Adventures in Styrofoam

El Container

For most people, a cookie is a dessert. For seismologists, that definition has to be revised to include circular discs of Styrofoam which are used to insulate the delicate instruments.

Since we’re still in Cusco, we spend the morning shopping for sandbags, tarps, duct tape, a rock bar, sharpies, and another bucket for mixing cement. The initial plan was to return to Cusco tomorrow, but since Lara needs to be in internet contact to facilitate the transport of the seismometers through customs, she decided not to go out into the field. And without one of the leaders of the project, we can’t pick sites or put in barrels.

However, we can get everything ready for when the seismometers do arrive. This entails buying huge sheets of ceiling insulation, strapping them to the top of our van, and driving them to our storage container.

Streets of Cusco in the Rain

On the way, we encounter a minor difficulty when one of the wheels of the van falls into a ditch. There is a two foot hole in the road between two grates, and the back axel is resting on the ground. Fortunately, ten men appear out of nowhere, grab the back end of the van, and lift us free.

Once we arrive, we use razorblades to cut “cookies” out of the insulation. These Styrofoam discs will be stuffed into the barrels, where they will sit over the seismometers to keep them from getting too hot or too cold. If the temperature fluctuates, the equipment will have less accurate responses to seismic waves, and it will be harder to tell what’s going on inside the earth’s crust.

Though machines might consider these cookies sustenance, us humans have to look farther afield. Back in town, Jenny, Mike, Ryan, and I decide to try guinea pig. The restaurant brings them to us whole on the plate, with tomato and cucumber Inka helmets. After we’ve had a chance to snap a few photos, they whisk the plates away again for carving. When they return, I pick up my knife and fork, but the waiter shakes his head.


It turns out that guinea pig has to be eaten with the hands. As I pick up a piece (amidst many jokes about killing Fluffy) I discover that these rodents taste a lot like a chicken leg. Nonetheless, I’ve never felt more like a carnivore.


On the whole, it’s pretty tasty, but I don’t think I’d order it again. When the waiter asks us if we want dessert, we ask him if he has any hamsters. Luckily, he doesn’t understand us.

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3 Responses to Adventures in Styrofoam

  1. Maureen Long says:

    Oh, wow – glad to hear that somebody finally tried guinea pig. I had a pet guinea pig as a kid, so even though I am usually a pretty adventurous eater, I’m not sure I could do it! 🙂 Looks… interesting!

  2. Dolores Hayden says:

    Guinea pig???

  3. Emma says:

    Ha!! I never would have pegged you as a guinea pig eater.
    Like last time, I sat down and read these in one go–sounds like you’re having an amazing adventure! (And I understand the science parts!!!)
    I miss you, I hope you’re having fun!!

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