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Greetings from a cold and dark Durrington,

Where the snow promised yesterday fell during the night (just a light dusting) and was gone by 9 a.m., but with another arctic blast promised for tomorrow!

Tuesday 25 October 2005: Cabra Corral to Tafi del Valle

Today’s itinerary promised ‘a beautiful trip in the heart of the Calchaquies Valleys, passing through Cerrillos, Alemannia and Quebrada del Rio Las Conchas, with magnificent landscapes.’

I managed to list 10 taxa photographed at S482: Cleistocactus baumannii, Echinopsis silvestrii, Gymnocalycium saglionis and G. schickendantzii, Opuntia anacantha, O. sulphurea, Parodia microsperma (syn. P. argerichana), Pfeiffera ianthothele, Trichocereus terscheckii and T. thelegonus – not bad for one stop! So where is S482? I tried to be a smart-ass and whenever there were road signs at a stop to indicate where we were, I’d take its picture. Only here I realise that the sign, translated into English, says ‘In 300 m – Diversion, difficult passage’. Oh well! I don’t remember this stop as well others, only that I seemed to have walked bent double to scrape under / through the branches of the low forest, and concerned about Guillermo’s warning to watch out for ticks that drop off the trees and try to bore into your skin – nice! Kind of distracts the attention away from the cacti!

The lichen and epiphytic plants growing on the rocks and trees suggested that this place received quite a bit of variable moisture. Many of the cacti looked in excellent condition, bursting with vigour, but alas, not with flowers (with the exception of a G. saglionis and the tiny flowers on the Pfeiffera).

S483 was unmistakable: El Anfiteatro – The Amphitheatre in the Quebrada del Rio Las Conchas – no cacti photographed, but wow, what rock formations! Here, each had been given a name by imaginative souls – going back in folklore and history? Or recent inventions from creative tourist guide writers? Who knows? Exotic names include La Garganta del Diablo, El Sapo, El Fraile, El Obelisco, Los Castillos etc. sounding all the more romantic to English (and Dutch) ears and might lose some of their magic on translation.

I checked Google for more information about this Quebrada and learned (for me) a new language: ‘geological English’ with terms such as ‘Neogene strata’ and ‘Strata of the Cretaceous-Tertiary Salta Group are exposed … were deposited in the Salta Rift Basin. The light-colored Yacoraite Limestone is the source rock and reservoir rock for the hydrocarbon resources found in the rift basin.’ I don’t honestly know what it means, but it sounds good when I look at my images. I’m sure that Rob, Ian and Cliff could add a could bit more to these geological phrases AND explain them

The other good sounds in El Anfiteatro were the guitarist and flute sounds by a couple of local musicians. Guillermo said that they had been there every time that he had visited this attraction – we’re guessing that there is a shift system. Woody had found the perfect place for his 14 mm wide angle lens, but found just one problem – how to capture this scenery without including any of the bus load of people.

By 12:30 we had arrived at S484 where we found another Parodia microsperma – ssp horrida (syn. P. dichroacantha). As I don’t know the genus Parodia very well, I have included the splitter names that are now considered to be synonymous with P. microsperma. Also here were Acanthocalycium thionanthum (in flower!) and Gymnocalyciums: G. saglionis and G. spegazzini. This was a very hostile environment (at least during the time that we were there) with a strong wind blowing hats around and the plants growing on a very crumbly rock – three steps up, two steps worth of sliding backwards. I made my way from one yellow A. thionanthum flower to the next, taking snaps of any other interesting cacti on the way. I must have looked a sight – looking like 6 months pregnant with my hat stuffed under my T shirt! There is no space for vanity on these trips!

Our friends had done their best to set up today’s picnic in the shelter of the bus, but I’m sure that I had quite a bit of sand with my cheese and cold meat baguettes.

We needed to make up more distance, so we were glad to stretch our legs after three and a half hours on the bus, at S485, here with Acanthocalycium ferrarii, Gymnocalycium spegazzini, Parodia microsperma (syn. var. cafayetensis), Tephrocactus weberi and Trichocereus pasacana. The majority of T. weberi we had seen were white spined, but the ones I photographed here had nice yellowish spination.

We stopped off at the nearby Pachamama museum at Amaiche del Valle, near the Hosteria Ruinas del Quilmes where we had stayed on 16 October. It was just a short stop to top up with some more nice souvenirs. And on, until the bus over heated and created an unscheduled stop (S486) where we took some more pictures of Maihueniopsis boliviana, Opuntia sp. and T. pasacana.

We feared that another unscheduled stop would be necessary as the bus struggled up hill. Had we all put on weight during the trip? On the contrary! The daily exercise and Clifftonnaires Disease had helped me and many others shed a few pound in the right places. But we had all acquired a range of souvenirs – some official, from the tourist shops and markets, some less formal, like the pretty rocks that would come on board at various stops and slide around our feet. I gather that may of these were evantually mailed to the USA – I dread to think of the cost – while some were left at locations thousands of km from their original collection location – so baffling geologists who follow in our tyremarks..

We made it to the last stop of the days, S487, and were amazed at the size of the Lobivia (Soehrensia) bruchii (considered to be Echinopsis, alongside Tricocerei etc in other classification systems). Again we found plants in bud but no flowers. Seeing these mature plants in nature made me question (again) the usefulness of placing so many diverse taxa in one genus. But then I had always regarded Lobivia as a genus to consist of much smaller plants than these. So had it all started to go ‘wrong’ earlier? I must read up the history of Echinopsis lumping. I hear rumours of a reverse in the lumping trend for Echinopsis – the pendulum usually swings between extremes
– let’s hope that it will come to rest at a point that mere mortals can appreciate and understand. I enjoyed seeing bruchii in habitat, irrespective of the genus name, and now realise that I’m unlikely to see the couple that I have in 2.5 inch pots reach this size in cultivation. The inevitable question ‘How old must these plants be?’ again remains unanswered.

Paul Shipsides and I enjoyed chasing a lizard around a rock, taking its pictures (and many images with just rock) before climbing back on the bus and the final miles to Hotel Tafi del Valle, where I managed to persuade Chris to see a doctor who rewarded him with the ‘large injection needle’ that motivated others to get moderately better, but which saw Chris greatly improved at breakfast the following day.

I apologise in advance if tomorrow’s episode should be delayed: I have to cover at work for a colleague enjoying a holiday and look forward to welcoming Cliff (now suffering from a good old English cold – not dissimilar to Clifftonnaires Disease) and Leo van der Hoeven, just back from his trip to Peru, for an exchange of tall stories over bottles of Argentinean Malbec and a few pints of Guinness.

Feeling envious?

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