Lima (sea level) to Cusco (3400 m) to Wayqecha (3000 m)…..Quite a change in one day! We were off and running in Cusco with quick stops at the grocery and hardware store for last supplies before heading to more remote areas. Our drive on the winding Manu Highway (a gravel road) to the Wayqecha Biological Station was super dusty. It turns out that it has not rained in these cloud forests for over three weeks. A short dry season usually occurs in August-September so this drought was unusual. The clouds have been coming in over the Amazon Basin, but dropping their moisture at lower elevations. As in Kansas, a dry season means reduced insect activity. Our first 3-hr trail walk today through cloud forests turned into a botany exercise since I point out the forest structure, physical characteristics, and plant composition. We go slowly, testing our fitness at this elevation; the students are breaking in their new clothing and shoes. I aim to introduce the forest structure and its plants, to learn some familiar plant families and some rare/unusual ones—Orchids and ferns, mosses and lichens, Proteceace, Bamboo, Solanaceae, Rubiaceae, Selaginellas, and tree ferns. The filmy ferns (Hymenophyllaceae) are just one cell thick, transparent and rely on damp conditions; well, they were crispy ferns, dried and dormant, awaiting rain. We got far out on the trail, when the clouds rolled in and poured! The intermittent canopy slows the drips, but we were still quite soaked by the time we returned to the station buildings. We might be huffing and puffing on the first walks at this elevation, but we had a glorious morning of botanising. And the filmy ferns are happy again.
Peru, Here we come!
I’m finally in Peru, and I have just been reflecting on everything that has happened to get me to where I currently am.
I would see Caroline Chaboo in the hallways of the Entomology Lab, and she would exclaim, “Haley! You are going to Peru with me!” I always took that with grain of salt, for several reasons. What in the world would I do in Peru with a bunch of biology students? Shouldn’t I be getting an Industrial Design internship instead? How in the world would I pay for that kind of trip, anyways? However, all of these things I was worrying about completely disappeared with her help, along with the encouraging words from my Professor, Lance Rake. Dr. Chaboo recommended a type of project for me that would take advantage of the incredible traditional textiles found in Peru; we discussed several people I could contact to talk about Peruvian culture and the textiles, and she also mentored me while writing grants. So, it appeared that I was actually going to Peru.
Last week, starting Monday the 2nd, our study abroad group got together to review our itinerary, the goals, and the expectations.
On Tuesday, we sorted insects. Caroline dumped out a mass of mixed bugs soaked in ethanol into a white tray; she gave me a light, microscope, cylindrical containers, and forceps to start sorting. This was overwhelming, but quickly became fun. I was blown away by what I saw through the microscope. Yes, I have seen these close-ups in photographs on the internet. However, seeing it for yourself in person is a completely new experience, that opens up this tiny little world that is so much bigger than I previously thought.
On Wednesday, we visited the Spencer Art Museum, where we talked with curators, Stephen Goddard and Casey Mesick, about significant art pieces that connected with our Peru travels. Eduardo Kac is an artist who injected his own DNA into a Petunia plant to create the “Enigma,” which is represented in five photographs in the project “The Natural History of the Enigma.” We also saw prints from the original paintings of Isabella Kirkland, from her collected works “Taxa.” Taxa is a group of 6 paintings, each including a specific theme, such as species that are ascending in their natural habitat, species that are declining, species that are used for illegal trade, species that have become extinct, etc. These paintings depict nearly 400 species, and are incredibly detailed! Casey Mesick brought out a few Peruvian textiles, some directly from the Center of Traditional Textiles of Cusco. Most of these textiles were woven from a back-strap method, which is a very simple method of weaving. How incredible though, something so beautiful and complex made with such a simple process. The practice of weaving is very sacred, and takes advantage of Peru’s rich biodiversity, including materials, dyes, and patterns. These specific details really stuck out to me.
Thursday was a packing day. I did not feel prepared, I never felt absolutely ready, especially since I was leaving the country. However, you just need to “just do it,” if you want an adventure. Something I learned from a successful National Geographic photographer, Corey Richards, is that adventures are full of discomfort, but that discomfort is exactly what is so inspiring and what drives you to learn. So Peru, get me out of this comfort zone! Bring on the adventure!
(photos coming soon)
Today outside of the archeological museum [National Museum of the Archaeology, Anthropology, and History], Paige and I witnessed a small but festive parade. At first I assumed they were celebrating a holiday we didn’t know of, but as we got closer, we realized it was a parade for a Catholic elementary school’s “Family Olympics”.
Each grade came marching down the street in different brightly colored sections, with their parents beating drums, blowing whistles, and throwing confetti into the air, chanting when they reached the middle of the street where the nuns were watching. This concept of the family Olympics reminded me of an event my elementary school did with our families called the jog-a-thon.
I found it interesting that they held a parade for something as simple as a school’s family event. People who were just out on walks with their dogs even stopped to watch the children go by; there were people on stilts and someone dressed as Elmo showed up too. I really enjoyed watching the children and their parents marching down the street and chanting, playing in unison, and having a great time. I would have loved a school celebration like that when I was in elementary school.
Buenos noches desde Lima, Peru! I have been in Peru a few days, prior to the class arrival. It has already been adventure. My luggage was delayed two nights; I was pickpocketed; I got lost walking through Centro de Lima, and then found, grateful for the friendly Limeños. I have enjoyed seeing the beautiful brown faces and smiles and listening to the sing song pattern of their Spanish.
About five years ago, I was sitting in a long meditation with my Kundalini sangha when an image of myself meditating at Macchu Picchu began to dominate my experience. Since that first occurrence, I have been drawn to Peru. In January, I realized traveling to Peru might be attainable during a phone conversation with Dr. Chaboo. From that moment I began the long process of making vision a reality.
It was an extremely difficult journey to begin, since I was also coping with family illness. I nearly gave up, thinking it may be best for me to remain at home. In the end I boarded the first of three flights to arrive in Lima, alone and without my luggage or my Spanish-English dictionary. Always write down your hotel information and stash an extra pair of clothes and your toothbrush in your carry-on bag. This is what saved my sanity upon a less-than-perfect arrival and allowed me to be safely deposited at our hotel to begin this Peruvian adventure.
My biggest surprise in Lima is its architecture. Lima is a city of 9 million people (as big as Chicago). As you can imagine, this means buildings are narrow and tall, but very close together. The layout is very beautiful, with many bright colors and a variety of modern, traditional, colonial, and Peruvian styles.
This combination is spectacular in Lima’s downtown. The cathedrals are my favorite buildings, even though I am not very religious. Peru’s population is around 86% catholic; therefore, churches are extremely important here. The extravagant churches reflect this. Not only the outside of the churches are beautiful, but the inside as well.
Our group was very fortunate to climb into one of the biggest cathedral towers at St. Dominic’s Monastery. Six stories of stairs led the top of the tower; each level had a different display about the history of the church. These displays consisted of a level with pictures, a photo booth, bells, tiles, and pews. My personal favorite was the penultimate story had different giant bells hanging from the ceiling. When we finally reached the top of the tower you could see miles and miles away over the city in every direction – absolutely breathtaking!
On our second day in Lima we went to several fascinating museums, spending most of the day at the Museum of National Anthropology and Archaeology and the Larco Museum. Our extremely knowledgeable and well-versed guide, Fernando Benaducci Otayza, particularly enjoyed explaining the gritty details of how two Incan warriors from competing communities would fight each other and the humiliating and brutal death the loser would suffer. Since I’m the only male in our group, he used me as the example for the defeated warrior throughout the day at each of these displays.
Both warriors wore extravagant outfits and began their fight with a warrior dance. What I found most surprising about their rules of engagement was that they wore helmets and if one fighter’s helmet was knocked off, that meant his opponent won. The loser was then stripped nude, tied up and taken into the winner’s village, displayed to his people before being killed and defaced in some extremely gnarly ways. As Fernando detailed this process to our group as if it was happening to me, they found it funny at first, until he got into how the losers were grotesquely murdered and their body parts mutilated for practical uses and/or touted as trophies.
The faces of Sarah and Haley immediately switched from laughing to shock and terror when Fernando gleefully talked about the loser being decapitated, his head being shrunk and put on a belt with other heads, the heart being cut out and either offered sacrificially or eaten, and more. After hearing about how the winner would remove the skin from the loser’s back and make a drum from it, we saw one of these drums, as well as the knives the warriors fought with, their armor, and even a couple of shrunken heads. These artifacts really grabbed my attention for their craftsmanship and the hardcore violence associated with them. I’ve been bewildered by shrunken heads since learning about them from Ripley’s Believe It or Not as a child, so I especially got a kick out of seeing the ones on display here.
On day two of our adventure in Lima, Peru, we were exposed to the fascinating history of various different cultural practices performed by a variety of Peruvian nations. One of the most intriguing of these practices that we learned about is cranial trepanation, in which the skull of the human being is intentionally deformed. This process is performed during early infancy when the skull is the most pliable.
While visiting the Museo Nacional Arqueología, Antropología y Historia de Perú in Lima, we learned about this practice of the pre-Incan Paracas nation (750 BC-100 AD). The museum displays skulls that have undergone three different types of cranial trepanation. These variations employ a variety of methods and result in a different head shape. One type, called tabulate modeling, utilizes a wood panel placed at the nape of the neck and projected upwards; a rope keeps the wood panel steady. It results in an elongated skull that extends upwards. The second type of modeling we saw is trepanning, which also produces an elongated skull. The third type is bilobular results in a heart-shaped, rounded skull that is produced by a very specific method of wrapping cloth.
Researchers strongly believe that this process was used in the Paracas culture as a means to delineate the social status of an individual. However, very little else is known, such as what does each separate shape say about the individual’s specific status? Our tour guide Fernando Benaducci Otayza (who was INCREDIBLY knowledgeable and passionate about Peruvian history!) had the opinion that head binding must have been performed on people of lower classes because it is an incredibly painful process (so, punishing?) with various neurological repercussions. I am encouraged to think the opposite, though simply because the process of head-binding requires a lot of planning and attention for an extended period of time; it makes more sense to me that this time could only be afforded to those of a higher social standing. After all, “beauty is pain” is a cultural saying that has reached just about every corner of the world.
However, the intrigue isn’t so much in whether or not I am “right” or the tour guide is “right”, it’s in the mere fact that there is an elaborate cultural process that dramatically changed the lives of the Paracas people and continues to baffle us to this day. -Sarah
Dominican naturalist, photographer, and professional guide Miguel Landestoy visited KU Herpetology for several days in early June to view specimens and records from the late Albert Schwartz. Miguel is working to track down some of Schwartz's most unusual discoveries and came to KU primarily to familiarize himself with a few species that are particularly well-represented in Schwartz's material, but rare elsewhere. Check out Miguel's photos on Flickr.
Shortly before leaving for Peru, the team visited the Spencer Museum of Art for a art and science discussion with Curators Steve Goddard — a 2011 Peru trip alum — and Casey Messick.
My name is Hannah K. Boyd. I will be a senior at the University of Kansas majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology. I am broadly interested in the diversity of organisms and their behaviors. During this study abroad program, I will carry out an inventory of click beetles (Elateridae) at different places in the Amazon rainforest and Andes mountains. I wrote several grants for my research proposal and I hope to prepare an article for a scientific publication with my findings.