After spending a week in Mancora and having seen nothing of its tropical beach, since Yuri and Marco spent their time underwater and Philippe tried to recover from his strong flu, we are packing the truck, ready to head back to the south. Marco already left on Thursday night and we are with our own. I haven’t been driving for a week and as soon as we hit the road, I realise that the truck has a serious problem. “El disco de embrague” is dead! Horror! We have to fix it! No way to reach Lima like that.
Lost in this remote region, I’m not very optimistic. Nobody will ever care of us… Yuri knows the country and leads me to “El Alto”, a small town in the middle of what appears to be an active site of a Peruvian petroleum company. Pipelines all around the desert, and discrete bascule pumps known as “caballitos”. We finally arrive in a “garage”, where the owners immediately accept to fix the car in “2 hours”. We take a “moto taxi” to find a restaurant in “town”. Afterwards, a “collectivo” brings us to El Cabo Blanco, famous for its Tuna, the former sports fishing activities and Hemingway’s stays. We find some pictures of him on the walls of an old bar.
When we return to the garage, we find our truck half dismantled and the guys announce what I expected: they need another day to work on the “embrague”.
No choice, we have to find a place where to spend the night and land in the cheapest hotel I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, the comfort is at the level of the price… 18.00 Soles (4.00 €)!
Saturday October 20
After another half day, the truck is ready and we finally take the road. Before to cross the “Desierto de Sechura”, a 200 km drive in the middle of nowhere, we have a quick lunch in a popular “cevicheria”. While we eat, three charming little boys come to announce that we have a flat tire!
Better now than an hour later in the desert, but the spare tire is not in a better shape than the flat one. Another couple of hours to find a new “llanta” in Piura and we finally cross most of the desert by night to arrive exhausted in Chiclayo where we enjoy a hot shower, the first one after 10 days.
Entering the Desierto de Sechura at dusk.
Sunday October 21
Chiclayo is unrecognizable when I get out of the hotel. Not a soul in the streets, nothing. Yuri tells me that this Sunday is the population census. Everyone has to stay home and all shops are closed until 18:00h. We will be controlled later on the road. Horrible day! Apparently that flu virus is still traveling with us. Fever, pain in all my joints, and no pharmacy open until we reach Huacho late at night. I have to share driving with Yuri as I fall constantly asleep. Again only cold water where we will stay. Not too convenient when sick…
Monday October 22
We get some rest. Our main activity will be to go to the harbor to find a “lancha” (a fisherman boat) for the next day.
Huacho is the heart of an archeological region. Pachacamac, Vichma, gods of the sun… we give a quick visit to the regional museum to see some 4.000 years old potteries and mummies. Those who have read “Tintin” will recognize here Rascar Capac. Hergé was famous for taking great care of his documentation sources, but this is really striking!
Tuesday October 23
Baslavi, the sixth alumnus of Yuri has joined us last night. We embark to explore the sponge fauna around “Isla Don Martin”. A two hours trip. Yuri manages to make two dives alone, as I’m not yet ready to join him underwater. A lot of efforts to bring back another 8 samples. Some dives are less productive than others.
We come back to Huacho completely frozen, the return trip was against the wind and we all got wet from the waves!
A hot soup in a “Chifa” (Chineese restaurant) and we are ready to sort the new samples and inventory Yuri’s pictures until after midnight.
Wednesday October 24
A travel day from Huacho to Lima. No problemo this time.
Thursday October 25
Nothing special, we just recover from the trip, take care of the equipment and do some administrative tasks.
Friday October 26
We bring the equipment to Yuri’s lab at the University, and in the afternoon I give the announced talk about the expedition and the project. Many questions. Apparently some students are really interested by the fascinating world of sponges.
Saturday October 27
We reach the end of the expedition. Our last dives will be off San Lorenzo Island.
The weather is calm, cloudy as usual. Yuri had made arrangements by phone with fishermen he new. We arrive at the dock by taxi, we got rid of the truck last night.
On the northern tip of the Island, we do the first dive together, but Yuri’s sinusitis slows his way down. A sandy bottom at 15 m, with some rocks and a very bad visibility.
We come back with two specimens. I will do the second dive alone. More rocks but a very strong swell, even at 20 m, makes it very difficult to work. Not a single sponge from that dive. Apparently the swell and currents make this zone very unfavorable to their development.
Fighting for fifty minutes against the swell in my second dives is enough, I will not do a third one. It’s shallow and Yuri will bring another 10 samples from this last dive of the expedition.
We are exhausted, we come back at 18h and have our “lunch”.
The expedition is over.
After 40 days, 41 dives and 4175 km, we bring back 275 samples that are already split to be shared between the collections of the four institutions.
Six students had the opportunity to share the field work with us.
Map indicating the explored spots of the ESPER 2007 Expedition
The goal of this first expedition has been reached. We still have a lot of microscopy work to accomplish to tune up our preliminary identifications. Hopefully there are new species in our treasure. We already think at the preparation of our field guide and at the next expedition that should bring us from Lima to the Chilean border next year.
Here is already how the cover of the book will look like.
We are enthusiastic: Yuri has a foot in the world of sponges, I am delighted by the country, Eduardo enjoyed the Peruvian food and Ruth is expecting to receive her samples. Yuri will travel to Brussels early next year for learning the lab techniques necessary to the identification of sponges, and the literature.
Thanks to all who helped us in our adventure, and in particular the people from IMARPE who welcomed us in all their stations and provided logistical support. The "Direccion de Hidrografia y Navigacion de la Marina de Guerra del Peru" allowed us to stay at Isla Lobos de Afuera where we were welcomed by Felipe Portugal Ramirez and Abel Martinel Salomon. Oscar Carasco, the guard of the island not only gave us access to his kitchen, but also prepared "Sudados de pescado" that where much appreciated after diving. Thanks also to the fishermen who rent their boat and patiently watched our bubbles while we were diving: Carlo Manuel Sernagnez, Mauro Leon Meza, Victor Ramirez Quiroz, Adriano Rodriguez Robles, Cirilo Ocaña Carlos, Alfredo Arroyo Garcia, Jose Romero, Luiz Fiestas Flores, Román Fiestas Flores, Eduardo and Juan Moscol Ruiz, HectorHerrera Tume, Guillermo Villcas Casaverde, Manuel y Jonathan Fiestas Nunura