retreat from Talampaya chased by the zonda wind. Well, after that and two and a half hours, we got back to Chilecito and were told the tour was re-booked for two days later, or else we'd get our money back (minus the cost of fuel).
Since we'd made no other plans, we tried to fit something in the rest of the day, a sunless Tuesday afternoon full of suspended dirt, so we visited Chirau Mita, a cactus garden on the Paimán hill beside Chilecito. You enter from the street and climb terraces planted with many species of cacti plus some non-cactus, mostly agaves (the source of tequila).
The guide told us everything we wanted to know about cacti but were afraid to ask, a bit too quickly for my taste, since I'd rather stop beside each plant and take pictures from several angles, while she continued to climb the stairs and speak of other cacti. You can see some of the best cactus pictures on a special photo-only post of my other blog.
We learned that cacti are succulent plants, which reduce the loss of water through the surface of leaves by turning leaves into spines, which has the added advantage of protecting the plant. The trunk itself turns green and takes over photosynthesis. We saw huge spherical cacti ("mother-in-law's cushions"), tiny cacti with infinitesimal flowers, tall straight cacti, cacti with helicoidally twisted trunks, and hairy cacti, with white doll-like manes that protect them from freezing (you know what happens when water contained in a barely flexible container freezes?). We also learned that cacti are exclusive of the American continent.
We returned to the hostel and saw the people mopping the sidewalks in front of shops to remove the fine reddish dirt, before opening to the public. (It was rather late in the afternoon, but siesta time is kept almost as a sacred tradition.) And that was the rest of Tuesday afternoon.