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Archive for February, 2017

Tuesday 28 February – Mexico City back to Tehuacan

The score is now Police 1 – Cactus Trippers 2, as we sighed a huge sigh of relief as we hit the toll road out of Mexico City back to Tehuacan.

We had a bit of a problem with the hotel shuttle service to the Europcar depot. On 2nd February this went perfect, but this time, the same minibus but a different driver took us to the airport’s Terminal 1. ‘No’, we explained, ‘we need to go to the Europcar depot, just a mile or so farther on.’ ‘No’, said the driver, ‘I just run a free shuttle between the hotel and terminals 1 & 2’. ‘How much extra to take us to the Europcar depot?’ ‘Is not possible!’ ‘OK, take us back to the Hotel!’

Back at the Hotel we unloaded all our gear and two senior managers intervened, but the job’s worth driver stuck to his gun – I wonder if he still has a job by now. Fortunately there was a taxi driver on hand to take us for the equivalent of GBP 4. Alain & I had not done a ‘flight pack’ so I had lots of bits and pieces which once again had to be loaded up, this time to the taxi.

We arrived at Europcar without incident, unloaded all our bits & pieces into the reception area, where I was asked for the car rental voucher. I explained that as we had made the booking on the road, I had no print out, but could show the receptionist the emails etc on my laptop. Great, yes please? So where was my laptop? In my rucksack. Which was where? On the way back to the hotel still in the back of the taxi! At least, we hoped so. The receptionist at Europcar called the hotel who confirmed that the taxi had just returned and, yes, the bag was still on the backseat and the driver was on his way to deliver it back to me. Phew!

First essential to check out: could we fit behind the steering wheel of the smaller Chevrolet Aveo? Yes, just!  Next, was there a socket to plug in the SatNav? Yes. Did it work? No!!! Ten minutes of mechanics in oily clothes climbing over the car had changed the fuse that had blown. The socket was operational again! Phew!!

The sigh of relief as we hit the MEX150D tollroad past the danger zone for crooked police officers (assumed).

About halfway ‘home’ to Tehuaca, Alain noticed that the engine malfunction light was on. We pulled into the next Pemex Station where three ladies in oily overalls disappeared under the bonnet of the car and checked oil levels etc. All given the OK. So we drove on – light still on.

Now at our Hotel, Alain checked the support page for the Chevrolet Aveo and learned that this is an issue reported by many owners. One explanation seems to be that the breather tube on the fuel tank is not functioning properly so that a vacume builds up. A malfunction light that stays on all the time seems not to be a disaster, but with one that flashes it is best to give the car a rest and call for help. Ours is on all the time, even after we left the car to stand at the hotel and opened the fuel filler cap.

We’ll have a margarita to discuss what to do. Probably nothing, until we reach Villahermosa, the capital of the State of Tabasco, where there is a Europcar service agent.


Monday 27 February – Tehuacan to Mexico City

Just a brief report, just for the record:

Woke up at 7

Breakfast at 8

Left Tehuaca at 9

Arrived at the Europcar drop off atMexico City Airport at 12:30 – just one stop by the police along the way, all very friendly and correct. Police 1 – Cactus Trippers 1.

Arrived at the hotel where Alain and I will spend tonight at 13:15 where Chris paid for two margaritas each. hic.

By 15:15 we suggested that Chris and Jonathan went to the airport, wished them a safe journey and saw them off safely on the shuttle to the Airport T1.

In just over two weeks we’ll be doing the same. Jonathan’s gadgetry reports that the weather in the UK is cold and wet for the next 48 hours, when they’ll complete their journeys back to their front doors. In the remaining time that we’re in Mexico, the weather has an opportunity to progress to Spring.

Both Alain & I in the front seat were quite stressed and therefore exhausted after the experience 4 weeks ago when we were robbed by the police, so we’re now taking a rest before going down for dinner later tonight.

 Picking up a Chevrolet tomorrow for our adventures in Veracruz and Tabasco, first driving back to Tehuacan, a much more restful town, to launch our plans for Mex pt 2 than Mexico City!

Sunday 26 February – around Tehuacan – admin day.

Even though the day is still young, I can safely predict that there is little else newsworthy going to happen. In most of our trips we build in ‘reserve’ days, just in case there is some unforeseen event, illness among the driver or car breakdown, that would put the ability of the party to reach the airport for flights home in time.

As we had not encountered any such emergencies, we had now a true spare day. We met half an hour later than usual for breakfast and emptied out the car, so that it could be taken to a car wash of which we had seen many – when we did not need them. Our car was looking pretty much like any cactus car after a four week trip through dry & dusty cactus country and so deserved a wash.

Because of the usual state of the car, which had recorded 32 km at pickup and had now reached 5,158 km, it was likely that the carwash people would demand a bit extra. But where do you find a car wash that is open on a Sunday morning. Alain asked at the hotel reception and was given vague directions. The first place optimistically estimated an hour to finish off the car he was doing and then do a 20 seater minibus. He helpfully directed us to another carwash farther on. Eventually we found one that was open and had no other car queueing, just the one that two guys were meticulously working on. Our interpretation of the signs on the wall suggested a cost of MX$ 800 for an external and internal clean. We were impressed with the thoroughness applied to the taxi in front of us, although perhaps not by the cleanliness of the cloths they used and the time it took. But the taxi looked like new when they finished.

There even was a waiting room with settees where we could wait in the shade – sadly no drink machines for coffee, colas or beer and margaritas. By now they had been joined by a third party, apparently the boss of the outfit. Finally the call came that they had finished. Alain came out with a MX$ 200 note and was looking through his pockets for the balance when the carwash foreman said that he had no change! Alain had found a MX$100 note and offered that. Again, the panic was ‘no change’. They speak a strange dialect in Tehuacan but finally it became clear that the 90 minute hard work by three adults cost us the princely sum of MX$ 60, less than GBP 3. All of a sudden, the panic about change became unimportant as we left it as a tip, and perhaps some clean cloths. Our car looked like brand new, despite the few scrapes with shrubs etc.

What to do next? Back at the hotel Jonathan and Chris were waiting for my 2TB plug in hard drive, and while this was transferring data between computers, we decided the cross the road to a Home Depot store to see if they could sell me a USB cable to replace the one that connects my Nikon D600 to my laptop. The old one would suddenly cut out. Home Depot had a range of cables but not the one I needed, so on we went towards Wallmart. Before getting there we passed a Mall dominated by Liverpool, a large department store. In one of the small shops there was a Radia Shack. Jonathan again made his predictions about being a Dutch uncle if they did not have the cable. He now just needs to acquire a Dutch passport to complete the formalities. But another small shop, the Steren Shop for electronic solutions, did!

As we walked on in the delight of the airconditioned mall, we passed a shop that sold ‘cowboy hats’. Yes, the PK hattery acquired another hat!

We found a shady terrace that belonged to a liquor store where we each had a cold beer, a Leffe for Alain and myself and Corona for Chris and Jonathan. Then a short stroll home to the hotel and we’re done.

Expect things tomorrow to be just as uneventful, a  265 km drive back to Europrental at the Airport, drop off the car and say our goodbyes. Chris and Jonathan will take the shuttle to the Airport for their flight home while Alain and I take another shuttle to take us to the hotel where we stayed for our first night in Mexico.

We met all our cactus objectives, except that we failed to see Ferocactus reppenhagenii and F. macrodiscus, but this was more than made up for by seeing Mammillaria bertholdii. It provides the perfect excuse to come back again to search for those that escaped.

Many thanks to cactus expert Alain who took us to all the locations where he had seen Feros before and for whom the pressure of being able to find these spots has now fallen away. Many thanks, Alain – well done! And also for taken on most of the driving when my back played up.

New hat by JYC

PK posing with his new hat – picture by JYC
The model is a dummy, honest!

Saturday 25 February – around Tehuacan

Today we had just one planned stop, S3613, a repeat of S3581 made on 15 February. On that occasion we saw our first Ferocactus haematacanthus, but rather to our disappointment, these plants were in bud, but not in flower. And so, towards the end of Chris’ and Jonathan’s trip, we revisited the site to see if the buds had opened yet.

In my collection in the UK, I find that Fero’s can tease you with buds for weeks and then suddenly put in a growing spurt to catch you unawares, when you’re away on another break or when the weather is too dark and overcast to take any good pictures. It was not much different here. Most of the buds had continue to develop but only two had opened to show the flowers properly. Mission successful! Alain and I will pass by  here again at the end of our trip extension to see the States of Veracruz and Tabasco and will take another look for more flowers and perhaps the first, unripe, fruits.

On 15 February, we had also marched up the hill at the otherside of the road to ‘the shrine’. First we had walked along a paved road that was no longer in use. This time we decided to take the car up this road, but ended up along the railway line, with a failed attempt to turn up a track towards the top of the hill that we had climbed last time.

Back on the main road I suggested a side road that would seem to lead back to the ridge, or to an extension of the ridge where we had found F. haematacanthus. We parked the car and started our climb, but soon realised that we were not seeing the Coryphantha sp. and number of Mammillaria sp. that we had seen on the first stop. There were many more Echinocactus platyacantha, but no Feros. Jonathan noted that the rocks we were walking on were shale like mudstone, a different type than where the Feros were growing at S3613.

Alain showed that he was the keenest Fero-fan in our quartet by walking at least twice as far, being rewarded by finding one large but dying plant of Ferocactus robustus.

We made an early return, back to base, for early Margaritas. Being cactus explorers can be a hard life, but not today!

Friday 24 February – Huajuapan to Tehuacan

Another day, another episode of the Ferocactus Fairy-tales.

After the now customary ‘pictures around the hotel stop’ (S3608) we headed to the first Ferocactus stop (S3609 = AB674) for Ferocactus latispinus. This was christened the ‘dead fox stop’ as a decaying animal added its own aroma to where we had parked the car. To Alain, this was a disappointment as we struggled to find the Feros that he remembers as being abundant here last time. Plenty of evidence of grazing by cows and goats, provided by their droppings plus a few dead Feros, kicked out and left head down-roots up to die. At the edge of the area Chris found a few plants alive and in tact.

Excited, we headed for the next stop along MEX125, (S3610 = AB675) which Alain reported as a site for F. macrodiscus. We soon stumbled across the first Fero, in good health, but identified as F. latispinus. As was the next one and the one after that ….. In fact, no F. macrodiscus were found here, not even after Alain was approached by Jehova witnesses waiting at the nearby bus stop! There were also some nice Mammillaria here. Should I hazard a guess? Mammillaria dixanthocentron? Mainly white spined plants with variable spine length. I’ll show the images at the Mammillaria Society AGM in a few months time for expert opinions.

These completed the planned Ferocactus stops for today, as we headed to our comfortable hotel in Tehuacan where we spend the next three nights. Excepts that Chris spotted a large clump of Ferocactus robustus along the side of the road. A quick U-turn and note books marked up for S3611. But what was this? In a relatively small area, we found not only F robustus, but also F. latispinus and F. recurvus / greenwoodii! Jonathan argued that we must have crossed the border into the State of Puebla, as robustus does not grow in the State of Oaxaca. Confused by such a diversity of Feros, we stopped at the next Pemex station for ice creams to cool down over excited brains. Which State are we in? Jonathan asked. No less an authority than the girl serving behind the refreshments counter can now be credited as the person confirming that we were still in Oaxaca State, so that the distribution of F. robustus can now be extended to that State. A cheer for the girl went up that had other members of staff run in to see what the excitement was about.

We soon crossed the official state line, marked with the usual arches, and stopped at a view point (S3612) to take pictures of the tall ceroids with cephalia along the side of the road. As we walked back to take the pictures we also spotted more Mammillaria – very photogenic on the road cutting. A police car passed by and slowed down. When we returned to our car, the police car was in front of us with four officers, armed to the teeth waiting. Good afternoon, everything OK? We explained that we were tourists from Europe, enjoying the amazing scenery. It was all smiles this time. Alain ase3d if he could take the officers picture to illustrate how to protect cacti with automatic weapons and hand guns. No, than you they said, and quickly got into their car. Of course, the whole scene was captured on the dashcam 🙂


Friday 24 February – …. to Tehuacan Post Script

In my rush to join the others for breakfast, I failed to report on the last stop of the day, near Zapotitlan. Again, it was Chris, from the backseat, who spotted a large Ferocactus up a track off the side of the road. Alain was driving, watching out for the other traffic, the topez lying in ambush to catch us out and the dogs that paraded the side of the road as potential mobile topez speed regulators, as they have a tendency to cross the road any time they like. I was co-pilot and co-topez spotter, more to avoid the shooting pain in my back as we bumped over them a bit too hard than out of concern for the car’s suspension system.

So, S3613 was identified as F. latispinus, but what do we know, with our brains by know scrambled into a variable Fero cocktail. The plant was some 60 cm tall but seems to be have been the parent of many others as there were a large number of seedlings around.

Nice stop to finish the day.

Thursday 23 February – Miahuatlan to Huajuapan de Leon

We continue to enjoy revisiting spots that Alain had visited nearly one year earlier, allowing him to observe changes and differences between now and then and for the rest of us to get a thorough understanding of the different Ferocactus taxa in the area. But first, S3605, some images of and around Hotel Plaza Diamante in Miathuatlan.

First cactus stop of the day was S3606 (previously AB671) for Ferocactus latispinus. Again, these plans show that they like to grow in the shade provided his time of year by grasses and some low shrubs, not yet in leaf, but of course covered in thorns. Now the sun in the UK during the growing season is of course nowhere as strong as the Mexican sun, but I will experience with providing plant in my collection with a bit more shade next year.

Alain had been looking forward to showing us plants at the next location S3607 (AB673). ‘What do you think that it is?’ he asked. We could all agree on Ferocactus but were pleased when he suggested F. greenwoodii. There followed a discussion between Alain and Jonathan as to the exact taxonomic position of this plant that I still do not fully understand so for the sae of simplicity will refer to them as Ferocactus greenwoodii. Pilbeam calls them F. recurvus subsp. greenwoodii, but others see F. recurvus as F. latispinus subsp. spiralis. By the end of the stop we all had a dose of Ferocactus indigestion that will settle over time.

More tomorrow!

Wednesday 22 February – Around Miahuatlan

Well, it took a considerable amount of research, tapping friends and acquaintances for information and endless searches of the area in the Mexican State Oaxaca where Mammillaria bertholdii was found. Today was D-Day and we set off for what on paper was a simple 63 km journey through the mountains. Also on the schedule was Ortegocactus macdougallii. This plant had already been visited by Alain as part of the 2016 trip to Oaxaca by Alain and a long list of friends who had seen these plants in March when they had been in flower. Locals told us that it had been very dry, so no such luck this time. We also found a few Ferocactus, still with last year’s fruit. One plant looked remarkably like F. haemathacanthus, others will need a bit more reading up later.

And on to the small village where M. bertholdii resides. We had been supplied by different sources of a contact in the village.  Driving through the almost deserted town we asked three men if they knew our contact. ‘Follow us’. We made a quick U-turn and soon had caught up with the pedestrians and followed them to a yard where we were invited to park the car and come in for a chat. The man explained that he was the uncle of the man that we were looking for. We were also introduced to the wife of our contact, whom I recognised from a YouTube video.

We were treated to a shot of Mescal, home made and to me, as tasty as paint stripper, and as strong. Our contact was away – could we come back tomorrow? No, because our planes would leave Mexico City in a few days time. We were joined by the son of our contact and told that if we were to be taken to the plants, we would not be allowed to photograph them! Memories of a visit to an archaeological site early on during the trip sprang to mind.

Eventually the talk turned to financial reward for the uncle and his nephew to take us to a site where the plants grew. We knew from others that a fee of MX$ 300 (per person or per party?) was a reasonable reward for their troubles, but the amount requested this time was MX$500 per person. With a falling Peso on the currency markets it was about what I had expected and prepared to pay. The others agreed – after all an hour earlier it seemed that we had flown half way around the world, bounced over some 5,000 km of variable roads and their topez (sleeping policemen) not to go  away with at least a picture or two.

And so we set off, the nephew in the lead on his motorbike and the uncle in the backseat of our car squeezed between Jonathan and Chris. After a fair amount of zigzagging through the village’s streets we arrived in the countryside. The nephew stopped – would our car be able to make it down the track ahead? Let’s try, until we say ‘no farther’.

We did not go much farther when the motorbike stopped and parked up. We got out of the car, laden with cameras. Down a fairly steep (for a 63 year old aching back) slope of what seemed to be volcanic material, into a gully and up another fairly steep slope with rocks that seemed to be of the fossil petrified wood type. Through a small wooded area and on to an exposed rocky plateau. ‘We’re here!’ our friend announced. I am sceptical by nature, so smiled and asked ‘Where?’ We started bending our backs and scanning the rocks. It was Chris Hayes who was the first to spot the tiniest of plants. Jonathan was the first to confirm the ID ‘I’ll be a Dutch uncle if that is not M. bertholdii’ he announced. Hi, Oom Jonathan! But he was right. And as usual, once our eyes were in, we started to find small clusters of five to eight plants at the time. Uncle was pleased too as he had warned that this was the wrong time to look for them, we should wait for rains when the plants are bigger and in flower. ‘When is that usually the case?’ I asked. He shrugged his shoulders ‘when it rains!’ a rather irregular and unpredictable event. Anyway, we were all in heaven, clicking away with our cameras until reality reminded us that we still had to make a long journey ‘home’ to the hotel.

As we walked back the way we came, it was again Chris who announced that on the volcanic rock there were more Ortegocactus macdougallii, an important find as hitherto official records had reported just one population for this taxon. The nephew pointed out the tiniest signs of a yellow bud, a sure sign that flowering might be in a month’s time.

On the way back to our contact’s home, he stopped off at his Mescal factory where we were given a guided tour of the operations. Not sure if the manufacturing process would pass European health & safety laws, but then I had seen some cider farms in Somerset in the 1970s that would struggle to meet today’s standards as well.

Back to where we had started, the nephew managed to sell some of the Mescal to Alain and Chris. This morning they still manage to pass the ‘how many fingers?’ test to see if this near neat alcohol was affecting their eyesight.

A great day that we’ll remember for many years. Back in the UK, Storm Dorris was doing her worst! What a contrast.

Tuesday 21 February – Tangolunda to Miahuatlan

We headed into the mountains – three SatNav systems coming up with different solutions to arrive ultimately at the same address. We became quite possessive about ‘our’ systems and critical of the others, particularly when Jonathan’s system got us to a dead end. My system also got lost but we could see the workmen laying wet cement waving a warning not to come nearer. Of coarse, such events rendered that SatNav system useless for a while as it persistently tried to get back to the point where that road was closed. Jonathan’s system had an irritating English lady’s voice while Alain’s system did the same in Dutch. My aversion of being told what to do, particularly by a female voice, is well known. No offence intended, Angie.

Much of today’s route was recorded by my dashcam that gives an excellent impression of the changing scenery. I started spotting huge deep green Agave along the side of the road and I’m sure that some will appear at 60 kph on the dashcam output. But we made one actual stop S3598, to take some proper images, with various people included to provide scale.

The sole purpose of staying in Miahuatlan was as a jumping off point for tomorrow’s adventure, the search for Mammillaria bertholdii


Monday 20 February – around Tangolunda

Today, the umpteen times revised itinerary said ‘rest day’, well earned and needed as we had travelled long distances in hot temperatures and feeling below par health wise. So today, we did …. nothing! Well, not quite true. We got up an hour later than usual, had breakfast and drove to a charming little cove where we sat at the Los Gueros Restaurant at Playa la Bocana. Huatulco, Oax., Mexico. We saw a few ceroids on the hill overlooking the bay, but could not be bothered to lift the camera to take their picture. I did take some images of pelicans, cormorants and white egrets fishing off shore, while we downed a bucket of freshly squeezed orange juice each, enjoyed two family plates of guacamole and, once the clock moved past midday, allowed ourselves a bottle of beer.

We drove back to the hotel and started planning tomorrow’s drive, when the internet collapsed. So I backed up my images to my hard drive, quite a lot, including all the dash cam images.

For Chris and Jonathan, this is the farthest point of the trip, so tomorrow we start the journey to Mexico City Airport and it becomes a matter of what other stops to make, other than ad-hoc leg-stretch stops.