FAQs

Field Trips | History | Packing Checklist | Preparation | FAQs


Frequently Asked Questions

 

What is the CSSA Field Trips Program?
What can I expect to see?
Is plant collecting allowed?
What time of the year do trips occur?
How long do trips last?
Are the trips rigorous?
Are the trips safe?
How expensive are the trips?
What is included for the price?
Are these camping trips?
Who are the trip leaders?
What vehicles are used?
How good are the accommodations and meals?
How large are the groups?
Are personal tours available?
How are participants chosen if there is more interest than space allows?
Do you need to be a CSSA member?
What about family members?
How do I get more information on a specific trip?
How do I register for a trip?

 

What is the CSSA Field Trips Program?

The CSSA Field Trips program provides opportunities for CSSA members to view cacti and other succulent plants in their native habitats. Trips are to succulent-rich areas of the Americas and Africa. Many succulent habitats are threatened or disappearing because of human activities such as agriculture, grazing, development, tourism, and over-collecting of desirable plants. We are living in a unique period where significant remnants of such natural habitats still exist, and opportunities to travel to such locations are generally safe and affordable to many. These trips allow succulent plant hobbyists to examine how plants of interest grow in nature. This information can help inform participants about how to better care for their plants in cultivation.

Participants of the 2007 Post-Convention Tour to Baja California enjoy sundowners in the Cataviña boulder field. Photo D. Mahr.

Participants of the 2007 Post-Convention Tour to Baja California enjoy sundowners in the Cataviña boulder field. Photo D. Mahr.

There are actually two field trips series conducted by CSSA. The CSSA Tour 2000 Series is offered in even-numbered years. These trips are scheduled for either Latin America of Africa. CSSA conventions are held during odd-numbered years and pre-convention and/or post-convention trips are scheduled to coincide with the conventions. The Convention Trips Series is particularly popular with our overseas members, as they can schedule two outstanding succulent events for the price of one airplane ticket, but many U.S. members attend these as well. Convention trips are restricted to the United States and Mexico.


What can I expect to see?

Each trip is planned with the help of botanical experts who are familiar with the locations of plants in the destination country. The aim is to see as much diversity of succulents as practical.  From tiny conophytums and blossfeldias to giant baobabs and massive columnar cacti, you will see a great diversity of plants. SFor an idea of where we go and what we see, see the synopses of past trips [link]. Because most of our destinations are remnants of undisturbed natural habitats, in addition to the succulents, you will likely see numerous wildflowers, spectacular scenery, and a diversity of wildlife in their natural settings, as well as being exposed to the native peoples and their traditions. The accompanying photos show the diversity of experiences that have occurred on past trips.

Sunrise at Sossusvlei, southern Namibia, 2002. Photo D.Mahr

Sunrise at Sossusvlei, southern Namibia, 2002. Photo D.Mahr

 

Is plant collecting allowed?

CSSA’s conservation policy discourages the collection of plants from the field. Most countries have stringent laws with harsh penalties for removing their natural resources including plants and seeds; if a single individual is caught with plant material by authorities, the entire trip could be seriously jeopardized for all participants. Therefore, collecting is strongly discouraged on CSSA field trips.

What time of the year do trips occur?

By necessity, Tour 2000 Series trips are planned to facilitate land transportation. The poorly maintained dirt roads in succulent habitats can rapidly turn into rivers of mud during the rainy season. Therefore trips are usually scheduled at either the beginning or the end of the dry season. There are always some plants in bloom but the amount and type depends on recent rainfall history which is not predictable at the time of trip planning. In most succulent plant habitats, summer is the rainy season, and avoiding the peak of this period also avoids severe heat and humidity that can make for very uncomfortable travel. Therefore, trips are often held in late spring or early fall (but remember that the seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere, and seasonality is reduced in equatorial areas). Convention Trips are always held either just before or just after the biennial conventions. Usually the conventions are held during the summer, and weather during such periods can be quite hot. Occasionally conventions are held in the spring.

Field trips are usually scheduled for the dry season to avoid transportation problems. But occasionally we encounter situations such as this, en route to see Fouquieria purpusii. CSSA  Tour 2010 – Oaxaca. Photo D. Mahr.

Field trips are usually scheduled for the dry season to avoid transportation problems. But occasionally we encounter situations such as this, en route to see Fouquieria purpusii. CSSA Tour 2010 – Oaxaca. Photo D. Mahr.

 

How long do trips last?

Tour 2000 trips to South America and Africa last approximately 2-3 weeks; trips to Mexico may be shorter. Because of the distances involved in getting to African locations in particular, one-way transit may take as long as two days. With only a few exceptions, succulent habitats tend to be spread out, requiring lengthy ground transportation; trips often log 1500-3000 km. These factors coupled with the expense of international weeks inefficient.

Convention Trips usually range from 5 days to two weeks depending on destination.

Are the trips rigorous?

CSSA trips may be categorized as mildly rigorous. A reasonable degree of fitness is expected. Participants are usually expected to see to their own luggage, including carrying it to and from vehicles. Many of our travelers are retired, some in their 60s or beyond, and we attempt to plan trips that are both rewarding and survivable.

We encourage people to participate in daily activities to the degree their own capabilities allow. At many plant stops wonderful specimens are literally within a few steps of the vehicle; certainly within a few hundred feet. At other locations a hike of a half mile or more may be necessary. (Our longest hike was an optional day-long 10 mile round trip to see Copiapoa krainziana in Chile, but this was very unusual.) Some succulent habitats are on steep hillsides where the rocks are loose, the footing is a bit treacherous, and, in the case of a slip, the spines are numerous and sharp! Particularly in western South America, destinations may be at high altitudes with a thin atmosphere, where routine activities require much exertion and altitude sickness is a possibility.

Beyond the daily rigors is the constant grind of living an unaccustomed life for an extended period. Meals may not conform to Western ideals. You’re not sleeping in your own bed. Long drives over rough, dusty roads can be trying. Even short mid-day hikes in the desert heat can sap your energy. Days usually start early and end late. And we are constantly on the move, with lodging changes practically every night. But you won’t be able to see the sites we offer without a little hardship and exertion, and, oh!, the stories you’ll be able to tell when you return home!

Although most plants are relatively accessible by moderately fit people, some are in steep and rocky areas, as here in Chile in 2004. Participants need to acknowledge their own  limitations when deciding whether to access such spots. Photo D. Mahr.

Although most plants are relatively accessible by moderately fit people, some are in steep and rocky areas, as here in Chile in 2004. Participants need to acknowledge their own limitations when deciding whether to access such spots. Photo D. Mahr.

En route to Parodia chrysacanthon. A fair amount of agility is helpful to traverse rocky areas and the occasional narrow and rickety local foot bridge. CSSA Tour 2012 – Northwest Argentina. Photo D. Mahr.

En route to Parodia chrysacanthon. A fair amount of agility is helpful to traverse rocky areas and the occasional narrow and rickety local foot bridge. CSSA Tour 2012 – Northwest Argentina. Photo D. Mahr.

 

Are the trips safe?

There are risks associated with any travel, even to your local super market. Although CSSA makes every effort to assure our trips are as safe as possible, realize that you will be traveling to very remote areas because that’s where the plants are. Often, we are a considerable distance from modern medical facilities.

Most of our trips are to developing countries. We only plan trips to countries or regions deemed safe for travel by the U.S. State Department. We will abort a trip if we are not certain that safe conditions will prevail. For example, our planned destination for Tour 2002 was normally-placid Madagascar. After all plans were in place, a presidential election was held and both parties claimed victory, dividing the country and the military. Bridges were blown up; fuel and other supplies were in short supply, and international flights were cancelled. We quickly arranged a very successful substitute trip to Namibia and South Africa. Within a few months conditions were mostly back to normal in Madagascar; that trip was rescheduled and safely conducted in 2004.

Bumps, bruises, scrapes, and punctures from spines are fairly typical acquisitions on CSSA trips. To date we have had only one broken bone requiring medical evacuation, and that resulted from a slip on a wet hotel walkway. Trip insurance with medical evacuation coverage is strongly recommended and is required by some of our tour operators.

Each participant must read, sign, and return with their registration deposit a CSSA liability waiver.

How expensive are the trips? What is included for the price?

Travel is increasingly expensive. Trip costs vary depending on the standard of living in the country we visit as well as the relative value of the U.S. dollar on the foreign monetary market. Trips usually cost roughly $1300-1800 per week plus airfare. Airfare to Latin American destinations will generally be $700-$1200, and $1500-$2000 to Africa. The cost of the trip includes all in-country land and air travel, most meals, all lodging (usually booked at mid-range hotels, but availability may be limited in out-of-the-way destinations; rooms are usually private, with bath, charged at a double occupancy rate), salaries and expenses of drivers and local guides, honoraria and expenses of botanical leaders, and park entry fees. Usually not covered is air transportation to and from the tour country, alcoholic beverages, gratuities, and incidentals. Out-of-pocket expenses are minimal except for possibly a few dinners, alcoholic beverages, souvenir purchases and gratuities. A 2-3 week trip to Latin America or Africa will normally be in the range of $4000-6000 including airfare (purchased on your own), somewhat higher to more expensive destinations. A $200 donation per trip to CSSA is included in the base price.

Who are the trip leaders?

Planning a field trip usually starts two full years prior to the trip date. The CSSA Field Trips Committee determines the destination and then contracts with a US-based tour company who works with local in-country tour operators to supply vehicles, drivers, local coordination, and other logistical support. CSSA also contacts cactus and succulent specialists known to be familiar with the area to serve as botanical guides. The botanical guides work closely with the tour operators to develop a meaningful and practical itinerary.

By CSSA policy, at least one member of the CSSA Field Trips Committee must accompany each trip totally at their own personal expense. The CSSA representative has ultimate say over daily activities and changes in the itinerary if necessary. This is done in daily consultation with the botanical guides and the tour operators.

 

What vehicles are used?

Vehicles are provided by the tour operator according to travel conditions on the itinerary. In some areas 4-wheel drive vehicles are essential, such as 6-passenger Land Cruisers or the equivalent. In other areas, 15-passenger vans are adequate. If the roads are generally good, small (24-30 passenger) coaches might be used. Every attempt is made to avoid constant over-crowding so that travel time is as comfortable as possible.

Richtersveld Challenge was our tour operator in 2002 and their 4-wheel drive vehicles were essential in Namibia and here in the Richtersveld. Photo D. Mahr.

Richtersveld Challenge was our tour operator in 2002 and their 4-wheel drive vehicles were essential in Namibia and here in the Richtersveld. Photo D. Mahr.

 

How good are the accommodations and meals?

CSSA trips are not intended to be luxury tours. Many of the best habitats of cacti and succulents are in developing countries and in arid areas away from substantial population centers. Therefore, accommodations are based on what is locally available and range from upper-end game lodges to sparse and spartan guest houses. When there is a choice of lodging we usually book mid-priced facilities that are known to be clean, safe, and reliable. Generally, but not always, rooms have private bath and toilet facilities. In very remote areas we have stayed in places such as truck stops with dormitory-style facilities.

 

 

Breakfasts are often included in the price of the rooms, and quality varies. In most countries, continental style breakfasts include toast and jam, coffee or tea, and juice. In a few cases breakfasts have been rather extravagant affairs with meats and cheeses, fresh fruits, eggs, pastries, etc.

 

Lunches are usually in the field and may include a stop at a local restaurant if available or may be a box lunch with a sandwich, piece of fruit, and a beverage. These meals are meant to provide sustenance and are often not elaborate. Sometimes we do better – in Chile we had fresh guacamole virtually every lunch, along with breads, cheese and crackers, canned seafoods, fresh fruits, cookies and other assorted treasures. Lunch service is planned by the local tour operator and is at their discretion.

 

Most dinners are included and are taken as a group at a reasonably nice local restaurant. In cities where there are diverse choices, dinner may be on your own so individuals can satisfy their specific desires and sample the local nightlife. There is always a Welcome Dinner where we get to know each other and get general guidance and orientation from our guides and tour operator. There is also a Farewell Dinner where we can swap stories about favorite plants and interesting experiences.

On the first night of a trip the Welcome Dinner provides time to get to know fellow travelers and receive orientation from our guides and tour operator. And the food is usually  pretty delicious. CSSA Tour 2010 – Oaxaca. Photo D. Mahr.

On the first night of a trip the Welcome Dinner provides time to get to know fellow travelers and receive orientation from our guides and tour operator. And the food is usually pretty delicious. CSSA Tour 2010 – Oaxaca. Photo D. Mahr.

 

On the last night of the trip the Farewell Dinner is an opportunity to swap stories about favorite plants and memorable places.

On the last night of the trip the Farewell Dinner is an opportunity to swap stories about favorite plants and memorable places.

 

How large are the groups? Are personal tours available?

When factoring the costs of such tours, there is a certain economy of size. Fixed costs, such as compensation for guides and drivers, and vehicle charges, become less costly when spread over more participants. Group size is capped at about 18 paying members plus drivers and guides. Because of fixed costs, prices may go up depending on the number of participants, and tour organizers will often quote a graduated fee structure based on the numbers who enroll. Generally trips are cancelled if participation is below 8-10, though Convention Trips have been conducted with fewer participants. No Tour 2000 trip has been cancelled because of low enrollment; our smallest group was to Kenya, with only 6 paying participants.

CSSA does not organize private tours or other specialty tours.

Members of the CSSA 2010 trip to Oaxaca. This was one of our larger groups.

Members of the CSSA 2010 trip to Oaxaca. This was one of our larger groups.

 

 

How are participants chosen if there is more interest than space allows?

Maximum group size is usually about 16 to 18 depending on the seating configuration of the vehicles to be used. Field trips are announced well over a year in advance, and registrations are generally accepted 8-10 months prior to the trip. Therefore, space allotment is on a first-come, first-served basis. If a trip fills, a waiting list is kept in case of cancellations.

 

Do you need to be a CSSA member? What about family members?

CSSA membership is required both in the year of registration for a trip and the year of the trip itself. Immediate family members and family partners may attend trips if registered as either an active or associate member of CSSA. The cost of Associate membership is $10 per family member per year.

 

How do I get more information on a specific trip?

As soon as preliminary details are developed, trip information will occur in the CSSA newsletter To the Point and on this webpage under Upcoming Trips. As the itinerary and details evolve, information will be updated. Once plans are mostly finalized, information on logistical matters and registration can be gotten from the tour operator, whose contact information will be on the appropriate page under Upcoming Trips.

Once a destination and approximate time have been decided, an announcement will appear in our newsletter To the Point as well as on our website. All of those interested are encouraged to express their desire for further information to the CSSA coordinator who will provide occasional email updates. These people will be the first to receive notification that the registration period for a trip has opened.

Overall coordination of each trip is the responsibility of a CSSA Field Trips Committee member and this individual can be contacted for information on botanical aspects of the trip.


How do I register for a trip?

Our cooperating tour operators handle all aspects of registration and other financial matters. Contact information is available on the appropriate web page for Upcoming Trips, as well as in the CSSA newsletter To the Point.


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