The sky was still overcast but seemed to be brightening as we set off. Yesterday morning Google Earth had mysteriously disappeared from my laptop so there was little point in looking up finds from this area, so we decided to explore on instinct. The (poor quality) map suggested that the granite domes that we were enjoying around Pedra Azul might extend south, so we decided to follow the road (track) to the town of Jequitinhonha. Sadly the domes (technically termed ‘bosses’) soon disappeared. We carried on a fair distance (some 20 km) but either side of the road was just dense, impenetrable forest. We had agreed that by 11:00 a.m. we would turn round. On the way back we stopped briefly to take pictures of a snake (soon to join the road kill statistics). We thought that it was dead already, but as Cliff got closer (I have a better zoom lens :-)) it moved briefly and seemed to grasp for air (or was it making a last attempt to sink its teeth into Cliff’s boot? It would clearly fall victim to the next car along, so Cliff picked it up by the tail and moved it to the side of the road, without protest. Another quick stop was of some Passionflowers in full bloom along the side of the road – always a stunning sight. All the shots taken so far today have been filed as S1563.
We had taken a track headed west once we were near the dome hills and waited patiently until they reached the track that disappeared off to a farm. (S1564). The morning TV weather forecast had predicted temperatures of 32-36 C and thunderstorms. It was certainly warm and the skies once again threatened. We had agreed that anywhere that we would find this type of rock, provided that the slope was not too steep – some rose straight up like a wall – and had the right aspect: open or north facing, then the chances of finding Coleocephalocereus aureus would be excellent. The exciting part would be finding what other cacti we would find. Here we were fortunate to have found another dense population. We had agreed that we’d make a quick stop, taking just ‘for the record’ pictures of the cacti spotted. Right! We arrived at 12:20 and left just before 14:00, with an extra 147 images on my memory card. Ah well. Many of the C. aureus were approaching the 90 cm (3 ft) mark set by ‘elongata’ seen earlier near Salinas.
We had recently missed a mass flowering of Pilosocereus multicostatus, judging by stems heavy with unripe fruit. When studying other people’s pictures of C. aureus back at the Stonehenge Cinema, Wine bar, No Star Hotel and Cactarium (otherwise known as home), we had wondered if what looked like offsets really were or were they plants that had germinated and grown in the debris caught in the areole? As there were many offsetting plants here, I checked and the evidence here was ‘true offsets’.
As the plants shared their habitat from time to time with cattle, a number of plants had been kicked over to reveal their extremely shallow root system. Cultivation tip, based on what we saw here: grow in large, flat Bonsai dishes, maximum 5 cm deep, in gravel, mixed in with well decayed cow dung. Water regularly and allow to dry out in between watering. Keep the temperature around 30C in bright sunlight. Good luck!!
At the bottom of the hill we had to cross a small stream of water still draining away after recent rains. It drained into a small pond with water lilies. As we left, just across the brook were hundreds of butterflies, each seemingly different in colour and pattern, each refusing to pose for a picture. I managed to catch just a couple. This place would have been heaven to any butterfly fan!
The rain came down at 14:00, accompanied by distant thunderclaps. By 14:45 the worst was over.
S1565 was nearer to town, where yesterday we had looked for a location of Pilosocereus azulensis, that incorrectly I thought was a natural hybrid between P. quadricostatus and P. multicostatus. It is in fact a good, rare species, but not one of the prettiest. We believe we found it. Not many plants and hidden in the forest at the top of a granite slope perhaps too steep and the wrong aspect for C. aureus. Cliff walked farther along the rock while I nosed around in the forest and he reports that C. aureus was just around the corner. The forest had been hacked about by machete’s or heavier duty tools. We still need to buy ours. Where do they sell these? A macheteria? Any supermarket or hardware shop?
One more stop (S1566) was another side track that ran out near a farm. We could park the car on the granite slab. We found Brasilicereus phaeachanthus, P. multicostatus, Tacinga inamoena (also found at every stop today), T. werneri or was it T.palmadora? plus Cieba jasminodorus, the latter not a cactus but a tree with huge thorns on its stem. Oh, and there was also some orchids and bromeliads waiting for an ID ….. maybe.
Picture wise, I could have shown you plenty more of the same things that I have included during the last couple of days, but instead I have chosen to show you pictures that illustrate dense, impenetrable forest, the snake story especially for John, the passion flower that was growing as a weed along the side of the road and a picture taken as the rains came down. Fellow travellers in the Atacama Desert will appreciate how rare a sight this would have been there!