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March 30, 2010

Up the Mountain

But not up Tungurahua; up Lomo Grande, where the first repeater site is. It takes three repeaters to get the data to Quito. [More photos and text coming soon.]

[The new dog, Titi.]

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First Bit of Field Work... Sort of

While Patty was running around attending meetings and going shopping and taking care of other things, Lorena and I hung out all morning here at the observatory. But since the afternoon was clear (little chance of rain and therefore lahars), all three of us set out together to do some station maintenance. On our way to the first site, we picked up Don Gustavo, one of the many vigias.

[Don Gustavo opens the gate at the first site.]

I titled this 'First Bit of Field Work... Sort of' because I really didn't do much at all, besides take some pictures. Not much work was needed--we checked the data loggers/radios and power (fine at both stations) and cleared out some of the grasses around the solar panels and instrument boxes.

[Gustavo and Patty clear grasses and clean off the solar panel.]

We also (read: Patty and Gustavo) put weed killer around the site to keep the grasses down, as the rainy season is coming.

[Patty climbs up to the second site.]

The first site was a seismometer (measuring earthquakes) and the second a tiltmeter and a rain gauge (measuring change in shape of the volcano and rainfall, respectively). The rain gauge is used in monitoring for lahars.


Then, Gustavo had us drive to a lookout, and we were playing tourists all over again.

The sun had set and the clouds just had to keep on moving through and up and around, with the view changing every moment.

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March 29, 2010

Meet Tungurahua

I wish there was something to do around here, and someone to do it with.

Oh, right, no, I keep getting lucky. The student that accompanied Patty with her field work in the morning, Marco, grew up in Banos and offered to take Lorena and me around in the afternoon. We didn't say no. So, he came to get us at 4 and returned us sometime around 8:30 or so. Spoiled, spoiled, spoiled.

Our first stop was la Casa del Arbol, or the tree house, an absolutely incredible spot with a great view of the volcano which was, finally, out of the clouds. The Casa del Arbol is owned and run by Don Carlitos, one of many vigias, or watches, who monitors the volcano in conjunction with the Instituto. The network of vigias has been in place since monitoring of Tunguraua went into full effect ten years ago, when the volcano became active after a rest of some 100 years. The vigias, for the most part campesinos, each have a radio and call in when there is substantial rain or anything else notable. Rain here is very important because heavy rainfall can result in floods of water and volcanic debris, called lahars, that come down valleys like fast-movies slurries of rock-laden cement, with the potential to wash out roads and bridges and any people or livestock that might stand in their path. Patty said the success of monitoring Tungurahua depends in great part on the vigias.

[We happen to arrive when Don Carlitos and a friend are solving a point of dispute over the map of Tungurahua.]


[I suppose this is why it's called the Casa del Arbol...]

[Inside the treehouse with our 'guide,' Marco.]

Next, Marco took us to a lookout with a view out over Banos, and then we headed down to the town itself to indulge in some pizza and beer. I thought that would be the end of it, but Marco took us to the foot of the waterfall of the Virgin, the waterfall that tumbles basically into town, which somehow already looks like a long exposure of a waterfall--stringy and smooth. Next to the waterfall is the main hot springs resort and next to that is an amusement park, because it's always a party in Banos. Banos is one of those tourists towns with tons to do--bars, clubs, hot springs, and an amusement park, plus mountain biking and rafting and hiking and, when Tungurahua's quiet, mountain climbing. The banner over the road welcoming people into the town is of people partying. So, right, there's an amusement park there all the time, a small one like what you'd find at a fair. Lorena's eyes lit up. She wanted to go on the ferris wheel. It was all lights and motion and did indeed look pretty inviting, but Marco advised against--a basket fell off some time ago and he didn't deem the ride safe. Instead, we went on the boat--you know, the ship that swings back and forth higher and higher until you lose your stomach and then lose it again and then lose it again. The boat was shaped like a dragon and the tickets (well worn, used and reused) read 'Dragon Chino,' or Chinese Dragon, but a fair-haired viking stood firmly in the middle of the ride and the seats read 'Sea Dragon' or something of the sort. Regardless, there were cages. Ever seen this? Because I haven't. There are cages at each end of the boat, so instead of sitting in the back row of seats (where you feel the most motion--usually), you can stand in the cage behind the back row of seats. Which is what we did. Turns out if you lift your feet up when you're at the highest point the ride takes on a whole new sensation. I was completely joyful and laughing and screaming until the boy in the back row opposite us changed from grinning to cowering behind his mother. Pobrecito. Then, I felt a little bad.

As if the ride wasn't enough to prevent any pizza digestion, Marco took us next to a park by a reservoir and dam that he and his friends like to go to and sit and chat and listen to music blaring from the car when there's nothing to do in Banos. In a stroke of genius, we went right to the carousel and spun ourselves silly and then challenged each other to hang upside down from the monkey bars. And with that, I was done. Oh, no, not yet, because there was still the long, windy, fast drive home. Poor belly. Pizza and beer.

[Lorena, Marco, and me, in front of the swingset. Photo: Marco.]

And I am SO STOKED that Sarah read this and commented--she was the originator of the 'the grossest thing that happened to me today was' game in the Philippines, out at the Mayon observatory, where she'd write a different tidbit every day to her boyfriend (now husband), Derrik. I think mine for the whole time there was a tie between two things on the same day--a cockroach on my pillow (in a corner is annoying, but on my pillow seemed like a personal offense) and stepping square onto a huge frog in the dark (but with sandals on, thank goodness). I also like to play the 'the stupidest thing I've done today' game, which on I think Tuesday of last week would have been 'start to open my sun roof to enjoy the fantastic weather without first clearing the snow off the top of my car.'

But back to gross. My gross thing for Sunday, March 28, 2010 was the spider in my bathroom. I am only thankful that I didn't step on it.

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March 28, 2010

Domingo de los Ramos

This morning, Patty dropped Lorena and me off in Banos to check out the palm Sunday mass (domingo de los ramos) and walk around town. Then Patty went to work while we played tourists.

[Flowers in the Observatory garden.]

[The cathedral.]

[A young man works palm fronds into designs.]

Banos is lucky enough to have a virgin that looks after the area. She is the Virgin of Holy Water and I'll tell the story when I understand it better (something about a dirty dress in the thermal waters...), and there are paintings all around the inside of the cathedral showing things that she's intervened with, including saving the town from the volcano's wrath.

After cruising around Banos, we went to the zoo. Where we learned that the jaguar has 2.50m of long with the tail.

[View from the zoo.]

Back at the observatory, more doggies again. Two of Pulga's puppies were hanging around.

[The observatory motorcycle.]

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March 27, 2010

New View

The view from the Instituto window, for those wondering, is of Pinchincha, the volcano looming over Quito. But I've now got new digs and a new view, for a couple of days. Man, I'm spoiled.

I spent yesterday at the Instituto with a break to go with Gorki to meet my host family. I thought of them as a family I was staying with until meeting them, and now they're very much my host family. Rosi mothers me, and thank goodness, because I seem to need it. Amazingly enough, I've been refusing food, which she then encourages me into taking until I do, and it's a good thing because those who know me at all know I need to be adequately fed to be happy. Or, more importantly, for those around me to be happy.

Anyway, I can't say enough about Rosi and Modesto right now, and I don't have any pictures of them or of the place yet, unfortunately, so I'll just have to leave you wondering. Suffice it to say for now that they are immersed in the cultural world of Quito, have fantastic taste in music, and have an even more fantastic view from their living room. And, that they are super nice. I'm in good hands. I had to call Rosi today from my new cell phone to let her know I'd arrived safely in Banos.

Right. So I was set to spend the weekend in Quito but then Pete, of the Instituto, said, Why don't you go out and meet Patty (his wife and my main contact in organizing this whole shindiggity) and Lorena at Tungurahua, and then come back with them on Tuesday in time to catch the main processions in Quito? Well, yes, I thought, why don't I? (More on the processions later in the week.) So I walked home before dark, buying a low-end cell phone and some phone credit along the way (it's almost like I belong here now) (already), and spent the evening unpacking and packing. I had dinner with Rosi and we both conked out early, and I slept like... a very sleepy baby with lots of blankets over it/me.

And today I caught a taxi to a bus to Banos (it has a tilde on the 'n' but I don't know how to get those characters). Where Patty met me in the Instituto truck (red with a logo with an erupting volcano on the side), at which point I called Rosi to let her know I was safe.

[View from Banos.]

We made it to the observatory for lunch with Lorena (electronics / telecommunications) and after a tour of the data flow and a coffee with a stray kitten curled up on my lap, Lorena and I took the newly rescued dog--one of three--on a walk past the neighboring chicken factories. I'll get some pictures of those later (Food, Inc., anyone?). And a picture of the volcano. It's mostly covered in clouds right now.

[This is the best I could do. The volcano is still mostly clouded, but you get the idea. And, you can see the roof of one of the chicken houses--number 5, apparently.]

So, right, my new view is of Tungurahua. Check it out on Google Earth. Do a search on Tungurahua, then click on a link to Banos which should show up somewhere on the screen, and then look south south-west from Banos. The long, dirty cloud is the volcano's plume. Things have been quiet recently but there were small ash eruptions earlier this year. I'm hoping for some modest activity while I'm here. Patty and Lorena felt three earthquakes a couple nights ago, all over magnitude 4, I think. But none were related to the volcano--there are tons of faults in the area, too, due to the whole region being squished.

[One must shower before entering the chicken houses, so as not to contaminate the chickens.]

[The control room... or, rather, the information-gathering room at the observatory.]

[Pulga, or Flea, one of the three observatory dogs. For those of you who know Lilo...a little Lilo-esque, no? If Lilo were wearing a black coat?]

[The Instituto truck. Note volcano logo.]

I'll close with both the cutest and the most disgusting things I saw today, both of which were in the yard behind the observatory and both of which have to do with dogs. Which would you like first? How about I just let you decide which is which. 1) A neighbor boy practicing soccer with a three-month-old puppy in tow. 2) Pulga, the observatory dog named Flea, eating a dead chicken stolen from the chicken factory reject pile down the drive.

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March 26, 2010

Made it to Quito

I know i'm not in the best shape, but why am I winded going up just 1.5 flights of stairs? Oh, right, I'm at 9,186 feet.

Arrived in Quito, Ecuador at around 9pm, with my friend Gorki and his wife and 5-year-old daughter there at the airport to greet me. What a luxury! I love being met at the airport. They took me to my hotel and now here I am, supposedly in a place with internet but I can't get on it, so I'll just have to post this tomorrow.

The air is delicious. Barely cool without being cold. It's lovely.

[Miami airport.]

Right. My mom just asked (now that I'm online) if I got to see anything out my window on the way from Miami to Quito. I was talking to her in the airport and we were trying to figure out which side of the plane would have the better views, and I was lamenting that, since I was on the east side, I'd miss seeing the sunset. Well, it turned out to not matter. As it happens, row 13 has NO WINDOWS. How's that for unlucky? Freakin' row 13....

[Morning view of Quito from my hotel room.]

Gorki picked me up from the hotel this morning (THANKS Gorki--I feel so wonderfully spoiled) (and THANKS Marianne--I got a ride TO the airport, in Denver, as well) and brought me and my stuff to the Instituto Geofisico, which resides within the Escuela Politecnica Nacional. I have a desk (table with a Christmasy tablecloth and some lovely houseplants on it) (except for the one that appears to be dead) and Gorki introduced me around and got me set up for internet and now here I am. With this view out the window beside me:

[View from the window at the Instituto.]

I think it's going to be a good couple of months.

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March 24, 2010

Off to the Equator

Well, it's time to get moving. I've had just about enough of this place.

Okay, it's not so much that I've had enough of this place as it is that I'm ready for a little adventuring. So, on Thursday, off to Ecuador.

I'll be spending the next two and a half months volunteering with the Ecuadorian volcano monitoring team. Some time in Quito, the capital, where they're office is, and some time (hopefully a lot of time) in the field on various volcanoes. It's very exciting.

Special for the occasion, I got my haircut. Another two ponytails for Locks of Love. The only shot I have of my new do is blurry, so I'll have to wait and post something from down south.

In the meantime, here are a couple shots of my teammates giving their all for kickball.

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March 3, 2010

Back to First Grade

I'm a sucker. Of course I'm a sucker. So when my friend Bridget asks me if I can give a presentation on volcanoes to a group of first graders, I say yes. Of course I say yes. I mean, why wouldn't I? Aside from the fact that I've never taught first graders, have no lesson plan, and don't know what either the teachers or students expect from me. It's never stopped me before.

What would first graders like to learn about? What would I like to teach them? I decide to give an idea of how a volcano forms, something that evaded me until probably grad school or so. (Well, and still--who are we kidding.) They've already learned about the layers of the Earth (yes--these FIRST GRADERS have already LEARNED ABOUT THE LAYERS OF THE EARTH) so I have something to build on.

I start by drawing the mantle, and then the crust over it, and then talk (in my head yesterday, and out loud today) about how in some places, where conditions are right, some mantle mush forms. I call it melty mantle. The melty mantle, being lighter than the solid rock around it, rises for the same reason a helium balloon rises through the air. It rises in blobs up into the crust, where it pools for a while. What is this melty material inside the Earth called? Magma. (The kids know this one.) I write it down. So what is this pooled magma called? A magma chamber. And what happens when more and more magma comes into this magma chamber, creating more and more pressure? It breaks the rock above it and makes its way to the surface. What's the melty rock at the surface called? Lava. ‘And it's hot,’ one kid adds. Yes, and it's hot. Until it cools and solidifies into rock. I write lava on the paper.

But a drawing alone won't do for first graders. I realize, at around 4:15 yesterday, that the only tactile thing I can think to bring in is rocks, and I don't actually know where any of mine are. So I send out a plea to everyone in our building, asking if anyone has any volcanic rocks I can borrow. Thank goodness I work with geo nerds. I think before my own message even appears in my inbox, our web guy shows up at my cube with a rock for me. And, shortly after that, my old boss shows up with another. Others send e-mails saying they'll bring some in for me the next day, and still others send me stories of volcanoes they have known (or imagined--my coworker Laurie sends me a great story about how as a child she was terrified of volcanoes she had heard about but had no fear of the Russians dropping the bomb. She was very good, she says, at duck and cover).

I also feel obligated to say at this point that I had a couple moles removed last Friday. Both benign, but both in somewhat conspicuous places--one on my nose and one on my neck. Both spots are covered in the smallest bandages I could find, but they're still noticeable. I thought about this last night, and decided I would take the bandage on my nose off and count on the kids either not noticing the one on my neck or not caring, since it was just my neck and not my face, after all. Perhaps I was underestimating the tact of first graders? But probably not. This morning Eric, the closest thing at work to a first grader, asks 'How'd your thing go? Did they ask you what happened to your face?' Ha ha, very funny. Besides, I haven't gone yet. And I'm planning to take the bandage on my face off. Which is apparently the right thing to do…

The kids put my nerves at ease not just about the bandage (on my neck only) but about being in front of them in general as soon as they begin getting seated in the library, while I’m finishing up arranging the UNAVCO rock collection on the table up front. 'What's your name?' 'My parents have volcanic rocks in their backyard. They don't live in that house anymore, but they still have it.' 'My grandmother has one of those [a basin carved out of volcanic rock for grinding]. She uses it for chiles.' Not, thank goodness, ‘What’s that thing on your neck?’ Mrs. Sanseverino (a.k.a. Kelly) gives me the go ahead and I ask who’s ready to learn how to make a volcano.

Which is kind of unfair, since I don't have, like, a cool model or anything.

And time after time this lava erupts at the surface. And sometimes, the lava gets stuck on the way up, and the lava backed up behind it can't get out, and then what happens? (Body language and hand motions help.) It erupts! the kids call out. Yes, it erupts! And something else comes out of the volcano when it erupts. I draw the cloud coming out of our volcano. Smoke! they say. Nope, not smoke. Ashes! says a girl in the front. Right! Ash. I write it on the board. And over time more lava erupts, so we have lava, and lava, and lava, and then maybe another layer of ash, and more lava, and more ash, until ...

I couldn’t believe my luck with the rock samples people brought in for me today. Fran brought a huge chuck of a pohoehoe flow top that she uses for a doorstop. Perfect! I exclaim. Totally first-grader-proof. Heavy and solid and touchable. Steve has some obsidian and Kyle has a big block of pumice and a beautiful, somewhat delicate piece of fresh glassy lava. Brian lets me borrow a sample with olivine crystals that he bought at a meeting. I’m a little worried about the latter two, but I’ll make it work.

Until the volcano looks like the one I drew above. There's one other very important component to volcanoes, I say. Have you ever been to hot springs? I ask. Or to Yellowstone? What does it smell like? I have to just tell them this one. Stinky, right? Like rotten eggs. I add gas to my list.

I’m in a bit of a rush when I leave work, realizing that I might actually end up arriving a little late. Push the speed limit all the way there, don’t miss any turns, find parking immediately, jump out of the car and around the other side to open the passenger door and--

So what are the ingredients for a volcano? We say them out loud together: Magma! Lava! Ash! Gas! (I don't work bombs in, as I had in my sketch above, although they do look cool...)

Thunk. A bag falls to the pavement. It’s Fran’s huge flow top rock. The first-grader-proof one. Oh, please no, but when I open the bag and peer inside it’s broken into two. I just broke the rock.

Now what if—what’s your name?—Helen is living right next to the volcano (I draw the house). How will she know if it’s about to erupt? There will be shaking and stuff! someone says. And we talk about earthquakes and seismometers and shape changes and GPS, and about gas emissions (but we don’t call them that). And then we talk about where volcanoes are located and if there are any in Colorado (no active ones). And THEN we talk about the rocks, and how different they look from each other. There are brown rocks and black rocks and white rocks, heavy rocks and light rocks. How are these rocks so different if they all came from volcanoes? 'Different volcanoes! Different eruptions!' I’m feeling great. I’m optimistic. These kids are all right.

At the end, after Kelly asks what I studied to get this kind of a job, I make my last point. I want to talk to you guys about this rock, I say, and pick up a nondescript black one. This rock came from Table Mountain, down just east of Golden. Now we already know that there are no active volcanoes in Colorado. So how is it possible that this rock came from Golden? About 10 kids raise their hands and Kelly calls on a girl near the front. 'Maybe it's from a really really old volcano from when you were little and it's not there anymore.'

We have time for three questions from the classes. A quarter of the hands in the room shoot up. *Not* stories, Kelly clarifies. Questions only. Only people who have questions about volcanoes for Beth. Who has a question? Not a story.

She calls on a girl on the far right. 'One time my parents--'

'Nope, that's a story. Who's got a *question*? Finn, do you have a question?'

'Are there any volcanoes in Australia?'

'Nope, no active volcanoes in Australia. Maybe old ones, but no new ones.'

'Who else has a question? Tom?'

'Um.... I forgot.'

'Okay. Who else has a question for Beth? Maria?'

'What happened to your neck?'

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