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.