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As we left Cachi I was not optimistic about our cactus finds today. My report on the Cachi – Cafayate stretch in 2005 listed plants that we had already seen yesterday and, except  for The Spegs, were not the most photogenic of plants.

How wrong can you be? Today’s crop was 311 images and 14 movie clips.

But let’s start just outside Cachi (S1092) where Juan spotted yellow flowers along the road at 50 km p. h. and insisted that these were globular plants rather than Opuntia. These were the same plants that yesterday we had identified tentatively as Echinopsis (Lobivia / Acanthocalycium) thionantha. The yellow flower ‘proved’ it! As usual, Opuntia sulphurea, E. pasacana were present, as well as a Jatropha sp.

It was hot (around 30C) and muggy, pesky flies were buzzing all over us and my right foot was sore, so don’t think that being a cactus explorer is always fun. A few days ago I had to perform surgery in the field to remove and Opuntia spine from my heel and the area of the operation was sore today. Still, different cacti in flower are always a good motivator to get me on my feet.

A bit farther along Juan claimed to have spotted a different globular cactus with different flowers, again while bumping along the dirt road that is Ruta 40. Cliff and I had no recollection of how bad this road was from 2005. So S1093 was for E. thionantha and Parodia microsperma group, both in flower with colours ranging from bright yellow through to orange for the Lobivia and brick red for the Parodia. We also photographed Opuntia sulphurea, Tephrocactus weberi, Gymnocalycium spegazinni and Bromeliad sp. here. There were cristate plants of P. microsperma and G. spegazinni. What I had earlier thought off as boring plants were anything but when in flower.

Rather than stay on Ruta 40, which we had already seen in 2005, Cliff suggested taking a track east to Seclantas and then follow the Rio Calchaqui on the opposite shore.

S1094 was near Seclantas and was for some white flowers on the rocks, spotted again by Juan. These turned out to be white flowered E. thionantum and they were growing alongside Parodia aureicentra, but these were unfortunately not in flower.

I haven’t mentioned yet that as we were cactus spotting, Cliff who is also a weather freak, enthused about massive weather systems that were building up to the east. Juan’s portable weather station had recorded temperatures of around 36 C and we had heard the sound of distant thunder on various occasions.

All very interesting, but to me it meant the risk of a heavy cloud burst which could make the roads ahead and behind us impassable. Cliff assured me that we were outrunning the storms, so should be OK.

S1095 was for a dry river bed that Cliff suggested should be full of Spegs. My foot was telling me to have a rest, so I stayed in the car, but only until the shout came that Juan and Cliff had found Tephrocactus molinensis. In 2005, Tephrocactus had been among my favourite cacti, as they could be highly variable in size, growth habit and spination. Juan put the icing on the cake by finding several plants in flower. Other plants in flower here included E. thionantha (still only the white flowered form this side of the river), Opuntia sulphurea, while the Spegs stubbornly refused to flower.

S1096 Outrunning a  heavy rainstorm was fine, until we found the road blocked by a huge gate with three padlocks, so that we had to drive back 15 km to Seclantas to get back on R40. That’s when the storm hit, a brief spell of heavy rain and a thunder bolt that struck a mountain top across the valley. We looked in awe as bits of apparently bone dry desert were transformed into shallow lakes and tracks became small rivers. At one point on the way down we had stopped in a dry river bed to take pictures of the building storm. (S1096) Now on the way back, we were able to take the ‘before-and-after’ counter part, as the river bed was no longer dry, although still passable.    

S1097 had been S444 in 2005, but neither Cliff nor I could remember it. We’ll have to check what pictures we took then. There was a small man made lake, with ducks and 4 large waders. I reckon they are storks, Cliff thought Cranes, we’ll leave others to do the formal ID. Past the lake cactus country looked unpromising until a quartzite hill was spotted that seemed to be full of cacti: Parodia sp., E. thionantha and O. sulphurea and T. molinensis but no flowers.

Once again my GPS connection to the camera failed for all shots at this stop, however, the time stamp on the last image at S1097 and the first at S1098 suggests that the two were some 25 miles apart.

The hot thundery weather wade us tired and Juan and I dozed while Cliff made up the miles. We knew about Juan’s talent of  spotting Thelocephalas below the soil, we knew that he had extended this skill in Argentina to include Yavia etc, to spotting plants along the road side while speeding along at 50 km p.h.. We know learned that he can also wake up from deep sleep to announce that there are some short columnar cacti that we were speeding by. In his honour we called S1098 Gymno Land. How did we drive by here in 2005 without stopping?  Just under one bush, we counted 21 plants: 19 Spegs and 2 E. thionantha, all short columnar, rather than the ‘pancake Spegs that we had grown used to. And there were a few crested forms as well. It seemed to have been the site of a goat herd, judging by the plentiful droppings and the attempt to build a corral out of the Palo Verde shrub that also provides the nursery bush for the Gymnos.

But even these cactophiles could get fed up with so many great plants and pondering the question ‘How many Speg pictures do we really need?’ that we turned our attention to filming the dung beetles that were busy harvesting the goat pallets and burying them below the sand. One was spotted clearing the entrance to its home after I had accidentally stood on it.

Today’s cactus spots easily outdid the 2005 experience on this stretch of road, but neither Cliff nor I were prepared for what was to follow. We must have been asleep on the bus, or indulged in conversation or the windows must have been very dirty. Why did we not remember or photograph the most spectacular scenery? Sorry, Guillermo, for not paying more attention. Looking back through my notes, we had both suffering badly from a cold and seemed to be awake only for the stops. Anyway – I took some 15 minutes of video as we bumped along the poor track.

We arrived safely in Cafayate and almost immediately found the Hosteria, in the ACA (Auto Club Argentina) chain that we had used before in Cachi, La Quiaca etc. always with wifi or internet (except La Quiaca). We hoped to have access, we did not.

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