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)
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.
I am Caroline Chaboo, a faculty-curator in the Biodiversity Institute with research interests in biodiversity and leaf beetles. I am the course leader for this field program in Peru and this will be my 8th visit to Peru. Although the group is visiting places I have explored before, the program remains exciting because of our team is different each year. The individual expertise, interests, and perspectives of each individual enhances all our experiences. I am excited for our new adventures together.
My name is Paige Emilia Miller and I will be a junior at the University of Kansas, studying for a BSc in Biochemistry with a concentration in vector-borne diseases. I will be participating in all the activities of KU’s Study Abroad program, Field Biology of Amazonian Peru, as well as carrying out a survey of mosquito diversity in the Kosnipata Valley. I hope my findings and specimens will develop into a publication. Beyond KU, I am considering joining the Peace Corps and attending graduate school.
My name is Sarah Hirschey and I am a rising senior at Wesleyan University studying Earth and Environmental Science with a concentration in Geochemistry. I am very interested in learning about the interactions between humans and their environment and interactions between biotic and abiotic ecologies. During my study abroad in Peru, I plan to expand my knowledge of these interests by studying phytotelmata and the biotic and chemical environments the plant creates for other organisms.
My name is Alex Lamb and I am a junior at KU. I grew up in Prairie Village, KS. I study film and journalism at the University of Kansas and am a movie reviewer and filmmaker. I live my life with a sense of adventure and try to explore the unknown, the unusual, and anything I think would make a good story. I am documenting the study abroad program Field Biology of Amazonian Peru through photos, video and audio and will be assembling a documentary/multimedia project from everything I capture in Peru about the environments, the research, the culture, and our experiences.
My name is Haley Fetters Crouch, and I will be a senior at the University of Kansas, studying Industrial Design with a concentration in Anthropology. I try to design by playing with tradition, immersing in different cultures, manipulating regional materials, helping others and bringing people together. I plan to use KU’s Study Abroad program, Field Biology of Amazonian Peru, to research the natural materials used by Andean indigenous communities and develop my undergraduate thesis project that can help create a sustainable product made from Peruvian materials that can benefit an impoverished community.
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.
The most logistically challenging day of the trip arrived: moving camp to the summit of Tafelberg. The weather cooperated beautifully and we were greeted with a clear, calm morning. Rain or even heavy clouds would have meant the helicopter would have been grounded. The day before, we had flown in a small bush plane to a deserted airstrip near about 20 kilometers from the base of Tafelberg, and we used this as our staging area.
First, we had to weigh all our food and gear and separate it into piles of roughly 400 pounds. Each pile is assembled into a “package” to be slung to the summit by a net hanging from below the helicopter.
Next, we had to locate a suitable landing site on the mountain. Two other members of the team and I got in the helicopter and set out to take a look. There had been an area cleared many years ago by previous expeditions, but it has not been used in quite a while. As we assumed, it had become overgrown. We located a small pocket of open savannah nearby where we could be dropped off safely, then hiked back to the original landing site and cleared it with machetes.
Over the next two hours, the rest of our team and gear were ferried up, and we established our basecamp at a nearby creek.
First landing on the summit of Tafelberg in a small natural savannah, before clearing a slightly larger helipad for the remainder of the team and gear. Photo by Andrew Short.
Assembling our gear into slings for the helicopter to lift to the summit of Tafelberg. Photo by Andrew Short.
Tafelberg Tepui as seem from the savanna near Kappel Airstrip in central Suriname. Photo by Julian Aguirre.
Devin Bloom prepares and tissues a freshly caught fish specimen from the central market in Paramaribo. Photo by Andrew Short.
The first scientific expedition to Tafelberg took place exactly 69 years ago this month. Led by legendary botanist Bassett Maguire, the 1944 expedition took more than four months. Needless to say, the logistics of his expedition were a bit different than ours.
Using a small group of canoes powered only by paddles and long poles, he traveled upriver through numerous rapids and overland detours from Paramaribo up the Coppename River and its tributaries. With the help and permission of the local villages he encountered, he set out overland when the rivers became impassable.
List of supplies taken on the first expedition to Tafelberg in 1944. From the Journal of the New York Botanical Garden, volume 46, p. 287.
After 23 days of cutting trails with nothing but a compass for navigation, they reached the foot of Tafelberg. Did I mention they had more than 3 tons of gear that had to be hauled every step of the way? And that does not include additional food and supplies that were parachuted to them in the jungle from military planes both along the way and while on the summit.
Fast forward to 2013, and the travel that took his party weeks will take us less than an hour by helicopter. Correspondingly, we are working hard to ensure that our gear (and ourselves…) will “make weight”, as how much we can transport per helicopter run is extremely limited.
If you are curious about just exactly what such an ambitious 1944 expedition took to the field, here is list from a report on the expedition published by Maguire in 1945:
On a completely separate note, we collected our first specimens today. Taking a break from gearing up here in Paramaribo, Devin browsed the central market here for interesting fish, and picked up some freshly caught individuals to prepare as museum specimens.