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HOORAY, it’s official : Final score: Cactus Explorers 3 – corrupt Mexican Police 1!!! For Cactus Explorers read Alain Buffel who again performed magic by weaving our car safely through the mad Mexico City traffic, safely back to the Europ Car depot. Yes, you’re right; we’re a day early! While we hugely enjoyed the hotel and some rest in Tehuacán, Alain suggested that if we went back a day early, we could spend the day (tomorrow) at the floating gardens of Mexico City, built by the Aztecs hundreds of years ago. Monty Don did a BBC TV documentary on the subject. Tomorrow it is our turn.
Today we dropped the car off at 13:00 and by 13:30 were at a cheap(er) hotel at the airport, stuck between the expensive hotels where we can use the ATM machine and the pedestrian footbridge to Terminal 1 from where we leave on Wednesday. The first part of the walk to the airport is along a narrow, uneven pavement – no joke with 7 weeks of luggage + souvenirs, so we may pay a few pesos for a taxi.
Faced with an afternoon of doing nothing, we asked the reception desk if they could recommend a good reliable taxi – they could, so that by 15:00 we found ourselves on the Zócalo, the common name for the Plaza de la Constitución, the main square in Mexico City.
Mexico City Bus Tour

Mexico City Cathedral, with the Metropolitan Tabernacle to the right.

I spotted the Mexican equivalent of the London City bus, an open double decker from where you can see the town at your leisure and hop on and off, if time permits. It didn’t. We made it back to the pre-arranged taxi pick up point exactly one minute before our man arrived, exactly on time. So he has been hired as our driver for tomorrow’s trip – if it doesn’t rain! We had a few spats while sitting on the open top deck of the tour bus.
The commentary on the bus claimed that the Zócalo is one of the largest squares in the world, but a search on the internet reveals that it was ‘only’ the 70th largest.
Not long to go now!!
You need to take my word for it that Sunday was a ‘No News’ day, in fact a repeat of our last day in Tehuacán with Chris and Jonathan, getting the car washed – they remembered us!
We went to the shopping mall to find a barber, for Alain to have his traditional haircut while on holiday – he succeeded eventually just around the corner of the hotel!
Lots of margaritas were enjoyed (last night) and waiters cried as we said our goodbyes.
No images taken today, so a good excuse to fill the space to the right with another image of Ferocactus haemathacanthus in flower yesterday at S3649.
Yesterday's F. haemathacanthus

Yesterday’s F. haemathacanthus

There is a reason why today’s missive appears before yesterday’s. Today is Jonathan Clark’s birthday and I promised to send him some flowers for this special day. On their last day in the field, on 26 February, we went to see Ferocactus haemanthacanthus, first seen by us on __  February, in bud, but with just a few flowers open when we went to see it a second time. There were plenty of buds, and now it was one of the last opportunities for us to go and see what happened. Well, the two plants (known as Chris Hayes’ plants), were in flower, but this time I’m pleased that these two plants had three and four flowers respectively and a lot more buds for days / weeks to come. At home too, Fero’s can be real teasers, showing buds for weeks on end, then bursting into flower when you are away and so having to wait a year to catch them again. So, for Jonathan’s birthday:

Ferocactus haematacanthus

Ferocactus haematacanthus

 

Ferocactus haematacanthaus

Ferocactus haematacanthaus

In addition lots more plants in advanced buds.

Enjoy, Jonathan!

Before coming on this trip, I had never heard of these two towns, nor of the Mexican State of Tlaxcala, of which Apizaco is the second largest city. Now I have spent a very pleasant night at each and have taken pictures to remember impressions. I also have a day’s worth  (48) of 3 minute long movie clips, as we drove through the often dramatic scenery, including the pickup truck with cover for the back that seemed to explode as it came past us. It’s quite time consuming to go through 48 x three minute film clips to see what, if anything, I caught on film. 95+ % will probably never be viewed again, but it is good to have options!

Only two picture stops, non of which featured any cacti or other succulents (again – is this really a cactus trip? Why?) The first was just for pictures along the side of the road, such as stands where women were selling fruits etc, and a sign that struck me as funny such as ‘No Pisar, El Pastor’. In time, translation software will tell me what it means in English. The second stop was for sightseeing in Apizaco. We stayed at the City Express Hotel, brand new and part of a complex that is a restored version of the old railway station. Soon after we had signed in and began to explore the facilities, such as the internet, we were reminded of what it means to be in a railway station – the haunting sound of train whistles! Fortunately, it was the one and only time that we heard them.

My fitness instructor dragged me for a walk around the town which yielded more pictures and did actually make me feel better after a day in the car. Unfortunately, the feeling of well being did not extend to my fitness instructor, but all is well a day later after his last Ferocactus stop. Just withdrawal symptoms then.

Heavy rain was reported by Alain before I woke up. It still looked grey and threatening at 7 but only gently dripped as we packed the car at 9. For the first time for days we had a target plant stop – for Melocactus delessertianus, said to be another synonym of M. curvispinus. We had seen M. curvispinus, posing as M. oaxacensis on the Pacific Coast, and as a result were aware that plant would be difficult to find here in the much more lush vegetation.  The plant was reported by Alfred Lau as Lau 1104 ‘from Jalapa to the sea at Palma Sola at 0-800 m altitude – quite a range. It was said to grow with Mammillaria eriacantha, M. heyderi, Pilosocereus sartorianus and Selenicereus coniflorus. The problems were: there was no town called Jalapa, we assume the current spelling is Xalapa, farther in land. But we had driven from Veracruz – along the coast road, at 10 m above sea level. I had relied on being able to spot the Pilosocereus from the car, but the flora was still too lush. We had a time budget, as we also wanted to see the largest of four archaeological sites before finding our hotel and the Mex 180 Libre proved slower than expected, so we gave up. The overnight rain had brought even more trees out in flower and as we drove around the village of Palma Sola I managed to get some close ups of the flowers and also of the fruits, that clearly showed the trees as members of the legume, pea, or bean family, but the flowers do not immediately support this. A bit more searching back in the UK.

For much of the trip we just drift from day to day – only the names of the days on my pill boxes and the headings of my Blog entries keep me in touch of the reality that this time next week we’ll be landing at London Heathrow T5 and a more regular life starts again.

It was 14:00 hrs when we arrived at the Temples of Tajin. This was by far the largest and most impressive sites visited and we spent some two hours around the site, taking many images of the remnants of what must have been a large and flourishing town. We did manage to see and photograph some cacti: Rhipsalis baccifera and a Hylocereus sp.(?). Again, there was no problem taking pictures and no high visibility security presence.  Compared to the crowds visiting Stonehenge everyday, it was very quiet. As a result we were able to take lots of great pictures. Again, my fitness instructor marched me around for nearly two hours – well worth it in terms of pictures!

The town of Poza Rica is only some 20 km from El Tajin, with plenty of hotels to chose from. The Best Western was close to the entrance to town, so will give us a quick get away tomorrow.

The weather forecast for the Mexican Atlantic Coast was not good – thunder storms! The reality was not as bad, but windscreen wipers were used. The rain during the night seemed to have triggered the flowering of trees along the road. As we sped by at 100+ kph it was difficult to ID the plants and in some ways they resembled the flowering of cherry trees in De Betuwe, in the Netherlands during my youth. I remember my Dad planning a trip to catch the flowering at its peak, but usually the exact dates for this event were unpredictable. In the Netherlands, the saying goes ‘Maart roert zijn staart’, the month of March wags its tail between the end of winter and the start of Spring. The major difference here is that the flowering trees were not managed into orchards, but just as natural small groups of trees, ineeficient to harvest as a commercial crop, but very pretty to drive through. I took a few pictures as we drove past them, then realised that the dash cam would cover them.

We arrived around 2 p.m. in the town of Veracruz, or Heroica Veracruz as the full name goes. There were a few drops of rain and threatening skies, but our Hotel Mar y Tierra was right on the sea front, so we were tempted to a stroll along the harbour, with a number of medium sized containerships in.

Just to prove that we were mad, we went for an hour long scenic boat trip around the harbour, just to dare the clouds to open and to stop Alain from marching me around the town as a self appointed fitness instructor.

There are some points from previous missives that need to be cleared up: on 2nd February I reported that we were not allowed to take ‘professional cameras’ into the Archeologica site at Tehuacan and it seems some people wondered about subsequent visits of similar kind – no problems. And on the 28th I reported that our (then) ‘new’ car had a warning light come on that the ladies at the next Pemex station tried to fix. The light goes out by it self, after some fuel has left the tank and then, hours later, comes bac on again for an hour or so. It seems to be an issue that affects the make and model of car that has kept owners awake the world over, but not us. Filed under ‘irritant’.

Back to today. We were picked up at nine – great punctuality, for our outing to a boat ride through the Canyon del Sumidera. At the embarkation point we were dressed up in orange life vests, but when we later saw the size of the crocodiles sunning themselves on the river beaches, I was glad that we did not have to rely on the life vests while bopping in the water, acting as crocodile bait! We also pulled up to the cliffs where a family of howler monkeys were said to be in the trees. El Capitan did a passable impression and in response, the leaves of the trees started to shake quite violently. As I am a cynic, I remain unconvinced. Could have been a Mexican with a range of ropes that he pulls to make the leaves move. Alain’s pictures were better and some of the blobs captured could indeed be the howlers.

I was excited to see hundreds of tall, cephalium bearing ceroids growing against the canyon wall. A quick look on the internet as to their ID was not helpful. It’d better rain a lot when I’m back in the UK to resolve all these little mysteries. There were also lots of bromeliads and Agave on the cliff walls and lot’s of trees with huge caudexes. Photographing them was tricky, as the boat was fast, views blocked by the other 20 passengers, and us moving from deep shade to bright sunlight and back to deep shade all in a matter of seconds. There was not one useable picture of a caudex between them.

We arrived back on shore by 11:30 and back at the hotel by noon, in time for the c. 300 km journey to Coatzacoalos, where we spent the night at the Best Western. The staff here make Basil Fawlty appear like a true professional. We ordered Fillet Mignon and when the first arrived, the waiter put it in front of me. Alain was left with an empty plate. I tucke3d in, not wanting my food to get cold, only to be told in rapid Spanish that I should have cut the steak in half, with the second half for Alain. He was quickly sent off with a flea in his ear for a second steak! He must have been from Barcelona!!! All those not familiar with the TV comedy series Fawlty Towers had better apply for an explanation.

I should mention that during the drive here we had used the toll road again and passed a number of security checks, with inspectors equipped with screw drivers ready to dismantle cars to see what was inside them. About half way to our destination, we stopped for a cola and a leg stretch. When we chatted about the drive, Alain asked if I had smelled the fumes of the fires near our pit stop. No, I answered innocently. Marijuana, being burned. I must tell you sometimes about my sheltered youth in the sixties and seventies! Clearly, the tropical conditions make excellent growing conditions!