BAREFOOT BOYS MEXICAN TRIP N 13

(By Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad, July 16 to 22, 2006

(All pictures by Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad)

 

 

Having bid good-bye to our fellow Pinguicula hunting friends Fernando Rivadavia and Ruben Resendiz, Forbes Conrad and I headed north from Mexico City. Fernando and Ruben, who had been gracious enough to invite us to go Pinguicula hunting with them for the weekend, had then suggested we make a bid at locating P. laxifolia, a species from the state of Taumalipas known only from its publication by Luhrs in 1995. This species is so unique among Pinguicula that it forms its own section: Orchidioides! Needless to say we jumped at this opportunity and, after navigating the streets full of peaceful election protesters across Mexico City, caught the next bus north.
 

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

Our first stop was Pachuca in the region of Mineral del Chico, where we had GPS coordinates for a P. acuminata population.

 

Pachuca
 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

In Pachuca we caught a minibus to Mineral del Chico. In Mexico many taxi drivers enjoy pimping their cars in order to attract customers. Coloured lights, hood ornaments, and spinners are all common. Some taxis even come with small black-and-white television screens for the driver to watch (yes, while they're driving!). This taxi-bus had a row of LED lights over the windshield which was synchronized to pulse rhythmically with the music from the radio.
 

 

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

When the GPS unit showed we were within half of a kilometer of the P. acuminata site, we started convincing the driver to let us off. This part is always tricky, as drivers are always sure we must be making a mistake, and actually intend to get off at the next town like everyone else. This time we were relatively persuasive and only had to walk a few hundred meters from the drop-off point, at which point we found a roadside cliff covered in moss and P. moranensis. Somewhere around this time rain started to drip through the fog.

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

P. acuminata was present but much more difficult to find, as they were few in number and not in flower.

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

 

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

 

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

 

 

More on P. acuminata in habitat can be read in the article area and in the specific page on P. acuminata.

 

Although we were happy to have seen P. acuminata in all of its splendor, the precipitation was starting to get to us, and after five minutes we decided we had seen what we came for and stood at the side of the road to wait for the next taxi. Over the course of the next half hour several taxis drove by, but all were too full to take on any more passengers. The one that finally stopped was also too full to take on any more passengers, but we weren't complaining. It was nice to get out of the soaking rain, even if it meant standing stooped over in the side of a steamy van packed full of people like a can of sardines, including a large goth who kept nodding off and falling out of his seat in our direction. Arriving back in Pachuca at 4:30, we grabbed some food before deciding to continue north that day, sleeping on buses rather than wasting money on a hotel. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Around noon the next day, we rolled into Gomez Farias, the first step to finding P. laxifolia. According to the description of this species, its type (and only known) location is in "MEXICO. Tamaulipas: Distr. Gomez Farias, Rancho del Cielo, between La Perra and Agua Linda." After asking around, we were able to discern that Rancho del Cielo (Cielo = sky) was several hours of driving up the mountain from Gomez Farias, but that we could find someone to take us most of the way for only 500-800 pesos ($50-80 US) a piece. This inflated price reflects the local economy, which depends heavily on the ecotourism that is generated by the cloudforest on the mountain. Luckily, as we didn't need a personal tour guide and were willing to share a truck bed with a glass display case, we were able to find a ride up the mountain for much less. Here we were dropped off at the last outpost of civilization: a small village, without power, at 3000 ft. (914 m.) altitude. P. laxifolia was supposed to be growing at 6300 - 6800 ft. (1920-2072 m). Here we were able to find someone who had heard of Agua Linda and La Perra. He showed us which trail to follow, and the next day we set off on it.

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

After less than 2 hours of climbing we lost the correct trail and spend the rest of the day wandering around in search of a trail which continued up the mountain. We did end up finding our mistake near the end of the afternoon. In the meanwhile, we found lots of P. moranensis, including a few specimens growing on a tree trunk near a waterfall.
 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

 

A larva turns the tables

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

 

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

 

 

Some Mexican youth we had met in the area (they were hiking the mountain as tourists) wanted their picture taken with a Pinguicula when they heard what it was we were doing.

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

 

 

hiking in sandals all day leaves weird impressions on your feet...

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

When we got back to base camp at the village, we were tired out by the long day of hiking but looking forward to making another stab at it tomorrow, now that we knew where the correct trail lay.

Come morning we left around 9:30, following a large breakfast made to order by a local housewife. This time, as Forbes was experiencing knee problems, we decided to leave all of the nonessentials behind, taking only cameras, notebooks, and our remaining food. The local who had given us directions told us that Agua Linda was about 5 hours walk up the mountain, and that La Perra was another hour or two beyond that. I guess I was expecting these to be pueblas, but instead Agua Linda turned out to be a spring, whereas La Perra is.. well... we're still not really sure what it is. From what I gathered from the local, woodcutters go there several times a year to cut wood. Not exactly a good landmark description. By midafternoon we found Agua Linda, at just over 6400 ft. From here we started scouring the trail-sides and any piece of suitable habitat we could find. The habitat here was more variable than any other we had seen in the whole of Mexico, with a forest of varying density interspersed with meadows, cliffs, earth banks, and rocky hilltops.

 

A wet meadow with lots of wildflowers (Even an introduced Gladiolus)... but where are the Utricularia?

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

 

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

 

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

 

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

 

Since the species description for P. laxifolia totally lacks a description of habitat, we concentrated on sunnier areas based on the premise that the narrower leaves of this species might be an adaptation to high light levels. Unfortunately, try as we might, we were unable to find a single specimen of P. laxifolia anywhere. The only Pinguicula to be found were the ever-present P. moranensis and P. esseriana. Both of these, however, are worth noting:


P. esseriana was growing on cliffsides in numerous locations, both in the shade and in the sun:

 

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

We found P. moranensis growing in TREES!! And not only near the base of the trunk - we found one tree with P. moranensis 20 ft. up on the trunk!!

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

 

A nice four-petalled mutant

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

These two flowers were growing perhaps a meter apart from each other.

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

We kept hiking up the trail in search of La Perra, but when we finally reached a rocky mountaintop at 7000 ft and still without sign of either La Perra or P. laxifolia, we finally decided that we must turn around and head back.

Our turn-around point. Perhaps we didn't look far enough?

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

It was 6:00 PM and we didn't, as you will remember, have any camping equipment with us, so staying on the jaguar-inhabited mountain was not an option. We finally stumbled back into camp at 11:50, more than 14 hours after we had left that morning.

The next morning, discouraged and exhausted after 25 hours of fruitless hiking and finding ourselves to be completely out of food, we decided to call it an attempt and move on to other parts... So we went to see P. gypsicola.

P. gypsicola grows in the state of San Luis Potosi, on a gypsum hill in a barren desert near a town called Buenavista that was not on our map.

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

 

Here it had obviously not rained much yet this summer, and the Selaginella here were curled up and crisp. The P. gypsicola were just coming out of dormancy, although a few were already in flower:

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

The flower size, morphology, and coloring varied a little:

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

P. takakii was also supposed to be growing in the area, but due to the dry conditions it had not yet germinated.
 

 

Waiting for a bus to happen by in the desert. Notice how the signboard is not actually a beer ad, but a sponsored turnoff sign for the local town.

 

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

Hope you enjoy,

Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad