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Archive for December 15, 2008

Monday 15 December 2008 – Tilcara to Iruya & back to Iturbe

Another great day!

We started off with breakfast in the dark cellar where in 2005 we had been treated to an evening of Argentinean folk music. Then off to the ATM machine that again insisted that my daily limit was 300 peso (roughly £60). I thought that I’d give it another go, and hey presto, another 300 peso. Cliff was able to get the money he needed in one go.

Next to the petrol station on the main road, Ruta 9, which is the main Jujuy to La Quiaca road where now we were able to fill the tank.  It was very quiet on R9, the main Jujuy to La Quiaca and on into Bolivia road. I had memories of quite a bit of heavy traffic along this road in 2005, but obviously the recession has damaged the trade between the countries and the tourist busses are rare.

By 10:20 we needed a leg stretch and exercise our shutter fingers so made a random stop (S1052) along R9, a few km before the turn off to Iturbe. There was a wire fence a few meters from the road, but there were dry aroyos where you could almost walk underneath the wire. The best spots were the rocky areas, where we found Echinopsis (Lobivia) ferox (syn. L. longispina), Cumulopuntia boliviana, Tunilla sp., and  Austrocylindropuntia shaferi (not the most dynamic of cacti).

S1053 was a few km before Iturbe as we were now driving on a variable gravel track and was prompted by Juan spotting an Echinopsis ferox in flower. I’ll have to check the Cumulopuntia etc. section in the NCL to identify the one that we found here with pretty yellowish spination, and a few solitary heads poking through the sand looked as though they might be Maihueniopsis (Puna) subterranea.

S1054 was a little farther along and Juan this time spotted a red flower on a cactus. He had to walk up to the plant and touch it before we saw it: Parodia sp. in the P. maassi complex. As we were out of the car, we decided to take another quick look around. Just about every time you put your foot down you were standing on another Parodia.  I made it to a bush under which an Oreocereus trollii was seeking shelter from the sun. The various opuntiods were also still around to confuse us.

We decided to press on to Iruya and select places to stop on the way back, as this track was a lot slower than anticipated. S1055 was to break that rule, as Juan, in the back passenger seat, spotted a flower in the wall of the cutting at about his eye level. Bingo! A Rebutia sp in flower! Which one? No idea. A ‘Mediolobivia type’ with a pinky-red flower. My field notes indicate that Rebutia pygmaea was found nearby, so if that was correctly identified …. Echinopsis ferox (syn. Lobivia longispina) and Oreocereus trollii were there too. And Cumulopuntia what-ever.

S1056 were just scenic shots as we approached Iruya and drove through the streets. On the internet I got the impression of a bustling tourist town. We saw only three ‘non-native’ people and having taken the pictures, could not wait to get back to the cacti.

On the way up, we had passed a nice looking clump of O. trollii and we stopped (S1057), just so that I could take it’s picture. On closer observation, there were ripe fruits on this plant and a near by cousin, so that I walked away with about a pound of Oreocereus seed! Then Cliff did a little war dance and chanted the word ‘Neowerdermannia‘ over and over and sure enough, there they were, hundreds just on this small patch! All sizes and ages! And then the game was to try to get the Neowerdermannia, Lobivia and Parodia all in the same picture with a few opuntiods thrown in for good measure. We found one or two ‘different’ Parodia, with straight white spines. It looked like Parodia nivosa, but I’ve not seen that (or any other Parodia other than P. maassii) listed from this area.

S1058 was another extra rocky area where we could see huge P. maassii. The cracks in the rocks looked like promising Rebutia country and sure enough, Cliff & Juan soon found a few, including a largish mature multiheaded plant. Rebutia haagei (syn. R atrovirens) has been reported from here. I also spotted some Peperomia but have no idea of the species. It was cold and windy and as we made our way back to the car, we could not help one more look at that large Parodia…. and found almost next to it another N. vorwerkii. The Echinopsis listed from the area is E. marsoneri and while cleaning today’s fruit, Juan reports that some were hairy while others were quite smooth with some large scales.

S1059 was a Rebutia location suggested from the database, but although the area looked promising, it was cold, light was not good under a cloudy sky and we were tired. We also found Peperomia sp. and Tunilla tilcarensis.

On the way up we had found basic lodgings in Iturbe and we now returned to down load our pictures, write up the notes. After days like today, expensive hotels are a waste of money. A clean bed was about all we needed. The bathroom / toilet was outside, and in the dark main room that also acted as the ‘restaurant / bar’ for two locals who seemed to be drinkers by profession, we were served a simple meal of pasta, potatoes, pumpkin and a bit of meat, washed down with a litre of beer, before falling into bed.  There was no wifi, no TV, no towels or soap, the car was left parked in the street but for the grand sum of £4.80 for the night for the three of us (plus food) we were happy. Perhaps we would not want to do this every night or live here in this style, but after a satisfying day cactussing, it was great.