So, I arrived safely in Cordoba – was met at the airport by Gloria, went to the herbarium to check a few plant localities for the trip, and then crashed! Today we set off bright and early to drive due south from Cordoba to Bahia Blanca, a distance of some 1000 kilometres.
In Argentina, the most important thing to pack is the yerba mate equipment! Yerba mate, or mate as it is often called, is made from the leaves of a holly relative – Ilex paraguariensis – that grows in the forests of the northeast of the country (and in Paraguay). The leaves are dried and crumbled and look a bit like tea. In Argentina, mate is always drunk with hot water and through a silver straw.
So what happens is that the cup is packed with leaves, hot water poured over, it is given to one person, who drinks it up through the straw, and then the process is repeated for each person in the car. Very convivial and I do love mate! In Paraguay, mate is drunk with cold water and is called terere.
Supplies for the long journey.
South from Cordoba we enter a huge agricultural region where fields of soybean, sorghum and maize cover the landscape. This region is one of the main soybean growing areas in Argentina – we saw various bits of graffiti saying (in essence) “Don’t let soybeans come and ruin our lives!” But soybean cultivation is there, and very extensive indeed. My colleagues say it is mostly exported to China.
The landscape is flat, flat, flat – and was very hot! We got out a few times to look for a still elusive species of the genus Jaborosa (Jaborosa bergii) – but no luck yet….. it is a tiny little annual growing in exposed sand dunes so might have just come and gone before we got there. Lots of the vegetation was drying up. A few things bloomed though – like this prickly poppy – Argemone subfusiformis.
Argemone subfusiformis - a prickly poppy.
On and on we drove – until we reached what I thought of as real Argentine pampas – grassy habitat with cows and sheep. The road was absolutely straight, like a Roman road in England, but with lots of sun!!
All road trips end up with some disaster, and today was no exception. We had a flat tyre out in the pampas, about 141 kilometres from our destination in the middle of nowhere. Amazingly, this was the first time any of my compañeros had experienced a flat during field work – incredible! The institute maintains their vehicles very well! So Juan and Franco set to work changing the tyre, while Gloria and I looked for Solanaceae.
Flat tyre in the middle of rural Argentina - an apportunity for Solanaceae-hunting.
All’s well that ends well – and we arrived in Bahia Blanca (in the province of Buenos Aires and on the Atlantic) in time for supper at 11 pm or so. Tomorrow we will hug the coast looking for the elusive Jaborosa bergii again, plus a number of other treasures. I will not forget my first view of the pampas though, one can see forever, and if you imagine it right you can almost see the earth’s curvature, the horizon is so far away! Can’t wait for tomorrow’s excitement……..