Saturday, January 14, 2012

Stuff (generally Chile / Peru)

-I want one of the CONAF guardaparque’s sun hats.  I don’t like sun hats generally because they usually seem floppy, with too much cloth (and they’re naff).  But the CONAF guys have these nice, straightforward caps with a simple neck/ear covering.

-Everyone in this area apparently gets the same car alarm.  They all have the same sound.  They all have the characteristic of being very, very sensitive.  When we got our truck, I touched the roll-bar in the bed and the alarm went off.  When we were coming home, we were waiting for the sun to rise at the Lima airport, and there was the sound through the window: "Bee Boo Bee Boo, Booooooooooooooooip Boooooooooooooop, Naaah Nahh Naaah Nah, BRR BRR BRR BRR BRR BRR BRR BRR...."  Catherine instinctively got up to go turn it off.

-Speaking of waiting, we were in Tacna for a seven-hour layover.  Catherine saved us some money by having us cross into Peru and then fly from Tacna.  However, crossing into Peru meant a new time zone, moving us two hours back.  Plus we didn’t really know how simple the crossing would be – it’s simple.  So here we were in the proverbial one-horse town waiting for the sun to set.  But the time went quickly.  Which reminds me of a recent read – “Traffic,” by Tom Vanderbilt.  In the book, he explains that defined waits seem shorter than undefined waits.  So we have a defined wait, albeit long.


The book starts slow, but then gets into some relatively interesting material about the nature of safety - do we want roads that forgive unsafe driving (interstate), or roads that encourage safe driving (village road)?  Also some insights on how much thought (or not) is going into road construction worldwide.  Yes this was on my mind with the A-11 altiplano construction madness.

-And then speaking of waiting again, we were in Miami for four hours (the total trip home was as follows - Arica to Tacna in a collectivo cab, including the border crossing, then seven-hours in Tacna, flight to Lima, six hours in Lima, flight to Miami, four hours in Miami, flight to Denver - it took us I think about 40 hours total, or the second-longest trip of my life [but hey we saved a few hundred dollars]).  The Miami airport was an interesting study - we got to watch various travel-zombies in our little corner of concourse D having similar experiences.  We were sitting there, numbed out from travel, and I look across at another couple, even more numbed out from travel.  The woman held a piece of cookie in her hand for several minutes before eating it.  Both sunburned.  I'm sure they had a good story.

-I think my post with the most views is on the La Sportiva Raptor shoe - which I wrote as a bit of a joke on gear reviews.  Serves me right.  Out of spite, I brought them to Chile, expecting to destroy them and perhaps leave them down here.  Nope - they're tough, wonderful shoes.  In fact, I can't think of a better shoe to scramble around 5,000 meter slopes measuring llareta plants all day.  They don't even smell bad.  In particular, they have a very precise fit - after a year, I still have to untie them to get them on.  Which is great for rocky slopes and scrambling - not so great for regular running.  In any case, the Raptors live on (and maybe I'll get a few hundred hits now on this post).

Friday, January 13, 2012

Chile Photos

Catherine's science photos here.

My travel/general photos here.  

I made a separate (small) gallery of water structure photos here.

I also took some video, and am still thinking about how to organize.

Arica beach rugby sevens

Enough with plant measuring and mountain hiking - it's time for beach rugby sevens!


There was a big tournament in town today.  Big hits - the sand literally shakes when these guys tackle.  Big cheers for the (successful) U. de Tarapaca team.  No cheers for the Lima teams.  Fun with the camera:








There was even (almost) a fight - here you see U. de Tarapaca (orange/white) after a narrow five-point victory.  The other guy is affiliated with the Arica Buffaloes, and upset about a late hit that ruined the Buffaloes chances to tie the game:  


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Parinacota / Arica, Chile (NGS Waitt Grant 5)

On Tuesday, the weather suddenly changed from this:



To this:



We took advantage of the blue skies by looking for llareta on the highest and best slope that we could - the nearby mountain Larancagua.  We found a young plant at 5250 meters, which was over 100 meters higher than Catherine had previously observed - there are undoubtedly plants higher on the mountain that we could not see due to the high snowpack.  My GPS put the mountain at 17,870 feet, which set our literal and metaphorical high point for the trip:


(although we couldn't always read the signs).

By this point, we were quite acclimatized, and therefore able to hike from about 15,000 feet to the summit and back in about three and a half hours (noting what what may be an altitude record for the Cumulopuntia ignescens cactus, as well as the high llareta plants):


(llareta at 5216 meters).

The better weather also allowed us to camp, lessening the time we spent driving to transect sites in the various parts of Lauca National Park - and providing us with views like this:



We left the high country for Arica this morning, taking time to note the altitude range of the outrageous browningia cactus:



As well as some other surprises, like a baccharis sp. living in the extreme arid zone at about 5,000 feet:



-

Later, we arrived in Arica with a fierce wind whipping off the ocean, dust flying everywhere, and ironically feeling the effects of the altitude for the first time - (very) tired, and (very) hungry.  Ross the hostelier welcomed us in, and we set about eating whole chickens.  One more day in Arica, and then it's back to work in Denver (although as they have internet here, we are working already). 

As I mentioned in the last post, the "work" portion of the trip was intense such that the days flowed together in our attempt to gather as much data as we could, stay healthy while living at 4,500 meters, and observe whatever else we could of such a beautiful place.  We attempted to start discussing what happened on the drive back down the mountain, but not only were we tired (and hungry), but we were still enveloped in this eye-popping landscape of extremes.  I'd mention something about ecotourism, and then I'd look out the window at what looked like a 7,000-foot tall sand dune - and completely lose my train of thought.

So maybe this is the first and main thing to say about our time in Chile - we experienced a giant land, a land that lacks (at least our) accustomed boundaries of geology and spatial relationships.  We climbed (at least what we considered) a large mountain, and looked down on the fantastically-large Choquelimpie mine:



And it turns out, people were mining gold and silver in this area for perhaps 400 years, and it's one of the larger mines of its kind in the world (this history of the mine is a worthwhile read - it has been taken down, but take the time to view a cached version).  And not only that, but we couldn't even see the massive Volcan Guallatiri only a few kilometers away - there were too many other huge mountains, snowstorms, fog, etc. in the way.  Only later were we able to view the volcano - appropriately, it only revealed its smoking summit when we stationed ourselves a suitably huge distance away.  For our hike/climb up Larancagua, I couldn't find a climb account online, and a local guide couldn't recall another summit party - there are so many big mountains to climb, people don't have to bother with views like these:


(Nevado Sajama in the clouds).  

This general thought leads directly to our second main thing, which is our broad concern over the future of Lauca, as well as Chile's outsized landscape generally.  That giant mine, scheduled to reopen this year, is right in the national park.  The A-11 road really is a disaster - the Gobierno Chile apparently thought it was a good idea to tear up fifteen miles of highway, and then ineptly herd massive caravans of container-trucks over an alternately dusty/muddy rutted track.  We were sitting there in the endless (and logic-defeating) "pare/siga" gridlock looking simultaneously at vicuna grazing in a sensitive bofedal wetland area, and a hundred trucks bouncing along trying to supply Bolivia.  Where does this lead?

The road project, and others, are having a dramatic effect on the local economy.  Far fewer people are visiting Parinacota than in 2000.  CONAF is operating with a skeleton crew - good rules are in place, but it's unclear if people are following them.  Certainly we had the run of the place - measuring plants, climbing, camping, etc., without anyone knowing/caring what we were about.  More people are staying in Putre and driving up to the high country for the day.  Which may be a good thing, depending on who you ask.  

(Minor aside along the lines of outsized-Chile: we consistently spoke of "going down the mountain" to Putre. As in, "it will be great to go down to Putre where it's warm and you can breathe easier."  But Putre is 11,500 feet - and only a 2-3 hour drive from sea level!)

For now, Catherine's (and Dr. Rundel's and Dr. Graham's) data is locked in spreadsheets and notebooks - they will tease out the information in the months to come.  Our other thoughts on outsized-Chile will likewise be a work in progress.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Parinacota, Chile (NGS Waitt Grant 4)

-The nature of the "work" portion of our Chile trip dawned on me after performing the first 100 meter transect measuring the density/number of llareta plant.  It took about 45 minutes, and after climbing over rocks, up and down a hillside, and panting in the altitude (about 14,600 feet), I was already getting tired.  Catherine mentioned that maybe we'd do 50 or so of such transects.  And so the days started running together as we measured the plants and did other work with Dr. Rundel and Dr. Graham.  The data looks quite promising and meaningful, so everyone is happy (albeit tired).

We are down in Putre to check in on things at home (and of course to do more plant work).  The weather has dictated the work (and play) so far - for the first few days we had sun in the morning and buildup/lightning storms in the afternoon.  Then it shifted to all-day snow/rain (but without lightning).  

We were able to climb a small-ish mountain (at least for this part of the world) in the Quebrada Condoriri - I measured 17,450 ft. at the summit.  We left the highway in fog, then had brief sun at the summit, and the storms came in as we descended.  Catherine was able to find the llareta at 5155 meters, which is her highest observation, and close to the reported record.

Our days are generally packed, and it's surprising how quickly we've gotten used to the altitude and other local conditions.  Here we are living at approximately the altitude of the highest mountain in Colorado, and after a few days we are working/eating/sleeping just fine.  I've taken quite a few photos and made some videos of Catherine's work, but posting must wait for another day - the fog is returning and we need to head back up the hill to Parinacota.  

Two more stories for now:

-We drove up a spectacular road north from Putre to near the Co. de Tarapaca (5775 meters) - at the summit, a sign proudly announces "5250 meters."  We looked out upon countless llareta and laughed - well, I suppose we can just step out of the car and record the altitude record for the plant.  However, the actual pass is about 4800 meters.  The sign is something of a local legend - people dispute whether the original altitude measurement was simply so far off or the sign was installed for gringo photo-ops.  

-The Parinacota church is stunning inside - it's hundreds of years old and features the stations of the cross with Conquistadors taking the place of persecuting Romans.  Nothing is preserved or off limits - it's a functioning church, with grass roof and the wind whistling by the door.  It was raining outside, and gloomy inside, and we stood silently observing this special place.

-Oh, and we don't have heat or power.  I just wanted to throw that out in case you thought I was on some kind of resort vacation.  Back to work - photos to come.  

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Putre, Chile (NGS Waitt Grant 3)

While we feared the worst regarding the roads, the reality looks more like this:


Catherine certainly doesn't remember the 11 road looking like this - there has been much work since she was last here in 2000.  First we drove along the swollen Rio Lluta, which I neglected to take a picture of before climbing into the mountains:


Catherine took her time botanizing along the way - we noted the altitude of when the first examples of the various species appeared, including the fabulous Browningia candelaris.  No, it isn't related to Then we were in the "nebla" (fog).  And for a time we were above the nebla in fast-streaming clouds.  We happened to stop for lunch at a spectacular canyon:



But soon after, more nebla - we're staying in Putre (a town along the 11 road - my altimeter says 11, 620 ft.), which currently looks like this:


Yes it's a funny feeling jumping up 11k feet in a day - a little lightheaded, but energetic and (at least for me) hungry.  it reminds me of when I used to work at WMRS and we'd drive from 4k to over 12k and immediately start working.  All part of the indirect river of history, we suppose:


Off to see the sights (?) of Putre.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Arica, Chile (NGS Waitt Grant 2)

A photo set of our time in Arica here.

The weather continues to surprise.  This evening we had a light rain and full rainbow over the harbor.




We sat up on the roof in awe - when Catherine first came here in 1998, she heard about adults who had never seen rain, and now we've had two episodes in two days.  As I mentioned yesterday, this changes our trip significantly.  As made apparent from this ABC news dispatch from July, a small rain here indicates torrents/snow higher.  This said, Catherine is now comfortable with the concept that documenting rain, and possibly increased recent growth of the llareta is a far more compelling story than two more gringos climbing Parinacota.  

Other:

-Feel free to put the restaurant guide from your favorite guidebook away.  The people here are ambivalent about restaurants - at noon or just after they pile into a few favorite spots and eat.  So just follow the crowds and enjoy.  Dinner doesn't seem to be a big deal - apparently most people eat at home, or snack out on "completo" hot dogs, etc.  There is a famous ice cream place here, but we haven't made it because in our minds ice cream is for dessert and the place closes down before dusk.  

Today we followed the herd to "La Primavera" in a food court near the bus terminal - it was a mass of employees from the local construction/cell phone/mining companies ignoring every restaurant in the area except for this place.  Soon after we sat down (as in a few seconds), a perfect bowl of cazuela de ave (Chilean chicken stew) arrived.  I mean perfect - like the Platonic ideal of this basic local meal.  Great.

Here at the hostel, a few folks seem to specialize in taking an incredible amount of time to cook very simple meals, like a marinara sauce/pasta.  Yes, these folks are French; yes, they start cooking at eight P.M., and finish around midnight; yes, there is various plinking on the guitar and loud radio; yes, we call them "The Frenchies."  There is a certain element of an old blog topic, "the lotus eaters," here, and we'll leave it at that.  We've combated The Frenchies by taking a nap in the afternoon so we can stay up and work during their extended mealtime.

-Today is our last day in the lowlands (we hope), and we took time to visit the excellent Museo Archeologico.  We drove through fields of olives and corn to view mummies over 6,000 years old:



  And of course stopped to observe a 1953 Studebaker:



 and a bizarre 3-wheeled BMW Isetta from the same period (1955?) - the latter is one of those things where someone said "this is the future!" and (thankfully) everyone else said "no it isn't!"



I'd like to imagine that thing driving over the mountains to Arica, but more likely it arrived by sea as an olive/fish-baron's toy by sea.  This is of course the car in the Depeche Mode video "Never Let Me Down."

Yes, I can't believe I mentioned impossibly-ancient mummies in passing before moving on to a defunct city car.  The mummies were simply overwhelming - two millenia before the heyday of Egypt mummification, the people here were carefully preserving their brethren - in some cases children and babies - for the afterlife.  One sits and looks and it is difficult to comprehend through the gulf of time.  Easier to talk about defunct Isetta city cars.  

-Some of the area being pressed into service in the Azapa valley for olives/other crops defies belief.  The corn must be shaded, a huge undertaking.  Here are some olive tree saplings on a bare sand slope:



I also took some time to observe the ditches/diversion structures, which may be of no one's interest except me given my work in water rights/law.  The ditches are flowing well, given the rain. 



 But the government places signs all over advising to protect the water resource.  It is all quite tenuous on the Azapa, but working.



-We also visited Playa Corozones, where I was able to observe the impressive/massive cliffs leading down to the sea.  The cliffs seem quite complex geologically, with several types of rock overlaid by the ubiquitous sand - I would like to know more about how these came about.



-Unfortunately, there was little swimming due to a large number of jellyfish.  We tried to head north of town to some of the surf beaches, but they were there, too.



We engaged in a game of sorts with some local folks to see who was brave enough to swim in the water.  Catherine was the bravest, and was able to body-surf for a bit, but she also got two jellyfish stings - in some games, unfortunately, there are no winners.  More to come.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Another Arica photo

The Arica public defender's office:


Arica, Chile (NGS Waitt Grant 1)

The sea wind is blowing through the curtains, and the lights are coming on El Morro. So far in Chile:

-While the trip down was long, we were fortunate on the long (8 hours) Miami-Santiago leg. We boarded with only about 50 pepole, and quickly fanned out to the middle rows to sleep. I woke up with the morning light looking out at I believe the vicinity of Aconcagua. Impossibly dry mountains stretched out forever. -You never know what will make the impression when you travel (which is why you travel). I was amazed by the endless dune/cliff along the ocean north of Iquique. From the airplane, it really looks like just a giant sand dune rising maybe 2,500 feet (or more) from the Ocean. Now that's an impressive sight.

-First off, Arica is where punk lives:



-I'm very much enjoying the feel of Arica.  Things are going generally well here for people.  The economy is strong.  It's a coastal town where it's always breezy and not too hot.  It rarely rains (but see below).  They live in a pretty place.  They have influences from all over.  The Chileans come in all colors, shapes, and sizes - and they all want to walk briskly on the 21 de Mayo pedestrian mall and look at each other.  I find it a very approachable city - a trading city, a frontier city.  A lot of surf culture.  Some people are comfortable in Paris; I'm comfortable in Arica.

-Catherine says a lot has changed.  There weren't any buildings taller than five stories last time, really.  There is a Lider hypermarket now.  And the atmosphere is much more relaxed - more casual.  Like I said, surf culture.  Surf style.  At least for the young.  And positive.

-Today was a very good day.  Catherine set aside two days for logistics to arrive at Lauca/Parinacota.  Of course it will take a few days to meet the CONAF contacts, as well as with her collaborator at Tarapaca University.  But instead we woke up, had a fine breakfast at our hostel, and immediately met up with Professora Belmonte, who enthusiastically welcomed Catherine's research.



  They call Arica a city of eternal spring, and the university is essentially outdoors - certainly it seems hard to focus on one's studies with all that ocean breeze and sun.  Professora Belmonte then offered to drive us over to CONAF, where we sat right down with the regional director, as well as the prior regional director, both of whom also welcomed her research.  They are discussing, the Spanish is going very quickly, and everyone is talking about this wonderful plant that Catherine studies.  Great.  By the early afternoon, we were done with our meetings, and had time to see a few of the sights:







-But this was by far the most interesting, and the most surprising, sight:


That's the Azapa River.  And it's always dry.  In fact, it practically never rains in Arica.  Except that this morning it rained, and the river is flowing (albeit intermittently).  What this means is the mountains are getting crushed by storm after storm.  Every day it's raining in Parinacota.  After literally eight years of practically no rain at all, water has returned.  This is good news for everyone, but less so for us, who had hoped to climb Volcan Parinacota, etc.  The climb is out, and it looks like we will be getting wet (repeatedly) in the course of Catherine's upcoming fieldwork.  More to come.