Each time that I was in Grao Mogol (1999, 2009 and now, in 2018) there was tension about our ability to see the cactus that had been the cactus that got us here: Discocactus horstii.
In 1998, the area around the hill arguably is the only place on earth where this little diamond in the cactus world is said to grow. Plenty of rumours that new populations had been found, some 200 km to the north or to the north east, but this is a hilly, inaccessible country and unless we could get our hands on GPS coordinates that showed such a location to be reasonably accessible by car, we would leave it to younger and better equipped explorers.
In 1999, Brian Bates’ Nissan Patrol with Bolivian registration plates attracted a good bit of police attention as it was parked in the square in front of the Grao Mogol Pousada, with the local police station on the opposite end of the square. Brian had four large plastic crates on the roof of his car and Marlon had collected branches of Bursera trees for a Russian collector that were in the crates. Marlon had found a local botanist specialising in Brazilian trees who knew where D. horstii grew.
The local police told us that this would not be allowed as the plants were now protected from illegal collection. Marlon again proved the use of a member of the party speaking the local language. He explained that Keith and I were authors and had written a book including pictures of Brazilian cacti.
We were very keen to see and photograph D. horstii in nature and to tell the story of the plant that was now severely threatened with extinction due to collection. We would be happy to spread the word for future visitors through articles and our websites to explain rules and regulations for visiting the plants, accompanied by park officials or police officers who could make sure that we would not collect anything illegal. We had a great time, but the number of images taken were somewhat limited as we were still using 35 mm slide film. Things had changed quite a bit by 2009 when Cliff and I visited the town with digital cameras. We went to the authorities in the Prefeitura Municipal for instructions and permits to visit D. horstii. It was a bit more complicated than that. The reserve was the responsibility of the State, and the municipio had no responsibility or authority there and could not grant permission.
We managed to find the offices for the State Conservation Agency. Closed, with minimal signage about their name, what they did or when they were open. We eventually found them open, but got no further than a hike with Volunteer Jajo.
Now, in 2018, the weather was the main barrier. The local weather forecast reported rain for the next few days – not the best weather as the track to the horstii site was quite steep. Maron suggested a drive east to Adao Colares which was likely to be drier and where he knew of two populations of the western-most Coleocephalocereus aureus. We were glad to have something to do.
We returned to Grao Mogol for lunch (S3757) and drove past our hotel towards the river. Here, on the quarts ‘beach’ we found large Discocactus pseudoinsignis, while keeping our eyes open for diamants that were still found here a few years ago. Needles to say that we found no diamonds!