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Our credibility as cactus explorer did not rise in the ratings today. In fact, we would have achieved as much if we had stayed at the hotel and drank free cocktails and beers.

However, out of habit we set off to the west of Matazan, taking the coast road and looking for a turning to take us back on a south-eastern heading.

We had on the one hand too much information: the Cacti of Cuba book and a reasonably detailed map of the island, but at the same time, not enough information. Let me explain.

The book was quite clear that Melocactus matanzanus was recorded as recently as 2006 at Estacion Biologica de Cuabal, near Chirino, with the habitat of 385 hectares providing a home for five colonies or populations.  But Chirino was not on the map provided in the book, nor on the detailed Cuba map. In fact, few of the towns shown on the map in the book were on the detailed map and vice versa. And names of villages and hamlets appearing on any signage did not appear on either map. Arghhhh!

We followed our instincts that seemed to be confirmed by what we saw on the maps, stopped on three occasions in places that looked similar in soil (serpentine rock) and vegetation to information provided in the book.  No Melos were found, but were added as ‘no cacti seen’ stops (S1732, S1733 and S1734).

By two p.m. we were back in Matazan, not really sure where we had been, other than that I have GPS data on some of my pictures that I can plot onto Google Earth once we get back to home and the Internet.

As it was still early, we decided to have another go: back on the coast road, as the more promising track west out of the centre of town could not be found. Plan B consisted of no longer trusting our instincts and asking local folk often, starting as a snack bar along the side of the road.

The lady knew exactly where we wanted to go, pointed to the hills to the south-south-west, but told us that we had to drive back east, to Matazan and then drew us a map of traffic lights and turns before wishing us good luck.

It was a slow process, but eventually we discovered that the hamlet with the official name sign of Mena was in fact also called Chirino! And why not?!? We asked several people who confirmed that we had arrived.

It also turned out that the Estacion Biologica de Cuabal, was now known as ‘Casa de Pancho Flora y Fauna’. We had seen such a sign about a km back, but it was know past 4 p.m. and light was past its best for photography. We’ll have a go tomorrow, on our way to Havana.

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