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We went back up the Cuesta de Lipan. We came down this yesterday, but it was getting late, there was low cloud and we were tired and anxious about rooms and no Argentina currency, so we promised to do it again today.

The scenery is breath taking and when we did a check against our 2005 stop list, we learned that we had passed an Eriosyce (Pyrrhocactus) umadeave stop, and the Blossfeldia stop at Pulmamarca, so plenty of excuses to go back. It was nice to be able to ‘be in control’, to stop when you wanted, even if only to take that scenic picture that hit your imagination, and not to have to share a habitat with 16+ people trying to take shots of the same plants. Today we could spread out and not get into each other’s way. That is not to say that Guillermo Rivera’s tours are no good – they gave us a tremendous overview of Argentinean cacti and helped us to select what we wanted to see again and guided us to places to stay and some (Pulmamarca, hyper touristy) to avoid.

I filed today’s pictures under 5 stop numbers; four were on the Cuesta de Lipan, starting with S1047 at Quisquiri. Here we found Echinopsis (Trichocereus) atacamensis ssp pasacana (from now on referred to a T. pasacana), Opuntia sulphurea, another opuntiod (Tunilla soehrensii?) with dark green stigmas on yellow flowers, Echinopsis (Lobivia) ferox.

I don’t really remember the Tunilla sp. from 2005, other than that there were dead looking opuntioids everywhere. In growth and in flower, it is actually quite cute, forming fairy rings where the original plant has died but pads on the outside of the clump had rooted and carried on the family tradition. In some places there ring had become so large that there were several rings in one.

S1048 was at km 45, at the location recorded in my (& Ian Woolnough’s) 2005 stop list as the place where we found Eriosyce (Pyrrhocactus) umadeave. The GPS took us straight to a suitable place to pull over with the car (or, in 2005, a small coach) but the rather steep terrain did not look very promising. We had now broken through the cloud layer, were in brilliant sunshine in spectacular terrain under a bluer than blue sky with cute cotton wool clouds completing the scene.

The Tunilla was thick and impressive here. Cumulopuntia boliviana (Maihueniopsis according to Roberto Kiesling) was here but a number of individuals were different to what we were used to seeing in Chile. [They were in fact Tephrocactus nigirspinus (K.Sch) Bkbg] and we also spotted a red flowered bulb sp. that will have us looking through more books in time to come.

But where was E. umadeave? First Juan found the remains of one, then Cliff bits of another, which encouraged us to think that we were in the right place. I suggested that we got back to the flat and walk towards the road, back to where we parked the car. And that is where they grew, in their hundreds. Many old plants that had already flowered and were in fruit (unripe in the main) and also a healthy number of small young plants showing that there was regeneration in the population. The spination was bright white and fitted beautifully in with the scenery. My skin tingled with excitement as I took what I think are some of my best cactus pictures. Watch out Angie! But Cliff & Juan were also snapping away at the same subject, so it could be a close contest! As we walked around the site, another cactus was spotted: Maihueniopsis hypogaea  with huge fierce spines and one plant in flower.

It was time to make the amazing journey back down the Cuesta again, this time with Cliff driving and me hanging out of windows with cameras. On the way up, we had earmarked km 25 as a place to stop (S1049) and the plants that had caused this turned out to be Echinopsis (Lobivia) ferox, with lots of fruits and ripe seed. There was also a mystery plant that could be Neowerdermannia vorwerkii, but the hooked central spines leave some doubt in our minds.

S1050 was another stop earmarked during our way up, at km 22. Here the ‘new’ cactus on the scene was Parodia stuemeri, with flower remains, but no flowers today. Cumulopuntia boliviana, E. ferox, were still around, but the Tunilla here was T. tilcarensis with long grey/white spination rather than the yellowish tan coloured spines of T. soehrensia.

Around km 3 we entered Purmamarca and tried to pin down Ian’s GPS for Blossfeldia lilliputana. It seems that the rock that we visited in 2005 had fallen victim to expansion of the village, but we managed to find the track that was the unofficial Purmamarca bypass for Cactophiles and decided to look for similar rocks, made up of vertical layers of slate. Cliff pulled up at one such rock and soon had found two tiny heads. We clattered about for another 30 minutes and were about to give up when Juan found ‘the mother lode’ two cracks with around 20 heads, looking very dry and desiccated. Mission accomplished. We know feel that, given time, we would find these plants in many more of the rocks that matched the characteristics of this one. We also introduced Juan to his first Gymnocalycium, G. saglionis, before turning our heads to practical matters such as finding petrol stations and hotels that accept credit cards, food and drink.

We were advised that the nearest fuel was in Tilcara, where we used up the 27 pesos that I had left over from last January’s visit to Argentina, to buy just over 8 litres of fuel, more than enough to drive into town and find the hotel where we stayed in 2005 – now with wifi. Bocca Juniors were playing Colon in an important match and everyone was glued to the TV. We joined them in reception with our laptops (this was the only place where we could receive the wifi signal, so that soon I was in lengthy discussion with Angie on MSN Messenger.

TV news reports that tourism is down 30% over last year. That must be a national figure, because here, in the tourist reliant north west, it seems more lie 40-50% down with again large tour busses dominating the trade centred on a few well appointed large hotels. And of course, they seem to prefer hotels along the main road rather than squeeze themselves through the back streets.

We walked to the square to the restaurant / bar where we had a few beers + live music in 2005, and, for the benefit of Alain, can advise that they now do 3 types of Quillmes beer in 1 litre bottles: the ‘blanco’, (a type of lager), ‘rioja’ described as a ‘red lager’ that tastes like a nice ale and ‘negra’, desribed as a Stout, that tastes like Mackisson. Two litres of Negra and one of Rioja ensured that there was a race for the loo when we got back to our rooms – I won!

What a great day! And another promised tomorrow!! we hope to get to Iruya, a scenic town off the main road to La Quiaca that was not suitable in 2005 for a bus.

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