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As we lugged our luggage down the narrow stairs of the hotel we were at least able to recognise some positives in the knowledge that our trip would soon come to an end. We’d need to repeat this daily ritual one more time before arriving in Cordoba, where the hotel staff at the Holiday Inn would take care of such matters until we were due to fly home. The bus was loaded but then a flat tyre was spotted, so a quick trip to the nearest gomeria (tyre repair centre) was indicated, where all the luggage had to be unloaded to get to the spare wheel. While waiting patiently on the pavement, we noticed the total disregard of the local motorists to the traffic lights at the junction. Why? Then we noticed that at least one set of lights was completely hidden from sight by the foliage of a tree that had been allowed all around the lights. Another interesting picture, even though not of a cactus.

With all tyres in good shape, we drove towards a near by beauty spot at Dique de Olta and stopped along the road (S503) to photograph Cereus forbesii, Gymnocalycium castellanosii, Parodia microsperma (syn. P. fechseri) and Stetsonia coryne. Again we were being teased by Mother Nature, plenty of buds, but no flowers.

The previous evening John had checked his flight tickets and discovered that somehow there had been a mix up and that he was due to fly out tomorrow, a day before the rest of the Americans so that discussions focussed on the increasing pressing need to find an appropriate setting for the inevitable ‘Group Photo’. It was as though we had been putting off this ceremony as it was another reminder that the trip was coming to an end. We soon spotted some large Stetsonia along the road that provided a suitable back drop. We formed two groups, those with cameras on tripods at one side of the road while the rest of the group lined up beneath the Stetsonia, leaving gaps in the group for the photographers once they had coordinated and set their remote / delay releases. We had two goes and both were successful, at least as far as my images are concerned. A quick picture of the one flower found on the Stetsonia and it was back on the bus to the Dique de Olta beauty spot. As we pulled up along a saloon car parked at the view point, hoots of laughter came from the off-side of the bus. It would appear that we had disturbed a courting couple in the kind of gymnastics usually reserved for bedrooms. Our laughter continued as they quickly pulled some clothes on, started the car and disappeared in a cloud of dust. We took some pictures of the lake (man made water reservoir?) and were still chuckling as we arrived at our next stop (S504).

There were no other cars about. We did however find Gymnocalycium castellanosii, Opuntia salmiana and Trichocereus candicans. High on the rocks I managed to get a shot of a single white flower (and two buds) of the Tricho, peeping over the thick layer of Bromeliads, but these were the only cactus flowers to be seen here. I enjoyed seeing Opuntia salmiana in habitat. I was familiar with this species from a specimen that grows in the Cactus Garden at the Holly Gate Cactus Nursery in Ashington, England. Some years it puts on good growth of cylindrical joints, some 5 cm (2 “) long with numerous flowers, while in other years it sulks during the rest period, dropping most joints. It was one of the first cacti that I tried my first digital camera out on, in 2000 and experimented in Photoshop to replace each flower with the head of one of my friends – John Ede, thus creating Opuntia edei n.n. When I arrived home, a week later, and unpacked my case I found that some of the fruits of this habitat plant had become stuck to my socks and had travelled all day with us, before disappearing with the socks into my laundry bag. At Holly Gate, such fruits would readily form roots and produce more plants, so these stowaways have been given a chance to try this too.

We enjoyed a late picnic lunch at the Balneario el Muro near Quines (S505). A small river passed by a tranquil picnic area under some trees, before dropping gently over a man made waterfall. Guillermo was surprised to see so much water in the stream that prevented us from walking across the ‘wall’ without getting our feet wet. On the other side of the stream were Acanthocalycium klimpellianum. Only Guillermo, Mark, Woody and Mike thought it worthwhile to take off shoe and socks and wade across the stream. Nothing they told us on their return motivated the rest of us to follow their example, but Cliff and I did some exploring up-stream and without having to cross the stream found A. klimpellianum, Harrisia pomanensis and Trichocereus candicans. At least this Acanthocalycium justified its name (Spiny calyx), unlike some of the other species we had seen at earlier stops where the buds were soft and fluffy.

It took another three hours before we arrived in San Javier and were able to admire our lodgings in the unusual Posada el Pucara. Two of us shared a room that could accommodate a family of five. When I told Angie about this hotel she had already seen it – on their website.

Unfortunately, today, the link to the website at http://www.posadaelpucara.com.ar/ seems not to work, but as I’m writing this report a day ahead of sending it, I hope that all is well again as you read this. The pictures tell the story so much better than I could.

Cliff visited my house on Saturday (November 26) and showed of his images. This reminded me that our night in San Javier was livened up by a tremendous thunderstorm. He had stayed out in a (failed) attempt to catch images of the spectacular lightning. Pictures of the dark skies and the rain pouring down are impressive enough. And amazing as our rooms were, it seemed that the roof was constructed from corrugated metal and plastic sheets, which turned the sound of large hailstones coming down into a deafening thunder. As usual, I went to bed and slept. Very little keeps me awake once my head hits the pillow, giving rise to one of my nick-names, dating back to 1970s Martini adverts on TV: Anytime, anyplace, anywhere ….. The Martini Sleeper!’

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