At 7:30AM yesterday morning (June 3) I landed in Cusco. I had tried to sleep on the plane after departing from Lima but gave up after a few minutes and quickly became fascinated by watching the Andes roll by on the ground below. Having lived in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains all my life I thought that I had fairly good understanding of what mountains are. The bare rock faces and snow-capped peaks of the Andes proved me wrong. The descent into Cusco was breathtaking. Literally. At 3,400 M the elevation is enough to make anyone struggle for breath. But in a figurative take on the word, the city is built into the sides of amazingly steep mountains and the copper roofs of buildings below glistened in the early morning sunlight. (I am now done trying to be poetic, don’t worry).
I spent most of yesterday and today collecting supplies for my time out in the Amazon and getting to know the team I will be working with. I quickly realized two things in my first few hours here. One, it is much colder than I expected, with nighttime temperatures in the low 30s I was woefully unprepared to be spending several nights in the cloud forest. Two, the drivers here are crazy. Just in the cab ride to the hotel I was convinced I was going to die at least three times. I have since purchased some warm alpaca clothing to deal with the first issue, and after walking through the city for two days and never seeing one accident, I assume that the completely disorganized style of driving here is much safer than it looks. In my quest for alpaca clothing, rubber wading boots and a few other supplies I could not help playing the tourist role a bit. I have had some incredible food (including alpaca) and visited El Covento De Santo Domingo Del Cusco, the first church built here by the Spanish, which incorporates part of the base of Qorikancha, the Incan Sun Temple that the Spanish demolished to do so. We are now re-packing all of our supplies and getting ready to head out to Wayqecha tomorrow morning.
The view of Cusco and the courtyard of Qorikancha from the back of El Covento De Santo Domingo
I will try to upload a photo gallery form Cusco when I have a better internet connection.
Six hours from now I will be jetting my way off to Peru for nearly ten weeks. I have never read or much less kept blogs before and sort of thought that recording one’s life and putting it on the internet thinking that people would take time out of their lives to read it seemed sort of pretentious. None the less, that is exactly what I plan on doing for this summer in Peru and my semester abroad in Costa Rica this fall. So, with this inaugural blog post I am going to attempt to explain why I will be spending my summer in the Amazon.
I am going to be working with the Amazon Conservation Association (ACA) at their research station Villa Carmen. The ACA is dedicated to the preservation of one of the world’s most biodiverse forests by conducting research to understand the forces destroying that biodiversity and working with non-scientists to implement conservation strategies. My work this summer is with a project researching chytrid fungus, a disease that is lethal to amphibians and has been spread worldwide by human activities, causing numerous species extinctions. My work at Villa Carmen will be to assess the spread of the disease from the higher elevation cloud forest towards lower level rainforest. I will also be working on a few outreach programs to educate local children about conservation. Ideally the work done by my group this summer will provide enough information to halt the spread of this disease, save innumerable frogs from extinction and inspire a new generation of Peruvian conservationists… Well realistically that might not all happen…
I would be remiss not to mention DukeEngage, the program funding my trip. DukeEngage sends a small group of independent program Duke students around the world every summer to do volunteer community oriented projects. I have known some amazing DukeEngagers from previous summers and I hope that I will be able to live up to the reputation they have established for the program.
So anyways, now my gear is packed, I am clean shaven (for the first time in several years) and I am counting down the minutes until take off.
I know that was a pretty dry first blog post, but stay tuned for some stunning photographs and vivid accounts of the Peruvian Amazon!