Angola Report, April 2017
Erin Tripp (University of Colorado–Boulder)
Kyle Dexter (University of Edinburgh)
Target: Petalidium (Acanthaceae)
7 April 2017: After 4 trips to Namibia to collect and learn the natural history (species distributions, pollination ecology, geological affinities, etc.) of a remarkable radiation of Acanthaceae, Kyle and I decided it was time to conduct fieldwork in Angola – the other ‘side’ of diversity within the genus Petalidium (Acanthaceae). We managed to hop the same flight from Frankfurt and touched down in Luanda at 5:30 AM. Spent the morning renting our early 90’s Landcruiser 4×4, fully outfitted for living safari style, checking through equipment, supplies, etc. We hit the pavement at 11:30 am, headed S along the coastal road towards Lobito. On the way, the landscape became progressively drier; after an uncomfortable 2 hrs driving in the dark with exceptionally dim headlights, we landed at a hotel in Lobito recommended to us by the rental company at 8pm. Had dinner at the restaurant next to our beach bungalow (me: feijão preto; kyle: a hamburger!) to the sounds of Angolan karaoke then crashed hard in our room that smelled heavily of recently sprayed DDT. Win some, lose others.
8 April 2017: Both Kyle and I woke very late, which felt both necessary and incredible after 2 nights (me) or 1 (kyle) without sleep. 10am. I went for a much-needed run on a rather clean beach, then dove into surprisingly warm waters of the Atlantic. Turns out the Benguela current hits African landmass at the town of Benguela, and we are north of it! In Namibia, the ocean is COLD cold. We departed the hotel shortly thereafter and did 300 dollars worth of shopping at the mega ‘Kero’ grocery store, where I was surprised to find replacement meat products (TVP, seitan, tofu burgers) as well as yogurt without sugar in it. We bought a Unitel phone chip for our new research smart phone, and away we went S towards Benguela, then inland towards Lubango. The road inland was spectacular.
There are plenty of people in Angola, which makes this experience very unlike that of Namibia, but the mountains grew taller and the landscape less inhabited as we continued inland. Along the way we made our first collections: Ruellia bignoniiflora – SCORE! This is the first time I have laid eyes on this species in the wild… have otherwise been cultivating it for years in the greenhouse, which is great, but not the same. Cool distribution: a tropical east African species with a strange, disjunct outpost here in southern Angola. It was a spectacular find – in full bloom and covering orange hillsides of koppies. A lot of other Acanthaceae made today’s list… a mix of beautiful Barleria spp., some Monechma, some Belpharis, and Ruellia prostrata… but no Petalidium: yet. We made camp along a side dirt track, not far from a small house of a family of 5 living in the area seasonally for millet cultivation. Nice people. Black beans and rice for dinner. CAMP 1
9 April 2017: We awoke at a much more reasonable hour this morning to the best alarm clock ever: maybe 15 different species of birds calling at top decibel. With extensive Angola dew on the rooftop tent, we had to wait awhile before packing camp. We departed just before 10am and botanized for a bit before reaching our main destination of the day: Lubango. Here, we visited the Instituto Superior de Ciencias e Educaçao da Huila, where the LUBA Herbarium (the main herbarium in Angola) is housed. We were met with many welcomes by Francisco Maiato (Curator of the Herbarium) and his colleagues Fernanda Lages (Director of the Herbarium… working on a Sunday!) and Valter Chissingui (Assistant Director of Science). Incredibly nice, helpful people. We loaded up the presses, got the lowdown on 4×4 tracks in southernmost Namibe Province, departed the herbarium, then spent a very long time trying to find a place to fill our water tanks; we had emptied the exceptionally foul supply of water given to us in Luanda in hopes of something cleaner, but found few options, most of them requiring permission from the community ‘leader’ who was out because today is Sunday. We drove on towards Bibabla, up and over a most remarkable escarpment teeming with plant life of many new sorts to us. I suppose we forgot the weight of our own vehicle (either that or we had some shitty machinery) for on our descent, the brakes gave out completely. Too hot to function. We coasted via engine braking into a tiny community of about 10 young women + 6 young men, most of them drunk from weekend celebrations. Good news! They happened also to be drinking from a hose that ran clean water down from the mountain. A perfect place to wait for our brakes to cool down and fill the water tanks. We had fun chatting with the locals. After 90 minutes, we headed back onto the highway, bound for one of our most perfect camp spots yet: a river valley with flowing water (!) nestled among a grove of huge baobab trees. Camp life rarely gets better. We spent some of our nighttime hours capturing dark photographs with the moonlit baobab trees. Red beans and rice for dinner. CAMP 2.
10 April 2017: After awaking in our most beautiful Camp Baobab, I threw on the Salomons and went for a HOT run down the pavement (my only option); on the way, I saw at least 50 Angolans. This country is very different from Namibia in that regard – plenty of people, even where you least expect them. In any case, they have been very kind to us. On my return, I became a bit overheated, even at this very early hour. I don’t
eat sugar anymore, but at times like this, having a bottle of gatorade on hand is prudent. Kyle and I packed camp and departed with a fully functional set of brakes. We collected a beautiful Barleria that reminded me of the species we described recently from Namibia (B. grotebergensis), which was in high abundance along the canyonsides, as well as Ruellia patula. We passed thru Bibala, met a funny guy on a motobike who resembled Samuel L. Jackson, and then approached the small community of Moninho. Nearing town, we spotted numerous red and white striped trees, marking what we think are former footpaths along which land mines were located and/or removed.
Thanks to a little help from Google Maps, we located the correct road towards Caraculo, a road that would take us quite a while to traverse. This was an incredible route on so many levels and in so many words: Petalidium, historical Moçamedes railway, mountains full of marble, and downpours. (1) This is where we first encountered Petalidium in Angola. Count them: Petalidium spiniferum, Petalidium physalodes, Petalidium lepidagathis, and the everpresent Petalidium variabile….. in mixed contexts of allopatry, parapatry, and sympatry. The first three species were ‘new to us’. Angolan endemics or near endemics. We have finally landed in the Kaokoveld. (2) This route travels along the old Moçamedes (Mossamedes in modern parlance) Railway, which is so beautiful, and I hope that our photos capture some of this historical beauty. (3) Buried beneath the desert scrub carpeting the mountains were huge stockpiles of the most beautiful marble, in situ and exposed from small mining operations. I have never seen so much marble and also never knew that Acanths dig their foothills as much as I do. (4) Kyle and I witnessed the most memorable storm to date in the Kaokoveld… a solid 45 minutes of catastrophic downpours leading to full on flooding of the landscape. It seems like the ground wasn’t ready to receive this quantity of water… our small dips and bumps along the track became river fordings. This type of storm revealed microhabitat differentiation in a way I never understood until now: it captured where the water does and does not flow preferentially. We did our best to capture this as well via photographs and videos. Along the way, in a pouring way, we continued to document species distributions with an eye especially to sympatry of two or more species. The day got long as the rain began to subside. We punched it up a sidetrack that climbed steeply towards one of the most
memorable campsites of all time – an abandoned marble mine (we might have taken a few souvenirs, and I may or may not tell you where this place is) with huge, panoramic views of a nearly uninhabited landscape. Pasta with eggplant in a garlic-wine sauce for dinner, served with wine, natrually. Wow. CAMP 3.
11 April 2017: I went on a morning run thinking it would take 20 minutes but apparently I was gone over an hour… f&*#ing hot blistering sun by 7:30 am… another painful return. I guzzled some gatorade seeking relief from slight heat sickness (use these words carefully‑they are a transition series: heat sickness, exhaustion, stroke). I passed a couple of trucks full of marble miners who similarly woke early, but in their case, not because they wanted to squeeze in a run. We packed camp, headed out, and immediately landed upon a population of sympatric Petalidium lepidagathis + Petalidium variabile. The former: dead, or so it seemed. Thousands of individuals. In reality, these plants might have been alive. The extreme heat creates all sorts of mirages. We did a lot of documenting of ranges, sympatry, the beginnings and ends of populations, then eventually hit the pavement where we found beautiful flowering material of Petalidium spiniferum. At this site, we encountered a small group of locals. They asked us what we were doing (response: we were collecting plants, studying their flower morphologies, and their distributions). We thought it fitting to ask them the same (response: they were goat buyers from Lubango: good goats cost 15,000 kwanzas whereas crappy goats cost 12,000k). We watched them drive off with a newly purchased goat strapped sideways to the back of their small motobike (mind you, already with 2 adult men on it). We carried on, finding and documenting many more populations of P. spiniferum and P. variabile until coming upon our 5th species of the trip: the remarkable Petalidium tomentosum. When it rains, it pours. This is an awesome, low growing, ground-hugging species that we found in complete sympatry with similarly ground-hugging plants of P. variabile. The following observation seems to be the rule rather than exception: wherever we find Petalidium spp. in sympatry, the partnership seems always to consist of two unrelated and morphologically divergent species. We collected it, moved on, turned north towards Bentiaba, continued with more range documentation, and eventually turned west along an unnamed dirt track, just for fun. This was one of my favorite impromptu decisions of the trip. We drove for a couple of hours down very faint, sandy tracks and found ourselves eventually within 4 km of the coast. Life seemed grand, until we hit an inexplicable gate that was totally impassable on all sides. No signed to tell us what had happened – we suspected it was either a mine or some weird land privately owned by a cult. Kyle and I turned back to camp under a beautiful limestone mesa, and popped a tire just as we were pulling into our campsite. 1hr 30 mins to deal with that because we couldn’t find the tire iron but eventually did….full moon rising. We spent some time admiring the cute black and red Staphylinid beetles all around camp, later to regret hanging out with them (see below). Took a few more dark night photographs. Sorted through a load of Petalidium collxns in the presses (we are collecting everything in duplicates of 7 on this trip). Black beans and rice with veggie TVP of all things for dinner. CAMP 4.
12 April 2017: Have I gotten over the heartbreak of not being able to reach the end of this road? Not really. We woke on top of the truck under a surreal, dark, cool fog. It was a strange Namib Desert phenomenon, to be sure. I went for a wonderful run and found great plants along the way. Back at camp, I changed out the running shoes for my Chacos, and Kyle and I went for a 2hr hike up to the top of the
limestone mesa. What a great place on Earth! On the summit, we collected a beautiful Barleria and an unknown Ruellieae, not in flower but with old, dried up, tiny corollas (what the hell is this!?!). We bagged those collections then headed down the road to the spot where my ran terminated for more Acanths. Pressomatic. One more beautiful Barleria (could this be the one Iain is after?). We used the truck for shade for as long as we could then the long sleeved shirts came out for shade. After we finished pressing, we drove out to main road then spent another 2 hrs botanizing, finding yet another Barleria and lots of Petalidium variable. We failed to find Fazenda “Boa Vista”, the site of some other historical Petalidium collections, but then again we didn’t look very hard. We punched it south towards Namibe. The landscape saw a slow transition of deserts to pure sand dunes. In Namibe, which seems to be our last big town for quite awhile, we stocked up on water, fuel, other supplies. We drove south and made it half way to Tombua. It was late and the light was dim: Kyle and I sped down a dark, lunar wash, and found a comfortable enough spot to set up camp. Nothing special, but not at all crappy. Spent quite awhile tonight watching the strangest police lights in the distance and swatting away those once very cute (see below) red and black beetles. Black beans and rice for dinner. CAMP 5.
13 April: Over the last 48 hours I have been vaguely cognizant of but actively ignoring a developing right eye situation. It is puffy and getting puffier. This morning, I woke up to a very swollen situation, and could barely see out of that eye. Furthermore, Kyle’s is now similarly developing. We packed camp (I skipped a run) and headed to the closest town, Tombua, to look for medical supplies. The town was nice enough but smelled of fish processing. Still, there existed a pastry shop complete with an espresso machine and unsweetened phyllo dough. We found a pharmacy (probably should have gone to a doctor instead, but…), bought a couple of potential fixes, then left Tombua headed inland towards the dry, hot community of São João do Sul. There, we looked for the “arco”, mentioned in all the guide books, but failed. Mysteriously, several locals didn’t seem to know much about it, either. We fended off a pack of teenage girls begging for a ride back into town and instead pointed it in the direction that I have longed for since landing: south towards the depths of the interior where humanity disappears and the world quite literally becomes Acanthaceae. We drove south towards Pediva and on the way documented a most spectacular hybrid swarm of Petalidium halimoides, P. lepidagathis, and P. variabile. We conducted population-level sampling for future RADseq gene flow study and then continued on our way, stopping every 10km to document species occurrences/co-occurrences. Note: this track would make a fantastic field site for future PhD students studying the impacts of plant hybridization. Late in the day, we descended into a spectacular grassy valley highly reminiscent of Marienflüss. We were very near to the small indigenous community of Pediva, where we soon encountered the strangest of natural hot springs (hot hot water, too hot to stand in, in the middle of a hot hot desert). Here, we had hoped to soak our faces in the sulphur-rich waters in attempt to treat our swelling eyes and our ‘spots’ (we got spots!), but it was too bloody hot. Kyle and I backtracked to the magnificent, grassy valley for a peaceful camp, and I am constantly saying htis, but among the most beautiful yet. Red beans and rice for dinner. CAMP 6.
14 April: Kyle and I awoke early, and despite the fact that my eye was nearly fully swollen shut and Kyle’s was quickly deteriorating, I was in good spirits for the beauty of this place and went for a run. Kyle wishes to point out that unlike in Namibia, I did not get attacked by leopard. Back at camp, we knew what was coming. We had to go back to Namibe to take care of our unknown health situation….some 150 km away and in the opposite direction of where our hearts desired to go. We drove fast and arrived at the hospital by 11 AM. Diagnosis: blister beetle, aka “The Creechies”. The genus: Paederus. The lesions that these beetles inflict are pretty much disgusting sacks of puss and inflammation, and are known in some parts of Angola as “Primero do Agosto” because of the logo of some sports team (at least that was our poor Portuguese understanding). A rather commanding female doctor prescribed us a couple of meds (namely: my best friend from Guyana tepui days, betamethasone) and sent us on our way. The hospital was an interesting scene… consisting primarily of a couple of rooms with various beds full of sick people with their shoes still on and hanging over the edge of the beg. This emergency wing comprised a tiny fraction of the hospital of a whole that was mostly devoted to care for pregnant women. After visiting the pharmacy, Kyle and I searched long and hard for more newspaper for pressing. We didn’t find any in town, as most things were closed because of Easter Friday (side note: Kyle and I had no idea it was a holiday…..). We did, however, find a small booth near the ocean with fresh beer on tap (“fino”… meaning fine). Kyle broke my sunglasses and felt badly for it so he bought me a beer and a cool, leopard print replacement pair. Somehow we also found newspaper at our last stop in town: Bomba de Girasol, where we refilled our long range diesel tanks. Back to the bush, this time we went via Virei. Along the way, we found Petalidium tomentosum co-occuring with P. variabile in a desert gravel plain that seemed to host nothing more than these two species. Ask us for photos… the barren landscape save for these two species was surreal. At this locality, both species seemed to mimic each other in growth form: low, prostrate, sprawling, really prostrate… absolutely flattened to the ground in fact. Just down the road, we found more populations P. lepidagathis as well as something else I have never before experienced: tar melting below our feet because of the heat of the day. My shoes were literally sinking into the pavement. We continued on this ‘new to us’ route with our regular stopping every 10km to document Petalidium occurrences. We found another potential hybrid swarm, this time between P. variabile and P. lepidagathis. All I want to do at this point in my Petalidium career is to write a paper entitled: They All Can Do It. But probably, I would be wrong. Oh well. We haven’t seen a single truck pass all day long but did encouter a local indigenous man with a broken down motorcycle late in the day. We decided to give him a lift… Zuze Politico is his name and he is in the back of the truck as I write. He told us that the road to his home was about 3 minutes away. We happily agreed to take him to that intersection, which was closer to 30 minutes away. That’s fine. The day was both long and beautiful. We hit the intersection and he asked us to take him to his house, which he said was only about two miles away. Twenty miles later down a very dim, poorly marked dirt track, we finally reached his ‘village’ which he called something to the effect of “Regia.” We helped him offload his belongings (a GIANT rice sack full of canned, evaporated milk!), snapped a quick photo with our new friend together with his grandfather, and headed back up the track. We ended up stopping for the night just 4km away from Regia, at a most beautiful location atop a small rise among an expansive quartz field. This might have been my favorite campsite. Dark sky, crisp air, in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Here, we proceeded to de-bug the entire camp (massive spraying of toxic chemicals in attempt to get rid of every last Paederus beetle). Kyle and I explored some of our Petalidium anatomy data in R over dinner. Black beans and TVP with carrots and peas. CAMP 7.
15 April 2017: Kyle finally joined me for a short but fast and fun morning run; he reports that he hasn’t run in two weeks but isn’t sore, which I reckon is the sign of a life-long athlete. Still early in the morning, we returned to an already scorching hot sun. We took advantage of it by spreading out plants to dry in a major way, covering them with hot stones… giving them the ‘spa treatment’ as I like to say. Kyle and I left on foot to a nearby ravine where we found three completely sympatric Petalidium species, each with a different floral type. These were: P. spiniferum, P. halimoides, and then finally P. something which we are calling ‘regia’ for the moment (named after the local indigenous community here… Zuze’s home, see 14 April). This thing is clearly a derivative of P. variabile but might be a reproductively isolated lineage / a new species owing to is rich, dark pink to nearly red flowers, elongate inflorescence morphology, linear primary bracts subtending the dichasium, super dense tomentose trichomes on leaves, long pilose trichomes on the bracts, and finally a very conspicuously wet-oily feel to the leaves, which is very unlike anything we have ever experienced collecting Petalidium. One note on the P. spiniferum collxn: when post mature, the bracts are super prickly just like those of P. crispum and P. subscripsum. Apologies if I have remarked on this already, but when we find species of Petalidium in sympatry, they almost always are marked by divergent floral morphologies…a pattern that may relate to competition / pollinator community partitioning and one to consider in further detail. We returned to camp, pressed our plants once again under a scorching sun but hugging the tiny shade offered by the truck, finished packing camp and packing up our dried specimens, and departed by 1pm.
Along the way to Virei, our next destination, we took a few side tracks, intending to go somewhere else (Cocolapopo) but failing in that regard. We made several ‘observations’ along the way (get out, walk 200m, note presence and absence etc. of species in attempt to begin understanding ranges and species co-occurrences in a quantitative manner). A bit more on these observations: the point here is to collect ecological – not taxonomic – data; distributions of species, where they begin, where they seem to end, where they overlap, and when they overlap, how they overlap (in the same niche, in segregating niches? Same morphological phenotype or always of two contrasting types?). During a couple of such observations, we found very little Petalidium here but can happily report that Welwitschia is nearly a weed. If there is one thing I have learned from Angola thus far, it is that both Welwitschia and Adansonia (baobabs) are FAR more common on this side of the border, compared to Namibia. We converged back onto the main track and then promptly broke down.. big time. Not just another flat tire. This road is badly wash-boarded, Kyle was flying, and our Land Cruiser’s temporary makeshift electrical wiring gave out (nice of the rental company to let us know there had been prior problems with the system, which had clearly been rigged by the last renter). After 30 mins of circling the truck wondering what to do, a nice nice bus driver (with a bus full of people) eventually stopped and tried to help. The driver sucked down some diesel fuel in order to test out the lines running from the dual fuel filtration system, and eventually diagnosed the problem, which was that of wiring near the solenoid valve. I am grateful that the driver stopped, as he was one of only a few vehicles to pass on this road today, and moreover the day was quickly getting late. He rigged the engine in the manner that drew power from the battery instead of the engine and then followed behind us as we cruised 30km into Virei. In this small town, we had a closer look but found no other fix than attaching the fuel pump wiring to battery for rest of trip. Note that this also meant de-attaching this wiring each and every time we want to kill the engine (lovely). We accepted the fate, had a quick beer at the local ‘bar’ (i.e., bottle store), heard some amazing chanting from the native peoples whose identity we are still trying to figure (Nhaneca-Humbe?), watched a few other pre-Easter celebrations happening all around town, then drove off into the sunset towards Pediva (this time via a different direction than before). We made camp in a fine spot, packed up 6 huge plant bundles, then re-cosidered the nature of our ‘spots’, which continue to deteriorate; on the bright side, our poofy eyes may be starting to heal ever so slightly. We have been taking serious morning AND evening baths followed by very precise application of antibiotic cream followed by very precise application of betamethason. Pasta with olives for dinner. CAMP 8.
16 April 2017: Our eyes were much improved by the morning. I didn’t go for a run because I stubbed my toe badly last night and cracked my big toenail, which bled into the night. Kyle and I argued for about 45 mins re: decision making for the rest of the trip, standard stuff when you have known someone for so long and both people are opinionated, and away we went. We cruised along at our slow pace, stopping and collecting a beautiful population of Petalidium physalodes that was sympatric with a white-flowered form of P. variabile. We observed hornet pollination on the flowers of the latter for about 10 minutes and then upon preparing to leave, laid eyes on a very strange, seemingly aberrant set of plants of Petalidium variable: almost certainly this will turn out to be a hybrid between the two species! The corolla shape and color of these plants were completely intermediate between P. variabile and P. physalodes (which is what we find with our experimental Ruellia hybrids): their inflorescences were lax like those of P. variable but otherwise the plants more closely resembled P. physalodes. Exciting times! We documented this via photography and collections, then moved on. With our new stupid engine system, we spent the next few hours doing our usual observational stops every 10km, but now just burning diesel / letting the engine run while we searched for plants within a 200m radius. This annoyed me in a very serious way, but I suppose it beats connecting and disconnecting the wiring each time one need to start and stop the engine. We hiked to the top of a couple of beautiful rock koppies that turned out to host absolutely no Petalidium but were dominated by hundreds if not thousands of individuals of some Barleria species, of which only one flower was seen (but it was a beautiful one…confirming section Damarensis); we collected it for Iain, naturally, ate lunch (our usual bread with cheese, mayo, spicy mustard, and cukes), and pressed plants in, once again, the slim shade of the car. Today is a SCORCHER. How many times have I said that? Are there other words to describe this heat?
We proceeded on towards Pediva (Round 2), collecting what appeared to be an annual species of Blepharis (!), and perhaps of greater note: WE FOUND RUELLIA CURRORII!!! Oh-my-zers, what a beautiful species this is! It must be related to Ruellia brandbergensis, which, as a single-mountain endemic to the Brandberg Massif of Namibia, has evaded me three times now during fieldwork. Ruellia currorii is narrowly endemic to southern Angola and northern Namibia and has been collected only a few times throughout history. We finally reached the entrance to Iona National Park via a most spectacular approach through grassy meadows that seem to go on forever. The park guard was a nice fellow; we exchanged a few laughs about the current state of American politics. This area must be among the best places to work a day job in all of Angola. Kyle and I passed through the entrance, which happened to consist of an eventful 50-meter wide x 1 meter deep (yikes) river fording of the Rio Coroca in our Land Cruiser, and then blasted through more meadows shooting a few videos along the way. We found a beautiful campsite among the grasses and have our eyes on the next species of Petalidium to collect first thing tomorrow – potentially a new species right next to our camp! Also, we are up to six species of Commiphora on our tree list… it has been fun learning the woody flora here with the help of a field guide to the trees and shrubs of southern Africa. Tonight is our hottest night yet – 83 degrees at 9:35pm. I wonder if I can sleep in this. (Turns out that I could not, so I proceeded to drag my bag onto the roof of the truck, outside, in attempt of a bit more fresh air under the stars). Black beans and rice for dinner, during which we watched a beautiful lightening storm to our East. CAMP 9.
17 April 2017: We woke up after a strange nighttime thunderstorm (I eventually crawled back into the tent) to a beautiful, near fully arcing rainbow across the sky. I went for a blissful run under a clouded sky and halfway through, it even started drizzling on me. After returning, I checked our water supply to discover that our primary water tank (40L) is already quite low despite filling it just two days ago. Better to err on the side of caution so we decided to drive 26km back to the Rio Curoca to fill both tanks, which I did while Kyle was switching out one of our tires (it is a long story, about to get longer incidentally, but one of our tires has a faulty valve that keeps popping out and when that happens, the tired goes flat immediately/without warning). We took a quick swim and bath in the river (full body submersion: welcomed! … this never happened in Namibia!) then headed back towards camp to collect. This Petalidium that we discovered late yesterday afternoon is something neither of us have ever seen. It has the most remarkable trichomes covering the paired bracts that resemble large, shiny, amply branching phylogenetic trees. We studied the population extensively, for probably 45 minutes, but found only 1 flower. It was deep magenta and somewhat intermediate between the corollas of the P. physalodes/halimoides/lepidagathis/lanatum group and the P. variabile complex. We pressed it, making numerous sheets despite the fact it was mostly sterile. I’m glad that we did, as this species was not to be encountered again anywhere else during the trip.
Late morning, the clouds finally burned off and the day got very hot. We drove south towards Espinheira and there touched based with park officials. Along the way, we made a lot of sympatry/allopatry observations. We also collected another population of Petalidium physalodes. We saw some springbok and not much else (this place: DEPAUPERATE of mammal life, contrast to Namibia!). We pressed on towards the community of Iona where we met the ‘police’ who seemed especially outfitted for border security. I can’t image this even being a problem – who the hell lives on the other side of the Cunene River, which would be near the Baynes Mtns in Namibia? Not a soul. They were nice in any case. Immediately after leaving, we vouchered Petalidium cf. welwitschii, which we have bee seeing (but not registering) the entire latter half of today. Its odor is super pungent much like that of P. subcrispum / P. crispum, even though I don’t think it is sister or near-sister to those two species. We somehow eventually landed on the correct route to Garota Nova, which represents the last stop in Angola before one hits the Cunene River (i.e., Namibian border). To reach, we climbed up and over a remarkable pass complete with autumn Commiphora color, eventually dropping down into the valley where we decided to make camp. BOOM! Once again, immediately pulling off the track, we popped a tire. This one a BIG HOLE. What is it about just trying to find a campsite? Our jack was too short to mount it under the vehicle. We tried once, and the soil underneath gave out. Had Kyle not pulled his head and body out from under the vehicle 10 seconds beforehand, he might have been dead, which was a hard thought to cope with for the rest of the evening. We tried the high lift jack, which was a super pain in the ass and didn’t serve us well. We went back to the regular jack option, this time stuck it under the springs (yikes), and it worked. It still wouldn’t lift the vehicle high enough in any case, so we unmounted the shovel and dug a hole underneath the wheel such that we could slide the fully inflated replacement on. Two hours after we first stopped, finally: success. Immediately afterwards scurries a huge scorpian. Kyle squashed it. We transferred camp to the other side of the track, set up camp, cooked, and more scorpians came scurrying. Kyle killed those too. Shortly thereafter: a killer centipede showed up. At some point we couldn’t take any more of it and pressed the abort button, crawling into the tent as quickly as possible. CAMP 10.
18 April 2017: We woke up to a flat tire. What else did you expect? It’s true, and I should probably just end the report here.
We didn’t notice this one last night.. perhaps it is a slower leak? In any case, Camp 10 has been the camp from hell. Killer scorpions, killer centipedes, 2 flats….. I went on a run this morning, and it was sort of killer too. Huge chunky rocks made for very slow going and lots of ankle twisting. All of this is keeping us from progress towards Namibian border which I am so desperate to see from this side. We are less than 30 km away at this point. Tempting to run on, but I turned around, reached camp, then kyle and I launched into tire changing mode AGAIN. We cranked the jack to max, dig another hole in order to remove the old/slip the new tire on. Done. Packed. And plan aborted. We wanted to depart this southland via Oncocua, but we have precisely zero spare tires and are hundreds of kilometers away from the nearest person who can patch a flat. We stopped in Iona, the community we passed through yesterday, and had a very funny conversation with a much informed woman who told us that the track to Oncocua was extremely rough. With again, I suppose both Kyle and I have learned something. Not that there isn’t a major part of me that wants to break down permanently in the middle of this tranquil life and tranquil land, but we feigned adulthood for a moment and headed back towards Espinheira, towards Pediva, and ultimately towards Namibe. We made it halfway to the pavement (after a couple hundred kilometers of 4×4 track sandy driving), and then… when it rains, it pours. POW! Our right rear tire spat out its Schraeder valve. Total deflation within 17 seconds. Stranded, no spares. We spent a solid 45 mins looking for the lost schraeder valve. No luck. Kyle pondered our options (while repairing a stuck jack, taking a few strolls around the car, and might have drank a beer or two). I eventually went back ca. 370 meters for one last look for the exploded valve. FOUND IT! I returned to the truck with our tiny piece of spat out rubber in hand, nearly wagging my tail. We added a bit of tacky glue, shoved it in, waited 15 mins for driving, then aired her up to a low but reasonable 37 psi. We managed to reach the tarmack (via Sao João do Sul) with this arrangement. We proceeded on 20 km to the river bottom where we made Camp 5, and found a reasonably nice spot under a cool night with big, beautiful stars. Quiet enough, and certainly on the cool side. Kyle and I looked at some of our Petalidium anatomy data during dinner preparation, which is always a productive type of multitasking. We attempted “fancy” beans and rice for dinner (the label on the can depicted some spotted variety, akin to Anasazi Beans, but they turned out to be pintos). CAMP 11.
19 April 2017: Where To Begin. Kyle and I awoke at a rather reasonable pace to seemingly a rather reasonable outlook for today, which more or less ended in absolute chaos. Last night, we ended up pitching tent in the driest of Namib deserts, up a side wash, near Rio Flamingo. In the morning, we went for (separate) runs as the sun rose. I ended up having to quickly reroute myself owing to a difficult to ignore scare of >2km of fresh, cat tracks. BIG cat. BIG prints in the sand. I ran up and down the smaller stretch of sandy wash near the camp instead, and then when I finally saw Kyle again, I showed up our recent camp visitor. We packed up then headed 20 km into Namibe, namely for the tire repair(s). There, we patched one of our two bad tires. The second one has a major hole/blowout and is irreparable, and we would have had to wait until late afternoon to attempt to buy a new one. Our third tire is also questionable… this is the one that went flat yesterday, and still has the tenuous Schraeder valve. In any case, away we went with, as far as we can tell: 3 reasonable tires, a fourth with a new patch, and only one of our two spares functional (i.e., the one with the Schraeder valve issue). We did some quick shopping in town, I called my niece Olivia in western North Carolina to wish her a happy birthday, and we departed for Lubango. Our plan was merely to pass through then keep punching it south towards Rundo (sooooooooo farrrrrrrrr from here……..) to collect our final two species of the trip: P. huillense and P. bracteatum. We thought it would be a fast 6 hrs to make it halfway. Not far from Namibe, we began to climb an escarpment and much to our surprise, covering the steep rocky slopes comprising this escarpment, was a ‘new to us’ Petalidium… one we were not expecting to find, and one we do not have a name for. It was a spectacular species with completely glabrous but incredibly sticky leaves (mechanism for this: still to decipher), pale pink corollas with relatively long tubes, and most interesting cordate leaf bases. We collected it, plus a Blepharis and the Ruellieae sp. from the limestone mesa, then drove on towards Lubango. Arguably the most beautiful drive in all of Angola, not that I have seen all of this country, but it was spectacular – mesic forests climbing a very steep escarpment that seemed to never end. We thought we would take the ‘shortcut’ to avoid Lubango and its rush hour and so we headed south down a dirt road that was to be 30 km long and would spit us out south of Lubango. It quickly deteriorated. We debated turning around but kept going. The road was nothing short of a flood from a recent, catastrophic rain. We pressed on, driving through the hugest puddles and couldn’t make much sense of the ground. Eventually, after being warned not to go further by three local women carrying various heavy loads on their heads, we hit THE BIG ONE. Correction: Kyle hit the big one. We completely bottomed out an FJ70 series Landcruiser, with two tires fully OFF of the ground, the third barely brushing it, and the fourth affixed to the ground but not making tremendous contact with it. The women with buckets on heads caught up with us, had a good laugh (can’t blame them), then said they would help if we paid them. We tried everything, and everything failed. 4wd low, diff locks on, metal sheets unmounted from vehicle and positioned below the tires, 4 adult women plus their children plus Kyle standing and bouncing on various sides of the truck to try to weigh it down for wheel contact, no go. I was concerned on numerous levels, first of which was 12 or so tiny peoples surrounding our truck while I was in the drivers seat during all this mess. After about an hour, and finally, with enough vehicle rocking and enough power sent to drive train, we got it unstuck. We backtracked to the main highway and a full two hour later, we arrived in Lubango, but not under great circumstances. We got turned around numerous times by impassable roads in absolutely flooding rains. The streets were rivers. We finally made it out of town as the sun was setting (not that therewas much of an event of it – the sky was still bucketing) and drove for two hours in flooding rains with our shitty, dim headlights. We eventually hit a pothole. Next flat. That makes 5 now, on the trip. We creeped along for the next 20 km, filling it while it slowly deflated, stopping and refilling it, creeping along, stopping and refilling it…. We finally found a side road to pull off on, and fortunately, the rains have nearly subsided. W reached camp and, all I could think about was a shot of whiskey, but we soon realized that our presses were on top of the roof the entire time. Awesome. We spent the night swapping out newspapers (made it half way through), pressing new plants, then eating Puttanesca that I cooked as fast as possible because both of our motivation levels to do anything but pass out were at rock bottom. We somehow managed to do nearly all of this before the next rains came, shortly before midnight. CAMP 12.
20 April 2017: We awoke in our absolutely sufficient campsite and did not go for a run… no time for it this morning. Instead, we spent an hour+ finishing the re-papering of our soaked (huge, full) plant presses. We managed to hop in the truck by 9 am and that is where we spent the entire day until sundown. We blasted down the highway, at high speeds, to Cahama where we fueled up and then turned south towards Chitado (aka Rundo). The first 60 km were paved and incredibly fast. The last 100 km: SO SLOW. A very muddy, very tricky track. I drove for the duration, moving as slowly and cautiousas possible over the rocks and tough terrain. The last thing we need is another flat (+)! The best part of our journey today was passing through the most remarkable Miombo woodland, which neither Kyle nor I have ever seen. This is characterized by three dominant genera of Detarioideae legumes: Brachystegia, Julbernhardia, and Isoberlinia. This ecosystem borders and oftentimes intergrades with Mopane Woodland to the south, but is wetter and far more diverse in the understory. We could have spent a long time botanizing this, but we continued on as fast as we could. Our goal was to reach Chitado, where we believe the type collection of Petalidium huillense was made (the label data are vague, and we georeferenced this locality as best as we could). We didn’t find it… the habitat, while dry, calcareous, and mopane, was still wrong. Too damp, too many grasses, too much clay, not enough barren sand and rock. We reached the very very remote, small community of Chitado around 3:30 pm. We gotout of the car for 10 minutes, long enough to find the local school teacher and learn a few of the local words in the Zemba language. Back in the truck, we tried to reach the Cunene River from this isolated community but the only path traversing the 7 km to the Rio was one suitable only for motorcycles. We turned west towards Ruacana Falls, where there is a border crossing into Namibia (side note: in January 2013, Kyle Dexter, Lucinda McDade, and Erin Tripp traversed the Namibian route along the Kunene River, reached this crossing, but did not cross). No Acanths today, but we did embark on a little bryology collecting. We hit the Cunene River right around sundown. FULL submersion. Feeling very clean, we retreated to a nearby quiet dirt road, got swarmed by insects, cut veggies in the dark, under beautiful skies. Fagioli misti con carrots & green bell peppers and: that is the limit of Kyle’s Italian, and mine for that matter. CAMP 13.
21 April 2017: Part 2 of our lonnnnnnng trip to the southernmost Angola and back. We awoke after ANOTHER rainstorm/thunderstorm/windstorm. As it turns out, we ended up camping immediately next to the lake created by the damn over the Cunene. This explains last night’s insects. I went for a pretty awesome run – GREAT dirt, NO people. And then, I confess, I swam… in a perfect combination of bathing, swimming, and botanizing. I’m pretty sure that most of America would approve. All of this was along the ‘frontera’: where Angola meets Namibia. We didn’t see any suitable habitat for what we looking for (Petalidium spp.), and eventually drove away thinking “well, that was that… bummer, but a great (rest) of the trip”. We began our retreat, moving slowly towards an eastern sunrise through what seemed to be fairly disturbed Miombo woodlands with clay soils. On a positive note, we passed by some very pretty natural glades! None of this however appeared at all suitable for Petalidium. All at once (and now you know what’s coming), with Kyle driving, this little bush jumped into the road in front of me and said “Hey Kyle, STOP!”. I finally spotted it. It lacked flowers and had only a few buds, but finally….the long sought after, narrowly endemic Petalidium huillense. Over the next 5 km, we saw it only 2 more times, for a total of 12 individuals. Neither Kyle or I have ANY idea what clade this species is member to… odorless, huge spines, reduced inflorescence solitary flowers in axils. I can’t wait to sequence it. And yes, it is going in the next lane….
Away we went towards Calenque. On the way, we passed by some HUGE agricultural enterprise. I’m still not sure what it was, given it was still under development. From Calenque we pointed the Land Cruiser in the direction of the ‘best track’ to Xangongo (‘best track’ confirmed by several folks along the roadside). This ‘best track’ took us on the south side of the dam / Cunene River. Once again, on our last day of fieldwork, we found ourselves on the dodgiest of tracks. This was majorly rutted and arguably our slowest pace yet. We drove a full 40km under these circumstances, for much of it moving about 10km per hour. The landscape was highly disturbed but naturally flooded portions among it were nonetheless beautiful. We saw precisely zero vehicles for hours. At some point, Kyle and I started became distressed. Finally, many hours after we first departed Calenque, two very large trucks approached, hauling who knows what. They were both being driven by chinese drivers, who responded to our concerned looks regarding the state of the remainder of the road with simply” Não tem agua”. Awesome. They were right! From that point on, the road much improved although it was by no means a comfortable ride. In fact, it was so bad, that I was borderline vomiting in the passenger’s seat from a full day of roughness. We reached Xangongo in yet another rainstorm, but nonetheless devised a plan to figure out where in the world we could quickly find Petalidium bracteatum in time to reach Francisco’s house (in Lubango… still 4 hours away!) for dinner. We took a small side road just before crossing the bridge over the Rio Cunene, and beheld the spectacular sight! HUGE numbers of Petalidium bracteatum flowers atop freestanding albeit small-sized shrubs (<0.4m). Kyle and I collected relevant materials (DNA, RNA, anthocyanin subsamples, photographs, GPS coordinates, notes, cuttings, voucher specimens) as fast as we could in the pouring rain. Back in the truck, we hightailed it north. We drove through ANOTHER rainstorm, but the road was easy driving. After night fell, we passed thru a checkpoint and got breathalized of all things. No problems. We finally reached Francicso’s house at 8:30pm, just 1.5 hrs after our scheduled arrival. Really nice place and nice family. He cooked us a tasty dinner for us, we stayed too late but had good conversation, then reached the herbarium apartment to some of the loudest music I have ever heard coming from a block party. We quickly retreated to our room, put pillows over our heads, put plugs in our ears, and tried our best to sleep through a party that lasted until 4am.
22 April 2017: Kyle and I woke around 6:30 am after an insufficient night’s sleep, but the awesomeness of yesterday (Petalidium huillense! Petalidium bracteatum!) made up for it. We proceeded to enjoy our first hot showers in the past few weeks. We made coffee, ate a quick breakfast, then got to work in the herbarium. For whatever reason, people seem to work 7 days a week here (!). Fernanda Lages, the Director of the herbarium, arrived before 8am and let us in the door. So kind. Kyle and I worked most of the day. I detted several folders of undetermined Acanths while he sorted through their (LUBA Herbarium) Petalidium collections. We then spent a solid 2 hours sorting our field collxns (full set for LUBA, remaining dupes for COLO, E, K, WIND, NY, MO, US, others). I went for a mid-day run, landing in a rather impoverished area of town but glad I went there and experienced it. The narrow, rutted streets were packed with people, most of them nice, only some of them yelling “Cubana” at me (the Cubans have a long history of presence and activity in Angola… since early war time… and apparently I look like a Cuban woman… I could be called worse things!). On my return run, I poked my head in the local shopping mall to confirm what Fernanda had earlier told me: that it was impossible to find gifts for anyone in all of Lubango, but I did encounter a store that sold a soft drink named “Welwitschia”. These people are proud of their quirky plant! There is even a chain of (money) banks named “Welwitschia” in Angola. These people love Welwitschia!
Back in the herbarium, Fernanda had similarly just returned with a pile of groceries, offering to cook us lunch of all things! Not too often that a director of the national herbarium goes out of her way on a Sunday to do such a thing for out of country visitors. Wow. The three of us plus Raquel (a very friendly Portuguese student visiting LUBA working on ethnobotany of southern Angola for her PhD dissertation, and our roommate) dined in the herbarium flat around 3pm, over beers. Kyle and I cleaned out the car then packed our belongings. Instead of sleeping here one more night, we have been authorized to make a small, synoptic set of moss collections from the nearby (remarkable) Serra da Leba escarpment, some 45km away…. the area we traversed a few days ago headed back from Namibe to Lubango. Kyle and I drove at night towards the ‘mirador’, had a quick look at the setting, westerly sun, then found a most excellent campsite up the mesa under a full starry sky. Once again, we entertained ourselves with night sky photography. We cooked up a much-needed warming bowl of beans and rice (it is 42 degrees as I type) and then went to bed just after 9pm. CAMP 14.
23 & 24 April 2017: We have neared the end of our trip, and in a few hours, the collecting notebooks and supplies will be packed deep in the bag for travel home. One last hooray with mosses on Serra da Leba this morning, and we didn’t waste any time after waking up. We drove to the bottom of the escarpment and then slowly climbed up while stopped +/- 10 times for collections. I only made 25-30 numbers, but that will be plenty of work (especially in an area without prior collections) for Dr. Bill Buck, who offered to identify them. We finished by 10:45 am, punched it back to the herbarium, sorted the bags into duplicates and placed them out to dry, said one last good, then drove like hell northward… two days driving back to Luanda for our night flight out tomorrow, 11pm. I return home for about a week, and then have one more 3-week field trip to complete the September to May circuit: Brazil (Aug, Acanths), Bolivia (Sept, Acanths), Alabama (Dec-Jan, lichens), Ecuador and Peru (Jan, Acanths), Angola (April, Acanths), and Alabama (May, lichens). Tired, but happy and grateful.
Erin Tripp, April 2017