‘Where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.’

800px-GKpressAnd with these words, Minnesotan author and story-teller Garrison Keillor concludes his weekly News from Lake Wobegon monologue, a regular feature of the variety show, A Prairie Home Companion, that has been broadcast for 40 years on Minnesota Public Radio (MPR). The monologue features the characters and goings-on in an imaginary (or is it?) small town, somewhere north of the Twin Cities, ‘on the edge of the prairie’.

Discovering APHC
I first became an APHC aficionado on 17 October 2004. My elder daughter had transferred her studies from Swansea University in the UK to Macalester College, a well-respected liberal arts college in St Paul. And whenever my work with IRRI required travel to the USA I usually routed my flights through the Twin Cities. On one occasion Hannah and her boyfriend (now husband) Michael took me to Stillwater on the St Croix River which forms the state boundary between Minnesota and Wisconsin, a short distance east of the Cities. It was a Sunday, late morning. As usual they had the car radio tuned to MPR, and a repeat of the previous evening’s broadcast of APHC was playing. As we pulled into Stillwater I became mesmerized (and that’s not too strong a description) by the the mellifluous voice of Garrison Keillor weaving his tales about Lake Wobegon. I was hooked, and ever since have tried to tune in whenever possible, through the web site, Internet radio while we lived in the Philippines, or rebroadcasts on the BBC.

Listen to that October 2004 episode of News from Lake Wobegon. 


At the Minnesota State Fair

On a visit to St Paul in September 2010, shortly after the birth of our first grandchild Callum, Steph and I had the opportunity of attending a live broadcast of APHC from the Minnesota State Fair. Here are Garrison Keillor and guest Sara Watkins singing about state fair gourmet essentials.

Although we enjoyed the show, an outside broadcast, we weren’t as well prepared as we might have been and became thoroughly chilled. It was a windy day. And sitting off to one side, we didn’t really have a great view of all that was happening on the stage. So I promised myself that if I ever got the chance to see APHC at its ‘home base’, the Fitzgerald Theater on Exchange Street in downtown St Paul, I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase tickets. A broadcast from the Fitzgerald just hadn’t coincided with any of our annual visits to see Hannah and family since 2010. Until this year, that is.

An ambition fulfilled
Last Saturday, Steph and I, Hannah and Michael enjoyed the show Easy Come, Easy Go, broadcast live at 17:00 CT. With convenient parking just next to the theater on Wabasha St N, we arrived to the Fitzgerald around 16:35, just in time to buy a welcome gin and tonic to enjoy throughout the show.

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We had great seats in Section B1R, Row JJ with a clear view of the stage.

Around 16:45, the curtain went up and on stage came Garrison Keillor, dressed in his summer suit and signature red tie and red shoes, and one of the guests, singer Heather Masse, for an audience warm-up session.

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Then, on the dot of 5 pm, the introductory MPR theme played and we were LIVE!

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Click on this image to read the full article in the program, and information on performers and staff of A Prairie Home Companion.

As always, Garrison sang along to the show’s signature theme Tishomingo Blues followed by his usual introductory remarks—some classic comments on ‘illegal immigrant Canadians and the proposal of Wisconsin Governor and former Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker to build a wall along the border. One of the beauties of radio is that you can sit back, listen, and imagine. Click the icon below to listen to the show.

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But it’s also great fun to watch the show, and APHC is now streamed live on video, and available on YouTube. So this blog post, with photos and vidoes, is also my memory of that memorable evening last Saturday in St Paul.

Supported by a small cast, including the Royal Academy of Radio Actors (Sue Scott, Tim Russell, and sound effects man Fred Newman), musical director Richard Dworsky and his musicians, and several guests, APHC follows much the same format of sketches, songs and musical interludes, although which regular items are included does vary from week to week. My favorites, Guy Noir-Private Eye, The Lives of the Cowboys, and Mom were all included last Saturday.

The special guest from Nashville was mandolin virtuoso Sierra Hull (supported by Ethan Jodziewicz on bass and Justin Moses on banjo and guitar) who made her debut aged 12 at the Grand Ole Opry (check out the video here) with Alison Krauss and Union Station.

Heather Masse, from New York, and also a member of the trio The Wailin’ Jennys sang one of my favorites, September Song (composed by Kurt Weill, with lyrics by Maxwell Anderson, and originally sung by Walter Huston in the 1938 Broadway musical Knickerbocker Holiday).

Following September Song, Garrison Keillor talked about September memories stirred up by the smell of fallen leaves and coffee in The News from Lake Wobegon.

And then, it was all over. Two hours had flown by. It was time for the ‘curtain call’.

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Meeting Mr Keillor
On the way out, I looked for the bust of F Scott Fitzgerald (after whom the theater was named) as I remembered it from Robert Altman’s last film, A Prairie Home Companion, released in 2006, and with a stellar cast including Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson, Lily Tomlin, Garrison Keillor, Virginia Madsen, John C. Reily, and Lindsay Lohan (and some of the regular APHC contributors).

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Garrison Keillor was outside the theater to meet those leaving, and I hoped to have chance of doing so. We edged our way to the exit. In front of me were a couple who were also hoping to meet him.

‘Tell him you’re from California’, said the woman to her husband. ‘He’s sure to want to speak to us, knowing we’ve come so far’.

‘That’s not far’, I butted in, smiling. ‘I’ve come all the way from England!’

They were flabbergasted, and made way for me to move forward, to shake the hand of the great man. That’s them behind me.

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This season of A Prairie Home Companion will be Garrison Keillor’s last. He’s calling it a day after more than 40 years, almost a weekly show, in which he writes under the pen name of ‘Sarah Bellum‘. So I’m pleased to have been able to see the ‘original’ show. Mandolinist Chris Thile will host the show after Keillor’s retirement next year, and no doubt the format will change. He’s hosted the show before, and I guess there will be more music. It will be interesting to see how the ‘new APHC’ will fare. Until then, sit back, and tune into MPR at 17:00 CT. Or like me, tune into the internet when it’s more convenient. APHC will take you back to the radio days of my childhood, and you won’t be disappointed.

Good luck, Mr Keillor, and thank you for hundreds of hours of radio-listening pleasure all these years.

It’s the Pinoy in me . . .

Yesterday, Steph and I arrived in St Paul, Minnesota to spend almost three weeks with our elder daughter, Hannah, husband Michael and their children Callum (aged 5) and Zoë (3). It was a long 12 hour journey from Birmingham (BHX) to the Twin Cities (MSP) via Amsterdam (AMS), although an hour less on the transatlantic flight than scheduled.

We flew with Delta, but with the BHX-AMS sector operated by KLM, Delta’s Skyteam partner. Fortunately there were no ticketing problems this time as we’d had experienced on a couple of occasions. Then, the Delta online system had somehow filed Steph’s middle name as ‘Clair’ not ‘Claire’. And knowing how these errors can sometimes lead to check in issues I had attempted to resolve this ahead of travelling. Delta’s ticketing and reservations in Europe are handled by Air France (KLM’s parent company). Not only does the AF online system not ‘talk’ to the Delta one, but by the time we traveled (this was a couple of years ago), it had ‘lost’ her reservation. When we went to check in at BHX, the ticketing agent could only issue boarding passes to AMS, and although he could see our next sector AMS-MSP, he couldn’t access them. We had a nightmare transfer in Amsterdam and almost missed our connection. Even though KLM assured us that everything had been resolved, it took a phone call of almost 90 minutes in the USA directly to Delta to have everything finally resolved for our return.

So you can imagine my concern and trepidation a couple of days ago when I checked in online, and being transferred to the KLM website, received a message that the system was unable to issue boarding passes because ‘of an issue concerning one or more members of your group’.

‘Uh oh,’ I thought, ‘here we go again’, even though all the information about our tickets and reservations was 100% accurate in the Delta system. We were advised to print our boarding passes at one of the self service kiosks at BHX the following day.

We arrived to the airport in good time.  It’s a bit of a long-winded process to access the self service system, and the outcome was that it still denied us our boarding passes. We had to pick them up at the counter. When I asked if there was any issue concerning our reservations, the agent told me there wasn’t. She then gave us just two boarding passes, and my heart sank. I thought we were going to have sort our onward flights in AMS, and we only had just over 90 minutes to connect. Fortunately there was no problem. Both flights had been printed on a single boarding pass—a new one for me.

Now I wonder if the issue was that I had flagged, at the time of booking our tickets, that Steph is ‘hard of hearing’. I now recall the counter staff at BHX mentioning this, and perhaps the system was alerted that we needed ‘extra assistance’. But the advisory message when we checked in was much more cryptic than that, and given our previous experiences, I had just imagined something more complicated or serious. It will be interesting to see if the same happens on the return journey at the end of the month when our first flight will be with Delta, only transferring to KLM for the AMS-BHX leg of the journey.

This year we opted to purchase Delta Comfort+™ seats, at £60 each both ways. They’re just Economy seats, with slightly more recline, but a valuable four extra inches of legroom. You wouldn’t credit just how much more comfortable that made the journey. Plus free booze! So I did enjoy a few Bombay Sapphires and tonic to keep me going on the long stretch. I think the flight attendants were also just that bit friendlier to us in the Comfort+ seats.

So what’s all this got to do with the Pinoy in me. We were met at MSP by Hannah and Michael and two very excited grandchildren. And early in the evening I posted a couple of selfies with Callum and Zoë on my Facebook page.

And I had mentioned that I was beginning my ‘apostolic duties’. To a non-Filipino, it must sound like I’ve found religion or the like. But no. It’s a term to describe being a good grandparent. Because the Filipino for grandchild is ‘apo’. And here I am in the two photos with my American ‘apos’, being very ‘apostolic’. And enjoying every minute of it.

My good friends Bing Villegas and Fides Bernardo (who devised and directed the IRRI 50th anniversary shows in 2009) commented on my Pinoy connections. No wonder really, since I spent almost 19 years in that lovely country.

Mabuhay!

Research impact is all around – or at least it should be.

I believe it was IRRI’s former head of plant pathology Dr Tom (Twng-Wah) Mew who first coined this aphorism to describe IRRI’s philosophical approach to research (and I paraphrase):

It’s not only necessary to do the right science,
but to do the science right.

I couldn’t agree more, and have blogged elsewhere about the relevance of IRRI’s science. But this is science or research for development (or R4D as it’s often abbreviated) and best explained, perhaps by the institute’s tagline or slogan:

Rice Science copy

This is not science in a vacuum, in an ivory tower seeking knowledge for knowledge’s sake. This is research to solve real problems: to reduce poverty and increase food security. I don’t really like the distinction that’s often made between so-called pure or basic science, and applied science. Surely it’s a continuum? Let me give you just one example from my own research experience.

I have also blogged about the problem of bacterial wilt of potatoes. It can be a devastating disease, not only of potatoes and other solaneaceous crops like tomatoes and eggplants, but also of bananas. While the research I carried out was initially aimed at identifying better adapted potatoes resistant to bacterial wilt, very much an ‘applied’ perspective, we also had to investigate why the bacterium was surviving so long in the soil in the apparent absence of susceptible hosts. This epidemiological focus fed into better disease control approaches.

But in any case, the only distinction that perhaps really matters is whether the science is ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

Why is rice science so crucial? Because rice is the world’s most important staple food, feeding more than half of the global population on a daily basis, even several times a day in some Asian countries. IRRI’s science focuses on gains for rice farmers and those who eat rice, research that can potentially affect billions of people. It’s all about impact, at different levels. While not all impact is positive, however, it’s important to think through all the implications and direction of a particular line of research even before it starts. In other words ‘What does success look like?‘ and how will research outputs become positive outcomes?

Now I don’t claim to be an expert in impact assessment. That’s quite a specialized field, with its own methodologies. It wasn’t until I changed careers at IRRI in 2001 and became the Director for Program Planning and Communications (DPPC) that I fully came to understand (or even appreciate) what ex ante and ex post impact meant in the context of R4D. I was fortunate as DPPC to call upon the expertise of my Australian colleague, Dr Debbie Templeton, now back in her home country with the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).


11222449_888009937912763_3115952232097675704_oRice Science for a Better World?

IRRI has a prestigious scientific reputation, and deservedly so. It strives hard to maintain that reputation.

IRRI scientists publish widely in international journals. IRRI’s publication rate is second-to-none. On occasion IRRI has been criticized, censured almost, for being ‘obsessed with science and scientific publication’. Extraordinary! What for heaven’s sake does ‘Research’ in the name ‘International Rice Research Institute’ stand for? Or for that matter, in the name ‘CGIAR’ or ‘Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research’?

What our erstwhile colleagues fail to grasp, I believe, is that scientific publication is a consequence of doing good science, not an objective in itself. Having recruited some of the best scientists, IRRI provides an environment that brings out the best in its staff to contribute effectively to the institute’s common goals, while permitting them to grow professionally. Surely it must be the best of both worlds to have scientists contributing to a worthwhile and important research agenda, but knowing that their work is also esteemed by their scientific peers?

But what is the ‘right science’? Well, it depends of course.

IRRI is not an academic institution, where scientists are expected to independently pursue their own interests, and bring in large sums of research funding (along with the delicious overheads that administrators expect). All IRRI scientists contribute—as breeders, geneticists, pathologists, molecular biologists, economists, or whatever—to a common mission that:

. . . aims to reduce poverty and hunger, improve the health of rice farmers and consumers, and ensure environmental sustainability of rice farming. We do these through collaborative research, partnerships, and the strengthening of the national agricultural research and extension systems, or NARES, of the countries we work in.

IRRI’s research agenda and policies are determined by a board of trustees, guided by input from its partners, donors, end users such as farmers, and its staff. IRRI aims to meet five goals, aligned with the objectives of the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP), that coordinates rice research among more than 900 international partners, to:

  • Reduce poverty through improved and diversified rice-based systems.
  • Ensure that rice production is stable and sustainable, does minimal harm to the environment, and can cope with climate change.
  • Improve the nutrition and health of poor rice consumers and farmers.
  • Provide equitable access to information and knowledge on rice and help develop the next generation of rice scientists.
  • Provide scientists and producers with the genetic information and material they need to develop improved technologies and enhance rice production.

Rice Science for a Better World, indeed.

International agricultural research like IRRI’s is funded from the public purse, in the main, though the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has become a major player supporting agricultural research over the past decade. Tax dollars, Euros, British pounds, Swiss francs, or Japanese yen are donated—invested even—through overseas development assistance budgets like USAID in the USA, the European Commission, DfID in the UK, SDC in Switzerland, and several institutions in Japan, to name just a handful of those donor agencies committed to finding solutions to real problems through research. Donors want to see how their funds are being used, and the positive benefits that their investments have contributed to. Unfortunately donors rarely share the same vision of ‘success’.

One of the challenges that faces a number of research organizations however, is that their research mandates fall short of effectively turning research outputs into research outcomes or impact. But having an idea of ‘what success looks like’ researchers can be in a better position to know who to partner with to ensure that research outputs become outcomes, be they national scientists, civil society organizations, NGOs, and the like.

As I said, when I became DPPC at IRRI, my office managed the process of developing and submitting research project funding proposals, as well as reporting back to donors what had been achieved. I had to get this message across to my research scientist colleagues: How will your proposed research project benefit farmers and rice consumers? This was not something they expected.

Quite early on in my DPPC tenure, I had a wake-up call after we had submitted a proposal to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), at their request I should add, to support some work on rice genomics. The science described in the proposal was first rate. After mulling over our proposal for a couple of months, I received a phone call from our contact at ADB in Manila who was handling the internal review of the proposal. He asked me to add a paragraph or two about how this work on rice genomics would benefit rice consumers otherwise ADB would not be able to consider this project in its next funding round.

So I went to discuss this apparent conundrum with the scientist involved, and explained what was required for ADB approval. ‘How will rice genomics benefit rice farmers and consumers?‘, I asked him. ‘I can’t describe that‘ he relied, somewhat woefully. ‘Well‘, I replied, ‘unless we can tell ADB how your project is going to benefit farmers etc, then your proposal is dead in the water‘.

After some thought, and based on my simplistic explanation of the impact pathway, he did come up with quite an elegant justification that we could submit to ADB. Despite our efforts, the project was not funded by ADB. The powers-that-be decided that the research was too far removed from the ultimate beneficiaries. But the process in itself was useful. It helped us to understand better how we should pitch our proposals and what essential elements to show we had thought things through.

Now the graphic below is obviously a simplistic representation of a complex set of issues. The figure on the left represents a farmer, a community, a situation that is constrained in some way or other, such as low yield, diseased crops, access to market, human health issues, and the like. The objective of the research must be clearly defined and described. No point tilting at the wrong windmills.

The solid black and dashed red line represents the impact pathway to a better situation, turning research outputs into outcomes. The green arrow represents the point on that impact pathway where the research mandate of an institute often ends—before the outcome is delivered and adopted. How to fill that gap?

Individual research projects produce outputs along the impact pathway, and outputs from one project can be the inputs into another.

Whatever the impact pathway, it’s necessary to describe what success looks like, an increase in production over a specified area, release and adoption of disease resistant varieties, incomes of X% of farmers in region Y increased by Z%, or whatever.

Impact pathway

Let me highlight two IRRI projects. One has already shown impact after a research journey of almost two decades. The other, perhaps on-going for the same time period, has yet to show impact. I’m referring to submergence tolerant or ‘scuba rice‘, and ‘Golden Rice’, respectively.

9203724733_3f71432126_zFor the development of scuba rice it was first necessary to identify and characterize genes conferring submergence tolerance—many years in the laboratory even before the first lines were tested in the field and the proof of concept realized. It didn’t take long for farmers to see the advantage of these new rice varieties. They voted with their feet! So, in a sense, the farmers themselves managed the dashed red line of the impact pathway. Scuba rice is now grown on more than 2.5 million hectares by 10 million farmers in India and Bangladesh on land that could not consistently support rice crops because of flooding.

golden-riceGolden Rice has the potential to eradicate the problem of Vitamin A deficiency, which can lead to blindness. As I mentioned earlier, rice is eaten by many people in Asia several times a day. It’s the perfect vehicle to enhance the Vitamin A intake. Varieties have been produced, the proof of concept completed, yet Golden Rice is not yet grown commercially anywhere in those countries that would benefit most. The dashed red line in my impact pathway diagram is the constraint. Golden Rice is a GMO, and the post-research and pre-release regulatory framework has not been surmounted. Pressure groups also have delayed the testing of Golden Rice lines, even destroying field experiments that would provide the very data they are so ‘afraid’ of. Thus its impact is more potential than real. Donors have been patient, but is there a limit to that patience?

Keeping donors on-side
What I also came to realize early on is that it’s so necessary to engage on a regular basis with donors, establish a good working relationship, visit them in their offices from time-to-time, sharing a drink or a meal. Mutual confidence builds, and I found that I could pick up the phone and talk through an issue, send an email and get a reply quickly, and even consulted by donors themselves as they developed their funding priorities. It’s all part of research management. Donors also like to have ‘good news stories’. Nowadays, social media such as Facebook and Twitter, blogging even, also keep them in the loop. After all donors have their own constituencies—the taxpayers—to keep informed and onside as well.

Achieving impact is not easy. But if you have identified the wrong target, then no amount of research will bring about the desired outcome, or less likely to do so. While impact is the name of the game, good communications is equally important. They go hand-in-hand.

Around the world in 40 years . . . Part 11. Peru: jewel of the Andes

peru_map_outline_titleOver the past few days, I have exchanged some messages on Facebook with the son of a former PhD student of mine from Peru, Dr  Carlos Arbizu. The son, also named Carlos, is currently a PhD student at the University of Wisconsin.

The Arbizu family hails from the fair city of Ayacucho, in the central Andes, almost 600 miles by road southeast of Lima. And it was a photo that Carlos Jr had posted on Facebook recently that made me think about the various travels Steph and I enjoyed around Peru during the two and a half years we lived and worked in Peru. And then I realized that I hadn’t blogged very much about our travels around Peru, although I have posted several stories about our time and work there.

Abra Apacheta

Carlos’ photo was taken at a location known as Abra Apacheta and, as you can see, it’s rather high (map). He confirmed that this place is on the road between Pisco on the coast, and Ayacucho, capital of the Department of the same name further east. But the condition of the road looks significantly better today than in 1974 when Steph and I took our 1600 cc VW Variant on the same trip. I also remember rather a lot of mud somewhere near the top, and great relief when we eventually ploughed through it and reached a slightly firmer road surface on the long descent towards Ayacucho.

I purchased the VW in the UK in September 1972 (for about £1200 tax free), used it for three months, and then it was shipped from Liverpool to Callao. And it served us well for the three years we lived in Peru.

Just a few days after Steph arrived in Peru in early July 1973, we took a day trip up the Santa Eulalia valley near Chosica. This would become one of our favorite short trip destinations.

Steph and I made these long road trips:

  1. Lima-Pisco-Ayacucho-Huancayo-Lima (September 1973)
  2. Lima-Huaraz-Trujillo-Cajamarca-Lima (in June 1974, with our friends John and Marion Vessey)
  3. Lima-San Ramon-Lima (with a day trip by air to Puerto Bermudez, September 1974)
  4. Lima-Arequipa-Puno-Arequipa-Lima (November 1974)

Lima-Pisco-Ayacucho-Huancayo-Lima (map)
to tell the truth, I don’t remember too many details. It seemed like a long climb to the top, and even longer down to Ayacucho. Carlos Arbizu Jr mentioned a duration of 17 hours for the journey. I guess I must have told his father about it once upon a time. Of course Ayacucho became an extremely unsafe place to travel after about 1975 as it was a center of terrorist Sendero Luminoso activity. In 1973 it was a lovely city, with a beautiful Plaza de Armas. The continuation of our journey took us north to Huancayo (location of CIP’s mountain research station) along the valley of the Rio Mantaro. The road was so narrow, with many steep drops into the river below that, in 1973 at least, traffic was only permitted in each direction on alternate days.

Steph was a keen aficionado of cacti, so we had to stop frequently especially on the road north from Ayacucho before we reached the Rio Mantaro valley.

Lima-Huaraz-Trujillo-Cajamarca-Lima (map)
In May 1973 (just a few months after I’d joined CIP), my colleague Zosimo Huaman and I made a month-long collecting trip to the Departments of Ancash and La Libertad. The scenery is stunning, so I had to take Steph there.

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Marion, Steph, and John on 13 October 1973 – the day Steph and I were married in Miraflores town hall. John and Marion were our witnesses, and we celebrated afterwards at La Granja Azul near Chosica.

And we were joined by our friends John and Marion Vessey (John was a plant pathologist at CIP).

We stayed in Huaraz in the Callejón de Huaylas, and traveled north from there to view the destruction of the earthquake from May 1970 in the former towns of Ranrahirca and Yungay just below Peru’s tallest mountain, Huascarán. We also visited the famous archaeological site at Chavín de Huantar east of Huaraz. It was on that part of the journey that I slammed into a small boulder in the road. I couldn’t see any damage so we continued. The following day as we climbed out of the Callejón de Huaylas towards the coast, i could hear creaking from the rear of the car, and I discovered that one of the shock absorber mountings had been damaged. In fact there was a split, so we limped back into Huaraz to see if it could be repaired. I didn’t have much hope of finding a replacement. Well, as soon as the mechanic had jacked the car up, the mounting split and the wheel almost fell off. With some judicious welding, we were on our way again after a little over an hour. I soon had all the shock absorbers replaced with heavy duty ones.

On the coast, near Casma we visited the archaeological site of Cerro Sechín that has a collection of the most extraordinary carved stones depicting severed heads and the like, obviously the site of a battle.

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Battle carvings at Cerro Sechin.

And from the coast, we climbed back up into the Andes to Cajamarca, probably my favorite city in the mountains. It’s not so high, around 2700 m, and has a very pleasant climate. I had visited just a month earlier as part of a three week collecting trip that I made throughout the Department.

Two memories stand out. First, the leche asada (or crème caramel) for which Cajamarca is famous. And the Inca hot baths where we spent a relaxing couple of hours. Cajamarca had in the 1970s a thriving dairy industry. Cajamarca cheese was justly renowned. The British overseas aid had a veterinary team based in Cajamarca, and their offices were located in a renovated ranch house (or finca). The cathedral in the Plaza de Armas was never completed, but the carving of the stonework is exquisite.

Lima-San Ramón-Lima (map)
CIP had a field station on San Ramón (just 770 m altitude), where germplasm was tested for adaptation to warm climates, as well as resistance to various diseases. My work didn’t take me there, so Steph and I decided to go and see for ourselves. The first part of the journey was the same as traveling to Huancayo, but turning north towards Tarma before reaching Huancayo. Tarma is famous for its flower production. The drop down to San Ramón from there is quite spectacular, and it’s quite a sensation to feel the air getting much warmer and more humid as you descend. On one day we drove on to La Merced along the Rio Chanchamayo. On another day we took a light aircraft from San Ramón to the hamlet of Puerto Bermudez on the Rio Pichis, which is apparently the geographical center of Peru. We hired a dugout canoe for a trip upriver, from which there is a great view west towards the escarpment of the east side of the Andes. We faced our return flight with some trepidation. The weather en route was a little stormy, and San Ramón was rained in. There were no seats for us passengers, so we sat on upturned empty beer crates. And our travel companions were several pig carcasses. We lived to tell the tale.

Lima-Arequipa-Puno-Arequipa-Lima (map)
It’s a long drive to Puno, although I’d made the same trip in January that year to carry out field studies at Cuyo-Cuyo. We drove only as far as Arequipa, and then decided to take a communal taxi (or colectivo) for the rest of the trip over the mountains to Puno, which lies at over 4000 m above sea level.

Arequipa is a lovely city and its Plaza de Armas is framed with the  El Misti volcano in the background. The cathedral dates back to the late 17th century. Another site we visited was the Santa Catalina monastery, built almost like a small Spanish village with painted ochre walls.

In Puno we took a trip to the floating islands on Lake Titicaca (the highest navigable lake in the world), inhabited by the Uru people. The beautiful boats made from the totora reeds are used for everyday activities, including school classes, and even growing potatoes. On another day we headed north from Puno to see the Aymara stone towers or chullpas of the Colla people at Sillustani on the shore of Lake Umayo. The chullpas were family tombs, and the stonework is fantastic.

We traveled back to Arequipa to pick up our car, and return to Lima, a journey of two days.

I was lucky to visit Machu Picchu within a week of arriving to Lima in January 1973, and although Steph and I were married in Lima in October that year, we didn’t go away on honeymoon until December, when we visited Cuzco (and Machu Picchu) by air. In Cuzco we visited the famous fortress of Sacsayhuaman.

On the Sunday we went by taxi to the market at Pisac in the Urubamba valley, about 30 km northeast of Cuzco.

Of course I made other trips in the course of my work, and Steph and I regularly traveled to Huancayo for field work, that involved crossing Ticlio, one of the highest passes in the Andes.

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