A research expedition in Peru, the land of the Paddington Bear

August 2, 2012

English: Paddington Bear at Paddington Station

I whish I could start with “ Once upon a time…” because that would be the easiest way to begin this paragraph (or a paper). Besides, to some extend, “Once upon a time” can be appropriate because this is a story related to the OLD friends of the Paddington Bear. By that, I mean a story about the mega fauna in South America.

I, Kobrina Olga, have drawn reconstruction on ...

Macrauchenia drawn by Kobrina Olga (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The humble Sporormiella, a coprophilous fungus, will tell us when the mighty bestiary that inhabited the Andes became extinct. In the meantime, I will tell you about the places we visit to collect samples containing Sporormiella…


Sporormiella (Photo credit: Angela Rozas)

“Bryan Valencia? Angela Rozas?” – The security guy read our names aloud while the incredulity in his eyes make them look as if they were about pop-up.

“Yep” – I replied. After a few seconds of deliberation he scribbled something on our boarding tickets and we were allowed to continue with the security ceremony. People around us were complaining about the security ritual. “This is ridiculous!” – An old lady cried with a heavy southern accent – it was the third time the metal detector beeped on her.


The aircraft route

We left Orlando the morning of May the 26th and arrived in Lima, Peru after midnight. We had a tortuous delay of about 10 hours at Fort Lauderdale airport in the US. I was extremely disappointed with the airline we selected. Sadly, some dark luck was around us: the plane was packed, the seats were baby-size, and people in the aircraft were oblivious to the directions they were given. Alas!

However, not everything went wrong! We were very exited about the fieldtrip that was just beginning! And anyway… the prehistoric plane we took was able to take off and, surprisingly, it remained in one piece when we landed in Lima!

Few days later we set foot in Cusco and the real expedition started. Our first target was Lake Q’oricocha (The Golden Lake). At our arrival, curious cows, llamas and alpacas welcomed and surrounded us. They also inspected our equipment. Our mighty Avon redstar, a lightweight inflatable boat, was the most desired item among the inquisitive camelids.

Llamas approaching! (Photo credit Bryan Valencia)

We used a dredge to collect several surface samples at different depths. However, we were unable to get limnological data as our YSI-85 failed miserably. After several attempts we gave up using the YSI and decided to record multiple lake depths to generate a proper bathymetric map. We returned to this lake several days later once the YSI was fixed.

Sampling Qoricocha
Sampling Qoricocha: Sampling and suffering… it is cold and the YSI does not work (Photo credit: Esteban Mujica)

Lake Piuray and Lake Huaypo were the next targets. The mountains covered in ice had a comforting effect on us. There was no longer work to be done! From that moment we were playing with the boat while getting some mud just by accident!
In the picture, Angie’s boat was ready while I was still checking the pressure in mine. Esteban, our driver, was helping me.

 Seems like Angie is the only one ready

Seems like Angie is the only one ready ! (Photo credit: Darcy Galiano)

Piuray is a very large lake that is used to provide water to half of the city of Cusco. It took us a while to complete the sampling in this lake. It was very sad when I realized that I forgot to bring some water).

Forgot the water

Once we were done at Lake Huaypo, we saw these kids racing on the road. I am sure they were going home after attending school.

Kids in Huaypo

Kids at Huaypo (Photo credit: Angela Rozas)

Lake Huacarpay was surrounded by “Totora”; therefore, it was a bit difficult to access this lake. My friend Darcy was kind enough to take a couple of days off and he was helping us. In the picture he looks a bit concerned… I agree, my orange life vest does not look reliable at all!

 Not reliable

I am very happy (Photo credit: Angela Rozas)

After Huacarpay, the fieldtrip was almost over because we were forced to stop. People against mining companies were revolting in sites that were very close to the lakes we were trying to reach. Innocent people were injured or killed in these revolts. Sadly, the fight still continues. During the last decade I visited some sites affected by mining companies. I do not need to describe what I have seen. If you search for ‘Cerro de Pasco, Peru’ using Google Earth you will have a good idea mining impact…

So close so far

So close but so far: we were unable to get samples from Lake Acopia (Photo credit: Bryan Valencia)

Pomacanchis was the last lake that we took samples from. We had to be very fast because this lake is fairly close to areas in conflict.

Despite the difficulties, we collected enough samples to evaluate the modern behavior of Sporormiella. We will use this information to improve the interpretation of  Sporormiella records that are at least 20,000 years old.

We are done
WE ARE DONE ! Behind another lake we were unable to sample (Photo credit: Bryan Valencia)

Then, we will be able to tell when the “old friends” of the beloved Paddington Bear disappeared and he may stop playing sad songs…

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