Dave Looks for Plants

Journal of a plant explorer

On to Caluma

This bus trip was like so many others I have taken – CONFUSING! – thanks mostly to my poor Spanish comprehension.  The bus company (Cooperativa Loja Internacional) called it a “directo” from Zamora to Guayaquil so I was confused when we arrived at the disembarking area in Loja and I was told to get off the bus. My luggage was still stored in the compartment under the bus.

“¿Mi equipaje?”    “¡No se preocupe!  Vamos en veinte cinco minutos

To my relief, a half hour later the same bus with the same driver and the same attendant pulled up to the Loja boarding area and took us on to Guayaquil.    It was 4 AM when we arrived in Guayaquil and the huge Terminal Tereste there was nearly empty, but I finally found the Transporte Caluma ticket window and there was a bus leaving for Caluma in 5 minutes.  After some more confusion (this place is huge) I finally found the right gate, got on the bus with my luggage and we were on our way a couple of minutes later.

My reason for going to Caluma was to look for the critically endangered species Costus geothyrsus.    Last year I had completed  an IUCN Red List assessment based mainly on data I received from the Swedish botanist, Dr. Bertil Stahl.  This species is only known to exist in the protected area around Cerro Semama and the only photo I had ever seen was one provided by Dr. Stahl.  The reserve at Cerro Semama is currently closed to research, but I planned to try to get permission to enter there, and to look in any remaining forest fragments in the area.

 

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Upon arrival in Caluma I found a decent looking restuarant, had breakfast, and then took a taxi to the Hosteria Madera Fina, which is about 2 km outside the town on the old road to Guaranda.  Dr.  Stahl  had recommended this place to stay and also recommended René Vargas who works there as a guide in the region.  René was working at the front desk when I arrived and he was expecting me.  A quick change of clothes and boots, luggage in room, and then a conference with René who seemed eager to go.  And why not?  I only had 3 days there and despite the all night bus ride I wanted to make the most of my time there.

So I explained to René why I was there, showed him photos of the plants I was looking for and asked if we needed to rent a cuatro por cuatro.  No, he said we can use his vehicle.  This turned out to be a 1970’s Datsun pickup with a tent on the back and brakes that needed to be pumped a couple of times to stop.  We went into town for him to change clothes, get his boots, and feed the pigs and chickens at a nearby “friends” house.   Eventually, off we went looking for a little patch of remnant forest where I might find the plants I was looking for. 

 

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After a few dead ends and multiple explanations of what a forest looks like, he finally took me to his father’s banana farm where a few nice forest patches are maintained to provide purer water supply.  The first Costus I saw there I recognized at once as Costus laevis even before I found it in flower.  Here it was typical of the forms found in Central America and west of the Andes in South America – but completely unlike the Costus laevis forms I had seen a few days earlier in Zamora Chinchipe. DETAILED THUMBNAIL SHEET HERE

 

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 There were three or four separate forest remnants like this, all in the midst of a large banana farm at about 400 meters elevation, between Caluma and the village of Las Esmeraldas.  I was beginning to understand how hard it was going to be to find forest in this region so I thoroughly checked out all of them here.  The only other Costus I found here was a white flowering form of Costus guanaiensis var. tarmicus, which turned out to be the most common Costus in the region.  DETAILED THUMBNAIL SHEET HERE

 

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From there René tried to take me to several other nearby forest fragments he knew of, but it had been raining all morning and either the streams we had to cross were too high or his little Datsun was unable to handle the road. 

Here are some photos taken from along the road near René’s fathers farm.  Below is the wide flat plain looking towards the Hacienda Clementina at 100 meters or less.

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And this is looking up to the northwest at the lower parts of the Cerro Semama which rises to about 800 meters.

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René’s wife had invited me to have lunch with them so we went back to town and had fried duck with the usual rice, beans and great Ecuadorian soup.  After lunch René said he knew of another place nearby so we loaded up the Datsun with his wife and mother-in-law in the front seat with him, and me in the back “tent”with his two kids and his niece.  The “other place” was the same place we had gone to feed the pigs in the morning.  By then I had pretty much given up on the idea of finding more forest and more Costus, so I just enjoyed the rest of the day with René and his family.

 

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And I teased René about his “hermano” and “hermanas“…
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As it turned out, there was no decent forest nearby and I did not see any more Costus that day, but I really did have an enjoyable time there.    René told me he would be able to get a “tourist permit” to get us into the Reserva Semama the next day, so I was satisfied to just call it a day.  I was exhausted after the all night bus trip and really wanted to get back to the Hosteria to get some sleep. 

 

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