Just prior to leaving for Peru, I was told of the exceptional cuisine that Lima had to offer. Before, I learned about cuy (pronounced “coo-ee”) – guinea pig. I imagined it as the staple dish that would be on the menu of every high-end Peruvian restaurant. It’s apparently not that meal and is, in fact, an Andean animal and is served in restaurants nearer the mountains. Instead, I’ve found that there are a lot of other amazing tastes this country has to offer.
Several days ago I came across two primate specialists in the forest. One was wearing a loudspeaker on her head that was emitting monkey calls (calls of the saddle-backed tamarin, I believe). This got me to thinking about the ways we stretch to get our data, to study animal and plant behavior, to collect specimens, and to document the comings and goings of species. It's hard work that demands a staggering array of equipment from a butterfly net to a portable mass spectrometer. It also requires smart, fit, capable, adaptable people with highly specialized training and lots of imagination.
My good fortune finally ran out. Up until Sunday evening I had experienced very little turbulence on this trip: the airplane flights were uneventful, in Lima I ate multiple things I probably shouldn’t have, they but didn’t cause any issues, I experienced maybe one mosquito bite, and I hadn’t suffered any physical injuries. Then Sunday night came, and I caught up on my suffering.
The last few days have been the most interesting. Daily walks have familiarized us to the rain forest, and we now know where to look for certain types of bugs, birds, reptiles, etc. All of us have a far better understanding of where certain insects might live within a rain forest, and we can really look for what we want. I’ve been looking for insects. A caterpillar, an ant infected with corticepts, a weevil, leafcutter ants, army ants, scarab beetles, and butterflies have all spent time at the business end of my camera.
During our second full day out at the CICRA research station in the rain forest, a few of us went out with Caroline and Dan, her colleague in her research in Amazonia Peru, to the area where they collect data. Dan walked Joe, Tom, and Caroline, and I around the plot, showing us what has happened since Caroline’s last visit.
A few days ago I hiked through the forest for the first time covered in DEET. I swatted at every insect that came near me. Finally I conceded that I did come to the rainforest with an entomologist. I was going to have to touch some bugs. About halfway through I got my vial out and started catching beetles. Every time I caught a beetle I'd ask Dr. Chaboo, "What kind is this?" it turns out that, each time, I had caught a chrysomelid, her specialty. I wondered how she could tell what kind were chrysomelids. They all looked different to me. After lunch we had our first art lesson.
It’s strange how a theme will keep popping up in conversations over the course of days or weeks. This phenomenon has occurred several times on this trip, and the best example of it is the one I’ve made the title of this post: “creativity vs conformity.” Before I explain this concept in more detail, let me provide an example. Yesterday, I was standing in one of the labs here at the field station.
I used to be terrified of bees and wasps. If I was playing in the yard and I saw a wasp in the neighbor’s bushes, I would run inside. And yet, now I am considering a career in entomology. Quite a lot has changed between my childhood fears and now. A lot had to be overcome to go on this trip, hiking into thick rain forest brush and trees. I remember once screaming at the top of my lungs at what I thought was something with a stinger, which turned out to be a crane fly, a fly that many call a giant mosquito but is harmless.
Writing blog posts by flashlight isn’t ideal, but I’d better start this post if I’m going to finish by the time the power shuts off at 9:30 p.m. The past two days have been a blur. We went from Lima to the field station yesterday, a journey with 3 legs: a flight to Puerto Maldinado, a van trip to the Madre de Dios river, and a 4-hour boat trip to the field station.