Minas Gerais Expeditions: part 8

From: Rick Walker (walker@cutter.hpl.hp.com)
Date: Fri Nov 05 1999 - 17:17:19 PST

Date: Fri, 05 Nov 1999 17:17:19 -0800
From: Rick Walker <walker@cutter.hpl.hp.com>
To: cp@opus.hpl.hp.com
Message-Id: <aabcdefg3714$foo@default>
Subject: Minas Gerais Expeditions: part 8

The attached was orignally sent by "Fernando Rivadavia-Lopes"
<frl@mtecnetsp.com.br> around Oct 23, in MIME encoded form and was
rejected by the listserv. I'm just now reposting while cleaning up the
error logs...

Best regards,

Rick Walker


The next day Fabio and I had to wait a few hours before leaving Urandi while the fuel tank was patched up again. Once that done, we headed on back S, beginning the long treck down to S.Paulo. We still wanted to explore the Espinhasso Highlands somewhere inbetween the Morro do Chapeu and Grao Mogol, but we did not want to get one of the few long (and very likely terribly bumpy) dirt roads shown on my map crossing the highlands W to E. We'd had enough problems with the car for one trip already and so we were looking for a nice place to explore, but of easy access -- which would be especially difficult since none of the mountains seemed to have trails.=20

We spent the night at a small town called Porteirinha and then headed out towards the mountains early the next morning. After more or less 30km on dirt roads, crossing a few ranches, passing through several gates which Fabio had to open for me to drive through, having to shoo away numerous cows sitting in the middle of the road, and almost getting bogged down in deep loose sand on some parts of the road, we finally arrived at the mouth of a huge canyon at the base of the Espinhasso Highlands -- which formed a continuous mountain range at that point.=20

Well, we could tell the mountains were continuous, but we couldn't really tell how high they were. Although it was a beautifully bright and sunny morning, there was a huge and thick sheet of clouds sitting on the mountains. But most interesting of all, the clouds were clearly "cascading" over the mountains and then dissipating in the lowlands, like a gigantic Igua"ss"u Falls extending for dozens of km as far as we could see N-S. My hypothesys on the Morro do Chapeu two days before seemed to be correct! Here was proof that a continuous mountain range was necessary in order to block and then "steal" humidity from the air.=20

We'd heard there was a large waterfall somewhere in the vicinity and since there was a wide trail heading into the canyon, Fabio and I assumed it led to this waterfall. We left almost everything in the car, including food, thinking it would only be a short walk and that we wouldn't be away for long. We began hiking along the trail, expecting the waterfall to be always at the next turn of every corner -- but it never was. We headed deeper and higher into the mountains, the scenery was beautiful, but with every step it became less likely that we'd return to the car for food or other equipment as we left it further and further behind. We finally realized that the trail was actually a donkey track over the Espinhasso Highlands. Since there are no real roads across the mountains for many kilometers either S or N, this was the shortest route for small local ranchers to get from one side to the other.=20

So when we thought we were at more or less the highest point of the trail, around 700m, Fabio and I decided to head straight up the mountains where there were no trails. Unfortunately, the first side we chose was too dry, not to mention bushy and thus very difficult to hike through. Since we couldn't see any running water anywhere around us, we decided to try and climb to a green patch which we could now see on the opposite side of the valley. About an hour was wasted and we were soon back on the trail. It was around lunch time already and our stomachs were beginning to complain, as we regretted having been stupid enough not to put in our backpacks even a few small things to nibble on.=20

Sadly, I'm far from being an expert at what plants are edible or not in the field. If I ever get stuck out in the rainforest or on a highland, I'm sure I'll starve! Oddly (and fortunately) enough however, as our stomachs growled and we were about to begin climbing the trailess mountainside through the bush again, I happened to notice a tree by the trail which I did recognize. It's known as "jatoba" in Brazil and it produces large black pods which have an edible pulp surrounding the seeds. But I have to admit that it's BARELY edible. The beige-colored pulp is extremely dry and fibrous-powdery. The taste is actually not that bad, but it's really unpleasant to eat that sawdust-like fruit, especially because more of it sticks to your gums and teeth than actually goes down your throat! But at least it's really filling and one pod was enough to satisfy my hunger for the rest of the day. Well, if someone had offered me a pizza, I would've devoured it gladly -- yet the thought of having to eat another jatoba I guess kept the hunger away! But we stuffed a few pods in our pockets just in case...

After "lunch", we had to climb only a short trailess stretch before arriving at the green patch we'd seen earlier from across the valley. Surely enough, it was a large grassy seepage, most of it very boggy. It was perfect for CPs, but it was odd that we din't find much CP-wise. I was hoping to see large Drosera: D.graminifolia "northern giant" and D.graomogolensis (or hopefully related new taxa), but all we found was D.communis, D.montana var.tomentosa (with very hairy scapes), and D.sp."Emas" (which was the most interesting and unexpected of the 3). We also saw a few small Utrics (U.nana, U.subulata, and U.purpureocaerulea) but strangely enough not a single Genlisea!=20

We'd climbed onto a high valley and there was a nice view of the surrounding highlands. From the seepga we were at, we could see only one other grassy green spot -- of course on the opposite side of the valley again. It only took us about half an hour to get there, only to find that there were even fewer CPs there than at the first site, in number and variety: D.montana var.tomentosa, U.purpureocaerulea, U.subulata, and I think that was it. The only new species we found were G.filiformis and U.neottioides -- two of the most common CPs in Brazil, nothing to be very thrilled about. Exploring further up the hillside we found a patch with D.hirtella var.hirtella. Now this was interesting, since I'd never seen them so far N along the Espinhasso Highlands. There is one collection of this species from the Chapada Diamantina (continuation of the Espinhasso Highlands to the N), S Bahia, but I couldn't find it there in 1995.

We hiked a bit more around this high valley, but there were no other visible green grassy areas nearby that we could explore. Ironically, we did see some very interesting areas on the opposite side of the canyon, a LOOONG walk away, much higher above the dry area where we'd hiked around for an hour (right before we decided to change sides and head for that first seepage we explored, and right before having those odd jambeiro fruit for lunch). Taking the opportunity that we were in an area which was surely off the beaten botanical track, I collected herbarium samples of and photographed some of the local non-CP flora. As I'd guessed, once back in S.Paulo we discovered that a cute fuzzy reddish cactus which was very common on those highlands was actually an extremely rare and poorly-known taxon. Furthermore, we may even have collected one or more new taxa of Velloziaceae!

We soon realized there was nothing left to explore in the immediate area, so we headed back down to the car, where we arrived about an hour and a half later, dripping with sweat -- what a hot, sunny, and exausting day that had been! Believing our chances of finding D.graminifolia, D.graomogolensis, or anything new on those highlands on subsequent days of exploration were very slim, we decided that it was probably best to return to Sao Paulo from there. Ten days on the road had been enough. As usual there were still tons of new places to explore or other known places we could stop by along the way. Yet not only were we tired, but also the plants we'd collected at the start of the trip were already beginning to look bad. We drove S until nightfall, slept at Montes Claros, and then drove the remaining 1000km straight to S.Paulo the following day.

To be Continued....

Fernando Rivadavia Sao Paulo, Brazil

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