Yesterday’s ‘north’ turned out to be more ‘east-north-east’, so today we headed ‘north proper’. For those if you keen to follow our adventures on maps etc, we drove from Salinas to Taiobeiras to Rio Pardo de Minas – all on hardtop – and then on good dirt to Mato Verde, hitting hard top again 28 km from town. In terms of distance we drove 177 km to get there and 177 km back, so 348 km just to see one population of cacti, thus proving again that we are ‘cactus loco’. Well, the cactus stop was actually some 20 km out of Mato Verde as the road climbed from 555 m to 1, 020 m. twisting and turning up the mountainside between partly bare rocks.
Our hearts missed a few beats as we were seeing large official signs to say that it was forbidden to cross the barbed wire fence, all along the south side of the road for some 12 km. Shiny new barbed wire on concrete posts enforced the manage. Not another Grão Mogol! The signs were just on one side of the road, although the new fence posts and wire were on both sides. In Grão Mogol the local people had advised us to ignore the signs and go anyway, which there, with regular motor bike patrols would have been a mistake. But here we managed to park the car at a scenic viewpoint, off the main road and out of sight (S1558). We then walked a few hundred meters up the road and got onto the rocks to the north of the road.
We could easily see Pilosocereus pachycladus, (a form originally described as P. cenepequei, the same as yesterday but now identified by Marlon), poking their heads above the shrubbery, but the first cactus seen and photographed once we had crossed the wire was what I guess is Brasilicereus sp. (B. markgraffii or B. phaeacanthus?). Yellow Tigridea (?) irises were in flower all round and soon I had found a 30 cm tall 5 cm diameter densely spined ceroid. What could that be. I had walked myself into a dead end into the vegetation and returned to the main road with arms scratched open. Cliff had found a much easier way in and showed me the easy bit in the fence. Tacinga inamoena was spotted and photographed just for the record, we’ll see it in most places in Bahia later. Then, in a white quartz sand clearing, once our eyes had got used to the bright light reflecting off the sand, there were large numbers of Melocactus concinnus. From a higher rock I could see what looked like even taller than yesterday Coleocephalocereus aureus plants in the distance. On closer examination they turned out to be (I think) Micranthocereus albicephalus that is reported from this spot. Not a bad stop at all and in the hot humid weather an hour and a half had been quite enough.
Having gotten so close to the town of Mato Verde, we drove the extra few km. to claim our customary and very welcome bottle of Coca Cola for a successful stop at a bar near the town square.
We knew that there were still more interesting and unusual cacti to be seen along this road, but with the signage up, we did not want to waste lots of time being frustrated by bureaucracy. Time was ticking by and the new tarmac road had no lay bys, let alone out of sight pull overs. During our Cola break skies had darkened over and our drive back to Salinas included about 50 km of dirt road that we’d rather not tackle as mud road. We slowed down at GPS locations suggested by others, but none of the essentials were in place.
Back at the hotel, with more time to establish where we had been it transpired that on the other side of the road at S1558, we could have seen Arrojadoa eriocaulis. Nearer to Mato Verde we missed Arrojadoa rhodantha aureispina and Coleocephalocereus decumbens and that 14 km past our stop we might have seen Arrojadoa eriocaulis rosenbergiana, and Cereus albicaulis. Ah well, such is life.
We cleared the 50 km of dirt without a drop of rain, although skies continued to threaten. Past Rio Pardo we had a few brief showers, but by then we were on hardtop so did not care too much. Interesting observation was that as the cold rain hit the hot tarmac, a thick fog hung about 50 cm deep over the road. As we drove through it, the hot moist air outside condensed on the cooler windscreen of our air-conditioned car, so that now we were steaming up on the outside. Strange!