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Archive for the ‘Brazil – Rio Grande do Sul 2009’ Category

Thursday, 5 November 2009 – Vacaria to São Joaquim

At breakfast I was surprised to hear Dutch spoken at another table where four elderly couples were having breakfast. A quick chat and I learned that it was a party of three sisters, a friend and their husbands on a tour of southern Brazil. I was amazed how well they spoke Portuguese.  That was because they had lived in Holambra #2, one of three Dutch colonies in Brazil, since 1953! The amazing thing was that they still spoke such good Dutch!

Why were we in Vacaria you may ask. When seeing Parodia haselbergii ssp graessneri in habitat a few days back, we had been slightly disappointed. These plants looked just like P haselbergii proper, with a different flower colour. In cultivation in Europe, we are used to seeing yellowish spined plants. Earlier, Franco had explained that the yellow spined form was common in southern Santa Catarina, the state to the north of Rio Grande do Sul. As I was keen the have the full set of pictures of the various forms we decided to cross the state border and take a look.

The only information we had was that the plants could be found in a triangular area with sides of some 15 km each. Quite an area. From what we had seen so far, our expectation was that they would grow on steep cliffs, inaccessible for close up photography. We arrived in the area round 2 p.m. having only made some brief roadside stops (S1491, S1492 and S1493) to photograph Parodia linkii in flower. Marlon tells us that the form here was formerly known as Notocactus megapotanicus .

We had now reached the designated area for our search for P graessneri and were looking for steep cliffs and signs pointing to waterfalls (usually associated with steep cliffs). S1494 was a disappointment, more a family play area with water ducts and the promise that a 2 km hike into the hills would lead to a waterfall. The owner showed us photographs of the area that had little potential for our cacti, so we moved on. We stopped along the track to take more pictures of the impressive Araucaria angustifolia. There were two huge trees in particular with a sign claiming that they were at least 400 years of age. Cliff had been looking for seed but now realises that he will never see any seedlings reach maturity.

S1495 promised a steep rock face with indigenous art work but delivered no cacti, except a Rhipsalis or Lepismium, an epiphytic cactus swinging from the rocks seen in one picture, blown up to full size. Not one for a talk, but one for the records.

We did better at the next waterfall stop (S1496), paid our R$3 each to get in and found a nice deep waterfall cascading at least 100 m down. On the wall from where it emerged (but again a good 100 m away, we believed that we could make out some golden spined globular cacti. We took a hundred or so pictures with the zoom lens set to it’s maximum 200 mm setting and were hopeful that back in the hotel we would be able to crop these further. And sure enough, back in the ‘computer dark room’ I was able to spot more than 25 plants of P. graessneri.

There were a couple of plants near the top, right alongside the edge of the deep ravine. We had to cross the river and then walk along the cliff’s edge to get to the pants. We asked the owner’s permission to cross to the other side of the river. ‘Not my land, not my problem’ came his reply.

Needless to say, we completed our mission, got some nice pictures of Mr Graessner’s Parodia and discovered a nice epiphytic cactus, Lepismium houlletianum, growing alongside.

Interestingly, the near by town where we are staying is somewhat of a winter sport centre with Hotel names including Snow Valley. So these plants are able to stand some pretty low temperatures, as suggested by the fact that they survived last winter in my frozen tunnel back in England.

We’ll spend some more time in the area tomorrow to check out stories by local people that this plant occurs plentifully here, also growing on more easily accessible flat locations and is collected by kids who eat them as sweets (after removing spines!). We’ll see…..

Wednesday, 4 November 2009 – Caxais do Sul to Vacaria

Today the time had come to say goodbye to our American fellow travellers. Woody and John, thanks for being perfect travel companions, we must do something like this again sometime, somewhere!

Now that we’re just a party of three and had completed Marlon’s planned program, we needed to decide what to do for the next eight days. First priority was to get the puncture repaired or hopefully replaced and to get our spare tyre checked over as it seemed to have lost some air.

We soon found a tyre repair man near the hotel who fixed the puncture but suggested that we should use this as our spare tyre as it was in poor condition. We asked him to check out the original spare and that was in much worse shape! The tyre was so worn that the steel ply were poking through and when our man put the wheel in the bath to check for leaks, there were numerous little bubbles coming through. Now things were looking serious! It looked as though we needed three new tyres at a cost of about GBP 100 per tyre, just for the remaining eight days!

We decided to ring Budget in Porto Alegre who simply said that we should have checked tyres at the time of pick up – not their problem. Marlon explained that we had questioned the thread on the front tyres and were assured that these would be OK for our 27 day rental period. Their rep had already helpfully put all our luggage in the car when we asked to check the spare tyre and access to it. This would have meant taking all the luggage out and we had already struggled to get the tools from underneath the back seats. Clearly, this spare tyre was not fit for purpose and should not have been given to us. Marlon was quite insistent that this was a significant problem and that it belonged with Budget as provider, not with us as clients.

The Claims department in Sao Paulo was contacted and eventually we were reluctantly sent to an independent assessor at a garage 7 km from our hotel. We just made it, with the tray for the spare tyre briefly escaping its bracket and scraping along the main road. Cliff again was the handy man to fix the problem.

At the assessor, we were served quickly and efficiently. Via Marlon as interpreter we told the man what had happened. He made his inspection and said that we had been lucky to have escaped with just a few minor paintwork scratches. The original front tyres were no longer legal in Brazil and they were worn beyond safety levels. He looked at the mileage on the check out form and our current mileage and agreed that the wear and tear was far greater than would be normal for such a distance – these tyres were already worn out when we picked the car up. The spare tyre was appalling and a disgrace. Marlon was with him when he rang the claims department with this news, not mincing his words about the poor quality of the tyres. What would have happened if the passengers had died in an accident caused by these substandard tyres? That seemed to shake them up a bit and we were promised a replacement car within three hours.

Unfortunately this was followed by a second call to say that they had no replacement car available but that they would fax authorisation for the three tyres to be replaced at their cost.

We had started this process soon after Woody and John left at around 9 a.m. and by 17:00 we were finally back on the road with what felt like a totally different car – one that stuck to the road!

We made no cactus stops today and arrived in Vacaria in the north of Rio Grande do Sul around 19:15 and soon found a very nice hotel with wifi.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009 – Around Caxais do Sul

We were joined today by Franco Celli, a botanist friend of Marlon’s at the Universidad do Caxais do Sul. On several occasions we had driven past the sign to a village called Ana Rech, the locality after which Buining named Brasiliparodia, now Parodia rechensis. Marlon knew that the type locality of this plant had been destroyed, flooded as a reservoir filled up behind a dam to generate electricity. Franco had been part of a University project to collect specimens of the cacti from Rio Grande do Sul and had found another location. And so we found our way making the usual walk, then climb through dense vegetation, with all plants determined to trip you up, tear you to bits or sting you, while the air force, consisting of horse flies and mosquitoes of various sizes provided their additional challenges. The whole walk was made even less comfortable for me as my nose picked up the scent of honeysuckle in flower all around us, always a good aroma to trigger my hay fever. Franco’s machete helped to clear a path. We ended up on a rocky plateau (S1484) some 200 m. above the lake – again the usual flat rock covered in patches of mosses and lichens and surrounded by shrubs. And there, underneath a bush, was a cluster or two of our target plant.

We were distracted by Woody who had spotted a couple of tarantulas in a courting ritual. The lady of the couple proved quite shy and disappeared into their burrow while he sat still, probably hoping that we had not seen him. Cameras clicked and pictures were taken – they turned out a bit too dark, but there is a lot you can do with image editors. Before we forget about cacti altogether, we also found the omni-present Parodia linkii here, about to open its flowers.

And so on to S1485, to a rock face near the road where Sinningia sp. and Parodia (Brasilicactus) haselbergii ssp graessneri were competing for the attentions of the local hummingbird. The plants had a bit more green and yellow to their spination than on yesterday’s stop, but it was still a far cry from the much darker spines that we are used to seeing in cultivation in Europe. Marlon and Franco tell us that these darker populations are found in the next State to the north, so we may pay a visit there during the next few days. In the mean time, they looked stunning against dark rocks and mosses and in one place, almost strangled by Lepismium lumbricoides.

We treated Franco to lunch after which he took us to S1486 for another population of P haselbergii proper, again, very photogenic. From here, Franco pointed to a rock face pointing into the valley and told us that P. leninghausii grew there. When we arrived at the spot (S1487), the vegetation along the edge of the steep drop down (for several 100 m sky-diving) was very dense and too crumbly to risk hacking through and find out that we’d reached the edge before our flight. I love my zoom lens that enabled me to add some half decent shots to my leninghausii portfolio. During the last two stops my GPS had been playing up – probably the connection with the camera. Or perhaps being close to the rock wall and with dense clouds building up for a mighty thunderstorm had blocked the satellite signal. We’ll see tomorrow. In the mean time I have Marlon’s GPS data.

Last stop of the day was at the University greenhouses or rather the plastic tunnels where Franco’s collection of habitat Parodias were housed. A change in role meant that somebody else was now looking after the plants and not doing as well as might be expected, with mealy bug outbreaks in a number of trays. But it was nice to see plants that we had seen in habitat here side by side and compare their appearance and guess their names. I didn’t do too badly, but need to carry on learning more.

Many thanks to Franco for showing us some wonderful stops.


Monday, 2 November 2009 – Cambará do Sul to Caxias do Sul

Sorry for the break in communications, but the last few nights were in accommodation where there was no internet facility or if there was, it blocked MSN.

Today would be Wiebe’s last day with us, so we spent the morning exploring and in the afternoon Cliff & I drove him to the airport at Porto Alegre.

We started with a look around Fazenda Pandorama, the farm converted to holiday cabanas where we had spent the night. The 3-4 ostriches kept in a pen were of interest, photographically as were the cacti, bromeliads, ferns, mosses and lichens covering the tree. Woody called us over to take a look at one Rhipsalis sp. in flower. Cliff posed for the traditional picture as the pollinator for this plant and I can confirm that the flowers had a lemon-like aroma. As there were plants here, This stop was numbered S1477.

We soon found the track from where our ‘target plant’ for the day was reported from and made a series of four stops, with some distance between our two cars, to cover as large an area as possible in the shortest possible time. S1478, S1479 and S1480 turned out to be just the usual Parodia linkii and P oxycostata growing on rocky outcrops again covered in mosses and lichens. It must at times get very wet around here and on a regular basis.

At S1481 I was about to return to the car from ‘my’ rocky outcrop, again to file a negative report, when Wiebe shouted and waved excitedly from his small hill. We all quickly rushed over, me arriving first, in time to be told by Wiebe to be quiet as I joined him, because in front of him was a hole below a rock and a small armadillo was sitting in the opening. Thoughts of looking for Parodia graessneri were forgotten, this was great! I managed a good few shots before the animal disappeared. Wiebe whispered that there were five young in total and when he first arrived they were all out at play.

He then told me that there were indeed P. graessneri as well. These were already being photographed by the others who were unaware of the armadillo burrow. These were not the P. graessneri with which I was familiar in Europe. In fact they looked more like P. haselbergii, with white rather than yellow spines. The greenish flowers however were indicative of P.graessneri.

P1482 was a bonus, another new (for this trip) species to add to the list: Parodia (Brasiliparodia) buenekeri with of course P. linkii also present.

S1483 combined a stop at a viewpoint for another waterfall with Wiebe’s goodbye. The two hour plus drive to Porto Alegre was a quiet one, as no one likes to say cheerio to a great travel companion. See you in Holland in 2010!

Cliff and I then had the challenge to find the other car and its occupants in Caxais do Sul. We reached the outskirts of town in good time and then (2nd attempt) found a phone box that worked, so that I could ring Marlon’s mobile to discover where they had booked into a hotel. Amazingly the call went through without problems. Even more amazingly they described a hotel along the main road that we had travelled by with five new blue tractors parked in front of it. As we had driven past it earlier on the way to Porto Alegre I had thought: ‘I hope that they pick this one.’ Finding it again turned out more tricky, as Brazilian road numbers seem to be used for more than one road (a new bypass?), but an hour later we were there!

Sunday, 1 November 2009 – Lajaedo to Cambara do Sul

A bit of a frustrating day. Marlon had tried since Friday to contact a colleague at the University at in Caxais do Sul to discover habitat details of Parodia rechensis. The natural habitat of this plant was destroyed by the building of a dam with the plants now several meters below the level of the lake. His friend had found a small population of these plants and it was likely that apart from these plants (and the many in cultivation elsewhere in the world) the species was extinct in nature.

In the absence of the required information, Marlon suggested three stops that would take us to Cambara do Sul in the north east of the State of Rio Grande do Sul.

The most significant event of the day, with me driving, is that we cursed Marlon & Woody for leaving tarmac and heading off on yet another dirt track, only to discover to our embarrassment some 10 minutes later that we had been following the wrong Fiat Doblo ………. Ooops.

What to do?!?

We did not know exactly where the mix up had occurred so decided that we had only recently made the mistake with Marlon & Co disappearing down an alternative track. But then they would have waited at various points where it was less than obvious which way to go. And they were not. So back to the the main road where we sat for some 30 minutes opposite the petrol station where we thought that they had turned off. I suggested that Marlon and Cliff walked to the petrol station to discover at least where we were and how we would get to places that Marlon had mentioned to the crew in the other car. While they were busy making not much sense to the staff at the petrol station, Woody & Co appeared along the main road. They had realised that they had lost us, turned back, not knowing where they lost us, just as we were pursuing the ‘other dirt track’ option, so missed us. They had rightly expected us to sit tight at the last point where we lost contact and so, after not finding us after a reasonable time, came back to find us.

The whole sage could have been avoided if our walkie talkies had been working, but our batteries went flat because our set was left on overnight. New batteries were bought at the petrol station! (although they only had 3 sets of 2 and 4×2 were needed).

Cactus Stops today were S1474, S1475 and S1476. 

S1474 was another road cutting with the low side of the road providing Parodia linkii and P. oxycostata. A pattern was developing, at least for this area. Spectacular because of the numbers of plants and the fact that they were in flower – oh, and because our car had missed them completely! Tiredness etc blah blah  blah. Again, other field flowers including members of the Verbanaceae and Asteraceae families provided additional interest, colour and megabytes of images.

S1475 was a waterfall in a national park where a footpath guided us through an Araucaria forest with huge Bromeliads growing on the trunks of the trees. The other vegetation on these trunks included the cacti Lepismium houlletianum, Rhipsalis sp. and many other mosses, ferns and orchids. Wonderful views of the waterfall provided the overall setting. Just a shame that the visitor’s centre did not sell ice creams of cold drinks. We try to tell it like it is!

S1476 was for a stop from Marlon’s records for Parodia brevihamata, at least that was the name when he last visited this location. We’ll have to check the New Cactus Lexicon to check the name that is currently in fashion.

We found accommodation at Fazenda Pandorama just outside the touristy Cambara do Sul in a part of the main farm designed to sleep four. So Wiebe and I slept on mattresses on the floor of the lounge while Woody and John shared one bedroom and Cliff and Marlon the other bedroom. Both Wiebe & I are of the school of Martini Sleepers (Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere – from a UK Martini TV advert from the 1970s), so no problems obtaining the recommended seven hours of shut eye. Cliff, struggling with collapsing toilet seats, may tell a different story.

We finished the evening with a strangely out of place Swiss Fondue evening, washed down with volumes of beer. Great day, yet again! Will I ever get fed up with this way of life? I hope not.

Saturday, 31 October 2009 – around Lajeado

Today was different. We had been swapping people between the two cars to prevent the ‘two isolated car parties’ syndrome, that can lead to problems. Angie and I had so far been a permanent feature in ‘our’ car, but now that she had gone home, I joined Woody and John. As you know, I’m a cactus nut, but equally mad about music. In fact, I’d go mad if I had to spend long times without my music. To prevent this, I take an iPod on my trips loaded up with 27,277 ‘songs’, some are just tracks from CDs while others are complete albums (Albumwraps) or radio programs like the hour long Bob Dylan Theme Time Radio programs. So today I turned into DJ PK and made the car rock. Woody and John were putting in their requests, so we had, amongst others, Dion & the Belmonts, The Four Seasons, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the BeeGees and a string of Neil Young’s greatest at full volume as we bumped across the tracks of RGdS. We moaned in frustration when Marlon in the other car called a stop and could not wait to get back to the car for another music session. I’ll never forget the music aspect of today’s experiences.

The cactus content of today’s report got overlooked by the actual cactus activities and airport runs at the time. Marlon suggested another day around Lajeado and I’ll use the images of that day to tell the story of the three stops that we made.

The first stop of the day, S1471, was at a bridge over a river with those cliffs that we had come to recognise from yesterday’s leninghausii experience as potential cactus locations and sure enough, Marlon promised that after the usual hike through dense undergrowth between the river and the foot of the cliff, we should be able to see Parodia leninghausi‘s sister species, P. warasi. That just leaves P. claviceps as the only remaining species, in what used to be the genus Eriocactus, to be found. Marlon reports that the habitat of P claviceps has been destroyed through the building of a dam. The plants drowned in the lake that was formed to generate electricity. We hope to visit the site later on the trip and hope to explore to see if there are any nearby survivors. Other cacti spotted here are Lepismium cruciforme, Lepismium warmingianum, Cereus hildmannianus, and Rhipsalis sp. growing alongside Begonia sp, Oxalis sp. and a host of unidentified plants that are of little interest to cactologists.

S1472 was a similar walk to the previous hike, except that this time the dense vegetation was replaced by a ploughed field with huge boulders. The field had already been planted with tobacco plants and we wanted to be careful not to damage the crop. Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun – and cactoholics from any corner of the planet!. When we reached the base of the steep cliff, we could see the plants hanging above us, but not the large clumps like the P. warasi at the previous site and the P. magnificus earlier. These were individual globular plants the size of an orange, some reaching grapefruit size. Nicely white spined and some with red flowers. Now to get to them without killing ourselves. At one stage, John, Woody and I were perched on a narrow ledge. OK, so it was ‘only’ 10 m. down, but a fall would likely have killed or severely injured us. Only cactusmaniacs …..

There was also a nice Dyckia sp. here – Marlon has promised to provide names in due course, and Sinningia (loads of these around), popular with hummingbirds. And if I only new the names for the hundreds of species of field flowers that we have seen on our strip I could do a complete presentation on these alone – what diversity compared to a walk in nature in the UK! Or do I just keep my eyes shut there in the knowledge that I won’t see cacti?

S1473 was simply a road cutting with the 3 m high sides covered in yellow flowers: P. linkii and P. oxycostata with Marlon giving lessons on how to distinguish the two: flower size, stigma colour, rib count and form etc. First we became super lumpers, giving them all the same, then, adopting German accents, became super splitters, observing the minute differences in spine counts etc between individual plants that can give rise to ‘new discoveries’ named after friends.

We arrived back in Lajeado exhausted before making another run to the restaurant complex in the nearby shopping centre where we pigged out on meat washed down with generous quantities of beer and cola. 

Friday, 30 October 2009 – Lajeado to Porto Alegre and back

Today was Angie’s last day in Brazil – the last fourteen days had simply flown by. The cacti had been great and she had managed to see most of the recognised taxa of her favourite Frailea as well as a good selection of the Notocactus group in the genus Parodia.

But Marlon had a surprise in store. We were less than an hour’s drive from the nursery of Kurt Ingo Horst in the small town of Imigrante and there would be time to fit in the visit before Cliff and I would drive her to the Airport. Great!

Better news still, when we arrived, Kurt Ingo suggested that we’d have time to drive to the best site for seeing Parodia (Eriocactus) leninghausii  We left Kojak tires and the attached Fiat Doblo at the nursery and had a comfortable drive to a hill 300 m above Kurt Ingo’s nursery in his Chevrolet 4×4. Woody struggled to keep up in the other Doblo, but made it to a small farm of a friend of Kurt Ingo’s, where we left the car and went on by foot, first along a level mud track, with Begonias in flower between the grass. Then one of Kurt Ingo’s assistants, armed with a large machete took the lead and hacked a path for us through thick vegetation.

??? announced that we had arrived and through a gap in the vegetation, we could see them: huge stems of P. leninghausii growing from the steep cliff face. Seeing them here in their natural habitat explains their habit of tilting their apex to one side – towards the sun and away from the cliff face.

Kurt Ingo gave us a quick demonstration before I was the first to try my hand at abseiling down the cliff. OK, so it was only 10 m at most to the ledge from where I was able to take shots all around, touching the plants while trying not to dislodge them. But it would have been at least 100m farther down if the ropes had not held! Then it was Woody’s turn, followed by John and Wiebe. Cliff and Angie decided to act as official photographers and probably have the best pictures of our combined ‘acts of heroism.’ It certainly was a great experience to add to the growing list of unusual ways to see cacti in habitat. As always, what we see as a group we share with the group so that everyone will have a complete set of pics of the ‘Leninghausii Experience’.

We returned to the village of Imigrante and after lunch and another visit to Kurt Ingo’s nursery, it was time for Angie to say her goodbyes and for Cliff & I to drive her to the airport. The day had more than made up for yesterday’s disappointment and will be remembered for a long time.

After over two hours of driving on increasingly busy roads (it was building up to Friday afternoon rush hour in Porto Alegre) we arrived to the wonderful air conditioning of the airport. Cliff and I looked at each other, knowing that temperature wise we had more to come in Minas Gerais and Bahia.

We arrived back at our hotel in Lajeado at eight, having made a wrong turn driving out of the airport. We knew where we wanted to go, but the stream of traffic just made it impossible without running the risk of causing a major accident, so we took the wrong turn and made the next ‘Retorneo’ but got stuck in a jam caused by a car trying to drive over a motor cyclist.

Tomorrow the smaller party continues our adventure. Only ten more weeks before Cliff and I follow Angie’s example and fly back to the UK.