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Archive for December 16, 2009

Thursday, 17 December – Caetité to Bom Jesus da Lapa

Due to Tuesday’s late start, we had missed some stops south out Caetité. One of them was only some 12 km south of the town, with the unmarked turning to the track to Brejinho das Ametistas opposite the turning to Bom Jesus da Lapa, that we would take later.

Google Maps, Google Earth and the GPS all wanted us to make make a 140 km detour. Zooming in on Google Maps revealed that there was about 100 m of track missing connecting the track to the main road. We went to take a look. Fortunately reality was different.

Soon after 9:00 we stood along the side of the road (S1596), near a ‘cross-tracks’ (i.e. a cross-road-of-tracks) and set off for our target plant: Arrojadoa multiflora, Not an easy plant to find in low, dense shrubbery. Also growing here were Pilosocereus pachycladus and Tacinga inamoena. Cliff managed to find two plants, one short stem on the path that we were following and the other, three stems growing together, probably one plant, and despite the name multiflora, just one flower only.

Unfortunately we decided that there was no time to go on to the other two stops suggested in Marlon’s notes. Instead we set off for Bom Jesus da Lapa and a couple of stops for more, but different Melocactus deinacanthus, that looked remarkably like the M. levitestatus that we had seen yesterday.

S1597 was just north of a small village called Juá. The inselberg near the village is the type locality of M. deinacanthus (HU 153) and was used as a quarry to gather road building material. There also grows Facheiroa squamosa, Tacinga inamoena and Arrojadoa rhodantha.

We drove to Bom Jesus da Lapa, found the nice and reasonably priced Bahia Plaza Hotel, but as it was still early, decided to drive back to Juá and look at another M. deinacanthus population (S1598). We were attracted by the words ‘flat’ and ‘by the side of the track’ in Marlon’s notes . We were not disappointed. Thousands of plants in the middle of a flat limestone area with M. zehntneri growing in the shrubbery along the edges and hybrids occurring as a result.

I have always been envious of photos showing hummingbirds drinking nectar from Melocactus flowers and hoped that on this trip, I could try my luck at shooting some myself.

As I was photographing the flowers on M. zehntneri in the shrubbery, with the sun already low in the sky and giving everything a reddish tinge a hummer flew right at me, startled, as it was hoping to feed from the very flowers I was photographing. I was startled too. Then realised the missed opportunity and with drew into the shrubbery, but making sure that I had a clear line of vision on one plant still bathing in sunlight, and a less than perfect view of three other plants that the bird had visited on the same feed run.

I sat tight for 15-20 minutes, not easy with a bad back, during which time the bird had some arguments with neighbours to sort out and then sat at a safe distance observing this addition to its memorised landscape. It flew over once or twice, but I stayed still. Eventually it started feeding again, first on the Melos with the worst line of vision to my camera, but then to my  prime target. I let off a burst of 10 shots in about 3 seconds and watched the bird fly off. It came back a few times more, but never to my target plant.

Had the shots come out? Were they sharp? I could hardly wait until we got back to the hotel and for the down load to finish. A bit of cropping and I now have at least 10 images that I’m really chuffed with. I’ll just include one here. The rest you can see at one of my talks next year!

The last picture in today’s album sums it up for me: ‘I can do this until the cows come home’ and after the cows had trotted off home, so did we, for well deserved beers at our hotel.

What a great day. But hang on for tomorrow, which, by my reckoning, will be better yet!

Wednesday, 16 December – Caetité to Iuiú and back

Today we did the sort of thing that helps us to explain to others that we are ‘cactus loco’. First, as I lifted one of my cameras on our way out, I put my back out (again!).

Next, we drove 126 km along some of the worst asphalt roads that we have seen, ever. On the bright side, there were lots of people hard at work to repair the worst holes in some places and to transform this into a nice smooth asphalt road in others. I guess about 50 km was excellent, but we spent most of the time on the very poor remainder.

Next, with my ignorance of getting data into GPS units the hard way cured by Marlon’s teach-in last Sunday, we set off full of confidence on a 1.2 km hike (in midday heat!!) where every step got us closer and closer to our goal – until I was entirely tangled up in vines in front of a 40 m rock face going straight up. At that stage, 40 m up would have got me 10 cm closer on the GPS read out, so I learned that this was not the best approach.

Cliff had actually found a path, something that Marlon’s notes referred to, but an idea that we decided to abort when our city slicker car was having increasingly worse problems dealing with a track, damaged by recent heavy rains. We had a set of walkie talkies, but like true idiots, we had left them in the car. Shouting in a forest to see where the other person is is entirely ineffective (cactus explorer’s lesson # 5,346), so it was a minor miracle that we both eventually found the path and reached the top of the hill where in an open space the cacti were presented as a miniature botanical rock garden.

Why? So that we could see Melocactus levitestatus in one of its habitats, at Iuiú, again on limestone rocks (S1595). Marlon’s ‘Bahia travel tips’ suggested that we should find Melocactus levitestatus, Facheiroa estevesii, and the fantastic, new bottle tree species with red flowers, Ceiba rubriflora.

We found a number of bottle trees, some that we could identify as Ceiba sp. but as they were not in flower, we can’t confirm that they were rubriflora. Other cacti reported include Pilosocereus gounellei (not seen), Quiabentia zehntneri, Arrojadoa rhodantha (not seen), Pilosocereus pachycladus and Cereus jamacaru.

Earlier in the day, we had spent an hour at an alternative site that was easier to get to , again, suggested by Marlon’s route, but when we arrived at the exact GPS coordinates, I was hugging another Ceiba, again not in flower, that was probably the reason for Marlon’s visit here. One or two P. pachycladus and C. jamacaru (but it seemed to us to be a different form to the one that we had grown used to seeing)  and that was it.

Just another 126 km back to the hotel, where the restaurants were closed and companies were having their Christmas parties so that there was no where open for us to eat and that sums up perfectly the typical day of a couple of ‘Cactus locos’ in Brazil.