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Saturday, 27 February 2016 – Amesbury to LA

After a couple of months of dark and often wet weather we’re off!

Nice bright sky as Peter drove us to T3 at Heathrow Airport without any hold ups. Although we had a BA Flight Number, we were directed to the American Airlines desk for check in. Who are they kidding with these multi numbered-all on one plane deals and of course every provider with a different price ticket.

During the online check in process we found that Angie and I had been allocated seats at opposite ends of the plane. Not a problem as I tend to sleep most of the way while Angie plays computer games to pass the time. But neither of us had the sought after aisle seats that allows me to stretch my 6ft 4 frame along the isles and so trip up the air hostesses while Angie avoids climbing over people on her way to the toilets. We could change seats, but at £54 per person (and no doubt again on the way back) you have to draw the line somewhere. We did change seats so that we were at least sitting next to each other – me next to the window and Angie on my deaf side. At take off, the aisle seat next to Angie was still empty so a swift game of musical chairs saw her next to the aisle and the central seat empty for stretching. Great! and all for free.

We arrived at LAX two minutes early; this was all going very smoothly, until …. we hit immigration! Lots of signage to say that US Citizens and folks like us with ESTA approval could go to the automated control stations, except that there, a man directed all non-US passport holders to the ‘visitors stations’. This coincided with the arrival of a number of mega airliners from China so that we still had to endure the mega-shuffle to the manned kiosks where eventually we were welcomed into the US. That was the first 75 minutes on US soil.

Eunice was there to meet us, having anticipated the queueing. We loaded our luggage in Elsie, her Land Cruiser that had been our home on various trips since 2008 and headed to Dollar Rent-a-car as this was the only car rental firm in California as far as we were told that allows rented cars to be taken into Mexico, at an additional cost of US$ 27.50 per day. The rate had changed from US$ 15 in 2008, but comparing total rental cost with those in Mexico were still slightly cheaper.

While queuing an irate customer came in, loudly insisting on seeing the Manager. She had paid for an SUV, only to find that there were none to be had! Slight concern, as that was the type of car that we needed.

After completing the pile of paper work – during which the strongly recommended International Driving Permit and the new Unique Driving Licence number for UK drivers were NOT required, off we went to find a car.

The lady had been right. Their stock was down to – (yes, minus!) 36! We could wait until the next car was returned, checked and cleaned inside and out, expected to take another hour OR take a KIA van: similar size to an SUV but no 4×4 and less clearance. I negotiated to take one so that we could at least go to the Naples Rib Factory where last year I had enjoyed one of the best steaks, washed down with a Blue Cadillac Margarita. These trips are not all about food and drink, but there are standards to maintain! We could swap this for an SUV at San Diego the next morning. We had to pick Jonathan Clark up at SD, so the car swap was not too much of an inconvenience.

The steak was excellent. We even got a US$ 10 discount voucher to celebrate the fact that we had visited them 12 months earlier!

One month and we’re off again!

We may be enjoying one of the warmest / mildest winters on record, but give me a bright sunny day with a light frost any day!

In exactly one month Angie and I will be flying to LAX to meet up with Eunice Thompson and introduce Angie to the delights of a Prime Rib at the Naples Prime Rib Factory, exactly where we left off on my last visit to California in 2015.

The next day we head south to meet up with Jonathan Clark again, who has also caught the ‘seeing cacti in habitat bug’.

The four of us will head across the border into Baja. Our goal is a visit to Isla Cerralvoa / Jacques Cousteau  Island.

On the way, our goals include:

  • Photographing Cochemiea maritima
  • Visiting the habitat of the monstrose form of Stenocereus (Lophophocereus) schottii, the Totem pole Cactus
  • Showing Jonathan the various taxa of Ferocactus in Baja

We’ll return to Alto California a few days before flying back to England after recording some aerial film clips of the Anza Borrego Desert State Park and meeting up with friends at a meeting of the Los Angeles Cactus & Succulent Society.

As usual, I aim to bring you daily notes, health, wealth and Internet access permitting, on these pages. Once back home, some 30 presentations will keep me busy for the summer.

I hope again that you’ll follow our adventures here. Once back in the UK I will clean up the text and add images and produce a book version of the adventures.

By the way, the book version of the Chile 2015 trip can now be viewed and bought at http://www.blurb.co.uk/b/6792181-the-cactus-trip-diaries-chile-2015

Enjoy!

Change of URL

Dear readers,

Please note that the URL for the Cactus Trip Diaries has changed to

http://pkcactus.info

The reason for the change is that I wanted to be able to include videos on the Blog and that required an upgrade (and payment) to the Premium Account and offered a free Domain name as a bonus.

I expect that your subscription to The Cactus Trip Diaries will continue seamlessly and will use this first new message since the change to check that notifications continue without glitches.

Next challenge: learn what formats video files need to be in to be accepted on the Blog.

Ultimately I want to check if it is possible to include my full 45 minute presentations for this and previous trips on the blog, so that my audience for presentations can increase without me having to travel great distances to and from the presentation locations. Should also benefit your local Cactus & Succulent Societies as they save on my travel expenses. I might have to review past presentations to include a voice over. What would be required to view these for a club evening would be a venue that is able to receive a wifi signal, a computer connected to the wifi link and plugged in to a digital projector. I expect it to be a process of trail and error, but as my Dad used to say: ‘You need to have the dream to turn it into a vision to work out what needs to be done to achieve it!’

Happy dreaming!

Wednesday 19 August 2015 – BCSS Somerset Branch

Another one of my regular annual appearances. For some reason I tend to refer to them as ‘Taunton Branch’ as they meet in the town by that name, in the County of Somerset. I’m due back again next year, assuming that travel plans do not get in the way.

BCSS Somerset Branch - Taunton

BCSS Somerset Branch – Taunton

As usual this year Part 1 of tonight’s presentation was ‘Presentations – Australian Succulenticon in Brisbane and February C&S Society meetings in California and Nevada’ and introduced the audience through my new hobby – pottery, inspired by seeing excellent plants in great pots at the USA meetings.

The Monthly Table Show (top left table in the background) featured a most unusual entry. Yes, it was in a plastic point but it would have been to check its pot size. The cardboard wrapping was aimed at protecting the plant in transit – the Crassula’s leaf was covered in attractive white farina. However, getting the plant into the box had proven more difficult than expected and its owner decided against taking the plant out of the box without damaging both plant and box. I awarded him second prize, even if under strict BCSS Rules I should perhaps have disqualified the entry. I believe that his effort to bring in the very nice plant should be awarded and checked with the Show Secretary that this was OK. I wonder if the plant had been potted in a heavier ceramic pot, reducing the risk of the pot toppling over, the cardboard box might have been redundant.

Table show entry I did not see a Novelty Pot class!

          Table show entry
I did not see a Novelty Pot class!

Friday 14 August 2015 – BCSS Waltham Forest Branch

I am not quite sure when I first gave a presentation at Waltham Forest. I know that at the time I had to look up the address on Google Maps and was pleasantly surprised that although it was a fair distance away from home, I should be able to get back home at a reasonable time, some two and a half hours.

The journey from home was the usual night mare to be expected on a Friday afternoon on the M3 and M25, the London ring road. It took 5 hours and I arrived 10 minutes after the members had opened the hall, leaving 20 minutes to set up – ample time. It should take much less time to get home on empty roads.

Not this time! Just 45 minutes away from home, on the M3, we were unceremoniously directed off the motorway. I lost the diversion signs after the third roundabout with SatNav being very sure that I should go back and pick up the blocked road again.

BCSS Waltham Forest Branch

                                                BCSS Waltham Forest Branch

Tuesday 11 August 2015 – BCSS Stoke-on-Trent Branch

As in previous years, my second ‘gig’ of this mini tour of The Potteries took me to Stoke-on-Trent where a friend of many years, Maurice Williams would be my host. The number of glasshouses had greatly increased since my last visit a few years ago. The main feature was still a large collection of Matucana. There were many plants that looked very similar but with large labels recording many of the locations where the ex-habitat plants had come from – very mature plants from the days when it was still legal to import such plants and younger plants raised from ex-habitat seed a real collection aimed at studying the plants and to learn the similarities and affinities between the taxa and how to distinguish each from the other. I have a similar, but much smaller collection given to me by my good friend Bart Hensel from the Netherlands.

As is the case with most hobby collections the rarest thing to find is ‘Space’ Although I have visited Peru, they area where we travelled south of the capital Lima, the Matucana occur farther to the north and to the east. Another good friend, Leo van der Hoeven, had shown me pictures of his Peru adventures, one of which had been with Maurice, so I was at least in broad terms familiar with the genus and its habitat.

I grow my plants outside from mid-May to late September / early October, depending on when I set out on my own cactus adventures. During the winter, the whole collection is squeezed into my conservatory where the display crates are placed on racks, 3 to 5 shelves high with every other window panel able to tilt or fully open to provide plenty of air circulation as and when the weather allows. My new pottery hobby encouraged me to combine a stock take with an exercise of moving some plants from sometimes oversized plastic pots and trays into smaller ceramic pots. When I looked at the dozen or more Matucana haynei and M. weberbaueri taking up my display trays and wondered how they would all fit back into the Conservatory in months to come. I decided to surprise Maurice and make him a gift of these plants. Sadly, most had lost their labels – not important for an expert who had grown the many plants in the genus for many year. Sadly, with the names, the all important habitat data had also gone. Still, Maurice had soon found enough space to give my gift (originally Bart’s gift) a good home and once thoroughly studied might join the sales plants and perhaps benefit the Branch.

After a nice bite to eat at the local Toby Carvery we thought that we might be pushing it a bit, arriving at 19:10, but in fact turned out to be 20 minutes early.

Again the What I Saw Last Winter turned out to be a great success and resulted for another visit this time next year that I was happy to accept, subject to my travel plans falling into place.

BCSS Stoke-on-Trent branch

       BCSS Stoke-on-Trent branch

After the meeting we returned to Maurice’s where he impressed me with a nice bottle of Italian wine – I normally prefer Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon or Argentinian Malbec must will readily admit that I am by no means a wine buff and that much of the pleasure comes from the memories of visits to the countries where the wines hail from.

As the sun was now in a better angle we returned to Maurices greenhouses where it seemed that not only had his collection grown, but also the range of plants that now included Ariocarpus, Thelocactus and Stenocactus/Echinofossulocactus, many with ex-habitat information before setting off on my journey back to Wiltshire.

Maurice Williams and part of his collection of Matucana

Maurice Williams and part of his collection of Matucana

Monday 10 August 2015 – BCSS Macclesfield Branch

BCSS Macclesfield Branch

                                   BCSS Macclesfield Branch

The Macclesfield Branch is the first of my annual trip to the Potteries – an appropriate name given my new found interest in pottery, related of course to cactus pots.

It just so happens that my recommended supplier of clays is Valentine Clays who are based in Stoke-on-Trent. They were extremely helpful when I returned from my little speaking tour in California, where I picked up the Pottery bug and after some research came up with suitable clays available in the UK that compared to the clays used in California by Tom Glavitch who was kind enough to give me some insights to making the pots he makes. ‘It really is no rocket science!’ he told me, before admitting that he work at the Mars Project for NASA. However, he is not on the rocket building side! He also warned me that the first 1,000 pots that I’d make would not be good enough to use, but probably due to the teaching of our private potter in the UK, Jennie Gilbert, my first eight efforts have all proved good enough for me to use for plants in my own collection.

So it comes as no surprise that I made a quick visit to Valentine Clays to buy a special clay that I had seen a sample of at their Exeter distributor. Time only allowed a brief visit but it was good to check out the place as it is a small but well stocked industrial unit rather than a large shop and showroom where I could have shopped for pottery tools and some of the pottery samples displayed on their website. I had planned to come back on the way home if there had been any exciting browsing facilities.

I arrived at my hosts for the night, Margaret and Alasdair Glenn. One of the nice aspects of my presentations is the great hospitality I am treated to at every branch. I really don’t want to single out any one in particular as I’m bound to overlook somebody but will mention any special collections that I come across and where I obtain permission to share the experience – not everyone is willing to show off their plants – unfortunately there have been some incidents where plants have been stolen.

The next day Margaret and Alasdair take me around some member collections and this time, as often in the past, we visited the collection of Chair Person Julia. She has a large Auracaria tree in her garden and in the past had given me fruits (or are they seeds?)  that sadly failed to germinate. This time I was given some seeds that had already germinated in the tray where they had been left and forgotten after coming from the tree. They have been potted and look to be enjoying life.

These visits are often followed by lunch at a nearby pub. This time, due to a comedy of errors I lost contact with the lead car, turned back to Julia’s who had already disappeared. The nearest pub/restaurant with the same name was reported by SatNav to be 51 miles away – so clearly not where we supposed to lunch. I do not possess a mobile phone, so had no numbers to contact or anything to contact them with – phone boxes have all but disappeared and if found are usually vandalised.

So I resolved to go to my next contact point in the hope that he would be home so early – he was!