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1 & 2 December 2011 – The journey home

Uneventful is a word often used for our long journeys to and from cactus habitats. Unlike my journey to Bolivia, which was anything but uneventful, the journey home was. All flights were full, so no opportunity for Wiebe and myself to stretch ourselves over two seats, unlike John who left a few hours after us.

Apparently, Brian was asked by the hotel if his son (i.e. John, also 60+) would be moving out soon as well. That will be one that we’ll rub in a few times during Brian’s planned 2012 visit to the UK.

So, in summary, Wiebe and I were on the same flight from Santa Cruz to Sao Paulo and we sat through the 6 hours stop over together – the time in Sao Paulo was put to good use, cutting & pasting the GPS coordinates from the metadata of images  into my data base, from where, next week, I’ll copy them into Google Earth. There they will join location data from other sources and so could help (or confuse?) the identification of some of the cacti that we saw.

We were on the same flight from Sao Paulo to Madrid but were seated some 12 rows apart. The flight was slightly delayed, squeezing the already tight transfer times at Madrid. Wiebe made his next flight to Amsterdam – Schiphol, but his checked-in luggage missed that flight and was promised to be delivered to his home the next day. I had 20 minutes more time for my transfer so both I and luggage arrived together. My flight touched down at 15:15 at Heathrow, my bag was the 10th on the belt and I walked out to meet Angie at 15:45, now that is a record (for me). The new Alpaca jumper bought at Santa Cruz Airport (temperature about 32 C I guess) came in very useful at Heathrow (temp about 6 C I guess).

I got home at 17:30, ready to empy my dirty washing into the machine and pack with more appropriate winter clothing as tomorrow morning, at 3:30, we’ll get up to drive to Dover to catch the 8 a.m. ferry to Duinkerken and from there, head to Cologne for a one week break at Angie’s parents in Cologne. Just as the last few days in Bolivia, there is no internet connection at their home, so I’ll start updating and completing the past Diary pages whenI get back on 11 December.

John also arrived home safely and is already plotting his next Bolivia trip, sometime in 2012. Thanks to all fellow travellers, but particularly to John, for showing me great locations and plants as well as some of the more interesting features of Bolivia. I look forward to coming back in 2021 to confirm progress has been made with the ambituous road building projects. I’ll expect ice cream parlours along the roadside, say every 100 km or at strategic vistas and cactus hotspots!

As a further post script, John reports that three hours after we left Sucre on Monday morning, a full blockade was imposed by lorry drivers and was not lifted until midday Wednesday, so we were lucky to get the last few days of the trip in and to get to our flight home on Thursday morning.

The next Cactus Trip is planned for April 2012 when we plan to spend three weeks travelling around the south western USA in search for Pediocactus in flower.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011 – La Higuera to Santa Cruz

We managed to beat the alarm clock and got up around sun rise. We had settled the bill for our night’s stay after dinner last night and must have impressed David with our modest tip because we were treated to a king’s breakfast, with fried eggs followed by a seemingly endless stream of crepes. that should see us through the day and last until our farewell dinner in Santa Cruz.

John had told us that it would be a typical driving day as he had arranged to meet his contact at the car rental company between 17:00 and 17:30 at the hotel to pick up the car that had been our home for three weeks. We would take taxis to the Airport the next day and Brian would take a bus back to Sucre. Despite this we still managed to make seven photo stops.

S2474 was a brief stop in the village of Pucara to allow Wiebe and me to take some pictures of the Plaza; John and Brian had seen it all before. No plants included.

S2475 was for a large rock along the side of the road, still the Ruta del Che, where the bright red flowers of Rebutia (Aylostera) fiebrigii in flower acted as a traffic light. I used to grow this form when it was still known as Rebutia vallegrandensis – the name of the next big town ahead of us is Vallegrande. We also saw Echinopsis (Lobivia) obrepanda and perhaps another Lobivia sp., this one in bud, an Oxalis sp. in flower, Puya sp and Tillandsia sp.

The same plants were found again a bit further on, S2476, plus here Brian and Wiebe got excited about a Euphorbia that had joined in, E. portulacoides is a name that Brian reminded me of once I got home. There was a suggestion that there might be ‘a second Rebutia’ here, but I was too late arriving at the spot where the discussion took place. BB suggests Echinopsis (Lobivia) arachnacantha for the plant that I pictured near by.

S2477 was for images taken from the car as we passed dense stands of Neoraimondia herzogiana and Harrisia.

We were back in Department Santa Cruz, on Ruta Nacional 4, where we had already been on day trip of our trip. John overshot our intended stop but we got out to take a look anyway (S2478) and photographed a large epiphytic cactus growing high in the tree canopy. Our guess is Hylocereus undatus, which is widespread in the Americas. It was too high up to photograph any particular features to aid identification. There were Cleistocactus growing along the edge of the road, the same taxon that at the start of the trip I had thought would be C. samaipatanus, as we were again near the town of Samaipata, but now that I am back home, catching up on Diary writing, with the picture volume of the New Cactus Lexicon next to me, I believe that what we saw was C. candelilla, with its tri-coloured flowers.

John realised that the intended stop was just a few hundred meters back and so we made that S2479 where yet another Cleistocactus was hanging high from the rocks above us. This was a yellow spined plant, but it was too far away and not in flower to photograph flowers and fruits that would have confirmed that this was the plant that was labelled Hildewinteria aureispina before frosts a few winters ago killed it in my unheated polytunnel. Here, in its natural habitat, it is clearly never exposed to prolonged frost. These days it is better known as Cleistocactus winteri, still recognising Friedrich Ritter’s sister, Frau Hildegard Winter.  I’m surprised that I’m still reporting the presence of Tillandsia as it seems that they were just about everywhere during the last three weeks. On telephone and electricity wires, on trees and rocks and even growing on cacti.

John hurried us on again as we had one more stop planned. Just as well as a few km farther on we thought that we had hit yet another blockade, with our flights home at risk. Fortunately a huge CAT (as in Caterpillar digger) had been dispatched up into the hill above the road to clear away rocks and debris in a controlled fashion, rather than have it wash across the road during the next heavy rainfall. There was another bulldozer standing by to clear the man-made landslide off the road and with less that 30 minutes delay we were back on the road.

On 12 November we had tried to get to the habitat of C. winteri ssp colademono but ran out of time, so John promised to take us back there on our last day in Bolivia, today. The German landlord at Hotel Landhaus in Samaipata had told us during his stay how he had been growing this local cactus in pots in his cactus and succulent plant collection when well-known European botanists visited and were interested in the plant but would not believe that it was of local origin.  One of these visitors was Krahn, who became one of the co-authors of the plant as Hildewintera colademononis in 2003 before David Hunt decided that the plant was a Cleistocactus and gave it the name C. winteri ssp colademono in 2005.

And so we arrived at our last plant stop of the trip, at the farm-house where we hoped the farmer would guide us along a trail through dense forest to the foot of the Cerro el Fraile, where the plant grows several meters above our heads. the farmer was out and his sister did not want to leave her sick child alone, so gave instructions on how to find the ‘path’ to the base of the hill. Brian and John already knew ‘the path, but in a tropical forest, ‘paths’ become overgrown and blend in with the forest very quickly. It was not an easy hike, with mosquitos and flies competing with branches of the overhanging trees and shrubs, all spiny, in an attempt to keep us out. I should have brought my Brazilian machete along!

We did eventually see the plants, but it was rather difficult to get a good shot of them with the branches and stems of trees forcing us to focus on the Cleistos hanging down the rock face, seeming to emerge from the Tillandsia and other, larger Bromeliads with which it shared its habitat. Also found during our hike through the forest and along the rock face were Begonia, in flower, Echeveria sp., Peperomia sp. ( P. galioides?)including many plants in flower, Pereskia diaz-romeroana, a Pfeiffera sp (P. boliviana?), orchids and even a Philodendron.

During the trip we learned that other interests of John’s included Aroids, i.e. members of the Arum plant family, the Araceae, an interest that he shares with Cliff Thompson, my travel companion on many previous trips. As a result I had a preconceived idea that it would be easy to recognise any Aroid, by its flower – a leaf-like hood called a spathe within which is enclosed a tube-like structure called a spadix. As a result I had many examples of the family pointed out to me. But (as I had never seen it in flower), I would never have expected (and had never checked) that Philodendrons were monocots and members of the Arum Family.  Thanks to Brian for pointing this out in post-event correspondence.

We drove the 20 km along the variable track back to RN4 and entered the urban sprawl of Santa Cruz close to rush hour where John again did a great job, pointing the car into the gaps between other cars before other Bolivian drivers beat him to it. Miraculously, we reached the hotel without scratches and un-dented. Parking was an issue in front of the Hotel and we pulled up behind a truck that was unloading crates of Cola at a local shop. Wiebe and I hopped out and started unloading suitcases from the back of the car, taking them into the foyer and taking turn for more luggage collections from the car while Brian and John were engaged in conversation with a policeman who was keen for John to move along.

There was a slight panic when John was unable to find his international driving permit that had been in the glove compartment throughout the trip but the night before we had done our packing and John had put these documents in a ‘safe place’ but where? Probably in his suitcase, that, helpfully, I had already taken into the hotel foyer. Wiebe and I carried on taking the luggage from the car into the hotel lobby until I went out and found the car plus Brian, John and the policeman gone.

We waited and decided to check in so that we could at least lock our luggage away in our room. Wondering what to do next, John arrived and explained that the trouble began when he had refused to pay a US$250 fine for non production of his driving licence. John had been arrested and the three had gone to the police station where John was able to present his case to the Teniente, a senior officer, who allowed him a brief trip to the hotel to search his luggage. His documents were found between his washing and he returned to the police station where the matter was soon settled and the Teniente ‘forgave’ him this offence. Cabo (Corporal) Luque’s original beef with John was that he had parked too close to the corner of the road and had led to the request for a US$ 250 pay off. No reference was made to this traffic offence.

All’s well that ends well, at last we could go for our last meal of the trip, an excellent large steak followed by ice creams and back to the hotel where John shared the bottle of wine that I had bought for him on our Tarijan wineries trip a few weeks back, in recognition of his staying behind to deal with the garage regarding our car’s clutch problem.

It had certainly been an eventful trip with lots of unplanned incidents, starting with my unscheduled tour of South American airports at the start, a forced re-planning of our route when we learned that the town of Oruro had been blockaded, the blockade preventing us from entering Sucre at the start of the trip and the news that we learned after we got back to England that Sucre had another blockade three hours after we had left a few days ago, which would have wrecked the last few days of our trip. Then there was the problem with our clutch, followed by problems with the starter motor. More than enough to help fill What I Saw Last Winter presentations in 2012! And we saw some wonderful plants, many just past the peak of their flowering, or perhaps waiting for rains for a second flush. Despite the excitement of the incidents, I never felt threatened but then, unlike John, I had not been arrested briefly by those that we would normally look on to protect us.

John had warned us at the start of the trip that Bolivia is ‘different’ and that planning require continuous review and updating as things change. He was right. He also promised to show us some great scenery and fascinating plants. He did. Many thanks, John!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011 – Padila to La Higuera

After a good night’s sleep and another scrambled egg breakfast Wiebe and I took a quick look with our cameras around the Plaza that five nights earlier we had only seen in the middle of the night in pitch darkness.

S2468 was an unscheduled stop, prompted by a large bird of prey sitting on top of a tree by the side of the road. Surprisingly it looked on curiously as Wiebe and I slowly and quietly got out of the car and snapped away at this unusual target. In fact, I had to clap my hands to get it to fly off. It might have been a young bird as it seemed still unsure about flying and landing, but produced some nice images as a result. No cacti or other succulent plants in habitat found.

S2469 was very much scheduled as it gave us our first look at Espostoa (Vatricana) guentheri, an Espostoa that somehow seems to have become detached from its Peruvian cousins. There were lots more cacti and plants of interest found and seems to be a regular stop on John and Brian’s cactus trips. Also photographed: Castellanosia caineana, Cleistocactus sp. (although, on reflection, this is more likely to be a seedling E. guentheri), Echinopsis sp.-in flower, Gymnocalycium pflanzii, taller than those seen elsewhere, Harrisia pomanensis, H. tetracantha, Neoraimondia herzogiana, Opuntia anacantha (s.n. Opuntia retrorsa, O. anacantha var. retrorsa), two Pereskia P. diaz-romeroana and P. sacharosa, Puya sp, an aroid, the poisonous Synandrospadix vermitoxicus, and at least three Tillandsia sp.

S2470 was for images, most shot from the car, as we descended down toward the Puente Santa Rosa and drove through an area with tall Neoraimondea herzogiana, Harrisia and Castellanosia caineana growing among trees, bedecked with Tillandsia. We stopped to take the picture of a particularly nice  Bursura (?) but the picture of three bottle trees (Ceiba sp) was taken from the moving car.

We stopped for some Parodia (P. augustinii was suggested) in flower (S2471), growing along side the taxa already reported for S2469. In addition there seemed to be an unusual Echinopsis (Trichocereus) sp. here and it was suggested that this was perhaps a natural hybrid with one of the Harrisia .

S2472 was for a tree, or rather,the cacti growing on the tree: Pfeiffera ianthothele, Rhipsalis floccosa and lots of Tillandsia.

We continued on the Ruta del Che to arrive at La Higuera, where we would spend the night. Wikipedia reports about this village:

La Higuera (Spanish: “The Fig Tree”) is a small village in theProvince ofVallegrande, in the Department of Santa Cruz. It is situated in the La Higuera Canton (civil parish) belonging to the Pucará municipality.

The village is situated some 150 km (bee-line) southwest of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. La Higuera lies at an elevation of 1950 m. Its population (according to the 2001 census) is 119, mainly indigenous Guarani people.

On October 8, 1967, the Argentine Marxist revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara was captured by the CIA-assisted Bolivian Army in the nearby ravine Quebrada del Churo, ending his campaign to create a continental revolution inSouth America. Che Guevara was held in the schoolhouse, where he was killed the next day. The body was then brought to Vallegrande, where it was placed on display and afterwards secretly buried under an airstrip.

“Tourists from all over the world visit La Higuera on pilgrimage. A Frenchman has opened a hostel at the telegraph office where the guerrilla fighters made their last attempt to establish contact with the outside world. Next door, Cuban doctors provide treatment to the destitute farm workers free of charge. Images of the revolutionary hang in the villagers’ huts, and many people pray to “Santo Ernesto” who is said to bring about miracles.”

A monument to “El Che” and a memorial in the former schoolhouse are the major tourist attraction for this area. La Higuera is a stop on the “Ruta del Che” (Che Guevara Trail) which was inaugurated in 2004.”

I seem to have crossed paths with Che on a number of occasions, geographically, but not historically. In 2005 we visited his birth place, Cordoba, in Argentina and in 2010 I spent a month in Cuba where it is hard to escape his images and tourist merchandise. Now I found myself at the spot of his final moments. I have seen the ‘Motorcycle Diaries’ film about his youthful adventures and bought his biography as a souvenir in Cuba. I remember the news reports surrounding his time in Cuba and subsequently about his exploits in the Congo and lastly in Bolivia. His death was big time news, but now seems to pale into insignificance against more recent reports on the deaths of Sadam Hussain, Osama bin Laden and most recently Muammar Gaddafi. I can not see Che in quite the same light as the other three evil men in recent history.

I took lots of pictures (S2473), we stayed in the hostel that Wikipedia reports as having been the telegraph office in Che’s day.

Monday, 28 November 2011 – Sucre to Padilla

Brian turned up for breakfast and we would be going first to his family home, on Colon, to collect his travel luggage and drop of John’s camping gear that he was donating to the Bates household.  Many South American towns have streets named Colon, and it always brings a smile to my face. Shit happens. But the real reason for this tribute is that in Spanish, Christopher Columbus is known as Cristobal Colon. As I helped to bring  the gear in, I briefly renewed my acquaintance with the lovely and the much maligned Mrs Bates, Patricia as well as being introduced to Coco the monkey of which we would hear many tales (tails?), of how he mistakes heads (Brian’s and Patricia’s) for toilet facilities and assists Brian during his shaves in the morning. We made sure that Coco had not stowed away in Brian’s luggage and were on our way.

We made five nice stops today (actually, all stops made this trip were ‘nice’ or I would have deleted them from the list) starting with S2463, at the Microondas (Spanish for Microwave Communication towers that are dotted around the landscape in cactus country, usually at the top of a hill, with a half decent service road providing access) above the town of Tarabuco. At the top of the hill, we were treated to an Echeveria sp., Echinopsis (Lobivia) cinnabarina, a Puya sp –  in flower, Rebutia (Aylostera) fiebrigii and Rebutia (Sulcorebutia) canigueralii, s.n. Sulcorebutia tarabucoensis. The Rebutia were in flower. My images finish after we left the site, with a trio of Karakara birds of prey picking the last bits off a carcass along the side of the road.

At S2464 we saw Echinopsis (Lobivia) cinnabarina and a Echinopsis (Trichocereus) sp. but it was at S2465 that I finally saw one of my favourite cacti in habitat: Rebutia (Sulcorebutia) pulchra s.n. Sulcorebutia rauschii, again growing at a Microondas, in sand, at the top of a hill. John told us that he had never seen S. rauschii flower in habitat, but then had to change that as he (or was it Brian) came across a plant in flower. I also found some plants in bud. John found the plants unusually easy to spot as they were raised as a result of recent rains. These were ‘the green form’, although some had developed tinges of blue and purple. John explained that his searches in the surrounding hills and had found great variability in the body colour.

Wiebe and I made a short walk to a near by hill (S2466) that we had passed on the way to the microwave tour and where Wiebe had spotted bright red flowers. These were Parodia tuberculata and made more excellent subjects for our cameras. Plants growing on rocks, like these Parodia, make much better subjects than plants that grow flat with the ground, such as Ariocarpus kotschoubeyanus in Mexico, Thelocephala in Chile and S. rauschii on the neighbouring hill top.

Some two hours later we arrived at the last stop of the day (S2467), again for a Sulcorebutia, the recently (2008) described Sulcorebutia heliosoides. Nice plants! Time will tell if the name will become submerged into one of the more familiar older names. As the name implies, the spination is dense and tight, reminiscent of Rebutia heliosa, but this is a Sulcorebutia while R. heliosa is an Aylostera.  We were observed by six kids, 8-12 year olds I’d guess, who were curious as to what we were doing. Wiebe and I took their pictures and than took more as we took turns to show the giggling group the results of the pictures that we had taken. Wiebe treated them to Garibaldi (‘dead fly’) biscuits that had become part of our daily diet during the trip.

The sun was setting as we arrived at the Hotel Padilla where we had knocked on the door at about 1 a.m. in the night 23/24th November. Fortunately this time they had space for us. These were simple rooms with a shared bathroom with a shower that produced plenty of cold water, but no hot. Wiebe and I shared a room and found a huge moth, the size of a hand, sitting on the wall in our room. Wiebe managed to put it outside of our room, where it posed for more photographs.



Sunday, 27 November 2011 – around Sucre, sightseeing

I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that the life of a dedicated cactus explorer is not so different from my days in a regular office job. We wake up at 7, have breakfast at 8 and aim to be away by 9 a.m. From there it is a regular 9-5 job, we tend to spend 5-6 hours bumping around in a 4×4 on roads and tracks of variable and unpredictable quality and for 2-3 hours make stops to explore or just take photographs of primarily cacti, with other succulents a close second, any plant of interest to a C&S audience third and fill out the rest with images of the scenery, local people, buildings etc. When we get home, hot, sweaty and covered in dust, we head straight for a cold beer and a shower, Just as in the old days, we ‘take work home’ – down loading the images taken during the day and sorting them into folders, one for each stop, within a folder for each day. After a quick check of emails and a chat on MSN with Angie, it is time to find a place to eat and then, before falling into bed to pass out for the night, there is the task of completing today’s Diary entry. Car problems, blockades, lack of internet facilities and running into old friends, such as Brian Bates all conspire to cause a back log of Diary entries. And usually, we follow a seven day working week, often losing track of what day of the week it is.

At least writing up the Diaries help to re-focus on the calendar, after all, it would not do to turn up a day late at the airport, would it Leo?

I spotted that today was Sunday, traditionally a rest day, so it was good that today’s program was a break from cactus exploring.In the morning Wiebe and I made a trip to the Parque Cretacico, near the famous Sucre Cement Works. Rather than me giving you my version of what this tourist attraction is all about, point your browser to www.parquecretacicosucre.com and learn why Sucre and Jurasic Park are not too far removed from each other.

Max had arranged a taxi to pick us up from Hostal International Sucre, wait while we made our guided tour and made some more pictures before driving us back to the Hostel. Very civilised.

John had been before, only two weeks ago, so had stayed ‘at home’.  Now fully rested, he suggested a taxi ride into the centre of Sucre for a closer look at the wonderful colonial buildings, mostly painted white, that give the town the name ‘White City’. This is quite a different city than the urban sprawl that spills over the hillsides, covering areas formerly covered by cacti, in particular Sulcorebutia. The genus is famous for its variability, with different populations on different hillsides and even plants on the same hillside looking different at the top compared to those at the bottom. Botanists and hobbyists have been confused for years and have created many names, then lumped them, following by a splitting phase. It’s rare for two Sulco specialists to agree on all the taxonomic and classification details and when you are guided by two such experts with close but still sometimes different concepts of what names to use, things tend to get a little difficult.

Today’s stops were S2461 – the Dinosaur footprint park and S2462 – Sucre sightseeing, at last non-controversial photo stops!

PS I knew this would happen if I posted today’s edition at 16:00, before the day was out.

We were looking for a place to have dinner, disappointed that the nearby restaurants used on the last two nights were shut – Sunday night! So, for about 1 GBP we took a taxi to the Plaza in the centre of town, enjoyed a nice meal, said goodnight to Brian and hailed another taxi to take us home. All went well until we collided with another car, full of Bolivians. If we had been in the middle of Amsterdam it would have been the other cars fault, as they failed to give priority to traffic (us) coming from the right. Here the traffic rules seem to be a bit more haphazzard; you aim the car to where there is space to avoid crashes. One of the young ladies from the other car came over screaming at the taxi driver and hit out at him, screami9ng abuse at him. The other occupants soon broke up any possible altercation, all reached for their mobile phones and at least four disappeared in another taxi. So how many had there been in the other car? No idea. Probably too many. Not wanting to get tied up in possible witness statements at the police station for the next few days, we decided to pay the driver the standard fare for Plaze to the Hostel, hailed another cab and this time got home safely. Never a dull moment!

This trip continues to be full of adventure. Lots of stories to tell, but fortunately no serious after affects. John did warn us that Bolivia would be different.

We agreed today that Brian would travel with us for the last few days of the trip, to Santa Cruz, from where he would take the bus home. Perhaps he can be our lucky charm or at least entertain us with more stories of him and his monkey (who is NOT coming along)

Saturday, 26 November 2011 – around Sucre

Fortunately there is no rule that says that I have to write every word of the Cactus Trip Diaries. I’m therefore very pleased today to hand over the keyboard to mi amigo, Senor Brian Bates for today’s account of what we did and saw. Brian has lived in Sucre since February 1999. Any arguments about nomenclature etc on a post card to BB’s post box in Sucre please!

Brian writes:

‘Hi Paul,

This will save you some work. Feel free to cut and paste or delete as you wish. I’ve used the NCL nomenclature as befits a cactophile infected with the huntitis virus.
I had a very enjoyable day yesterday. Thank you all.

Diary entry Saturday 26th november 2011 – Sucre towards Los Alamos and Poroma
After breakfast we took the road towards the airport before turning to the right and thence the road to Los Alamos. On my first visit to Bolivia in 1989, this road was very difficult to find and none of the houses or shops existed, only millions of plastic bags blown about by the wind and the mountains of rubbish which had been dumped. The now paved road, at least at the intersection, was a narrow dirt road.
Just after the airport we stopped at the edge of the Eucalyptus planting at S2455 (=BB203). Here the campesinos had made steps to get up to the water tank and walled enclosure. The steps didn’t pass any health and safety standards as there was no handrail. [PK for John Carr: arranging steps or even escalators would be of great benefit for cactus explorers. What a shame, Brian, that after the first 10 steps we were back to climbing through a barren field. I guess the health & safety people had insisted on proper handrails before allowing the building of steps to continue]. We found Rebutia (Sulcorebutia) canigueralii (losenickyana) [PK: well done Brian, that seems to cover most bases, although should you not have included Weingartia in there somewhere?] in large numbers even some in flower. Wiebe also found an Echinopsis (Lobivia) which I assume to be E. cinnabarina, which is very common. Sucre is more or less in the centre of its east/west distribution which goes for about 200 km to the east and 130 km to the west, these distances by road. [PK: so that will clear up a number of ‘Lobivia sp. references in previous days’ reports].
We moved on to the pass above Barrance which is the type locality of Rebutia (Sulcorebutia) vasqueziana S2456 (=BB346). We were joined and helped by two young, local boys who looked for red flowers, which they found, but unfortunately not on the cactaceae. We found a few larger plants of about 3cm diameter, but all the plants, except when damaged, were solitary, none of the large groups we find in cultivation. Wiebe asked if it was related to Rebutia (Sulcorebutia) roberto-vasquezii . They were both named after the same man Dr. Roberto Vasquez Chavez, a botanist, who lives in Santa Cruz. Roberto Vasquez is now busy with Orchidaceae and Bromeliaceae rather than Cactaceae, their gain is our loss. We didn’t find any other cactus here.
We moved on to the end of another planting of Eucalyptus where we had a marker of 2 dead trees. We discussed the presence of the gum in these trees, but the dead trees seemed to be very dry and hard, and because of this would probably be here for some years to come, especially since they would ruin a chain saw. We walked along a path which ran parallel to the road, passing Autrocylindropuntia vestita (teres) in full flower. We started to climb the white looking cerro S2457 (=BB347). About half way up we started to see Rebutia (Sulcorebutia) vasqueziana (alba). [PK: Great, but I think we’ll need to rethink the length of plant labels. 30 cm should do it!]  Near the top, John spotted two plants in flower and on the descent I found a plant with 2 fruits which I gave to John and Wiebe.
About half way back to the car, we stopped at a low, grass covered hill which had been found the week before by a group of Czechs led by Ladislav Horacek, S2458 (BB347a). Here we found Rebutia (Sulcorebutia) pulchra (frankiana).  Just as we were leaving, John found a huge plant in flower, about 6cm in diameter and in show worthy condition. [PK: Today’s Best Plant In Show!]
We made a “U” turn and returned to the junction with the road to Paroma which was quite a distance back towards the city. We drove north for quite a distance we made a stop at the pass top, S2459 (BB813), a normal place to stop. We found quite a few plants including Rebutia (Sulcorebutia) canigueralii (var. applanata) and R. pulchra, Echinopsis obrepanda, Cleistocactus buchtienii, Parodia tuberculata var. sucrensis, a grass type Puya, an aroid with deeply incised leaves, Peperomia galioides and maybe two Echeveria  sp. This was decided because the plant in the open was green and had a thick trunk while the plant in the shade was dark brown.
I tried to find the Rebutia that had been in flower the previous week, but without success, so we turned round and headed for the hostel. Wiebe called a stop (S2460) when he saw Parodia about 6 metres or so above the road. These were in flower. He was the only one to climb up. You just can’t keep “the young pups” under control. That turned out to be the last stop of a very successful and enjoyable day.’
Many thanks Brian, that was very useful and we enjoyed it too. Just like being out on the road together in Brazil 1999 and a short stint in Argentina in 2008.  We finished off with the usual steak, chips and large bowl of ice-cream dinner. When we got back to the Hostel there was a huge party in progress. The owner of the Fundacion Hostelling International Bolivia, Max Steiner, had organised a function for up to 200 guests, many of them notable people of the Sucre community. We were invited to join in and enjoyed a few beers before the day’s activities got the better of me.

Friday 25 November –Toledo to Sucre

I woke up stiff, but rested after a night in the passenger front seat of the car, at around 6 a.m.

Earlier, around 3:30 while still driving towards Sucre, we could see the bright lights of the city in the distance, some 11 km away; too late for a hotel, too early to find a restaurant open so we pulled off the road and made ourselves comfortable for a few ours shut eye.

Later, plotting the GPS coordinates in Google Earth, it appeared that the hamlet that we could see was Toledo, near the small villageof Yamparaez. This was cactus country so we decided to fill in the time with a drive up the road to see what we could find. S2452 covers the images from that drive, lovely scenery and the more obvious cacti: Trichocereus, some in bud, only one in flower, Harrisia tetracantha, including one stand with about half a dozen flowers just opened, huge Agave americana (non-endemic) including var variagata, and a Cleistocactus sp.

Around 8 we had a couple of empanadas and much needed coffee in Sucre and decided, this time without the pressure of blockades, to take a look at the track that we had used to avoid the blockade a week ago. It seemed that there had been some good rains here since our last visit, later confirmed by Brian Bates.

We stopped at a likely looking hillside (S2453) where John, very experienced in finding Sulcos, had soon found a small group of S. canigualari, almost hidden in the sand. If it had not been for the recent rains, we would not have found them. Large ants provided an idea of scale, although I have to say that these ants were larger than anything ant-wise that I have ever seen in the UK, so I guess I need to find objects to use as scale for the ants.  It seems that the Sulco’s produce their first flush of flowering probably triggered by day length, in anticipation of the first rains, and that further flushes may follow, triggered by more rains. The presence of the ants suggests that the first flush of flowering had already passed and that they were looking for fresh fruits and seed. I can also reports Echinopsis (Lobivia) sp. from here.

We continued our journey, but this time found a lot more water in the river and some very recent silt / mud along the river bed. Considering our fortunes in recent weeks it seemed wise to abort this mission and return to town.

Here John managed to find the track where we would have entered the town on ‘blockade day’, so we drove down hill, back towards the river bed.  A red-flowering Parodia, P. tuberculata var sucrensis (?) prompted us to stop for a closer look and we also found Echinopsis (Lobivia) sp (to me most of the Lobivia that I have seen look much alike, but I’m told that we’ve seen different species, so I’ll stick with ‘sp.’ for now and will firm up on names later) and Austrocylindropuntia vestita (that Brian calls A. teres and John calls A. verschaeffelti) with dark red flowers and on the whole looking very good. There were lots of Tillandsia and lichen on the rocks, suggesting that this location gets quite a bit of humid air. Fantastic views over the river valley that we had tried to drive through suggests the reason why. The local Cleistocactus was also found as well as a Pepperomia sp., and an aroid.

Back to the hotel, it was great to have a shower and a change of clothes, sorting two days of images, a quick chat with Angie and then off for dinner with Brian Bates. I’m eating so much steak that I think that I’m growing horns!

Thursday, 24 November 2011 – Villamontes to Sucre (Toledo)

It was still sweltering hot as we stepped out of our air-conditioned hotel room. We were all a bit quiet as today was our last day together and due to concerns about the other car that needed to make it to Santa Cruz in time for their flight home on Saturday (we have since learned that they arrived in time and, as I write this catch-up report on Sunday 27 November, should have arrived safely in the UK, ready for a day’s work on Monday!

The road to Santa Cruz was as good as John had promised. This made life a little boring as we drove through the flat, featureless landscape. Brendan was in front, in case they should run into more problems and we followed all doing a steady 80 km.p.hr. We made three stops, S2442, S2443 and S2444 and the plants photographed included Stetsonia coryne and many others to be listed later. Read on and you’ll see why.

S2445 was the Goodbye Stop and as we realised that we had forgotten to take the obligatory group photo we posed underneath the road sign that indicated the split of our ways, while Wiebe and Brendan ran between Wiebe’s tripod and the posing team while their camera’s self timers clicked away. Have a safe journey guys, see you in England!

As we took our pictures, there was a loud crash across the road as a pick up track had missed the narrow concrete bridge across the drainage gully between the road and a snack bar. The car was now stationary, nose down and back wheels in the air. With the help of us, the six gringos, the wheels were soon brought down to earth and the emberrassed owner thanked us for our help.

Our plan was to spend the night at Monteagudo, a manageable distance away.

Ther following is an editted extract of an MSN chat with Angie, who throughout my story kept telling me that she was shaking her head in disbelief:

We stopped (S2446) for a Cleistocactus sp. in flower. When we wanted to carry on, Wiebe could not get the car started and we commented how much easier it had been with two cars, when one could tow the other out of trouble. Anyway, the car started. So we drove on. The new clutch is still settling down so Wiebe stalled once or twice and each time had problems starting – it sounded as if the solinoid had jammed or the ignition switch had gone. Bashing with a stick only helped once.

We made a nice stop for Sulcorebutia roberto-valquesiana. No way the car would start. John took the controls and as there was a slight slope back, we bump-started him in reverse. Great – but now the tension was back again – did we have a dodgy solonoid?

We decided to take it easy on stops, only stopping on a down hill gradient, but leaving the car in gear as the handbrake is dodgy. And so we reached Monteagudo. Should we push on to Sucre? 348 km and c 8 hours drive, mostly in the dark. Let’s look for a Taller Electrico here, in case it was something simple. We were directed to a track out of town where we found the workshop. It seemed that the staff were at a Mother’s Union meeting.

It turned out the local meeting of the campesinos working party (striking party) and when it was over, we were introduced to the organiser, who briefly appraised us of all blockades in Bolivia, present and future. Our plans were OK.

The owner of the workshop introduced himself as George. He was a short, round man, with a bulging round cheek, stuffed full of coca leaves that he was chewing energetically, spitting at regular intervals. They had all been drinking beers and were therefore 3 sheets in the wind.

He got his son to take a look under the car, while he got us to give him 20 Bs for five cans of beer. Every sentence was followed by a handshake, and while he was fluent in Castallano, we were not.

I made my drinking excuses by explaining that I was diabetic. He was very sorry and offered me some coca leaves instead. No thanks, may not mix with my heart medication.

He was paranoid about having his picture taken with the big Nikon, but then I got out the Samsung, pretended that it was a mobile phone and got a couple of minutes of George in full flow.

We arrived at 4, by 5 he wanted the second 20 Bs for another 5 cans of beer while his son had stripped down the started motor and confirmed that the brushes on the thing had worn out. Son #2 was sent out on his bike for more beer and the required part.

It started raining by the time he came back – summer is the rainy season here, so we have become used to cactus spotting with the sound of thunder and the sight of lightning over the next hill top. It was hot and it did not rain long or hard.

But it was now pitch dark. Of course the carbon blocks (brushes) were the wrong size, but with a filing tool attached to a drill this was carefully taylored to the right size – very time consuming and thirsty work while George kept pumping our hands, sending his son out for more beers and reassuring us that it would soon be finished.

He had offered to put us up for the night and some mechanics were carrying pieces of a bed into the house. I became the self appointed leader (having heard that I was a Photographer, he claimed to have seen me on the Discovery Channel!)

It was 8:20 when we paid the final bill, 300 Bs (GBP 30 for labour) and hastely made our escape. The militant leader had asked for a lift to Sucre in the morning, so we decided to make a run for it.

The Rough Guide says that the road from Sucre to Villamontes (where we had stayed the previous night) is among the most scenic roads through the Andes, when it is passable!

We saw it in the dark, with huge trucks + trailers and coaches coming at us with enough lights to further increase our sun tan.

There was the familiar rockwall on one side and a steep drop on the other, with the usual crosses marking previous victims’ resting places.

We tried in another village, Padila, knocking  on the door of the only hotel, already closed and in darkness, but were told that there was no room.

Around 3:30 a.m we could see the lights of Sucre in the distance, some 11 km away and decided to pull up and sleep in the car

Wednesday, 23 November 2011 – Tarija to Villamontes

We had said our goodbyes to Ariacha, our favourite receptionist in Hotel del Sol, Tarija. Her command of the English language had made it so much easier to ask simple questions rather than having to find things out for ourselves. It was even more remarkable to learn that she had taught herself English by watching English language films on TV! Perhaps I should start watching Spanish TV. The next logistical challenge was to meet up with our cars. Ours was parked in John’s usual car park when he stays there, two blocks up from the hotel, while Brendan was in the free hotel car park three blocks away. So having paid our bills, we struggled with our heavy luggage through crowded streets with vendors blocking up the pavement, to our respective cars. We were likely first to be ready so had agreed to drive to Brendan & Co’s car. There we learned that we had all been over charged by one night’s stay so a small ‘accounting party’ went back to the hotel to sort matters out – embarrassed faces money was paid back, then on our way out of town.

We had by now had the hang of Tarija and soon found the same way out that we had used on 20th November, across the CondorPass. That time our car had been limping on with a dodgy clutch, but now, with the repairs carried out, the car was fine.

As we passed the stops from last Sunday, I was beginning to feel quite at home in Bolivia.

We made eight plant stops as we drove on twisty tracks (the main road to Villamontes!) enjoyed spectacular views of the Andes and saw some great plants that provided more ticks on my ‘plants seen in habitat’ list. But sadly I need to keep the details for later as there were more car problems, this time for Brendan’s car. They were late turning up at one of the afternoon stops and we assumed that they had made an ‘in-between’ plant stop. When they did arrive, they had a quick chat with John while Wiebe and I were on the hillside photographing cacti, and then they drove off. We learned that they had suffered a broken rear suspension and were now limping on to the next town, Palos Blancos, to see if they could get things fixed.

When we got there, we drove through the village (three streets) and could not see their car, so assumed that they had moved on. After a long drive and a few more stops we arrived in Villamontes. We had left Tarija at c 2,400 m altitude and had now dropped down to 390 m. above sea level. This is the western end of the Chaco that continues in Brazil and Paraguay. With the drop in altitude there was a sharp increase in temperature, with the car’s outside sensor recording 36C as the sun was setting. It was 32 C the following morning, around breakfast time. We were very glad of the rather noisy air-conditioning. Rather worrying, there was still no sign of Brendan & Co.

After we had finished our Brazilian style Churrasco the other car at last arrived. No idea how we missed them in Palos Blancos, where Lucy and Chris had been standing in obvious places on street corners. They had managed to find a Taller Metalurgica – who had managed to weld a bar to prop up the suspension and fix the rear break pipe. The car crawled a bit but their road to Santa Cruz should be easy on asphalt for most of the way. All’s well that ends well, at least for today!

Details of S2434 to S2441 to follow in due course.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011 – around Tarija

Brief update, mainly about car matters, John spent another day in Tarija waiting for car news, while Wiebe and I joined Brendan, Lucy and Chris for a drive through the mountains.

S2425: Rebutia (Aylostera) deminuta – s.n. Rebutia fusca, Echinopsis sp. – in flower

S2426: Rebutia sp. – in flower, Zephyranthes andina? – Red flowered bulb, Llareta – Azorella compacta, Echinopsis (Lobivia) chrysochete? – In flower, Unidentified genus species – white flower, low perennial?

S2427: Cumulopuntia boliviana, Llama (Lama glama)

S2428: Cumulopuntia boliviana, Llama (Lama glama), Echinopsis (Lobivia) pampana s.n. Lobivia glaucescens; in flower (yellow).

S2429: Echinopsis (Trichocereus) sp, Opuntia sulphurea? – In flower, thicker, almost globular pads, Echinopsis (Lobivia) ferox (syn. Lobivia longispina), Parodia maassii, Echinopsis (Lobivia) pugionacantha ssp haemantha? Cumulopuntia chichensis? Or C. bolivianus? Tunilla soehrensii?

S2430: Cleistocactus buchtienii – s.n. Cleistocactus tupizensis, Echinopsis (Lobivia) lateritia?Echin opsis (Trichocereus) tacaquirensis? Blossfeldia lilliputana,  reported by BB on a previous visit, but not seen by us this time.

S2431: Cleistocactus buchtienii – s.n. Cleistocactus tupizensis

S2432: Oreocereus celsianus, Opuntia sp., Tunilla sp?- Dense mats, yellow flowers, Echinopsis (Trichocereus) sp

S2433: Oreocereus trollii, Oreocereus celsianus, Tunilla soehrensii, Cumulopuntia chichensis?

On our return, our car was back, fitted with a new clutch and other bits and a bill of Bs 2280 (11:1 for GBP). John is confident that the car rental company will repay him the money as he has been a loyal customer since 2006.

So tomorrow we continue on our way to Villa Monte. It is unlikely that we’ll have internet for the next two nights but should be OK once we reach Sucre on Friday.