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April 27, 2010

Sharp and Balanced

[Morning on the rosebush.]

Since I've only gotten one interview in, I'll be staying on through part of the next turno. There was a meeting of vigias last night, in which Gorki proposed a plan of vigilance in the case the Observatory shuts down (the funding issue), and in which I was able to schedule interviews with about eight people between now and Friday evening. Photographing the vigias in their work environment is going to be a little more difficult, since they work in their fields during most the daylight hours and I probably won't be able to get to them. We'll see.

And then... Saturday morning, I must head back to Quito. Must. Because Judah is coming in Saturday night!

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April 26, 2010


I've finally gotten sort of a little bit started with the project I want to do, on the vigias of Tungurahua.

On Saturday, Gorki and I headed down to Banos so Gorki could speak about the funding situation of the Instituto and what it means for monitoring the volcano.

[Gorki talks.]

[Gorki, representatives from the Defensa Civil (Civil Defense), and the vigias.]

On Sunday, Gorki, Olga (his wife), Allison (their daughter), and I headed up to the Casa del Arbol. Olga and Allison came to the observatory for the weekend because Allison complained, after three days without her father, that 'ya no le conozco!' (I don't even know him anymore!).

The volcano was clouded over, but I was able to record an interview with the Casa's proprietor, Don Carlitos.

[Across the way.]

[Don Carlos was just the other day telling Gorki and I how some visitors (tourists) to the Casa del Arbol want to stay and camp and the first thing they ask, before hello how are you, is can I get any drugs? Carlos is apparently not a big fan. His grandson came running up with this mushroom, which Don Carlos immediately took from him. He says it likes to grow on livestock poop and that the powder/spores inside will make you fly. (Quieres volar? he asked me.) Here, he's pushing the hollow center for me--you can see a puff of spores in the upper left.]

[On the menu: Choclos, or corn on the cob.]

[Daddy's girl.]

[And, we partook in this little zipline. 50 cents a ride! Come check it out!]

[Thanks, Casa del Arbol.]

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April 25, 2010

Not chicken, rice, or potatoes!

Since Gorki and I have been here, because of the funding situation of the Institute, different towns have been bringing us our food--morning, afternoon, and evening. Sometimes lunch arrives at 4pm... but at least it arrives. And always, without fail, every meal (including breakfast), they've brought us chicken, rice, and potatoes. Pollo, arroz, y papas. It's not that I don't like chicken, rice, and potatoes, but a little variety is sometimes nice. Like, the other day there were some lentils in the mix, which was nice because otherwise the rice is quite dry. And, I love lentils. Otherwise, there are accompaniments--coffee and hard-boiled eggs and little sandwiches of bread and cheese with breakfast, soup (sometimes of chicken and rice and potatoes) with lunch and dinner--but the main dish is always chicken, rice, and potatoes.

TODAY, however, this very morning, un senor came with a basket (not a plastic bag) of food and accessories--two mugs, two spoons, and two containers--non-disposable--along with a little plastic bag and a plastic Coke bottle. And inside? Coffee (in the Coke bottle), pork (not chicken), hominy (not rice), and some tamali-like treats wrapped in leaves, in the plastic bag. It looks like someone actually cooked it. I mean, I know someone cooked the chicken and rice and potatoes, but that was for mass-production. This stuff, though--it looks like someone actually cooked it.

Oh joy!

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April 23, 2010

The Brazilians

Gorki rose early to fly around with the Brazilian film crew while I was snug in my bed (my consolation) and they all came back afterwards to the Observatory to film Gorki explaining the monitoring system.

Referring to them as the 'Brazilian film crew' is a little misleading. For one thing, there are only two of them. For another thing, one of them is Uruguayan. Whatever.

After lunch, we met up with them to spend the afternoon trying to get shots of the volcano and interviews with residents.

[Mariana describes the pyroclastic flow deposit that wiped out a number of homes and a plaza in an area called Juive Chico.]

[Gorki explains why ash poses a hazard for airplanes.]

[A couple whose house was the only one in the area that survived. Why did it survive? 'Gracias a Dios...' It is also higher on the slope than the others were.]

[The remains of a 12-room, one-floor house that was flooded by the pyroclastic flow.]

[The owner of the buried house pictured above. He and his family have relocated to a house about an hour away, but come here almost every day to tend to their crops.]

[A happy time of day: Everyone leaving the hard work in the fields to head for home. There's a dog in there, too, barely visibly--ears only.]

[Back to the cars to head up to the Casa del Arbol.]

[Too dark to film the volcano, but not too dark for Marcelo to swing.]

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April 22, 2010


We awoke to clouds and mist.

But headed out into the field, briefly, anyway.

There's a bridge between here and Banos that crosses a major stream (and lahar) channel; Patricio, the scientist here for last week's turno, noticed that the stream is eroding back rapidly from where it drops into the steep valley below.

[A steep side-gully.]

We headed out to continue his work by taking pictures of the current head of the gully (where it really starts cutting down) to compare to the ones he and Silvia had taken, already showing a significant change.

While we were there, we measured the distance from the bridge to the head of the erosion and recognized markers to use as reference points to measure future erosion.

Why bother? With enough erosion, the area around the bridge will fall in as well, creating an unstable and eventually unusable structure.

Supposedly, a television crew from Brazil is coming this afternoon to check things out at the Observatory. They were hoping to fly over the volcano, but it doesn't look right now like the weather wants to cooperate. Too bad they weren't here yesterday.

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Ode to Tungurahua

Ode to Tungurahua:

I love you Tungurahua,
Please erupt.
No need for more ash,
and you can leave the pyroclastic flows to El Reventador.
But oh, how good you would look topped in red,
hot molten rock,
like so many years ago
when we first met.

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April 21, 2010

The State of the Volcano

I'm back at Tungurahua again, in the OVT, or Observatorio Volcan Tungurahua, this time with Gorki Ruiz. Last week, Patty had told me I could come out for this turno, or turn, with Gorki and an assistant (TBD). Every Tuesday, the new pair comes out to the Observatory and the old pair leaves, having spent a week keeping tabs on the volcano and the communication and issues surrounding it, as Mario and Christian were doing when I was here last time. The Instituto has had a constant, 24-hr-a-day presence in the area since activity began ten years ago.


There's been a problem with funds in the Universidad Politecnica Nacional, where the Instituto Geofisico lives. The two have enjoyed a partnership since the Instituto began in 1981 or so. Now, however, funds promised to the Instituto have gotten held up, either by the government or by the Politecnica or by a combination of the two; for six months, the Instituto has been waiting for these funds and operating as if it had them in hand—including continued work without salary on the part of at least one employee. Meetings last week with the University were less than optimistic; there is no sign of where the funds are, or how and when the Instituto will get them.

So, on Monday, the trip to Tungurahua was called off. For the first time in ten years, there would be no one from the Instituto at the OVT. And, while volcanic activity at Tungurahua has been low in the past month or so, tis the season for rain and on Monday there was another set of damaging lahars.

On Tuesday morning, however, I got a call saying Gorki and I would go after all. The local government of Tungurahua offered to cover some expenses if the Instituto could please still send a scientist. Gorki would be going 'alone,' without an assistant, and the Municipio of Banos would provide food and, as needed, gas. So, we're here, and as of right now, unless some sort of satisfactory agreement is reached with funding sources in Quito, it looks like we will be staying only through Friday. And then, for the first time in ten years, the OVT will be left vacant.

On that note, the volcano seems to maybe be kicking up a bit. The seismometers recorded about twenty minutes of tremor yesterday morning, a signal that looks different from an earthquake and means fluid is moving within the volcano. Also, there have been a number of small events, little earthquakes, that might show some readjustment happening, maybe in response to the magma movement indicated by the tremor. Wake up, Tungurahua!

[The white band in the middle of the record is the tremor; the needle moved back and forth a lot for a long time. You can also see some small events, maybe little ruptures, throughout the rest of the record.]

[Good morning, Tungurahua.]

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April 20, 2010

Dinner in Tumbaco

Patty and Pete graciously invited me over to their place for dinner on Sunday. They live a couple valleys away in a smaller town, tucked into a lush rural area. I took a taxi to the town square where Patty picked me up, and I proceeded to indulge in their yard and dogs.

Since the house is a little far, I stayed the night. Which means I got to browse the extensive garden in the morning, which is when I took these pictures. Thanks Patty and Pete! And John! And the (four) dogs!

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April 18, 2010

Host Parents

Okay, FINALLY! I'm going to post something about my host parents.

They're divine.

[Modesto and Rosi.]

Rosi and Modesto, of 62(?) and 71(?) years, respectively. Rosi has no children, Modesto has two from a previous marriage, both grown and married and with kids of their own. Rosi and Modest have been married for almost 33 years (their anniversary is in May). They both grew up in Quito and are both from big families--9 in Rosi's and 7 in Modesto's. There are a ridiculous number of artists and engineers in both families--I think something like 7 architects in Rosi's extended family, and a renowned filmmaker in Modesto's, as well as a photographer and a composer. The list goes on. Rosi paints porcelain in her studio down on the first floor of our building. Modesto worked in management of various businesses, including mining, for a long time, and is now a full-time writer and literary critic. He's working on his third novel and received numerous prizes for the first two.

As I think I said in a previous post, I expected that 'living with a family' would mean renting a room and eating awkward meals here and there with the hosts. But no. I'm very comfortable here--if I come home and Rosi's in bed, I go in and sit on the couch in their room and chat with her. I watched a movie with them in their room last night. Modesto tells me about the arts and some about politics. Rosi has me call her when I've arrived at a far-away destination or when I'm coming home late so that she can know that I'm safe. She sends me off with sandwiches and apples. She spoils me. It kind of makes me want to live with my mom.

When we're all here and hungry at the same time, we eat together. Rosi does most of the cooking, but Modesto and I sometimes help, and meals are usually simple and healthy and quick and good. (If only I could master that...) Breakfast is usually fresh fruit with yogurt and a mix of oats and raisins and seeds, with a fresh fruit juice. Rosi, like my own mama, made blackberry jam. (She used blackberries from her one of her sisters' country home.) Lunch is more substantial, most often a bowl of soup followed by a main course with a side and maybe a dessert, and dinner is generally lighter and often consists of leftovers from lunch. I come home from the Instituto for lunch, by taxi, which is a little bit of a pain but is doable.

Twice, I've come home to the twittering and laughing of ladies: Rosi entertaining her sisters and friends, all sitting around the dining table with fancy glasses for hot punch or homemade hot chocolate and plates of sweets (mmmm). She and her sisters are very close and remind me a lot of my own mom with her sisters. Sorry you guys don't all live closer together!

Rosi was in a car accident a little over a month and a half ago in which she broke 5 ribs, in the back. She spent 8 days in the hospital right after the accident and apparently was much worse for the wear for a while, but I almost wouldn't know now that she'd been hurt if she didn't tell me. She just moves with care and doesn't do a lot of bending or reaching. She came with me yesterday to the artisan market and helped me shop for goods. It's great having a local along to barter in a market. I am now wearing some new super-comfortable pants ($5) and a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt ($10). And, I tested out a new alpaca blanket last night while we watched the movie. It works!

[Rosi, Modesto, and me. The teapot in the foreground was painted by Rosi.]

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April 16, 2010

GPS Installation, Puerto Quito

On Thursday afternoon at 5:00, Paul and Christina got word from the Municipio in Puerto Quito (on a river, not an ocean) that the server on their end was ready to support internet communications of an instrument and we had the go-ahead to install a GPS site. I was allowed to go with. GPS field work! This feels familiar...

On Friday morning (yes, the next day), I took a taxi to north Quito and Paul picked me up at a meeting spot at 6:45am. We picked up Christina farther north and were on our way. Puerto Quito is west of Quito, between Quito (in the Andes) and the coast. I watched the scenery change from high, steep, more sparsely-vegetated Andes to less high, lusher hillslopes reminiscent of where I lived in Costa Rica. And from there... I couldn't tell you. Because I fell asleep.

[Street in Puerto Quito.]

We got to Puerto Quito around 9am and it was notably different from Quito. Flatter, lusher, hotter. Yes, this is the tropics. And we went, more or less, straight to the roof.

[Paul marks where to drill.]

[Christina works on power cables for the solar panel.]

I mostly helped with the drilling, which turned out to be a bit of an ordeal. We didn't have quite the right size bit, nor did we have a hammer for pounding in the expansion bolts (we improvised with other tools). Plus, since we were drilling over a post for stability, we might have run into some metal or some such. When the drill bit got too hot, we dipped it in the water pooled on the roof. (You can kind of see a plant in the picture of Paul drilling.... there's not actually supposed to be a garden up there, there's just a somewhat ineffective drain.)

[Hazard 1: Setting antenna to north with accompaniment of wasp.]

[Hazard 2: Configuring the receiver with a broken umbrella.]

But, we got it done, after about four hours on the roof.

[Hazard 3: Getting down. Ladder...doesn't...quite...reach....]

Lunchtime? Not quite. We had to establish communications with Quito. "We're almost done!" I say. Nah, they say, this is the hard part. And apparently it was. The systems administrator was kind enough to stay on until 5:15 or so, after most everyone else from the Municipio left, so we could receive word from Quito that although they couldn't access the http interface, they could establish a connection via ftp, so at least they could get the data. [Meanwhile, it appears, there was a party in the office in Quito. A consolation party, because of depressing funding issue, but a party just the same.]

And then, we stopped for an ice cream, and then headed home. In a violent rainstorm. Needless to say, with the rain and windy roads and water-filled potholes, we were a little slow going. Thanks, Paul, for taking me all the way home rather than leaving me to get a taxi once we got to Quito. Muy amable. I made it home about 9:30 I think. Right, field work. Now I remember what it's like! (At least it was 9:30 and not midnight. I remember one day in Colorado....)

Postscript: I realized on the way home, in the dark, on the windy road, that I had fallen prey to what so many women and girls these days fall prey to: That gap between the bottom of our shirts and the top of our pants that forms when we crouch or bend over. Are they making pants lower these days? Are shirts shorter? Needless to say, I spent the better part of the morning--the middle of the day, in fact--sitting on the wall of the roof, leaning forward with my elbows on my thighs, with my back to the sun. I had put sunblock on my neck, my ears, my face, and my arms; all the areas I thought would be exposed. Somehow, I didn't think of that darn spot--so fair, so infrequently exposed--on my lower back. This photo was taken 22 April, six days later, and doesn't quite capture the redness of day one. It's now duller, darker, ready to peel. My much-anticipated shower Friday night (we were covered in dust from drilling and sweating), as it turns out, was not nearly as delicious as I had hoped.

[Hazard 4: Fair skin at the equator. Thanks again, Alyson, for the after-sun spray. Um...how did you know that I would need it?]

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April 14, 2010


On Wednesday, I got to go along to the infamous Cotopaxi. No, we didn't summit (5897 meters, or 19,347 feet)--we just drove up as far as we could toward our site, parked, and walked for about ten minutes.

And it killed me.

I felt like my lungs were going to collapse in on themselves, like my camera and backpack straps were too constraining and like I might just hopefully not no not now yes I can handle it just keep it together might just go a little bonkers. Part of the anxiety came from not knowing how far we were going to go and feeling like I really needed to keep up, since I was the tag-a-long. Fortunately, the site was just on top of the steep ridge. At I think about 4,200 meters. Which doesn't sound like much. Hold on, let me do the math. 13,780 ft. Not even a 14-er.

[Poop and mushrooms, by the car.]

We were there to try to fix the data flow from a recently re-installed borehole strainmeter. Well, I mostly sat and watched and tried to be useful, but since I wasn't experienced with the instrument and the data flow, there wasn't a whole lot for me to do, unfortunately. It was a little frustrating. But, it forced me to notice all the cool little plants around, everywhere.

After a bit, I went on a walk upslope (slowly, stopping to breathe deeply) to stay warm. This is the best view I got up close of Cotopaxi, which clouded over *just* as we were entering the park.

[Christian and Paul.]

Without success, we headed back down to the jeep. It seemed to be a problem with the GPS receiver. Next time, we'll bring a spare.

When I got home, Rosi was busy entertaining her sisters and a cousin. Would you like some cake? She asked. Um..... yes? And she gave me some hot chocolate, too, home made, to warm me up. Rich enough that I didn't even want dinner. And that says a lot.

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April 11, 2010

Lahar Dust

I didn't realize at first what we were doing. I knew we were going to look at lahar deposits from the recent rains, but I didn't realize that we were actually going to check out the road. There is a very good dirt road that provides a route from Banos to the major city of Riobamba via the west flank of the volcano. This was the main route before a highway was established farther to the west. The route is still used as somewhat of a shortcut and, more importantly, as access to the small communities located on the volcano. What's more, the road was just reworked about three months ago. When I was at the Observatory with Patty and Lorena, Patty had to go to Riobamba to meet with local officials regarding the road—whether it should be closed at night to non-local traffic, which she insisted it should because of the risk of lahars in rain, and which the locals apparently were against.

Well, for now it's a non-issue. Check out my pictures from the day Mario and Christian (Instituto Geofisico) and Rene and Iban (Defensa Civil) and I went out to check out the lahar deposits at a stream called Achupashal. Look at the gully. Does it look like a car could get across? No. Absolutely not. But until several days before we went, one could.

That was Thursday. On Saturday, Mario and I went out to check out another quebrada (stream/streambed), again to assess the state of the road—although I still didn't understand that that is what we were doing. Because the road was out at Achupashal, the stream we had already visited, we had to take a long way around.

[Achupashal from across the valley.]

[Crossing a lava-based stream on the way to the volcano.]

We made it to the quebrada Pingullo, where the road, needless to say, ended abruptly.

There were two kids across the gully, perched on the scant remnants of the road, probably taking a break. I made the mistake of having my camera up as soon as I got out of the car, wanting to get a shot with them in it before I lost it, and they subsequently got up and ran for cover behind a bank of dirt. Mario was much better. “Oye,” he called. “Como se llama esta quebrada?” What's the name of this stream channel? He already knew the answer. “Pingullo,” the girl called. “Y como es que pasaron Uds. por aqui?” And how did you guys get across? They had somehow gotten down our side and up the other, carrying loads no less, which from first glance seemed impossible.

As we spent a little more time, we could see their footprints, which are somewhat evident in the picture above. Not at all easy, but doable. Country kids are way tougher than I'll ever be.

[The boy sits on a bit of what's left of the road.]

Driving back through Bilbao, the closest town, which is caught between two failed sections of the road, we couldn't find the vigia we were looking for but Mario stopped the car to talk to a small group of men and boys standing alongside the road. Mario is good. The first thing he said, to a young man holding a chicken, was, “Es un gallo para la pelea?” Is it a fighting cock? “Si,” said the youth. It's very small, no? said Mario. No, it's fine, said the boy, and Mario said, no, I mean it's still young. Yes, said the boy. My father used to raise fighting cocks, said Mario. And then he talked to them about the road. The crossing was accomplished before with a culvert, that proved to be too small for the amount of water that came down on Monday or Tuesday with the rains. It has to be redone with a bridge, Mario said. Like the one down the road aways, said the men. No, said Mario, that's too expensive, something simpler. But high enough that the water can pass though underneath. The men were mostly quiet, seeming tentative. Talk with Don Benigno (the vigia there in Bilbao that we had been looking for) so that we can help you, said Mario. As we pulled away, he said Son como medio asustados. They seem half-scared.

[Mario had asked (for me) if I could take a picture of the boy with his bird, and he said yes. Who wouldn't be proud of a bird like that?]

Just across the river, in a very small town, an older, hunched-over woman waved us down asking for a ride. I crawled into the back so that she could sit in the front and proceeded to record the conversation between her and Mario. Mario asked all the right questions. What she did in the eruptions, what they were like, where she went, what her property was like when she returned (all her little pigs had perished). I need to transcribe the conversation still, but it was brilliant.

[Sigh in the town in which we picked her up reads: Zone of Ash Fall.]

[A sneak picture of our guest laughing at some men in the street.]

On Sunday, Christian and I set out on another adventure. Our task was to check out the quebradas to the south, which, since the road was out, meant driving the really long way around. We took an old road system, most of which was made with stones and which was quite good. Not all of it, however, fit that description.

We figured one of our purposes for taking that road, in hindsight, was to help out this group with a truck that got stuck as we were letting them pass through the muddy section first. For some reason, getting out of the truck and bounding on the back over the wheels is the thing to do. I don't know how long they would have been there if Christian hadn't been there with the 4-wheel drive to pull them out (rope tied between the two) and if I hadn't been there to push (rather than jump).

[Unstable roads; the nature of steep terrain.]

It took us a while to get south. When we did, we drove as far back up north as we could along the road—not all of the quebradas had been host to lahars—and then parked and walked the rest of the way.

[Pretty sure this is as far as we go. Quebrada Ingapirca.]

[Quebrada Romero.]

[Quebrada Chontapamba. This actually must have been washed out by a previous lahar, because the road now goes across the streambed lower, and is damaged there as well but shouldn't be too hard to 'fix'.]

Here's a lahar puzzle for you. Given the pictures below of the bridge at quebrada Motilones, how strong do you think the lahars were? How high? Try to refrain from reading the text below the pics for a minute and see if you can figure it out. What are the clues?

Somehow, I just didn't think about it when we were there—not until we got back and Christian asked me, while he was writing the weekly report, if I thought the lahar there had been muy fuerte (strong, intense). At first I just thought and then little by little it became obvious. 1) There is mud and rock on top of the bridge. This means the muck reached at least the height of the bridge! 2) Was the water carrying big rocks? There are huge rocks just upstream of the bridge, but are those from this lahar or a past lahar? The upslope side of the bridge is pretty well banged up, and Christian confirmed with a contact that the bridge had just recently been fixed. Those bigs rocks in the foreground might not be from this lahar, but the water was carrying something big and heavy enough to dent the metal in the bridge. Yes, I would said the lahar had been pretty substantial. Later, Patty told us that the last time she was there, just a little over a week before, there was only about of foot of space under the bridge. So, it's possible that the entire volume under the bridge was not filled with water—the muck on top of the bridge could have been deposited right when the lahar started coming down—but there was definitely a lot of erosion, so either way, the water had a lot of energy within it. Water (and rocks and mud) is amazing.

And, I'd have to say, this is nothing. This is just a little muck in a rainstorm. These, however, are deposits (maybe a combination of lahar and pyroclastic flows, which are more like an avalanche--flows of hot gases and debris that race down the slopes during an explosive eruption) from 2008 or earlier, during not a rainstorm but an eruption. The size of the rocks and the area that this deposit covered were quite impressive.

[Christian for scale.]

[Best to not build a house in the path of a lahar. But it's quite possible that there was no hazards map yet when this house was built.]

Ashfall is another eruption hazard. We walked past collapsed chicken houses and cabins—you can still see the ash on the roofs.

So why live in an area so prone to these hazards? Why live in an area where rocks this size can be hurled down the mountain? Mmmm, for the paradise above the rocks on that hillslope... Fertile land, fertile land.

On that note—I got the go-ahead to do a project interviewing and photographing people who live on or near the volcano. Hopefully next week I'll head back out to Tungurahua with a new group, who will be willing to visit the vigias with me. With the support of the Instituto, this should be a cinch. And so very interesting... I have my list of questions I want to ask, but feel free to submit some questions of your own if there are things you want to know about people living on an often-active volcano.

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April 9, 2010

Friday at OVT

[Can I please just curl up and sleep in this? Mmmmm....]

[Swing into nothing.]

I went with Christian to pick up an employee of the municipal office and to download data from a weather station at La Casa del Arbol, that this time offered no view of the volcano--only white, white, white.

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WHOOP WHOOP! Big Friday night at the OVT!

Okay, so there's nothing much going on here at the Observatorio del Volcan Tungurahua, but that's probably a good thing--it will give me a chance to get caught up.

On Tuesday, I joined Mario (who I'd worked with on Mt. Erebus, my first season in Antarctica) (yep, I know...) and Christian, a seismologist and a seismology technician, respectively, on their trip down to Guadalupe, which is where the observatory is located. This is the same place I was my first weekend in Ecuador, and I'm even in the same room. But, fortunately, without the same spider.

There's been a lot of down time, but because of rains on Wednesday we went out yesterday to check out a stream channel.

[Mario explains the old lahar deposits to Rene and Iban, who joined us from the local Defensa Civil (Civil Defense).]

There was no lahar coming down, but the water was very, very dirty, and was moving rocks the size of a large (solid) shoe.

[Mario explains the complexity of understanding lahar deposits--you get a deposit in a stream channel, then water erodes through it, then maybe a larger lahar deposit, and then water erodes through it again, and then a smaller lahar deposit, etc., until you can't tell which is older than the other. It, um, makes more sense with the drawing.]

Quick quiz: What is a lahar? A mudflow or landslide consisting of volcanic materials and water. Or, as I said before, something akin to a cement sludge flowing quickly down a channel and carrying big rocks, perhaps even boulders. Not something you really want to get in the way of.

Everything you can see here is lahar deposits, past and present (recent/forming/getting reworked).

[Something tells me I should stay back from that edge.]

[Mario handed me a piece of charred wood from the lahar deposit, likely burnt in a pyroclastic flow (flow of hot gases and volcanic materials). If we pulled this from an old deposit, we could send it to a lab to determine the approximate age of the lahar.]

[Iban takes a turn drawing in the sand, talking about routes on the volcano.]

I stood for a long while watching the water move the rocks around. We could feel and hear them, and it didn't even look like much of a flow, and this wasn't even a real lahar. How amazing it would be to witness one from a safe distance.

Back at the observatory, things were quiet.

[View out of the front door. The observatory and bedrooms are in a simple but pretty hacienda of sorts, which borders this courtyard and which we share with some of the chicken factory folks.]

[The resident scoundrel.]

[The resident volcano, finally showing itself from behind the clouds.]

[And the volcano again. What? Yes. The volcano as seen through a night vision scope. I'm told it looks pretty amazing through night vision when it erupts. If only....]

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April 4, 2010

Hoy hacemos fiesta, todos

Saturday passed mostly uneventfully, with a nap in the afternoon, and in the early evening I headed off to get some culture. Two concerts in one night: Kalenda Maya, the Colombian's group, would play at 6 in the Basilica, and Lipzodes, the U.S. group, would play at 8:30 in the Teatro Sucre. Perfect. Simon had said the night before that I could meet up with them after their show to go together to the Lipzodes show, so I wouldn't have to worry about logistics. I love it when things are that easy.

And the next day, I'd head into the field with Patty and Peter. It would be quite the weekend.

I took a taxi to the Basilica. When I arrived, thinking I might be too late to get a decent seat, I, um, sat in the second row. Which turned out to be the front row, since no one sat in front of me. Of course I wanted a good seat, but the group was doing soundchecks and such, and since I was there alone I didn't have anyone to talk to to look occupied with, and though Simon was the only one I'd met I kept making eye contact with the band members. Awk-ward.

[A variety of early instruments.]

They were all dressed normally, in jackets bearing their band name, and I wondered if they'd put on their period dress as they had for the show Anna and Kelsey had attended on Thursday. I was kind of hoping. When Anna and I met Simon the night before, he was wearing a skull cap and probably jeans and looked much more like a rocker than a medieval musical master. It was a little hard to imagine him as such.

Soon they wrapped things up and disappeared. And when they came back for their performance, yes, indeed, full period dress, color-coordinated and everything.


[Janet, Juliette, and Carolina.]

Kalenda Maya played music from, say, the 13th-16th centuries, mostly European but a piece or two (my favorite, as a matter of fact) from missionaries in the new world. I may just be thinking of one Peruvian piece, but it counted for several, because it was beautiful.

After the performance, I helped the band downstairs with their things and partook in some coffee and smash-grilled cheese sandwiches and watched the band members change their clothes. It was awesome. Um... right, whatever. But yeah, I was totally behind the scenes. I was well on my way to becoming an early-music group groupie.

Just when we were finishing up and getting ready to head out, the rains started. And not with any timidity, either. It was a full-on full-throttle downpour. We moved the instruments upstairs, past a candlelit mass in another area of the Basilica, and stood at the door to wait. But waiting didn't seem to change much in the storm, so we eventually made sort of a run for it. One of the guys suggested the women go straight to the Lipzodes show while the guys take the instruments back to the hotel, and somebody else agreed, and it was so. I walked down to the car with a borrowed umbrella, with the van driver behind me with another umbrella so he could take mine back with him. When I got into the van, I felt like we were a carriage full of princesses. I was kind of giddy about it, actually. I imagined a pair or maybe even four horses out front, and huge wooden wheels and a sort of fancy pumpkin-y shape instead of the metallic box we were in. How exciting. (But yes, we were just in an SUV).

Lipzodes was equally impressive. They played pieces from colonial Guatemala, very reminiscent of the soundtrack from "The Mission," for those of you who know it. They played early wind instruments, a harpsichord, a drum, and shells (as percussion), and Wlod sang. They were accompanied by the Quito Mixed Choir (el Coro Mixto de Quito, I believe). It was very cool.

[Lipzodes stands for applause.]

[Teatro Sucre, Quito.]

But even cooler was all of us piling into a van afterwards and heading back to the hotel, and playing music (them), singing (them), dancing (mostly them), and drinking rum (I helped a bit with that) until...er... 4 am. I called my parents at 3 am to let them know I wouldn't be coming home, and I called Peter at 7 am to let him know I wouldn't be making it out into the field (because being calf-deep in muck in a muggy jungle after two hours of sleep just didn't seem like the best idea). A party like this just doesn't come around all that often, and I'm just too much of a sucker for really having fun.

[Simon sings. Note the money in his hand--that would be the wad of cash he's collecting to give to the front-desk-person to buy us 2.5 *more* bottles of Bacardi.]

[Christa and Juan Carlos go crazy jamming together.]

[And Carolina tells Juan Carlos that he has to save his hands for their Sunday night performance. (This did not dissuade later jamming, however.)]

[Anna howls with Ricardo.]

[Carolina sings.]

[Carolina, Juliette, and Janet.]

[I clap. I had to include this because it's the only shot I have so far of my haircut. Photo: Juliette, from her phone.]

[The neck of one of Kalenda Maya's stringed instruments.]

Sunday was a day of rest. And recovery. I slept again on the couch, and as I got up, slowly, others stirred little by little. Anna, Christa, and I caught a cab to the artisan market and had Easter brunch together at the Hilton before doing a little shopping. When we got back, it was just about time for them to get ready for their next and last performance--I didn't envy them at all, especially the wind players, which were, as it happened, the ones that were up partying the night before--and as I was saying a sad and hurried goodbye to them at their van, Juan Carlos said, "You're not coming with us?" Wlod said, "It's going to be a little different from yesterday." So I said...Okay, why not? It's not like I had anything else to do. So I hopped in. "It's like I'm your groupie now," I said. And then, when I offered to go find them some food after we got to the Cathedral, Kelsey said, "I think you've just been promoted to roadie." Sweet.

After their show, I really did go home. Well, okay, it wasn't quite that simple...but almost. They asked their driver to take me home, which he agreed to do, but halfway there he asked if he could drop me off so that he could go get the Colombians, who were waiting at their last venue. I took a cab the rest of the way home.

So there you have it. My weekend adventure. Or, "How I became an early music roadie." I wonder what the early roadies were like (if only I had some period dress)...

[More pictures at http://www.flickr.com/photos/bethbartel/sets/]
Anna, Wlod (sp?), Yonit, Christa, Juan Carlos, Kelsey, Simon, Ricardo, Juliette, Janet, Carolina, Juan Carlos, muchisimas gracias por todo!

Posted by beth at 3:17 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 3, 2010

Que Casualidad

So I'm standing just behind the crowd wondering what to do next and I notice a couple that looks foreign, maybe English-speaking. I listen in. From what I can tell, English. I've been walking in front of the same band playing the same song for quite a while now, and the woman--tall, with long brown hair--is singing along with the bass. I use it as my in. "Yeah, imagine how they must feel, having to play the same song all day." "Oh," she says, "I used to play in marching band, and I kind of liked it. You get into a rhythm, it's like a meditation." Pause. And that's that. And I should probably just walk away, since they haven't engaged with me further, but I haven't talked to anyone all day, really, and what if they live here, and maybe just arrived, and could be in need of friends themselves. So I kind of followed them.

The birds on the roof of the government building across the square decided it was time to get up and fly in a few circles, so I stood next to the woman, both of us taking pictures.

And then we all started to chat. Sort of. I broke a silence again with, So, do you guys live here, or are you just visiting? Oh, just visiting, they said. Here for a music festival of early music. I knew of the festival--it was a month-long thing associated with the Holy Week shenanigans, that my host parents recommended I check out but which I'd kind of blown off. Playing? I asked. Yes. And then the man said something that struck me--it must have been a place name, or an event name, because it was in Spanish, and he said it with a Spanish accent. I know that might sound weird, but it's like the difference between a U.S. and an English accent. And a bell rung in my head. It was ringing so loudly that I couldn't pay attention to whatever it was that they were saying next, because I had something to say myself. As soon as he (or she) was done talking, I pointed to the man and said, "Did you go to Indiana University?" To which he replied, "Are you Beth Bartel?"

How is that even possible? That I would be talking to someone I already know?

His name is Wlod (Vlad--sp?) and I met him at the climbing gym in Bloomington, Indiana about ten years ago, and haven't seen him since grad school. We bonded over northern Spain, because I was wearing a pendant of the Basque symbol and he has family from there. And here we are facing each other in Ecuador. He just happened to be half of the foreign couple I forced myself on out of nothing-else-to-do. And the other half, Anna, happens to be from and live in Tacoma, Washington, which is maybe a half an hour from where I grew up. And she graduated a year behind me. So there you have it.

It turned out that they weren't actually a couple, not at least in the romantic sense--they were two members that had been separated from the other four members of their ensemble. And they were hungry, and so was I, so we all set out together in search of food. Funny where life takes us sometimes.

By another stroke of luck, we found their missing members about a block later, and after taking refuge from a sudden downpour in two different churches, we sat down for lunch in a nice restaurant just across the square from the Teatro Sucre, where they would be performing the following night.

Most all of us decided to try the typical Quiteno dish for Holy Week: Fanesca. It's a mix of about a thousand different grains and legumes, with hard boiled egg and dried fish for garnish. As if the soup wasn't enough (it was), it was followed by a typical potato pate and then a desert of figs and cheese, which none of us could finish.

[Hoy fanesca.]

After lunch, I got a shot of my new friends in front of their future performance venue.

[Lipzodes: Anna, Christa, Kelsey, Yonit, Wolod, and Juan Carlos in front of the Teatro Sucre.]

After lunch, since their hotel was not too far from my place, we decided to taxi back together. And Wlod said that if I wanted, I could listen in on their rehearsal, even though he and Yonit were going to leave for a service. So I did. I mean, why not? And I ended up hanging out with the rest of the group all night. Sort of literally. We weren't doing anything much--mostly watching Guns 'n Roses clips on Youtube so Anna could convince herself that they were different from Bon Jovi--but it was late by the time Anna walked me out to make sure I could safely get a taxi home. We had to take a bottle of Bacardi by the apartment of another group in the festival, from Colombia, because one of their members had come with us earlier to the corner market, bought some Bacardi, and then left it in our room. Instead of dropping off the bottle and leaving, however, Anna and I, being easy swayed, went in for a sip of rum with Simon. And left maybe an hour later, by which time the front-desk-person was nowhere in sight, we were locked in, and couldn't get a hold of a taxi besides. So, I accepted Anna's offer to stay over and sleep on their couch.

Saturday morning, after a 5:30 am call from my host mom wondering if I was alright (I wasn't sure whether to call them in the middle of the night or early in the morning, and they got to me first), I walked home. And took advantage of having my camera with me to get a few shots of the super cool street art that occurs throughout the city.

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April 2, 2010

Jesus of the Big Power

Okay, it would probably translate better to something like 'Jesus of Great Strength,' but whatever. Quito celebrates Good Friday (the Friday before Easter) with La Procesion de (The Procession of) Jesus del Gran Poder. I came here when I did partly to experience the Holy Week processions, so I couldn't not go. Since my only friend so far, Lorena, had gone to the Guns 'n Roses concert the night before, I was pretty sure I could count her out. So I went down alone.

[Following people towards the procession route.]

I took a taxi to somewhere close to the middle of the procession route (I had a map--this Holy Week stuff in Quito is no small matter; I had a whole schedule for it) and tried to follow the crowds, which took me to the Basilica, where people were claiming turf.

[The Basilica.]

I thought I'd better claim mine, too. But what place to best take pictures from? Up high, or down low, at street level?

[Up high on the Basilica.]

I decided to stay low. I also decided, rather than walking towards the start of the procession, that I'd stake out a spot here, where the crowds were bound to be thinner, and where I could get a nice shot on a narrow street with the Basilica in the background. I sat down in a doorway to wait.

[My across-the-road neighbors.]

An older couple sat next to me. They were very nice.

[My next-door neighbors.]

We sat pleasantly until I looked up to see a man looming over us. Over the couple next to me, rather, with a beer in his hand and long dark curly rocker hair and a leather jacket, and he just loomed and looked for a moment, maybe with a slight sway or swagger, and then asked to be able to get to his door. We got up. It took him a while to get through the three huge locks on chains and before he had, he said, "You take photos? Balcony." He pointed upstairs, made picture-taking motions with his hands, and said, "It's better." Wow. What an offer. But somehow, I wasn't inclined to take it, and somehow, he had a hard time accepting that. "It's your problem," he said (in Spanish), from the other side of his bars. Yes, I agreed, it's my problem. Thank you.

Still, he felt the need to call to me from his numerous balconies to persuade me to change my mind.

[My upstairs neighbor: No fotos, please!]

After a bit I felt a drop of water, and then another. Somehow, I doubted it was raining. It wasn't. I looked up to see my fine drunk friend standing on the balcony above me, shaking water from his freshly-showered hair down onto me. It did feel refreshing, I must admit, but when a woman sitting with her family across from me, in the shade, motioned me over, I took her up on it. Her husband offered me water, from a cup, which is generally the way I like it.

[Looking across at my abandoned post.]

But, there we were still waiting, and still nothing was happening, and I was finally getting restless, so I up and left. I headed towards the Basilica to catch the beginning of the procession.

[Every good parade starts with a band.]

The participants, or penitents, start preparing at the beginning of lent, or just under 40 days before the procession. Most walk barefoot, some with posters or other props, some carrying crosses big or small.

[Gogol Bordello, anyone?]

[Sometimes Jesus likes to sit down.]

[Sometimes it's good for penitents to sit down, too.]

[And sometimes, it's better to just lie down.]

[At times it seemed like there were more treats than people.]

[There can never be too many Jesuses in chairs.]

[Or Jesuses.]

I decided right about at this point that I didn't want to stand still, stifled by the crowd anymore. I soon realized that the best way to experience the procession, and to photograph the procession, is to become part of the procession.

[This one, for whatever reason, is for Bridget.]

[Some walking until their feet bleed.]

[An observer pours water on the bleeding feet.]

[A penitent takes a shift for Jesus.]

[Stop-and-go traffic means Jesus gets help lifting the cross.]

[Some burdens are easier to carry than others. And a lot cuter.]

As the procession climbed the last block toward the Church (Iglesia) of/de San Francisco, police filtered out the posers like myself and directed us out of the stream onto the sidewalk. I pushed my way through the crowd and stood back for a moment, not sure exactly what to do or where to go next. I'd been downtown now for a long time, but it felt a little strange to just walk away. So I didn't--not quite yet.

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April 1, 2010

Quito at Night

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