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There was a light drizzle falling as we left this morning for today’s adventure. It intensified to a steady rain, but we did not care, as we were apparently heading for blue skies and sunshine!.

We passed a desert meadow full of white flowers that had not been in flower last Tuesday (S1534). They turned out to be members of the Veloziaceae family. Nowhere else did we see them again today. So how many species did we encounter and did they all have different flowers and flowering times?

Marlon had written to say that the info for our attempted Melocactus stop on Tuesday had been fine and that we had been only 500 m away from the location. As we were now only 61 km away, how long would it be before I would get so close again? I had by now carefully plotted Tuesday’s stops and discovered where we had gone wrong. Just past the Discocactus stop, there was a fork in the track. We had, as usual, taken the main track, and so had missed the Melos. Today we took the right hand turn and stopped at exactly the coordinates in our database. (S1535).  As we locked the car we were already seeing the first Melocacti!

It was remarkable that only some 10% of plants had a cephalium, another 10% were of a size that were approaching cephalium size and the rest were immature youngsters. Again for the non-cactophiles: some cacti produce their flowers from a distinct zone. Most extreme in this respect are Melocactus and Discocactus, where, at maturity, they stop producing a vegetative stem (green with spines) and produce a stem specially dedicated to flowering. This ‘head’ is known as a ‘cephalium’, you’ll see lots of them in weeks to come, including ‘pseudocephalium’ (only part of the stem is a flowering zone) and ‘ring cephalia’ (plural) where the stem continues to grow through the flowering zone. Here endeth today’s botany lesson.

The other remarkable observation is that most of the plants had a very yellow-green colour. In cultivation in the UK this may either indicate a nutritional deficiency or perhaps that the plants had been too warm, with the heat destroying the chlorophyll. We also observed that many of the other plants were struggling to recover from a fire that had swept through here sometime – after your 2008 visit, Marlon? So heat is a likely culprit.

We took our time, enjoying the plants, the scenery – with dark rocks (limestone covered by a black crust of probably cyanobacteria), heavily weathered producing some razor sharp edges to some of them – treacherous to walk on. In addition, not all rocks were stable. In fact we spent nearly two hours here, taking 143 images; that’s just me.

We drove on to the nearby village of Rodeador (not Mojoles as reported on Tuesday) to get another picture of a village church (S1536) to identify nearby plant stops in future presentations, had a Cola in a local bar (locals are always amazed and surprised that we walk in and then actually order a drink!)  and found a long deserted railway station, abandoned years ago, without a rail to be seen.  A feature of today’s bar was that beer, liqueurs and motor oil were on sale side by side. The days of drinking diesel are not far away I guess.

All images of the way back to the hotel are filed under S1537 and include a no-cactus stop on a track sign posted to Mina Vale do Jacare – we never got to the mine as a number of large thunderstorms dropping large quantities of water were heading our way, and it seemed sensible not to be caught on these unpaved tracks in a tropical down pour; pictures and movie clips of a charcoal burner operations and ….. some pictures to show how many people it takes to fix a puncture! There were Cliff * myself (2) the occupants of the first car that passed by (5) and the pick up truck (2) where one of the occupants did all the work and the second was chatting up the daughter from car one. The problem? The spanner / wrench provided to undo the wheel nuts was too small for the job. Occupants of the other two cars tried theirs, but as both were Fiats, they had the same toolkit that again did not fit. I asked the audience if anyone spoke English and a choir of female voices replied ‘Si, I love you!’ and then giggled out of control. Not much use, given our current situation. It turned out that the wheel nuts had protective plastic caps and, once removed, the spanner / wrench fitted perfectly. By then, the ladies seemed to be preparing a picnic, but with the tyre quickly changed we said our thank you’s and goodbye’s, before finding ourselves married off to their daughters.

Tomorrow will start with finding a place to repair the tyre – if possible.

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