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Archive for November 18, 2009

Wednesday, 18 November – Diamantina to Sao João da Chapada and back

Today’s plan was to drive to the tiny village of Sao João da Chapada, eye ball some potential stops that I had marked on Google Earth on our way and spend some time exploring them on the way back. The weather was lightly overcast, so slightly diffused light to soften the contrast was ideal for photography and a cool breeze made things very comfortable. By the way, what is the weather doing in England? 🙂

The best thing about making plans is that you can ignore them if something better crops up. In this case, just a few km. before reaching our turn around point, we felt the need for a comfort break. While doing our business we surveyed the scene and both thought that there might be potential for Discocactus here. The area had been worked quite intensively, but some time ago, probably digging for diamonds and gold nuggets in the quartz. Much of the flora had re-established so why not the cacti.  Cliff was the first to spot a small Discocactus seedling (again D. placentiformis we assume?) As always, with one plant found, we soon stumbled across them in large numbers, a good healthy population with plants of all sizes. A good Stop! (S1531). Just past here we caught our first view of Sao João da Chapada, with the top of the church touching the bottom of the clouds. It was like a camanchaca in Chile, but of course there was no direct sea fog influence here. But the plants will have appreciated the various aspects of these fogs all the same.

S1532 was one of three stops planned for Uebelmannia pectinifera ssp.flavispina ‘crebispina’.  I have to own up about being embarrassed about my failing memory. There are a number of very clear stops from 1999 engrained in my brain, mainly because they were featured in my presentations for a number of years. But I have no idea of which of these memories belongs to which stop. Not until I get there and event then, I am often surprised with what I find. Great, just like discovering these things again for the first time. In many instances, the conditions now (after recent rains) were entirely different to what we saw in May 1999. In many places the vegetation is much taller, hiding the globular cacti.

I also failed to give myself a thorough tutorial on how to use my GPS to find locations. I used to pose with it in one hand to take a picture with the other, to record where the next images were taken, but never as a tool to find locations. How do you get the data in? Angie’s GPS unit, from memory, allows you to type it in (?) but for mine you need special software. I had brought the disc along but we struggled for a whole evening before it would finally install and then I did not find the use of it very intuitive.

So we were doing it the hard way: piece of paper with the coordinates of where we needed to walk to in one hand, GPS unit in the other and initially walking in a circle to see which direction made the numbers come closer with the destination. But here this resulted in a zig-zag course, as we got distracted by rocky outcrops. Eventually I remembered this stop as an awful long walk. It was not made easier when we had to cross a small river, now in full flow, although we found a place to cross, bog land around it, then extremely sharp rocks to cross a low hill to get to the one where the plants grew. When we got back to the car I checked the screenshot that I had made from Google Earth, to find that this was the Stop 1.78 km from the track, rather than the one that was only 120 m away. Not a huge distance 1.78 km, on good terrain, but here we struggled and the chance of twisting an ankle or worse was not worth the effort as we were going to see the plant again later. We came across some quartz sand and just as we had agreed with each other that this was Discocactus country, Cliff found the first ones. Again, for the uninitiated, Discocacti are not plants that enjoy listening to Saturday Night Fever or boogie to the Bee Gees. They are flat, disc shaped cacti that due to their shape can escape death from frequent bush fires that rage overhead.

So at least this was not going to be a ‘no cactus’ stop. But we were sensible and left it at that. I still managed a useful selection of field flowers, many members of the Veloziaceae and Eriocaulacea families that we had seen in ’99 dried out, but that were now in full growth and some in flower.

I checked the laptop before we started walking at S1533. This was the stop 120 m from the plants and it looked like easy going. And yet, it took a while before finding the first Uebelmannia. But then there was no stopping. They do however occupy a very limited area, without obvious indications why they grow where they do and why they then suddenly stop. Another noteworthy addition to the pictures was a 20 cm long millipede that was also captured on video.

We enjoyed ourselves so much at this location (135 images show that) that we decided to give the other planned stop a miss. After all, it would only be more of the same and was less than a km away.

So instead we had an ice cold Cola at a small bar in Sopa. We were served by a boy in his teens. ‘I bet you learn English at school’ I said. ‘Yes’ he smiled nervously. ‘That is so that you can talk with foreign tourists and sell them things that they want from your shop.’ ‘Yes.’ he agreed. ‘So how much are the 8 AAA batteries here on the shelve?’ He got a calculator, looked at the answer and thought hard. ‘Five’ he said. We knew it should be R$ 4.80. He did too, but did not know how to say it, but we did receive the R$0.20 change. ‘Good luck with your studies’, we said as we left. ‘Goodbye’ he managed, as his proud parents came to wave us farewell.