We managed to beat the alarm clock and got up around sun rise. We had settled the bill for our night’s stay after dinner last night and must have impressed David with our modest tip because we were treated to a king’s breakfast, with fried eggs followed by a seemingly endless stream of crepes. that should see us through the day and last until our farewell dinner in Santa Cruz.
John had told us that it would be a typical driving day as he had arranged to meet his contact at the car rental company between 17:00 and 17:30 at the hotel to pick up the car that had been our home for three weeks. We would take taxis to the Airport the next day and Brian would take a bus back to Sucre. Despite this we still managed to make seven photo stops.
S2474 was a brief stop in the village of Pucara to allow Wiebe and me to take some pictures of the Plaza; John and Brian had seen it all before. No plants included.
S2475 was for a large rock along the side of the road, still the Ruta del Che, where the bright red flowers of Rebutia (Aylostera) fiebrigii in flower acted as a traffic light. I used to grow this form when it was still known as Rebutia vallegrandensis – the name of the next big town ahead of us is Vallegrande. We also saw Echinopsis (Lobivia) obrepanda and perhaps another Lobivia sp., this one in bud, an Oxalis sp. in flower, Puya sp and Tillandsia sp.
The same plants were found again a bit further on, S2476, plus here Brian and Wiebe got excited about a Euphorbia that had joined in, E. portulacoides is a name that Brian reminded me of once I got home. There was a suggestion that there might be ‘a second Rebutia’ here, but I was too late arriving at the spot where the discussion took place. BB suggests Echinopsis (Lobivia) arachnacantha for the plant that I pictured near by.
S2477 was for images taken from the car as we passed dense stands of Neoraimondia herzogiana and Harrisia.
We were back in Department Santa Cruz, on Ruta Nacional 4, where we had already been on day trip of our trip. John overshot our intended stop but we got out to take a look anyway (S2478) and photographed a large epiphytic cactus growing high in the tree canopy. Our guess is Hylocereus undatus, which is widespread in the Americas. It was too high up to photograph any particular features to aid identification. There were Cleistocactus growing along the edge of the road, the same taxon that at the start of the trip I had thought would be C. samaipatanus, as we were again near the town of Samaipata, but now that I am back home, catching up on Diary writing, with the picture volume of the New Cactus Lexicon next to me, I believe that what we saw was C. candelilla, with its tri-coloured flowers.
John realised that the intended stop was just a few hundred meters back and so we made that S2479 where yet another Cleistocactus was hanging high from the rocks above us. This was a yellow spined plant, but it was too far away and not in flower to photograph flowers and fruits that would have confirmed that this was the plant that was labelled Hildewinteria aureispina before frosts a few winters ago killed it in my unheated polytunnel. Here, in its natural habitat, it is clearly never exposed to prolonged frost. These days it is better known as Cleistocactus winteri, still recognising Friedrich Ritter’s sister, Frau Hildegard Winter. I’m surprised that I’m still reporting the presence of Tillandsia as it seems that they were just about everywhere during the last three weeks. On telephone and electricity wires, on trees and rocks and even growing on cacti.
John hurried us on again as we had one more stop planned. Just as well as a few km farther on we thought that we had hit yet another blockade, with our flights home at risk. Fortunately a huge CAT (as in Caterpillar digger) had been dispatched up into the hill above the road to clear away rocks and debris in a controlled fashion, rather than have it wash across the road during the next heavy rainfall. There was another bulldozer standing by to clear the man-made landslide off the road and with less that 30 minutes delay we were back on the road.
On 12 November we had tried to get to the habitat of C. winteri ssp colademono but ran out of time, so John promised to take us back there on our last day in Bolivia, today. The German landlord at Hotel Landhaus in Samaipata had told us during his stay how he had been growing this local cactus in pots in his cactus and succulent plant collection when well-known European botanists visited and were interested in the plant but would not believe that it was of local origin. One of these visitors was Krahn, who became one of the co-authors of the plant as Hildewintera colademononis in 2003 before David Hunt decided that the plant was a Cleistocactus and gave it the name C. winteri ssp colademono in 2005.
And so we arrived at our last plant stop of the trip, at the farm-house where we hoped the farmer would guide us along a trail through dense forest to the foot of the Cerro el Fraile, where the plant grows several meters above our heads. the farmer was out and his sister did not want to leave her sick child alone, so gave instructions on how to find the ‘path’ to the base of the hill. Brian and John already knew ‘the path, but in a tropical forest, ‘paths’ become overgrown and blend in with the forest very quickly. It was not an easy hike, with mosquitos and flies competing with branches of the overhanging trees and shrubs, all spiny, in an attempt to keep us out. I should have brought my Brazilian machete along!
We did eventually see the plants, but it was rather difficult to get a good shot of them with the branches and stems of trees forcing us to focus on the Cleistos hanging down the rock face, seeming to emerge from the Tillandsia and other, larger Bromeliads with which it shared its habitat. Also found during our hike through the forest and along the rock face were Begonia, in flower, Echeveria sp., Peperomia sp. ( P. galioides?)including many plants in flower, Pereskia diaz-romeroana, a Pfeiffera sp (P. boliviana?), orchids and even a Philodendron.
During the trip we learned that other interests of John’s included Aroids, i.e. members of the Arum plant family, the Araceae, an interest that he shares with Cliff Thompson, my travel companion on many previous trips. As a result I had a preconceived idea that it would be easy to recognise any Aroid, by its flower – a leaf-like hood called a spathe within which is enclosed a tube-like structure called a spadix. As a result I had many examples of the family pointed out to me. But (as I had never seen it in flower), I would never have expected (and had never checked) that Philodendrons were monocots and members of the Arum Family. Thanks to Brian for pointing this out in post-event correspondence.
We drove the 20 km along the variable track back to RN4 and entered the urban sprawl of Santa Cruz close to rush hour where John again did a great job, pointing the car into the gaps between other cars before other Bolivian drivers beat him to it. Miraculously, we reached the hotel without scratches and un-dented. Parking was an issue in front of the Hotel and we pulled up behind a truck that was unloading crates of Cola at a local shop. Wiebe and I hopped out and started unloading suitcases from the back of the car, taking them into the foyer and taking turn for more luggage collections from the car while Brian and John were engaged in conversation with a policeman who was keen for John to move along.
There was a slight panic when John was unable to find his international driving permit that had been in the glove compartment throughout the trip but the night before we had done our packing and John had put these documents in a ‘safe place’ but where? Probably in his suitcase, that, helpfully, I had already taken into the hotel foyer. Wiebe and I carried on taking the luggage from the car into the hotel lobby until I went out and found the car plus Brian, John and the policeman gone.
We waited and decided to check in so that we could at least lock our luggage away in our room. Wondering what to do next, John arrived and explained that the trouble began when he had refused to pay a US$250 fine for non production of his driving licence. John had been arrested and the three had gone to the police station where John was able to present his case to the Teniente, a senior officer, who allowed him a brief trip to the hotel to search his luggage. His documents were found between his washing and he returned to the police station where the matter was soon settled and the Teniente ‘forgave’ him this offence. Cabo (Corporal) Luque’s original beef with John was that he had parked too close to the corner of the road and had led to the request for a US$ 250 pay off. No reference was made to this traffic offence.
All’s well that ends well, at last we could go for our last meal of the trip, an excellent large steak followed by ice creams and back to the hotel where John shared the bottle of wine that I had bought for him on our Tarijan wineries trip a few weeks back, in recognition of his staying behind to deal with the garage regarding our car’s clutch problem.
It had certainly been an eventful trip with lots of unplanned incidents, starting with my unscheduled tour of South American airports at the start, a forced re-planning of our route when we learned that the town of Oruro had been blockaded, the blockade preventing us from entering Sucre at the start of the trip and the news that we learned after we got back to England that Sucre had another blockade three hours after we had left a few days ago, which would have wrecked the last few days of our trip. Then there was the problem with our clutch, followed by problems with the starter motor. More than enough to help fill What I Saw Last Winter presentations in 2012! And we saw some wonderful plants, many just past the peak of their flowering, or perhaps waiting for rains for a second flush. Despite the excitement of the incidents, I never felt threatened but then, unlike John, I had not been arrested briefly by those that we would normally look on to protect us.
John had warned us at the start of the trip that Bolivia is ‘different’ and that planning require continuous review and updating as things change. He was right. He also promised to show us some great scenery and fascinating plants. He did. Many thanks, John!