travelog 102

Huasteca Potosina - More from the "Thundering Herd"

In March 2009 we wrote the travelog about the adventures of the "Thundering Herd" in the Sierra Huicholes. Two years later we still fondly remembered this successful trip and so we decided to repeat it in the near future. Fitz, with 87 years, the oldest participant of the group, already had some ideas in mind. On his many maps and with the help of Google Earth, he had located a low hill, Cerro El Chacuaco, on the western side of the Huasteca Potosina, in the eastern part of the state of San Luis Potosi. According to the geological maps this hill was made of volcanic rock rather than the usual calcareous rock found in this region. In addition, the hill looked so unattractive that Fitz thought the Czechs would certainly not have been there yet. You see, the Czech plant freaks have the reputation that when they have been to an area and combed it then they have normally discovered everything that is growing there - and in many cases they have also taken the rare stuff to finance their trip. In any case, Fitz was in good hopes that on this hill grew some interesting things to be discovered. That's how the basic plan for our trip started.

At the beginning of February we met with Jean-Marc Chalet and his partner Lupita at Fitz's house in San Luis Potosi to study the maps and load up the cars. Under a brilliant blue sky we drove off, passed the Sierra Alvarez and Rio Verde and drove on towards Tamazunchale. First we went to Cardenas, a small town along the railroad from San Luis Potosi to Tampico, where we looked for a hotel for the next couple of days. It was market day in the center of town and hard to get through with a car. The only two downtown hotels looked pretty shabby but finally a kind taxi driver helped and sent us to the north end of the small town to a large park and the bus station. We found accommodation in the Hotel "San Francisco" where Lupita spent the next two days in bed with the flu. Our first outing took us from Martinez to La Caņada and back to Cardenas on some back roads. On the first pass we found, as expected and very typical for the area, Agave asperrima ssp. potosiensis, A. funkiana, Echinocereus pentalophus and Mammillaria magnimamma. The old, gnarled oak trees were covered with various Tillandsias. Along a small stream we at least discovered a Crassulaceae, Echeveria rosea, although a weed in the Echeverias. In one of the many little villages Martin and Fitz who were leading picked up a goodlooking young lady who was looking for a "raite", a ride, back to Cardenas. The two men certainly imagined a lively conversation with the dark-haired beauty but she was so intimidated by the two seniors that she was barely able to open her mouth to whisper a thank you for the ride. (Foto of Mammillaria magnimamma courtesy Jean-Marc Chalet)

The second day was dedicated to Fitz's mysterious hill. We had breakfast in a small restaurant at the large intersection south of Cardenas. Then we drove on to Santa Rita and to a locality where we wanted to take pictures of Sedum glabrum. It was here that Jean-Marc realized he had forgotten his briefcase with his papers and all his money on the chair at our breakfast place. So he went back and we agreed to meet up again somewhere along the road. Slowly we drove on towards San Francisco, exploring rocks and low hills close to the road. Apart from nice rocks we could not find anything interesting. According to our calculations it was about time to see Jean-Marc's cars cloud of dust on the horizon. But we waited in vain in the shade of a Mezquite tree for our friend. At least it gave us time to tell stories about his famous, and sometimes notorious, talent for organization thanks to which he plans his trips to the last detail - and to talk about the many oportunities where he forgot something that was later nowhere to be found, but it also gave him the oportunity to buy a new tripod every year, for example. After an eternity Jean-Marc finally emerged out of a cloud of dust. His briefcase was wrapped in an envelope and on the front it said that it was to be delivered to a "gringo". This time he was lucky and only had to drive an extra 200km (124 miles)! Soon we then saw Fitz's low hill south of Tablas. Thanks to Google Earth we found the inconspicuous road that took us to the hill and all the way around it. First we enjoyed an improvised lunch out of the cooler under a shady tree. Then we climbed the hill from three different sides but were (unfortunately) unable to make any spectacular discoveries and found only Echinocereus pentalophus and Mammillaria magnimamma. Fitz had actually wished for an isolated population of one of his beloved Stylothelae (Mammillaria) and his disappointment was pretty big. On a new dirt road we then drove along the railroad tracks through an almost untouched, beautiful landscape to San Jose de Palmas and back to Cardenas. Close to the hotel we discovered a nice restaurant where the beer was affordable and the food pretty good. (Picknick foto at Cerro Chacuaco courtesy Jean-Marc Chalet)

Mexican restaurants, if there are any in these small towns, are normally still closed early in the morning, but on the local market you will almost certainly find a place where they serve hot coffee, fresh orange juice and eggs in various ways of preparation for breakfast. Our choice was a small place with quesadillas with different fillings. The cheese was really stringy and the chorizo hellishly spicy, sufficiently so that we broke out into a sweat early in the morning. It also gave us the oportunity to shoot a few pictures of civilized people trying really hard to eat a quesadilla in a decent way.

Another trip was dedicated to reaching the Laguna Grande from the western side. The Laguna Grande looks like a small lake on Mexican maps, but on Google Earth you can only see a dried lake bed. The maps also show various inconspicuous tracks leading to the lagoon. Of course this arose our curiosity. From the little town of Alaquines we took a bumpy road snaking up the mountain side. Again we met the same plants as on the days before but at least the landscape was worth seeing. In the oak trees we discovered various orchid species and of course tillandsias and epiphytically growing cacti. A lonesome rider sensed his oportunity to have a long talk on this beautiful morning, but at least we found out that it was only possible to reach the Laguna Grande from this side on an arduous horse ride. We went on through Ojo de Agua and onwards to Nuevo Reforma where we came through a fairytale forest. It was impossible that nothing of interest was growing here! Quickly we spotted Echeveria rosea in the trees and Sedum calcicola grew on the calcarious rocks, and we even discovered another Echeveria, E. schaffneri. From Nuevo Reforma we drove a few kilometers on a seldom used dirt road through the same fairytale forest but there was nothing new to be discovered. The trees were densely covered with orchids, ferns, moss, tillandsias and peperomias. On the way back we climbed to a cliff but there was nothing more than Agave mitis and thousands of hungry mosquitoes.

The next day we moved on to Tamasopo where we checked into a small hotel. Grey clouds hang low from the sky and it was drizzling. Ideal weather to look for plants! This time we wanted to try to get to the Laguna Grande from the eastern side. Along the road to San Nicolas de los Montes we discovered two different species of cycads, one of them the very common Dioon edule. Soon we reached Santa Rosalia where we asked for the Laguna Grande. Two women explained that we could reach it on foot but that it was only a rivulet at this time of the year. The grey coulds in the sky did not look promising, the landscape looked even less promising, and the rivulet certainly did not sound like an absolute must-see. So we drove on to San Nicolas de los Montes where the biggest Erythrina trees we had ever seen grew. They were densely covered with various orchids, Rhipsalis baccifera and a Hylocereus species. At the end of the village we discovered the ruins of an age-old mission church. Ferns and moss and tillandsias grew in the porous rocks of its crumbling walls. We searched for a covered place for our improvised lunch because it was now raining constantly and the temperatures had come down too. Finally we found a bench under a canopy and everybody was putting together his sandwiches from the cooler. A mother with her two children came by and they tried our Swiss style cheese. Five minutes later the siblings returned with homemade gorditas, thick tortillas, that were stuffed with black bean puree and spicy chorizo. As a way of saying thank you we gave the kids vanilla pudding we had gotten the night before as a dessert at the restaurant. Of course it did not take another five minutes for the children to return with more hot tortillas. Mexico! After almost freezing off our hands and feet we finally started to drive back to the hotel.

Low hanging, black clouds greeted us the next morning. It rained without a break. The temperature had dropped down to 3° Celsius (37.4 F). Fitz was still optimistic about continuing our trip but Jean-Marc and us had already packed our bags and decided to drive back to San Luis Potosi to wait for better times. We drove downtown Tamasopo for breakfast and studied the menu at the local market. The steaming pots warmed the small kitchens and we sat down with a voluminous cook who served coffee at once. Well-fed and back in the rain Fitz had changed his mind and was now also convinced that it made not much sense to search for plants in this weather. Besides, we had seen on TV that this situation was an extensive low pressure system to be followed by more depressions.

Back in San Luis Potosi we recovered and relaxed from the last few days. At night we sat in front of the warming fire place and sipped local Mezcal. On TV we saw again that one low pressure system was followed by the next and it was decided to call off the continuation of the trip. Now we hope to be able to report from another, more successful trip of the "Thundering Herd" in about two years!

April-May 2011

Julia Etter & Martin Kristen