As I’m sure you have all noticed (because you check this blog daily), I’ve been absent this week.
It’s because we’ve been trying a new diet, la dieta derrumbe, aka the landslide diet. This week started off great, we took a trip down to Villa Carmen (~500masl) to change out some temperature sensors and survey some awesome lower elevation amphibians (more on those later). Villa Carmen is an amazing location with a huge diversity of amphibians, reptiles, and all those other unimportant species of plants and animals. Despite the persistent sandflies threatening to give us leishmaniasis we had a fairly productive night and found our 300th frog.
The silence on the road the next morning was foreboding, no cars had passed down the mountain since the night before, but still, we began our trek back up.
It became clear by nightfall that we weren’t going to be returning to Wayqecha, no cars had passed all day. So, our first (actually, second if you remember our earlier car troubles) fitful night of sleep in Shigella began.
The next morning still brought no cars down the mountain, and so, we waited. Thinking we would pass by nightfall we ate the little food we had in the car, some apples and passion fruit.
By nightfall the road was still silent. We decided to approach what we knew would be a large, road blocking, landslide to assess the situation. At this point Mike smartened up and decided to pass on foot and hitch a ride on the other side. Alessandro, Alex, and me (Alex) decided to wait it out in the car, figuring morning would bring passage.
No such luck.
I began to regret not passing with Mike (and by began I mean I really regretted it).
And so, we waited. There was little food on our side of the landslide, Alessandro managed to find us a bowl of soup for breakfast. Pasta, potatoes and yucca in salty water never tasted so good.
We began to have hope as the cleanup progressed, but each time they would make a path the rocks and dirt would come crashing down again.
By evening the road was clogged with cars and people who had travelled by taxi expecting to walk across. As rocks crashed down around them people scurried across. Again, I considered crossing, until someone slipped down and another person got hit in the eye with a bouncing pebble.
And so night 3 began. We had exhausted our supply of movies, music and grant proposals and so we decided to search for frogs. Amidst the traffic jam of trucks and buses we found about 30 frogs, including a new species for the trip (Gastrotheca testudinea). This night brought even less sleep, and the sinking feeling that we may not return to Wayqecha for several more days.
But, the next morning was a beautiful day. We had been spared the rock moving rains overnight, and by early morning it appeared passage was imminent. After waking Alessandro and dragging him to watch what I expected to be the triumphant clearing of the last rocks, we arrived just in time to watch the entire landslide fall once again. The rest of the morning continued much the same way, with large boulders and tons of dirt tumbling down each time success seemed near. With the arrival more people came more food, and we were able to drown our sorrows in some meat and rice.
As hope of passage began to fade (as did hope of submitting our NSF in time) we watched as drivers ran back to their cars. The line of cars lurched forward, and as we rounded the final bend, stopped. Once again it had fallen. At this point I resigned myself to sleeping the rest of the day away. Just as I began to doze off the trucks once again roared to life, and in one of my happiest moments in the last few years, we were able to pass. The sense of elation was a little ridiculous, but the excitement as we once again began to climb to Wayqecha was palpable.
So, if you were keeping track, that was about 3 days stuck behind a landslide. And during that time we (and we were fortunate) each had a bowl of soup, some fruit, and a single meal of rice and meat. I was hoping to lose weight on this trip, but not quite in this manner.
As a more important note, although I never want to be stuck behind a landslide for 3 days again, this was an amazing cultural experience. All of the stranded passengers became a community. Despite our rather annoying, sometimes dire straits, everyone was jovial. There was laughing and joking, cheering and sharing. Had this happened in the US there would have been rioting and misery, a state of emergency and food drops from the National Guard.
Never again do I want to spend 3 days sleeping in Shigella with little food or water, no bathrooms and nothing to do, but never have I enjoyed such a miserable experience more.
PS – Stay tuned for more blog updates. Now that we have internet I’ll post about the rest of our trip (you know, frogs and stuff).
PPS - For a sense of scale, that yellow in the back of the image is the top of the huge bucket loader clearing us out.
This Hyalinobatrachium bergeri is one of the most common glass frogs here. The genus Hyalinobatrachium can be distinguished (in part) by it's transparent peritoneum, allowing full view of its organs. The frogs breed on leaves overhanging streams. The male will guard clutches to prevent predation (and possibly desiccation) until they hatch and drop into the water below. The tadpoles are pink and often elusive, living at the bottoms of fast moving streams.
As promised, here is (almost) a full day of clouds at Wayqecha.
In between swabbing frogs, writing grants, eating and trying to catch my breath from walking up the stairs, I took another walk along the orchid trail. Apparently I missed a few the first time around! I'm going to skip trying to identify them this time, but if you're interested in any let me know as I have some of the names written down. Cheers!
For a trip that is all about finding frogs, our posts have been lacking in our results. In fact, we've found about 175 frogs so far! Some, like the Hyalinobatrachium bergeri above, are incredibly abundant. We found this male glass frog guarding two egg clutches last night while the creek while other males called around him, vying for a mate.
We found these Gastrotheca excubitor while we were searching the puna. Like it's lower elevation relative G. nebulanastes, this marsupial frog has no tadpoles. Instead the eggs develop directly into small frogs within a pouch on the mother's back. In the high elevations of the puna we found these frogs hiding under rocks during the day to conserve moisture.
This female Bryophryne cophites is another species well suited to the high elevations. The eggs of this frog undergo direct development after being laid in the moss.
These Psychrophrynella usurpator are some of the most common frogs around Wayqecha. During the day they can be heard singing from the grass and ferns surrounding the comedor. Like the previous two species, this frog lacks a tadpole stage and undergoes direct development. These direct developing frogs are perfectly adapted to this high elevation environment where standing water can be scarce.
This morning was spent huffing and puffing as we flipped rocks at 3500m in the high shrublands, cloud forest and puna (high grassland). Despite the light-headedness, this is truly a spectacular meeting of three different habitats. The stunted trees of the cloud forests drip with moss while the puna is dominated by grasses and Ericaceae. Among the puna's grass and rock there are orchids, begonias and other "tropical" species mixed with the alpine species like lupine. In total we found 4 species of frog and 1 species of lizard (more on them at a later time). Standing water in the puna is scarce so the amphibians that survive there do so without having an aquatic, tadpole, phase (like the Gastrotheca mentioned in an earlier post). During the day the frogs and lizards here can be found under rocks to conserve moisture. The transition into cloud forest is rapid, often as we turn the corner into a creek bed the forest begins. Here the plants are more diverse, although still adapted to the cold, high environment. One of these creeks is even home to a diatom named after Wayqecha.
On our way out we collected more water for eDNA filtering as well, in hopes of finding traces of some of the high elevation species lost to Bd.
I've been a little busy writing grants the last few days, but today I took a quick walk along the orchid path here at Wayqecha. Below are only a few of the about 200 species of orchid found here. I've tried to identify some, but I am by no means a botanist so my id's may be very wrong. Cheers!