After our rain day on Tuesday, we finished off the last two days of the main expedition by driving a circuit from Biscucuy to Trujillo, and then winded out of the Andes in the state of Lara and back to Maracaibo yesterday evening. The rain was a bit more widespread than I had hoped, and the condition of many of the rivers was less than exceptional for collecting—recent rain also can throw off our water chemistry readings. Nevertheless, we still made good progress and had a few surprises.
We awoke this morning to heavy rain. Not a passing shower, but a uniform grey sky with flooded streets. Aside from a 20-minute squall while we were in the llanos, this is the first time it has rained on our expedition. By 11 am with no end of the rain it sight, we decided to write the day off and relax. I’m not opposed to working in the rain, but the bigger problem is that all of the streams and rivers have been converted into a slurry of mud, water, and debris. While having my coffee at the local corner store, I sat and watched the ongoing coverage of the inauguration.
We arrived in Puerto Ayacucho yesterday, the capital of the state of Amazonas. We will be staying here for a few days while we scope out streams in the area. This area has been particularly productive on past expeditions as there are a lot of rock slides -- rivers that flow over large expanses of exposed granite, and do not have any substrate. These create very unusual habitats that foster very unusual insects.
The main part of the expedition is now underway. This first leg of the trip takes us south across the Llanos, which are vast, mostly flat, open savannahs which cover a third of Venezuela. The region is dominated by huge cattle ranches. During the wet season (April-November), everything is largely flooded. Now, more than a month into the dry season, it bakes until crispy dry. Grass and brush fires zip around everywhere.
The last few days have been full of logistical gymnastics in preparing for the main expedition that will start on 8 January. After celebrating New Years in Maracaibo, Jesus, Mauricio and I spent 10 hours on the second of January driving to Caracas to pick up another collaborator, Kelly Miller, at the airport the next morning. Kelly is curator of arthropods at the University of New Mexico and a specialist in several water beetle groups.
Mauricio, Jesus and I scouted a few new field sites today in the Serrania de Perija- the mountainous border region that forms the western boarder with Colombia. Just a few hours from the relatively affluent oil city that is Maracaibo, the roads gradually narrow into small dirt paths winding around large rural haciendas (ranches) and indigenous communities. Cars give way to burrows and horses as the primary (and functional) means of transport.
It has been a long but nearly flawless 15 hours of traveling today, beginning with the 3:30 a.m. shuttle pick-up in Lawrence to clearing customs in Maracaibo, Venezuela, at 8:30 p.m. (quick fact: Venezuela has its own time zone, which is 30 minutes ahead of Eastern Standard Time). My colleagues from the Universidad del Zulia, Mauricio Garcia and Jesus Camacho, greeted me at the airport. We retired to Mauricio’s house to unwind and catch up for a couple of hours.