Plant Collecting in Northern Peru during June of 1999, by Thomas Mione
Excursion I: Trujillo-->Salpo-->Agallapampa-->Shorey-->Santiago de Chuco -->Cachicadan-->Hacienda Angasmarca, and back to Trujillo without going through Salpo.
Welcome to Agallapampa (Department of La Libertad, province Otuzco) where you too can stay at the best place in town for a few dollars. The only restaurant in town that we can find (also a general store) has only two tables for 4 persons each. One table is full and at the other is seated a woman alone, where we sit down. These mountain people see so few people like me and my friend professor L. Y. (fair skin, light eyes, tall). Like everyone, she looks at us with cautious curiosity. She drinks nothing during her dinner, so when I order a 1.5 liter bottle of carbonated, yellow, sugar-water I ask for an extra glass, and she is pleased to receive Inca Cola, the so-called national beverage. After dinner the team of 3 plant hunters steps outside and the stars nearly knock us over. With no electric lights, at twice the elevation of the summit of Mt. Washington, and no clouds, there are five times as many stars as I have ever seen. There are smaller stars and larger stars, and even Mars. The entire sky is aglow. We head to our fine hotel, where at the moment there are no electricity and no running water. The bed is so soft that the bottom of my rear is a foot lower than the back of my head. I have to keep my legs bent because the bed is too short, and straightening my legs means putting my feet up on the bed frame. There is no curtain on my window, so to change my clothes I simply blow out my candle. The shared toilet has no seat, and if you were to use it you would be expected to pour in a bucket of water to flush. The hotel is right on the main street at a police checkpoint. All night long truck after truck waits to be inspected by the police. I can practically reach out my window and touch these monsters, and they are so loud that I cannot sleep. I walk out onto the not-so-sturdy balcony of the hotel, and see that the back of one of the trucks is loaded with teenagers with machine guns. Their faces are of those about to play ball together, it seems: they look so young, happy and innocent. It is a cloudless night, so they wrap themselves in blankets, reaching an arm out to hold their weapons. When morning finally comes I am still cold, and find I must stand in the hallway to shave as there is only one mirror.
During our first day in the field we collected Jaltomata mionei. My Peruvian colleague Segundo Leiva G., with us all along, named this handsome species a year or so before our trip. Until now Jaltomata had been my area of expertise. He has never asked me, but for some time I have known that Segundo would be pleased to take over as primary investigator of the Jaltomata of northern Peru. Realizing this, I brought up an idea that I knew has crossed his mind many times. I suggested that he do his doctoral dissertation on the Jaltomata of northern Peru, a group of at least 30 species. Segundo loves the idea, and hopes to apply to study under the direction of our mutual colleague and friend Dr. Gabriel Bernardello of Argentina, who was a postdoc in Dr. Greg Anderson's lab (my former advisor) when I was beginning my doctoral work. Thus I have passed the torch on to Segundo, and refer to him as the expert of the taxonomy of Jaltomata of northern Peru. He has so much to gain from this and I have nothing to lose. Segundo has discovered countless new-to-science species. He has no vehicle, but sets off on foot, sometimes from his mountain birth town (Salpo) with a plant press in hand. Being perfectly at ease with the locals has helped him learn about the uses of plants: he has found that most of the Jaltomata species of northern Peru have edible fruits. In typical Segundo fashion he eats a fruit first to see if he likes it, and then also records whether or not the locals say they eat them.
It is 12 June 1999. We drive east through Shorey and south then east to the city of Santiago de Chuco, and on to the town of Cachicadán. No vehicles pass us in either direction for a half hour, and then an hour. On our way we stop at various places to look for Jaltomata. We have had no luck in a few places, but now (at 70 59' 33-36 S, 780 22' 31-37 W) we hit the jackpot. This is a high, open, region with few inhabitants. As I look around I see only a house or two in a vast mountain landscape, mountain after mountain in every direction, and a few potato fields here and there. At more than twice the elevation of Mt. Washington (3,400 meters) there are no trees: we are too high. We have two young Indian women hitchhikers with us in the back of the pickup. What beautiful traditional attire these señoritas don, brimmed hats and all! We explain to them that we have to stop again and again. They resign themselves to waiting, as it is many km to the next town. Segundo and I are about to climb, so we grab altimeters, plant clippers, the GPS navigational gizmo and cameras, and these young women observe with curiosity these things they have never seen. Segundo and I start hiking up the steep slope that parallels the road. The alpine wildflowers are of so many colors, so low to the ground, brighter and more vivid than the colors of flowers at home. These blazing colors look embellished by some company selling film. Segundo and I head off in different directions as we rise. I spot a Jaltomata first but it has no flowers, and then Segundo has the incredible luck of finding in full bloom the same species. The best specimen of this species is in the protection of rocks, over a meter tall, and so high up the slope. This is a new-to-science shrub with large green-blue bell flowers and copious blood-red nectar. Neither Segundo nor I have ever seen this species before, and I am struck dumb. I sit down to take notes on collection 642, and look around in awe. This vast, vast, vast mountain landscape has few vehicles and few homes. I say to myself, this is the antidote for too much civilization!
After a very long day of work with no stops for breakfast and lunch we spend the night in a hotel having a small natural hot tub in each room. At the edge of the town of Cachicadán hot springs bubble up, and the town's people have routed the water into pipes. Each room of the hotel has unlimited hot water on tap, and to control the temperature of your hot tub you just add more water or let it cool by not adding more. You start by completely draining your tub to get rid of what could be someone else's bath water. Next put the tub stopper in, and simply let the very hot water run. When the water gets to the right height additional water automatically drains. The doors of the room cannot lock while you are gone, the bathroom is a half minute walk away, the rooms are small (if you fall out of bed you are in hot water, literally) and the paint is peeling, but wow the water feels good. One of the rooms has a color TV and a private bath. My grant is paying the tab, but I give this room to Leon because he is older and is doing so much of the driving.
The next morning Segundo and I collect, right up the road where the thermal waters come to the surface, three different Jaltomata species that are in need of names. He tells me that he found these species several years ago when he visited this town. I point out that one of these species was given a Latin name, a name that needs to be replaced because a different species had already been given the same name (for details, see last paragraph of the last page).
Excursion II: We drive along the coast through the nearly vegetation-free, open sand desert and park at the base of a Cerro Campana, a mountain that juts up to 993 meters of elevation at the edge of the ocean not far north of Trujillo. We hike across the sand, and up and up we gradually go. My jokes are in Spanish, about the mules we were to rent that never arrived, and about the swimming pool at the top, and my colleagues seem to appreciate attempts at humor in their language. The sun is an ignited blowtorch, so I am completely covered, with clothing (to block the sun) that is sweat-soaked. This is nothing short of magnificent, so open all around, and as we near the top I am for a moment a bird because everything is so far below me. Now the feeling is of how very small I am; I am an ant on a sand pile, seeing only other sand and sand piles in the distance. Picture this; it is just a matter of scale.
Toward the top there is a unique fog-dependent plant community not represented lower down. The Jaltomata species that grows in this community is a shrub able to lose all its leaves and go dormant when there is no moisture! To our knowledge this adaptation does not exist in other species of this genus. My Peruvian colleague Segundo tells me that among the very few gringo botanists who have made the ascent is the great tomato biologist Charles Rick, now an old man, so at the moment I am quite literally walking in his footsteps, as there is only one trail up.
Excursion III: Trujillo -->Contumaza -->Guzmango -->Contumaza -->Bosque Cachil -->Chilete-->San Pablo-->San Miguel De Pallaques--> Llapa--> Hualgayoc--> Bambamarca-->Chota --> Cochabamba-->Huambos-->Bosque El Pargo -->Llama -->Chiclayo -->Trujillo
We arrive in the city of Contumaza and it is as if we walked into a play. Why a play? Because the streets are very narrow, and the windows have little balconies only a foot deep. Our hotel is like a play set. You see a tiny courtyard surrounded by a two story hand-made building with rooms and doors opening to the courtyard. Watch your head on the stairs, as everything is a drop too small for a Yankee. I step out onto my miniature balcony and look down the narrow street, and everyone is wearing costumes, oops, not costumes, their traditional attire. The people here look different: hybridization between native Americans and Europeans has produced beautiful shades of skin, and all kinds of interesting facial features. I duck my head back into the hotel and can't believe this is for real, the roof joists are logs that buckle under weight, the door hinges and hasp were made by hand, we sit in the owner's living room to pay the bill and borrow three glasses from her to take to our room, and the whole thing looks staged, and I walked right into it.
What is noteworthy about excursion III is that we are going directly from San Miguel on to Llapa and Hualgayoc, Bambamaraca and then Chota. In the past Segundo and botanists he knows of have not done this, but instead have gone all the way back to the coast and then north a few hours on the Panam highway, and then up into the mountains again, to get to Chota and Bosque El Pargo region. I couldn't stand the thought of going to the coast, then north, then back up into the mountains just to make it three inches north on the map, so I suggested that we see if we could drive directly. By asking locals we learn that the roads are passable, and away we go. At the moment I am driving the pickup in 4 wheel drive. We usually just use two wheel drive, even on a very rough roads. We have to be in 4 wheel drive because our road is not very wide, it is raining, and to our side is a precipice. The ruts in the mud road are so deep that the underside of the pickup scrapes and smashes here and there. The old Nissan handles this without falter, proceeding at 20 km per hour or so, as I pass back and forth between first and second gear, and between 2 and 4 wheel drive. After a few hours of rain, gorgeous scenery and mud roads we make it to a miners road, unpaved but otherwise in fantastic condition. Taking this adventurous direct route allowed us to discover two beautiful new species (670 and 673), just by looking in places that no one had looked before. These are not marginally different; these are so different that no taxonomist would argue against our contention that these deserve species status.
It is 3:00 in the afternoon; we have already traveled so far today and collected so much but we need to ascend a nearby mountain (Bosque El Pargo). The nearest town in the direction we will need to go after this mountain (which we hope has some sort of lodging) is an hour away over tortuous roads. We ask ourselves, do we drive to the town now, and backtrack tomorrow, adding two hours of driving and losing most of a day, or do we climb now even though it may get dark before we come down? We decide to go for the climb because Segundo and I seem to love to hike up a mountain to bag our botanical quarry, and we know we will be OK no matter what because we have hats, jackets, and flashlights. Before we begin, Segundo suggests that if it gets dark we can knock on a door of one of the few rural homes and ask to sleep on the floor. He is serious and says he has done this before. Now I am thinking to myself, these are one-to two-room homes with dirt floors! We plan to get a DNA sample of a new species Segundo discovered during his Masters work, a sample I very much need for my spring of 2000 sabbatical. Today we have eaten only a few pieces of round bread, a piece of chocolate, and a banana each, but we can't think about food now. In two weeks my legs have become much stronger and I have tightened my belt a notch because of skipping meals to keep working. Leon is doing some impressive 4-wheel driving over deep ruts and streams to get us as far as possible up the mountain. We are the only vehicle we can see anywhere. We park (at 60 28' 17 South, 790 03' 22 West) and ascend on foot now, easing into a rapid pace. Segundo and I hike up to 3,000 m of elevation, to the edge of a primeval forest of short stature, an elfin forest laden with bromeliads. A hummingbird pauses to feed, and then the tragedy unfolds: The forest is being cut to make room for agriculture. Freshly fallen trees die next to fresh vegetables. We are very hungry and want to eat the fresh heads of cabbage, but darkness is coming and we feel compelled to descend. Very few species benefit from cutting: humans in the short term, their crops, and the weeds that grow among the crops. A common Jaltomata species (J. sinuosa) is one such weed. We can see very far in most directions off this mountain top, and all around us there are ranges of mountains that have been cut over. As a result of centuries of cutting, native trees are a very uncommon sight in the Peruvian Andes. This mountaintop is unprotected and so Bosque El Pargo will go the way of all the other forests below it. The new-to-science shrub (J. oppositifolia) we seek seems to do well in the secondary growth up here, so it is not uncommon, but we are somber in witness of the demise of the beautiful bromeliad-laden forest. We run down the mountain to beat the impending darkness, drive the rest of the way down the mountain through brush and streams, and once on the road we proceed slowly to the town of Llama. I had a few small candies in reserve, thanks to Ann, and to us these were platinum. At the town we feel lucky to find a hotel, but it was built on top of a power generation facility, and so the noise in my room is deafening. Then at 11:00 there was silence and darkness, when the generators shut down for the night.
Excursion IV, within department La Libertad: Trujillo --> town of La Cuesta (province Otuzco)--> on foot up the mountain and back to La Cuesta --> Trujillo.
We drive up into the mountains a few hours from Trujillo and park in the town of La Cuesta (70 55' 07 S, 780 42' 22 W), a small town where everyone looks at us wondering why the strangers are visiting. These people have seen few or no people my height and skin color walking on their piece of the earth. After buying a few bananas we set off on foot up an ancient trail, at first immediately behind people's homes. Born and raised in the mountains of this region, Segundo takes no notice of the curious eyes. After two hours of climbing higher and higher and circling the mountain we depart from the trail and get to a locality I would not have found on my own. We have arrived at a sprawling Jaltomata shrub some 2 meters long, known to have intense purple flowers from Segundo's previous visit. I am able to get my DNA sample and two ripe fruits, but flowers are not available. I have had photos (from Segundo) of the flowers of this species for some time; we decide we will name this one Jaltomata mionei variety annii. These mountains are not lush and green like those of New England. This landscape is drier, and has been cut over and planted here and there with eucalyptus trees from Australia. Native vegetation does survive, but only here and there, especially on the steepest of slopes.
I flew into and out of Lima, the capital of Peru, which is more or less centrally located (north-south) on the coast. First, Leon picked me up at the airport with the rental vehicle. Normally it is a big hassle to get the (right) rental vehicle in Latin America, and so it was a luxury to be picked up by a friend who took the time to get the right vehicle the day before. I arrived early in the morning, and after an hour the sun came up and so it was safe for us to drive out of the city north toward Trujillo to meet Segundo. What I saw while heading out of the city gave me an education. There were thousands of shanties made of plant fibers, mud and cardboard, whole cities of people with no running water. Some abodes don't even have a roof, because the only time it rains is during el Niño. The more luxurious have TV antennas; picture a 20' X 20' house with plant fiber walls having an antenna rising above. None of these homes have a stick of shade. The people are surrounded by desert sand or hard-packed dirt. It is a sad picture, no vegetation around shacks jammed together. Despite these conditions the children play with the abandon and love of life evident in children everywhere. Leon tells me that none of these shanties were here when he was a kid, and that many of these families moved here from the mountains to find work, and have to commute by bus to the city to work, an hour and a half each way. Serious health problems are rampant in these shanty cities.
All over Peru it is common to see gasoline sold from inside of doorways where it is stored in drums. You pull up, and they carry it out in dented buckets from which they pour. The dents in the buckets help them increase their profit margin because they sell by volume as measured with the buckets. The gas is stored in any type of situation. It is common to see large drums of gas right next to groceries in one-room general stores. As you are buying your bread or bananas the odor of gasoline permeates the air. I am now seeing the gas drums stored in a one-room home. I am following the gas station attendant/owner inside to get the receipt, and to my dismay I see a big bed presumably for him, and a small bed presumably for his little daughter who is walking on the gasoline-soaked dirt floor with no shoes. This is sobering and sad.
It is already my last day in northern Peru, and I am obligated to meet people. Segundo Leiva's mentor, a person for whom I have named a species, is first on the list. Abundio Sagástegui is now an older man, and is well known among plant taxonomists. He is the head honcho at the Natural History Museum at Universidad Privada Antenor Orrego, one of four universities in Trujillo, Peru. He is easy to get along with, and puts up with my Spanish with a smile. During coffee he explains that it is very important that I be introduced to the vice president of Academic Affairs, and off we go. I am not sure I am up to meeting anyone of this stature given my attire (for field work), but he insists. As we enter the administrator's suite the office staff of three rise out of their seats to honor the guests. Their smiles are sincere. We are unable to meet this administrator, and so move on to another. The next administrator's appearance is right out of a 1950s movie, including his dark wool suit and thick horn-rimmed glasses. Absolutely all of the northern Peruvians are a head shorter than I, and so I am glad we all sit down at a huge old table in his office. Leon and I are being asked to chat because to them it is significant that north Americans want to collaborate with one of their own. I am doing my best to participate in the all Spanish conversation, but Leon, having grown up in Lima, is infinitely better at this.
We put 2500 km on the old Nissan pickup in only a few weeks. I made Solanaceae collections 637 through 683, almost all of Jaltomata. We have collected at least 23 species of Jaltomata in a region where only 8 years ago only three species of the genus were known*. Segundo and I made a total count, and we know of 29 species of Jaltomata in northern Peru including about 6 we did not collect. I kid you not, there are about 29 species of this group in a region where earlier this decade only three species were known to exist. This incredible increase in known diversity can be attributed to field work, almost entirely by my indefatigable colleague Segundo Leiva G.
* Hebecladus ventricosus Baker, now Jaltomata ventricosa (Baker) Mione; Hebecladus sinuosus Miers, soon to be Jaltomata sinuosa (Miers) Mione, and lastly Hebecladus weberbaueri Bitter, which must be named again because this Latin binomial was already given to another species (Hebecladus weberbaueri Dammer) when this species was named.