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.