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Archive for November, 2014

Sunday 9 November 2014 – MEX to LHR

The flight eventually left some 45 minutes late, but while I was asleep, just waking up for food & drinks, we had made up enough time to arrive ahead of schedule, until we hit Heathrow airspace where we were told there was an (air) traffic jam, so that we ended up being some 15 minutes late arriving. As I had checked in my luggage (15.7 kg including souvenirs as opposed to just 11.6 kg on the LHR – MEX flight!) relatively early in Mexico City, it seemed fair that the First In – Last Out system appeared to be in use – well not really last, but there were only some half a dozen folk waiting when my bag rolled onto the belt.

I had asked Angie to bring a camera for the usual image of me emerging through the Arrival Gate for the usual ‘last image of the trip’ shot, but was sad that there was no sign of her.

When she appeared, some ten minutes later, she explained that she had been tracking the flight on-line and so had learned of my delayed departure which seemed to persist through out the flight, only to jump to the new arrival time when it was too late, plus getting stuck in her own traffic jam, on the M25. In her rush to leave home she had also forgotten the camera, so I just looked like an out of place Midnight Cowboy character. The benefit was that Angie’s delay resulted in the lowest airport car park charge that I can remember – just £3.


Since returning home I’ve thrown myself into updating Google Earth with the GPS coordinates photographed on our SatNav at the start of each stop – when I remembered – and making a list of where I forgot, hoping that Alain was more conscientious in recording such stop info. It also appeared that I had ‘lost’ or ‘misplaced’ all images of 19 October, but I managed to find it in the ‘wrong’ location which happened as I was backing up all my images on to my HD as I was waiting to at the airport.

I had thought that I might have had to wait until my new laptop charger had arrived (the original was left at T1, at Mexico International Airport), but fortunately the files had not been lost in transit.

I’ve also given Angie a few viewings of what we saw, confirming that it will again be hard to select the best 400 images for 2015 presentations.

And work has started on ‘The Cactus Trip Diaries – Mexico 2014 pt 2’, another Blurb self published work that I enjoy having as my own personal souvenir of each trip.

As you can see, I’ve been busy enough to be almost unaware of the rain that has been steadily coming down since arriving in autumn sunshine on Sunday. Angie appears to have done a great job of looking after my Cacti & Succulent Plant Collection during my absence and we’ve been on shopping expedition to find suitable hangers for my ever growing collection of Stetsons / sombreros / etc. as I tend to buy one during each trip.


Plans are for a trip to give talks in California in February and for a trip back to Mexico, to explore for cacti in the states of Pueblo and Oaxaca in March 2015, a first for me, so each cactus seen will be a novelty for me. But first there are 10 days in Cologne at Angie’s Mum to look forward to, with visits to the Christmas Markets.



Saturday 8 November 2014 – San Miguel de Allende to Mexico International Airport

We had plenty of time to complete our final packing, stroll around the streets some more and buy more small souvenirs to fill up the holes in my luggage. Bart felt fully recovered and, having done such a magnificent job getting us out of Mexico City on arrival, volunteered for the job as driver for the final journey to the Airport.

Soon out of San Miguel de Allende we began to see first small- then larger groups of ‘Mexican Cowboys’ – I must find out what the term for people on horseback, probably involved in the cattle trade, is in Mexico. Gaucho’s? Anyway, there were hundreds, no thousands of them. Many of them were in festive dress, wearing very colourful clothes and their horses too were dressed for a fiesta! What was going on?

Back in the UK, Alain had found an internet article about the ‘Cabalgata of Christ the King’, a tradition since 1927 when the Cristeros war started. The images on the ionternet certainly look identical of what we saw for many miles alongside the road. But the Cabalgata procession is said to take place 2 days before Epiphany so some 2 months after we saw our procession. Was it a rehearsal? Who knows.

I had a shock being unable to find the images and movies that I had taken of the event, until Alain reminded me that as I had already packed my camera for the flight home, I used his camera to record the proceedings from the prime position of the front passenger seat.

Driving back seemed a lot easier than the drive out of Mexico City as the road to the Airport was clearly marked and understood (Aeroporto T1) with a route that SatNav mostly agreed with. Common sense dictated that we’d follow SatNav where there were no signs but followed the signs, assumed to be more up to date than SatNav.

We left San Miguel de Allende at noon and aimed to arrive at 16:00 for flights leaving around 23:00 hrs. We actually arrived at 16:30, due to slow traffic once we hit the Mexico DF border. The car was welcomed back by Hertz, it had served us very well indeed!

We said our goodbyes, as Alain and Bart were due to leave from T1, where the Hertz return garage was based, while I hopped on the Airport train that took me back to T2, where we had originally arrived. I managed to drop off my hold luggage and then found a seat where I could clearly see the Departures board and opened up my laptop to start writing up the Holiday notes.

The noticeboard suggested a departure time of 23:00, 40 minutes earlier than shown on my flight documents. My laptop ran out of power and I tried a local charging point that turned out to be disconnected. Then the notice board announced my departure gate, of course at the other end of the airport, so I quickly packed everything into my rucksack and legged it to Gate 68. nce I arrived back home I realised that  my laptop charger was still at Mexico Airport and that a Microsoft replacement charger costs an eye-watering £65. Why so much?

Never mind. We had a great trip and I plan to do it all again in 2015!

Friday 7 November 2014 – around San Miguel de Allende

When planning one of our trips it is important to plan for the unexpected – the flight home waits for no-one.

In March 2014 we had scheduled our reserve day for an extra night at Vizarron. The hotel facilities suited us and their were interesting plants to see or re-visit a month after we had seen them on arrival.

Walking around the town of San Miguel de Allende we agreed that this was a much nicer place to spend our last night in Mexico. There were no interesting cacti reported from the area, sometimes due to the fact that there are none to be found, sometimes due to the lack of exploration by people travelling to or from Mexico International Airport, some 250 km away.

Today we enjoyed more of a sight seeing holiday, with Alain and I enjoying gentle strolls through the town with regular ‘pit-stops’ at charming little cafe / restaurants, photographing streets and churches in the busy streets – it was surprising how many American and European languages we could hear around us and how many people working in the shops and eateries helpfully switched to good English when we tried out our improving Spenglish.

Souvenirs were added to our luggage – I had spare weight allowance and bought yet another brightly coloured blanket that would add colour to some of the surfaces in my conservatory once the plants return to their outside spots when Spring returns next year.

The huge Parroquia San Miguel Arcangel church dominates the Jardin Allende, a Plaza planted up with clipped ficus trees that provide shade for the people engaged in watching other people, moving on to the cafe restaurants around the square for refreshments or a main meal. And so our sightseeing became a bit of a pub crawl, with visits back to the near by hotel to check on a recovering Bart and to drop off our souvenir purchases.

That night there was a parade on the Plaza with two or three giant puppets were followed around the centro of town, followed by a fully dressed up Mariachi band.

Once the band returned to the square, they serenaded a couple with a small baby on the terrace of the restaurant where we had just finished dinner, providing the perfect opportunity to film their performance of two songs as a perfect ending to another trip.

Thursday 6 November 2014 – San Jose Iturbide to San Miguel de Allende

It’s only an hour’s ride on asphalt to San Miguel de Allende, the town made famous in cactology as the place where Charlie Glass inspired and set up the project often referred to as C.A.N.T.E., known here as El Charco del Ingenio Jardin Botanico. I was also keen to see the place where in the 1990’s Brian Thomson, a friend from the UK, had spent a number of months as a volunteer to help Charlie teach Mexicans the basics of cactus horticulture, including the art of grafting.  Brian’s health is not so good these days so I hope he’ll enjoy the pictures once I get home.

I had heard that the place was on a down ward spiral in recent years, but was pleasantly surprised to find the car park full with a better than expected number of visitors, including a group of visitors from the UK – was it Nottingham or Northampton Branch – there goes my memory again! Not a bad branch outing!

All the plants were well labelled, but some of the smaller plants looked a little lost in the tall grass – very au natural, but perhaps a better maintenance standard is expected in a botanic garden. It’s easy to be critical during a one off visit, but similar comments were heard from UK, US and Australian visitors as I walked through the garden. A group of school kids in uniform on a school outing shows that the place is also used educationally to help people to learn about their local plants and their uses. An interesting stop to a place that I had heard and read much about over the years.

Main plant house, well maintained with interesting cacti and other succulents.

Main plant house, well maintained with interesting cacti and other succulents.

We found three single rooms for the last two nights to enable us to get a good night’s sleep and do a final repack before Saturday’s flight home in the centre of town – a bit noisy until the music in a near by bar was switched off around 4 a.m., but as usual I was fast asleep as my head hit the pillow around 22:00 hrs.

Bart spent the afternoon resting while Alain and I, armed with our cameras took a stroll through the very scenic and touristy town – many Americans but also European tourists seem to enjoy a taste of Mexico so close to Mexico City. I heard Dutch spoken on the cafe terraces as we made a pub crawl from bar to bar to escape the heat of the sun and even spotted a car with an ‘I love Middelburg’ sticker, but with Mexican plates. Some one else who had managed to swap cold wet European winters for the Meican sun shine?


Wednesday 5 November 2014 – Visit to Xichu

The ‘rolled up piza in a roll’ that we had last night had not agreed with Bart, who after several visits to the toilet and running a bit of a temperature decided to have a rest day, while Alain and I visited Xichu for a look at the Turbinicarpus alonsoi.

The first images of the day were again a study in Topes, the humps and bumps that certainly don’t benefit travellers in cars with back problems. Here I focussed on the metal balls, half burried that cause a jarr to the back bone.

S3212 was a No Cactus stop in the Zona de Niebla in the Valle de Xichu, as I misjudged the next stop S3213, where we checked on the Mammillaria muehlenpfordtii seen here on previous occasions. They were still there, although I’m not sure for how much longer as rocks along the road seem to be ground down and used to build the roads and reinforce more formidable rock faces. There was a lot of evidence of rock fall during this trip – signs of regular minor earth quakes or of a reduction in the budgets to clear the roads from natural erosion?

S3214 combined pictures of plants growing along the rock cutting as we drove out of Xichu towards the T. alonsoii. Here too the roadside rocks had been cut up to make space for concrete poles to cary elecytricity and / or telephony I assume. There certainly was not the variety of plants here that we had seen in March. Waling into the canyon where the plants grew it did not take long to find the first plants. They looked to have had a good year and were plumped up, but not in flower. On the opposite, shaded wall, there were mopre Mammillaria schiedeana than I remember seeing before – all small UK nursery seized , I do not recall seeing large plants in nature. These plants seem to live ion almost permanent shade, so don’t be fooled in giving these Mexican plants the full sun treatment in the UK.

Mammillaria schiedeana (S3214)

Mammillaria schiedeana (S3214)

As we were about to to return to the car, Alain mentioned that we had company. As I looked in the direction indicated I saw a white somprero ducking behind the shrubs. I called out ‘Buenos dias, Senor’ but there was no reply. We carried on strolling back, taking pictures of plants spotted as we went. Near the canyon’s exit our Mexican frien reappeared and gave us a talk in much too fast Spanish for us to understand that we needed permission to be on this private land. We were surprised that this was private land as, unlike his land across the road, there were no fences or signs to indicate this. I said that in Europe where we came from unfenced land without signage was considered common land for all people to enjoy. We then said sorry. We left with a friendly hand shake, but heeded his comments that ther Policia or worse, vigilantes, might have caught us with dire consequenses.

On the way back to San Jose Iturbide, Alain wanted to make a comfort stop and then called me over to take a look at a cactus growing behind the tree that he had selected for his privacy. There on the ground was a cactus that I had been aware grew in this area but that we had never found: Ferocactus macrodiscus ssp. septentrionalis. It was certainly not a show plant by any means, but it was still nice top add another taxon to our species list of plants seen in nature. Where there is one, there should be more, so we took a stroll along the edge of the field across the road where Alain found another group of four, growing among and hidden by the tall grass. There were people working in the fields some distance away and remembering the words of the old man in Xichu we decided not to cross the new fence to do a bit of gardening to expose the plants.

Alain had discovered a great restaurant at Hotel Los Arcos on the town square where the two of us enjoyed Marguaritas and Steak while Bart was well enough to join us for chicken soup.

We hope that Cliff, Ian and Sarda safely got away on their flight

Tuesday 4 November 2014 – Rio Verde to San Jose Iturbide

Ramos Arizpe and San Luis de La Paz tie for my least favourite Mexican towns – they are noisy and messy and I can’t wait to get out. SLdLP at least has the redeeming feature that Hotel Parras had improved significantly when we visited last March compared to April 2011. So we made for the hotel with some optimism, only to be disappointed to learn that there were no vacancies. A monument in the reception area suggested that the husband of the lady who had appeared to run the hotel may have died. Very sorry. So on to Hotel San Juan next door, where a minivan with American Mexicans were just ‘down loading’ all their luggage – no sorry – full up! There are 6 hotels recognised by SatNav, plus one Motel, which we chose to ignore. Some of these were closed and the others turned out to be hostals with shared bathroom and toilet facilities – no thanks.

With daylight fading fast we drove the 26 km south to San Jose Iturbide that claimed to have four hotels and which appears to be much quieter and less noisy, with beds found at Hotel Rhodes. We missed the nice restaurant after stuffing ourselves with savoury torts – kind of bread rolls with bacon, cheese and pineapple – a sort of ‘pizza in a roll’. Bart and Alain had managed to find a liqor store where more Chilean wine was purchased together with some beer and the nasty cane sugar alcohol that Alain, Cliff and Ian used to drink with Coca Cola, a diabetic nightmare! Still, we have another visit to Turbinicarpus alonsoii to look forward to tomorrow.

But back to today. We said goodbye to ‘the other car’ – Ian and Sarda Woolnough and Cliff Thompson, who were driving back to Vizarron today for a drive to the airport on Wednesday for their flight home. Let’s hope that Cliff manages to change his flight, as he was supposed to be on my flight on Saturday night.

We must have followed the same road south, but some time apart, as we also came across the turned over truck mentioned in Ian’s report, also managing to squeeze past. Soon afterwards the traffic seemed to dry up behind us, so perhaps they decided to close the road to let the emergency services through.

We too took the road to Penamiller, but then carried on and found a better than expected road to San Luis de La Paz. I recorded three stops – one for a collection of topes (sleeping policemen) signs and then the video of us approaching, slowing down and crossing the hump. The second was a pitstop along the road where Agave attenuata was growing from the rocks alongside the road, as well as a probable Echeveria (S3210) and S3211 was made to encourage us to stretch our legs, with my back now nicely ceased up. Not a huge amount of cacti to boast about except a little cactus garden growing epiphytically on a tree trunk. If anyone can identify the Mammillaria …….(just one response, thanks to Juergen Menzel who suggested Mammillaria decipiens subsp camptotricha.

This Mammillaria sp joined the rankls of epiphetic cacti at S3211

This Mammillaria decipiens subsp camptotricha joined the ranks of epiphetic cacti at S3211

Monday 3 November 2014 – Tula to Rio Verde

A great day! Not just because we were on the way home, slowly, but because 4.1 km from the hotel (the same one where we stayed in 2011 – the caretaker / owner was still drunk!) we completed our challenge of seeing every major taxon of Ariocarpus in flower, by finding A. agavoides (S3205). The plants would have been a real challenge to find if they had not been in flower! A couple of German cactus explorers were also staying in the hotel and as we stood on the hill, they must have seen our cars and parked behind us, climbing up as we were coming back. We told them the good news, that they were in the right place and that the flowers were waiting for them!

Ariocarpus agavoides (S3205)

Ariocarpus agavoides (S3205)

S3206 was a stop from last March and probably also from 2011 – it all seemed very familiar as we saw some lovely Astrophytum myriostigma, Thelocactus tulensis, Neolloydia conoidea, and of course an Ariocarpus, not in flower, so not sure if these were members of the confused A. confusus gang; the tubercles can be quite variable in retusus.

Neolloydia conoidea and Thelocactus tulensis at S3206

Neolloydia conoidea and Thelocactus tulensis at S3206

We turned south for Palomas and Las Tablas and made a stop (S3207) to stretch our legs – we’ve rarely been disappointed making an ad-hoc stop along this road! S3207 was no exception. There were some nice Asdtrophytum myriostigma almost next to where Bart had parked the car.

There are too many nice white spined Mams to know what we were looking at here – their appearance can vary depending on exposure to the sun or in a shady spot between Agave lechuguila, Hechtias and other things to tear at your ankles. I had wandered off in one direction and when I got back to the car, Bart & Alain asked, ‘Did you see the flowering Ariocarpus?’ No! and so we went back through the shrubs – everything has thorns or spines and is out to get you!

The Arios here had big chunky tubercles and pink / purple / magenta coloured flowers – the confusion arises from people with different native languages describing colours, including me who is colour blind!

Ariocarpus confusus? S3207

Ariocarpus confusus? S3207

S3208 was a rendez vous with an Old Friend, the Echinocactus platyacanthus known by me as ‘Old Friend’ from 2011 and March 2014 visits and ‘Giant’ (over 3m tall). I’ll suggest here that this is the tallest Echinocactus platyacanthus ever, until somebody else shows me a larger specimen to take over the title (so that I’ll have to go back and give some fertiliser to this one!)

My Old Friend and I (S3208)

My Old Friend and I (S3208)

We had a great time crawling all over the hill before returning to the car, with Alain finding another multi-headed Ariocarpus in full (19!!!) flower. We’ve christened this Super Ario, but you’ll have to wait a bit before I share this in my talks.

We stayed again at Hotel Premier, where the wifi remembered us from previous visits after a reboot of the router and soon were off to Café La Granja where we have enjoyed excellent rib-eye steaks before, and again tonight, washed down with a bottle of Concha y Toro’s Seleccion, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Sunday 2 November 2014 – Aramberri to Tula

After last night’s great stop, S3200, where we found a very variable selection of Ariocarpus (A. confusus), we had high hopes to continue the theme with another stop at a location where these Ariocarpus had been reported from, near La Escondida (S3201). Here the range of flower colours had been reported to include yellow and yellow-with-pink-tips to the petals. We had no problem finding the hillside, right along the side of MEX 61, but failed to find ANY Ariocarpus at all on hill, and the one behind it and the hills to the left and the right of our target location, which in itself seems a bit odd as just about every hillside here seems to support Ariocarpus plants – still, never mind!

There were many Echinocactus platyacanthus here and many of these had been badly damaged, some by animals (Donkeys? Goats? Cattle?) while others looked to be damaged by disease. Could such a disease have whiped out the Ariocarpus here?

There were still plenty of other cacti to see, with of course Opuntia and Cylindropuntia as always omnipresent in large numbers. I was quite excited to find a small cactus where the stem was very thin just above the ground, broadening to a normal globular plant. Might this be ‘Gymnocactus subterraneae’? Pictures were taken, just in case. Moving on, I then found similar plants, but larger, resembling Neolloydia conoidea, so that my small plant was probably nothing more than a juvenile plant of this taxon. It does seem that Neolloydia are much more variable than I had appreciated – something to look into back home on cold winter evenings.

Just as at S3200 yesterday, there was a large presence of Thelocactus connoideus around. If I’m ever back here in spring, they’d be worth a stop when in flower. And to cheer Alain up, there were some more ‘Red Devils’ (Ferocactus pilosus) hiding among the shrubbery, even though the plants were up to 2 m tall.

Time to move on and as we approached the turning to Sandia and La Solidad that we had missed last time that we drove by here, the walkie talkie crackled and Ian offered to take us to the site that they had found on that occasion, where large Thelocacti grew (S3202). T. conothelos subsp argenteus has been reported from here and pictures in John Pilbeam’s Thelocactus book seem to match what we saw. Others used to name T. macdowellii, but this plant is reported from farther north, near Monterrey, and the one large plant that I have owned and killed under that name had finer supination and formed a clump while the plants that I saw here were all large solitary heads, with one offsetting exception. More things to look up!

For completeness sake I should mention Mammillaria formosa and Echinocereus enneacanthus, plants often found at our stops but not always mentioned. Another Echinocereus here was what I’ll call E. pectinatus with beautiful fine spination. Talking of things I need to look up: how can I tell E. pectinatus from E. riggidissimus from E. reichenbachii in habitat? Geographical taxonomy?

Echinocereus pectinatus ? (S3202)

Echinocereus pectinatus ? (S3202)

We had deicided to take the ‘back road’ from Dr. Arroyo to Tula, as Ian’s map described it as a ‘big yellow’ road, but turned out to be a variable dirt track which did not help my back at all – yep, the disc popped again.

The last two stops were therefore ‘leg stretch’ stops with nothing new seen.

Saturday 1 November 2014 – Matehuela to Aramberri

Our goal today was to see some of the interesting cacti reported from around Aramberri. Just two stops today.

S3199 sounded interesting enough, just a few km off the main road from Dr. Arroyo, before La Escondida where we would turn east to Aramberri. Gymnocactus subterraneus and Turbinicarpus pseudopectinatus were listed amongst the cacti found at this stop. We were to be disappointed, seeing just Thelocactus buekii, Echinocactus platyacanthus, Feriocactus pilosus and Mammillaria formosa and M. candida. Of course there were numerous unidentified Opuntia and Cylindropuntia as well, plants that were so common that you’d hardly notice them after a while. Not as common were the huge plants of Dasylirion that need more research later to identify the species. The data we had suggested a 200 m walk up a hill to find our target plants. Common sense told us that these target plants were extremely small and were not expected to be in flower, so chances of finding them were slim. After a while it became clear that we were not going to find them, when the sound of a car crunching the grit on the track alerted us of approaching traffic, in the form of a mini bus. We were by now high on a hill top and watched as the minibus stopped near our cars and a man got out and walked around our vehicles. A bit later, Bart emerged at the car, having chosen to look at the other side of the track. Through my zoom lens I could see him talking with the person from the passing vehicle who then returned to the car. We had all decided that it was time to come down the hill, where we learned that the mini bus had been occupied by Czech cactus tourists. The one person who had spoken with Bart only spoke Czech and a little bit of Spanish, so the conversation had been limited to mutual nodding at the names of plants that we had already seen and had hoped to see. Lots of smiles and friendly sounding words and off they went, back to the main road, to be followed by us after we had gathered the troops, and never to be seen again by us, at least not today.

The scenery at S3199 was quite dramatic with camanchaca-like clouds drifting over the distant hills; perhaps another fog related presentation could focus on plants where hill fog provided important regular humidity to support succulent plant life.

After the turning at La Escondida we agreed that the first task should be to secure accommodation for the night. SatNav suggested Hotel Esmeralda which we eventually found by parking on the square and sending Ian and Alain on a run around the town. SatNav insisted every time on sending us the wrong way up one way streets. On foot, that tends to create fewer problems. So the hotel was found and rooms were booked, leaving us free to take a look at one of the many locations to the north of the town for Ariocarpus confusus. A strange name? Not really, for a plant that has tubercles somewhere between A. retusus and A. trigonus and a highly variable flower colour, from white to pink to magenta, with yellow also reported but not seen.

To get to the location coordinates, we had to cross a small stream. The ford was flooded and so we sent Alain and Sarda on foot through the fast flowing water to establish the depth. Encouraged by the result, Bart was the first to drive our car through, quickly followed by Cliff in the other car – too fast for me to catch it on video.

Once at our location (S3200) we quickly found huge numbers of Thelocactus conothelos, as well as many large Echinocactus platyacanthus. We realised that we were on the northern side of the hill – fine for cacti on the southern hemisphere, but not so good here in Mexico – so climbed to the top and on the crest of the hill soon found our Ariocarpus in large numbers and in flower!

Ariocarpus confusus, north of Aramberri (S3200)

Ariocarpus confusus, north of Aramberri (S3200)

A great stop, that also provided the first time that I remember seeing E. platyacanthus in flower.

We made sure that we were first to cross the river again, so that we were sure to have our cameras in video mode, ready to catch the other car coming through. They arrived … and stopped. Then Ian got out, rolled up his trouser legs and walked through the water, to join us in our video exercise. Then Cliff followed in the car – all captured on video – a nice change in future presentations from endless pictures of Ariocarpus in flower!