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We were saying over dinner (and a coupe of nice bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon) that it was difficult to see how we could match or beat the things that we’ve seen cactus wise during the last week or so. And that is with 3 months and a week plus to go!

Today was again amazing! Not just because of the plants and scenery that we saw, but because we started off in subtropical conditions with the temperature at 8 a.m. of around 24 C and high relative humidity of 49% and by the end of the day we had experienced thunderstorms and rain and while I write this report, the wind is howling around the bleak but bright town of San Antonio de los Cobres.

For those who were on the 2005 Argentina tour, we only saw part of the Quebrada del Toro, made the lowest stops to see what there was to see and then went back down again.

Today turned out to be an 11 stop day, resulting in 465 images and 21 movie clips. We started with S1072, the old and now disused railway yard in Campo Quijano, where we found Gymnocalycium marsoneri and a trio of Echinopsis, where the stop list suggests E. albispinosa, E. ancistrophora and E. hamatacantha. We took the pictures. We’ll match the names to the pictures when I get home and can look them up in the NCL. I might ask Brian to ID them beforehand. There was also one of the stinging Jatropha, like the Jatropha urens that ‘got me’ in Brazil, 9 years ago. Once seen, never forgotten! This one has been reported as Jatropha macrocarpa.

S1073 was at El Chorro, some 3 km before the sign post for Puente del Toro, where we found Rebutia xanthocarpa, Cleistocactus hylacanthus (syn. C. jujuyensis), Begonia dregei, Pepperomia sp., Oxalis sp., Abrometeile brefifolia, Tillandsia (airplant) sp., Bromeliad sp. and Echinopsis macrancistra. The spelling of all these names needs checking as I’m writing this from memory and after a bottle of wine.

The Rebutia, growing in thick moss, was our target plant here, the others were a bonus.

S1074 was meant for another (?) Rebutia, but we failed to find any in the fragile rock face at the side of the road where road widening schemes were likely to have removed this plant from this locality. We did find a Clematis sp., Tillandsia sp. and C. hylacanthus seedlings, some tiny and only weeks old, while the parent plants, higher on the rockface, were still in flower and fruit.

S1075, 7 km south of Chorrillos, was prompted by a rock face covered in C. hylacanthus – an impressive sight! Again there were plenty of various bromeliad sp. around and Opuntia picardoi was showing off its yellow flowers. We also managed to find the Rebutia that we failed to find at the previous stop.

S1076 was near El Candado, where the remnants of the once glorious railway to the clouds had a magnificent viaduct that still seems to hang in the air. I suspect Health & Safety had nightmares when they saw this structure. Here we found a stand of massive Echinopsis (Trichocereus) terscheckii, in full flower and covered in Tillandsia, while O. picardoi provided a nice splash of yellow to the scenery. We found our first Gymnocalycium spegazinni (in flower) and the Cleistocactus were also still abundant. The temperature was still up at 22C.

S1077 was just before the police control point at Ing. Maury. We were supposed to find Parodia nivosa here, but to me the plants looked more like P. stuemeri. Never mind! The plants were again in flower. Late December seems a good time to travel for cactus flowers! There were some nice Spegs around and the Trichocereus seemed to be hybrids between T. terscheckii and T. pasacana, with an interesting range of spine variability.

S1078 just produced a few pictures of a yellow spined Tunilla sp. – again in flower and Cumulopuntia boliviana, usually a high altitude plant, had appeared on the scene. We were after all now at 3057 m above sea level. The temperature had dropped to 16.5 C and Juan had put on his ‘cactus terrorist’ hood and face mask to protect himself from the cold. Youngsters! 🙂

S1079 was an Eriosyce umadeave stop. There was a thunderstorm threatening over the hill and to be honest, I had seen better populations. First prize in the show here went to a mature plant that had produced 9 offsets around the apex, presumably after being damaged at the growing point. So if you want offsets on your umadeaves in cultivation, just cut out the tops! The Tunilla and C. boliviana were still around nand E. pasacana watched over this flat area from the nearby hills.

S1080 was prompted because Cliff had spotted another E. umadeave on a low hill along the road. We climbed the hill and were dumbfounded by the densest population of E. umadeave we have ever seen. I say ‘population’ but it was obvious that this was part of a large population where we had just seen it at a few spots. There were plants of all ages and sizes, from tiny seedlings to impressive monsters to 60 cm (2 ft) tall. We used Cliff’s leg (in shorts) as a yardstick. While most plants were in (still unripe) fruit, there were a few plants still in flower. I guess that we were a month too late for peak flowering and a month too early for tons of seed. The cold rain started to come down as the thunder rolled around the hill sides. Still, there were plants to be photographed, so we ignored the drops and saw more spegs, and Opuntia.

Just after Las Cuevas we made S1081 for a dense stand of E. pasacana. But it was still chilly and wet, so it was a very brief stop.

We picked up a hitch hiker, a local man with two smelly carrier bags, which Juan believes contained dead rabbits, who claimed he was waiting for a bus – we had not seen a bus all day – and gave him a lift to a rubber tyre, stood on edge in the middle of nowhere, from where he walked into nothingness. Was the altitude playing tricks on us? No, we have the photos as evidence!

S1082 was a brief stop as Juan had spotted a Echinopsis in flower. The database suggested E. formosa, but this plant was very different in spination, flowers and fruit to plants that I have seen elsewhere as Soehrensia taxa, and which botanists regard as synonymous with E. formosa. I’ll have to show them the plants and their flowers and ask them to help me to understand why these are one and the same thing. The treatment of the taxon in the NCL suggests that the different subspecies recognised are geographical forms, failing to provide characters to help us to distinguish between the different names. I suspect that we were looking at E. formosa ssp. korethroides.

A sign along the road claimed that we had reached the highest point on the Salta – San Antonio de los Cobres road at 4,080 m above sea level. The GPS on the camera taking the picture of the sign showed an altitude of 4,097 m.

And so we arrived at San Antonio de Los Cobres.

Tomorrow we aim to cross the highest Andean pass, at 5,000 m, to drop back down to Cachi or Cafayate, after checking road conditions with the local police.

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