Boots, Birds, and Binocs... Peru 2011
 
Our first day in Peru was quite the dramatic start to one of the memorable months of my life.  It established the fast pace of travel and activity that we would follow for the next few weeks. 

The day began with what would become a typical breakfast: bread and tea.  We then met three individuals who were doing a rain gauge installation project and would be traveling with us for the first part of the trip: Duke University Professor Dr. Ana Barros, Duke University graduate student Jessica Erlingis, and Rice University undergraduate student Roni Meryl.  It was great to have their added company, input, and expertise.

After the packed bus ride from the airport to the hostel the previous night, where our bags had been stacked floor-to-ceiling in the aisle, we were not expecting much from bus rides to come.  We were blown away when we boarded our bus, an air conditioned giant that even had a bathroom (quite the adventure while the bus was in motion).  We embarked on the first of many bus rides that would consistently be a few hours longer than Dr. Silman's estimates. 

Driving away from Lima, the aridity of the landscape was striking.  We were driving through a desert that bordered the Pacific Ocean, quite the contrast.  The readings, as well as my past experience in Ecuador, had taught me that this was because the upwelling actions of the Humboldt Current, which bless the ocean with exceptional productivity while cursing the coast with some of the driest conditions on earth.  These climatic conditions created a landscape in which a unique culture arose, one that depended not on agriculture, but on fisheries.

We stopped at Cerro Azul, an archaeological site that was excavated in the 1980s.  The research done at this sight showed that economic specialization between fishing villages and farming villages existed before the Inca conquest of A.D. 1470.  Cerro Azul was one such fishing village, trading anchovies and sardines for agricultural products from inland.  Sites like this are important because they go against the common theory that agriculture is necessary for civilizations to arise.  Perhaps the Peruvian coast offers an exception; with its extremely productive fisheries, complex, socially stratified societies seem to have emerged without cultivating the land at all.

It was amazing to see Cerro Azul in person after reading about it in an article from the journal Anthropology.  It seemed that since the study, the site has been pretty much ignored.  Aimlessly meandering through foundations of ancient buildings, picking up perfectly preserved cotton fishing nets from the sand, and even touching a pot that some members of our group unearthed, it felt like we must have been breaking some sort of law.  Cerro Azul, like many other archaeological sites in Latin America, has not been studied to the extent that old world archaeological sites have been, a disparity that I think is a terrible shame.  After diseases wiped out massive numbers of indigenous peoples during European conquest, much of Latin America's history was lost.  This history, since it is incomplete, has often been considered inferior to cultures that have better documented histories.  But just because the history is not well known does not mean it is not every bit as great or as important.  Much of the evidence needed can be found in archaeological sites like Cerro Azul, waiting for interested people to study it and give it the attention it deserves.

After Cerro Azul, we drove to Paracas, where we settled into our new hostel and enjoyed some ocean views before leaving for our first real birding expedition.  We drove to the beach at Pisco, a city that was destroyed in a 2007 earthquake and still has a lot of rebuilding to do.  Among the birds we saw were the cinnamon teal, the black oyster catcher, the American oyster catcher, the Inka turn, the Peruvian booby, the Peruvian pelican, the snowy plover, the black-necked stilt (my personal favorite of the day), the great egret, and the snowy egret.

For dinner, our first real meal of the day after having a "lunch" of fruit on the bus, we had seafood at a restaurant right on the bay.  My soup had an entire, intact crab, which proved almost impossible to consume but provided some laughs for the group.  We all got a free Pisco Sour, a sour concoction with frothy egg white on top.  Needless to say most of us were not immediate fans of the drink.  Then it was off to bed to get some much needed rest before waking up for an equally eventful second day.

-Emily Bachman




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