Monday, November 26, 2007

9. Parade and holiday football in the Amazon: July 2006

Jenaro Herrera - July 28, 2006

Like most nations that gained their independence following colonial rule, Peru celebrates the anniversary of its liberation as an official holiday in every corner of country – even small towns in the Amazon. After some light work in the morning, Marissa and I walked into town to take in the festivities.

The highlight of the day in Jenaro Herrera was the parade. It was amazing that any people were available to watch the marchers because it included so many segments of local society. All marchers passing through the center of town were accompanied by the requisite beat of snare drums and blare of horns. The first group was small children. There were small contingents of nurses, fantasy characters including Zorro (perhaps because his character symbolized resistance to harsh Spanish rule), and kids wearing their school uniforms. While such events are intended to boost a community’s patriotic pride, I was surprised that infusion of military spirit began so young; some parading boys and girls who seemed to be 4 – 7 years were wearing camo outfits and carrying replicas of machine guns and rifles. Peru is now at peace, but these sights were a reminder that it hasn’t been so long since its soldiers were fighting Shining Path Maoist guerillas in other parts of the jungle. Another source of military tension is part of the border separating the country from Ecuador. According to Ecuador, the matter is still not fully settled, but Peru’s forces secured the current position in its favor some years ago.

Older children dressed in their smart school uniforms marched by next. A stern high-school age girl wearing a maroon baret led one group by sharply moving her thin baton in time to her group’s precise high steps. Another girl wearing a colorful sash and old-style hat led another group as she smiled and waved at the crowd. After her group passed, Marissa’s friend Diana who works with the IIAP cook Susanna joined us to watch the rest of the parade.

The final marchers were adults representing many groups of workers – teachers, town government workers, staff people from the IIAP research station, the few soldiers and two policemen who provide security and law enforcement in the town, and personnel from the government health clinic. Since Marissa had been interested in doing some volunteer work in the clinic, we took this opportunity to introduce ourselves. One friendly nurse thought she would be very welcome and encouraged us to come by after the holiday to meet their head nurse.

After the parade, Marissa and I followed our noses into the inner courtyard of the elementary school holding a fundraiser lunch. For 6 soles (about $1.90), we got a big plate of barbeque chicken, side dishes of potatoes and salad and a large drink. Although we had found simple restaurants in town that served complete lunches for as little as 3 soles, the fresh meal that reminded us of 4th of July picnic fair in the U.S. still seemed like a good bargain. Our hosts very much appreciated our presence, perhaps especially so since there weren’t many other customers. Incomes in these areas are so low that people don’t eat out much – or each much at all that they don’t grow, pick, catch, or kill themselves.

In the afternoon, there was a mass exodus of people from the center of town. We joined the throng and made our way to the largest field to watch a couple of soccer games. The teams included young men from Jenaro Herrera and a visiting group from another town farther up the Ucayali River. Given the lack of roads in this region, the visitors had arrived by one of the daily boats carrying people and cargo from Requena down to Iquitos. They were all sturdy players since the field was nothing but dirt. A sliding tackle meant risking bruising the side of one’s leg or thigh in a cluster of pebbles. My biggest risk was eating a local fruit popsicle from a vendor passing through the bleachers. While I am a fan of my hometown football team (the Penn State Nittany Lions), I much appreciated the simplicity of rooting for the boys of Jenaro Herrera playing the sport that everyone outside the US calls football without having to pay a high priced admission or go to a sports bar.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

8. Night forest walk and disco, July 2006

Nighttime adventures: July 2006

Finding the larvae of the weevils responsible for making the resin lumps on the copal trees was easy, but for the first week of our time at Jenaro Herrera, we had not found any adult weevils on the trees during the day. Since a weevil expert had told me that many species are nocturnal, our team decided to try scanning some of our trees at night. I had not been particularly keen to do this since many snakes are active then, but with Nestor and Bandito as our guides, Victor, Angel and I set forth.

Soon after entering the trail to the plantation, we learned that our caution was justified. A small but very poisonous pit viper with an orange body and black that is locally called “aguaje machaco” was lying in the middle of the path. Bandito seemed intent on sniffing at it, but fortunately he also maintained a safe distance. After carefully taking a few photos, Nestor tossed it to the side with his machete while the rest of us stepped around.

Our outings produced observations of several other interesting denizens of the dark. The largest of these were whip scorpions. I had first encountered these fearsome looking critters while living in the Tembé Indian village in Brazil. They were always stationed on the walls of my outhouse at night. I was scared at first that they were going to leap on me and painfully impale some soft tissue with their multi-spined pincers. After awhile, though, I realized they were quite content to stay still and wait for insect prey – perhaps some of the plentiful cockroaches. In Peru we also saw three types of spiders in the forest – small spotted white to large fuzzy brown. Other neat sights in the nighttime forest were tiny glowing green lights. Looking closer, we saw that the phosphorescence usually came from patches of a fungus on a rotting tree. One night when we returned to the station, we were treated to the site of a tarantula on the wall of a residential house.

The trips were less productive for their intended purpose. We examined dozens of copal trees from high on their trunks to the ground. Angel even dug down a bit in the earth around the base of some trees to see if weevils were hiding there. On two nights of searching, we didn’t find a single adult weevil.

Our other nighttime excursion was to the lone discotheque in Jenaro Herrera. Since the IIAP truck was already in town, our small group left the station on foot for the half-hour walk well equipped with our knee-high rubber boots over the muddy road. In a town without a movie theatre or internet, the Jungla (pronounced “hun-gla) provides a vibrant gathering point for many young people. To preserve the quiet in the downtown residential areas, Jungla is located about half a mile away near farm fields. Even so, as we crossed a tiny wooden bridge on the outskirts of town, we began to hear booming techno vibrations. The building itself was a simple off-white structure. Some people were hanging around outside with various motorcar drivers waiting to take patrons home.

As we walked in, it seemed our arrival was greeted with recognition of our non-regular status (maybe the rubber boots gave us away) with neither welcome nor hostility. There was no cover charge at Jungla. Their business went by selling cheap drinks from an unadorned window; the choices were bottles of beer, water, Coke, Inca cola (a very popular yellow Peruvian soft drink), and cups of a mixed drink with aguardiente (similar to rum) and some citrus juice. The large dance area was a smooth grey cement floor surrounded by small tables and chairs. A balcony on one side provided more sitting areas to look down over the dance floor. Disco accoutrements included a few strobe lights, a swirling ball with multi-colored lights, and a loud if not high-fidelity sound system. The music included a mix of techno, Peruvian pop and some classic western rock. The dancers were mostly tamely moving male-female and female-female couples. In the midst of what I assumed to be conservative rural Peru, it was interesting to see that the most active and colorfully dressed dancers were two male-male couples. After awhile, Angel, Marissa, Xanit (a visiting Peruvian forest researcher doing a PhD at Miami University in Ohio) and I added our energy to the dance floor.

Eventually the smoke, sweat and aching eardrums led me outside for a break. It was wonderful to take a breather in the cool clean air. I didn’t recognize the southern hemisphere constellations, but a night sky full of stars without soot or light pollution is welcome anywhere on the planet. After one more round of dancing, drinking water and several trips to the overly close-quartered men’s room, I felt like calling it a night. It was a great way to get aerobic exercise, and it definitely fit into the category of a “cultural experience.” Our group was very happy to get a ride back to the station in the back of the IIAP pickup truck.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

7. Morning ritual and meal rhythms, July, 2006

Jenaro Herrera - week 2 - July, 2006

I’m starting to establish a good morning ritual at the station. I get up around 6 am, brush my teeth, and then do about twenty minutes of stretches of my neck, back and right ankle. I was a bit worried how this ankle would hold up walking around the forest since I had sprained it two months ago playing basketball with some fifth graders on the Friends School camping trip. The bi-weekly physical therapy sessions and twice-daily exercises, however, have definitely paid off. I’ve been able to walk normally on it, but there have been a few painful reminders that it still tender when I have overextended it propelling myself out of swampy depression or climbing over a downed log.

Our typical breakfast at Dona Susana’s house includes bread, margarine, jam, fried plantains, one or two side dishes and a “refresco.” This drink is made mostly from water, sugar and juice from fruits such as lemons, camu camu (super rich in vitamin C), tapereba, or cocona (a member of the tomato family – but its juice is clear). We’ve also had fresh fruit including taronja (a tart cross between an orange and a grapefruit), bananas, papaya (my favorite), and tapereba (tasty but very fibrous in the core). Other side dishes have included fried yucca (sweet manioc called macaxeira in Brazil), fried eggs, mixed vegetable omelet (called “tortilla” here), fried fish, and fried spam.

We had carried our lunch with us into the field a few days in bulky Tupperware containers, but when we were working in the plantation, we found that it was just as easy and a lot more relaxing to walk the short distance back to the station to eat. Lunch is traditionally the largest meal of the day that starts with a tasty broth soup with some vegetables and occasional chunks of chicken or meat. The main dish is a plate heaped with rice, beans, a little salad, and usually some locally caught fish, chicken or red meat. Our fish have been boiled tucunari (the spotted tail “peacock” bass known as tucunaré in Brazil), sabalo, corbina, bocachico (“small mouth”), and various types of catfish such as doncelia and bagre. The chicken is often pretty tough through no fault of the cook. These birds have built up their muscles roaming around more than their tender factory-farmed counterparts who spend their short life in cages.

We’ve had a little meat from paca (a rather large rainforest rodent) and a few other game animals such as peccary (locally called “sagino”). Walking back from town, we’ve regularly passed a one to three men carrying a well-worn shotgun and sometimes a thatched backpack with black fur sticking out the top or a black and brown monkey tied to the side. They hunt mostly for their families, but sometimes sell surplus meat in town. Although there are water buffalo in many pastures, we haven’t been served their meat since they are raised as dairy animals to produce cheese instead of meat.

While most of tired crew relishes these midday feasts, Susanna has finally acceded to Marissa and my requests to reduce the scale of our lunch since we could never finish the hungry sized portions she was serving everyone else. After sweating hard in the forest all morning I usually just craved two or three glasses of cool refresco that I could gulp down in rapid succession.

Our supper served around 7:30 pm has been the simplest. It usually consists of bread, jam, something crunchy and buffalo milk cheese. While lunch focuses more on food than conversation, our evening meal is richer in laughter and stories. We have covered the gamut of politics in Peru and the U.S., Angel’s contorted faces, Nestor’s tales of snakes and work with various scientists in Peru for 25 years. He collected leaf samples for the legendary Amazon botanist Al Gentry who died during a mission for Conservation International in a small plane crash in Peru in the mid-1990’s. Nestor once climbed with a mask and protective clothing to spray a powerful insecticide into the canopies of some 20 trees for the Smithsonian’s Terry Erwin. It was Erwin’s discovery of the huge number of unidentified insects that lived in the upper reaches of tropical forest trees that led to raising the estimate of the number of species on earth from five or six million to a figure between thirty and fifty million. It reinforced the critical need to preserve tropical forests as the most important strategy for preserving the earth’s biodiversity. I wish I had recorded his stories because it would make a fascinating account worthy of a PBS documentary.

6. Miracle duffel, station history and Bandito, 7/21/07

Friday, July 21, 2006

As the morning began, Marissa had little inclination to go into the forest again in her same clothes. Just after returning from breakfast, we were blessed with the arrival of our fourth duffel bag that had miraculously been flown from Miami to Lima with Avianca, passed through customs, put on a Lan Peru flight to Iquitos, picked up at the airport and put into the care of a boat captain, taken off the boat in Jenaro Herrera by a trustworthy local friend, and finally delivered to us at the station by a IIAP truck. Marissa and I rejoiced at the reunion with our clothes and toiletries. We were all happy to get the food I’d left in our hotel in Iquitos. This box gave us several weeks worth of canned goods, crackers and cookies for lunches in the field and snacks. Even a yogurt drink was still good. Some other fresh food intended for our boat trip hadn’t fared so well; the apples were mushy and the cheese had melted into a blob.

As we proceeded with our work in the copal plantations, we wanted to find out basic information about these and other inventories done at the station. Gustavo loaned Victor one book about the Laurent Plantation (that we called Plantation 1) that was named for one of the Swiss scientists who spearheaded the research efforts here in the 1960’s. It said that the only species of copal planted there was Protium aff. sagotianum. The “aff.” designation stands for “affinum”, a Latin term meaning that the specimen is similar but not identical to the recognized species. In other words, it’s a species that has not yet been well described. The seeds came from an unknown source, but they were presumably collected locally since there are a number of leaf specimens in the herbarium bearing this same tentative identification. This book had a map showing the Piñal Plantation (that we call Plantation 2), but it didn’t mention when it was created or what species was planted there.

In the hope of finding a follow-up volume about the larger Piñal plantation, Victor and I ventured into the library. Its dark and cobwebbed covered stacks, books, map tubes and magazines reminded me of the dank room portrayed in the movie version of Great Expectations where the contents had neither been cleaned nor updated for several decades. One shelf had a label claiming to contain publications resulting from research done at the station, but we found nothing about this plantation. In fact we didn’t find any book more recent than the mid-1980’s anywhere in the stacks. My best find in the library were a dozen novels in English scattered throughout old books on forestry that had probably been left by earlier researchers.

The youngest thing we discovered in the library was a small-medium sized shepherd mix dog curled up in a corner. We soon learned that Bandito belongs to one of the Center guards, but he spends his days (and some nights) wandering around the Center grounds in search of adventure, food and companionship. He has become a good buddy to Nestor, Marissa and me since we affectionately stroke his head and give him hefty leftovers saved from our meals. He squeals with happy yips when he greets us, sleeps under our house or on the porch (we don’t allow him inside because he is constantly scratching), and sometimes accompanies us into the forest.

Victor got two other key resources on inventories from Naillerette and assistant station director Frederico, better known as Fico. In contrast to the moldy library, these IIAP staff people have entered good information in computer spreadsheets on trees monitored in the arboretum and recently surveyed in a dozen areas throughout the IIAP forest. I was very excited to consider the possibility of finding a diversity of copal trees in different forest habitats that had already been located, marked and identified. It turned out that finding well-marked trees in the well-laid trails of the arboretum trees was very workable. It remains to seen if relocating unmarked trees along transect lines from other inventories would be a cost-effective endeavor.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

5. Copal, botanists and smelly socks, 7/20/06

Thursday, July 20, 2006

We returned to Plantation 2 to resume our survey of the copal trees. I started systematically noting incidences of wound wood we saw the first day. Yesterday we also noticed that a few resin lumps had pliable breathing spouts made of gooey resin. We even saw one larva poking its head up from time to time so that a thin layer of resin separated it from the surface. Minutes later the hole was closed. I realized I had mistakenly identified some of these small lumps as the type that contained resin fly larvae because this pliable consistency. I had noticed these spouts on some resin lumps in earlier trips to Peru, and one goal of this trip has been to try to figure out if the weevil developing in this type is a different species from others.

As we made our way to the edge of the plantation from flat upper ground to slightly lower and wetter ground near a stream, it seemed that we saw fewer lumps with spouts. We did, however, find a few small lumps that had spike like protrusions. Perhaps we've been lucky enough to find two weevils with overlapping but subtly different habitat preferences. We put wire mesh traps on several of these different types to test this nascent hypothesis and also installed a couple of the cone style weevil traps on several trees with fresh resin lumps in hope of trapping adult weevils crawling up the trees.

By the end of the day we had finished surveying the trees in Plantation 2 with data on 136 trees. Although it’s the middle of the dry season, it can still rain any day here, and that afternoon we got caught in a huge downpour. Always prepared, Nestor had brought his poncho, but being blithely optimistic, I had left my behind. Marissa captured one very nice picture of our soggy crew returning to the house. I was more embarrassed that my thermos type containing my camera, lenses and camcorder were not watertight. I carefully dried the equipment that was minimally damp, and fortunately it all worked. Unfortunately the portable hard drive left inadvertently in the bottom of my pack wasn’t so lucky. Since then I have put each camera piece in a ziplock bag with a moisture-absorbing packet and brought extra plastic bags to surround the carriers inside the pack. The tropics are inevitably hell on this sort of gear, but I want them to last as long as possible.

At dinner, we met two fellow botanists. Naillarette Davila Cordozo is a plant taxonomist in charge of the Jenaro Herrera herbarium. She has been leading the collection and identification of leaf samples collected in the 9 hectare arboretum and is doing some research on the ecology and propagation of the Heteropsis vine, locally called “tamshi.” I studied this same plant in Brazil with the Tembé (called titica in Brazil) who harvest the aerial roots for a lashing material in their houses and sell larger quantities to wicker furniture makers in the city.

It was fun to discover that Naillerette is the woman that fellow researcher Paul Fine recommended to me before this trip as someone who could greatly help identify my plants. I had met Paul in 2002 and stayed at his house in Iquitos when he was doing fieldwork for his PhD studying copal trees. He was living at a IIAP research station just outside of Iquitos. He greatly helped my work by introducing me to Victor and several other young men who had founded the group Friends of the Alpahuayo-Mishana Reserve. Naillerette had read some of my work about Heteropsis in Brazil so we happily starting sharing information and project ideas about this unusual, important and often overexploited Amazonian plant.

We also met Xanit (pronounced more like “Sunny”) who is doing a PhD at Miami University in Ohio – where I interviewed for a teaching position in 2001. We both knew Michael Gilmore who recently finished his doctorate at the same school after studying the habitat classification system of the Maihuna Indians along the Napo River. Xanit is resurveying some “permanent” forest plots established at the station twenty years ago. Each four years a new student documents the dynamic changes that occur in a specific area. This data collection may be laborious, but it must be interesting tracking the emergence of new trees in the plot, measuring the growth of others, and noting which ones have died.

After supper all of us but Marissa made a foray into town with the IIAP truck. I had hoped to call Yuri to let her know that we had finally arrived safely at our destination since in the rush to get things done in Iquitos, I had not been able to spare even a few minutes to send her an email from there. We got to the general store with the telephones at five minutes after nine. These were truly their phones since they had already been disconnected, removed from their iron bar cages and put away inside for the night. The lady manager said come back tomorrow. We are open from 7 am until 9 pm. This closing time was apparently one thing in Peru that absolutely went by the clock. Cesar did accomplish the main goal of our outing that was finding the fellow that often does services for IIAP in town. He agreed to meet the boat arriving the following morning and pick up our long-awaited bag and left-behind food.

While some nights are very cloudy, a clear sky at night here offers a spectacular view of the stars. In this part of the world, though, I could locate any of the few constellations I am familiar with in my home sky. I got to sleep easily, but I again woke up feeling very cold. I was used to sleeping without any clothes on, but I reluctantly put on the same sweaty and dirty socks, underwear, pants and short-sleeved shirt I had been wearing for five days. The outfit smelled ripe from collar to feet, but the extra warmth allowed me a few more hours of comfortable sleep.

4. Jenaro Herrera arrival and forest walk, 7/19/06

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The boat trip from Iquitos to Jenaro Herrera can take twelve to fifteen hours depending on the strength of the current and bulk of the cargo. The Sofy is one of four boats that make the trip up and down the Ucayali River from Iquitos to the upriver town of Requena.

I awoke on Wednesday morning to see a repetition of landscapes passing us by – secondary forest with many patches of rice growing at the water’s edge. People plant rice along the river as the water recedes at the end of the rainy season and usually harvest it some months later before the heavy rains start to swell the river again. As we pulled into one town, it wasn’t hard to see how these boats are the arteries of these communities. When the boat touches the mud bank at the base of a community, there is a quick exodus of people returning home with crates, cans, jugs and bundles containing the full assortment of goods the families need or can buy in the big city. On the trip downriver, they bring local produce of rice, buffalo milk cheese, bananas, aguajé palm and other fruits to sell downriver.

While watching these comings and goings, I spoke with a school teacher from Requena. I was surprised to learn that even though it is farther upriver, Requena is the seat of the regional political district with three times Jenaro Herrera's population This teacher was quite passionate about informing his students about the natural world that they lived in the middle of and how important it was to take care of its resources.

Around 7:30 am, a crewmember brought us plates with cheese sandwiches and a thin banana milk drink for each of us. An hour or so later, our boat docked at the foot of Jenaro Herrera. I wish I had been able to take pictures of the busy scene with people and goods rapidly exiting from and getting on the boat. I was happy Cesar had arranged for a trusted fellow from town to take charge of getting our bags up the steep bank to the plateau of town. We then loaded all of our gear and most of our people into the back cab of a Nissan pick-up truck and drove the several kilometers on the mud rutted road to the research station.

The Center of Investigation of Jenaro Herrera has a main campus that seems to cover at least 50 acres with twenty or so houses spread out among the grass covered clearing. We were led to house number 9 that had a large but defunct parabolic antenna mounted in front. There was one large room in the front surrounded by mesh screened walls. This would be our main place to store our gear and gather after the day’s work. Nestor took a room next to the kitchen that was equipped with a refrigerator that worked for five hours during the evening when diesel generated power was available. There was also a stove that could be used if we bought a gas canister for it (which we didn’t).

Marissa and I took separate rooms down the other hallway next to the bathroom whose main features were a cold-water shower, a clean toilet without a seat, sturdy shelves for our toothpaste and shampoo. There were perennial small puddles around the shower and toilet due to various leaks that required care and a flashlight to navigate to keep one’s socks dry during nighttime visits.

After settling in a bit, we had a meeting with the station's director Gustavo, our team and a few other staff in the meeting room house that is sometimes used for classes. I gave a brief presentation on the goals of the copal project and some of things we hoped to do during our month long stay here and beyond.

Gustavo began our meeting with an overview of the station. It was founded in 1965 in a joint Peruvian and Swiss government project to research ways to develop the Peruvian Amazon. One focus was introducing cattle ranching, the other to investigate which of a hundred some species of trees provided the greatest potential for timber production. Given our usual easy mode of interaction, this gathering had a rather strangely formal quality to it, but this was obviously the sort of meeting that is expected at the beginning of a project. One important item I learned in Gustavo’s intro was that there were two sections of one species of copal (Protium aff. sagotianum) in the plantations created in the 1970's. I was immediately excited that these areas would provide an ideal way to get observations quickly underway and learn about resin production potential in a more controlled setting than natural forests can provide.

We next headed off on a brief walk around the nearby forest guided by Julio – one of the regular materos (woodsman) who works at the station on various forestry projects. The tour started at the nursery. It had hundreds if not thousands of seedlings of twenty or so tree species planted in the vicinity. The original intent was to learn which species had the best timber production potential. More recent efforts focus on growing aguajé palm and other trees that yield locally important non-timber products.

The aguajé fruit is about the size of an oblong golf ball covered by hundreds of tiny dark red scales; its orange pasty flesh surrounds one large seed. The fruit is omnipresent in the region, but it is actually becoming somewhat scarce because harvesters have been chopping trees down rather than climbing them to collect the fruit panicles. The negative impact of this practice on the population has been predictable. One approach that IIAP is taking to address this problem is to try to breed a shorter tree. The institute reasons that people would not fell the trees if they could harvest the fruits by merely reaching up.

Julio led us beyond the nursery to a well-worn path into the forest. We passed by a couple of different common timber species on a half-hour loop through the forest with brief stops at the Laurent plantation that included a small section devoted to copal trees and a larger one at the El Piñal plantation. Julio wasn’t sure what species was in these plantations but assured us that there was a book in the library that would contain this information.

We returned to our house for a quick break and then set out again with a field notebook and a few other pieces of gear to begin our copal survey in the El Piñal plantation that we dubbed Plantation 2. Confident of finding our way back without our guide, we went back down the path we had returned on and made it about half a mile into the forest before acknowledging we had gone too far. We backtracked and located our missed turn down a side trail that was just past a little sawmill. This operation was processing tornillo tree logs that were cut in a thinning operation. The rough sawn boards were used for construction projects at the station and sold locally. The overall project is measuring the plantation yield of this important commercial species.

We soon found our way back to the copal section of this plantation. When the plantation was established around 1972, the land was presumably cleared to make way for evenly spaced plantings of copal trees. The area now looked more like a typical secondary forest with a mixture of seedlings, saplings and medium-sized trunks of various species. With Nestor at the lead we began marking and measuring the diameter of every copal tree we could identify and photographing and tagging every resin lump.

I started out trying to have two teams of three people doing the same tasks, but we consolidated to one team when trying to coordinate two parallel efforts yielded more confusion than efficiency. Marissa became our main data recorder for the afternoon. Our prolific team ended up gathering information on 54 trees in one afternoon - a clear advantage of working in a plantation. One good day of searching natural forest for copal (“breu” in Brazil) trees with my Tembé colleagues produced data on ten to fifteen trees.

As we wove through the plantation, it became apparent that only some copal trees had resin lumps on them. From the viewpoint of finding a dependable source of resin, this was disappointing. From an ecologist’s standpoint, it posed the obvious question of understanding why the colonization rate was so low. Was it because whatever species of Protium was in this plantation was not very attractive to the resin weevils, or were other factors about this local environment responsible? I greatly appreciated having Cesar along with us for this first visit since he showed his keen eye of a curious naturalist. He looked at every tree closely from ground level, examined sections of bark obscured behind vines, and scanned the trunk to its top. This allowed him to start noticing some less obvious resin lumps that others missed.

Cesar made one particularly key observation. While many trees had knarly growths of bark resulting from unknown stresses, Cesar picked out a distinct pattern among one type of these irregularities in the trunk’s normally smooth contour. Some were raised mounds of wood that had not resulted from random machete cuts or disease. The remnants of resin and occasional bore holes showed that weevils had attacked the tree at that spot and at least started to form a resin lump.

This observation led to wonder if at least this copal species was not a major resin producer, perhaps because it resists some weevil attacks by forming wound wood at the site of a feeding larva. I had seen this sort of wooden lump before in Peru and Brazil, but this was the first time it occurred to me that some Protium trees at least respond very actively to these attacks. When wound wood forms, it tends to be much denser than other parts of the tree. Since the resin weevils take more than a year to develop, it’s not hard to envision how this seemingly slow strategy could effectively block the regular intrusion of a weevil larva into the living tissue of the tree. The larva would die when it lost access to the nutritious inner bark for food, and the halt of resin flow left it vulnerable.

We returned to the Center in late afternoon, dropped off our gear, and strolled up the road to have our very late lunch/early dinner. There is a large building at the station that is used as a dining room for large gatherings on campus, but resident and visiting researchers usually eat in the dining room of Dona Susanna’s house. It would cost us 15 soles (just over $4.50) per person per day to have three meals a day with her. It seemed like a good deal.

We chatted back at our house after dinner for a while, but we were all tired from a long journey and hard day’s work. After a refreshing cold shower, I went to bed. It had a thick foam mattress, pillow, one sheet and a thin bed spread. I got to sleep quickly, but unfortunately woke up after midnight very early feeling cold. Because it can be so hot during the day time in the tropics, it's easy to forget that the temperature can drop dramatically at night.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

3. Ucayali River trip, 7/18/06

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Tuesday was a hectic day of preparing for and departing on the final leg of our trip to Jenaro Herrera. I took a motorcar (a motorcycle fit onto a two wheeled covered back that can carry two to three passengers) up to the main IIAP office in Quistacocha in the outskirts of Iquitos in time to meet Angel and Victor and meet Cesar at his office.

Cesar is an entomologist at IIAP who Angel had worked with on a study of weevils that attack the camu camu plant. I had only met him briefly a couple of times during my last trip to Iquitos in 2004, but I appreciated his friendliness and willingness to help our project get off the ground. We first gathered in the library where he gave me an overview of the basic operations and travel logistics concerning the IIAP research station at Jenaro Herrera.

The whole IIAP facility at Jenaro Herrera covered some 70,000 hectares, and inventories had been done in several different types of forest we could explore. Between a small fleet of three boats including the Sofi, Don José, and Vegnor, there were boats going up and down river five days a week. There was a public telephone at the general store in the town of Jenaro Herrera. Intermittent internet service was supposedly available at the middle school. We paid a courtesy call on the director of the Biodiversity Program that Cesar was part of. Cesar helped me get an update on our missing bag and said that his assistant could pick it up when it arrived and get it on the boat to us at Jenaro Herrera.

Since the phone number we had for Nestor wasn’t working, Victor went off on his motorcycle to try to track him down at his home that was on the other side of the city. Nestor was a key member of our team since he was an experienced tree climber and knew how to identify copal trees. I went back to town, packed and went food shopping with Angel. We stocked up on crackers, cookies, canned meat and tuna, four jugs of water (to drink until we got used to the clean but more acidic tasting water at the research station). We got some apples, yoghurt drink, and cheese for the 12 hour boat trip. I got some money for the trip with a Visa card from an ATM machine.

The next adventure was getting some clothes for Marissa who had been wearing the same shirt, shorts and worn out sandals for three days. Angel led us to a couple of stores where she picked out a few cute shirts, some pants (men’s style since they were sturdier than the fashion style available for women), underwear, and athletic socks.

I was only getting a bit ripe in my one shirt and pants, but they were at least a little warmer and I could survive with them and my boots until our bag (hopefully) arrived. Our preparations were cut short for the next two hours when the 1 pm lunch break turned us into Cinderella shoppers. We had lunch at the Pollon – a great chicken place, but my request for a mixed cebiche (raw fish simmered in strong lemon juice and peppers) took quite awhile. By the time we got served, we had to wolf half of our food down and carry the rest since we were supposed to be at the dock by 4:30 for our 5:00 pm departure. Angel left to go home and get his things together for the next three weeks.

Back at the hotel, Nestor had arrived with a duffel bag full of the 50 traps I had asked him to make from the aluminum mesh roll a friend from State College had kindly brought to Iquitos a few weeks before when she attended a conference on shamanism. Time was now getting very short.
We fortunately got a ride to the dock in the hotel van that dropped us off on the street level entrance.

When we got to the dock I realized that in our haste to leave the hotel, we had left the three boxes of food we had bought for this trip in a back room. Oh well. More pressing was our concern that we still had no machetes or hammers – two vital tools for our work in the forest. Nestor went off down the road to a hardware store and quickly returned.

Several fellows were hanging around us waiting to help us carry our bags down to the boat. Nestor chose one stocky man. To Marissa’s and my amazement, this one fellow proceeded to lash one of our big duffel bags with a fabric belt that he then draped over his back with the belt secured around his forehead. He then piled two more bags on top of these – one of which he held with his hands. The fourth was then put on top of all. He then trundled off across the street, down the slippery bank leading to the water and up the narrow gangplank as I prayed he wouldn’t keel over or drop any of them into the grossly polluted water.

Victor, Angel, and then Cesar fortunately showed up on board the Sofy in short succession. It was a typical Amazon river boat that could carry about 300 passengers on two decks. We piled all of our luggage on the upper level and as the boat filled with people and cargo. We learned to our great chagrin that our reservation of two cabins had somehow vanished – most likely someone had offered the captain something to get in. The idea of sleeping in a hammock instead of a bed wouldn’t have been bad if we had had our hammocks (they were in our clothes bag that was still making its way to Iquitos), but the thought of having to guard our bags for the next 12 to 15 hours without sleep was very unsettling.

Cesar assured us that he would resolve the matter. I don’t know how he managed to do so, but I was mighty happy to be able to shortly move our bags to the other side of the boat to a six by six foot room with two sets of bunk beds where we could stow all of ours and the others’ gear. Marissa and I took the bunks on one side of the cabin while Victor and Angel took the other. Cesar bunked in a cabin with the Jenaro Herrera station director who happened to be on the same trip while Nestor was content to sling his hammock for the evening. Our premium accommodations came with a key to a bathroom (of course without a toilet seat).

Leaving Iquitos we passed by various rafts of logs being floated downriver en route to sawmills. As the city faded, our sunset view shifted to passing secondary forests of palms. We had Cokes and a small sandwich for dinner. The dynamic with Victor, Angel, and Nestor was fun. Marissa and I enjoyed looking out over the river as the night came on. I was happy to be back on the Amazon and had a good sleep.