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Sunday 9 November 2014 – MEX to LHR

The flight eventually left some 45 minutes late, but while I was asleep, just waking up for food & drinks, we had made up enough time to arrive ahead of schedule, until we hit Heathrow airspace where we were told there was an (air) traffic jam, so that we ended up being some 15 minutes late arriving. As I had checked in my luggage (15.7 kg including souvenirs as opposed to just 11.6 kg on the LHR – MEX flight!) relatively early in Mexico City, it seemed fair that the First In – Last Out system appeared to be in use – well not really last, but there were only some half a dozen folk waiting when my bag rolled onto the belt.

I had asked Angie to bring a camera for the usual image of me emerging through the Arrival Gate for the usual ‘last image of the trip’ shot, but was sad that there was no sign of her.

When she appeared, some ten minutes later, she explained that she had been tracking the flight on-line and so had learned of my delayed departure which seemed to persist through out the flight, only to jump to the new arrival time when it was too late, plus getting stuck in her own traffic jam, on the M25. In her rush to leave home she had also forgotten the camera, so I just looked like an out of place Midnight Cowboy character. The benefit was that Angie’s delay resulted in the lowest airport car park charge that I can remember – just £3.

PS

Since returning home I’ve thrown myself into updating Google Earth with the GPS coordinates photographed on our SatNav at the start of each stop – when I remembered – and making a list of where I forgot, hoping that Alain was more conscientious in recording such stop info. It also appeared that I had ‘lost’ or ‘misplaced’ all images of 19 October, but I managed to find it in the ‘wrong’ location which happened as I was backing up all my images on to my HD as I was waiting to at the airport.

I had thought that I might have had to wait until my new laptop charger had arrived (the original was left at T1, at Mexico International Airport), but fortunately the files had not been lost in transit.

I’ve also given Angie a few viewings of what we saw, confirming that it will again be hard to select the best 400 images for 2015 presentations.

And work has started on ‘The Cactus Trip Diaries – Mexico 2014 pt 2’, another Blurb self published work that I enjoy having as my own personal souvenir of each trip.

As you can see, I’ve been busy enough to be almost unaware of the rain that has been steadily coming down since arriving in autumn sunshine on Sunday. Angie appears to have done a great job of looking after my Cacti & Succulent Plant Collection during my absence and we’ve been on shopping expedition to find suitable hangers for my ever growing collection of Stetsons / sombreros / etc. as I tend to buy one during each trip.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Plans are for a trip to give talks in California in February and for a trip back to Mexico, to explore for cacti in the states of Pueblo and Oaxaca in March 2015, a first for me, so each cactus seen will be a novelty for me. But first there are 10 days in Cologne at Angie’s Mum to look forward to, with visits to the Christmas Markets.

Cheers

PK

Friday 7 November 2014 – around San Miguel de Allende

When planning one of our trips it is important to plan for the unexpected – the flight home waits for no-one.

In March 2014 we had scheduled our reserve day for an extra night at Vizarron. The hotel facilities suited us and their were interesting plants to see or re-visit a month after we had seen them on arrival.

Walking around the town of San Miguel de Allende we agreed that this was a much nicer place to spend our last night in Mexico. There were no interesting cacti reported from the area, sometimes due to the fact that there are none to be found, sometimes due to the lack of exploration by people travelling to or from Mexico International Airport, some 250 km away.

Today we enjoyed more of a sight seeing holiday, with Alain and I enjoying gentle strolls through the town with regular ‘pit-stops’ at charming little cafe / restaurants, photographing streets and churches in the busy streets – it was surprising how many American and European languages we could hear around us and how many people working in the shops and eateries helpfully switched to good English when we tried out our improving Spenglish.

Souvenirs were added to our luggage – I had spare weight allowance and bought yet another brightly coloured blanket that would add colour to some of the surfaces in my conservatory once the plants return to their outside spots when Spring returns next year.

The huge Parroquia San Miguel Arcangel church dominates the Jardin Allende, a Plaza planted up with clipped ficus trees that provide shade for the people engaged in watching other people, moving on to the cafe restaurants around the square for refreshments or a main meal. And so our sightseeing became a bit of a pub crawl, with visits back to the near by hotel to check on a recovering Bart and to drop off our souvenir purchases.

That night there was a parade on the Plaza with two or three giant puppets were followed around the centro of town, followed by a fully dressed up Mariachi band.

Once the band returned to the square, they serenaded a couple with a small baby on the terrace of the restaurant where we had just finished dinner, providing the perfect opportunity to film their performance of two songs as a perfect ending to another trip.

Thursday 6 November 2014 – San Jose Iturbide to San Miguel de Allende

It’s only an hour’s ride on asphalt to San Miguel de Allende, the town made famous in cactology as the place where Charlie Glass inspired and set up the project often referred to as C.A.N.T.E., known here as El Charco del Ingenio Jardin Botanico. I was also keen to see the place where in the 1990’s Brian Thomson, a friend from the UK, had spent a number of months as a volunteer to help Charlie teach Mexicans the basics of cactus horticulture, including the art of grafting.  Brian’s health is not so good these days so I hope he’ll enjoy the pictures once I get home.

I had heard that the place was on a down ward spiral in recent years, but was pleasantly surprised to find the car park full with a better than expected number of visitors, including a group of visitors from the UK – was it Nottingham or Northampton Branch – there goes my memory again! Not a bad branch outing!

All the plants were well labelled, but some of the smaller plants looked a little lost in the tall grass – very au natural, but perhaps a better maintenance standard is expected in a botanic garden. It’s easy to be critical during a one off visit, but similar comments were heard from UK, US and Australian visitors as I walked through the garden. A group of school kids in uniform on a school outing shows that the place is also used educationally to help people to learn about their local plants and their uses. An interesting stop to a place that I had heard and read much about over the years.

Main plant house, well maintained with interesting cacti and other succulents.

Main plant house, well maintained with interesting cacti and other succulents.

We found three single rooms for the last two nights to enable us to get a good night’s sleep and do a final repack before Saturday’s flight home in the centre of town – a bit noisy until the music in a near by bar was switched off around 4 a.m., but as usual I was fast asleep as my head hit the pillow around 22:00 hrs.

Bart spent the afternoon resting while Alain and I, armed with our cameras took a stroll through the very scenic and touristy town – many Americans but also European tourists seem to enjoy a taste of Mexico so close to Mexico City. I heard Dutch spoken on the cafe terraces as we made a pub crawl from bar to bar to escape the heat of the sun and even spotted a car with an ‘I love Middelburg’ sticker, but with Mexican plates. Some one else who had managed to swap cold wet European winters for the Meican sun shine?

 

Tuesday 4 November 2014 – Rio Verde to San Jose Iturbide

Ramos Arizpe and San Luis de La Paz tie for my least favourite Mexican towns – they are noisy and messy and I can’t wait to get out. SLdLP at least has the redeeming feature that Hotel Parras had improved significantly when we visited last March compared to April 2011. So we made for the hotel with some optimism, only to be disappointed to learn that there were no vacancies. A monument in the reception area suggested that the husband of the lady who had appeared to run the hotel may have died. Very sorry. So on to Hotel San Juan next door, where a minivan with American Mexicans were just ‘down loading’ all their luggage – no sorry – full up! There are 6 hotels recognised by SatNav, plus one Motel, which we chose to ignore. Some of these were closed and the others turned out to be hostals with shared bathroom and toilet facilities – no thanks.

With daylight fading fast we drove the 26 km south to San Jose Iturbide that claimed to have four hotels and which appears to be much quieter and less noisy, with beds found at Hotel Rhodes. We missed the nice restaurant after stuffing ourselves with savoury torts – kind of bread rolls with bacon, cheese and pineapple – a sort of ‘pizza in a roll’. Bart and Alain had managed to find a liqor store where more Chilean wine was purchased together with some beer and the nasty cane sugar alcohol that Alain, Cliff and Ian used to drink with Coca Cola, a diabetic nightmare! Still, we have another visit to Turbinicarpus alonsoii to look forward to tomorrow.

But back to today. We said goodbye to ‘the other car’ – Ian and Sarda Woolnough and Cliff Thompson, who were driving back to Vizarron today for a drive to the airport on Wednesday for their flight home. Let’s hope that Cliff manages to change his flight, as he was supposed to be on my flight on Saturday night.

We must have followed the same road south, but some time apart, as we also came across the turned over truck mentioned in Ian’s report, also managing to squeeze past. Soon afterwards the traffic seemed to dry up behind us, so perhaps they decided to close the road to let the emergency services through.

We too took the road to Penamiller, but then carried on and found a better than expected road to San Luis de La Paz. I recorded three stops – one for a collection of topes (sleeping policemen) signs and then the video of us approaching, slowing down and crossing the hump. The second was a pitstop along the road where Agave attenuata was growing from the rocks alongside the road, as well as a probable Echeveria (S3210) and S3211 was made to encourage us to stretch our legs, with my back now nicely ceased up. Not a huge amount of cacti to boast about except a little cactus garden growing epiphytically on a tree trunk. If anyone can identify the Mammillaria …….(just one response, thanks to Juergen Menzel who suggested Mammillaria decipiens subsp camptotricha.

This Mammillaria sp joined the rankls of epiphetic cacti at S3211

This Mammillaria decipiens subsp camptotricha joined the ranks of epiphetic cacti at S3211

Sunday 2 November 2014 – Aramberri to Tula

After last night’s great stop, S3200, where we found a very variable selection of Ariocarpus (A. confusus), we had high hopes to continue the theme with another stop at a location where these Ariocarpus had been reported from, near La Escondida (S3201). Here the range of flower colours had been reported to include yellow and yellow-with-pink-tips to the petals. We had no problem finding the hillside, right along the side of MEX 61, but failed to find ANY Ariocarpus at all on hill, and the one behind it and the hills to the left and the right of our target location, which in itself seems a bit odd as just about every hillside here seems to support Ariocarpus plants – still, never mind!

There were many Echinocactus platyacanthus here and many of these had been badly damaged, some by animals (Donkeys? Goats? Cattle?) while others looked to be damaged by disease. Could such a disease have whiped out the Ariocarpus here?

There were still plenty of other cacti to see, with of course Opuntia and Cylindropuntia as always omnipresent in large numbers. I was quite excited to find a small cactus where the stem was very thin just above the ground, broadening to a normal globular plant. Might this be ‘Gymnocactus subterraneae’? Pictures were taken, just in case. Moving on, I then found similar plants, but larger, resembling Neolloydia conoidea, so that my small plant was probably nothing more than a juvenile plant of this taxon. It does seem that Neolloydia are much more variable than I had appreciated – something to look into back home on cold winter evenings.

Just as at S3200 yesterday, there was a large presence of Thelocactus connoideus around. If I’m ever back here in spring, they’d be worth a stop when in flower. And to cheer Alain up, there were some more ‘Red Devils’ (Ferocactus pilosus) hiding among the shrubbery, even though the plants were up to 2 m tall.

Time to move on and as we approached the turning to Sandia and La Solidad that we had missed last time that we drove by here, the walkie talkie crackled and Ian offered to take us to the site that they had found on that occasion, where large Thelocacti grew (S3202). T. conothelos subsp argenteus has been reported from here and pictures in John Pilbeam’s Thelocactus book seem to match what we saw. Others used to name T. macdowellii, but this plant is reported from farther north, near Monterrey, and the one large plant that I have owned and killed under that name had finer supination and formed a clump while the plants that I saw here were all large solitary heads, with one offsetting exception. More things to look up!

For completeness sake I should mention Mammillaria formosa and Echinocereus enneacanthus, plants often found at our stops but not always mentioned. Another Echinocereus here was what I’ll call E. pectinatus with beautiful fine spination. Talking of things I need to look up: how can I tell E. pectinatus from E. riggidissimus from E. reichenbachii in habitat? Geographical taxonomy?

Echinocereus pectinatus ? (S3202)

Echinocereus pectinatus ? (S3202)

We had deicided to take the ‘back road’ from Dr. Arroyo to Tula, as Ian’s map described it as a ‘big yellow’ road, but turned out to be a variable dirt track which did not help my back at all – yep, the disc popped again.

The last two stops were therefore ‘leg stretch’ stops with nothing new seen.

Friday 31 October – Concepcion Del Oro to Matehuala

Friday 31 October – Concepcion Del Oro to Matehuala

Today confirmed my opinion from 2011 that Zacatecas was a fairly boring flat part of Mexico with few plants to enthuse a cactophile, with perhaps, as an exception, Stenocactus multicostatus, which as Echinocactus zacatecensis as a synonym, used to regularly pop up in cactus quizes as the cactus taxon with the longest binomial name. Even if contestants knew the answer, few were willing to risk its pronounciation, but is that a good reason for dropping the name?

I believe that all of us were quite pleased to leave the roadside ‘hotel & restaurant’ behind us. What seemed a reasonable place to pull into as we passed it late at night (i.e. after sunset) seemed preferable to driving into an unknown town where, based on our sight of the huge open cast mine during the previous afternoon brought back memories of Chile where occasionally we would find mining towns with no accommodation available with all rooms pre-booked by the local mines, whether they were occupied or not. The Friday of a public holiday weekend, Dia de Muertas – Halloween in the UK or as the religious holiday of Todos Santos – All Saints Day in the UK.

The wifi signal in the hotel was not strong enough to stream data through to Google Earth to check my data to see what cacti might be found here, so we headed south along MEX 54 towards the State capital, Zacatecas. At San Burcio we turned east onto MEX 62 and soon decided to make a comfort call at S3196 or had it been planned? Back home, writing up my notes after the trip, I see that this stop coincides with the only cactus data for the area with Ariocarpus retusus and Lophophora williamsii reported from 400 m. away (and probably found here by Ian who, with greater fitness that reflects his younger years, covers more distance than ‘the old gits’) – the reported plants were just 400 m away on the same hillside. On the plus side, as I tend to record any cactus taxon found at a stop, we were able to add many more taxa to this area, even if their name for now might just be limited to ‘sp.’ But the long long stretches of dead straight roads were for me the most memorable feature here.

The list of cacti that I photographed here , mainly as ‘for the record’ images consists of:
Ferocactus pilosus, three different Opuntia, including O. microdasys, two Coryphantha including C. pseudoechinus, two Mammillaria, including M. formosa, and Cylindropuntia imbricata as well as Agave, Yucca and Tradescantia sp., indicating that there is often more to an area, cactus-wise, than the database suggests.

We crossed the border from Zacatecas into San Luis Potosi where we stopped to add Lophophora williamsii to the list of plants photographed at S3197 and, closer to Matehuala, at S3198 it was a similar list again.

Thursday 30 October 2014 – General Cepeda to Concepcion del Oro

No, I had not forgotten about today! Some days we either have no time to put pen to paper (i.e. fingers to the keyboard) while on days like today, the rumoured wifi is just not up to the task of writing and publishing the blog. Tonight was such a night, so I’m writing this missive sitting in front of the telly in the comfort of my living room in cold(ish) wet and dark England, from memory, which my friends and travel companions frequently remind me is not as good as it used to be, Fortunately I can’t remember how good my memory might have been or when. That’s life!

So today’s notes are prepared by using the  133 images taken at seven brief stops as we took a look at for us unknown territory as we entered the Mexican State of Zacatecas. There was not much I knew about this state, apart that a cactus named after this State used to feature in in C&S quizzes as the cactus taxon with the longest binomial name: Echinofossulocactus zacatecasensis, before it was re-classified as a Stenocactus. Many quiz masters must have heaved a sigh of relief. I wonder what the longest binomial cactus name is today, and for how long.

Why are we here? At Ian’s request, to try and see an ‘Echinomastus’ species so probably a Sclerocactus these days. Trouble was that he could not remember the plant’s name, did not know what it looked like, except that it had beautiful central spines and did not know exactly where it grew, other than ‘on flat lands around Cedros in the State of Zacatecas. Did we find it? May be. I spotted a plant that I could not ID, called over my fellow experts and had no choice but accept the general opinion that my plant was ‘just’ a Coryphantha species. Since then I discovered a website dedicated to the genus Echinomastus and found the Echinomastus gallery run by Christophe Ludwig from Soufflenheim, France that contains a large number of pictures of  images of grafted pot grown plants, raised from ex-habitat material. Some of these look as though their names could be candidates for the plant I saw. Then again, it could just be it is ‘just’ a Coryphantha. Judge for yourself: Christophe’s website is at http://cludwigfr.dyndns.org/gallery.asp?d=%5CEchinomastus&p= and the plant that I photographed in a large flat area near Cedros, Zacatecas is shown below.

Did I find an Echinomastus sp or 'just' a Coryphantha sp at Cedros, ZAC?

Did I find an Echinomastus sp or ‘just’ a Coryphantha sp at Cedros, ZAC? (S3193)

So what about the other six stops?

S3189 was near General Cepeda, COAH where we looked for Ariocarpus retusus ‘furfuraceus’

S3190 was off MEX54, the Saltillo to Zacatecas Highway, near San Juan del Retiro where I photographed a Mam. sp, Echinocactus platyacanthus, Coryphantha sp, Mam. pottsii, Fouqueria splendens (no leaves), Ariocarpus retusus, in flower, but with most of the petals nibbled off, Sclerocactus (Ancistrocactus) uncinatus and Echinocereus enneacanthus,

S3191 near  Bonanza, where we hummed and whistled the theme tune of the Western series from the 1960s and saw the same plants again, plus Opuntia microdasys plus Stenocactus sp.

S3192 near Matamoros with Cylindropuntia sp,, Opuntia sp., Echinocereus enneacanthus, huge Ferocactus pilosus, and where Cliff managed to get an Acacia spine stuck in one of the tyres. A Vulka was soon found and when the thorn was pulled out of the tyre, it soon took on the flat appearance that required some patching up. The problem was quickly fixed and with the trip now over, I can reveal that this was the only puncture between our two cars during the 5319 km that our car covered, with the other car doing a bit less, as the occupants had to return three days earlier. Not bad compared to the number of punctures reported by others!

S3194 was for a snake that those in the lead car saw being run down by an oncoming motorbike. The snake was taking a breather and seemed just dazed. We were not risking getting too close, just in case it wanted to take revenge.

S3195 was near Mazapil, off the Concepcion Del Oro to Tecoclotes road. SatNav was very confused here as it seems that all roads had been altered here recently when gold was found here. The controversial development by a Canadian Mining company sees them accused of exploitation of the poor local farmers. It seems that they are prepared for tempers to flare up as there were armed guards all round the long perimeter.

We stayed in a truck stop hotel restaurant on the MEX54. At least the restaurant claimed to have wifi.