ft) in altitude. According to the medical profession, High Altitude is from 1500 – 3500 m (5000 – 11500 ft); Extreme Altitude is above 5,500 m (18,000 ft) and Very High Altitude is the bit in between. People who experience altitude sickness, usually complain of symptoms above 2,500 m (8,000 ft). As we’d be travelling up to the Very High Altitude level during this week, it was useful to learn how we’d react. There seems to be no guarantee that because you have not had any bad effects previously, you won’t experience problems this time. For those who want to know more, I suggest a look at http://www.high-altitude-medicine.com

S453 was at the lower end of the Quebrada, a steep rock face where the road had been built to zigzag up, hugging the mountainside. We found Cleistocactus hyalacanthus, Rebutia deminuta and R. marsoneri (syn. R. wessneriana) as well as an Echinopsis (Lobivia?) sp. Guillermo managed to climb some 30 m (90 ft) up the almost perpendicular rock face and shouted down that he found some Rebutias. ‘Send us a postcard!’ we replied, as others had found the same plant at eye-level and were clicking away with their cameras. The problem with these lower plants was that they were covered with caked on dust / mud, so that IDing the plants was even more of a challenge than usual.

20 minutes farther on was a similar location (S454) with an Euphorbia sp. added to the list. The attractions here however were four Rebutia plants with a red flower each. How different from Rebutia in a British Spring – a true riot of colour!

We made another very brief stop to allow Mark to do some field collecting – of insulators, from the top of disused (?) telephone poles. I did not bother to note the GPS and allocate a stop number, but have a nice picture of Mark at the top of his climb.

An hour later and still climbing, we found Maihueniopsis boliviana, Parodia faustiana and P. nivosa while Trichocereus pasacana towered overhead, as well as a small padded, densely spined Opuntia sp. (S455). In terms of numbers, Abromeitiella (brevifolia ?) was the dominant plant, if each head in the huge cushions counts as an individual plant. Some P. nivosa had somehow managed to germinate underneath the bromeliads and eventually managed to grow through the cushion. Despite the grey skies, they made a great picture!

On to S456, and now things got really interesting: Gymnocalycium spegazzini, Pyrrhocactus umadeave, Parodia stuemeri alongside Maihueniopsis boliviana, Trichocereus pasacana, and the Pyrrhocactus and Maihueniopsis were in flower! It was just the one Pyrrhocactus with two flowers, a third passed over, and several buds. The spegs were very nicely spined, but I had seen better on friends’ pictures.

If you look up Quebrada del Toro on an internet search engine, you’ll get an impression of the scenery that the colourful rock formations provide – great views! I was beginning to understand my friends’ original selection of Argentina as best cactus country. It’s a mixture of a large variety of aspects with very different personal weightings that make people arrive at such selections. Personally, I really like to take pictures of cacti with the sea or ocean in the background – the paradox of draught tolerance specialists and huge bodies of water in the same frame.

S457 is the same list of plants but at least now I can compete with Graham & Leo van der Hoeven’s speg pics. Lots more umadeave’s as well. And more of the same at S458. I looked desperate for a clue of why these plants thrived here, while in Europe they are often regarded as ‘impossible’ by most, even when grafted. I’m sure that this will prompt comments from those that have no problem growing this plant. Please tell us how.

I took many more scenery shots from the bus as we descended back down the Quebrada. Satisfied with another day cactussing, we arrived back at our hotel in San Lorentzo, one of Salta’s outlying suburbs, with some impressive homes. The last ‘stop’ of the day, S459, was the road from the restaurant, where we enjoyed our evening dinners, to the hotel. The area’s flora was that of a subtropical rainforest, with the trees lining the road covered in epiphytes, including a very difficult to photograph Rhipsalis sp. – light was poor, calling for longer exposures while the stems were swinging in a light breeze.

Our list of Argentinean cacti included Rhipsalis lorentziana, a coincidence? Should I keep the images of the Rhipsalis ‘on the move’, including some of plants in flower and in fruit or do I ditch them – It’s getting late in the day to make such weighty decisions – good night.

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