South American Diary

Christmas 1992, and your editor finds himself in Ecuador, up in the top left-hand corner of South America, where the palms have to be seen to be believed.
by Martin Gibbons, Ham Street, Ham, Richmond, Surrey, TW10 7HA, UK
Chamaerops No. 10, published online 23-09-2002

A fine specimen of parajubaea cocoides

Saturday 19th December 1992...

Touched down at 8am at Quito, Ecuador, airport after a good flight on Air France with one single stop at Caracas, Venezuela. We (Jacques Deleuze and I) were met by a smiling Brad Carter, until recently editor of The Palm Journal, magazine of the Southern California Chapter of the International Palm Society. Quito is one of the highest capital cities in the world, altitude 2850m above sea level. The weather is bright and sunny but cool. Went off to pick up the jeep Brad had organized for us, a Chevrolet Trooper, riot cheap to rent but perfect for our requirements, with 4-wheel drive. Quito airport has many Parajubaea cocoides, our first chance to see them in the flesh. Tall and elegant, with slim trunks with feather leaves with fine and glossy leaf segments, looking to me like giant Microcoeleum, (now Lytocaryum) weddellianum. Fab!

Set off, with moi at the wheel, on the right (wrong) side of the road to a nearby monument called Mitad del Mundo, Centre of the World, abt.22km out of Quito. Rather presumptious title I thought. It's a big slabby monument, sort of 1930's Masonic Temple style, and it sits on the equator (from which Ecuador takes its name of course), which is paved in a long path, lined with busts of famous historical Ecuadorians. Posed for photos with one foot in each hemisphere, then drove on down the same road, west of Quito, looking for plants. Jacques and Brad, being interested in plants generally, (as opposed to palms specifically, like me) wanted to stop every two minutes to check out flowers, and creepers, and climbers so it turned out to be a long short drive. I was certainly not disappointed however as we came across Ceroxylon in large measure. They are wonderful trees with white, ringed trunks and graceful leaves. The further we went the more we saw, species uncertain unfortunately, often in the company of other, less readily identifiable palms. The road was good, and we made many stops to take photos, and examine the trees through binoculars. J. thought they may be C. quindiuense.

About 1pm decided to head back to Quito, stopping on the way at a sort of cantina, where tried the local beer, not at all bad. Saw lots more Parajubaeas on the way, though all were cultivated; they are not known in the wild. Many if not most have huge bunches of fruit. Drove to the hotel that Brad arranged, the Posada Real, and where he's been staying for 2 days. Dropped our bags here then took a taxi back into town for a late but welcome lunch. Had hamburger, chips & beer (I always like to sample the local food). Looked round a famous bookshop, Libri Mundi, then back to the hotel for a couple of hours' sleep. In the evening went into town again to a good fish restaurant: mixed seafood all cooked with garlic, with a nice bottle of local white wine. Excellent! Back to the hotel in pouring rain, bed by 1 1-ish in quite a comfortable room.

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