Monday, 20 December, 2010 – Los Antiguos to Esquel
Only a week ago we stayed in Esquel and made a mid trip adjustment to our itinerary, taking a detour to the east coast to get some sunshine, escape the wind and see penguins. Today we were back, again as a result of a change in plans.
So are cacti rare in Patagonia? Not at all, is our conclusion. We made very few stops that did not produce cactus finds, once we were out of the Andes.
We proved it today. Today was really all about driving north, 590 km with no reliable information about available accommodation. We should manage this without incident. What we had not appreciated was that after the by now familiar 58 km to Perito Moreno, the next 230 km was on a gravel track – average speed 50 km p. hr. and much greater risks of tyre troubles instead of cruising at 120 km p. hr on smooth hard top.
Even when we reached the good stuff, at around 13:00 hrs, it was full of holes, reminiscent of the roads in Wiltshire!
Back to the theme: are cacti common here? Throughout Patagonia it is almost impossible to spot cacti from the road, giving the impression that they are rare, but anytime that we stopped and took a look, we’d find sometimes one, usually two and sometimes three species growing together, even if on stopping the car you’d think ‘This is a complete waste of time!’
After our apparent initial difficulties in finding Pterocactus, these have proven to be the most common cacti, no matter how badly life stock has trampled the ground. Their subterranean life style is perfect protection. Austrocactus are a bit more difficult to find and when we do, they tend to grow in ones and twos. Maihuenia is far less common than we imagined from the location database and from the relevant literature. We can not believe that this information is accurate – perhaps people are using lists of flora that has been reported from the area and tick the name as they drive through the scenery at high speeds. In that way lots of low mound forming shrubs can look like Maihuenia but we have learned that after closer inspection these are just spiny shrubs. Similarly Maihueniopsis darwinii has been recorded and reported as ‘quite abundant’ in the area where we have travelled during the last week. Not so – they are plenty full along the Atlantic coast but disappear when you get to the west of the country. They seem to like the company of Gymnocalycium which do the same thing.
Most of today’s drive was through the flattest and most featureless landscape. Yes, it was full of these low bushes and some bright yellow flowers – many of the dandelions! but for scenery, this must rate as some of the most boring areas on the planet. We made three stops – absolutely random and caused by the need to stretch our legs rather than because we had hit a spot that looked interesting and suitable for cacti.
Here is what we found:
- S2148: Pterocactus hickenii – too windy for me to look further after we had photographed the first plants.
- S2149: Actually a ‘proper plant spot’ as we drove through a small canyon, the first change in landscape for ages, where John spotted ‘a different yellow flower’ that turned out to be Alstroemeria luteus and a bit farther along there were some mauve coloured Anemone. Is it coincidence that the name ‘Anemone’ is derived from the Greek anemōnē meaning “daughter of the wind” – No cacti found.
- S2150: at the gate to Estancia Los Rosales, where my exploits to the east of the road did not reveal any cacti, but where John, on the other side of the road had managed to find Maihuenia patagonica with pink flowers and Pterocactus hickenii, also with some plants in flower. After taking their pictures I spotted an Austrocactus desunii, most of its heads chopped off but with one head that had two woolly buds.
A typical day in Patagonia if you want to get from one hotel to another.
We’re now back in the Andean foothills, so the scenery has improved and will continue to do so tomorrow as we head for Villa La Angostura.