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It was good to see Chris up and about for breakfast, much recovered from his bout of Clifftonnaires disease after receiving The Needle the previous day. Others who were still suffering were putting a brave face on things, to avoid a similar experience (The Needle was getting longer as the word of Chris’ experiences were whispered around the group.) The point was, that the previous day, Chris had appeared semi conscious for a good deal of the day and had been unable to put on a brave face, so that action was necessary. The most amazing part of the experience was that when it came to paying his bill for the visit, the cost was No Charge! Thank you!

We managed to get on the road shortly after 8 a.m. and the mood was a little down, as the realisation that the trip was coming to an end at the end of the week became stronger. The low thick cloud cover, making everything look grey, did not help matters. Guillermo must have anticipated this and somehow we managed to fit in 10 stops today. The first, S488, took us back into the Yungas, the subtropical rainforest, some 48 km (30 miles) south-west of Tucuman city. This was one of the amazing things on the trip, the dramatic change from one climatic zone to another in next to no time at all. According to the tourist guides, Tucuman Province is popularly known as the Garden of the Republic. The photography was mainly scenic, with a few close ups of Tillandsia, with more of the same at S489. I may have mentioned before that my strategy for Stop numbers is that the first image of a ‘Stop’ is an image of the GPS, which sort of indicates where the images that follow were taken, until the next image of a GPS appears. The principle works fine: each evening as I transfer the images from their cards to my laptop, the software sorts them into ‘time created’ order (so it is important to synchronise the clocks if you use more than one digital camera) and the software then allows me to do a batch rename, so that the image file name of stop number_sequential number allows me to organise the images later on. This trip, without the need for me to drive or navigate, I had added quite a few more images of scenic shots out of the window. Many have been deleted since, as they suffered from camera shake or a tree suddenly leaping into the picture, blocking the view of the hillside on the other side of the valley. As a result, the images of a particular Stop are now a mixture of images taken at or near the location of the GPS reading, plus pictures on the bus. As a result, S489 includes a few images of El Indian, a statue of a very large indigenous warrior (I nick-named it the FBI) that formed the focus for a typical artisan market for passing tourists. The weather was still dull and grey – we had sufficient souvenirs – for now, so we just took a few pictures from the bus and proceeded to S490 – the town of Concepcion, quite a busy bustling town along Ruta 38. We needed to stop at a garage, so used the occasion to take some pictures of Tillandsia growing on electricity / telephone lines and TV aerials. I’m not clear if the Tillandsias improve TV signal reception or not.

S491 at Escaba was a much more rewarding stop as right alongside the road we came across thousands of small Parodia rigidispina in full flower. The plants were growing up the steep rock face and could have been photographed through the window as the bus was driving by, but where’s the fun in that? Soon we had spread along the side of the road for about half a km., each with our own patch taking pictures of ‘our’ plants, while dodging squadrons of the Argentinean Airforce. These were in fact very large (by European standards) members of what we called ‘wasps’ – I’m sure that an expert would tells us the difference between these insects and ‘the true wasp’. Suffice to say that these creatures had made their nests (it seemed at least one for every ‘patch’ that we had claimed as our own) hanging from the same rock face as the Parodias and seemed to hang on to these nests as threatening fighter space ships, protecting the mother ship – just as reported a few days ago – here though they were much more abundant and seemed bigger. On the other side of the road was a steep slope down to a small river, some 100 m (300 ft) down, with the densely wooded hills on the other side of the valley accommodating a trio of very large tubes that ran down the hillside to Central Escaba of Hydroelectrica Tucuman S.A.

The wasps and our party were not the only parties interested in the Parodia; several saloon cars stopped and filled carrier bags with plants, some picked up from the roadside along the hillside, as they had become dislodged and had fallen down, where as others were picked from the rock face. The people turned out to be locals who just collected these plants to decorate their homes – probably an annual event as they did not give the impression that they knew how to look after the plants once the flowering season had passed. Looking at the numbers of plants there, it did not seem to unduly endanger this population.

Half an hour’s drive farther along (S492) still had the Parodias in flower in large numbers, so there numbers must be significant. A large bromeliad sp. in flower, an Opuntia sp. hanging down the hills with Rhipsalis sp. dangling between them provided other points of interest, while I should not forget the neat papery wasp nests dotted amongst the plants. Thanks to the magnification abilities of digital cameras I managed to take an image of a wasp at rest. It’s a beautiful creature as it fills most of the screen, although a bit frightening as well – do they sting?

Early afternoon brought the opportunity to stretch our legs at S493 for more epiphytes-on-trees pictures. The cacti once again included Pfeiiffera ianthothele and Rhipsalis sp.

Fifteen minutes later and the landscape had once again changed as we drove through a landscape of open rolling hills, before ducking back into a Yungas-like landscape. Images from this changing landscape were arranged as Stop S494.

S495 was different again – here we found Gymnocalycium baldianum (in advanced bud, but no open flowers), Lobivia sanguiniflora and Trichocereus rowley (syn. Lobivia grandiflora) but were soon back on the bus as it zigzagged up and down some more wooded hillsides. The biodiversity of this area was impressive!

Guillermo was determined to show us G. baldianum in flower and succeeded at S496 – I caught one specimen in flower and a yet to be identified (by me) Trichocereus sp. in bud. Driven on by the promise of more G. baldianum in flower at the next stop, we climbed back on the bus and in the fading light (it was now 6:30) arrived at another roadside stop, S497, at Bella Vista. The Gymno here was G. oenanthemum (syn. G. carminanthum), another red flowered species, again teasing us with very advanced buds that would surely be open the following day. We noted the exact location of these plants and drove on to spend the night at the nearby Hosteria La Casa de Chicha in El Rodeo, determined to return the following morning to catch the Gymno flowers open.

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