Martin Gibbons, c/o The Palm Centre

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Late November and early December - proW ably the most depressing time of the year, especially this year when winter seems to have arrived so early. It's raining, cold and miserable, and, worse, we know the weather will not improve much for 4 or 5 months. Personally I like to spend as much time as I can out of the country, and this year has been a good one for travelling. There was our wonderful European Palm Society meeting in Rome in September, very well attended, and much enjoyed by all. Tony King tells the story later in this issue. Soon after that I had a couple of weeks in Sri Lanka with my girlfriend. Not a palmy trip this one more a sun-and-sand-and-sea kind of holiday really - though of course the odd palm did creep into my field of vision.

Toby's and my main trip this year was to South America. We flew to Rio and bought a jeep, then drove 10,000 kms (6000 miles) through Brazil, into Argentina, up into Bolivia, back to Argentina, then through Paraguay to Brazil again and back to Rio where we sold the jeep and flew home.

Lest this should sound just so easy and just so much fun, I should report that much of it was not fun. Brazil is such an expensive country, we could only afford to buy a rather clapped-out jeep with which we - perhaps predictably - experienced all manner of problems. On day 2 a front wheel bearing shattered in a most dramatic and dangerous fashion. Repairs cost several hundred dollars and, worse, 3 days of twiddling our thumbs waiting for spares to arrive from Rio. Next, we were sailing through the wonderful Argentinian countryside when we blew a head gasket. More hundreds of dollars and more wasted days - 5 in all - waiting for a replacement to arrive from Buenos Aires. Then, a few days later, we noticed water dripping from underneath the jeep and realized that the radiator had sprung a leak. More repairs, though happily only half a day.

In addition to problems with the jeep, we had enormous paperwork problems every time we crossed a border. And we crossed lots. You see, it's rather unusual to do what we did, and the various customs officers were not used to seeing a Brazilian registered jeep driven by European tourists, and they were absolutely at a loss to know what papers we should be carrying. At virtually every border, we were initially told, 'You cannot leave/enter our country because you don't have the right papers'. We found this alarming the first time we heard it, and simply amusing the last. In every case we were delayed (from 2 hours to 24 hours) while whispered conversations were held and senior customs officers were consulted. And every time we were allowed in/out after it was realized that in fact we did have the proper papers.

OK, OK, I hear you say, wlsat about the palms? Well, thex were of course quite woisderful, spectacular even, the main difficulty bein~ that they are so spread out, we niight see one population or species in the early morning and the next ones we wanted to see were 400kms away and we wouldn't get to them until the evening. We saw all S species of Trithrinax, one of my favourite genera, and high on our hit list'. Everyone knows that the~' are rather unfriendly. but some of the species have thick interlaced spines half a metre long! 'We saw several species of Butia, Parajubaea torallvi, and the recently described Parajtibaea sunkha. these two both in Bolivia. Now THATS an interesting country, half of it extremely mountainous, the other half absolutely flat. Nice people, beautiful scenery, special palms.

We also saw several species of Syagrus (not my favourite genus), and different Attaleas including A. humilis which doesn't grow a trunk and whose bunclses of golf-ball sized frtiit simply lay on the ground at the base of the tree, begging to be collected. The most common palm we saw was undoubtedly Copernicia alba. You can drive for hours (we did) and see nothing else. Many were growing in pastures inundated with water, which was lapping around their trunks, indicating their tolerance of over-watering in cultivation. In the city of Sucre we saw telegraph poles made from their trunks.

The prize for the most spectacular palm we saw would have to go to Trithrinax campestris. Those who went to the EPS meeting in either France or Rome will remeniber - sometimes painfully - these amazing palms with their blue leaves as stiff as sheet metal, and their truisks covered with a network of sharp spines. We saw them growing in some numbers and many were in fruit, unfortunately all green, so not worth collecting.

lt is a bit of shock to come back from all that to England in November, dark, miserable and wet, but next spring promises some exciting events to look forward to: Richard Darlow's Cornwall Get-together and a chance to explore all those south-west gardens that are mentioned so often in Chamaerops. Also in spring I will be leading a tour group of about 12 people to north-east India to see the different palms there. Both these events are advertised later in this issue.

The other item that is advertised is the EPS lapel badge which I hope all members will want to buy and wear. lt is the best way to recognize other EPS members whether you are in Singapore Botanic Gardens or shopping at your local supermarket.

Enjoy this issue, and roll on spring! M.G.

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