Blog written by Dr. José M. Padial, Assistant Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles, Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
January 18-21, 2016
I arrived in Lima at 1:00 am on Jan 18. It did not take long to get my tourist visa and my luggage, and everything went smoothly through customs. A taxi drove me along the coast of the Bahia del Callao, the ample bay that houses the huge city of Lima—the third largest in South America, only after Mexico City and Sao Paolo— and the historical Port of Callao, from where, guano, corn, potatoes, gold, silver, zinc, and many other goods have travelled out to the world since the 16th Century.
The night is fresh and I can smell the ocean as the taxi drives fast around the tall cliffs of river sediments that face the beach. I picture the groups of surfers that will be there tomorrow, swimming with their boards to meet the continuous waves of the Pacific Ocean, and the pelicans, cormorans, and gulls that so heavily populate this northern part of the coastal Atacama desert. Off the coast there are many islands and islets covered by bird dung or guano–from the Quechua, language of the Incas. The guano from these Peruvian islands, rich in phosphates, nitrogen, and potassium, was key in the development of modern agriculture, and even today remains as a valuable and pricy resource.
By 2:30 am, I got to my hostel in Miraflores, an old and large mansion with a maritime flavor converted into an inexpensive backpackers’ hostel.
During the next few days many things happened. So many that I found difficult to find the time to write down my impressions, both in my notebook and the blog. But I kept observing the city, their people, and the landscape, writing down ideas, and taking pictures. Lima remains interesting and exotic to me even though I have visited it many times before.
Situated on the northern part of the Atacama desert–one of the driest deserts on Earth–limeños have used the rivers that flow down from the Andes to water their gardens and parks, produce, and exuberant landscape in some areas of the city. The yards crowded with bougainvilleas and oleanders bring back memories of the Mediterranean countryside where I grew up, with the tall and baroque ficus trees, and great diversity of palms populated by parroquets, orioles, and other tropical birds.
As I travel with my colleague Roberto Gutiérrez, a herpetologist from Arequipa, through the immense city and the unnerving traffic, I observe a peregrine falcon flying amongst large flocks of black vultures (Coragyps atratus) above the tall office buildings of San Isidro–the “Wall Street” of Lima.
We sit in a cafe and discuss our plans looking at Google Earth, over and over again, we go through the finances of the expedition to make sure we have enough money; and especially enough cash in small bills of Soles, as credit cards and large bills won’t work in the countryside. We revise our list of equipment and food to buy, plan the movements of the day, and divide the work load.
We visit the offices of the institutions that are granting us permits and facilitating our activities (the Peruvian Service for Protected Areas-SERNANP; and the Servicio Forestal–SERFOR). We have several important meetings and everyone is excited about our climb to Otishi National Park in the Vilcabamba mountains. As the head of marketing for SERNANP recalled, “Oh, I thought it was impossible to get there, right?’
We also stop to eat which is a must in Lima.
This city is famous for its delicious food which features an unbelievable mix of ingredients and arts stemming from its historical past as a melting point for various cultures: Inca, Wari, Chimu, Tihuanaco, Nazca, Castilian and Arabic, Spanish, Italian, or the Tusán–Peruvians of Chinese ancestry that make up to 4% of the Peruvian population. Peruvian food alone is worthy of many natural history, cultural, and biogeographic analyses, but it is also affordable and delicious. We know we’ll dream of it during our days in the forest.
written by José M. Padial