The last day on the road, and for John, the last day of the trip as his plane would leave Cordoba in the afternoon. The weather, after the previous night’s thunderstorm, had joined in with our rather down mood – thick fog provided an extra challenge for driver Jorge.
By 8:45 we arrived at ‘Alberto’s Cactus Garden’ (S506) – Alberto is a very nice guy who had planted some local and not-so local cacti out in his garden and made some money by selling cacti to passers by. Light conditions were poor and dripping wet cacti photographed through tick fog soon lose any novelty value as our body temperature dropped. As usual, the Gymnos were in bud, but no flowers. Clearly there was a plot to delay flowering until we left the country. I guess that in preparing my script for future talks I could say: ‘Based on my extensive experience gained during a three week field trip in Argentina, I conclude that Gymnos do NOT flower in habitat.’ See how easy it is to draw the wrong conclusions from one trip?
Most of the stops planned for the day had to be cancelled, as the conditions were too wet and, whilst we would have found the cacti, the light was very poor for photography. However, by 11:30 legs had to be stretched and bladders emptied so a ‘toilet stop’ was requested (S507). Sometimes these ad-hoc stops produce surprising results, so we designated the right hand side of the road as ‘toilet’ while we explored the left hand side for cacti. We found Gymnocalycium calochlorum, G. monvillei and G. quelianum and Parodia (Notocactus) submammulosa. I’ve learned since that the name G. quelianum has ‘disappeared’ as it was not clear which seed group the plant in the original description was based on. It is therefore proposed to use the later name G. stellatum for a member of the Trichomosemineum seed-group while a very similar looking plant found near Quilino, but in the Ovatisemineum seed-group, has now been named G. robustum. However, here I’ll be consistent and use the naming in Kiesling’s Catalog. We found no seed, so couldn’t tell you the seed group, even if I wanted.
The weather had cleared slightly and the light was not too bad – in fact Rob must have been very pleased at the diffuser that Nature had provided. This area must have had quite a bit of moisture during the last few weeks as the plants were in peak shape, bursting with vigour. Don’t even ask about Gymno flowers – there were some that had passed over in recent days – none open.
And so to S508, the last stop on my list for the trip, along the main road to Cordoba. The stars for the cameras’ delight here were Echinopsis aurea, Gymnocactus mostii, G. quehlianum, Parodia submammulosa and Opuntia sulphurea. The Opuntia must have been at every stop on the trip, even if I may not have seen, listed or photographed it. Does it earn the title of ‘most widely distributed Argentinean cactus species’? Where would this feature on a world wide ranking? Any flowers? Yes, one, but barely open: on the Parodia (Notocactus).
And that was that, at least as far as this year’s cacti in habitat were concerned. We arrived safely back in Cordoba, said our goodbyes to John who was off to the airport, settled in our rooms and prepared for tonight’s farewell dinner – a treat arranged by Guillermo: a meal in a Tango restaurant in town. When he first mentioned this I was a little concerned; I can tip-toe through an Opuntia patch, but put me in a formal dance hall setting and my legs and feet refuse any coordinated activity. Guillermo laughed and put my mind at rest – we would watch professional Tango dancers perform a series of dances with singers performing some traditional songs accompanied by the typical small band. Great food and drink and for me a very pleasant new cultural experience. There was another side to the evening that I know must have irritated Guillermo enormously. He had booked the main table with the best view of the stage months in advance, yet when we arrived we were shown to other tables to the right of the stage. The main table had been given to a large traditional Argentine family. Earlier on the trip, Guillermo had told us that some 75% of the population were Italian descendants. While I do not wish to insult those that had taken over ‘our’ main table, I was intrigued to see the respect with which the guests treated the elderly gentleman at the end of the table and how the women would sit and giggle. It was like watching a scene from the film ‘The Godfather’, but I stress that I do not want to imply any criminal background to these characters. Although …. Guillermo, take a horse’s head next time you book?
The other memorable item that comes back as I think of the evening is the state of the taxi that drove us back to the hotel – the front passenger seat was no longer bolted to the floor, but was held in place by Woody’s weight as we bumped through town. We argued if there were two lights or just the one on the car that was working. The answer turned out to be three – one head light, the interior light that came on when the driver had to count out his change and the light on the top of the taxi that was switched on to attract new passengers as he drove off into the night, having safely delivered us to the Hotel. For me it was part of the country’s charms. In England we often moan about the ‘Nanny State’ where everything has to be regulated and anything that is fun is forbidden. The collapse of the Argentine currency some four years ago had a devastating impact on a wide range of the population, but like the cacti we saw, the Argentineans appear to be a resilient people, had survived the worst and were busy rebuilding their country – there was a feeling of optimism rather than despair.
Tomorrow we say goodbye to the Americans, with the exception of Woody, who was staying on for another trip with Guillermo, to Patagonia..
There had been some complications with our return flight when we had booked and rather than fly back via Santiago, we had decided to stay until Wednesday 3 November for a cheaper and more direct flight back. I won’t do daily Diary reports for these days, so tomorrow I intend to post the last report in this series and will include highlights of our remaining days in Argentina.