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Tuesday, 12 January – Heathrow to Amesbury

Just a quick note to confirm that Cliff & I arrived safely at Heathrow Airport, just one hour late as the pilot had managed to make up some of the 90 minutes delayed take off. Angie’s son Peter was waiting patiently at the exit at Terminal 4 with a bag of warm winter clothes – just as well as there was a 33 C difference in temperature between our take off from Salvador and arrival in England. Cliff was less fortunate. Saturday’s thunderstorm in Morro do Chapéu meant that he could not finalise pick up arrangements with his wife and daughters. He said that he would be OK, still dressed in shorts, sandals and T shirt, as we shook hands and reminded each other that we’d see each other at Gatwick Airport on 3 February.

Do tune in around that time for the next series of the Cactus Diaries instalments.

Monday, 11 January – Feira de Santana to Salvador Airport

It was all supposed to be so easy.

We had driven the route with Marlon only two weeks ago and found that the airport was clearly sign posted and we left Marlon at the University Herbarium shortly after 8 a.m. so in plenty of time for John’s 11 check in for a 14:00 flight to Rio de Janeiro from where he would fly on to Miami and Newark.

But oh dear, it all went horribly wrong! Marlon had warned us not to turn off the main highway at the first sign to the Airport. It would take us through a huge industrial area around Salvador with no further signage to help you out. We were so keen not to take that first turn that we deliberately passed it – but, it seems with the benefit of hindsight we had missed the first turn off and so had deliberately driven past the second one, thinking that it was the first.

The result was that we ended up in the middle of Salvador, without any useful signage to anywhere that was on our road atlas. We stopped at various garages to ask the way, but were too far away, so that by the way the attendant had taken us past the 2nd turning left or right, out of a five minute life history in rapid Portuguese, we were none the wiser. I got out my GPS, but this had never heard of Salvador Airport, had no street maps of where we were and helpfully wanted to direct me to Rio de Janeiro, off-road. Argghhhh.

At least it showed us where we were roughly on the peninsula that has Salvador on the end, while the map showed us where the airport might be in relation to that. But we had become stuck in a suburb, and not the ‘best place in town’ by a long shot, so the doors had their central locking put on. John asked a few cabbies, but they were waiting for there fares and could not take us. The clock ticked on to 11 a.m. and past it. Then John spotted a taxi rank and decided to take a cab to the airport, rather than miss his plane and we asked the driver to drive slow enough so that we could follow in his slip stream.

We arrived at the airport around 11:45 and John went straight to the check-in desk while Cliff & I went to drop the car off.

John went through security just as we arrived back with our luggage, a quick shaking of hands ‘Great trip!’ ‘Must do it again!’ ‘Chile or Brazil?’ ‘Anywhere.’ ‘See you later!’

Cliff and I then had to wait until 18:25 when our flight was due to take off, and a further 90 minutes while the plane was waiting to get the go ahead from Sao Paolo to take off, after they had a major storm blow over.

The important thing was that we were on our way home!

Sunday, 10 January – Morro do Chapéu to Feira de Santana

Yesterday’s rain had stopped, but it would take a little more than a dry night to get the Internet up and running again from Morro do Chapéu. So it is from a snowy white Amesbury that I’m posting these last pages of the Brazil Diaries retrospectively.

The mood was quiet as we headed for our last hundreds of km. homeward. Some 20 km out of Moro do Chapeu we passed the Cachoeira do Ferro Doido, the waterfall that had been dry as usual during our last visit (S1620). This time there was plenty of water rushing along the rocky river bed and underneath the bridge that we drove over. There is water falling at the falls! We agreed an impromptu stop (S1687) to take a look at the falls themselves. Photography was aimed more at snapping shots of cacti reflected in water and water throwing itself 100 m down the rock face than at increasing the number of cactus pictures in our portfolios. Last time we had observed an interesting overhang that at the time we did not feel like trying out but today I felt lucky, so made a little detour and approached the falls again from the other side, having left one of my cameras with Marlon. From where I was standing, I was completely unaware of the 100 m void below the rock surface below me. Ignorance is bliss and fearlessly I walked toward the edge to snap some shots of the falls while the others were snapping shots of me. The resulting pictures in today’s photo album were actually taken by John and Cliff. Marlon struggled with my camera, as I have the dioptre on the view finder adjusted to my eyes and glasses, so that everything appeared out of focus. 

So, on to S1688, the last image stop of this trip. We saw Melocactus salvadoriensis, Pilosocereus catingicola, Arrojadoa penicillata. The long thin narrow leaved Bromeliad that we had seen all over the place (Neoglaziovia variegata) was in flower and fruit here.

We arrived safely at Marlon’s for the last routine of the trip, getting the car tidied and washed before returning it to the car rental firm tomorrow. This turned out to be a most unusual and pleasant experience. Marlon had seen a cardboard notice at a private house up the road on his way to the University Herbarium where he works. It was Sunday afternoon, so we were unsure if they were open for business. They were. Marlon explained that we wanted a good clean up before returning the rental car. No problem. Did we want to take a seat? There were some tables and chairs in the shade in the corridor between the house and its neighbour, with a cooling breeze. Did we want a drink? Sure! Beer? Excellent! John preferred a Cola, somebody had to remain sober! No problem. Seven bottles of beer later, the job was done. R$ 40, (about £14 or US$ 23) covered the cost of the work, the beer and the tip!

We finished the day with our farewell to Brazil meal, where else but at the best churrascaria in town.

Saturday, 9 January – Irecê to Morro do Chapéu

Four stops today, our last proper ‘day with stops’ of this trip.

Last night we ‘enjoyed’ again some very heavy thunderstorms, John and Marlon again woke up with the floor in their room flooded. But again, we woke up to sunshine and that was the most important thing.

S1683 was a location along the side of the BA-052 at km 345, some 12 km east of Irecê. It was the type locality of Buining & Brederoo’s Melocactus krainzianus, that has long since been reduced to synonymy under M. azureus. These days we could only find very few plants, all youngsters, no mature plants with cephalia. It would be interesting to track down any photos or notes by Buining and / or Horst about this, their collection number Horst 264, to compare the few plants against the appearance of this location at the time of its discovery in the 1970s. (PCL?)

Marlon tells us that local people seem to  remove the plants systematically from the limestone pavement, as their spines are a danger to both people and cattle that cross this area that separates the BA-052 from a  small but growing settlement. We can confirm the damage that Melocactus spine clusters can do to feet, with spines penetrating thick soles of walking boots and training shoes and having to be removed from the soles with pliers!

Other cacti photographed-for-the-record: Pilosocereus gounellei, Cereus jamacaru and Tacinga inamoena

S1684 was for another Horst / Buining collection, Melocactus ferreophilus, again, right along the BA-052. Not an easy plant to get to, growing on lose limestone rocks, very sharp to hands and feet. Not many plants on this mall site, but limestone rocks farther away and not easily accessible are likely to be home for more of these plants. Another day perhaps for a look. The other remarkable plant was a crested P. gounellei. We had noted how few crested cacti we had seen here, far fewer than in Chile it seemed.

On to S1685, a repeat for Cliff and myself of S1617 (370 m. to the south of our stop on 24 December 2009). This was to show John the form of M. zehntneri with blue epidermis that is still seen in collections under the name of M. douradaensis, another Buining & Brederoo name. 

We drove on to Morro do Chapéu again and booked into the highly recommended Pousada Ecological das Bromelias, where we had stayed in December as well. We were greeted like old friends, as was Marlon who had taken two tours here in 2008. We met up with Delmar Alvin again and while Cliff chose to have a rest, the remaining four of us set off to one of my favourite places on the planet (S1686 this time), the place where Marlon had found 16 species of cactus growing together on a previous occasion. This was my third visit here this trip! This time Marlon could show me the plant of P. gounellei that he believes has the longest spines that he has seen on this taxon. So out came the tape measure and spines were recorded up to 22 cm (9") in length.

The main object of the visit was to get that absolute killer shot of hummingbirds and cacti but we were too early – the Melocactus flowers were still closed. I walked around and eventually found a good spot with some ten plants with buds in front of me, all a similar distance away, the same range for my zoom lens. I also found a nice plant to set my cam-corder up for, but just when I was all set to go, taking some sample pictures, I noticed the dramatic sky, practically above us. And sure enough, rain was beginning to fall. I stayed for five more minutes, but as cameras etc don’t like water, hummingbirds don’t fly in the rain and the light was too poor for photography, it was time to admit defeat.

I found the others, but Marlon pointed at a group of half a dozen mature plants and reported that they had been visited regularly by hummers. The rain had stopped and I was contemplating setting up here, but then it started again, much harder this time, so that a brisk walk back to the car was in order. It is good to have unfinished business as an excuse to come back here again some time in the future.

The rain came down hard again, as usual, accompanied my lightning and thunder. I was looking forward to an MSN chat with Angie, to confirm pick up procedures for Tuesday – a last opportunity as on Sunday we travel to Marlon’s place in Feira de Santana (no internet) and on Monday we drive to Salvador Airport for our flights home (expensive internet facilities). However, the weather had knocked out the Internet in Morro do Chapéu, so most likely you’ll have to wait until Tuesday to learn about the end of a wonderful three month cactus adventure.

Friday, 8 January – Irecê to Santo Ignacio and back

In 1999 we would often see the name Xique-Xique on sign posts, but we never got to the place. Today we did. The name comes from an old language used by local Indigenous people  where it was the common name for a cactus currently known as Pilosocereus gounellei. This plant has a wide spread distribution area and is certainly not under any immediate threat. It was nice to see it here in the area that was named after it. We saw it at all of today’s five stops (S1678 to S1682).

Another plant seen at every stop today was Facheiroa ulei. This was the plant that we had difficulty identifying at S1654 on 2 January, west of Umburanas. There it was growing outside its previously reported range, so took us by surprise. Here, we were at it’s type locality around Santo Ignacio.

Our aim today was to see Melocactus zehntneri – again, a wide spread species with many different local variants. The plants here were originally described as M. giganteus and it is easy to see why as the plants are tall (we measured one at 56 cm (22 inches) tall. With its much heavier than usual spination, plants looked more like Ferocactus than Melocactus. There is a yellow spined form that as a youngster could pass for Eriosyce aurata from Hurtardo in Chile!

We tried a few different tracks around the almost deserted village of Santo Ignacio but could not add to our list of cactus taxa on our list.

Thursday, 7 January – west of Irecê

We ‘enjoyed’ torrential rains and thunderstorms during the night – or at least so I was told; I of course slept. Marlon & John’s room sprang a leak resulting in a big puddle in one corner. As I write these notes, it is pouring down again.

I expect that the snow in the UK will be followed by floods once the snow starts melting.

On the brighter side: Marlon had proposed a day of exploring today, visits to some dozen locations that on Google Earth looked similar to known localities of Melocactus azureus in the area. Fortunately, limestone pavements are reasonably easy to spot on Google Earth and Marlon then meticulously selected locations within  a given radius from the main road, with areas of a reasonable size. There are many more sites farther away and many more smaller areas than Marlon selected, both inside and outside his selected radius. From the evidence today, it is reasonable to expect M. azureus to grow in dense populations at all these locations.

Nigel Taylor and Daniela Zappi in ‘The Cacti of Eastern Brazil’ (2004) writes, regarding the conservation status of M. azureus:

‘Conservation ex situ may be the only viable option unless populations discovered in 2002 can be adequately protected….

… Specifically for Melocactus azureus, whose known habitats are in imminent peril of destruction and hold wild populations that are highly fragmented or numbering only tens of individuals.’

Plants that we had photographed in 1999 in the believe that they were M. azureus, turned out to be the blue form of M. zehntneri.

Today’s report is going to be quite straight forward in terms of reporting plants. We made 11 stops (S1667 to 1677), all new to Marlon and the rest of us, with the exception of S1677, along BA-052. At all stops we found Melocactus azureus, not in their tens, but in their tens of thousands! Great news for the conservation status of this taxon.

What about the other cacti? These were all spotted during the day and are not specific to any particular stop. The special one for me was seeing Stephanocereus leucostele in flower and fruit. As a night flowering plant, the flowers were either opening for tonight or passed over from last night. Others spotted in the area: Tacinga inamoena, T. palmadora and hybrids between them, Cereus jamacaru (is there anywhere in Bahia where it does not grow?), Arrojadoa rhodantha and Pilosocereus gounellei

We had hoped to finish today with another ‘hummer session’ but as we were some distance from asphalt and storms were once again gathering, we thought it best to retreat to one of Marlon’s 2002 discoveries, along BA-052, so that if and when the heavens opened we would not find ourselves in too much of a mudslide. Again, the hummer exercise ended in frustration. Light was not good enough for photography and the hummers thought that it was too dark for flying as well, at least they gave the area I had selected a wide berth. I did experiment with setting up my cam-corder on Cliff’s mini tri-pod and have not yet checked the result, but expect that I have about 45 minutes of a movie of two Melos with four flowers between them, with the soundtrack of traffic passing on the near by BA-052 and the four of us shouting ‘Any luck as yet?’ to each other. That film clip could win an art price for one of the most boring films to date, but could fill the first part of a talk when I get back to the UK, to take us up to the coffee break.

John, who is particularly keen on Melocactus, had a great day, felt excited at being part of a team discovering new things, standing knee deep in his favourite plants and to cap it all, enjoying an hour of his favourite Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons on my ‘cactus trip jukebox’! Life can’t get much better than this.

We’ll try again tomorrow.

The heavens did open up, but not until we were safely back in the hotel.

Wednesday, 6 January – around Irecê

Marlon had given us the morning off, so that we could all catch up with ‘admin’ matters, such as copying GPS data from the metadata of my pictures into Google Earth and into my Stops Database, chatting with Angie and watching England in the snow on Brazilian Breakfast TV.

It was a wonderful sunny morning and between these activities we sat around the swimming pool and watched bikini clad ladies float up an down in the pool, it being too hot for any serious swimming.

Around 13:00 we left for the Melocactus azureus type locality at Jussara, where, from c. 15:00 hours, the flowers would be open and attract hummingbirds to come and feast on the nectar.

So, are you sitting comfortably for the Hummer Show?

Tough!!

As we turned out of the hotel car park we noticed some huge showers build up. Great. Nice dramatic skies again. Instead the skies opened right above our site (S1665) and we stayed in the car for a brief spell hoping that things would ease up. In the mean time, the village kids had recognised ‘Uncle Marlon’ from two previous visits, one with the CSSA Convention trip and one with a party of Americans and French cactophiles, both in 2008. On those occasions they had been given biscuits and had helped Marlon to collect some Melocactus fruits.

Marlon acted as decoy for the kids, allowing the three of us to get on with taking pictures of cacti in the rain. They are not what I had expected but I’m still very pleased with the unusual pictures of Melocacti in water.

It was not a long stop and we decided to try our luck doing some exploring along BA-805, past Pres. Dutra and ended up at Uibai, where we followed a track to the Balneário do Brejo, parked the car (S1666) and continued on foot. Very soon, Marlon had spotted something unusual between the shrubs: Facheiroa ulei, previously only reported from its type locality but here, and a few days ago, at two new areas, suggesting quite a wide distribution range.

Again, clouds threatened and we drove back to the hotel, stopping from time to time for some photos of clouds before we enjoyed a free car wash.

Sometime things don’t work out the way that you had expected, but we still had a great day!