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No images today. No, not an April Fool’s joke, just that with a driving day ahead of us to get to Mexico City, and a first re-packing exercise already completed, the sense of adventure had departed ahead of us. The is until I spotted a ‘Mexican Hat shop in Ezequiel Montes where I finally found a shop that sold sombreros – i.e. ‘Mexican Cowboy hats’ rather than the oversized larger than life hats that I have never seen anyone wear in the streets of Mexico. Why get such a hat on the last day of your trip? Well, to be honest, these plasticised straw hats are not that comfortable when first bought. I’m not quite sure if they need some gentle heat treatment to get them to fit the shape of individual heads – mine seems to be larger than the head of the average Mexican. ‘We know!’ I hear you shout.

This one, and those collected on previous trips will join a gallery of New World (+ South African) head gear on the wall of the Conservatory that was completed in the UK last year and will act as a reminder of the good times enjoyed. I might even wear them when the odd occasion demands that I stand out in a crowd.

With two SatNavs competing for the honour of who could get our destination the nearest (Ian claimed that I had told mine to go to the wrong place, but when I checked the most recent destination, it matched the coordinates that he had given me for the Hotel) we eventually arrived safe and in one piece. Of course, the Gods had to show their displeasure with our leaving by displaying a few thunderbolts, a distant rumble and a light rain just at the time that we had to unpack the car and walk the luggage three blocks to our hotel, through busy shopping streets. No way Jose! I could imagine another flight home with my back ceased up. Fortunately Cliff agreed to driving back to the Hotel, unloading all our luggage, leaving me on guard duty while Ian and he took the car back to the car park.

To distribute the weight of the luggage, I was wearing my bright orange wintersport jacket, leaving other guests no doubt wondering where the Dutchman had put his speed skates. The ensemble was topped off with the newly acquired sombrero. No one dared to take a photo, but I must have looked a picture – including beads of sweat on my forehead.

Tomorrow morning, a taxi collects me at 9:15 for the ride to the airport, from where I catch a flight to Newark (USA) and from there fly on to London Heathrow where Angie will meet me and whisk me straight off to Dover for a Channel Crossing and a drive to Cologne, to visit her Dad who is unwell. That means no Internet contact until I get back to home in the UK on Monday.

It has been a great trip – thanks to Cliff and Ian’s efforts – we must do it again sometime! (Plans are for a trip to Peru in October 2014, after I get back from the Australian Convention in Brisbane.

Who said life was dull!?

Today was the last full day’s cactus hunting, we went back towards Bellavista, where we went the first full day to see the southernmost Thelo – T. hastifer. They were in bud then. First I had some stops marked for Ariocarpus kotschoubeyanus ssp elephantidens and at the first it turned out that we had stopped here on that first day to let Ian take some pictures of Yuccas that he liked the look off. Cliff and I didn’t even get out of the car. Today, we ignored Yuccas and put our noses to the ground, to find thousands!
Our next stop, again for Kots, turned out to be just 1.3 km away, so we kept that for the way back.
On to a stop first reported 10+ years ago for Turb pseudomacrochele. We’ve not had much luck for Turbs ‘proper’ and despite the three of us spread over a hill side for some 90 minutes in the blazing heat, we found none. Cliff was back first to the car – to find the only turb, in flower, right next to the car. We all photographed it from every different angle and moved stones around to make it look like a different plant, but we all know it was just the one. Typical.  Flower colour? You guessed it.
Turbinicarpus macrochele

Turbinicarpus macrochele

 Much to our surprise, T. hastifer was also here – I thought that it came from just one location, and here it was also in flower, so no need to go back to our original site - quite a long walk from car park to plants.
And back to the Ariostop that we had given a miss here on the way up. We were distracted by hundreds of Thelocactus leucacanthus, with yellow flowers, as the main ssp should have.
We also found another thousand or more kots ssp elephants, I’ think my appetite has been satisfied for a while. MUST go back one year to see them all in flower! Late September, early October. 2015 is pencilled in. Coming?
Tomorrow is just a 240 km drive to the airport & hotel (just a bit more than Pichidangui – Santiago.
Next morning I catch my flight early (take a taxi) while Cliff & Ian have to hang around until early evening – they arrive Thursday around 16:00 hrs, when we should be doing battle with Brussels’ traffic.

Early this morning, the clocks in the UK changed to Summer Time, so in theory, it’s ‘safe’ for me to go back home. I fly out of Mexico City on Wednesday, so excellent timing before it gets too hot here. The following weekend, the clocks switch to Summer Time in Mexico.

Manuel, our host in Hotel Boca Sierra (highly recommended if you are passing through, especially when all the building work in progress has been completed. Toilet seats would be nice!) is also keen on cacti – there is a small Rebutia muscula in a pot at the bar – the discussion focusses on whether it is alive or not. Manuel insisted on showing us a habitat for Lophophora diffusa, taking us along a poor track that was OK for his Nissan pick up, but tough going for the tyres of the Jeep Patriot.  We get the impression that these plants are quite common and given the right substrate and aspect, any stop will do to see these plants. Thanks for showing us these plants, Manuel!

Next we returned to yesterday’s stop where Ian had found large numbers of L. diffusa and also some Strombocactus disciformis, but with the road cutting wall being in the shade at that time and in failing light, we had come back today to photograph the dozen plants in sunlight and look for some more. We did – at least a thousand of them! Ian (who else) managed to find the only plant in flower; well done again!

Strombocactus disciformis

Strombocactus disciformis

‘What?!’ , I hear you say: ‘Another white flowered plant?’ Yes, but as these plants often grow in the shade, they still seem to be able to interest pollinators (although none seen).

On the flat, we found many clumps of Thelocactus leucacanthus – many of them looking quite beaten up, but others in bud or in flower. In this area north of Vizarron it is ssp. schmollii that occurs abundantly over the hillside. It differs from ssp. leucacanthus by having magenta flowers and the plants kindly obliged by showing them, proving that not all cactus flowers here are white.

Thelocactus leucacanthus ssp schmollii, 16 km north of Vizarron.

Thelocactus leucacanthus ssp schmollii, 16 km north of Vizarron.

But for me, the Strombos remained the stars of the day. I also have to compliment the Mexicans on MEX120, a wonderful asphalt road, with bits recently updated, taking out a few bends where the old road can still be entered for an easy car-park and hassle free photography.

The other bonus, staying in Hotel Boca Sierra, is that they make and sell all sorts of the local marble and alabaster ornaments. Ian has been ogling the alabaster eggs for his Mum, who has a huge collection of these. I could also not resist a few items (I wonder how much my luggage will weigh in at….. )

Tomorrow we might take another look at Zimapan to see if Thelocactus hastifer – in bud soon after we arrived, has sprung into flower yet.

We started off with a search of Turbinicarpus rioverdense and Thelocactus hexaedroforus. We met a very nice Mexican, Ramon, who had spent some time in Washington State and who spoke very good English. We asked permission to walk past his house and through the allotments of the small community to reach the GPS coordinates. Sure, do you want me to show you? I know where the cacti grow, he offered. So do we, thank you very much. And so we walked the supposed 300 m past his house, through the allotments and found: no cacti at all. Hmmmm. Should we go back and ask for Ramon’s help? Then Ian (again) came up trumps, thanks to a single plant in flower. Cliff and I had soon joined him. And as always, find one plant and soon you find a dozen, all in a small area.
Turbinicarpus rioverdense

Turbinicarpus rioverdense

When we got back to the car we thanked Ramon and showed him the pictures. Wow! he said. These small plants grow here?! I never knew. So we saved ourselves quite a bit of time by turning down his services as a guide. Anyway, half the fun is finding plants that play hide & seek with you, even if it seems unlikely that you will find anything in a particular spot.
Another new taxon for me on my tick list!
We’re in Vizarron, in the State of Quaretaro, within a day’s drive of our first night in mainland Mexico, in fact we passed by here from that first night’s hotel. Were booked in for 2 nights with tomorrow planned as Strombocactus Day. We cheated and actually, unexpectedly found some on the last stop of the day, near the town. Although the light was poor, I still managed some OK images, but we’ll go back to do it properly. Another ‘first time tick!
And in between, another tick, this time for Lophophora diffusa, so another great day, but getting into that ‘going home soon’ frame of mind. I bought a pair of moccasins made out of goat skin, hand crafted by a local craftsman in the high street. Should last me a lifetime, once my toe has healed.

I spent a good part of the day winding Ian up about the fact that in a week’s time he’ll have spent his first day back at work. But the real point is that there are still six glorious days to see cacti in habitat and a lot more images waiting to be snapped to remind us of the marvels that we’ve seen.

We started the day just 5 km or so from the Premier Hotel, Rio Verde, where on 3 March 2011 Eunice and I had searched and found Turbinicarpus lophophorioides and Coryphantha maiz-tablensis. Then the plants were very shrivelled up and difficult to tell apart. Nothing had changed much, including our inability to distinguish the two taxa – may be we were only seeing the one and did not tell which one it was!

Next we went off to another 2011 stop. This time I was confident that we’d park the car and just walk straight up to the first Electricity pylon where we’d turn left to find Ariocarpus retusus ssp scapharostrioides plus lots of other cacti. All the land marks ticked all the boxes – but there was just one thing missing – the cacti! May be it was at the second pylon, or may be the third? By the time Ian had made it to the fourth pylon there was an enthusiastic wave from Ian – he had found them. By then, Cliff had given up in the heat and had returned to the car but this time with me as the key holder. As usual Cliff likes to do his own exploring and although I had shouted as loud as I could that we were moving on to the next pylon, he claimed not to have heard. He was not best pleased when we returned, but as all who have travelled with him will confirm, he is usually the last to return to the car, so I have had to wait many times.

Angie has her 'Smiler', I now have Echinocactus platyacanthus 'Belly Laugh'

Angie has her ‘Smiler’, I now have Echinocactus platyacanthus ‘Belly Laugh’

Our next stop was for a Lophophora viridescens, just a quick 30 minute stop, near San Francisco. It took me just five minutes to gain the opinion that the conditions were wrong to find Lophos here, too dry in the open places, lots of cacti among the shrubbery and ceroids, but too much annual vegetation to spot tiny plants beneath them. The others confirmed my opinion 30 minutes later.

The next stop was for the giant 3 meter tall Platy – Echinocactus platyacanthus that Eunice and I had first seen in 2011. Then, she had been on one side of the hill while me and the giant were on the other. I made three attempts to balance my camera on another platy and use the timer to take a picture of me and the giant – I failed. This time Ian obliged. As I walked up to the giant I was reminded of Eric Clapton’s opening number at the Royal Albert Hall Concert where Angie had taken me for my 60th birthday: ‘Hello, old friend!’

Echinocactus platyacanthus: Hello Old Friend

Echinocactus platyacanthus: Hello Old Friend

 

Again, I probably took more images of Astrophytum myriostigma in flower than on the rest of the trip put together. There was also a small plant that I first thought was Coryphantha maiz-tablensis, but as they got larger towards the top of the hill it was clearly a Thelocactus, presenting us with the problem of which one – T. hexaedrophorus is a candidate, which would add another tick in the Thelolist – but is it? And if so, which form? I’ll have to check what I called it in 2011, if indeed I recorded seeing it.

We had passed all these stops yesterday and had bounced all this way again just to see these great plants. Then the plan had been to take the highway to Rio Verde and while I was having a snooze the plan got changed so that we ended up bouncing along a variable quality track. Then, we stopped in a hamlet where Ian bought two family size bottles of Cola and the elderly lady pointed out that there was a deposit on these plastic bottles. At the time we thought: ‘ yeah, what ever!’Today he was able to return the empties.

Tomorrow we head south again.

Today was going to be a driving day, so I nestled into my home for the last few weeks and closed my eyes – the quickest way that I know that makes time pass by quickly.

When I woke up, we were bouncing along a rather rough track. What had happened? Change of mind as we were making such fast progress, but on a road with little opportunity to stop, that Ian had found an alternative route that had turned out to be a little longer and significantly slower than had been planned, but still got us to Rio Verde in daylight, where we found a tripple room at the Premier Hotel.

We made a number of stops along the track, but the images have already been backed up on my plug in HD, so the full details will have to wait until I review these Diary notes and fill in the blanks or make some corrections in weeks to come.

It did seem however that this was the same track that Eunice Thompson and I followed in the opposite direction in 2011, when we picked up a puncture and ended up buying a new tyre in Ciudad Victoria. This time we had no such dramas and promised to go back the next day to revisit some of the stops made in 2011.

I’m sure that I have mentioned this before, but if you plot the locations where cacti have been recorded from  on a map, you end up with the road map of the area. Mex101 comes into Jaumave from the north and leaves it to the south. There are literally hundreds of cactus locations reported along this road. The list of plants from these locations shows some confusion among the explorers that visited here – lots of names, especially for Mammillaria, but at times I think that a particular plant has been mistaken for another similar plant, which is then listed. As I mentioned before, I don’t claim to be an expert in naming Mammillaria, especially those in nature, although over the years I have grown (and killed) most of the taxa – I find it difficult to combine long spells away from home, with giving plants in my collection the care that they deserve.

For now, while my health permits me to travel to habitat, I’ll focus on taking their pictures in nature, while replacing the gaps in my collection each September at ELK.

Studying the maps last night, Cliff spotted a road to the El Cielo Biosphere Reserve that was founded in 1987. It seemed that we were the first visitors there, certainly among cactophiles. The main interest for visitors seems to be the birds, of which Ian claimed to have spotted several species – a great source of leg-pulling by Cliff and I as he claims to have seen birds such as the lesser spotted upside down red legged hawk eagle – but without images to prove it! Show us the pictures, Ian. We believe that he has been taking lessons from Mike Harvey who has entertained us on past trips with his years of bird watching experience.

There were no cactus locations reported from this area, so either there were none to be found or nobody had bothered to report their finds. The first stop, (S3110) proved the latter and I will try to make up for the lack of data by providing a full list of the cacti that we photographed  at the seven stops we made. By two o’clock we thought it wise to return to the hotel, as we had been on the road since 8:45. It only took us 45 minutes to get back, which indicated the time spent dodging plants with hooks and spines but not of the Cactus Family. And also the time we spent trying to get out of town. It is not a large town but with lots of one way systems and no signage to help until we were well and truly out of town, this can be a real challenge. Cliff and I recalled the day that we had spent the whole day driving around Arequipa, Peru without succeeding to find the way out – not one of our prouder moments!

For now, I’ll limit myself to the highlights, plant wise, at each stop. The whole day was spent on a fair to good gravel track, driving through a low forest, similar to the Catingaa forest in Bahia, Brazil.

S3110: Just a random ‘let’s stretch our legs’ stop without much hope of seeing cacti. We saw Ferocactus hamatacanthus, Coryphantha delicata, Echinocereus pentalophus, Cylindropuntia lepticaulis and a large padded Opuntia. We came back to the car covered in dry leaves and Acacia flower remains, arms and Cliff’s legs covered in more scratches and with Cliff playing host to a small stick insect.

S3111:  This stop will be remembered for the giant Thelocactus conothelos plants mostly in fruit (not yet ripe)  and some still in flower. We all took turns to pose next to the largest plant to provide an idea of scale. Ian also spotted a group of Ariocarpus trigonus, mostly recovering of having been chewed on by cattle or goats, but with one nice specimen plant. It was here that Ian spotted one young seedling with pectinate spination that we all agreed looked like a Turbinicarpus sp juvenile.

S3112:  More T. conotehelos to remind us that we were on a Thelothon, thus justifying our exploits today. Also more of the Turbinicarpus seedlings, this time larger and finally, on a clearing a dozen plants in full flower. My guess, under protest from Cliff and Ian, is that it is Turbinicarpus (Gymnocactus) viereckii, which has the benefit of being reported from  Jaumave, while their suggestions come from different states, some distance away. Here is a picture of a nice group – any suggestions to ID welcome:

Turbinicarpus (Gymnocactus) viereckii?

Turbinicarpus (Gymnocactus) viereckii?

S3113: I have already mentioned similarities with the Brazilian Caatinga forest and this was enforced by the cephalia of Pilosocereus leucocephalus poking above the low trees and shrubs. Here the plants had come to the track, so the stop was to take their picture.

S3114: At previous stops we had already seen a number of Mammilloydia candida, many of them in flower. There were some white spined clumps that were not in flower and looked different. Here we saw them with dark pink – mauve flowers. Michel Lacoste reports Mammillaria klissingiana from near Jaumave and I believe for now that this is the ‘other’ white Mam. we saw. Jatropha urens, the one with the evil stinging leaves, stems, everything, was here – good to avoid.

S3115: Walking into a dry river bed, we spotted large Cycads and their younger siblings – no idea what species. Yesterday, Ian found two small Mams that I’m calling Mammillaria melaleuca for now. We saw more examples today, but here, Ian Eagle-yes found a small group in flower. The bright yellow flowers seemed to confirm the Dolichothele group, but the flowers seemed much smaller than what I have seen in Europe. Special selection by nurseries for larger flowers? Or just the wrong name?

I hardly had the chance to open my bottle of drink when Ian called for another Stop – this time for a tree with some large Tillandsia growing on the branches. This was so near the previous stop that I’ll use the same number.

S3116: was really meant as the place to turn the car round, but why not take a look at what grows on the rocks as the dry river bed again crossed the road. Much the same as before, with a very nice M. candida in the shade, in full flower. And a strange ‘upside down’ Opuntia that had given up the will to grow upwards and was thus hanging down. A new species, Cliff and I agreed, thinking of Trichocereus bollingeriana in Chile where some stems of a plant hanging down seemed to justify a new species name.

On the way back to the car, on a ledge right below the nice M. candida, Ian pointed out yet another ‘different’ Mam. M. wildii?

Oh, we’re going to have fun at the Mammillaria Society AGM with no end of ID challenges for the members!

Later, while I was writing up these notes, one of the workmen building the hotel around us explained that the weather is not always this nice. In December they experienced -7C and 30 cm (1 foot) of snow. It’s nice to know what these plants can put up with in nature? Of course there are other factors to consider – moisture, humidity, the length of the frost and the maximum temperature for that day. And are such events regular or rare exceptions?

Many of my cacti have died just after one night of a sharp frost in an unheated greenhouse, but then the day time temperatures never rose much above 2 C.

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