18th March – Amazonia here we come!
We are just recovering from yesterday night – we were driving along the Carretera Interoceanica thinking there will be plenty of places to stay. Darkness here comes at six, and by the time it was 7 pm we were desperate to find a nice place for the night. Unfortunately the route we are taking is not touristy at all. So there we were, without a place to stay and all options we could find looked dim. So dim it seemed the hostals we saw had front wall and an open back to them. Andrew came up with a new saying – always check your hostel has walls…
The local police in Ocongate told us that the best place in town was 5 km away along the main road. We took his advice, and found the amazing “Parador del Ausangate”. They had everything! The place is most immaculate, the owners most welcoming, and we really enjoyed our night.
The views in the morning were breath taking. Parador del Ausangate is next to Cordillera del Ausangate, a popular destination for hicking and mountain climbing. The highest peak is Nevado Ausangate at 6384 m. All peaks are covered in snow, making the scenery fantastic.
Once on the road again, we were heading to Amazonia. First we had to drive through the pass at 4780 m. As usual, puna vegetation means finding Salpichroas. A few kilometers after the pass we found a beautiful specimen of Salpichroa glandulosa. Paul had to get his boots wet to collect it along the stream. I kept dry and took pictures
The road descended to Amazonian lowlands quickly. Before we knew it we were at 500 m elevation. The houses changed shape: now everything was build from wood, whilst in the puna houses are made of clay and straw. We took some side roads in order to explore the forest, and bumbed into a small hydroelectric dam and its keeper señor Juan Cruz. Juan is a keen entymologist, and new everything about the local insect fauna. He had recently found something he had never seen in his 55 years he has lived in the area. It was big, with a large horne with stiff hairs all along it. If any insect experts can identify this, names are welcome, we are fascinated!
Juan told us that these insects, and particular rare butterflies sell for up to 400 soles. That is a large sum of money here. Some collectors even come to him regularly to see what he has got, and offer to buy anything of their interest. On his small farm around the dam Juan had some interesting plants too. Solanum sessiliflorum, locally known as cocona, was growing next to his fire hut, a species native to Peru and much cultivated for its delicious fruits that can be used for jams, juice and preserves. It’s related to the other cultivated species, Solanum quitoense, known as naranjilla, commonly eaten in Ecuador.
We enjoyed some juicy sugar cane stem with Juan and offered bisquits in return which we had bought earlier. We made some nice collections around the dam, but as time was ticking we had to return to the main road. Two of the most interesting collections of the day were things we didn’t quite know. Before Sandy left we promised to her to post any pictures of things we can’t name, so here they are, hopefully something exciting! First, Solanum tree with unusually large calyx:
And another one, this time a tree species of Solanum from the Geminata clade:
Where did we stay the night this time? Well that is another story in itself, read on tomorrow to find out!
19th March – Rare finds
The night brought us trouble again. There was nowhere to stay in most towns we passed, or at least there were no hostels with both front AND back walls . So we kept driving until 8 pm. It was dark and we were desperate. Originally we had planned to stay in Puerto Inambari, a city where the Carretera Interoceanica meets another large road connecting the Amazonian lowlands to Puno and Juliaca near the Bolivian border. We assumed Puerto Inambari would be a bustling town ready to receive passing by passengers. We blinked and Puerto Inambari was gone… Another 17 km further down the road was another town, same case, there was nothing. We decided to continue on the road until the provincial capital San Gapán. Provincial capitals often have more accommodation available, and our hopes were high. Another 64 km later we arrived to San Gapán and stopped at first hotel we saw!
We woke up slightly later to recover from last nights errors. The lesson we are quickly learning is that never assume there are places to stay, unless you are heading to tourist areas like the Sacred valley in Cusco.
Today’s route included an exciting climb. The road from San Gapán to Juliaca and Puno crosses the eastern cordillera. Once you are up in 3500 m elevation, the uplands begin and seem never to stop until you get to the coast another 1000 km away. These uplands are not homogeneous though: the best ever microhabitat in the high elevation are the sand dune habitats near 4000 m.
We passed one of these dunes, just like beach sand, and stopped to see if Solanum chamaesarachidium would be there – and it was!!! This species is a minute Solanum species, the whole plant is barely the size of a thumb. What a specialised niche it has as well: sand dunes at 4000 m elevation are not common!
Today’s unidentified Solanum was one that Sandy knows like the back of her hands – species from the Geminata clade. We didn’t know what it was, but will use Sandy’s key to identify it once back in Lima.
Other species we found included the weedy but wonderful Solanum chenopodioides.
Many people confuse it with Solanum americanum, but Solanum chenopodioides has larger calyx lobes, corolla with black eye, larger anthers, generally fewer flowers per inflorescence, pedicels that become strongly reflexed in fruit, and dull black coloured fruits. Here is Solanum americanum for comparison – it takes careful looking but the differences are there!
Last but not least comes the most challenging collection of the day. Andrew and Paul had to use some robe, seceteurs, and clever thinking to get this one! Solanum grandiflorum grows up to 6 m high, but what makes it tricky is that it lacks low lying branches – flowering shoots especially are all in the crown of the tree. Collecting big trees is defenetely much more time consuming…
We are only a few days into our latest tour, but have made it already to Macusani. Macusani is a big provincial capital, and we had no trouble finding a nice place to stay. But internet is still difficult to come across. There are places but full of youngsters playing video games online!
20th March – Through the highlands
Today was all about making the miles, and getting to Sandia. We are heading to the southeast corner of the department of Puno to visit some type localities of names for which types got destroyed in Berlin during the Second World War. It was a long day, with highland scenery.
We were driving on top of the mountains all day – this was my clever plan to avoid dangerous mountains roads, ascending and descending all the time with plenty of curves that turn your belly around. The strategy worked, and we made the distance. Sleeping well tonight in Sandia. Hoping tomorrow to find a cash machine as we are running out of cash. Or will we have to succumb to washing dishes after dinner???!!