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Last night’s downpour stopped around 4:00 a.m. according to Cliff. I, of course, was asleep.

This morning we woke up to brilliant sunshine and had breakfast on the terrace by the pool. Not bad for February.

Reception told us that they had vacancies for us to stay for another night. Excellent!

The thermometer measuring outside temperatures from the car claimed 36 C today.  We think it is one of the many faulty components in the car, but still guess that 30C and high humidity after last night’s rain would not have been far off and made it rather uncomfortable.

We were looking for the Melocactus guitartii population from Manaquitas. We had worked out that the motivator / facilitator behind the Hungarian geographers’ contribution to the ‘Melocactus of Cuba’ book was their work related to the building of dams in rivers to generate electricity and provide water for irrigation. This helped to make our searches more specific for the areas marked on the maps in the book, here and around Holguin. Take the general location from the map and if it is near a lake, look at the location of a dam that created the lake, as it is likely that this was the cause for their visit to the area.

We found the village (hamlet? agricultural project?) of Manaquitas eventually. No signs to say ‘You have arrived!’, but asking a local chap crossing the road ‘Where are we?’ confirmed that indeed, we had arrived. ‘Where is the lake?’ was our next question and we were pointed to a right turn at the T junction. Perhaps we should have asked: ‘Where are the Melocacti?’ We found the lake, on foot, as the track was too rough after last night’s rain (S1722). Not dissimilar to our visit to  S1716 on 19th of February. This time there was no local Cuban to guide us to plats and the shore lie was much flatter with goats and sheep present; not conducive to Melocactus flourishing.

We eventually left disappointed. Looking closely at the map, it seemed that we should be looking past Manaquitas, rather than at the village. We looked at pictures of the habitat and tried to make sense of the position of the lake and hills around it. By driving around the west side of the lake we reached a place that was a good match. Rocky outcrops but with dense spiny Acacia-like vegetation (S1723). We were looking for Agave anomala that was shown growing here in the pictures.  We finally found some with Mike’s binoculars, but on the rocks across from a river that fed the lake.  Back to the car, we met a local gentleman on horseback. Yes, he knew the plants that we were looking for, but at the bridge, across the water, and he pointed to the south.

We followed the track around the lake until we came to a substantial rocky outcrop where we had seen the Agave. (S1724). So where were the Melos? From the rocks, looking down at the lake, we saw a small pumping station and a bridge. Our ‘cowboy advisor’ had given us a fairly accurate account of the Melos that grew here. Unfortunately, after a couple of hours searching in the heat, humidity and spiny shrubbery had confirmed that all the features of the habitat shown in the book were here, except the cacti themselves.

Eventually we acknowledged defeat given the time that we were prepared to set aside for the search. We are convinced that we were at the right location for the Manaquitas population in the book – but we had found no plants. Had they all gone? Or had we just not stumbled across them.

Cliff warned us about more storms brewing up. We had managed to leave al our water in the hotel, so stopped at a snack bar for a burger and cola when the heavens opened up. Another tropical downpour.

By the time it was over we set off to look for the M. guitartii population reported from La Rana. Eventually we found the village, but all the area was heavily developed for tobacco, sugarcane and banana production. Time was running out and we decided to head back to the hotel.

Storms that had threatened did not materialise.

Although we did not see any Melocacti today, I feel that we have a good appreciation of where these plants grow or grew. We can also confirm that if they are still here, as suggested by the locals recognising our description in Spenglish, than they are not abundant, unlike some populations of Melos that we found in Bahia, Brazil.

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