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Our last morning at Hostal Cruz Huaso and we were all sad to say goodbye to the lovelycouple who had looked after us so well.

A small change to plans meant that we had stayed an extra night at Camargo. We had an extremely good night sleep as the trucks and coaches had seemed to have taken the night off. But on thinking about this silence, this might actually be bad news, as it could indicate yet another blockade on one of the feeder roads. We are purely reliant on what we see on the TVs – always on in restaurants – and what our hosts in the hotels tell us. And all this information is based on hear say and can change any minute for better or worse.

Soon after we left town, John took us on a track into the mountains towards the village of Culpina. We made one stop (S2410) soon after leaving the main road as large golden spined Parodia and Weingartia lined the road. The Parodia was P. ritteri and the other plant was Rebutia (Weingartia) fidiana ssp. cintiensis. But our goal for the day lay farther into the hills and our first two attempts (S2411 and near by S2412) were disappointing. We had hoped to find Parodia occulta / P. subterranea here. Both plants are reported from the area but none of us were too sure of the current status of these plants. Are they the same or are they different? For now I’ll refer to them as one ‘name’ that may well be corrected once I have done my background reading. [PS: a search on the internet suggests that the current accepted name is P. subterranea Ritter 1960, with P. occulta Ritter 1980 as one of a number of synonyms. There are a number of variety names that are perhaps no more than population names].  Photos were taken of one shallow hole in the ground with the remains of a plant, found by Chris, that certainly would have been hidden (occulta) and below the ground (subterranea). Also there were battered Oreocereus celsianus, and the omni-present Opuntia sulphurea and Echinopsis (Lobivia) ferox, with the usual very long spines, hence its synonym Lobivia longispina.

We drove through the village of Culpina with the Saturday market in full progress. We did not take any pictures as we did not want to upset the locals – we had to come back down the hill after our next stop!

Our next stop (S2413) started encouragingly with some white flowers above the desert soil, similar to the flowers that we saw in on our walk to see Weingartia neumanniana near La Quiaca in 2010. These flowers belong to a bulb and for convenience sake we referred to it as a ‘crocus’ although non of us believed this to be botanically correct. [Zephyranthes andina] Also found lots of patches of small magenta flowers that in California or Mexico I would have called sand verbena. So at least there was plant life here. Next I photographed O. sulpurea, just for the record, and two different Lobivia sp that had recently flowered. As you can see, I have lots of detail to look up once I get home and these ‘sp.’ reports will help me to look at the images with reference books alongside during dark winter evenings in months to come. And then, there it was, P. occulta / P. subterranea level with the ground with just the dark straight central spine above the soil level. A bit of blowing and brushing aside the dust and debris that had collected between spines revealed much larger plants than I had anticipated.

Soon we were also finding plants in flower, both the Parodia and Lobivia as well as a new red flower on the ground Rebutia albopectinata, that looked at first glance like R. heliosa that we hope to see tomorrow. Many pictures have an ant crawling over the flower for scale. These are big ants! I should perhaps carry a supply of standard size plastic ants with me to stage the images!

This was a great morning among the flowers in the sun. Across the road the same plants were joined by another mystery couple. Cumulopuntia rossianus / subterranea (and again I’ll have to check later if they are in fact Maihueniopsis) appeared, including one plant with yellow flowers. It seemed that each of us had their own concept as to what name belonged to what plant. They grow together, so are they in fact within the variability of a single species?

We made another 4 plant stops, to be reported in detail later.

Images of S2418 start with pictures of our car with a variety of legs sticking from underneath the car, with the bonnet (hood) up and warning triangles along the road. We had developed a badly slipping clutch! Not good news in mountainous Bolivia. Unlike my previous experiences of this problem, where the clutch eventually refused to do its job, in 1999 in Brazil in Brian Bates’ car and again in 2001 in Chile on the road east of San Pedro de Atacama, there was no ‘hot asbestos’ smell. Had health & safety forced a change in compound used? We decided to drive on until the clutch packed up. Brendan’s car carried a tow rope and could get us to safety. John took over the driving as he is clearly the most mechanically orientated of the three of us.

Three and a half hours later, John had somehow managed to tease the car up and down two high passes (over 3,500 m) and into our town for the next four nights: Tarija.

This trip is certainly not without adventure!

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