On Wednesday 23 February we resumed our monthly meetings with guest speaker Dr Henry Oakeley talking about Orchid hunting in Peru. Dr Oakeley proved to be highly informative and, at times, amusing, on a subject which had enthralled him since childhood, and on which he was clearly an expert.
He has visited Peru many times to see his beloved Orchids, but these trips were very different from your average overseas package holiday. His dedication took him on treks that showed that he did it the hard way and we were about to join him on one of them - albeit in the comfort of Crockham Hill Hall!
After arriving in Peru, he headed towards the well-known location of Machu Pichu, but our speaker soon moved away from the tourists and walked upwards on an old Inca trail with guides, following the path of Ruiz and Pavon two Spanish pharmacists who blazed a trail here from 1777 to 1788. Before long he was having breakfast at 3400 metres and soon came across Orchids, some of which were only one eighth of an inch and all of which had almost unpronounceable names. He carried on towards the Andes and en route saw a woodland ablaze with the colour of many types of Orchids. He went past the village of Pozuzo, which retained elements of its German origin, as the path became narrower and steeper, made even more hazardous by recent flooding. Then as he reached 2,000 metres, he pointed out that it wasn't just Orchids in the area, there were less pleasant residents, namely Beetles and Caterpillars that had the capacity to cause pain or even death.
After travelling for a few days, he was ready for an early start to cross the Andes where, at 3000 metres, it was cloudy and wet, and then further up to 4600 metres where it was too cold for Orchids. After crossing it was downhill with a ten-hour trek to reach the small settlement of Muna at 3400 feet, which has no roads or electricity and where he was given great hospitality by the locals and discovered that the local delicacy there, and wherever he stayed, was potatoes! He pointed out that the altitude increased the blood cells of the locals causing them to have very red cheeks and showed us photos of the affected children. There then followed a further 12 hours climbing, continuing to observe Orchids of various shapes and sizes. In fact, throughout the journey the talk was supplemented by many photos of this fascinating flower. Dr Oakeley had now reached over 4000 metres and, at this stage, horses were needed to help with the baggage. However, the trek was proving rewarding as, in one small wood alone, he came across approximately 170 Orchids, some as tiny as 3 millimetres in length, some as big as three metres.
It was now time for turning back and the start of the long walk to commence his return to civilisation and, as he spoke about this final lap, he showed us more beautiful photos of Orchids with the startling observation that there were over 300,000 varieties, with the number growing each year. He then concluded with his thanks to all those who had helped him and shown him great hospitality.
This was greeted by warm applause by the audience who had been thoroughly entertained by the story of both his journey and the beautiful Orchids that he had encountered. He then answered several questions but warned the audience that if any of them wanted to see Orchids in the wild they should go to Guatemala - Peru was much too wild for most!