Arriving into Arequipa at 6:30 am I was starting to regret the plan of heading straight into the field. I was absolutely shattered, along with Tom Wilkes from Sheffield. Nevertheless, head up we did with some Chilean collaborators (the two Felipes!). A brief stop to have a shower and then off we went in our rented, and as I was about to find out entirely necessary, 4 by 4.
This is my first visit to Peru. A place I have wanted to visit for a long time, so long I forget when I first wanted to travel here, lured by the mix of history, culture, and more recently the geology/volcanology. Travelling through Arequipa I was struck by similarities with Nicaragua, although the driving is by far the worst I have experienced on my various travels. Once through the bustle of Arequipa you start heading into the foothills and gain altitude very quickly, all the time accompanied by the looming Misti volcano which over looks the city. What a setting!
We ascended on winding gravelly roads, quickly reaching altitudes of >4000 metres. A level we would stay at for some time. We passed frequent herds (?) of llama and alpaca (and the other two types whose names escape me) and some very small mountain villages before emerging onto an incredible sight (see photo) a plateau containing, if I recall correctly, a saline shallow lake. All complete with wild flamingos! In the distance was our target volcano, Ubinas. After about 2.5 hours of driving, maybe more, we crested a small mound and there it was, Ubinas. Something immediately concerning for a remote sensor became apparent. There didn’t appear to be any gas coming out. However, on continual hopeful staring at the summit area we did eventually see sporadic emissions of gas from the summit area.
So we set up with our sulphur dioxide measuring ultraviolet cameras to get some data. See the video whilst up at the summit. After an hour(ish) of data, the clouds came in starting to obscure the summit, we decided to head back down. For me this was great as the lack of sleep mixed with lack of oxygen at altitude I think was starting to take its toll.
On the way back, we stopped at a little village where one of the Felipes spotted a random building which appeared to be a shop. In we went to get sustenance as we were ill-prepared and didn’t bring lunch. Here me and Tom discovered Inca Cola, a little like Irn Bru but slightly less sweet and super tasty. This is also where I started to feel a little unwell. It was difficult to tell whether this was a result of exhaustion and lack of sleep or the start of acute mountain sickness or caffeine withdrawal or a mixture of everything. A small amount of nausea and a mild headache. Some coca cola (not the Inca stuff!) started to settle my stomach so the nausea passed quickly, as did the headache. Over the next hour we descended rapidly, the mild symptoms fully passed and I just felt exhausted.
The evening was filled with dinner and an icebreaker to the workshop we are piggy-backing along (more in another post). I was probably not at my most chatty whilst mingling! A quick dinner then asleep by 8:30. And so ends Day number 1, which felt more like 3 days. I wrote this lengthier post than usual on the way up for Day 2 which you will hear about soon! See the accompanying video diary below.