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Archive for the ‘USA – California 2010’ Category

Monday, 22 March, 2010 – Bellflower, CA to Tucson, AZ

Today was a typical driving day. There were no photo stops and no pictures taken. We started the day with a car shuffle so that eventually John’s car was parked behind Eunice’s Landcruiser while we were away. We then needed to return the bus that Eunice had rented in San Diego for the final stage of the Baja Trip, so once again we made our way to Dollar in San Diego, next to the infamous Motel-at-the-end-of-the-runway.

It has also almost become tradition to make a slight detour to Fry’s, the huge electronics warehouse, east of San Diego, for some shopping for last minute ‘essentials’. For me, this included a gadget that I can plug into the cigarette lighter of the car and which then powers my laptop – a DC/DC voltage converter, I believe. This has already proven very useful as I now do the first stint of driving during the day, with John taking the middle slice and Eunice finishing the last part of the journey. By that time I have rotated to the rear passenger seat where I can plug in my lap top and start down loading my images of the day. That means that on arrival at the hotel I can join the others straight at the bar, rather than first completing the image down-load. It has also given me a chance to slowly catch up with the Diaries. All I need is a reliable internet connection to post them.

So finally, around midday I believe, we were ready to head east, to Tucson, for our first night of the 2010 Mexicothon.

Sunday, 21 March, 2010 – Carlsbad to LAX

Today, the last day before returning to Japan, there was more shopping on the agenda, this time at the nursery of Petra Crist. But first a visit to the private Haworthia collection of Bob Kent (S1771)

Again, the main interest here were Haworthia and again many magnificent specimen were photographed, including many hybrids, some the result of selective crosses, others presents from Mother Nature as hummingbirds and insects had used their own selection criteria. All too soon it was time to say thank you and goodbye, or hopefully ‘see you again’ as I hope to take Angie to California in Spring 2011.

S1772 is for our visit to Petra Crist’s Rare Succulents nursery. Mainly ‘other succulents’, rather than cacti. Petra and Eunice are good friends and I had met her at various shows and C&S meetings in previous years, so it was nice to see her nursery at last. There was a nice azure blue Pilosocereus and the largest Stenocactus coptogonus that I have ever seen, both in flower.

Petra had laid on a very welcome lunch of sushi snacks and Eunice sacrificed one of her Julian apple pies. Next we had to complete a number of missions in a  short time: take the Japanese party to their hotel at LAX where they checked in and dropped off their luggage; pick up John Bleck, our travel companion for the coming weeks; have our last sushi meal this time in restaurant Katsu in Manhattan Beach – I’m getting a real taste for raw fish! -; say our goodbye-and-see-you-agains and apologise for not having learned more Japanese words; pick up our next rental car from Dollar at LAX (a nice green Jeep Grand Cherokee, with Pennsylvanian plates!) and finally fall into bed, exhausted.

Saturday, 20 March, 2010 – Anza Borrego Desert State Park and nurseries around Carlsbad

After the disappointment of not seeing the red spined Ferocacti in Baja, Eunice offered to take the Japanese party to the Anza Borrego Desert State Park. There was some hesitation, as this would eat into the time allocated for shopping at cactus & other succulent plant nurseries. ‘Remember, Mr. Kobayashi, where we saw the crested multi-headed Ferocactus last year?’ That sealed it!

This was probably the most focussed part of any cactus trip I have been on. There were Ooohs and Aaaahs as the number of cacti along the road and up the hillsides increased. Most Ferocactus cylindraceus were in flower, but each time that we asked ‘Shall we stop here?’ the reply was always the same: ‘Does the cristate Fero grow here?’ Because the answer was ‘Not yet, but we’re close’, we carried on. This was causing Eunice some stress as she was desperate for us to stop so that she could look up the exact GPS for the cristate, rather than rely on her memory. Almost immediately after a US Border Control check point, I thought that I might have saved the day by spotting a clump of Echinocereus engelmannii and Opuntia basilaris in flower. This proved too much of a temptation and we all piled out of the bus to take their picture (S1767a). Guillermo Rivera would have been envious of the speed with which we returned to the bus. Eunice was disappointed, as her HD with the data was playing up and she was still unable to get to the GPS information.

Fortunately she has a great memory and heaved a huge sigh of relief as she spotted the cristate, some 20 m. from the road. Again, we piled out of the bus but this time were just a little bit more relaxed about taking it’s picture and more of the other plants around us. But once back on the bus, that was it; Nurseries next.

There was a brief stop in Santa Ysobel, just past Julian, where the Julian Pie Company have an outlet where they sell excellent Dutch Apple Pie.

Next stop was Vista, where most people disappeared in the tunnels of C&J’s, not normally open to the public and certainly not during the weekend. I had been there in 2008 and preferred to join Mr Kobayashi on a visit to Steve Hammer’s Spheroid Institute, just a few hundred meters up the road. Steve & Mr. K. share an interest in Haworthia with a special interest in the ‘weird & wonderful’, variegated forms. 

After a couple of hours of peace and quiet, Steve got anxious phone calls from Jim, the J in C&Js, as the Japanese seemed to be ready to leave and were getting restless.

Our arrival at C&Js seemed to have triggered a second buying spree, as more crates of plants emerged from the greenhouses and joined the informal check-out queue. Our bus was already packed to maximum capacity, so I was glad when I learned that Jim would post the plants to Japan with the appropriate documentation.

It seemed that now we had struck a happy balance between plants in habitat and nurseries. More nursery and collection visits are planned for tomorrow.

Friday, 19 March, 2010 – Isla Cedros to Carlsbad

The calendar still points at 22 March, but today we stopped of at Fry’s, the magical electronics warehouse that we seem to visit every time that we are in the area. I managed to buy a DC converter that allows me to run my laptop from the car’s cigarette lighter!  That means that I can now sit on the shady side of the back of the car and write my diaries and down load images from cards. Very useful, except of course on most roads in Bahia and off road anywhere. Roll on the day that all laptops come with solid state HDs so that they are unlikely to be damaged by the heads crashing into the drive’s fast spinning disk.

After that I will of course want a satellite link to the internet so that I can check my email messages.

Back to Friday, 19th. Time had come to leave the island and go back ‘home’ or in this case, the US of A.’ It seems inevitable with air travel that there are long waits – for transport to the airport, even if it is just a small airstrip; at the airport to clear security – easily the most detailed check of luggage and papers that I have endured at any border crossing; and then the wait for the plane to arrive.

Turnaround between landing and unloading and then for our 12 strong party to board the plane was much faster of course than for a jumbo jet or similar. I was offered the chance of taking the co-pilot seat so had a wonderful view, with cameras and video in action much of the time (S1764).

After arriving at the military airport at Ensenada, our luggage again underwent a thorough search. What had these folk done wrong to have to spent their day going through other people’s dirty washing!

We were met by Francisco who had a15 seater bus, smaller than the one driven by Joel that had taken us from San Diego to Ensenada at the start of the week. Joel’s bus hade been involved in a scrap with a truck and he was delayed completing insurance claim forms. Francisco took us to a very colourful restaurant near La Bufadora, the blow hole that seems to feature in every tourist guide for the peninsula. We were more interested in getting some food and drinks (S1765) and, once the transfer of luggage to Joel’s bus had been completed, we were keen to get back on the road.

Mr Kobayashi had asked if we could drive some 50 km south Ensenada along Mex 1, where he had seen dense stands of a red spined Ferocacti, growing in flat sandy soil. That visit had been in September 2005, when everything had been very dry. Now, the desert was looking quite lush after unusual large quantities of rain during February and everything must have looked quite different.

I could not recall having seen red spined Feros growing in sand until well past San Quintin.  As time clicked by, Mr Kobayashi came to the same conclusion. Joel pulled the bus over and maps were pulled out. While plan B was being created, I took a stroll around and soon had found a small Ferocactus viridescens almost hidden in the tall grass. Everyone came running over to take its picture and with the first plant found, others soon followed. And so, Plan B created itself; a thirty minute cactus stop (S1766).

We could now head back north again. It was dark by the time that we arrived in Tijuana, where it only took some 30 minutes to get through the border.

Finally, just after eleven, we arrived in Carlsbad and after booking in at the Motel 6 there, we went for dinner at JB’s, the only place still open.

The Japanese were as usual in good spirits and I managed to get some Guinness so I was happy too.

Tomorrow was planned to be a mixture of shopping and a time in the desert – only in California.

Sunday, 14 March, 2010 – Bellflower to San Diego

Once again, my body clock woke me up at 7 a.m. It should have been at 6! but Eunice’s alarm had failed to go off. Never mind. We were still in good time to pick up our Japanese friends from LAX as they were not due to land until 8:45, and it takes an age to clear immigration and collect luggage. Except when the plane has a following wind and lands 45 minutes earlier then scheduled!

We were in place at the arrivals point as they emerged from the tunnel. Eunice had rented a 12 seater bus, enough for 9 Japanese, 1 Dutchman and one US citizen =  11. That is, until you try to fit the luggage for 9 people in as well.  Our Japanese friends were in amazing good spirits considering their 9 hour flight and 9 hour time difference, squatted in on top of cases and laughed as they took in their first views of LA.

So what do you do with guests after a long flight? You take them shopping! At a C&S nursery. (S1740) This was the nursery of the late Bill Baker, who passed on roughly a year ago. His widow, Donna and daughter helped us to make sense of which plants were for sale and which were stock plants to be kept. So now we had eleven people plus luggage and the results of a plant buying frenzy.

So Max, a friend of Eunice, was called into action to bring his pick up truck. Plan B was for Max to take all the luggage and plants bought to San Diego, while we attended a C&S Society meeting where I was due to give the World Premier of What I Saw Last Winter 2009-2010, up to and including our visit to Cuba. The meeting itself and what follows in weeks to come will be added in for UK audiences.

Great idea, but Max’s girlfriend had booked tickets for a suite at his favourite ice hockey team’s game that afternoon, by way of an early birthday present. (Happy birthday Max for next week – hope your team won!) There was no way that Max could drive down to San Diego and be back on time for his birthday present. So we switched to Plan C: Max would just take the plants that had been bought and drive them to the shade tunnel at the Dominguez Rancho Adobe where Eunice is curator of the Cactus Garden.

We arrived at South Coast C&S Society at the South Coast Botanic Garden on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. (S1741). There were some familiar faces in the audience as we walked in. More seats had to be brought in and I was asked if I always brought my own audience, referring to our Japanese guests. ‘Only if I’m not sure if anybody will come to see an unknown speaker!’ I joked.

The 80 minute presentation went well from my point of view: the Society’s projector worked fine, everyone laughed in the right places and seemed interested in the somewhat longer than usual presentation. There were some nice plants in the monthly show that featured Ferocactus and Kalanchoe as this month’s genera and I trust that I did not upset anyone with my choice of winners.

We then had an uneventful trip to San Diego, where the Motel-At-The-End-Of-The-Runway was still as we left it in 2008. Planes still landed at 3-5 minute intervals and the Amtrak Coaster & Trolley Service still fills in the brief moments of silence.

We were all so tired that it would not really matter, we could sleep anywhere. But first we drove to the Harbour Centre, a disused fish market, right next to the USS Midway, a huge and famous aircraft carrier that dwarfed the restaurant complex. Our friends from Japan were right at home, especially as the staff of the Sushi Bar were fluent in their native language. This was my first experience of Japanese food and went down very well, washed down with bottles of sake. It seems that I was too tired to take any pictures, or not yet practiced in using chopsticks to press the shutter on the camera.

Congratulations to Eunice for keeping her cool and driving a much larger bus/van into tight parking spaces than I’d care to try.

Saturday, 13 March, 2010 – More around Bellflower

It amazes me that in recent weeks, I have always woken up around 7 a.m. no matter what time zone I was in. This morning was no exception. After checking emails and a brief chat with Angie it was time to head for Monrovia.

This was not the capital of Liberia in West Africa, but the city situated in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains in Los Angeles County. Last September, a small group of us visited Gordon Rowley at his home, Cactusville, in England. As we left, at the end of an afternoon when cameras rarely stopped clicking for one minute, Gordon said that he hoped to see some of the pictures some time. I was keen to try out an on-line book publishing facility and so we selected our best photos and arranged them on the digital pages of the software made available to us to create a small book that would be printed, bound and mailed to my home address from where I would post them on to Gordon and my fellow visitors in Chile and the US.

Gordon’s library, renowned for its rare books, now has a copy of one of the rarest books on the planet: ‘Tea at Gordon’s’. Eunice asked if there was anyone that I’d like to meet in the US and Myron Kimnach’s name was suggested.

I had had some correspondence with Myron in the late 90’s and allegedly missed him a few times when he visited Holly Gate Cactus Nursery where I was working at the time. It was nice to finally shake him by the hand. We enjoyed a tour of his extensive collection, dominated by Echevaria and related genera. Myron than took us out for lunch to a Mexican restaurant to get us in the mood for our forthcoming Mexico adventure. Just as we started to get into some more interesting discussions, it was time to leave, as we had a dinner appointment at Vern’s.

Vern is a former LA County Sheriff with Dutch ancestry, whom I first met when I did my very first cactus presentation in the US, in February 2008 at the Long Beach Cactus & Succulent Society. He has a nice cactus garden at the front of his house to break up the monotony of the conventional California front gardens. He had recently bought plants from an old collection of Copiapoa, including some large specimens, that needed names. Unfortunately the light was now getting bad of the is just random text to fill out the page to see how things pan out.

Vern took us to Mimi’s for dinner and by that time, jet lag had once again caught up with me. We were due to have an early start again tomorrow.

Friday, 12 March, 2010 – Around Bellflower

Today was designed to let me adjust again to a change of time zones – this time 8 hours different with time in the UK. So I got up at just after 7 a.m. and chatted for a while with Angie in Amesbury, UK, where it was 15:00 hrs. At the same time, Eunice was panicking about some improvements to the shower, that seemed to be going wrong big time. As always, everything was fine in the end. I managed to finish the ‘credits’ portion of next Sunday’s presentation and gave Eunice a preview of what I had prepared. 

Around four p.m. we went to visit the gardens at the Dominguez Rancho Adobe where the Long Beach C&S Society hold their monthly meetings and where, three years ago, I had given my first presentation to an US audience. How time flies. By 9 in the evening, my body reminded me hat it was already 5 a.m. the next day in the UK and I was ready to pass out.

Thursday, 11 March, 2010 – Amesbury, UK to Bellflower, CA

Just about a week after getting home from Cuba and I’m on the road / in the sky again, this time on my own.

Once again, Peter was so kind as to drive me to Heathrow and usually I then add the travelling day’s Diary page by reporting that the journey was uneventful, but not this time…..

Remember, the audience for these pages also includes friends who have not the faintest interest in cacti. But most of all, I write these notes for myself so that years later I can check what happened when, where and with whom.

First item worth reporting was at Heathrow, T1. As the queue was snaking its way to the security X-ray machines I suddenly found myself face to face with someone I thought I recognised from the past. It was like dawn breaking as both our faces seemed to show the same reaction. ‘Charles?!?’ ‘Paul?!?’ Then laughter and shaking of hands as the others in the queue watched in bemusement as we renewed our friendship that was put on hold when I left the company we both worked for, in 1988, 22 years ago! Once we cleared security we shared a coffee before we went on our way again, Charles on to his skiing holiday – French Alps if I remember correctly and me on my last leg of this winter’s cactus trip(s).

Next item worth reporting: Arrival at LAX. Where was Eunice? No idea. So let’s call her mobile. Great idea, but it would have helped if I had remembered to bring her number. Never mind, she had mine and surely would soon call or text me to explain what had happened and what to do next. An hour later. Nothing. My flight ticket had not indicated at which of the nine terminals and we had assumed that I would arrive at the same terminal that I would leave from next month, T7. So where was I? At the International Flight arrival centre, somewhere between T3 and T4. Ah.

I figured that Eunice was trying to find me, so the best strategy seemed to stay put, rather than miss each other while we were both on the move.    Another hour later, still nothing. So Plan B seemed appropriate. What Plan B? I had her home address, so got a taxi. I worried that there would be nobody home when I got there, but no need. A very surprised Eunice opened the door. She had assumed that with a 10 hour flight, I would arrive tomorrow, a day after leaving the UK, but of course, as I was flying in the same direction ‘as the sun was travelling’, I actually landed some two hours after departing, but Pacific Time, rather than GMT. Never mind.

Last item worth reporting: San Gabriel C&S Society meeting. My ‘early’ arrival made it possible to go to this event, which Cliff & I also attended last year. It turned out that the speaker was Guillermo Rivera, our friend and guide on our 2005 Argentina trip. He was touring California with Woody Minnich, another friend from the 2005 trip and again this year in Rio Grande do Sul. So it was big hugs in the hall. Then there was Chris Rogers, another guy from the 2005 Argentina trip there as well. Again, more handshaking. Then – as other members recognised me from our visit exactly one year ago, more handshaking and smiles. ‘Where is Cliff?’ was the frequently heard question. ‘Give him our best wishes!’

By the end of the club evening, I had been up for 24 hours and was getting light headed. So what better way to finish off the day then with a visit to BJ’s, a pub/restaurant for a couple of pints of Guinness and pizza. ‘Wow, you seem thirsty!’ said the guy next to me, as half a pint disappeared in one go. ’43 years of practice!’ I smiled, pointing at the Guinness rugby shirt that I was wearing, bought on my ’40th Anniversary of Guinness Drinking’ trip to Dublin in 2007, which of course included a tour of the Guinness Brewery museum.  

I wonder what tomorrow will bring!!