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Archive for November 29, 2009

Sunday, 29 November – north of Salinas

The life of a 2009 Cactus Explorer is not all hardship and tales of woe, as you can see from this link to the hotel where we’ll be staying two more nights.


Marlon had warned us in Rio Grande do Sul, while we were acclimatising from the UK in October (autumn) to Spring in Brazil, that temperatures in Minas Gerais and Bahia would be even hotter. The heat is not the main issue, but the average relative humidity, 70% is quoted for Salinas, can cause problems especially of overheating and heat exhaustion. But here we step from our air-conditioned room into our air-conditioned car and it is not until we step out that the heat and humidity hit. Within seconds we are soaked with sweat and attract all kinds of flying insects that are after our blood, sweat and tears.  Hence, our excursions into the field are usually around an hour only and our daily ice cold Cola serves as a reward for what we have found – or consolation as the case may be.

Salinas is the world’s centre of Cachaça production, the sugarcane rum that can be anything from 38-80% in strength.

Enough of local stats and culture. Today I had mapped out a circular route of some 160 km, taking BR 251 east to Curral de Dentro, from there heading north west to Taiobeiras, and then south back to Salinas. It seemed a good idea looking at the map. Much of the distance was hard top suitable for an average speed of 70-80 km p.hr., a bit less unless you wanted to join in with the trucks playing chicken, overtaking in some highly unusual places. We’ll definitely give parking on the hard shoulder a miss in future!

There were very few side tracks or stopping opportunities on BR 251 and Eucalyptus plantations had again replaced the natural landscape either side of the road for many kilometres on end, so I was getting a little concerned about another cactus-free day.

Past Curral de Dentro, hard top gave way to what my GPS calls a ‘Terra draft’ or a dirt road in the planning stages. It even offered a number: LMG-000. It was actually quite a good track, servicing the Eucalyptus plantations, where we would not find any cacti. So we took a lucky guess aiming for a waypoint where the database showed a mysterious marker for ‘Entbl1’ We wrecked our brains as to what botanical name this acronym might refer to, but failed. We  realised that the new tarmac road ran farther north than the mysterious marker, but carried on anyway.

As we passed forks and cross roads we took fairly random turnings aiming for a low hilly range to our south. As we got closer, we saw some large Cereus jamacaru, still a novelty on this trip, as we have not yet been to Bahia where they dominate the landscape in many places. We took their picture near a farm house and also spotted a Pilosocereus on the edge of a clearing, near the tree line. Encouraged, we carried on. More forks and turnings and the track seemed to run out at a gate to a farm. We were now quite close to a bare rock face sloping at some 20-30 degrees and could see lots of azure blue Pilosocereus near the tree line through our binoculars and zoom lens.

Cliff felt that we were so close that he walked to the farm house and in his best PortuSpEnglish asked if we could drive to the rocks. No problema!

Through two gates and then came a third with a convenient parking place. We must have moved to another farmer’s land, asked permission to park, showed him a picture of a cactus on the camera monitor and received the thumbs up.

Just a short, 100 m crawl through the vegetation described yesterday and I stumbled across a mature Melocactus ernestii fa. I’d guess judging by the traditional long lower radial spine. Pictures were taken, then another few steps into a clearing and BINGO!!

In this small area were five species of five different genera of cacti! They were: Cereus jamacaru, Pilosocereus sp. (no idea what the species here is called until I get home and consult literature), Melocactus ernestii, Tacinga inamoena and …. Coleocephalocereus (Buiningia) aureus! The latter must be what used to be known as Buiningia brevicylindrica var. elongata, not one that I had seen before but hoped to see during this trip. Many plants were approaching 100 cm in height (over 3 ft for non-decimalists).

The Pilosocereus sp. can only be described as GORGEOUS, the epidermis on new growth un unreal blue in colour, somewhat variable spination and white hair at the apex with evidence of very recent and imminent flowering, but again these are night flowering cacti, so nothing open.

Between 12:00 noon and 13:46 I took 123 images, filed as S1557, to be able to tell the story when I get home. I’ll include a few shots in the album below. A remarkable stop!

We have another spare day tomorrow and might take another look in this area now that we seem to have gained a feel of what to look for: high vantage points to spot low hillsides with the right aspect and open rock faces.