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Today’s plan was to complete our search for Melocacti along the south coast of El Oriente, the stretch between Santiago de Cuba as far east as we would be allowed to go towards the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. For map aficionados, this is illustrated in Map 11 – page 106 in the ‘Melocacti of Cuba’ book. For those without this book it’s a stretch of coastal road between Siboney and Sigua, possibly as far as Hatibonico from where M. harlowii ‘evae’ is reported. You may remember that last Wednesday (10th) we were stopped from seeing this plant.

As it was the farthest point of today’s itinerary, we decided to go there first. The weather had become overcast, after a beautiful start that allowed us to take some pictures around the hotel, El Balcon de Caribe, offering spectacular views over the Caribbean Sea. By driving towards Hatibonico we hoped that the sun would break through by the time that we’d see plants. It did not.

About 20 km before Hatibonico, a barrier across the road and armed officers sitting in the shade by it provided a reasonable indication of what would happen next. Despite this, I took along the Melo book and had a chat, explaining that we had travelled a long way to see these plants that were now very well protected. They smiled and said sorry, but firmly stated that this would not be possible for security reasons.

The clouds seemed to have settled in for the day and a steady drizzle fell as we drove back towards Santiago. We made a stop S1710 when things had dried up a bit, but there were no Melos to be found on the rocks.  I photographed some Consolea sp (are they just very variable or are we seeing different species?) and Stenocereus fimbriatus. These large plants had suffered a bit from recent storms and, from memory, the ‘wood’ of the dead branches looked more like ‘tree wood’ than the ‘usual cactus wood’. Something else to look into when I get home.

S1711 was at a gate marked ‘Cactus Garden‘, the ‘Jardin de Cactus’ at Siboney, where Nigel Taylor photographed Nopalea auberi in 2005 (NCL, 487.2) as I discovered later. Too good to miss. We walked around the landscaped garden, taking pictures of the many plants, but there was not a soul to be seen. Just as we were preparing to leave, the owner and his family returned. We were very welcome to look around and he was pleased to speak to people who knew about the plants.

He also had a small nursery behind the house, where he was growing Melocactus from seed and had Mammillaria prolifera ssp hatiensis, a Cuban endemic that so far had escaped us, although not for lack of trying to find it.

The light was not good, so we decided to go back to the hotel, where they were preparing for the Valentine Day’s disco. We were probably the only non Cubans in the hotel, and decided to leave them to feast, while I showed Mike & Cliff the draft of my Brazil talk. We decided to stay another night at the hotel, which is comfortable, reasonably priced, in an idyllic location and had internet – although its use is not cheap.


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