Afternoon 1: IIAP–Quistococha (near Iquitos)

05/07/2011

This is Seth.

Seth was a student of mine a while back. Okay quite a while back–probably something like 1997 or 1998. Since leaving our little two year college he’s gone on to a lot greater things: a baccalaureate from Davis, a few years of science-focused traveling and coursework, and now doctoral research at Berkeley. Needless to say that I’m quite proud to have been a part of this. So when Karen–Seth’s mom–told me that she was planning to visit her son in Perú where he is doing the field portion of his dissertation work, naturally I just invited myself to join in the role of intrepid naturalist tag-along.

And this is Karen.

Karen is an extraordinarily delightful person whose acquaintance I have enjoyed for almost as long as I’ve known her son. And no, she is not my spouse, but she is a traveling companion over the next week. Adri is with the boyz doing their idea of fun stuff in the old world, and not one of them would have any motivation to take a trip like this or be sufficiently badass to endure the discomforts of being on the road in tropical Latin America. Karen is exactly that motivated badass, and I will be posting pics that will include my traveling companions, one of whom is an attractive female of approximately my age. Get used to it. I have Adri’s blessing (and frequent flier miles!) to take this trip, and that should be good enough for anyone.

Seth K., jungle scientist, outside his dormitory at IIAP-Quistococha

First stop after landing Iquitos was the Instituto de Investigaciones en la Amazonia Peruana, or IIAP (pronounced “yap”). There are actually a handful of stations operated by the IIAP, some like Genaro-Herrera are pretty remote. This one is just a couple of kilometers down from the airport on the Iquitos-Nauta highway. Given its proximity to a significant urban center, this is probably one of the principal sites. Several buildings, including living quarters for resident researchers, labs, offices and everything else. Seth had a shade house built here for the rearing and isolation of various seedlings in soils with varying degrees of fungal abundance and diversity.

DNA extraction room

room with minus-twenty freezers for sample storage

In addition to offices, living quarters, some pretty decent lab facilities IIAP Quistococha also has a pretty extensive array of fish ponds, as one of the major objectives of the IIAP is the support of applied research, i.e., stuff that is intentionally directed towards benefitting the human condition. IIAP’s focus on sustainable aquaculture in historically poor areas of the world is thus of key political importance when it comes to self promotion. That and the baby manatees. Yes, this is also a riverine mammal rescue center, which means that every time a nursing momma manatee gets killed and the orphan recovered, it comes to the IIAP. And the soles put onto the donation pot by an increasing flow of tourists who come to see and bottle-feed the babies is proving to be a significant source of revenue.

feeding the rescued baby manatees is one of the touristy activities offered at IIAP Quistococha

Unlike in Florida where manatees mostly die as speed bumps under the hulls and rudders of high-speed watercraft, manatee mortality here is mostly the result of hunting for “carne del monte” i.e. bushmeat, and apparently manatee tastes a lot like pork. So basically it’s a Disney script–Mom gets killed and baby goes on its adventure, finally ending up somewhere like this if it’s lucky (but more likely that it won’t be so lucky and will end up on a parrilla somewhere). Ultimately the plan for the reared-out juveniles is release into the wild somewhere that is sufficiently remote or otherwise protected that they would have a decent chance of surviving.

Cauchero bar offers only one beer, Amazonica.

Seth’s “cheap ‘n’ lovely” lodging selection turned out to be the hostel Casa Samantha on the seventh block of (Calle) Nauta. It’s a nice, central location from which it’s a short walk or motokar ride to practically anywhere in Iquitos. Good thing Seth pre-arranged our stay because the place is filled up–mostly with hippie kids traveling across South America on the cheap. Water quality from the tap is awful–a nasty color and smelling of sulfur and rust, which according to Seth is uncharacteristic of the city water generally and that it’s probably more a plumbing problem isolated to the building. Iquitos municipal water supply is probably not too safe to drink (though he knows people who drink water straight from the tap), but it doesn’t usually look or smell this bad. Showers are cold–I’m told there’s no hot water anywhere in the city–and for us it’s not really a shower either, because there’s no shower head that would get continually clogged by all the grunge in the water.

mototaxis are the main way of getting around in a city that can't be driven to from the rest of the road-connected world. All terrestrial vehicles have to arrive here by ship.

None of this is really a problem, though. A person stays healthy and clean by drinking purified water, which is sold be street vendors in five-gallon plastic bottles. The stinky water is adequate for washing and rinsing.

Muchas buenas noches, amigos.

One Response to “Afternoon 1: IIAP–Quistococha (near Iquitos)”

  1. Mike said

    Jeff
    What an awesome trip. You’re blogging skill inspires me to put more effort into my next one

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