USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences > Blog

June 23, 2013

Jurassic in the Jungle

Filed under: Andean Fossil Hunt — admin @ 5:06 pm

Sunday, 6/22, 6:30 pm
A white knuckle day of adventure, some of which I’m not even at liberty to share. Spent the day shouting expletives in my brain, but saying little. In the morning we drove up the steepest cliffs at the top of the jungle peaks, into the clouds, and hiked around to look for the rocks we seek. No sponges here; I’m searching for the rocks deposited at the same time as the sponges, but in places the sponges were not dominating. This way I hope to compare and contrast, and to construct an interpretation of how widespread the sponge phenomenon was.

The drivers here are CAVALIER. Holy #$%^. Sheer cliffs, thousands of feet down, barreling up mountains sides, but slowing, perfectly, expertly, each time we encounter a tiny bit of water, or an oncoming vehicle. Yesterday on the drive up into the Andes and down the rainy side (was that only yesterday!?) the whole transit requires passing massive transport trucks going 5 mph. But, oh, 1/8 attempts, we’d have to duck back behind the truck because there’s another vehicle oncoming. Every driver just takes this in stride. Almost the only honking I encounter in the highlands is the friendly greeting or safety honk when taking hairpin blind turns. Holy crap there were so many hairpin blind turns today. And the gigantic trucks coming out of mines and tunnels unexpectedly on one-car-width roads…

A mine abandoned after a landslide shows fresh rock exposed at the tops of the jungle peaks on the eastern and rainy side of the Andes in Central Peru.

A mine abandoned after a landslide shows fresh rock exposed at the tops of the jungle peaks on the eastern and rainy side of the Andes in Central Peru.



Walking was tough for the first 10 minutes. Up a hill, following acclimated Peruvians, with my weak lungs and brand-new-out-of-the-box steel toed boots that don’t quite fit. I purchased them the last day in LA, east of downtown, between two doctors appointments, on late notice they were required. Can’t complain. If some rocks go sliding I don’t want broken toes.

Tiny yellow orchids. Vibrant purple flowers. Butterflies I didn’t have time to watch closely enough to see all their damned colors. Rocks. Bastante rockas. Rocks in the trail, rocks hidden by thick jungle vines and a foot of moss and soil. Rocks exposed in giant patches of bare vertical cliffs on the mountain tops, or Better, or worse, depending on when you’re there, gigantic patches of fresh rock exposed by massive landslides. Walking down the first mountain peak, through narrow passages in thick jungle, suddenly there was a little shrine set in the vine-choked cliff-face. A shrine with the long bones and skull of two humans. Very old, found here when the mine was first explored. Now they are set in this little shrine, with candles and what not, and the site is named after them. The first ones. The mine site is named the first.

It’s been such an amazing day. Decked out in miner’s attire; they lent us clothes. Steel toed rubber boots, thick pants and overshirt, hard hat. After an hour or so of security clearance, we went outside for a Sunday event of flag saluting. Two men operated a PA and microphone, and we stood in rank with about 25 miners to take turns listening to announcements, saluting the flag, and singing the national anthem. I wished I’d known so I could practice. As it was I got enough looks for being a female – curious looks. I didn’t want to be rude by laughing out loud when two miners in hard hats approached to present the flags – goose stepping the whole way. It was just so goofy and serious and corporate and spirited, all together in the gathering mists of this mountain top jungle, that I had to bite my lip hard to keep from laughing. Three miners were given the honor of hoisting the flags, and one made a speech. Tomorrow is a day to honor workers of the countryside, and from what I could tell he made a moving declaration about his family, the value of the land, and the labor we must not take for granted. Finally it was all abruptly over, and Silvia and I were introduced to the head honcho of the site. He had an expression that he didn’t find our work interesting, but he didn’t seem to doubt that his geologists did. And they do. That’s been the best part.


Mists and rocks along the narrow paths at the edge of the mountain peaks

Mists and rocks along the narrow paths at the edge of the mountain peaks

I’ve been treated like a total expert and professional. The geology team hosting us spent a half hour laying out maps and schematics of the mines, geology, and region. They gave their analysis and opinions, then listed to our questions. Together we decided what sites to visit today. It was completely crazy. From the top of the mountain to its Moria-esque forbidden inner roots; on this trip we get to see everything from the rocks at the surface to cores from the lowest reaches. By the end of the day I was up to my rubber boot tops in water, following two men I could barely understand, past the blaring sound of a ventilation system, into the terrifying but spectacular unknown. This is exactly what I came for, and so much more!

Now a shower, and dinner, and organization of the day’s photos. Thanks for following!

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