That was my first close contact with this beautiful plant. MY GOD, WHAT AMOUNTS OF THORNS! I thought, seeing the pods the first time, it didn't matter how you handled it -- without any doubt you would get a serious wound. Large thorns and little ones between the big ones made it difficult to sort out where to put your fingers to hold the pod. Walter's legs and arms provided an account once he was back in the boat, looking like a good example of frightened cat scratches.
Finished with our work, with a good amount of pods that seemed externally to be well ripened, we moved to a place that was practically dry, with just few centimetres of water, which our guide pointed out as the same spot where Walter and Butch were back in 1999. Walter was extremely upset, saying that it could not be the same place and Beto, one of our guides, insisted that it was. Walter could not believe that there was not a trace of the previous presence of Victoria cruziana or Nymphaea prolifera. He went back and forth over the muddy ground seeking some traces of the proliferation of Victoria from previous years, but he did not find them. I believe that he finally left the site believing that it was the place where he had been three years before.
We left the site retracing our way through the water paths, crossing again the same meadows. Just as we sighted the other boat (luckily), our boat got stuck and could not cross a dense area of Eichhornias, so they towed our boat passed the obstacle. We gathered after the rescue and went to a cattle ranch where we had a lunch consisting of some fish from a nearby place and some meat that had been roasted for us while we worked. Both comfortable and Walter warm again from having lunch under the sun, we left for the port and returned to our lodging two hours later.
Once again at "El Cerrito", we arranged the pods
in containers filled with water so they would continue their
ripening process. Meanwhile Walter rested and I performed some
"cosmetics" on the pods. I took off the remaining sepals,
cut the peduncles and almost shaved the pods to avoid further
injuries. This prepared them for the next day when Walter would
give me some advice on how to identify adequate pod ripeness.
Friday 19, our last day, we had early breakfast and waited until the sun warmed up a little since the morning was cold. Then Walter began, with the help of a knife, to cut the collected pods in half. He showed me the distribution of the seeds. The majority of them were immature, since they had a very light green colour and we were able to crush them easily with light finger pressure. Only three pods showed mature seeds, which could be recognized by showing a dark olive green colour and were sufficiently firm, not easily crushed with light finger pressure. The arils that covered each seed were also well developed in the mature pods. I noted that the mature arils resembled plastic bags filled with air bubbles, as opposed to the immature arils in which the air bubbles did not appear well developed.
In the afternoon, after our last lunch, we took the road again to Buenos Aires with our crop inside a large plastic bag. Walter kept for himself three half pods and left me with the other halves. Four or five hours later I said goodbye to my mentor in the hotel lobby. He would go to Sao Paulo, Brazil, the following morning to continue with his expedition. In a few days he would visit the "Pantanal" area in the central-south of Brazil where he had not been before, and then in another few days he would travel to the well-known city of Manaus to visit once again the Amazon territory. Returning back to his home in San Diego, California, he would wait for three months and travel to Bolivia to see the relatively young National Park "Noel Kempf Mercado" in the northeast of Bolivia, then back to San Diego, then to Australia and ..... continuing the travels of this modern explorer.
Many of the seeds collected on this trip have sprouted, those Walter took with him and also many of the ones that I kept with me. In my case none of them became plants, maybe due to my own inexperience. The goal of this and the previous trip was finally achieved and I am proud me to be a part of the adventure that began more than three years ago.
Thanks again Walter.