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.  

No comments: