(By Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad, , 2006

(All pictures by Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad)


P. hemiepiphytica in habitat



Recently, a Mexican was driving north from Oaxaca, touring the state with his family. Everyone else is asleep in the car - itīs been raining a long time now and the scenery has been the same for hours. A windy mountain road lined with a dense thicket of trees, drizzle on the windshield, more windy road, here a dirt road turnoff, more windy road in the rain, around another curve and...

Iīm still trying to figure out what went through this Mexicanīs mind as he came around the corner and saw the two of us - in sandals, shorts, T-shirts, and ponchos, standing at the roadside, the one shielding the otherīs camera from the rain with a straw hat as he takes pictures of roadside vegetation. In the freezing rain. In the middle of nowhere. In shorts. "Aquellos Americanos locos..."

Iīm also still trying to figure out what got into our minds to do so in the first place...

That morning we had dropped off all of the clothes we could spare at the laundromat so that the local wildlife would stop avoiding us because of the smell. Consequently, we were rather lightly dressed as we sat by the roadside in Ixtlan where we had spent the night, clutching a bottle of water and a pile of photographic equipment as we waited for the bus or carro (taxi truck) that might or might not show up sometime in the next few hours going in our direction.

Before too long something that looked like a carro but wasnīt one did show up, and the friendly driver offered to give us a lift for a few kilometers. A while later he dropped us off at a roadside restaurant, thoroughly chilled but 10 km. closer to our goal: P. hemiepiphytica. Another friendly local chatted with us for a few minutes outside the restaurant before offering us a ride some more kilometers up the road. As we climbed in the back of his truck, we noticed that the other three occupants of the bed were much more well bundled up than we were. Haha. Itīs kind of funny looking back at it now from this warm internet cafe. A few kilometers later it started drizzling. Both of us had planned ahead and brought ponchos (although mine looked and felt more like a plastic bag with holes in it). We wrapped up as best we could and grinned back at the Mexican lady laughing at us from the other side of the truck bed.

Half an hour of shivering later we slowed to a stop at the turnoff of a dirt road. The friendly driver got out and asked us if we wanted to be dropped off, or if weīd rather he take us to his pueblo, put us up for the night, and drop us back off at the road tomorrow?

Iīm still not sure why we refused his offer.

Oh well.

The sound of the engine died away. It continued to rain. Forbes suggested we might want to take the next bus back down to Ixtlan. I glanced at the GPS. 5 km. to go. "Thatīs as the crow flies," I thought to myself. "I bet this road kind of straightens out soon. It might only be a 7 or 8 km. walk." "Letīs go!" I yelled to Forbes, who was trying to stretch the poncho to cover more of his body. We started walking. "As long as we keep walking, we wonīt freeze to death," I reassured myself, grinning.

We never found out whether this theory would prove true - half a kilometer later, we were picked up by a bus. 10 minutes to the site. I love Mexican buses. (On a side note, I also want to know what was going through the bus driverīs mind either when he picked us up or when he dropped us off. He seemed to be well trained, however, and acted as if he picked up Americans walking in the middle of nowhere wearing shorts in the rain every day, and merely asked for his 10 pesos when we asked to be dropped off even further in the middle of nowhere).

Once we arrived at the location, the plants were not difficult to find - huge bright-pink flowers emanated from huge rosettes growing in the moss at the roadside.




A nice reddish plant:


We especially wanted to see this plant growing epiphytically on tree trunks like we new was typical for this species, so we followed a little trail off of the road. The forest was Amazing!!! There were dozens of fern species, blooming orchids, mosses, and many many plants we couldnīt identify that were obviously not able to grow outside a rainy/cloudforest such as this one!



And of course there were plenty of P. hemipepiphytica! Most of the plants close to the dim forest floor were not in flower yet.


When we looked up, however, well.... click on the pictures below :


Quite gorgeous to look at!! Taking pictures of them in the dim rain was a little bit more of a challenge though.



Luckily, we found another flowering plant that was closer to eye level :

We didnīt stay much longer, and hailed the next vacationing Mexican family that happened to be unlucky enough to be driving a vehicle that looked like it might be a Taxi. They took pity on us (or were afraid of being charged with negligent homicide) and gave us a lift to Ixtlan.

Weīre going to try to go back and get some better pictures of this species tomorrow at this or another site. Maybe we can do the trip for less than 10 pesos this time...


Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad