May 29, 2010
The Latest from Tungurahua
I finally left Tungurahua on Thursday afternoon, getting into Quito at night, only to return yesterday evening because:
May 22, 2010
Dirt and Lavas
Needless to say, I didn't feel like doing a whole lot Friday afternoon. I felt a little lame, since I had planned to spend the whole day in Banos, but I just didn't feel quite up for it. While I felt much better, I didn't exactly feel great. I only ate soup for lunch and worked slowly on hydrating. Still, I felt like I should do something. So when Silvana headed out to check out a quebrada where instruments indicated there had been a lahar the night before (while I was sleeping off my sickness, Silvana was up for the better part of the night watching instruments and attending to the radio while rain pounded on the Observatory). She had called the Sala de Situacion, a new office that is supposed to respond to city hazards, to have someone check on the stream channel, but they couldn't be bothered. One didn't have a car and the other didn't answer.
There was no obvious indication of lahar activity, but the tractors had already been over it to smooth things out and move some dirt around. This is the bridge with the erosion problem that I explored with Gorki, and looks like the officials are trying to curb the erosion by dumping dirt.
Since we were out, we went to Banos. Silvana took us to see the contact between a lava flow (on which Banos is built) and the underlying metamorphic rock (a schist, for those of you who like the lingo).
We walked down towards the river and across a foot bridge and back up the other side to our car. I wanted to stop and sleep on the way back up, but managed to continue. It would be much nicer to just sleep in my bed.
--Over a year later, I find this post and see I haven't 'published' it. Don't know what happened the rest of the day, but I'm assuming we made it back fine to the Observatory and that all was well in the world. Well, as much as it ever is.--
May 21, 2010
Back Down South
On Tuesday, Patricio and Silva left and Silvana and Jan (pronounced Yohn) arrived. Wednesday was mostly spent at the Observatory but with an afternoon trip to town. We went into the Municipio to set up an appointment (for me) with the mayor, and the woman there told me to just wait, that he was finishing up with some people and then I could go in. So we waited, and then Silvana and Jan went to run and errand while I waited, and then they came back and the woman said it would be about 15 minutes so Silvana and Jan went off to la Casa del Arbol to attend to a rainwater collector while I continued to wait. And wait. And wait. People came and went, and I waited. And because I wanted my mind to be in the right place, that is, around the questions I wanted to ask, I didn't do much besides look at the page in my notebook with the questions written, revised for if i only had ten minutes, reordered.
Eventually, sometime around an hour later, I went in.
I think it was good to have the interview, but, as expected, it was empty. Perhaps I didn't present myself appropriately (goals, background, affiliations, whatever) or didn't ask the right questions, but probably he's just set to answer in whatever way will shed the brightest light on his dominion. Still, glad I did it. Except that while I was in an office in Banos, in the waning, lovely afternoon light, Silvana and Jan were here:
Ah, the injustice.
We returned to the Observatory that night, after a beer (whew), to find that Feni and Cristina from electronics had arrived. They were there to do some maintenance on instruments--also out in the beautiful, clear afternoon--and would be heading back to Quito the next day.
Except that they didn't head directly back to Quito. There was a lahar-monitoring instrument on the southern side of the volcano that was out because of a bad battery and, while at night they thought there was nothing they could do because they didn't know about it until they got here and didn't have (and couldn't find) a battery, in the morning when Lupe came she pointed them to what they needed. So, they'd head south after all. Wait a minute. *I* need to head south. I wanted to finish up an interview with one of the particularly amiable and articulate vigias. So I quickly tried calling him--no response--and grabbed my things and hopped in with Feni and Cristina. The site they were working on was on his property, so hopefully we would be able to find him.
From what we could understand from radio communication, Jorge was working about 300 meters above the site, so I went to look for him.
But I found only a couple cool plants and some cows.
Cristina tried calling again, and he wasn't above us at all--he was down below us, well below us, not at his grazing land but at his orchard. So I started down.
But deterred by the possibility of getting lost, I headed back up. And found the neighbor waiting by our truck in hopes of a ride. So I interviewed him and hung out with him until Cris and Feni came down.
When Cris and Feni were done, we all packed in and drove down to find Jorge Totoy. And find him we did--energetic and friendly and ready to share some of his apples.
I was able to talk to him about his experience in the eruptions and eat more apple and then Cris and Feni and I dropped the neighbor at his house and began the drive home. We stopped for lunch and then they kicked me out in Ambato so I could catch a bus back towards the Observatory, where Silvana and Jan picked me up. Oh, and they sent me back with some things from the Observatory that they had borrowed--a radio, a padlock, and the hacksaw. The radio and padlock fit into my bag. The hacksaw did not. So, I walked onto the completely packed bus very subtly as a big gringa with an awkward bag, holding a hacksaw and an apple. Did I mention that there were no open seats?
The day doesn't quite end there, though. On the drive back from the south, my throat and sinuses started to act up a bit, like I had a cold coming on. I didn't eat much for dinner, but I thought it was probably because we'd had such a late lunch. But then I was cold, and Silvana and Yan said yeah, it's actually not really cold, and then I was super tired, and then I was done. I almost couldn't get to my room fast enough, I was so tired and cold and just done. By the time I made it to my door (about a whole 15 feet away) I was shivering uncontrollably and couldn't really do anything with my hands because they were shaking, and I started taking very fast but deep breathes and that helped, and lucky lucky lucky for me we had water--both hot and cold--so I hopped in the shower to heat up. Got out of the shower, went straight to bed. Laid down too fast. Got up to vomit. Expelled dinner. Got some water. Told Silvana to check on me in the morning and left my door unlocked and crawled into bed. And didn't get out until lunchtime the next day.
May 17, 2010
Time to Check in
As my mother pointed out, I haven't posted anything for a while. So, here's a check-in, and I apologize for the low energy but I'm recovering from being sick.
I'm back at Tungurahua. I took a bus to Banos on Sunday and met Patricio and Silvia, the IG scientists on duty, for dinner. On Monday morning, we headed off to Penipe, south of the volcano, for a meeting of vigias. It was the perfect, perfect day for it--everything, everywhere, was unusually clear.
We kept thinking we were going to be late to the meeting since we kept stopping to take pictures, but the clear views of the volcanoes were too good to resist.
The meeting was interesting in one of those it's-only-interesting-if-you're-interested-in-it sort of ways, but I was, so I enjoyed it.
[Patricio, of the Instituto Geofisico, talks with the local head of the Defensa Civil (now called Gestion de Riesgos, or risk management) to his photo-left and the regional official and the mayor (alcalde) to his photo-right. Politics, politics, politics.]
Afterwards, I interviewed two vigias that I wasn't able to get pictures of at the time and one more while he came with us into the field to check out a lahar-monitoring station. The recording is going to consist mostly of me breathing as we're walking up a hill.
We stopped at the crossing to Palitahua on the way down so that Patricio could talk about the pyroclastic flows of the August 2006 eruption.
Before the eruptions of 2006, it seems people living around the volcano didn't really understand what a pyroclastic flow was. They thought it was the same as a lahar, and since they'd seen and heard lahars and knew that lahars followed stream channels, they weren't particularly concerned. A pyroclastic flow, however, as you might know or remember, is a gas-based (not water-based) flow of hot materials, including rocks, that can jump ridges and ride higher than a water-based flow would. And they move far too fast to outrun.
Six people died in the pyroclastic flows of 2006 because they were evacuated in the morning and nothing had happened by the evening, so they went back for very, very important things: A TV, a cellular phone, a radio.
We dropped Vicente off in a town still dusted with ash from the January-February activity.
May 15, 2010
Patty got me on with the electronics folks for a one-day trip to the field to support some work she'd be doing the same day with another group. They would be installing a GPS station on Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador (20,561 ft, but they weren't going to the top), and we would be on another mountain to work on the communications to get the data back to Quito. Problem was, Patty's group needed to head down Thursday night to do the work on Friday but couldn't get south because the indijenas had blocked the roads in protest of a new water law. So, plans changed. This was fine with me, since although I was excited to go somewhere new and get great views (weather willing), I wasn't excited about 8 hours worth of driving in one day.
Instead, I got to go with Patty's group to Antisana. It's only the country's fourth tallest volcano, at 18,875 ft, but I guess it's alright. We installed the station at some 4,500 meters, or 14,800 ft. It was higher than I'd been on Cotopaxi, but somehow I didn't feel like I wanted to die. Maybe I'm finally adjusting to the altitude.
The coolest thing that happened all day made my heart jump in my chest--a loud booming rumble, at first like an airplane but it wasn't. It was coming from the volcano. I was down a little from the rest of the group taking pictures of plants and turned to see--was it the volcano? Was it suddenly in some kind of eruption?--an avalanche pouring from the steep walls of the southwestern peak.
In case you think I was *just* taking pictures the whole time, I want to point out that I: 1) carried stuff, 2) gathered sand for mixing concrete, 3) mixed and poured the concrete, 4) recorded most of the site info in the site notebook, and 4) carried stuff. But mostly, yes, I took pictures.
I rode in the back of the truck on the way out so I could take still more pictures, of the volcano completely and wonderfully and incredibly and delightfully despejado, or free of clouds. It's a term as important here as it is when talking about whether the volcanoes are 'out' in the Seattle area.
May 13, 2010
Bethexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Or, "Sugar and Caffeine."
I felt like I was in an incredibly foul, ugly, despicable mood on Wednesday. It happens sometimes.
These are some of the things I was thinking:
* I'm sick of either being invisible or people looking at me as if there's something curiously and / or annoyingly wrong with me. * I'm sick of being confined to my house and the Instituto (even though I can technically go anywhere I want). * I'm sick of having no friends. * I'm sick of losing so much time to walking to and from the Instituto, twice a day, at 30-45 minutes a pop. Must stop having lunch at home. Driving me crazy. * I'm sick of this stupid program I'm trying to work with that's 1) incredibly cryptically organized with little transparency (code! I want to work with the code!) and 2) in French. And, sick of trying to track down all the information that I'm supposed to input into it that seems to be scattered in different places and in the minds of the few people that work on the network. * I'm sick of breathing pollution. I'm sick of people who can't drive a car in reverse. I'm sick of unpleasant taxi drivers trying to rip me off. (Some are very nice, by the way, but it seems I've hit a bad stretch.) I'm sick of bland food and sick of not being able to choose what I eat and sick of having a $20 in my pocket because that's what the bank gives me yet not being able to get into a freakin' taxi or buy a coffee or a pastry or anything outside of a major store because I don't have change. I'm sick of having either no water pressure or no reliable hot water or a combination therewithin. I'm sick of pleasantries. I'm sick of the cryptic and inaccessible language of technical papers. And, my computer battery died so I can only use it when it's plugged in and for some reason the wireless signal cuts out incessantly at the Instituto so I have to use the computers in the lab, hunched over and straddling a computer because that's where it is and where the monitor is and where the seat is.
Nothing a little sugar and caffeine can't fix.
I craved a coffee. I just wanted to sit down in a cafe and have a little treat--not in my house, and not in the Instituto, but out somewhere, somewhere where I could be anonymous and relaxed and unbothered and do whatever I wanted. Well, within very acceptable limits. I stopped at the supermarket on the way home and bought some ground coffee to bring back to the States so I could get change. I ended up walking all the way (for the fourth time that day) even though I had the money now for a taxi and I went straight to Azucar and Canela, or Sugar and Cinnamon, a cafe just downstairs from our flat. I didn't have my notebook as it turned out, so I couldn't write, but I could drink a cappuccino and eat a small chocolate-draped cinnamon roll (a decent substitute to the chocolate-filled croissant I was hoping for). And read a little bit.
Patty called while I was indulging, but I didn't have the credit to call her back. I tried texting, but didn't have the credit for that, either. It was a little unnerving, but with the sugar, and the caffeine, it didn't seem like such a big deal. I would ask Rosi to use her phone briefly to see what Patty wanted. But, once upstairs in a much better mood, before I had Rosi's phone in my hand, Patty called back. She called to tell me about the opening of a photo exhibit on Andean landscapes, with photos taken by a French glaciologist. She recommended I go. It started at 7:30.
Perfect. Seems all I really need to do for things to pick up is become distraught, grumpy, devoid of patience, and something will present itself. Like a photo exhibit of Andean landscapes. (And, of course, the caffeine and sugar, but that was something I took upon myself.)
I did go, and at first there was no one there that I knew and I interacted with no one and thought okay then, I'm back to square one I suppose and still exist only in my own world, but after going to another opening in the same building and then coming back I recognized a few people from the Insituto (what was I thinking, coming on time?) and got to chatting a bit and ended up going to sushi afterward with Silvana (the volcanologist I'll be spending next week with at Tungurahua), Benjamin (her husband, also a volcanologist, French), and Marian (er, SP? Marianne? a French student who's come to work with Benjamin for a month and a half). Yum sushi. And good company. And they did me the courtesy of speaking Spanish rather than French. Someday, perhaps over a cappuccino and a chocolate-filled croissant, I'll learn French. Make that a lot of cappuccinos and chocolate-filled croissants.
Oh--and as a follow-up: The next day I again came home a little out of sorts, so Rosi tried a different remedy. A beer, olives (oh joy, oh perfection), cheese, and crackers. Oh, Rosi, you spoil me so...
May 12, 2010
Judah, in an e-mail to his family, said:
yes, it feels great to be back and clean. although... i had this bag of jungle-sock-funk that i had to air out on my windowsill last night (i have no washer/drier as of yet)... about 15 seconds after freeing these foul beasts, i saw another foul beast climbing up my window: a huge RED spider! now was this a jungle spider, or just a creepy CO spider with terrible timing? i do not know. but when i killed it, it let out a puff of smoke! argh! what other grotesqueness did i bring back with me from ecuador?????
When I talked to Judah about it, he said that it completely freaked him out when he saw it--he said, out loud, "What the f*@! are you?!" And then, yes, he killed it, in case it was a jungle spider there to take over North America, one state/province at a time.
May 11, 2010
Judah and the Jungle
Judah came to Ecuador! And, unfortunately, went back to Boulder. But it was great to have him here while it lasted.
The trip started with a crazy plane delay--all I could see from the screen in the airport was that the plane was delayed, then the airport was closed, then the plane was delayed by a lot more with a message that said 'contact airline.' I overheard a woman say that in these cases the planes are usually diverted to another airport, like Guayaquil (the largest city in Ecuador), and then come in the next day. Ag. But then the airport was open again, and still no change, but I may as well wait (it was approaching midnight, by the way, so there was no one in the airline's office) and then long story short eventually the arrival time was updated and I was hugely relieved and Judah made it in around 1:10 am. From his side of the story: The plane was on time but when the plane finally emerged from the fog at the Quito airport the pilot decided nope, not gonna happen, and went back up, the airport was closed due to weather and the plane was sent to Guayaquil (45 min flight), landed, a voice said gather your things, but 20 minutes later the plane took off again for Quito. Whew.
That was Saturday night. Sunday morning, we slept in and then headed to Quito's historical center. We weren't able to go in the main entrance of the Basilica because a mass was in session, and a man told us to use another door. We used the next door we came to, which was the entrance to the catacombs. Thinking that probably wasn't the door he was talking about.
We lunched at my host parents' house and then hopped on a bus for Banos. Patty picked us up at the entrance to Guadalupe and we spent the night at the Observatory so that Judah could see a little bit of what I've been doing and where I've been spending my time. The next day, we headed out into the field with Patty to fix a site that had stopped sending data.
The site is an AFM instrument, used to monitor lahars. Which means there's a streambed nearby. While Patty dug around, Judah and I headed down to the stream to complete a very important task. Judah had to shave for the Tom Selleck Classic (beware of really awesome music if you click on the link), a mustache competition organized by our friends Sam and Jess. Everyone has to start with a clean slate. So, we found a waterfall.
We stayed the night in Banos and after organizing a trip to the jungle the next morning headed off for what was my favorite afternoon. We rented bikes and went in search of more waterfalls. Despite a light and constant rain, we absolutely loved it. There are five or six or seven waterfalls along the road east, where the mountains give way relatively quickly to the Amazon basin, most of which are along the road.
Shortly after starting our ride, we met Sam and Dan, a couple from Tucson, Arizona, which at this distance seems like a neighbor to Boulder. The big waterfall on the route is Pailon del Diablo, or Devil's Pan, and is one of two that you can walk down to. We had a lovely walk down with Sam and Dan.
We caught the last transport home. This is my favorite part: We headed up well before Sam and Dan, because they were completely in love with the waterfall and were taking their time. (We thought it was pretty cool, too.) When we got back up to the road, the last truck was there waiting and four other tourists were waiting with it, three of which had taken transport to the falls rather than ride. The driver was anxious to go, as were the other tourists (at least the three that had driven). "They said it was the most beautiful thing they'd ever seen," said one man, implying that our Tuscon friends were a little bit crazy for thinking so. He and his girlfiend had just come from Iguazu, the biggest falls in South America. The other man grinned. "Yeah, it's not the most beautiful thing *I've* ever seen," he said. Without missing a beat, Judah said, his voice smiling, "Consider yourself lucky." Right. The man smiled and agreed. I mean, I guess if I were to go through and rank all of the beautiful things I've seen and experienced, Pailon del Diablo would not be number 1, but it's kind of a weird thing to judge. I love my honey.
One thing neither Judah nor I loved, though, were the gnats. Patty pointed them out in the field but without explaining the consequences. Sand flies, anyone? Judah and I both woke up that night at 2 am trying somewhat helplessly not to scratch the itch.
Wednesday morning, bug bites and all, Judah and I headed out on a private tour of the secondary jungle east of Banos. We'd shopped around enough the day before to hear almost the exact same spiel three times and went with the people we liked the best. For the future, I think we'll stay away from guided tours unless we're in a group, but I don't think either of us regrets having gone. Especially for the hikes to waterfalls where we could swim--my favorite place is not pictured because we had to swim a brief stretch of stream in order to get to it. Once there, we jumped from a tree trunk into the pool and climbed around the back side of the falls to dive through it. (It was, needless to say, a little smaller than Pailon del Diablo...)
The trip started with a stop at a monkey rescue. The monkeys were all pets and are therefore quite, quite friendly.
In the afternoon, after arriving at our lodging, we went for our first hike. Our guide stopped to explain many jungle things.
Night one was alongside the Puyo river.
That night, we went on a night walk to see glowing fungus, lightning bugs, and tarantulas.
The next day, we went on our killer hike to Cascada Escondida (hidden falls), and in the afternoon relocated to a place down the river by canoe.
We weren't huge fans of this place, except for one very significant thing. Sonora. Or Pollo. There were about five dogs here, and one of them immediately struck us as very similar to Sonora, so we called her Sonora. Until we realized that she was a he and we started actually talking about adopting him, at which point we decided his name was Pollo. Pollo was underfed and itchy and followed us around even before we gave him some of our ant-infested bread and cheese. I gave him a nice head-scratch from my hammock.
That night, I woke to a thump downstairs on our cabana. Like the night before, this one was raised on stilts for the creepy crawlies. I listened. Half asleep. "Judah." But in a whisper, and he was asleep enough that he didn't hear me. Each bed was an individual bed, and he was in his own mosquito-net cocoon across the way. Doze. A scratching sound, on the wood of our cabana, up here on our level. And then a sound under my bed. Surely under my bed. I wasn't completely freaked out, but kind of for probably understandable reasons wanted to know what it was. I shined my headlamp diffuse through the mosquito netting around the room and saw nothing, no reflective eyes looking back my way. "Judah. Judah!" This time louder, and he woke up. "What is it?" "I think there's something under my bed. Could you look?" He turned on his flashlight. I expected him to freak out a little, but he didn't. I could hear the smile. "It's Sonora." Pollo (not yet Pollo at that point) was under my bed, curled up in a tight ball, back against the wall. Ah, Pollo.
The next day, we took a short hike to a lookout over the confluence of the Puyo and Pastaza rivers, swung on a 'fake vine' (so said our guide), and practiced with a blow gun and spears. We were awful at the spears, but did okay with the blow gun.
When we left that afternoon, walking up to the road to catch the bus, Pollo followed. It just about broke our hearts to have to yell at him to stay, and even when we did he slinked around whoever was yelling to continue on, and Judah finally stayed back with him and shoved him with his foot and Pollo cowered, and didn't follow. Ah, Pollo. I'd give you cheese and bread every day if I could.
We stayed another night in Banos and then set off in the morning for Quito by bus, and spent a lazy afternoon doing not much of anything except overeating. One night in Quito, and then Judah left early in the morning in a taxi to the airport. Wish he could have stayed.
May 2, 2010
A Little Bit of Banos
I spent my last three days in Banos before returning to Quito to meet up with my honey running around like mad doing interviews. Patty is a full-speed-ahead go-getter and was a great influence, suggesting I call such-and-such a person to set up a time to meet and then immediately handing me the phone to do so. So, in three days, I was able to sit with I think ten people to get their views on and stories about the volcano.
The week was the perfect week for it: Patty wanted to stay at the Observatory to get some work done (a rare occurance, as she's usually cruising around in the field) and Edwin, the assistant for the week, had nothing to do, so he got stuck driving around with me. And it was great.
Everyone had an interesting story. I talked exclusively with people who are involved in monitoring the volcano, mostly the vigias (unpaid, live on the volcano and most have done so their entire lives) and folks from the Defensa Civil and a firefighter. Some of the people had to run door-to-door to alert their neighbors when the alarms failed to work because the power went out; one had his arm broken by a ballistic; all were evacuated in 1999 and suffered for it; some came back sooner than the officials allowed and formed the "Escuela Sin Nombre," or school without a name, with teachers who worked without pay so the kids could keep up and not lose the year. One vigia lived in a tent outside a church with his wife and four kids for four months. Another still lives with his family in a house that was partially covered by a pyroclastic flow in 2006.
[The unlucky loro. A statue of a tree with two parrots stands in the middle of what was the path of a pyroclastic flow in 2006. Although the tree and the red parrot, on the upper branch, survived, the blue parrot, on the lower branch, was less fortunate.]