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Thursday, 20 October 2005 – Salta (San Lorenzo) to Maimara

Today’s first stop (S460) was at a water reservoir (Dique / Cuesta La Caldera), to see an Echinopsis (Lobivia?) for which, between us, we did not have a name. We are well aware that none of our stops were in remote, previously unexplored territory, so that the chances of finding a new undescribed cactus is perhaps marginally larger than nil. It may be that one of you reading these reports has been in the area and has found and tentatively identified a few of these plants. If you feel that you can suggest a name, or need to see an image of the plant to confirm your thoughts, I’d be pleased to hear from you.

With the benefit of hind sight, I wish I had followed the example of some of my fellow travellers who had meticulously followed our progress by marking off sections in the road atlases that Guillermo had provided. I felt confident that my GPS readings would be sufficient, as they would tell me precisely on Google Earth where we had been. While this is the case, Google Earth is not (yet?) very good for this part of the world at providing detailed location names. The Atlas I have has no longitude / latitudes marked off, just the names of towns and villages and road numbers, so it’s not until I have managed to get together with my fellow travellers that I can benefit from the information that they recorded. (Cliff, if you’re coming next weekend, please bring your road atlas and notes!).

As we carried on north, the road wound through a subtropical rainforest where Ian spotted a Trichocereus in flower between the Tillandsia covered trees. (S461). My guess would be that this was T. arboricola, but these stems were much more robust than the pot grown plant that I was familiar with at the Holly Gate Cactus Nursery in England. There, the typical white Echinopsis / Trichocereus flowers would appear from any areole at the top section of the stem, while here, the flowering zone was much more limited to the apex of the stem. The stems were 160 — 200 cm tall (5 — 6ft +) but growing in dense Acacia scrub, or high up on the steep, moss-clad rock face on the side of the road. In both events, it was difficult to get a good, unobstructed image. I also took a nice picture of a non-succulent climber with flowers and fruits very reminiscent of Clematis. Although I manage a small plant centre in the UK, the Clematis we sell are all hybrid cultivars, several generations apart from species growing in the wild. A quick search on Google suggests that an Argentinean Dr. Ruppel raised a famous Clematis hybrid named after him. More study to do –..

S462 was at El Cargadero (The Loadingbay), which, so far, I have not been able to find on maps. The attraction was the same Trichocereus sp from S461 and more trees covered in epiphytic plans including a Rhipsalis sp. These require a completely different photographic technique to normal terrestrial cacti. Because they grow high up in the trees, cameras often record silhouettes only. The tree from which they grow, reduces the amount of available light, causing increased exposure times. The free hanging stems swing merrily in the light breeze and, as I had left my camera manuals at home, I did not know how to override the automatic flash function that would kick in when I didn’t want it and could not be persuaded to function when I needed it. (note to self and all the others on the trip with the same problem and no solution: look up manual flash override’ in manual).

We had travelled quite a bit (two and a half hours) farther north, when we stopped near Laguna Volcan (S463) for lunch. Once again, we were able to add a few names to the list of taxa seen on this trip: Austrocylindropuntia vestita and Parodia stuemeri (syn. P. tilcarensis) — poking out from clumps of Abromeitiella brevifolia; growing alongside Cleistocactus hyalacantha seen earlier.

We were now on Ruta 9, the main road from Salta and San Salvador de Jujuy to the Bolivian border at La Quiaca / Villazon. Here, the road followed the valley of (another) Rio Grande as it flowed through the Quebrada de Humahuaca. There were impressive views out of the bus window on the mountain range to our right (east) and I managed to take quite a few half decent images while we were driving past the hills at some 70 km per hour.

S464 was a brief leg stretch stop for some more scenic pictures, particularly of a nice stand of Trichocereus pasacana growing on the not so steep slopes of material that, over time, had eroded from the steeper, higher mountains. In case I had not mentioned this before, in Kiesling’s classification this plant is called Trichocereus atacamensis, while the CITES Cactaceae Checklist has it as Echinopsis atacamensis ssp pasacana (with plants over the border in Chile known as E. atacamensis ssp atacamensis). We carried on with being politically incorrect, calling them Trichocereus pasacana.

S465 was on the outskirts of Purmamarca we found a slate outcrop where Guillermo pointed out some Blossfeldia lilliputana. These are amazing tiny plants, reported to be the best of the Cactaceae at surviving an extreme amount of dehydration (some 80% of their body weight) and able to bounce back once water becomes available again. Some of the plants looked extremely dehydrated, like dried up potato chips / crisps, depending on which side of the Atlantic you learned your English. Anne was the only one to find a plant in flower, and soon a queue of photographers lined up to take its picture. As we followed the track, we walked through some very colourful hills, particularly strong on reds and found Parodia stuemeri and large Gymnocalycium saglionis. The track led to the village of Purmamarca, where the daily market was in full swing. As we walked past the stalls, it struck me that I had seen the same designs on the T shirts, woven carpets and linens during our past visits to San Pedro de Atacama, on the other sides of the Andes, in Chile. When I purchased a fine embroidered tablecloth, the bag it was packed in indicated its Bolivian origin, where labour costs appear to be the lowest in the area.

Back on the bus, we continued our journey north, with the colours of the hills to the east becoming more prominent as the sun sank lower in the sky. Around 17:30 we stopped east of Maimara (S466) where the geology was particularly fascinating and colourful. After a short stroll, the hills provided a perfect back drop for Trichocereus pasacana, with at their feet a selection of incredibly longspined Echinopsis longispina (better known in the UK by its synonym Lobivia ferox), Gymnocalycium saglionis (to basket ball size!), while we had to wade through thousands of Opuntia sulphurea. I wish that some one had told the Opuntias of our non-collecting agreement, as they attached themselves to foot wear and trousers.

Another great day! Tomorrow we’ll make a side trip towards the Chilean border and cross some salt flats.

Wednesday, 19 October 2005 – around Salta (San Lorenzo): Quebrada del Toro

This was the first time on the trip that we’d stay two nights in the same hotel, so a good opportunity to arrange for a bag of laundry to be processed while we were enjoying a day at the Quebrada del Toro.

I forgot to mention in previous reports that Diego, our other guide, had to return to Cordoba and would then be flying out to Mexico to attend a botanical conference. For one day, Guillermo had to fill all the tour leader functions unassisted, but today’s images show that Guillermo’s brother-in-law, Emilio, had joined us.

So it was Emilio who joined Guillermo in the daily shopping trolley race to stock up with supplies, this time in a huge hypermarket on the outskirts of Salta. We also indulged in a bit of shopping and Rob bought a transparent washing up bowl to act as emergency stand in diffuser. A diffuser is a very useful tool when taking pictures in high contrast light conditions, such as Gymnos underneath bushes, partially exposed to full very strong sunlight, partly in the shade. Another useful tool is a reflector, such as the one that Woody had clipped to his belt, that could be unfolded to a disk, about a meter (1 ft) across. This could be used to reflect natural light into dark shadowy places. In Brazil, we would ask follicly challenged (bald) Brian Bates to fulfil the same function, but he was stuck north of the border with Bolivia.

I have 7 stops recorded for the day, ranging from 1,665 to 2,789 m (5,466 – 9,157 ft) in altitude. According to the medical profession, High Altitude is from 1500 – 3500 m (5000 – 11500 ft); Extreme Altitude is above 5,500 m (18,000 ft) and Very High Altitude is the bit in between. People who experience altitude sickness, usually complain of symptoms above 2,500 m (8,000 ft). As we’d be travelling up to the Very High Altitude level during this week, it was useful to learn how we’d react. There seems to be no guarantee that because you have not had any bad effects previously, you won’t experience problems this time. For those who want to know more, I suggest a look at http://www.high-altitude-medicine.com

S453 was at the lower end of the Quebrada, a steep rock face where the road had been built to zigzag up, hugging the mountainside. We found Cleistocactus hyalacanthus, Rebutia deminuta and R. marsoneri (syn. R. wessneriana) as well as an Echinopsis (Lobivia?) sp. Guillermo managed to climb some 30 m (90 ft) up the almost perpendicular rock face and shouted down that he found some Rebutias. ‘Send us a postcard!’ we replied, as others had found the same plant at eye-level and were clicking away with their cameras. The problem with these lower plants was that they were covered with caked on dust / mud, so that IDing the plants was even more of a challenge than usual.

20 minutes farther on was a similar location (S454) with an Euphorbia sp. added to the list. The attractions here however were four Rebutia plants with a red flower each. How different from Rebutia in a British Spring – a true riot of colour!

We made another very brief stop to allow Mark to do some field collecting – of insulators, from the top of disused (?) telephone poles. I did not bother to note the GPS and allocate a stop number, but have a nice picture of Mark at the top of his climb.

An hour later and still climbing, we found Maihueniopsis boliviana, Parodia faustiana and P. nivosa while Trichocereus pasacana towered overhead, as well as a small padded, densely spined Opuntia sp. (S455). In terms of numbers, Abromeitiella (brevifolia ?) was the dominant plant, if each head in the huge cushions counts as an individual plant. Some P. nivosa had somehow managed to germinate underneath the bromeliads and eventually managed to grow through the cushion. Despite the grey skies, they made a great picture!

On to S456, and now things got really interesting: Gymnocalycium spegazzini, Pyrrhocactus umadeave, Parodia stuemeri alongside Maihueniopsis boliviana, Trichocereus pasacana, and the Pyrrhocactus and Maihueniopsis were in flower! It was just the one Pyrrhocactus with two flowers, a third passed over, and several buds. The spegs were very nicely spined, but I had seen better on friends’ pictures.

If you look up Quebrada del Toro on an internet search engine, you’ll get an impression of the scenery that the colourful rock formations provide – great views! I was beginning to understand my friends’ original selection of Argentina as best cactus country. It’s a mixture of a large variety of aspects with very different personal weightings that make people arrive at such selections. Personally, I really like to take pictures of cacti with the sea or ocean in the background – the paradox of draught tolerance specialists and huge bodies of water in the same frame.

S457 is the same list of plants but at least now I can compete with Graham & Leo van der Hoeven’s speg pics. Lots more umadeave’s as well. And more of the same at S458. I looked desperate for a clue of why these plants thrived here, while in Europe they are often regarded as ‘impossible’ by most, even when grafted. I’m sure that this will prompt comments from those that have no problem growing this plant. Please tell us how.

I took many more scenery shots from the bus as we descended back down the Quebrada. Satisfied with another day cactussing, we arrived back at our hotel in San Lorentzo, one of Salta’s outlying suburbs, with some impressive homes. The last ‘stop’ of the day, S459, was the road from the restaurant, where we enjoyed our evening dinners, to the hotel. The area’s flora was that of a subtropical rainforest, with the trees lining the road covered in epiphytes, including a very difficult to photograph Rhipsalis sp. – light was poor, calling for longer exposures while the stems were swinging in a light breeze.

Our list of Argentinean cacti included Rhipsalis lorentziana, a coincidence? Should I keep the images of the Rhipsalis ‘on the move’, including some of plants in flower and in fruit or do I ditch them – It’s getting late in the day to make such weighty decisions – good night.

Tuesday, 18 October 2005 – Cachi to Salta (San Lorenzo)

Aahh, Cachi! That’s Cacti with an h. Did it live up to its name? Well, on entering the charming local church, we were impressed to find the ceiling made of cactus wood. So was the lectern and confessional. So, does that make cactology a religion instead of a science, obsession or hobby?

S446 was on the outskirts of town, where we found an Echinopsis sp. (or was it Acanthocalycium thionantha?), Gymnocalycium spegazzini, Parodia aureicentra, P. microsperma (syn. var. cachiana) and Tephrocactus weberi. Another point of interest was a string of huge black ants carrying bits of leaf, neatly cut into chunks up to three times the size of the ant. They seemed to be taking a complete bush apart, carrying it in pieces across the piece of wasteland where the string suddenly disappeared. Were they rebuilding it there? What? Why? How? Nature is fascinating – it makes you think!

As yesterday at S445, we found P. aureicentra, growing in slate. I think it was Cliff, who pointed out the small papery wasp nest with half a dozen huge wasps, clinging to the nest, waiting for the temperature to rise. It looked like a scene from a science fiction film: fighter space ships, clinging onto the mothership before flying out on a mission.

S447 was in the Cachi mountains. Again, we found P. aureicentra, again on slate. I’ll have to ask Angie if she has this species in her greenhouse. If so, I’ll suggest she repots it into slate as well. Maihueniopsis boliviana, one of the higher altitude cacti, reminded us that we were now at 2,828 m (9,285 ft). The opposite hillside was very attractive, worthy of a picture as well, particularly as a back drop for the numerous T. pasacana.

Back on the bus, the Coolpix 995 came into its own: just switch on the camera, no need to twist the lens in the traditional position for taking pictures, this leaves the lens pointing at the scenery passing by the bus, leaving you to look out through the front windscreen to see what’s coming and occasionally to press the shutter to share the view with others back home. Tip: at the next
stop, score brownie points by being amongst the first on the bus and get one of your mates in trouble by making them the last on board, by asking them to clean your window on the outside. Beware as they seek their revenge!

S448 was a scenery rather than cactus stop in the Parque Nacional Los Cardones. We were now at 3,376 m (11,084 ft) according to my GPS, 3,348 m according to the sign along the road announcing that we were at Piedra del Molino. We were up in fog (= clouds) and was cold enough to be glad for the warmth of the air-conditioned bus. We had zigzagged to the top and could now
enjoy the sight of the road zigzagging back down on the other side of the hill.

Still in the Parque, but 250 m lower, we parked on one of the bends (S449) and took a stroll in the cold along a hillside path and found tiny Rebutia marsoneri (syn. R. wessneriana), almost the size of a 10 centavo piece (useful to indicate scale to anyone who knows the size of this coin – useless to any one who doesn’t). Why do we do this? Because we don’t carry a pocket full of our homeland’s currency around Argentinean mountainsides, I guess. In Chile, I used match sticks to provide a scale for Copiapoa laui and humilis and for Thelocephala – I had only recently given up smoking then. These days I no longer carry matches. In the UK, I’m more used to see this Rebutia filling washing-up bowls, completely hidden under hundreds of flowers for about a week sometime during end April / early May. So its size seems to be an environmental rather than genetic feature.

Among the lichen clinging to the rocks, John (or was it Charles) spotted some small Opuntiods, some very red (stressed?) in colour. Were these Puna sp.?
Later we saw some larger plants: Cumulopuntia? Maihueniopsis? Tephrocactus? Which one?

The views and scenery were impressive, even on a cold misty day. Just imagine on a bright sunny day!

We dropped another 250 m to S450. Just behind some barbed wire was another ‘first-time-on-this-trip’ cactus: Trichocereus smrzianus, in bud. I felt cold and miserable (Clifftonnaires Disease and altitudes don’t mix). I could not be bothered to climb through the wire fence, so my images show it as a convict plant, behind barbed wire. The mystery Opuntiod made another appearance too.

Two and a half hours later, we found ourselves along a dried up riverbed (S451), with trees dripping with epiphytes: bromeliads, orchids and, if we’d looked long enough, cacti (Rhipsalis and Pfeifferi) and between the mosses on the steep rocky sides of the road, R. marsoneri (R. wessneriana) again. So you can’t draw many conclusions about a plant’s cultivation needs by recording conditions at just one habitat, during a 30 minute visit. If it has not reported from anywhere else, then you have some clues. If it is reported from various locations, you can’t assume that they are all like the one that you’ve seen during that snapshot in time. Guillermo picked some great spots to illustrate the point.

We arrived in the bustling town of Salta and were amazed to see how the traffic flowed without traffic controls. We passed some camera shops and were let loose on the large plaza in front of the cathedral in the failing light on an overcast evening at around 6:30. To help organize my images I have filed them under S452. We managed to find the camera shops, where Mike was able to find a charger for his camera batteries, but Woody failed to find a replacement for the transparent protector bit for the monitor on the back of his D70. Rob had accidentally left his home-made light diffuser some stops ago and failed to find a purpose built replacement.

Monday, 17 October 2005 – Cafayate to Cachi

We were about to start our second week in the field (or was it on the bus?) and my stop numbers indicated that we had made 40 cactus stops. Not bad for a week’s work — oops – holiday.

S440 offered Cleistocactus smaragdiflorus, Echinopsis leucanthus and Opuntia sulphurea, but, at around 12 noon, provided a useful opportunity to stretch legs. There are stretches like this on all cactus trips, where there is just nothing new or special to see until you’ve put some distance between the last and next location.

Some twenty minutes later, we were at Los Sauces (S441) where Acanthocalycium thionanthum, Gymnocalycium spegazzini, and Tephrocactus molinensis provided more of interest, alongside O. sulphurea. The spegs here were solid and heavily spined — nothing yet to compete with var. major, where spines completely obscure the plant body from view, but heavy enough to be of interest to collectors, as indicated by the many holes that clearly had been home to sizeable spegs. I’m not sure what it takes to change the mind set of hobbyists for whom owning (and often killing) an ex-habitat and (outside its country of origin) illegally obtained plant, rather than a plant raised from habitat seed. Seeing large holes at a location that must have been very
impressive before the theft from nature is a very sad and unnecessary sight. I’ve seen it in Brazil, Chile and now Argentina.

The best contribution we can make is not to buy ex-habitat plants when they are on offer — no demand, no poaching.

Nearby S442 had much the same plants as S441, plus Parodia microsperma ssp horrida.

It was a late picnic lunch at Santa Rosa (S443). There were numerous single jointed ephrocactus molinensis scattered around in the sand — it reminded me of the time that I had intended to take a T. articulatus (papyracantha) to a branch show and ended up with at least 100 individual pieces before the plant had reached my car!

There were large numbers of Acanthocalycium thionanthum here, in full bud. It must have been a spectacular sight, a week or so later. Again, nursery bushes were preferred.

Again we pushed on — this was a driving day — to S444 — La Angostura, but despite the distance covered, still the same plants: G. spegazzini, O. sulphurea, T. molinensis and T. weberi. Many taxa seem to enjoy a very wide distribution area, more so than in Chile where in the narrow strip along the Pacific species seem to change of much smaller distances when traveling South — North and even more so when travel west — east where, in most places altitudes rise from sea level quickly to 1,000 m plus. In Brazil (Bahia & Minas Gerais) many taxa occur only in relatively small locations. Yes I’m aware that others (e.g. Cereus jamacaru in Brazil and Trichocereus chiloensis in Chile and Opuntias anywhere) are wide spread, but in my limited experience, this is less usual for globular cacti like the spegs and Echinopsis leucantha. There were some very clean spegs on show, and that is exactly where their show bench should remain — in nature!

We spotted a different Parodia, P. aureicentra, at (S445). So far I had not been impressed by habitat Parodia. They tended to be small and look ‘dirty’. Here the plants were growing in vertical strips of slate. Very free draining! Perhaps the reason why they looked quite de-hydrated, although this emphasized their dense golden spination.

Sunday, 16 October 2005 – Ruinas del Quilmes, Amaicha del Valle to Cafayate

Craig Howe, who shared his Diaries of a trip with Guillermo last year, tells me how fortunate I am to be able to do such trips annually and says he can’t wait until he is retired. Actually, I’m only 52, so still have a few years to go. I feel that I’ve reached that golden age where you have earned the right to do what you want: the kids have left home and have learned to stop asking for more money to top up their student loans, my elderly parents are comfortable in health & wealth and my divorce a few years ago released me from that barrier, plus I have a partner, Angie, who is as besotted with cacti and travel as I am and encourages me to indulge and joins me when ever she can. My boss has got used to me handing in holiday requests three years in advance.

Now, back to the Diaries.

S437 is in fact the area around Hosteria Ruines de Quilmes and consisted of Echinopsis sp, Gymnocalycium saglionis, G. spegazzini, Opuntia sulphurea, Tephrocactus weberi and Trichocereus pasacana. The Trichos completely dominated the landscape. I’m not sure if they were planted in and among the remains of the Quilmes Indian’s town or if they were already part of the landscape when the Ruins were transformed into a tourist attraction, but they were as impressive as any Saguaro stand that I’ve seen in Arizona.

The usual mesquite / Acacia scrub presented the other dominant flora feature on the plain where the hotel and the ruins were set and at the base of the hills that rose to the west. These low, very spiny bushes were not yet in leaf, so you could at least see the spines. Once again, the Gymnos tended to be nestled at the base of these bushes, or right in the middle of an impenetrable patch of shrubs. This is where tripods are useful — to push the branches aside so that you can get into the thorn patch, take the picture, and then worry about getting back out. Looking at my images, it seems that G. saglionis seemed to prefer this shelter, while G. spegazzini was more commonly seen in open exposed situations. It could of course be the case that, being slower growers, the spegs had survived their nursery bush while (at least in cultivation) the faster growing sags still had the benefit of theirs. You see how easy it is to jump to conclusions! As the branches were bare, the amount of shade that the bush provided was minimal, but of course, this snapshot in time does not tell us how many months the shrubs are in leaf, how much shade they are then able to provide, if there are other benefits to the Gymno, such as the branches acting as \221fog-catchers’ directing any dew or mists (if there any) to the base of the plant, etc.

Just as you think that you’ve reached a reasonable conclusion, the next stop (S438) contradicts your finding. The stop was prompted by a T. pasacana (or was it still a hybrid, and should it be pasacana x terscheckii or terscheckii x pasacana) in flower, spotted from the bus — any cactus in flower was worth a stop. But in terms of numbers, G. spegazzini was the dominant plant. It grew in open exposed places, in the grass (the grass was not yet in growth, but from dried up polls, it seemed that at the peak of the grass season, it would completely hide the spegs from view and from the burning sun), under and among shrubs etc, apparently at random. Bye bye theories. Some were globular, others (in more exposed places) tended to be spiny pancakes, flat to the ground. Any theories? No, I’ll await until the first image-review get together with other cactophiles and a few bottles of Argentinean Malbec for that. They were big — at least 25 cm (10 inches) in diameter, and there were a few crests amongst them; not pretty, like the smiling Copiapoa columna-alba last year, but looking \221damaged’. I have kept 79 digital images from this stop, so I’ll have to do a bit more pruning to arrive at the one-per-taxon target for each stop on a website.

I did not enjoy S439 very much. My Clifftonnaires Disease had really affected my lungs — I found it difficult to get enough air into my lungs as we marched along a narrow path, guided by a young lad who must have been keen to get back to the Bocca Juniors game on the telly. We were following the Rio Colorado upstream, towards a waterfall near the top of the hill where Parodia microsperma and P. penicillata grew against and hanging from the vertical cliff face. Dick and Phyllis were the first to see sense and decided to wait for us to return. Anne was next. I’m not a quitter by nature and did not want to give up when some of the others — several decades my senior — were still climbing around like mountain goats. A steep climb, close to our goal was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Not for the first time on cactus trips I allowed common sense to take over (Remember Pico das Almas, Brian?) and on each occasion had really enjoyed the peace and quiet while exploring at my leisure as I started the walk back to the bus. I found the two Parodias, not in huge numbers, but sufficient to tell the story at a future talk. I spent more time at one of the places we had stopped for a breather on the way up, and this time, instead of queuing for pictures, photographed the flora on a tree — a member of the mistletoe family, the usual Tillandsias, lychens and, surprise, surprise, some cacti growing epiphytically: Trichocereus and Parodia seedlings!

During the crossing of the river, using smooth round boulders as stepping stones, I had lost my balance and the camera, hanging from a strap around my shoulder, had swung forward and attempted to dislodge another boulder — it failed. The lens sun hood was cracked and the next day, the 18 — 70 mm zoom facility gradually became limited to 65 — 70 mm, while I seemed to be able to take pictures around a 5 degree corner, instead of a straight line. An insurance claim is in progress.

I was not the only person with camera problems. I had brought two – Nikon Coolpix 995, technically now belonging to my son Christiaan, but I was allowed to use it for the trip, and a Nikon D70, with the aforementioned lens, plus a 50 – 200 mm lens that allowed me to carry on using that camera, although this now had to be used with a tripod to get acceptable pictures. On balance, I was best pleased with images taken with the 995. It has an unusual feature in that you can twist the lens part through 360 degrees from the main body with the monitor screen, so that you can take low angle shots of a cactus with the sky in the background, without having to lie flat on the desert floor, which is often covered in animal excrement and / or cactus spines.

My peace and quiet was over, when those that had reached the goal, caught up with me and over took me on the return journey. It appears that (once again) I had not missed anything particularly special at the top, but of course I’ll never know for sure, until I see the images taken by my fellow travellers.

It was not far to our hotel, where the first litre of Quilmes disappeared rather quickly before subsequent bottles were enjoyed in more relaxed fashion.

Saturday, 15 October 2005 – Belen to Ruinas del Quilmes, Amaicha del Valle

Around 10 a.m. we arrived at S433 and were once again standing in the Spring sunshine, surrounded by cacti. Exactly a week earlier, the Brits and I were at London – Gatwick, boarding our plane to Madrid, the first leg of our flight to Cordoba, Argentina. It seems a year ago. Today, exactly a month after S33, both events seem a life time ago, such is the human mind.

Cacti at S433 included Cereus aethiops. This too has a tendency to germinate underneath a bush or shrub, eventually poking it’s head above its nursery. Here however, was a beautiful exposed specimen, multi-branched, some 150 cm (5 ft) tall and wide. If any cactus show had a special Cereus aethiops class, this plant would have won it. Shame there were no flowers.

The cry ‘What’s this Gymno?’ had become a familiar sound during our stops (sometimes provoking the response: ‘That’s not a Gymno, that’s an Acanthocalycium!). This time the consensus indicated G. hybopleurum (syn. G. catamarcense). It was easier to ID Trichocereus huascha and T. terscheckii and Opuntia sulphurea. And still the camera drifted skyward and recorded Tillandsia’s growing in the trees. The good news is that I have received offers of help to ID the Bromeliads. The only thing I have to do now is find the time to go through 3,562 images, select those of Bromeliads and get them to the volunteer. Patience please.

While the cameras were pointing skywards, the birders amongst us (Michael and Bryan) identified a spot in the sky as a condor, circling down. I find it difficult to share their enthusiasm. Why does the condor leave an image of ‘the King of the Andean skies’, when the somewhat smaller and much more frequently seen Turkey Vulture has a much less glamorous image. At the height that this bird was soaring, I could not possibly give an ID. Perhaps Gymnocalycium were not so difficult after all.

S434 had much the same plants, but the site was more exposed and as a result they looked different. Acanthocalycium glaucum was the new entry on our species list. The move of this taxon to Lobivia or Echinopsis seems an obvious one, as the plants were displaying woolly flower buds, rather than the spiny calyx that give the genus Acanthocalycium its name.

The scenery was increasingly becoming a distraction – as an increasing number of images of cactophiles, lined up to take the photo of the colourful mountainsides indicate.

S435 had the same cacti as S434, while at S436 (Los Naciementos) the Trichos changed from straight T. terscheckii to a more white densely spined top stems of T. pasacana. The word ‘hybrid’ was used, as was ‘intermediates’ and ‘over lapping distribution areas’, once again showing us all that nature is difficult to pigeon-hole. As usual, I took the pictures, noted GPS data and will find out more later by comparing the plants from others to in what respect these plants are converging.

Lobivia huascha (or Echinopsis if you prefer) were very robust and densely spined. Just look up the list of synonyms for this taxon and you’ll understand that it must be quite variable across its distribution area. It would take quite a bit of time and space, sowing and comparing seedlings from different locations to determine how much of this variation is genetic and how much of it is due to different growing conditions (soil, temperature, exposure, availability of water etc.). This is true for most of the Cactaceae (and I guess plants in general) that have a reasonable wide distribution area.

Some of you have asked me about more information about each habitat. I’m plotting our Stops in Google Earth and this certainly adds another dimension to the experience. I’ll check with Guillermo about his views on sharing some or all this data on-line. I’d leave some locations (e.g. the bonniae stop) off the list as numbers of this plant are very low and would not benefit from many visitors. There were other places where we respected Guillermo’s request not to take GPS readings.

And then we arrived for a night at the Ruines. Now I’ve seen a few ruines in my life, my own home is irreverently referred to as the ‘Klaassen No-Star Hotel’ by some (usually when the service (flow) of beers temporarily drops below expectation) , but the Hosteria Ruinas de Quilmes was a complete and very pleasant surprise. I took as many pictures of the Inca influenced architecture and ornaments as I usually take of cacti at one of our stops. Tremendous! Just enter Hosteria Ruinas de Quilmes into the Google search engine and select the Adventure Life link for a set of images that show better than words what I mean. In fact, the image top right in the set shows the location of that evenings wine tasting and the big pot in that picture is where Cliff and Mark took turns sticking their heads into the pot to make rude noises. Nobody said that these trips had to be serious, scholarly affairs! Doing searches on any of the geography names mentioned will show you a wealth of images that might fill your curiosity until I reach the end of the Diaries and create the website with (some) images. Of course, booking a space on one of Guillermo’s tours is a much better option – see it live!

Friday 14 October 2005 – Fiambala to Belen

Guillermo’s itinerary indicated 4 stops – we made 5. Great!

I have always found it very interesting to plan cactus trips and, in a way, missed doing the detailed planning for this trip. It helps me to become familiar with the area that we’ll be visiting. This was particularly useful when I duties included driving and navigating. The end product can be a frighteningly detailed plan that would require military discipline to achieve – no fun to explore, ruled by a stop watch! Flexibility is key and one should never go on trips like this with the expectation that you’ll manage every single stop that has been planned – trust the tour leader! Although we did not manage all the stops listed on Guillermo’s website, in case you are reading the Diaries alongside the itinerary, we saw all the key plants we hoped to see and I came back with a greater number of pictures of a greater number of cactus species than I had hoped for.

S428 offered Tephrocactus alexanderi and T. weberi. Recent fruits suggested that there ought to be seed around and I showed off my cactus expertise by telling fellow travellers that Tephrocactus seed is quite unlike seed from most of the Cactaceae and showed others how to collect it. I was right in knowing that the seed was ‘different’, but wrong in collecting bags full of Acaciaseed instead – Tephro seed is really much more different!

More seed was collected at S429, but on the whole, most cacti we saw on the trip were in advanced bud. The late Spring had delayed flowering and there was no fresh seed to be had, apart from that of the Tephros. As usual on these trips, I concentrate on collecting data, including images, rather than focus on searching for seed. As I share my information and images with fellow travellers, they share their seedlings with me – one benefit of a team approach. In 2003, Benjy Oliver was the seed collector and I was able to include his seed list on the website version of that trip’s Diaries. I’m not sure who focused on seed collecting this time – there was just none to be found, but if any of the trippers want to advertise their surplus seed, I’ll be happy to list it. To solve the problem, Guillermo had a seed list from one of his friends in Cordoba, complete with habitat details of the seed’s parents. Guillermo, if you get a chance to send me your friends’ contact details before the Diaries end, I’ll include it in my final message and on the website version. All I have to do now is to find time to sow the seed, together with that collected on previous trips. I must do better!

S430was a stop with a difference: the Thermal Baths at Fiambala. Warm (hot) water comes from a thermal spring in the hills and cascades through a series of man made pools that become cooler as you go down. Most of the group took a dip, to swim with the small baby frogs that seemed to enjoy the environment, but as I can take a warm bath anytime I like in England, I went to explore the hillside down the road for more cacti.

There were spectacular views from ‘our hill’ (c 1,850 m altitude) on to the plane through which we had travelled earlier. I enjoyed the peace and quiet of a gentle breeze whistling through the spines of Echinopsis leucantha and indulged myself by taking more pictures of T. alexanderi. Wonderful spine colours from almost white, through tan shades to almost black. If the seed that I collected reflects the variability of the parents, I’ll be very pleased. Can anyone advise from experience on any special tricks for germinating Tephros?

A quick fuel & supply stop in Tinogasta provided photo opportunities for a typical north west Argentine town during siesta time, with some colourful and interesting graffiti.

S431 was a cultural as well as cactological stop, at the Ruinas El Shincal, which from 1470 to1536 was the regional Inca capital. I can be a culture vulture, but on this occasion focused on photographing Cereus aethiops, Gymnocalycium hybopleurum (plants also known by the synonym G. catamarcense), with Echinopsis (Trichocereus) terscheckii and Opuntia sulphureaas props among the ruins, to set the scene. The scent of the flowers of a local herbaceous plant (Viburnum sp.) filled the air and was quite overpowering. The Gymnos included the only variegated Gymno I saw during the trip and one of a small number of crested specimens – always useful to include in presentations back home.

On our way to S432we passed through the township of Londres (Spanish for London) and we made a quick photo stop to prove that we had been there. A colourful mural told us that the town was founded in 1558 by Captain Don Juan Perez de Zurila to celebrate the marriage of Maria Tudor of England to King Felipe II of Spain.

At S432 to the north of Londres, we found Gymnocalycium hybopleurum, Opuntia sulphurea and Trichocereus pseudocandicans, quite unlike London, England. Some of the Gymnos here had impressive heavy spination and made me look forward to seeing G. spegazziniin the field in days to come. Other were quite weakly spined. Were these really all the same species?

Ian had been quite dismissive about Gymnos before the trip, so I enjoyed catching him out with a quick enthusiastic reply to my question: ‘Any interesting Gymnos here?’

As I have so far succeeded in being fairly brief today, I’ll tell you about our wine tastings. It seems to have become tradition at private gatherings of cactophiles in the UK (and in Belgium, Alain?) to enjoy some bottles of wine from the country whose plants are the focus of that particular gathering’s interest. So during our planning meetings in the UK, we also sampled a few Argentinean red wines, having already become fans of the Chilean reds from the other side of the hills. This filtered through to Guillermo, who had spent some time in the Argentine wine trade in Mendoza. Most in the party happily took up his offer of regular (it seems daily?) half hour wine tastings, where we would gather in the Hotel restaurant and sample small quantities of three different bottles of wine. Guillermo taught us the differences between the various grapes (Malbec – my favourite; Cabernet-Sauvignon – a close second; Shyraz etc) and of the differences between cheap, medium and quality examples of each.

I doubt that many of us will progress to true wine-snob status, but we certainly enjoyed experimenting with a new range of facial expressions and terminology to suit the occasion. As Clifftonnaires disease took hold and blocked our sinuses, our ability to distinguish Mark’s Peach Brandy from Dick & Phyllis’ Rum & Cokes and Argentina’s Quilmes Crystal beer, in a blind-fold test, would have made an interesting experiment! Perhaps an idea for struggling Cactus & Succulent plant societies?

Thursday 13 October 2005 – Anillaco to Fiambala

Keen not to be the person to hold up our departure (or perhaps because we could not sleep due to our own coughing or that of the person with whom we shared rooms), it was not unusual in the hour leading up to breakfast to find cactophiles taking in the morning air and taking some pictures of the hotel where we had stayed that night. As a result, by 7:38 on a bright Spring morning, many of us (eventually most of the party) were exploring the small piece of wasteland opposite the Hosteria del ACA in Anillaco. I took so many digital images that I gave this ‘endangered habitat location’ as Stop number: S420, as it was home to a Gymnocalycium, tentatively identified as G. kieslingii, Opuntia sp. (presumably O. sulphurea) and, right next to the hotel, a meter (3 ft) tall Trichocereus sp., growing as any epiphytic cactus, in the branch axel of a large tree. Although the forecast was for a nice sunny warm day, we learned that only a week ago, there had still been snow covering Anillaco, a reminder that all we see on our trips are snapshots of conditions for around one hour, before moving off to the next location. It’s easy for such experiences to leave a lasting impression and the assumption that conditions we saw are typical and last 365 days per year. Not so!

By 8:45 we had had our breakfast, our luggage was safely on the bus and we had reached the Sierra Copacabana where, at S421, we found Gymnocalycium mucidum, that I still know better by one of its synonyms: G. glaucum. I can’t claim to be a huge fan of the genus. Years ago, I found myself at a table in the bar at ELK helping to breakdown language barriers between some English and German speaking drinkers. We had just seen a presentation by Dutchman Ludwig Bercht that included lots of names of Gymnos and South American location names. ‘Too many species names, most created by you Germans’ I joked with my new drinking partner. ‘But I am Austrian’ he protested. ‘A lot of fuss about a genus that at most contains 6 – 14 species, for which you need to see the seed and fruits before you can tell them apart!’ I continued my attempt of a friendly wind up, using the then newly described G. amerhauseri to make my case. ‘Yes, but easy to grow and some nice flowers.’ he replied. And so we continued to put the world to rights on many other issues, before exchanging names and email details at the end of the evening, when I learned that my new friend was Helmut Amerhauser. Each year at ELK, I know to expect a tap on my shoulder, from a smiling Helmut reminding me: ‘Just a few species, but nice flowers!’         

John Pilbeam’s Gymnocalycium book, now out of print, and not necessarily considered correct by some people (so why not put pen to paper and your neck on the block and publish a ‘more correct’ account?) but at least provides some help in narrowing the choice of names by means of huge series of close up pictures of areoles and spine clusters. But these are of healthy plants in cultivation, in good shape – nice globular plants. But in the field, at the start of Spring, many of the plants we saw were still dehydrated and as flat as pancakes, so plenty of scope for incorrect IDs.

One common feature seems to be that many enjoy growing in the company of a ‘nursery bush’, but are able to survive in the open if that protection should disappear. As a general observation I found that Gymnos growing with such protection (or the more permanent protection of a large boulder) were less dehydrated and more globular, and like plants in my collection, than the flat pancakes found in the more exposed situations.

Variability of plants, from what I assume to be the same species at the same location, is amazing and helped me to understand one reason for the large number of names in the genus.

Some distance on (2:15 hours drive away), at S422, we were looking again for G. glaucum, here accompanied by some very large Echinopsis leucantha, with similar nursery bush behaviour as the Gymnos, Tephrocactus weberi, T. articulatus and Opuntia sulphurea (in flower, and therefore worthy of a mention).

Back on the bus, a few hours later, we were reminded by sign posts that Copiapó and Chañaral were only 486 and 538 km away and I reflected on how much more varied the cactus flora was here on the eastern side of the Andes – perhaps a topic for a future talk, comparing plants from a narrow latitude band, separated by the Andes.

S423 and its worth noting that we had climbed to 2,141 m (7,029 ft) altitude (from 1,064 m or 3,493 ft at S422) and were now finding Cumulopuntia (Maihueniopsis sensu Kiesling) boliviana growing alongside Echinopsis leucantha and Tephrocactus geometricans and at around 2400 m (7,830 ft) at S424 (Denmoza rhodacantha and T. geometricans) and S425 (D. rhodacantha, Lobivia (Soehrensia) formosa and M. boliviana).  I have to warn here that altitude readings from handheld GPS equipment can not be considered to be reliable, particularly if there has been no opportunity to calibrate the receiver at the start of the trip. Once the GPS has reported its latitude and longitude readings (quite quickly) it can take several more minutes when the system averages signals received from more satellites that help to improve the accuracy of altitude readings. As I find the precise altitude readings less important then taking pictures, I tend to switch off the GPS before it has reached that degree of accuracy. So why do I report the altitudes here? Because, as we climb higher, the air becomes thinner and at around these altitudes walking around taking pictures becomes harder, especially as ‘Clifftonaire’s Disease’ affects the body’s ability to get sufficient oxygen into the body.

Although the temperatures became more comfortable, the danger of sunburn is another feature to be aware of. Last year, in Chile, Alain Buffel became quite uncomfortable around San Pedro de Atacama, at similar altitudes. In days to come we would be climbing to almost twice these altitudes, at La Quiaca, so this was good preparation.

As shadows were lengthening, we had one more objective, to find Lobivia bonniae. I had received GPS data for its location from a friend (thanks Brian! I owe you a beer at ELK 2006) but our first attempt (S0426) led up a narrow canyon where we met a dry but highish waterfall that was too difficult for some of the party. Those that conquered the obstacle reported that the canyon just got narrower and seemed to be a dead end. Back to the bus, Guillermo started up his laptop and we consulted Brian’s email to confirm GPS details. We were close, but not close enough. A second attempt, (S0427) a few hundred meters along, brought us in a much wider dry valley and there, on a ridge, alongside T. geometricans and the omni-present E. leucantha, we found a dozen plants of L. bonniae, as shadows lengthened (last picture at 18:50!). Despite the poor light for photography, I also managed to get 2 shots of a Pterocactus. The name P. megliolii was suggested, but this is reported from the province of San Juan, while we were some distance further north, in Catamarca, from where P. tuberosus has been reported. More reading to do. Any suggestions from readers with a passion for these plants are welcome.


S0427 – Echinopsis (Lobivia) bonniea

These digests are becoming longer each day and I promise to try (but won’t guarantee) to be briefer in future.

Wednesday 12 October 2005 – Chilecito to Anillaco

We started the day with a walk to Chirau Mita, the name of a private cactus collection, a few blocks from the hotel, in Chilecito. The large sign at the front gate told us that we were about to enter a cactus and succulent plants botanical garden. The array of plants and the way that they were displayed were so photogenic that cameras were soon snapping and provided such a distraction (particularly when the chocolate point Siamese cat joined in the conversation and the pictures) when I was talking to the owner, that I forgot to ask his name. However, from their website (http://www.chiraumita.com.ar), if I can trust my very limited comprehension of Spanish, he was Sebastian Carod, who had created this masterpiece with his partner Patricia Granillo, the owner. Take a look at their website, as it tells you more than I can do justice to here. To help me to organize my images, this became S416on the trip. (address:

Cactus Chirau Mita
Ruta Provincial Nº 12
(5300) La Rioja – La Rioja
Tel: +54 (3825) 42-4531

S417took us back into the field, at an altitude of 686 m. Alan Hirsch asked me to include altitudes in my location information, as this might be useful to help determine if climatic conditions would help plants reported here, to survive in his collection in Washington DC. Alan, I’ll be happy to send you a copy of the complete stop list with altitudes when I finish the Diaries, but I doubt if it will help much. Why?

Many of the species were found at many locations covering huge areas and at a wide range of altitudes. There were several days that we travelled through a number of different climatic zones, but altitude seemed to be only one aspect contributing to these conditions. I remember various threads on various groups suggesting that hardiness for some species of Echinocactus in the USA is closely related to the particular conditions at their habitat, so that if you want a specimen that will survive in particular harsh conditions, you need to be sure that the plant, or the seed from which your plant has germinated is from a suitable cold hardy location. The jury is out when it comes to plants that have spent many generations in cultivation. No doubt they will require acclimatization before being exposed to challenging conditions. I’ll mention altitudes in the Diaries, when ever I think it is relevant either to the plants, but more so, to our ability to breath and will do the full list later.

Meanwhile, at S417, off the road from Plaza Vieja to Famatima, we were looking for (and found) Gymnocalycium saglionis, Trichocereus huascha and T. terscheckii, while avoiding the spines of Opuntia sulphurea. And yet I found this the most interesting plant here, as I found an individual with wonderful twisted spines – ‘forma tortuosa’? We would often come up with joke names, such as ‘carparkeriensis’ for a plant found at the car park etc, so please do not take this as the source of new descriptions and names.


S417 – Opuntia sulpurea ‘fa tortuosa’

S418, in the Quebrada Famatima was forced on us as the undulations of the track proved too much of a challenge for the bus – the back bumper had already needed surgery after scraping along the road yesterday. Lobivia famatinensis is from this valley, but too far on for us to reach on foot while staying on schedule. No worries, as there were plenty of interesting plants to see. Just a bit up the road, we found Denmoza rhodacantha (in flower), Lobivia (Soehrensia) formosa, Tephrocactus weberi, Trichocereus candicans and T. terscheckii. The Lobivia were large plants, growing against and on top of a steep cliff face alongside the river valley, often peeking out of large clumps of a bromeliad, Deuterocohnia (Abromeitiella) brevifolia, made up of thousands of small individual heads. One or two of the Lobiviawere in flower. As we drove off, after lunch, we passed a specimen that must have been more than 2 m (6 ft 6) tall and asked Diego to pose next to it to illustrate the scale.


S418 – Diego posing in front of Echinopsis (Soehrensia) formosa

Two hours later, we reached S419, on the outskirts of the village of San Blas, where Tephrocactus articulatus (O. papyracantha), T. alexanderi, T. aoracanthus and T. geometricans were growing side by side. So why do these not hybridise? Why are there no intermediates? (or did we not look close enough?) What are the barriers that keep them separate species etc. Time to do some reading when I get home, I think. Echinopsis leucantha and Gymnocalycium mucidum (syn. G. glaucum) completed the set here.

Another great day cactussing behind us and another in prospect tomorrow.

Tuesday 11 October 2005 – Cruz del Eje to Chilecito

International airports and long distance flights are like global petri dishes; bacteria and viruses compete for dominance, only the strong survive …. and find hapless travellers on their way to holiday destinations.

And so it was that breakfast on day two of our cactus adventure was accompanied by various coughs, splutters and sniffs. Cliff Thompson actually admitted that he was afraid that he might have picked up a good old British Autumn (= Fall) cold, as we travelled to the airport a few days earlier. `Good job that we`re going to South American Spring to escape this autumn misery!` we agreed. Wrong! As the air-conditioning system on the bus made sure that we all received our fair share, one by one we fell victim of what was jokingly referred to as `Clifftonaires disease`: sore throat and wheezy lungs followed by an irritating tickle cough that still follows me round and has infected Angie and her son Peter since my return. Sorry!

Some were hit harder than others, ran high temperatures and fell victim to probable secondary infections, affecting the distance that they could comfortably move away from the nearest toilet. Various medications and treatments were recommended from different corners of the planet, all with little effect. Eventually we became so concerned about one member of the group, Chris, that we persuaded him to go and see a doctor. On his return he complained bitterly about the huge injection needle that had been used on his backside and the tablets that he had been prescribed, but the next day he had greatly recovered and appeared to have shaken off most of the symptoms, while others still spluttered and coughed and persevered, in fear of The Needle.

However, today we were still blissfully unaware of what was install health wise and by 9:50 were at our first stop of the day: S409, where we could add Cleistocactus baumannii, Echinopsis leucantha and Stetsonia coryne to our already impressive list of cactus genera and species seen on day 1, and become re-acquainted with Echinopsis (Trichocereus) candicans and Opuntia sulphurea. I also recorded seeing Jatropha excisa, not because I found it a beautiful plant, but because I had a deep respect for members of the genus since walking into shrubs of Jatropha urens in Brazil in 1999, while I was dressed in shorts and sandals. I could not see the hairs that in Brazil had caused me such intense pain, but still made sure that I kept a wide birth of this member of the Euphorbiaceae that was just coming into leaf.

The Tricho was in flower, the usual large white often nocturnal flower that is typical for the genus, but quite large for a smaller than average Tricho plant. The Cleistocactus was also in flower, but it was quite a small diminutive flower that had been got at by various nibbling animals. Stetsonia coryne is often seen for sale in European nurseries as small 15 cm (6 inch) tall, dark green stems with prominent white felted areoles and, for its size, impressive long black and brown spines. I have grown it in my collection, but it was usually passed on at bring & buy sales or branch raffles as it got bigger. And big it gets! Huge tree like plants to 8 m (25 ft) tall, with many branches, towering over the low Acacia scrub. Impressive? Yes! Pretty? No. The Cleistocactus also looked better in cultivation than here, in the wild, sprawling through other vegetation.

Echinopsis leucantha occasionally showed that it had the potential of being a nice plant when I managed to find one or two nice, unmarked stems, much larger than plants that I usually associate with the name Echinopsis in European cultivation. I`m sure that this is one reason why there has been such resistance to the lumping of genera of mainly tall or large plants like Soehrensia and Trichocereus into Echinopsis, which has the image of being small globular plants in cultivation. Kiesling lists an impressive 19 names as synonyms, so for those collecting `names`, an impressive addition to boost the numbers!

The other impressive find here and at many other locations were the stones, here very dark, but glistening with mica. Ian, Rob and Cliff with some considerable geological knowledge between them mumbled impressive names of the rock types and geological formations. Sorry guys, it went over my head as I was trying to keep up with photographing the plants and images that tell this story, but feel free to write in with your geological notes, I`m sure that there will be interested readers on these lists.

At S410 we were able to add Cereus forbesii and Gymnocalycium bodenbenderianum to our species list. Can I make an appeal to taxonomists to use short names that roll easily off the average tongue and have a fighting chance of fitting on to plant labels? Trichocereus candicans here made an impressive attempt to qualify for the name of `Creeping Devil`, crawling over the sandy soil and only lifting the stem apex to lift the flower buds skyward. Tillandsia look particularly great when they grow on ceroids!

S411 was our lunch stop at Aguas de Ramon. Guillermo, Diego and the drivers would quickly set out the picnic tables and seats and bring out the French bread sticks, cold meat cuts and cheese slices, bottles of cola, lemonade, water etc. all presented on the table cloths that Guillermo`s wife, Sylvia, had insisted should be used. In the mean time we`d disappear into the field and here found much the same plants as at S410, but with the addition of our first Tephrocactus – T. articulatus. I already had a soft spot for these plants, as they are often among the first plants in a hobby collection, as soon as individuals start going to cactus club meetings. Most hobbyists will have grown this plant into a large clump and, if lucky, might have flowered it, only to see it disintegrate into a pile of individual joints when it is moved a few inches to get another plant out. Here the plants had managed an impressive 8 spineless globular joints on top of each other, severely dehydrated, looking like a tower of old, wrinkled circus artists, about to collapse.

The Opuntia here included O. quimilo, with red flowers and very long (c 12 cm or 5 inches) spines. There were a few Trichos in flower, but the flowers were way past their best (at 12:30) and Gymnocalycium bodenbenderianum demonstrated how you can escape the occasional fire by keeping yourself very flat to the ground.

By 2 p.m. we found ourselves at my stop S412 – The Salt Flats. The main impressions from my images and notes is that we were confronted with a thick, almost impenetrable mesquite scrub and that Ian reported that the temperature had soared to an amazing 41C. We spread out in an attempt to find another form of G. bodenbenderianum (known amongst splitters as Gymnocalycium riojense ssp paucispinum var. platygonum) and another popular cactus in European collections: Setiechinopsis mirabilis. The Gymno was found, as was E. leucantha, Stetsonia coryne and T. articulatus. The Setiechinopsis will remain an unknown for me in habitat.

We reached S413 around 6 p.m. when Ian`s thermometer indicated a temperature of 31C in the shade! And yet, I did not feel desperately uncomfortable in the dry heat with a slight breeze. Gymnocalycium hossei and G. saglionis grew alongside G. bodenbenderianum (syn. G. riojense) and persuaded me to take a closer look at John Pilbeam`s Gymnocalycium book when I find time at home, to tell me which is which in the pictures I took. Some of the Gymnos obliged with flowers. There were some paper like spines on the Tephrocactus articulatus, justifying the synonym Opuntia papyracantha.

We made two more stops, S414 and S415 (Los Colorados) with much the same cacti in different settings, but with for me the highlight of the day at s415: Pyrrhocactus bulbocalyx. At 19:00 hours, the sun was low in the sky, throwing long shadows and giving the red hills an extra red touch. These Argentinean Eriosyce are quite a challenge to grow in Europe, at least in the UK.

It was dark when we reached our hotel in Chileceto and it we settled down to our routine of shower, down loading digital images, wine tasting and dinner. It`s a hard life, but someone has to do it!

Tomorrow we have a picnic in the Famatina Valley and travel on to Anillaco.