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Archive for October, 2009

Saturday, 31 October 2009 – around Lajeado

Today was different. We had been swapping people between the two cars to prevent the ‘two isolated car parties’ syndrome, that can lead to problems. Angie and I had so far been a permanent feature in ‘our’ car, but now that she had gone home, I joined Woody and John. As you know, I’m a cactus nut, but equally mad about music. In fact, I’d go mad if I had to spend long times without my music. To prevent this, I take an iPod on my trips loaded up with 27,277 ‘songs’, some are just tracks from CDs while others are complete albums (Albumwraps) or radio programs like the hour long Bob Dylan Theme Time Radio programs. So today I turned into DJ PK and made the car rock. Woody and John were putting in their requests, so we had, amongst others, Dion & the Belmonts, The Four Seasons, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the BeeGees and a string of Neil Young’s greatest at full volume as we bumped across the tracks of RGdS. We moaned in frustration when Marlon in the other car called a stop and could not wait to get back to the car for another music session. I’ll never forget the music aspect of today’s experiences.

The cactus content of today’s report got overlooked by the actual cactus activities and airport runs at the time. Marlon suggested another day around Lajeado and I’ll use the images of that day to tell the story of the three stops that we made.

The first stop of the day, S1471, was at a bridge over a river with those cliffs that we had come to recognise from yesterday’s leninghausii experience as potential cactus locations and sure enough, Marlon promised that after the usual hike through dense undergrowth between the river and the foot of the cliff, we should be able to see Parodia leninghausi‘s sister species, P. warasi. That just leaves P. claviceps as the only remaining species, in what used to be the genus Eriocactus, to be found. Marlon reports that the habitat of P claviceps has been destroyed through the building of a dam. The plants drowned in the lake that was formed to generate electricity. We hope to visit the site later on the trip and hope to explore to see if there are any nearby survivors. Other cacti spotted here are Lepismium cruciforme, Lepismium warmingianum, Cereus hildmannianus, and Rhipsalis sp. growing alongside Begonia sp, Oxalis sp. and a host of unidentified plants that are of little interest to cactologists.

S1472 was a similar walk to the previous hike, except that this time the dense vegetation was replaced by a ploughed field with huge boulders. The field had already been planted with tobacco plants and we wanted to be careful not to damage the crop. Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun – and cactoholics from any corner of the planet!. When we reached the base of the steep cliff, we could see the plants hanging above us, but not the large clumps like the P. warasi at the previous site and the P. magnificus earlier. These were individual globular plants the size of an orange, some reaching grapefruit size. Nicely white spined and some with red flowers. Now to get to them without killing ourselves. At one stage, John, Woody and I were perched on a narrow ledge. OK, so it was ‘only’ 10 m. down, but a fall would likely have killed or severely injured us. Only cactusmaniacs …..

There was also a nice Dyckia sp. here – Marlon has promised to provide names in due course, and Sinningia (loads of these around), popular with hummingbirds. And if I only new the names for the hundreds of species of field flowers that we have seen on our strip I could do a complete presentation on these alone – what diversity compared to a walk in nature in the UK! Or do I just keep my eyes shut there in the knowledge that I won’t see cacti?

S1473 was simply a road cutting with the 3 m high sides covered in yellow flowers: P. linkii and P. oxycostata with Marlon giving lessons on how to distinguish the two: flower size, stigma colour, rib count and form etc. First we became super lumpers, giving them all the same, then, adopting German accents, became super splitters, observing the minute differences in spine counts etc between individual plants that can give rise to ‘new discoveries’ named after friends.

We arrived back in Lajeado exhausted before making another run to the restaurant complex in the nearby shopping centre where we pigged out on meat washed down with generous quantities of beer and cola. 

Friday, 30 October 2009 – Lajeado to Porto Alegre and back

Today was Angie’s last day in Brazil – the last fourteen days had simply flown by. The cacti had been great and she had managed to see most of the recognised taxa of her favourite Frailea as well as a good selection of the Notocactus group in the genus Parodia.

But Marlon had a surprise in store. We were less than an hour’s drive from the nursery of Kurt Ingo Horst in the small town of Imigrante and there would be time to fit in the visit before Cliff and I would drive her to the Airport. Great!

Better news still, when we arrived, Kurt Ingo suggested that we’d have time to drive to the best site for seeing Parodia (Eriocactus) leninghausii  We left Kojak tires and the attached Fiat Doblo at the nursery and had a comfortable drive to a hill 300 m above Kurt Ingo’s nursery in his Chevrolet 4×4. Woody struggled to keep up in the other Doblo, but made it to a small farm of a friend of Kurt Ingo’s, where we left the car and went on by foot, first along a level mud track, with Begonias in flower between the grass. Then one of Kurt Ingo’s assistants, armed with a large machete took the lead and hacked a path for us through thick vegetation.

??? announced that we had arrived and through a gap in the vegetation, we could see them: huge stems of P. leninghausii growing from the steep cliff face. Seeing them here in their natural habitat explains their habit of tilting their apex to one side – towards the sun and away from the cliff face.

Kurt Ingo gave us a quick demonstration before I was the first to try my hand at abseiling down the cliff. OK, so it was only 10 m at most to the ledge from where I was able to take shots all around, touching the plants while trying not to dislodge them. But it would have been at least 100m farther down if the ropes had not held! Then it was Woody’s turn, followed by John and Wiebe. Cliff and Angie decided to act as official photographers and probably have the best pictures of our combined ‘acts of heroism.’ It certainly was a great experience to add to the growing list of unusual ways to see cacti in habitat. As always, what we see as a group we share with the group so that everyone will have a complete set of pics of the ‘Leninghausii Experience’.

We returned to the village of Imigrante and after lunch and another visit to Kurt Ingo’s nursery, it was time for Angie to say her goodbyes and for Cliff & I to drive her to the airport. The day had more than made up for yesterday’s disappointment and will be remembered for a long time.

After over two hours of driving on increasingly busy roads (it was building up to Friday afternoon rush hour in Porto Alegre) we arrived to the wonderful air conditioning of the airport. Cliff and I looked at each other, knowing that temperature wise we had more to come in Minas Gerais and Bahia.

We arrived back at our hotel in Lajeado at eight, having made a wrong turn driving out of the airport. We knew where we wanted to go, but the stream of traffic just made it impossible without running the risk of causing a major accident, so we took the wrong turn and made the next ‘Retorneo’ but got stuck in a jam caused by a car trying to drive over a motor cyclist.

Tomorrow the smaller party continues our adventure. Only ten more weeks before Cliff and I follow Angie’s example and fly back to the UK.

Thursday, 29 October 2009 – Mata to Lajeado

Today was just one stop, S1468, with some 300 km of driving, mostly on tarmac. When we arrived at the base of Morro Agudo, our car, with its Kojak tires, only agreed to cross a small ford at the second time of asking. It then performed wheel spins along the narrow track on the lose gravel so that common sense suggested that the car would best be left here. The 3:30 hours at the stop were disappointing for Cliff, Angie and myself as it was clear that the peak of a hill, rising some 350 m out of the flat plain was too much of a challenge on this stifling hot and humid day. Cactus trips are supposed to be fun and past experience suggested that this would not be. So the three of us sat it out. Hats off to Woody, John and Wiebe who made it to the top to see Parodia (Notocactus) horstii although they were the first to agree that the plants were not the best examples that they had ever seen.

To fill the time, we drove into town of Agudo, which looked as though it had been lifted in its entirety from somewhere in Germany, with German names on the shop windows and even a Beef Haus on the corner. When we walked into another restaurant, the owner, Herr Kiefer greeted Angie (originally from Cologne, Germany) in her mother tongue. We had been worried that we’d struggle without Marlon to make ourselves understood, but need not fear in this part of the world! We enjoyed another meat feast for next to nothing and rolled out in good time to hear over our Walkie Talkie that the others had just arrived at the top of the hill and were on their way down.

When they arrived back down the hill, their main excitement was for a large spider (tarantula?) that they had photographed, not for any cacti.

For Angie this was a particularly bad day – tomorrow evening she would be flying back to England.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009 – Mata to Parodia magnifica and back

Magnifica by name and magnificent in habitat (S1467). Remarkably we did not get to within touching distance of Parodia magnifica – it hung tantalisingly close from steep cliffs and we were separated from it by some 50 meters of fast flowing river. And they hung there in their hundreds or perhaps even thousands. We sat on rocks on the opposite shore and stared in awe.

We had stopped earlier (S1466) near a bridge across the Rio Toropi with a similar looking cliff, but farther away, that allegedly was also home to this plant.

And on the way back S1468 was a stop alongside the track from where we scrambled for a few meters through dense forest before a wire fence prevented us from tumbling down several hundred meters. From this strange vantage point we were able to glimpse huge clumps only a couple of meters down the vertical walls.

To achieve all this, we had travelled for over three hours, first on smooth tarmac but the majority of the time on poor dirt tracks, relying on Marlon’s GPS guidance rather than on sign posts. We overshot the final turning and had to turn back once the track simply stopped. We asked a workman fixing a fence only to be told that the fence that he was putting up was to stop people from using the track to the most accessible of the locations (S1467), due to a dispute over land ownership between neighbouring farmers. Lady Luck was with us in the form of Josellita, the wife of the owner of the property, who drove past in her Chevy LUV. We were invited over to her home, just along the track, where her husband gave permission for her to accompany us to the river, opening gates that otherwise would have posed barriers.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009 – Santiago to Mata

The first stop today (S1460) was at the type locality of Parodia stockingeri where it grew alongside the much larger P. linkii and a very large form of Frailea pumila

S1461 took us along the BR-287 Santiago towards Unistalda where on flat rock outcrops to the left of the road we found Frailea pumila and Parodia glaucina. I’m not sure who was frightened the most, me or the nightjar that I disturbed and that suddenly flew up as I walked unknowingly into it’s comfort zone, only a few feet away. It had finally decided to no longer rely on its excellent camouflage and make its escape. Lucky for the bird that I managed a few shots with my camera rather than with a shotgun.

S1462, southeast of Santiago on the BR 287 we turned right to Nova Esperança and then followed a track towards the gruta Nossa Senhora de Fátima where we found Parodia muricata, P. oxycostata and P. glaucina as well as the usual Cereus hildmannianus.

S1463 was for pictures taken just up the road from the last stop at gruta Nossa Senhora de Fátima. A tourist centre if you like, but we were the only people there, from which you could make a walk through some caves and to a waterfall, in reasonable flow due to recent rains. John seemed to have designed his own trip but eventually rejoined us at the snack bar where we had been enjoying a few Coca Colas and beers. As we drove out, we passed the nearby settlement with a church far larger than the population would seem to justify and, at the other side of town a smallish cemetery again with a ‘street’ of very ornate graves, suggesting a local wealth again greater than would be suggested by what we had seen.

Some 12 km north of Jaguari along the road BR-287 we stopped at some sandstone hills to the left of the road (S1464) where among many shrubs and pine trees we found Parodia muricata growing in sand and pine needles.

We arrived in Mata, a nice village best known for the near by petrified forest. However, these fossil tree remains are so common here that they were used everywhere, as street curbs and the building of low walls and numerous ornamental monuments. Well worth a picture which are filed as S1465. We spotted a cute church down a side street, again surrounded by steps and a small monument made of petrified tree trunks. Opposite the church was a hotel and we suggested that Marlon should enquire as to price and availability. And so we had some very nice comfortable rooms in a very picturesque setting.

I went for a stroll to take some more pictures, of an old steam engine, turned monument outside the church. Plates on the machine indicated that it had been built by Heinrich Lanz from Mannheim, Germany in 1923 and we could notice many German influences in architecture and in the faces of the inhabitants. During dinner, a pre-wedding feast passed the hotel. All participants were dressed up in Bavarian costumes as the groom and bride introduced themselves and their intention to get married to the local community.

Cactus wise, the church had a huge tree-like Opuntia ficus-indica growing by the side and past it, an equally large monstrose plant of Cereus hildmannianus

Monday, 26 October 2009 – Alegrete to Santiago

Yes, that’s right, Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil has a Santiago as well! And a wonderful hotel, the São João Palace Hotel. This was a welcome change from last night’s Palace Hotel, which just was not a palace – perhaps one in the making. I had a fairly miserable start to the day, but fortunately a couple of Imodium tablets settled things down quickly.

Again, it was a bright sunny day, but quite windy, causing my already red-raw eyes to run continuously. Thank God for auto-focus cameras, or else I would not have taken a single picture today.

Just two stops, but very nice ones, as we completed our list of Brazilian Frailea taxa. Marlon has been a mine of information and I’ll have to re-read his excellent article in Cactus World to match the information there to what we have seen. However, his studies were even more focussed on the Parodia (Notocactus) ottonis complex including investigations into their relationship with any of the other Parodia from this State, so I have been encouraging him to write an article for the Notocactus beginner, such as myself, that covers all the information and observations that he has shared with us.

First of the stops today was S1458, with the spectacular natural arch / bridge in the Cerro do Tigre on one side of the road with on the other side a walk through Lupines about to burst into bloom, to reach rock shelves with boulders (not quite Baja California’s boulder field at Catavina) and sand, with Frailea fulviseta and Parodia (Notocactus) glaucina growing in the sand on the edge of the rock shelves, between mosses and Dyckia sp. Marlon tells us that the natural arch has deteriorated significantly during the last 4 years and that at this rate it won’t be there for much longer.

Another climb up the boulders would have taken me to the type locality of Parodia (Notocactus) fusca, but my eyes were burning and watering so much from the wind and the dust (plus a good amount of pollen, causing hay fever just as in Spring in the UK) that I could not see where I was putting my feet. On this rocky terrain with tall grasses and shrubs hiding rodent burrows, it seemed wiser to give this climb a miss. Especially when Wiebe disturbed a wasp or hornet’s nest and received four stings for his efforts. Later, Cliff walked by too close as well and received a couple of stings before spotting the nest.

At the second stop, (S1459) my eyes had gotten worse, if that was possible. I followed the shapes of Cliff and Marlon, wiped my eyes and pointed my camera where they told me there were plants and auto-focus did the rest. A surprisingly good batch of images all things considered. Here Frailea cataphracta was the last name to join the list of Brazilian Frailea that we were to see on this trip. They were in plentiful supply and I could have pointed my camera almost anywhere along the ground to capture these tiny plants. Parodia (Notocactus) glaucina was also around, this time in better exposed locations and with the flowers opened wider.

The mountain goats in the group (all but me) had clambered up a rock face to photograph Gymnocalycium horstii ssp buenekeri. Eventually I followed gingerly. Who ever had named this plant for Rudi Bueneker could not have been very fond of the man, as the plants looked terrible in this harsh environment. If the aim of showing plants in UK C&S shows is to display cultivated plants that resemble their cousins in habitat, then all entries that I have seen in National and Branch shows should be disqualified for being too pretty. I made the point as my burning eyes ‘found’ a clump of plants that turned out to be ‘the brown form’ i.e. a mature cow pat. Echinopsis oxygona was seen by my fellow travellers but as it was not in flower, I was happy to find a shady spot underneath a tree until the others returned. The Frailea had again been the stars of this stop.

Saturday, 24 October 2009 – Santana do Livromento to Quarai

We woke up to the flashing of sheet lightening – I thought for a moment that my eyes were playing up big time! Then the almost reassuring sound of heavy rain, and as the storm approached, joined in with the sound of thunder in the distance.

We followed the plan of getting up at seven for breakfast, more to keep our bodies used to a certain routine rather than from a burning desire to be out there looking for plants – the usual side roads would be near on impassable and the natural light inadequate for good photography.

Things had eased up a bit by 9:30 and we decided to get on the road and get ourselves to stop #1 of three planned for today’s easy day with all the stops along the paved road.

S1448 was a for Cereus hildmannianus, Frailea perumbilicata (not seen by most of the group, but Cliff, who had explored farther to our left found a few), Parodia (Notocactus) buiningii (a first for me) and P. sellowii, P. mammulosa plus P. ottonis completed the set here.

At S1449 we were treated to Frailea phaeodisca, looking good despite the far from ideal light conditions, Gymnocalycium urugayense, looking flat half buried in the ground if you could find them in the grass, Parodia buiningii, P. mammulosa and P. ottonis (or was it glaucina with curved rather than straight spines?)

S1450 completed today’s cactus stops with the best P. buiningii of the day, as they had dried by now and the light had greatly improved. Again they were joined by P. mammulosa and P. oxycostata (P. glaucina or P. ottonis?)

We wasted no time finding a hotel in Quarai and found very comfortable lodgings at hotel Fenic (www.hotelfenic.com.br) although if you plan to stay there, ask for a room at the back rather than one overlooking the 24 hour petrol station which was noisy.

A quick excursion into town saw me acquire a gaucho hat in the local style – flat with a wide rim – and a belt to match, both probably destined for ornamental use when I get home.