Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My trip up to Bosque Unchog with 66-year-old Reyes, whistling through his remaining 7-and-a-half-teeth to coax out birds, was a success. Despite a bank of clouds that rolled in around 9 am and enveloped us for the most of the day, we managed to spot our quarry just as I was ready to give up...
...the rare endemic and endangered Golden-backed Mountain-Tanager. Reyes said flocks of 7 or 8 used to be common in the area decades ago, but nowadays seeing a flock of three is cause for some celebration.

I had one last quarter chicken dinner in Huanuco before catching a bus back toward Lima.

The city had really started to grow on me and I nearly got stranded there for an extra day as the bus station was a madhouse of people trying to get places for Fiesta de la Patria, a vaguely
defined holiday period centered around Peru's independence day, July 28th.

After another 8-hour bus night I was in Chosica, near Lima, where every highschool student from the area seemed to be involved in some sort of massive marching-band-type parade. Other than that it was mostly a well-needed rest day to prepare for a trip up into Santa Eulalia Canyon.

The plan was to meet a group of avitourists coming from Lima. When it turned out that they would be getting a late start, I set out up into the canyon on my own with the assurance that they would pick me up from the side of the road around 3 or 3:30. When the sun set below the rim around 5:15 I was relieved to see an overcrowded bus winding its way up t
he switchbacks toward me. I crammed in and wound up at 3,200 meters in the cliffside town of San Pedro de Casta where I encountered a group of students from Lima planning to climb up to Marcahuasi, some Incan ruins some 800 meters and three hours up above town.
It sounded cool, so I decided to tag along rather than try to track down my lost tour group.

We set off with our 70-year-old guide at 5 am and had a gorgeous clear morning wandering around the dilapadated ruins and unusual rock formations. It was no Machu Pichu, but the views sure were stunning.

Can you spot the gringo?

We made it back into town for lunch where we discovered that the two buses that normally serve the area were both defunct. It seems most people have a "chicken bus" story from travel within latin America, but I now present to you the "cow bus."

There were three huge cows and about 20 passengers. The goal for everyone was to avoid getting trampled or covered in manure. It was a combination of hectic, hilarious and terrifying as we all lurched down steep potholed switchbacks, staring half the time off a shear 2000 meter precipice and the other half into oncoming overhanging tree branches and cactuses that raked the sides of the truck and threatened to tear desperately clinging fingers. All the while the cattle jostled and fought against their tethers like fish trying to wriggle loose from their hooks. Miraculously, through the three-hour trip, the only casualties were one tent and two backpacks (heavily fertilized), fortunately none of which belonged to our party.

My new friend, "John," a mechanical engineering student in Lima has been nice enough to let me stay with him. Though desperately in need of some decent sleep, I woke up before 5 am for the third time in four mornings to take a taxi to the marina to catch a boat out to the continental shelf with a crew of ornithologists and birdwatchers. As coincidence would have it, one of the other passengers was a profesor who completed his doctorate in zoology at Duke, where I'll begin my own PhD shortly.

Obviously a big incentive for making this trip was to see some unique pelagic bird species. But I also wanted to venture out onto the "Peru Margin" to see the area from which the sediment core was extracted that I studied for my honors thesis at Brown. What makes the sediment
as well as the marine life in the area so remarkable is the upwelling nutrient-rich water characteristic of the ocean here. High primary productivity supports high concentrations of fish and pescavores. Seeing penguins, albatrosses and sea lions was awesome, but the highlight was definitely the group of humpback whales that came up so close to the boat that it became unclear as to who was watching whom.
Whales are always hard to capture on camera, but rarely because they are too close! (I´ve uploaded this picture four times and it always comes out sideways no matter how I orient it in MS Paint...sorry).

Since I have a free place to stay and friends on holiday, I'll probably stick around Lima for some behind the scenes touring and fiesta, though this will leave me with some tough choices for how to spend my remaining time. I want to visit Machu Pichu, Manu and Lake Titicaca, but will probably only have time for one of the latter two.

I´ll be back in the US before I know it!

1 comment:

BobDad said...

Most amazing sequence yet. Very interesting mix of folks you have met and done things with. I hope you got a brief movie of the whale.