The Cactus Patch
Volume 2       September 1999      Number 9

Peru Travel-Log
by Terry Skillin

We've just returned from a fantastic two-week adventure in South America, and I'm happy to report; the right guide on the right day in the right place, can make a cacti and succulent hunt in Peru quite exciting! Throw in a fast stop-off in the Galapagos, 14 rolls of film, several train rides, planes, a hydrofoil across Lake Titicaca and even the obligatory ride on a balsa reed boat, and you've got the makings of a great vacation. Oh, not to mention the great food, drink and my terrific traveling companion!

The flora of the Galapagos at the lower elevations can be described as patchy, at best. The only cactus visible is a larger pad-type. The largest of these islands, Santa Cruz, offers a good selection of the tropical vegetation that exists on the islands, especially when one travels up into the clouded elevations of the island. Abundantly green, with Giant Tortoise crossing signs to remind us of where we are and the dangers that man has brought to these ecosystems. On some of the islands, it's tortoise versus goat (an implant man has brought to the island), with highland fights over vegetation. And, although the flora (including a native tree relative of our cotton plant) exists, it is definitely the fauna that brings visitors to the Islands. A truly unique experience.

From sea level to 12,000 feet, the Peruvian vegetation had lots to offer. The train from Cuzco to Machu Picchu went from ancient Inca terraces on the side of steep cliffs still being farmed, to ancient terraces overgrown with epiphytic plant-life. Orchids, tillandsia and mosses, hanging from other types of tropical/jungle plant-life. Occasionally, large column-type cacti would be growing down sides of the Urubamba River gorge, completely covered with long cascades of moss. We saw some pretty spectacular agaves in a wide spectrum of greys and greens. The Ruins at Ollantaytambo were covered with aloes, cacti of the columnar variety, and more epiphytic types.

But the best cactus afternoon started out as a simple trip to the Sillustani Burial Towers (Chulpus) outside Puno, Peru. After an alpaca almost attacked my camera wielding companion, we continued by foot up a hill towards the towers, and began to notice several different (not having seen these in location as of yet) species of BLOOMING cacti. A chunky Opuntia with a flower that varied from pale yellow to bright orange and even dark red. And mounding type cacti with deep pink flowers. Our guide turned out to be most knowledgeable of the plant life in this area and gladly searched-out several plants she had noticed blooming the day before. We could tell that the month of September would be a spectacular bloom time by the amount of buds these plants were showing. Our guide explained that the fruit of the plant we tentatively identified as Orroyo peruviana is known as the Indian Kiwi and is harvested and eaten. The whole experience - guinea pigs running around, birds of prey on the hunt, the ancient, pre-Inca burial towers, and the find of the plants in habitat, made it for a completely satisfying day. I highly recommend Peru and the surrounding areas to anyone with a wandering spirit. It makes for a great vacation.

I'll be bringing my photos to the September meeting, and I'm sure there will be a terrific slide show sometime in the future! See you there?

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