Today the standard of Brazilian hard top roads hit a new low. It seems that as soon as we crossed the Rio Sao Francisco, any standard of road building went out of the window. Yes, it had been bad in 1999 too but it seemed that no attempt had been made to improve the situation since. As a result our maximum speed, that we normally assume to be 80 km.p.hr on asphalt, was closer to 30 km.p.hr. plus we must have driven some 25% more as we continually zigzagged across the road to avoid the worst. In fact, we noticed that local people had made ripio roads either side of the disaster area and for a change, these were preferable to the main road. Unfortunately they were at a lower level and it seemed that there had been some heavy showers during the last 72 hours, so that these lower tracks had their own mud splashes to give our car that authentic ‘Explorers’ look.
I remembered this area (although a few 100 km farther to the south) from 1999 and expected to find a similar scenery, driving through Brazilian Baobab forests. Wrong! Here we were driving through cultivated farm land and in particularly, between banana plantations.
After 50 km of being shaken and bumped around, we were glad to reach the side track, north, to Porto Novo. Here we had to cross the Rio Corrente and for this purpose a nice small ferry, with tug boat as engine, was available …. on the opposite shore. Memories of 1999 again struck, as I remember having to wait a few hours for the ferry to come and pick us up, but that was because it was lunch time and today we were at the ferry at 11:00. After a few minutes, things stirred and we crossed safely.
We arrive at our first stop (S1599) around midday. This was a limestone rock outcrop that had come to very close to the road. In fact it was the ‘back garden’ of some houses where the owners were happy to let us walk through to the rocks. Marlon had promised that we would see Micranthocereus (Siccobaccatus) dolichospermaticus, Melocactus levitestatus, Pilosocereus densiareolatus, P. pachycladus, P. gounellei ssp. zehntneri (P. braunii), Tacinga saxatilis, Arrojadoa rhodhantha, Euphorbia attastoma, plus xerophytic bromeliads and the bottletree Cavanilesia arborea. In addition we photographed the red flowers on a Pereskia sp. and Cliff ‘found’ Jatropha urens, an evil stinger that seemed to be everywhere. When I get home, I must try to match these names to all the plants in the pictures. We could have stayed here for hours more, but the poor road had slowed us up and would do so again on the way back and we had two more locations to visit, so we were under time pressure.
S1600 (200 stops since we arrived in Brazil mid October) was disappointing. Marlon;s notes suggested that we’d find Discocactus catingicola (nigrisaetosus), Arrojadoa rhodantha, Cereus mirabella and Pilosocereus pachycladus. We did, plus C. jamacaru. As the name suggests, this Disco grows in the Caatinga forest, in dappled shade of the surrounding trees. The patch we found had suffered burn damage in the past and still seemed to be part of the cattle track, judging by the damage done. Not the most photogenic plants or conditions, but still good to add a few more taxa to the ever growing list of taxa seen in nature.
The pressure was now on to get to the final location of the day. The ferry crossing back was fast and, once on the main road, we seemed to be making good time despite the pot holes. We had to turn south on BR-161 to a village called Agrovila 6. The numbered villages reminded us of driving through meninite country in Chihuahua last March. Despite its impressive road number, my GPS unit was blissfully unaware of the roads around here. Perhaps potholes don’t show up on the technology used to put these road maps together?
We passed a turning to Agrovila 20, drove on a few more miles and then headed back, as there were no other turnings and the GPS wanted to go ‘cross country’ to our goal, 18 km south. After some 5 km the GPS wanted us to head south east, but the choice was either south or east. Realising that perhaps we were not on BR-161 (there were tall weeds growing on the track now) we elected to go east, hoping that the ‘real’ BR-161 would reveal itself. Actually, these tracks were better and allowed us to drive faster than the potholed main road! Eventually our strategy paid off and we arrived at our goal (S1601) at 17:32, with sundown soon after 6! Light was not at its best, but it was great to visit this site that I had seen many times in Leo’s pictures. He had visited here soon after heavy rains that must have made the tracks here even more of a night mare. But his pictures show Melocactus levitestatus (the blue bodied form a.k.a. M. warasii) growing on small islands in what looks like a huge lake. Today, everything was bone dry. The cacti were huge but many had been damaged by cattle, fires and humans, chopped up with machetes for no obvious purpose. I see that I still managed to take 74 pictures in the 30 minutes before bad light stopped play. And I’m pleased to say that they all turned out OK.
Driving on pot holed roads was a new experience, one that we’ll aim not to repeat again, but we arrived back at the hotel safely and knackered.