member of a Danish cacti news group, has been offered a tour of
Argentina by an Argentinean. I thought it sounds exciting, and
writes for the Argentinean. It turns out to be a trip up through
north-western Argentina. We have to drive 5000 kilometres in ten
days, through different climate and vegetation areas. Five to seven
stops each day to see cacti and any archaeological - or other
exciting sites. The price is 4200 kroner (€550), and includes nine
one-night stays, two meals a day and a minibus with two drivers -
but not the flight.
I find a flight ticket for 5700 kroner with Iberia. It's hard to say no to! Then there is just that with the payment. The organizer is named Willy Smith, and is a private individual. He must have 10% first and the rest 14 days before the tour starts. It could be a great way to get naive cacti freaks to send 4,200 Kr to a scammer. I search his name, and the website he advertises with, on the web. Finds references from 1999 and onwards in some newsgroups. Checks him at the head of a very large caudiciform newsgroup, but he has not heard of him.
After some count of buttons and technical issues, I get the postal service to send a check. While I'm in Mexico, he confirms receiving of the check. So far so good. A Brazilian is interested in some seeds from my plants. He does not want me to send them to Brazil: the customs will burn them. They should be sent by registered letter to his aunt in Argentina. I ask, if it's OK I'll send them in 14 days, from Buenos Aires. TI tell him, I will go on a cacti tour, and asks if he knows Willy. Not only does he know him, he may go on that trip himself. If he doesn't come, I'll just give the seeds to Willy. Nice confirmation of Willy's good intentions. I get the seeds, a regular and digital camera, a lot of movies and memory cards and a pile of batteries. A little clothes, something warm too; we come across a mountain range where frost may occur at night.
23/8. 40 minutes before I have to catch the train, there is a extremly rare powerbreak on Zealand, surrounding islands and southern Sweden. The trains do not run, as the signals are down. Pass by a lot of "travelers" who roam around like headless chickens. The lady in the ticket office has heard, it will takes hours, before things works. I get a taxi ticket and drive in to the airport. There are a lot of people here, all the boards and check-in desks are dead. Here, people also walk around aimlessly, with a wry smile. All watches stand at 12.36. The four-hour stopover in Madrid suddenly seemed short. Well, I do have a couple of days sparetime in Buenos Aires. The power returns at 14.05 under scattered flaps, and then people will start mowing. My girlfriend Rikke turns up, and after a bit around we find the check-in - in terminal 2, not 3. Short queue, which does not move at all. Finally, all systems are booted and I get a seat with room for my legs, and the only empty seats next to me. Tear-wet goodbye with Rikke. A quick check confirms; so she CANNOT be in the bag.
I get time for a cup of coffee and a good Danish, before I go out to the boarding and wait five minutes, and then we fly on time, as the first to take off! The plane has even exceptionally been down in Bonn, due to the power failure. Could really be the same: I just have four and a half hours to spend in Madrid. I had hope for a bigger airport. Not many shops and only three eating places. One has soft pizzas, the other two half flutes with salty meat. They advertise they can warm them, but ... I spend the time with a little taxonomy, and discover I am missing two pages in the middle of it all. A small consolation is the small errors I find on the other 15 pages. Will send Rikke an e-mail, but coins will be needed. It costs £ 30 to withdraw, and the guy who sells me the self-inflicted flute can't withdraw an extra euro on my Visa card. Shit, I'm in Argentina in 15-16 hours, and she probably won't check mail before anyway.
After 10 pm, things get very quiet. I'm in terminal E, and have to board in B19. A bus ride takes me to another, somewhat larger terminal. More food places - but still only the same dead flutes. I find the gate at the minute - there's a queue of a few hundred. We are relatively quickly in place and the map shows we are taking the shortcut: Across the Atlantic, and not around Greenland, as I usually do. That explains the short flight time of eleven and half an hour, against the usual 18 - really nice. After a minor eternity, supper arrives, and then seven hours of sleep.
A quick bath, a little included breakfast, and I head out into the city. It is seven degrees, but shouldreach 21 degrees. Yesterday they had a real storm, so here is nice fresh. By the way, Willy had heard we had power failure. I live extremely centrally, right on the corner of Av. Santa Fe and the huge Av 9 de Julio, the windows are very subdued so there is quiet. Right in front of the hotel are a number of beautiful thick trees. A thorny local version of the boab / kapok tree, called silk-tree: Chorisia speciosa. First an internet cafe to answer Rikke and a few others, as well as printing out some pages that I forgot at home (pages 4 and 8 of 13). It costs 4.50 Kr an hour plus one Kr a page. I will probably pass bye another time.
takes the Metro to the the Botanical Gardens. It costs under
two Kr to use it. Willy said the garden was nice, it has been
renovated in recent years; glass in the greenhouses and such. Free
entry, as in so many others around the world. Nice big, many trees
with names and an incredible amount of cats. Here, a lot of places
stink pretty much. In addition to being fed here, it is probably the
only place they get the peace of the dogs. Argentines really love
dogs. There are professional dog walkers, who come with up to 20
dogs on a leash. The public dog toilet is large, smelly and popular.
Find the "big, English-inspired" greenhouse. It's not that big, but
here are many tropical plants in pots. The doors are locked, except
one, which I then enter. Encounters a confused gardener who says a
lot in Spanish.
After half an hour, I have seen most of it and find the exit, leading into the zoo. Didn't plan on seeing it, as it "has a reasonable standard" for a South American country. Sneak peek through the fence as I head out to the Japanese garden which is just behind. It looks like disappointing Common Park, and I decide, it is not worth the sprint over the 20 filled roadways. All the way past the zoo again, on the other side, and into. The entrance is ten Kr, and maybe they have a cafeteria. Bingo! A burger (whose main ingredient unfortunately turns out to be soft onions) and a cup of coffee, then I'm ready for some "wild" animals. There are some signs in English, several in Spanish and a few missing - of course on the snakes I'm not familiar with. Nice cages for most animals, green grass and activities. Just not for the great apes - strange! I wander around for a few hours, find a few more boab seeds (C. speciosa), and head back to the Metro.
While I have been at the
people have been well dressed, a little more than in Denmark. In
general, their attire is more similar to ours than the Italians and
Spaniards, not to mention the Greeks. Only their darker faces are
different. In fact, there are many, who are as pale as me. Rarely do
you see one with typical Native American traits, but equally well
dressed. Sipping a cup of coffee at a nice cafe. Real espresso
machine, operation at the table, but then I have to drop five Kr.
For seven Kr more, I could have had a lemon-cheesecake.
I walk down towards the place
Willy designated as the trading area. It is good enough; here is a
pedestrian street with at least ten others across. Between the big
shops there are entrances to countless arcades with smaller shops.
I'm looking for a Bogart / Indiana Jones-like hat at a fair price.
They are between 130 and 200 kroner. Find one that has a slightly
larger shade for 130, and buy it. It turns out to be a mistake: Hear
at least three times someone say Sean Connery, and point. I see a
poster, and it is something like that, he is wearing in the new
adventure movie. Especially considering I'm the only one with a hat
on. Skipping countless pastries and pizza bars, but eat a sandwich
with quite some salad. If it doesn't smash the stomach, it's
probably healthy. The stores are closing at eight o'clock and I
think I'm heading home. I just don't, it went better as the sun set
in the north. Thought I'd found north on the map: Slightly down to
the right, but now it turns out, it's a little up to the left. Is it
strange I'm confused? Sipping a cup of coffee and a pretty good
chocolate cake as a night meal. A quick look in the mirror shows,
the hat is a good idea: My nose is pretty red and we're still far
from the equator.
25.9. I get up a little at nine, there is nothing but breakfast that draws, and it remain open to eleven. Just count the lanes outside the window: 24! Incidentally a wonderful spring day again today. The neighbor is Iberia Air, so I just re-confirm my return tickets. Walk around the corner and I'm in the main pedestrian street: Florida. I feel a bit underdressedin my flees jacket and military pants, despite being noble black. Looks at a 3/4 long tweed coat that is 50% off. Try it; sits perfectly, except on the sleeves of course. They fix it in two hours, for free. Hard to say "no thanks". May give 680 Kr, but quality costs! Remember to plot the business on the map, so I can find it in two hours. Here are suit jackets from 225 kroner, leather jackets start at the same level. I've brought along a few nice pants, but could really use some nice shoes. They are in the 300 Kr class here in the expensive neighborhood. Willy said it was cheaper at the south end of the street, it has to be tried - after a cup of coffee.
There are no beggars here, but some individual street musicians, mostly young children. It will be exciting to get out in the countrysite tomorrow, and see how people are, and have it out there. Checker mail, but no one and I can't write myself. In some places, they have an unusually bad connection, insanely slow machines, and a hell of a lot of crap using resources. I don't get far, and return to pick up the coat. It is finished and fits nicely. Home at the hotel to call Willy, but he's understandably busy for the rest of the day. I puton the nice pants, the fleece off, and then more shopping in the San Telmo area - after lunch. The local beer is also called Quilmes, with a blue and white label. Have no idea what it tastes like, but it has almost the entire market. Here in the country, beer is served near the freezing point, a beer of five degrees is considered lukewarm!
After a longer walk, I'm finally in the old town. Paved streets, abandoned tramway road trees, several sidewalk cafes and an unusually large concentration of antique shops. About 95% of the shops are antique, and in fact a nice quality, although there is nothing that is terribly old. I see three real flower shops. Otherwise I have only seen small newspaper kiosk-friendly stands, with cut and some living pot plants. The first one I get into has (just like the others) only home-grown plants. There is even a tuber! Think it's a Ficus, but the lady claims it isn't; it is a "palo borracho" - drunken man. After laboriously spelling me through it, she tells me it means "oppressed tribe". That's what they call their local kapok trees, and this is NOT one. It's only just starting to shoot, so I can't see any leaves. Anyway, it costs only 35 kroner. Finally, they are persuaded to remove the bonzai pot and most of the soil, with the colored stones in. Willy, incidentally, has said that there are not many cacti in the trade: They mean misfortune. Doesn't really surprise me: It's hard to imagine any child who has had a positive first-time experience with a cactus!
Stopping at a small
pirate cafe with a lot of atmosphere to get cafe con leche and lemon
pie. Gets a fiercely large piece, but judging by the taste it is not
too greasy. Several antique shops later, I find a small thing for
Rikke: A brooch, which hopefully will stand well for her new jacket.
By five o'clock, I'm back in the more modern part of town. Finds an
internet cafe (here it costs 2.25 an hour), writes a really long
email to Rikke, and gets it thrown away! Submits a significantly
shorter version. Encounters on a watch shop. Didn't really intend to
buy one, but most cost nine Kr, and look damn good. Of course finds
one in the expensive department and has to drop 25 Kr. Then it's not
26.9. Waking up just passed seven, going down and assaulting the frugal breakfast buffet. Stuffing my bag, I must admit the long coat fills a lot! On the other hand, there is enough room for some more caudiciforms, if I have to fall over someone I don't have. Looking at meself in the mirror before I walk out the door: Black roller collar, black fleece, black military trousers and small cases in the strap for regular and digital camera plus the Revo so I can take notes. On the head a black soft hat, ala an overgrown Indiana Jones. Can't decide if I look just like a fool, a hardened field scientist or just a nerd, underlined by the slightly blunt pants. God knows what the others look like? By the way, Willy is a little older, height and building pretty close to me. When he picked me up at the airport, he was well dressed and seemed to be used to it. No idea what his job is.
Being picked up on the dot, and being the first. It is a 20 person bus that they have removed every second row: Good leg room! The next stop provides four Spanish-speaking people, well distributed by gender and age. My god; they talk loudly! It seems like you are on cheek kisses in Argentina, but at least only with women and women in between. The cheeks are whipped together and you make a serious kissing sound. It just takes me a while to get used to that. Every morning and when we meet new women, for example, the owner of a small hotel. Another Spanish-speaking lady - am I the only one who has to give the international touch? Next stop is at a villa where we pick up the wife. There are several cacti in the front yard. Gradually I get the feeling of being on the local housewife tour. We list around a suburb to find film, and change - I guess. Only Spanish is spoken and I don't really catch much of the conversation. Finding out, we become four Argentinians, one Dane and four Uruguayans. Their cars are very similar to ours, there are just some old Americans and a little more French in between. We pick up the last elderly gentleman and it is half past eleven, as we find a great way out of town.
We are pretty fast out among the horse carriages, cows, vultures and spring green fields. A lady send some home-baked around. We are literally on the way beyond the Pampa. Actually, it's a geographical area south of Buenos Aires, but the landscape all the way to Cordobas is the same. Flat highland plain with sparse rainfall, yet a nice mat of straggly grass. The driver is a young guy, who listens to fresh music. Probably not the other's choice, but fits me fine. We stop at a gas station half past one to refuel and have lunch. I just had a migraine coming sneaky, so it suited me fine. However, I do not think my weight will benefit from ten days of tank snacks. I sit right behind the driver and the seat next to me is empty. It suits me fine, they are pretty narrow and then there is space for food, drinks and clothes. In fact, I sit in the middle of the bus, there are only three seats in width. So I have a really good view. We drive through huge swamps and equally large grazing land. Then there will be some orange plantations. Here is flat and it could well be Denmark. Passes quite a lot of nurseries, as shown mainly deals with roses and other garden plants.
We stop again at 2am to have lunch - again. Well, you never know when you'll get something again. I grab a sandwich, which is half a flute with a thin, well-grilled piece of cow, cheese and salad. Very good. Out on the road again. Countless birds of prey, in many sizes, sit on the roadside and on the electric poles. Here are a lot of old Mercedes trucks of the 11 and 1500 series. They are incredibly well maintained, and hawl around with very large loads. New trucks are called WV or Scania. I finally find out what the small metal suction pipes are for. You get tea leaves and hot water, and the straw ends up in a sieve so you don't get leaves in your mouth. So many in Buenos Aires, but did not find out their use. Thought it was salsa or oil. It is "mate".
Incidentally, it's nice to get out in the countryside and get some fresh air. Despite the name, there is not much of it in Buenos Aires! We pase some tinplate cities and open trash sites. Several kilometers on each side, the landscape is covered with thin plastic bags - really ugly! The fields have started to turn green, the corn fields are just dead stups or the first two seedlings. Half of the trees have got leaves. Here, like so many other places in the world; unfortunately many are eucalyptus trees. Landscapes are lolland-flat. In the fields are many cows, some horses, a few sheep and a few goats and pigs. The horses are, for the most part, similar to working animals, but there are also many cowboy horses. There are many old tractors, see among others a Hanomar. In addition to the many birds of prey, there are many other birds, but in fact, I only recognize the gray spruce. There are some black ibis-like in the wetlands, starlings, plowers, herrons, egrets, road runners, pigeons and parakeets. The first day brings only gas station stop. Here is simply too fertile for cacti. We drive towards Cordoba.
I get written significantly more words than I get spoken. Talked a little English with the restaurant staff to order food, that's all. Fits me really well, I can use some peace. Several times, we have to stop to pay for the road. Just from the airport to the hotel there were three stops. Out here in the countryside we pay for every 100 kilometers or so. Horrible ten bucks for the bus. A little over six, we are 500 kilometers from Buenos Airos and the first tame opuntias show up. There are also traders on the road side, and just as "smart" as those in Mexico: There have been three in the city, and all sold only footballs. The next few hours, not much happens, besides my migraines returning, and it gets dark.
At half past ten, we arrive at the Hotel Ritz in Villa Carlos Paz, a suburb of Cordobas. We are about 700 kilometers from Buenos Airos. We have just twenty minutes to find the rooms before going out and having some food. Personally, I'm ready to roll over in bed, except I'm dying of hunger. Some local cacti freaks show up, and we just have to talk before we have food. Finally, at eleven o'clock, food arrives on the table. First we get a pirok - spicy meatball with butter dough. Then some tomato onion salad and bread. Ending with mixed product from the grill. Small sausages, the browns taste a bit of glögg, the black ones I don't know. Pork chops and something I really have no idea what is. I head home a little passed midnight; we have to meet for breakfast at seven and my migrane is far from over. In addition, only Spanish is spoken and the television also turned up high.
27.9. Six and half hours of sleep is not enough to get me up to speed. Some of the others look pretty hurt too, but that has an explanation: Alexandra, who lives with her mother at home, was late last night told that the mother was dead. After a bite of breakfast (in the literal sense), we roll out of there. My fellow travellers are starting to look a little more nerdy: They stand in their photo-vests and compare tweezers, hatch irons and spades. They don't expect to keep it at the photo-safari level! We finally get off the bus at eight o'clock, but nothing really happens. The driver pauses with the car, the others leave, one at a time to shop in the nearby kiosks and shops. I'm scouting feverishly for an internet cafe, but it was too optimistic.
It is half past nine before we, last eight and driver, drive out through the big hills just outside the city. The landscape is starting to look right! Ten minutes outside the city we stop: Stop 01. Here are seven different cacti, spread with generous hand over a limited area. There are being photographed and dug up. Now I understand why it is good that rows of seats have been taken out: It is to have room for the collected plants! Finding the place where we need to stop is easy: Willy has GPS coordinates and species list for each location.
The sun is only gently looking through the clouds, and after an hour, we head on, many thorns richer! I personally have a part in my legs and fingers, the others must have more! Here, too, are many of the grassy-growths that grow on the power lines; Bromeliads. There were small buds in several cacti, but no seeds. We drive in a really nice low-mountain area with many lakes. Otherwise, it is very dry and scorched. There are some cities which I can't figure make a living? The bus is echoed by an intense jumble of paper bags as it gets registered and packed. After a short hour, we turn off a bad dirt road, in a small town. After quite a bit of the buzz, we find out it's not the right city. Plan B: GPS and Maps. It wasn't there. Next time we try, there is the San Marcos Sierras.
Stop 2. We walk along the banks of a small lake. The sun has become strong, and it is a wonderful weather. Here is a lot of yellow vegetation, and among the dry bushes some cacti hide. I get a somewhat ambivalent relationship to show when I find something nice or new: It gets photographed and dug up instantly. Under the bushes are the tunnels from rather large spiders. In the open areas three kinds of tiny little flowers grow very scattered. One has bright yellow flower, the other a cluster of scarlet red and the last has sharp purple flowers. All over the area hangs the pleasant scent of flowering acacias. Funny cacti usually grow under bushes - thorny acacia bushes. This makes it difficult to photograph, but fortunately also difficult to dig up. I see we're not the first ones here. Above all are turned boulders. After an hour there is nothing new to find.
We drive through ancient granite mountains
that are more gravel than rock. Then we reach the plateau. Here are
some individual olive groves and huge areas of dry shrubs. Here and
there, five-meter-high Opuntia quimilos emerge, and we pass
under the much cheered Harrisia bonplandii, which resembles
dark-green snakes. Wonder if they have no idea we should have a pee
/ coffee break? The homemade from yesterday shows up and I goof off
a bit. Many of the electricity masts we pass are covered with huge
rescues on top. Those are probably colonies of monk parakeets (or
could it be the conurer?). Then comes some Stetsonia coryne,
which is more cowboy-cactus-like
At five o'clock we turn off a minor road towards Los Mogotois. Stop 4. Stop in the middle of the road again and find four different cacti and a lot of other thorns and flies. It has been cloudy, but the heat is not as depressing either. We are exactly 1100 kilometres fra Buenos Aires. A little further out of the same road we stay again. Stop 5. Here are some large weathered granite boulders with different scattered plantings, including four cacti. One is new and the reason we stay here. Pretty big barrel-like guy. A dust storm comes through the valley and we prefer to leave. It is half past seven and in conjunction with the dust it is getting dark. The bus is wrapped in a pink cloud. Sometimes visibility is down to 20 meters, other times up to 100 meters. It has been a long time since we last saw any kind of settlement. There are fences along the roads, with is it for keeping inside or out? At dusk, fields appear. It is shown olives, citrus and wine.
We arrive at the hotel at eight o'clock. It is located a little outside the city itself, and looks amazingly nice in some ala ranch style. I get a big room, and teases one with the other, I should have map for it. A short tour up on the first floor, to see the bedrooms. Apparently, there is just no bath in the room. Asking at the front desk, and a little head-shaking, she shows me a completely white door at the back of my wing. Embarrassing! We have just an hour to wrap up today's findings. I have come to expect that we will see about 100 different cacti, most of which are rare for Danish collectors. If I took just one plant of each (the others have about ten each) the trip would be funded - or I would spend the rest of my life in Danish prison.
Since I have no finds, I settle for a well-deserved bath. Really wish I could find an internet so I could write with Rikke a bit, but there are several miles in to the city, and I won't asking the driver. His days are plenty tough. We drive out to a farm to eat. We get the same starters and then choose from the menu. I choose a roast chicken breast. A few bottles of wine, a lot of water and wine juices, salads and more. I simply have to live. The price is 300 kroner for us nine! And then we get a small bottle of wine each, of their own bottling. Nice etiquette. I really have a hard time keeping my eyes open, and fortunately we drive soon after. Even though I have changed clothes, I can still feel thorns here and there. We are home at half past twelve, so it is only up to bed, if I have to reach eight hours. Bounce beard and nails; it will be tomorrow ...
28.9. These are some short
nights they make around here! We get up before the sun. The sandstorm has
settled down so it will surely be a nice day. I don't really have a language
ear. I did expand my Spanish vocabulary a bit in Mexico, but here, where people
speak exclusively (and very much) Spanish, not a single word has come. I knew
Stop 2.1. On a very steep granite slope grows four or five different new cacti. From huge to beer canister-sized. On the barren branches of the bush, bromeliads grow, some with blue flowers. There are flowers in some of the tall cacti, while the others have only small buds. An hour is obviously the standard, we drive on half past ten. The road out here was a few years ago paved with a thin layer. We have to push the bus free in the parking lot, but that's fine, we have spades enough! The dust topples over everything, but it's part of the charm. A small, thick blunt squerrel hides under the sparse leaves of a bush as we scramble past. We continue out of the miserable road, to another spot on the mountain range.
Along the way is a
scattered grove of shrubs and a thin layer of Opuntias with very
long thorns. Know from experience, they go right through the leather
on my shoes. We come to our guide's garden:
I buy a very small Cyphostemma from Africa for 22 kroner. Unfortunately, it is not full name, but it has unlike the one I have; a clearly defined caudex. There are also a few other variations over some that I have, but I restrain myself. The biggest difference is the name tag anyway. During a lot of waving and yelling, we roll off at noon, right down to a gas station for lunch. At least I choose to believe that. The city is surrounded by mountains, some even have small white spots of snow. A fool on a big motorcycle comes into the tank with a walkie. I write him off as a fool. One of the others gives a long interview, which we hear on the radio five minutes later.
After an hour, we are far out in the countryside; really far. The houses are clay-clad, of sun-dried stone, flat-roofed cottages without windows. Very native, as I expected in Mexico. In front are a couple of horses, and there are a bunch of kids around. We drive for a long time down to the bottom of a dry river, just wide enough for the bus, but just as high. Stops in the middle of a valley where Willy sees a flower in a large cactus. We are at a height of 1800 meters and the sun is real strong.
Stop 2.2. We walk around on the very steep slate slope, and find some new cacti. I walk a little beyond the plain, without finding anything. On the other side of the road stands a large cliff which is overgrown with cacti: Really nice motive. At three o'clock the bus takes off. We drive through a landscape that is mainly made up of pebbles with small bushes. Generally completely flat. After a few hours, we reach the edge of the plain. Here are some huge granite cliffs. Very beautiful with pink stripes through black stones.
Stop 2.3. A goat
herder has a large grass shed, perhaps his home,
Stop 2.4. Here, a wide river runs at intervals of years. Down between the rocks we find some small round tubers. It will be exciting to see them in daylight. We drive to the nearest town; Fiambala, where there is a brand new hotel. In front, on the power cords sits a bunch of parrots, maybe dwarfs marcaus. Trying to take a photo with flash, now we have to see. Even though it is only half past nine, we have to eat - great! I get a Viennese cut steak with fries. Skipping, as some of the others get a thick slice of cheese with an equally thick slice of sweet-potato-marmalade.
From here, the tour continues in Diary 2