National Geographic Young Explorers Grantee Andrés Ruzo is back in the field doing research to create the first geothermal map of northern Peru. Follow along as his collaborator and wife Sofia reports from the field about their ensuing adventures.
Our last day in Lima was a rush to get everything done, packed, and ready to transport to Máncora, including the bane of our existence, “El Muerto,” (The Dead One) so called because it weighs as much as a human corpse. Yes, a morbid metaphor, but you would also think morbid thoughts if you had to lug this 132 pound (60 kilo) chest carrying the thermometer and scientific equipment. Every time we go to check in our luggage, it’s the usual: incredulous looks from fellow travelers, the counter attendants shaking their heads and saying it’s impossible to check it in, and having to explain repeatedly that we need it to conduct our research. So far, we’ve been able to travel with it (of course, not without having to pay a heavy fine, no pun intended), but it causes such a ruckus wherever we go, that I think when we finally travel without it, we’ll feel like has-been celebrities who no one pays attention to anymore.
We arrived in Talara yesterday afternoon, and the dry heat that filled the jet cabin as the door opened was instantly gratifying. Soon, we saw a familiar face: the airport porter, a middle-aged man who measures 3 feet (1 meter) in height and has a sizeable tattoo of the Star of David on the tip of his nose. He smiled a toothy grin as he saw us, and rushed to help us with our luggage while the locals waiting outside the small airport stared at “El Muerto” (no surprise). Once we rented our car, a sedan that’s somewhat worse for wear (with windows that don’t close shut, producing a steady, high-pitched whistle every time we drive), we headed to our hotel in Máncora an hour away.
This morning, we awoke to the sounds of the ocean waves and birds singing. Andrés rolled over and said, sleepily grinning, “We’re in the tropics!” As we took breakfast on the porch overlooking the beach, we talked to Andrés’ godfather, the owner of the hotel, who had just returned from the Galapagos and had dozens of pictures of wildlife and the preserved park to show us. Once we finished our tea and coffee, we headed into town to find a carpenter who would be able to build a small crank for us. The small crank will have a fishing weight on its end and about 1,312 feet (400 meters) of fishing wire; it will be lowered into each abandoned oil well before lowering the thermometer. We call it “El Muertito” (the mini-Dead One) as it gives us as many problems as its larger counterpart.
The reason we lower “El Muertito” into wells before we lower the thermometer is because we want to make sure there are no obstructions, natural (such as tar and thick mud) or human-made, that could damage the thermometer. We have learned first-hand that many of the abandoned oil wells, because they are left open with just the casing that prevents the dirt from caving in, are used by locals as port-a-potties. As you can see above, this is how “El Muertito” met its demise. Andrés and I are still not sure what rationale leads people to choose the oil wells instead of hundreds of miles of desert (which the waste would fertilize anyway) when “nature calls,” but there you have it.
We didn’t find a carpenter today. Why? Because there will be four soccer games in the next two days in which Peru is playing, so the carpenters inform us that no one will be working for two days. It’s not what we expected, but there you have it.
A few things have changed since we left five months ago:
Chiquirri, the little black-headed caique that lives at the hotel (and for which Andrés and I made a cage) is now a pre-teen:
The Siamese cat who is the “hotel manager” had kittens:
Andrés’ aunt and uncle have adopted a peacock named Keko:
And Andrés’ aunt brought us back five bars of the most delicious, organic chocolate from Ecuador:
It’s almost sunset, so Andrés and I are going to run up the high plateau behind the hotel to catch the view, so stay tuned for some pictures of the beautiful sunset next time! Our plan in the next few days is to take safety courses with Petrobras before we head into their lot, select which wells we will be logging, and get that mini-crank made (hopefully, Peru wins so that we find a carpenter in a good mood). Until then, warm wishes from Máncora!