It should have been so easy. We had carefully noted landmarks on the way back to our Hotel, last night. We carefully retraced our tracks this morning and without difficulty found ourselves standing at the sign of ‘Casa de Pancho Flora y Fauna’ at just after 10 a.m. We walked through the gate, along a few hundred meters of track when we were caught up by a horse and cart. The driver jumped down and greeted us in English. But his language skills did not go far beyond the greeting. I showed him the Melocacti book and asked if we were at the right spot. No. We learned that the Estacion Biologica de Cuabal was still the correct name of the project and was about 3 km farther along the road. Ah well.
The turning to the project was about 1 km beyond the point where yesterday we had decided that enough was enough. But the sign was far from informative: ‘Area Protegida, Tres Ceiba de Clavellina – 2 km’
Two kilometres along, we arrived at another sign near a gate: ‘Entrada Estacion Biologica de Cuabal R.F.M. Tres Ceiba de Clavellina A. Protectida’ (S1735). We had arrived!
Or had we?
Two gentleman and a young lady were waiting with a tractor and trailer, like a welcoming committee just for us.
After the previous experience, and once again brandished the Melocacti in Cuba book (I receive no reward for advertising this excellent book!) I asked the person who appeared to me the leader of the three, if we were at the place mentioned in the book. ‘Yes’ he said hesitatingly, as if he knew what was coming next. ‘Could we be granted permission to see and photograph the plants?’ I asked politely. ‘Do you have a letter of authority from Fauna & Flora?’ he asked in return. ‘From the farm 3 km back?’ I asked, confused. ‘No, from the Flora y Fauna office in Matazan’ he advised.
Our faces dropped. Cliff & I had been here before, in Grão Mogol, Minas Gerais, Brazil. ‘But where in Matazan?’ I asked in despair. There is no information available about such matters, especially not to organisations that represent the cactus hobby in various countries. Our friend was obviously embarrassed by the situation, as indeed several people in Grão Mogol had been.
‘Do we need to pay admission fees to get this letter?’ I asked, politely, trying to get to the root of the problem. ‘Yes …., but also a letter’ ‘We can pay you the money’ I suggested ‘and then you can pay it to the people in Matazan.’ ‘No, that is not possible.’
He offered to show me some plants that were grown in the garden around the project office. Cliff & Mike declined. I explained that we had travelled widely around the world to take pictures of plants in habitat. In my home country of Holland, they grow Melocactus matanzanus in their millions – it is very popular because it is the Melocactus that forms a cephalium at the youngest age / smallest size. I had it in my own collection. But this plant is only known now from the area of Matazan and I was keen therefore to take a picture of it in habitat. He offered again to show me pictures of the plants grown in his garden.
While I went along with him, he explained that the reason that they had appeared as our welcoming committee was that they were expecting an inspection visit from his boss. Bureaucracy had once again prevented us from seeing a cactus in habitat.
Bottom line: we can be pleased that Melocactus matanzanus is well protected, while at the same time we can be sad that ordinary cactophiles are prevented from seeing these plants in habitat.
We needed to take our car back to Havana and book into our hotel for our last night in Cuba.