Friday, August 2, 2013

De las sombras de las mantañas

About 16 hours from boarding a flight to Cusco. Arequipa, despite an unpleasant bacterial episode, has been good to me. This is a beautiful, friendly city.

I'm always a little lost, at first, in this kind of classical Spanish downtown. Everything begins looking the same. My first morning here I got lost on my run. The narrow streets and unbroken wall of buildings (edificios seems perfect here) obscure even nearby landmarks, and despite being laid out in almost a perfect grid, I seem to have a knack for finding the discontinuities.

Still, you get used to it. And every now and then, a street is just wide enough, and oriented just so, to give you a breathtaking view of the mountains hanging over it all.

I've had great company here. My host family, Rafael and Beatrice, were just as kind and gracious as you could ever imagine.

It was tremendous fun studying spanish with some fun folks from around the world.

Here's a picture from on top of the monastery next to where I'm staying:

And here's a bunny from the market, to round things out.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Hello Peru, so long Lima

Lima in winter always feels dystopic. I think its the fog. At night, smoldering in the orange of sodium lights, it reminds me of that opening panorama in Blade Runner. I half expect flames to belch out the tops of skyscrapers. 

In the daylight, you can see the dust, too -- a dull orange dust that must blow in off the dry foothills. It tints everything that doesn't move too much, like the geometric progression of whitewashed terra cotta buildings, and the massive hulks of Soviet-built helicopters decaying on the airport tarmac. More Mad Max than Blade Runner. But a weird, urban version, the fog and haze and dust making a confusingly somber backdrop to the frenetic, honking, LED-spangled bustle of the street. 

After I made it through immigration control (pro tip: Argo, with its excruciating three-tiered passport-wrinkling climax, is not the ideal in-flight movie for international travel) I pushed the button at customs and got the green light, mercifully avoiding having to explain the cornucopia of scientific and photographic equipment to anyone in a uniform. Then I got to wander around for half an hour or so reflecting on the importance of clarity and precision in prearranged meetups in the absence of functional cell phones. 

Eventually, I made it to my eleventh-floor hotel room (suite!) and the compelling view above. A few hours sleep, a shower, breakfast, and lots of manuscript revision later and I said hello once more to Señor Alarcón (having learned my lesson about precision) and was back in the taxi al aeropuerto. 

Maybe someday I'll get to enjoy Lima. So far it's been mostly a dreary way station, some place I'm excited to get to primarily  in order to leave as soon as possible. 

But let me tell you: it's worth it. Peru is awesome. So far, Arequipa is brilliant. And we haven't even gotten to the ants. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Army ants!

Here's Labidus, another under-appreciated army ant. These workers are
guarding a foraging trail.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ant vs. termite

It seems like the winner of this setup is generally 'ant,' but here's
a cool shot of a termite soldier getting one in for the woodeating
cockroaches, squirting some sticky goo onto the ant. The ant, as best
I can tell, is <i>Acanthostichus</i>, a nifty subterranean army ant in
the subfamily Cerapachynae.

This one didn't end well for Team Termite -- when I came back a few
hours later, the queen was in a giant pile of dead workers at the foot
of the tree.

Monday, June 27, 2011


In between the endless gut dissections, one of the things I've been
learning a lot about this summer is the power of post-processing.

For example, check out this shot of a neat little mantis that my
friend Gabe found. The first image is straight from the camera; the
second, after about 5 minutes of tweaking. To get the second image, I
retouched to get rid of sensor dust spots, tweaked the color
saturation and white balance, and bumped contrast and exposure just a
bit. The difference is startling!

As something of a bonus, I'm finding that this has really focused my
attention on the things you _can't_ change in the 'darkroom;' namely,
focus and composition. Aperture (Apple's photo program) makes it easy
to get rid of sensor dust, but can't recover the end of the mantis's
left antenna, or bring the focal plane forward a mm to where it really
should be. Those imperfections will stay in this image, and
recognizing that is making me a (marginally!) better photographer.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Jungle lesson #1032

Don't leave chocolate half eaten while you get distracted looking for
ants. When you think about it again, a cursory inspection in the
failing evening light may not reveal the hundreds of tiny red ants
enjoying your dessert, which will sting your unsuspecting tongue
enthusiastically on their way down.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Surface tension, part 2

And now for something a bit more abstract. This little Cephalotes
spinosus worker landed feet up in the dissection dish, holding a globe
of water in her legs. This doesn't happen often -- I've dissected more
than a thousand ants so far this summer, and never seen it!

Capturing with the camera what I saw with my eyes was pretty
challenging -- any flash at all washed out the beautiful reflective
colors on the water's surface. For photo geeks, this was taken
handheld with natural light at about 2X on a Canon 20D with 65mm MP-E
macro, at 1/60 sec, f6.3, and ISO 1600.