I begin my journey to Peru at New Haven’s Union Station. Instead of the usual overnight bag, I’m equipped with a suitcase of clothes, a bag of camping gear, and a giant blue duffel full of 65 rubber gaskets for installing seismometers.
Everything goes pretty smoothly until my plane from Miami to Lima is delayed by over an hour. Getting on the plane, I realize I will probably miss my connection to Cusco, and I have no idea if my bags or my group will still be at the airport. Though I haven’t met the team leader Lara Wagner yet, I’ve seen her picture online, so I’m hoping to find a recognizable face.
Another member of the group, Mike Fort from the PASSCAL instrument center in New Mexico, is also arriving, so I know to look for him as well. Thinking that he might be on my flight from Lima, I start looking a little too hard, and ask a random Peruvian man if his name is Mike. I walk away from this awkward interaction, but unfortunately, when we get on the plane, he’s assigned the seat next to mine.
Luckily, Lara is waiting for me at the airport, and a driver and a porter pull my bags off the conveyor belt. On the way to the hotel, I catch my first glimpses of Peru out the window. Advertisements for Inka Cola (a soft drink) and Somos Peru (a political party) abound in equal profusion.
Once I’ve dropped off my stuff, Lara sits me down and tells me a little more about the plans for the week. Starting Sunday, the group will split up for six days in order to cover more ground. I’ll be travelling for seven days through the jungle to Puerto Maldonado, a town 34 miles from the Bolivian border in the Amazon rainforest. The seismometers have not yet arrived yet (clearing customs requires that the descriptions of the machines and all of Mike’s correspondence about them be translated into Spanish) so we will be setting up sites, digging holes, and pouring concrete into waterproof barrels where the seismometers will eventually go.
After filling us in, Lara gives Mike and me some time to walk around the city. It’s a beautiful day, and since the local time in Peru is only one hour earlier than the local time in New York, neither of us are jet-lagged. We stop to visit a monastery on the site of Qorikancha, an ancient Incan temple of mortarless stone. Lonely Planet tells us that when the site was in its heyday, the stones were covered with 14 karat gold.
On day two, we wake up to a breakfast of round bread, strawberry jam, and coca leaf tea. Then we’re off to look at potential sites with a seismologist from Peru. We drive out of the city in a packed van, passing stands of Eucalyptus trees and a gigantic floodlit Jesus with hands outstretched over the city. After a while, the land turns to farms, and kids chase our van through a small village.
To get to the possible site, we have to climb to the top of the hill, and at 14,000 feet, all of us are out of breath. “Who needs air?” Lara jokes. The view overlooks a reservoir, and a huge rift snakes across the opposite hill. Mike explains that this is a good location for a site because we are close to the bedrock. This means that the seismic waves moving through the ground can be picked up more easily, rather than diffusing into softer ground.
Lara likes the site in theory, but it doesn’t meet two of her requirements. The road to the top is probably too rough for a truck, and there are no houses around to watch over the seismometer.
After climbing down the hill, we head back to town where we spend the afternoon shopping for food and supplies. The stores are grouped by what they sell, and we visit the grocery, hardware, and plastic bucket districts.
At dinner, everyone is talking about Guinea pig or cuy, the local delicacy. Though I don’t try it on day two, it’s definitely on the menu.