Coast and mountains – remembering a 1974 road trip in northern Peru

During the three years that Steph and I lived in Peru between 1973 and 1976, we made several long-distance road trips. In those days, once you turned off the main coastal highway, the Panamericana, you left the asphalt behind and traveled only on graded dirt roads.

We also drove a car—a Volkswagen Variant—that had good clearance, and traveled comfortably on these roads. We had also fitted heavy-duty shock absorbers as well as a good set of radial tyres. So we were never concerned about leaving the paved highways. In fact, we often spent time during the weekends visiting one of our favorite destinations on the eastern side of Lima, climbing route 116 into the Andes mountains in the Santa Eulalia valley near Chosica. We enjoyed hunting for wild potatoes on the higher slopes.

In the Santa Eulalia valley, hunting for wild potatoes

In May 1973 and May 1974 I’d made two trips into the provinces of Ancash and La Libertad, and Cajamarca, respectively to collect cultivated varieties of potatoes to add to the world germplasm collection curated by the International Potato Center (CIP) for which I was working as a germplasm expert and Associate Taxonomist. Steph also worked in the germplasm program as an Associate Geneticist.

Both trips took me through some stunning landscapes, and interesting cities like Cajamarca. So, in June 1974 we made an eight-day trip to visit some of those same places. Joining us on the trip were our friends and fellow Brits, John and Marion Vessey. They were our witnesses when Steph and I married in October 1973, in the Lima suburb of Miraflores.

After our wedding ceremony in the Miraflores Municipalidad, we enjoyed lunch at the Granja Azul near Chosica.

John also worked as a plant pathologist at CIP on the same bacterial wilt disease that I’d spend several years studying when I transferred to Costa Rica in 1976. John’s work often took him to Cajamarca and beyond, almost always by road, a round trip of almost 1700 km.

Anyway, our plan was to visit the Callejon de Huaylas in Ancash province, see the highest mountains in the country, and from there returning to the coast and traveling north to Cajamarca via Trujillo, taking in several interesting archaeological sites on the way both in the mountains and on the coast.

This was a round trip of almost 2800 km or thereabouts, and John and I shared the driving. Setting out from Lima early one morning, our first destination was Huaraz, the provincial capital of Ancash, in the heart of the Callejón de Huaylas, with the highest mountains of the Cordillera Blanca on the east side (including Peru’s highest peak, Huascarán) and the lower Cordillera Negra on the west (or coastal) side.

Looking north along the Callejón de Huaylas towards Nevado Huascarán.

The gallery below shows Cordillera Blanca mountains at the southern approaches to the Callejón de Huaylas, near the turn-off to Chavín de Huántar. The last image in the gallery shows the Cordillera Negra on the western side of the Callejón de Huaylas.

The Callejón de Huaylas runs north-south, parallel to the coast, and was the site of a major earthquake in May 1970 that destroyed the towns of Ranrahirca and Yungay north of Huaraz, and killing tens of thousands of inhabitants. The gallery below shows where the landslide fell from Huascarán, with boulders the size of houses, obliterating Yungay and Ranrahirca. In Yungay, just a few palm trees and a statue of Christ at the cemetery were all that remained of the town in 1974.

We spent three nights in the Turista hotel in Huaraz, traveling on the day after our arrival to Yungay, and then higher still to a lake nestling in a valley beneath Huascarán, Laguna de Llanganuco at 3850 m above sea level.

The day after we made a side trip of just under 100 km each way to the east of the Cordillera Blanca, to visit the ruins at Chavín de Huántar, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built by a pre-Inc culture at least 3000 years ago.

On the journey to Chavín (I was driving at the time), and only a few km short of the town, I was coming round a blind bend, and found myself facing some difficulty to avoid a rather large rock in the middle of the road. So I attempted to straddle it, but was unsuccessful; some part of the chassis connected with the rock. It sounded bad, but a close inspection underneath the vehicle showed no visible damage, so we carried on. The next morning we loaded the car and set out due west from Huaraz to cross the Cordillera Negra before dropping down to the coast near Casma, where we planned to stop at the archaeological site of Cerro Sechín.

As we climbed out of Huaraz, I could hear unnerving creaks and groans emanating from behind me. So after about 30 minutes we stopped to make another inspection underneath. To my horror I saw that there was a visible crack in one of the shock absorber mounts. I could see daylight! I hadn’t realised just how hard I’d hit that rock the previous day.

Well, we couldn’t continue with that sort of damage, so I carefully reversed the car and we returned—slowly—to Huaraz and found a repair shop alongside the road. When the mechanic jacked up the car, the absorber mount gave way. In such a remote location there was no chance that any dealer would have the exact mount in stock. However, all was not lost, and with great skill the mechanic welded a piece of steel around the fracture, taking less than an hour to make the repair. And we set off, much relieved with a vehicle almost as good as new, although we’d lost about 4 hours in total, putting back our destination for the night at Trujillo further up the coast until after dark.

Cerro Sechín, a few km inland from the Casma, is a very unusual site. Excavations began there 80 years ago, and the site has been dated to almost 4000 years. Its outstanding features are the stone bas-reliefs depicting victorious warrior-priests and their dismembered victims. What do they all mean? Some suggest that this is the site of a battle, others that it commemorates the vanquishing of a rebellion. Perhaps we’ll never know. What I can say is that I never saw any other archaeological site in Peru with any similarity to Sechín.

After spending a night in Trujillo, we took a morning to visit the extensive ruins of Chan Chan just west of the city, whose mud walls and reliefs have survived the ravages of time in this extremely arid desert. Dating from the mid-ninth century AD, it was the capital of the pre-Incan Chimú, who were defeated by the Incas in the fifteenth century. Chan Chan is now a UNESCO World heritage Site.

Along the coast, and even in some of the valleys heading into the mountains, there are mud brick pyramids, known as huacas standing proudly in the landscape, reminders of ancient pre-Incan cultures that once thrived there.

Huacas erected in coastal valleys.

In 1974, the highway to Cajamarca diverged from the Panamericana just north of Trujillo. It climbed along a fertile valley with rice cultivation alongside the river, then crossing over into the valley of Cajamarca at around 2500 m or so.

I’ve visited Cajamarca three times. It is undoubtedly one of my favorite cities in the whole of Peru. Located in a broad and fertile valley, it has an agreeable climate. No doubt it has expanded considerably since I was last there in about 1988.

Cajamarca (from the north) in the early morning light. You can see the steam from the Inca baths on the east of the city.

The beautiful Cathedral of Saint Catherine (Santa Catalina) occupies the northwest side of the main square, the Plaza de Armas. Begun in the seventeenth century, it has the appearance of a half-completed building. But this does not take away anything from the exquisite construction and carving of white stone on the entrance facade.

The Plaza de Armas, with the Cathedral of Sant Catherine on the left.

To the east of the city, by about 3 km lie the Baños del Inca, a site of geothermal hot springs where we luxuriated in the spa’s deep and soothing waters.

It was also in Cajamarca that the army of the last Inca emperor Atahualpa was defeated by Francisco Pizarro and his band of adventurers. Captured and imprisoned by Pizarro, Atahualpa was executed in July 1533 bringing an end to the illustrious Incan culture, and the subsequent colonisation not only of Peru but much of South America by the Spanish.

I’m sure we must have stayed at the turista hotel in Cajamarca close to the Plaza de Armas. Around the square were many small restaurants where, as in so many Andean towns and cities, you could enjoy an excellent and reasonably-priced meal. But Cajamarca is famous for one dish, and a sweet one at that: leche asade (crème caramel), one of my favorite desserts. There was one restaurant on the northeast corner of the Plaza renowned for its leche asada.

After a couple of nights in Cajamarca, we headed back down to Trujillo on the coast, and made it back home to Lima the next day. Quite an eventful trip, taking in some breath-taking sites and landscapes. As I reflect on all those magical Peruvian experiences, I realise more than ever, just what attracted me to want to visit all those years ago when I was just a small boy. Ambition fulfilled, and beyond expectations!

Has global warming changed the landscape?

During the three years Steph and I lived in Lima, working at the International Potato Center (CIP) at La Molina on the eastern outskirts of the city (now totally enveloped by it), one or the other of us had to travel almost on a weekly basis between December and April from Lima to Huancayo. At an altitude of more than 3000 m above sea level (over 10,000 feet), Huancayo was the location of CIP’s highland experiment station.

During the first season I worked there (between January and April 1973, and before Steph joined me in Peru) most of the potato hybridization work I did was carried out in the garden of the parents of one of my colleagues, Dr Maria Scurrah. CIP didn’t have any facilities of its own during that first year, and also rented land north of the city to grow its large germplasm collection of indigenous potato varieties.

It was only after I’d moved to Costa Rica to become CIP’s regional leader in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean in 1976 that permanent laboratories, greenhouses, and a guesthouse were constructed (put in jeopardy by the rise of the terrorist organisation Sendero Luminoso in the late 1980s and 1990s).

A distance of almost 300 km by road on the Carretera Central, the journey would take around six hours. Usually we’d leave CIP before mid-morning, and aim to reach San Mateo (about 95 km) a couple of hours or so later, in time for lunch. Sometimes we’d drive as far as La Oroya on the eastern side of the highest point of the road. La Oroya, a town dominated by ore smelters and awesome pollution is one of the most depressing places I have ever visited. The fumes from the smelters have blasted all the vegetation from hillsides for miles around.

The road to Huancayo crosses the Andes watershed at the highest point, Ticlio, at 4843 m. From there the road drops quickly towards La Oroya before flattening out along the Mantaro River, and southeast into the broad Mantaro Valley.

We usually travelled, after 1974, in a Chevrolet Suburban (like the one illustrated below) that carried about four passengers plus driver, or in a pickup.

In early 1974, when I took the photo on the left, snow covered the ground at Ticlio. Two decades later during a meeting of the Inter-Center Working Group on Genetic Resources, there was hardly any snow to be seen.

One of my colleagues at CIP, and Head of CIP’s Outreach Program from 1973-76 or so, was Richard ‘Dick’ Wurster who had spent some years with a potato program in East Africa (Uganda I believe) before being recruited to join CIP. Dick was independently wealthy, and a licensed pilot. He brought his own aircraft with him! And CIP took advantage of that to use it to ferry staff to Huancayo, landing at the unmanned airstrip in Jauja, now the Francisco Carle Airport served by scheduled airlines. It was a six-seater I believe, maybe a Cessna O-2 Skymaster. Anyway, CIP had a full time pilot. A year or so later, CIP purchased its own aircraft, a much more powerful model with a longer range.

To fly to Jauja safely, the flight path had to cross the Andes at around 22-24,000 feet. Dick’s plane was not sufficiently powered to climb directly from Lima over the mountains. So it would take off from Jorge Chavez Airport (Lima’s international airport) on the coast, and climb inland, more or less following the Carretera Central, before turning around and heading back to the coast, climbing all the time. Then it would head east once again, having gained sufficient height in the meantime to cross the watershed, and miss all the mountains that stand in the way.

Flying on a cloudy day was always a tense trip, because the pilot had to dead reckon where he was, then, seeing an opening in the cloud cover, dive down to come in over the Mantaro Valley, making at least one pass over Jauja airstrip to check there were no human or animal obstacles blocking the runway.

That’s looks like Dr Parviz Jatala (one of CIP’s nematologists) alongside the pilot.

Anyway when I recently came across the photos below (taken around 1974), on a clear day crossing the Andes, I was struck by the amount of snow and ice cover, glaciers even. And that made me wonder, in these times of global warming, how that phenomenon has affected the snow cover on these Andes peaks today.

A serious decline in snow and ice cover would have considerable knock-on effects in terms of water availability east towards the Mantaro Valley, and more seriously to the west, down the River Rimac to Lima that depends so heavily on this source of water from the mountains.

Around the world in 40 years . . . Part 18: Where East meets West

Byzantium. Constantinople. Istanbul. The bridge connecting Europe and Asia. Gateway to the East or the West, depending from which side of the Bosphorus you look.

An ancient city, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. Fought over for millenia, before falling to the Ottoman Turks in the 15th century. Where religions meet, and Islam became the dominant force.

The Bosphorus Bridge, opened in 1973. Two more bridges have now been added, and a tunnel under the Bosphorus.

I once spent a whole day in Istanbul. It was late summer in 1978 or ’79, or thereabouts. I’d attended a meeting on potatoes organized by the International Potato Center’s regional office in Izmir, and was headed back to the UK to meet up with my wife Steph and daughter Hannah to complete our home-leave before heading back to our home in Costa Rica.

I must have taken the earliest flight possible from Izmir to Istanbul. In those days, Turkish Airlines flew DC9s on many of its internal routes, and they were fearsome flights. Hardly had we left the runway when the cabin was thick with the smoke from dozens of foul-smelling Turkish cigarettes. (I’m a non-smoker, so any cigarette smells are unpleasant; these cigarettes were particularly so).

A Turkish Airlines DC9 (with a Boeing 707 behind).

And I think many of the pilots were ex-air force, given their propensity to ‘throw’ the aircraft around the sky. In those days the DC9 had one of the steepest rates of climb of any aircraft, and the pilots certainly exploited that performance. It was also not unusual for the pilot to deploy the ailerons at 20,000 feet, and the plane would drop like a high-speed lift. Talk about losing your stomach.

Since my flight to London didn’t leave until the evening, I’d decided to take a tour of Istanbul. But for the life of me I can’t remember how this was arranged. I do remember that I had a taxi driver to myself all day, who picked me up at the airport, took me round the city, waited while I visited various attractions, and then dropped me off at the airport. Now whether this had been pre-arranged, or I just chose the first taxi I came across and negotiated a ‘tourist deal’ I simply cannot remember. Not surprising really, almost four decades later.

There were three attractions I wanted to see: the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, and the Topkapi Palace. And any other views along the waterfront of the Bosphorus that would give me a good view over Istanbul. I was not disappointed.

The Istanbul skyline, with the minarets of the Sultan Ahmed or Blue Mosque on the left, and the Hagia Sophia lower down to the right.

Taking in the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, dominates Istanbul’s skyline, with its six minarets. I find Islamic art and architecture very beautiful, and the interiors of the mosque are a joy to gaze at.

It was built at the beginning of the 17th century during the rule of Ahmed I.

Not too far away and closer to the shore on the northern side of the Bosphorus, the Hagia Sophia stands proudly, though not quite as grand as the Blue Mosque.

Hagia Sophia – Greek orthodox cathedral, mosque, and now a museum.

It is more than 1500 years old, Hagia Sophia was the first Christian cathedral of the Roman Empire, became a mosque in the 1400s, and a museum in 1935. Rather plain on the outside, it contains some of the most beautiful icons and mosaics you can behold almost anywhere. They lift your spirit. I’m not a religious person (in fact, an enthusiastic atheist), yet I was moved by the spirituality of this wonderful creation.

The Topkapi Palace, also on the north shore of the Bosphorus, was the administrative headquarters and residence of the Ottoman sultans. It was built in the mid-15th century. It’s now a museum, and houses many fabulous treasures. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many large gemstones (diamonds and emeralds) as I saw on display there. And lots of exquisite porcelain from China. I have few photographs from inside.

The sultan’s throne perhaps, or from inside the harem

Then along the shore of the Bosphorus, as people waited for ferries across the water, or shopped for fresh fish, I’m sure the hustle and bustle today must be much more than when I spent one memorable day in Istanbul, taking in its centuries of Greek, Roman, Christian, and Muslim heritage.

Around the world in 40 years . . . Part 17: Not quite a Damascene experience

If you are interested in the origins of the crops we grow, as I am, and the history of civilizations in general, then a visit to the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East must be high on your list of travel destinations. This area encompasses the so-called Fertile Crescent, one of the cradles of agriculture dating back some 10,000 years.

As I recently wrote, I had an interesting visit to Israel in 1982, and saw many of the wild relatives of wheat and barley, and legumes such as lentil and chickpea, growing in their native habitats, and learning more about the importance of ecology in the evolution of these plant populations.

I have also visited Syria a couple of times. The first time was in January 1995 when the CGIAR’s Inter-Center Working Group on Genetic Resources held its annual meeting at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) in Aleppo¹. The second time was in 2000 when I went for a job interview at ICARDA. On both occasions I had overnight stops in Damascus, and on the second had the opportunity of touring the city, exploring the famous souk, and purchasing some beautifully-woven fabrics.

I regret there was never enough time to explore Damascus and its region, or visit Palmyra, the World Heritage Site of an ancient Semitic city that has been in the news in recent years after the philistines of Daesh (Isis, IS, ISIL, so-called Islamic State) destroyed so many of its iconic buildings and priceless artefacts.

Paul the Apostle will be forever associated with Damascus, as it was supposedly on the road to that city that he had his ‘Damascene experience‘. I was never struck the same way. He spent some months, after his conversion to Christianity, in the city of Ephesus that was once one of the most important port cities of Ancient Greece, on the western coast of Turkey. Did St Paul set sail from Ephesus to Rome? It seems a plausible conclusion.

And, of course, Ephesus became immortalized in Paul’s Letter (Epistle) to the Ephesians, the tenth book of the Bible’s New Testament that was written from Rome. But perhaps not by him after all.

I’ve had the good fortune to visit Ephesus on two occasions. In April 1972 I attended a meeting² in Izmir, about 80 km north of the site of Ephesus. Then, in about 1978 or 1979, while on home-leave in the UK, I attended another meeting in Izmir, this time on potatoes organized by the International Potato Center’s regional program based in that city. And we enjoyed another excursion south to Ephesus.

Just the other day, I came across a set of 35 mm slides from both trips, and that has been the impetus for this blog post.

Approaching the site of Ephesus, the first thing you see is a hill fort at the town of Selçuk, that grew up alongside the ancient city. I’ve read that the Ayasuluk fortress is Byzantine, and that the walls date from the Seljuk period (11th and 12th centuries) and Ottoman empire that superseded it.

Below the fortress lies the Basilica of St John the Baptist, who spent his last years at Ephesus and is reported to be buried here. The Basilica was built in the 6th century by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I.

The region around Ephesus has been occupied for more than 8000 years. The site of Ephesus itself is indeed impressive. A brief description of each of the locations on the map can be found here.

Entering the city along Curetes Street, with a view of the Library of Celsus in the distance, one can’t help wondering about the three millennia of history since its founding. Of course Ephesus has strong links with the founding and dissemination of Christianity in the Middle East and westwards through the Mediterranean, a region where three great religions of Juadaism, Christianity, and Islam came together, and in conflict regrettably.

When I first visited Ephesus, the Library of Celsus was in ruins, destroyed by an earthquake. By the end of the 70s it had been partially reconstructed.

In the upper part of Ephesus alongside Curetes Street, lies the Odeon (a sort of mini-theater).

Then, further down the street, also on the right, is the Temple of Hadrian.

Past the Library of Celsus, Marble Street brings you to the mighty Theater of Ephesus, or Great Theater, which took 60 years to build.

From the theater there are views along Harbour Street to the west. The sea is now more than three kilometers away.

There are the remains of many other buildings, isolated columns, mosaics, and statues lying around the site. Unfortunately, I no longer recall where these photos were taken around the city. Nevertheless, they show the beauty and magnificence of what Ephesus must have once looked like.

Among the distinguished residents of Ephesus was Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher who died around 475 BC, whose writing is known only as a series of fragments. I wonder in which corners of this once great city Heraclitus found solitude on which to ponder the nature of life and relationships?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
¹ Due to the civil war in Syria, and the destruction of much of Aleppo, ICARDA has now moved to new sites in Lebanon and Morocco.

² Hawkes, JG & W Lange (eds.) 1973. European and regional gene banks. Proceedings of a Conference on European and Regional Gene Banks, Izmir, Turkey, 10-15 April, 1972. Wageningen, EUCARPIA.

Around the world in 40 years . . . Part 16. Crossing the glittering mountains of Canada

In July 1979, Steph, Hannah (aged 15 months) and I enjoyed a couple of days or so in San Francisco, and then headed up to Vancouver on Canada’s west coast. I was to attend the annual meeting of the Potato Association of America. Arriving in Vancouver we headed to conference venue, the beautiful campus of the University of British Columbia, sited on the western end of a peninsula jutting out into the Strait of Georgia opposite Vancouver Island.

It was a bit of a scrum, to say the least, when we arrived to the hall of residence where we had reserved a room. I say ‘room’, because the conference organizers wanted to put the three of us in separate rooms, not appropriate for a family of three. After discussing this vigorously with the staff behind the reception desk for almost an hour, a two-room suite was miraculously found, with its own bathroom. We made up a bed for Hannah with blankets and the like on the floor. It must have been fine since she slept soundly, and hasn’t mentioned it or complained about it since!

Well, having taken a few days out on the way north from home in Costa Rica, after the conference we planned to hire a car and drive across the Canadian Rockies, to meet my elder brother Ed and his wife Linda in Banff, Alberta, before driving on together to their home in Edmonton. Ed was a professor in the Department of Geography in Edmonton.

From Edmonton, our itinerary would take us by air to Madison, Wisconsin where I’d would spend a couple of days with plant bacteriologists Profs. Luis Sequeira and Arthur Kelman in the university’s Department of Plant Pathology (both had links with my employer, the International Potato Center). Luis was also an adviser to one of my potato research projects in Costa Rica. We also planned a side trip to the USDA’s Potato Introduction Station and its genebank at Sturgeon Bay in Door County on the shores of Lake Michigan in the northeast of the state. And from Madison, we would fly home to Costa Rica with transit stops in Chicago and Miami. Quite an adventure for a 15 month old toddler.

The conference sessions lasted four days. On the penultimate evening we enjoyed, along with all the other delegates and their families, a wonderful Northwest Pacific salmon barbecue on the campus lawns. It was an idyllic evening, no need for warm clothing.

But while I was stuck indoors during the conference, Steph took advantage of several tours to get out and about around Vancouver, at Stanley Park, crossing Lion’s Gate Bridge, and taking the cable car up to Grouse Mountain for spectacular views over the city.

At many of these conferences, it is customary to offer several day excursions from which you can choose. While most of those at the Vancouver meeting looked at many different aspects of the potato industry in British Columbia, the one I chose (as most appropriate for the family) was a day trip by steam train, the Royal Hudson, from Vancouver along Howe Sound north to the small community of Squamish. Imagine my surprise on arriving at the station to find a large number of delegates waiting for the train, many of whom I’d expected to take the more ‘technical’ excursions.

The Royal Hudson 2850 was the locomotive that, in May 1939, pulled the train carrying HM King George VI and Queen Elizabeth across Canada, during the first visit to Canada by a reigning British monarch. Our locomotive was 2860. I’m pretty certain that it was oil-fired rather than coal. Anyway, it was a delightful way to spend a day, see the mountains along Howe Sound, and the spectacular mountains that are a backdrop to Squamish itself.

I believe the conference finished on the Thursday lunchtime, and that gave us plenty of time to set off on the road trip eastwards up the Fraser River valley to Kamloops, some 225 miles, where we’d booked a room for the night.

To Banff the following day would be another 300 miles, and take all day. We met Ed and Linda in Banff, and the next day made a side trip into the Athabasca icefield at the southern tip of Jasper National Park, just north of Banff. Needless to say the drive through the Rockies was breath-taking, and there were ample opportunities to stop, and stretch our legs, especially important for an active toddler. It’s remarkable looking back on this trip what ‘risks’ we took. Steph sat in the backseat with Hannah on her lap. I’m not sure if Steph had a seat-belt. Hannah did not have a child seat. Wouldn’t be allowed today, and we wouldn’t even consider travelling under those circumstances.

Leaving Banff, it was downhill all the way, skirting Calgary, before heading north to Edmonton, a distance of just under 260 miles. We spent a few days in Edmonton before it was time to move on, and continue our trip in Madison.

I’ve seen various parts of the Rockies over the years, in Colorado, around the edges of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming (including the Teton Range). Magnificent as they are, they don’t really hold a candle to the Rockies further north in Canada, and I’m pleased that we were able to enjoy them almost 40 years ago.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Since that trip to Canada in 1979, I’ve been back just once, to Ottawa, Ontario in April 2002. I had arranged meetings with my contact at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), both of which supported IRRI’s budget.

Arriving for my early morning appointment at CIDA on the opposite side of the Ottawa River in Quebec, I found the building closed because of a water leak the previous day. There was only a skeleton staff on duty – but not my contact, who’d not had the courtesy to inform me (before I even flew up to Ottawa) about the problem, or cancel or reschedule our meeting. I was left to twiddle my thumbs for a few hours before I could head off to IDRC, so took advantage of the fine weather to look at the Ottawa River, a canal that connects the Ottawa River with the Rideau River, and Canada’s beautiful Gothic Revival parliament building on Parliament Hill. I spent two nights at the Fairmont Château Laurier, just to the east of Parliament Hill.

 

 

Around the world in 40 years . . . Part 15. In my father’s footsteps

Almost 50 years after my father visited Brazil, I made my first trip there in early 1979, when I attended a meeting of the Latin American Potato Association, ALAP. Its meeting that year was held in Poços de Caldas, in southwest Minas Gerais State, about 280 km north of São Paulo.

I was living in Costa Rica, and to fly to South America it was necessary to transit via Panama City. The itinerary took us from Panama to Bogotá in Colombia, then a Varig flight to Rio de Janeiro with an intermediate stop in Manaus on the Amazon in central northern Brazil. From Manaus, we flew south for hours to land in Rio in the early hours. It was that flight that made me appreciate just what a huge country Brazil is.

In Panama I’d joined up with other delegates to the same meeting, from Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Panama. Our flight to Rio didn’t leave until the late evening so we had almost a whole day for some sight-seeing around Bogotá. One of the places we visited was an emerald dealer, where I couldn’t resist the temptation and bought a nice stone for my wife¹.

Colombian emeralds in Bogota

A Varig 727 on the tarmac at Rio de Janeiro. Varig ceased operations in 2006.

We arrived in Rio in the early morning, in time for the first air shuttle (Ponte Aérea or air bridge) flight from Rio de Janeiro’s Santos Dumont airport to São Paulo’s Congonhas airport, a journey of a little over an hour, affording some spectacular views of the coastline south of Rio. Then it was a four or five hour road trip from São Paulo to Poços de Caldas.

Poços de Caldas nestles in a valley in the surrounding rolling landscape. Very agricultural, and obviously an important potato growing area.

Heading back to Rio de Janeiro a week later, several of us decided to stop over there for about three nights, and explore this vibrant city.

The Sugar Loaf from Corcovado

Whether it was such a violent city then (or even when my father visited) as it is today, I have no recollection. We moved around the city seemingly oblivious to any such threats, spent an afternoon and evening on Copacabana beach, taking in all the ‘sights’: tangas to the left, tangas to the right!

But we also made the mandatory excursion to the top of the Sugarloaf, from where there were magnificent views north and south over the city and its beaches.

Also we made the climb by taxis to Corcovado, where the statue of Christ the Redeemer stands, on a 2328 ft granite peak, looking out to sea.

These next photos were taken by my father (who was a professional photographer) in Rio all those decades ago. How that city has grown in the intervening years, and even how much more since I first visited in 1979 as we saw during all the TV broadcasts from the 2016 Olympic Games.

There’s no doubt about it, Rio de Janeiro is one of the world’s iconic cities.

I’ve been back to Brazil just one other time. In 1997 I attended a CGIAR workshop on Ethics and Equity in Plant Genetic Resources², held in Foz do Iguaçu, close by the magnificent Iguaçu Falls. I then flew on to Brasilia, to negotiate participation of Brazilian institutes in a major rice biodiversity project there and in Goiânia, transiting through Rio de Janeiro on leaving the country.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

¹ It wasn’t until about 2005 or 2006 that this stone was finally made into a ring, flanked by a couple of diamonds that I’d picked up in Israel in 1982.

² (CGIAR) Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. 1997. Ethics and Equity in Plant Genetic Resources. Proceedings of a workshop to develop guidelines for the CGIAR, 21–25 April, Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil. IPGRI, Rome.

Around the world in 40 years . . . Part 14. On opposite coasts

Steph and I first visited San Francisco in July 1979, en route from Costa Rica (where I was working for the International Potato Center, CIP) to a potato conference in Vancouver, Canada. Then, less than two years later, in March 1981, we were in New York for just a couple of nights. We had passed through JFK in 1975, but not stopped over.

On the west coast
Yes, a potato conference in Vancouver. The 63rd annual meeting of the Potato Association of America where I was to present some of my research on the control of a bacterial disease of potatoes¹. We were taking advantage of CIP’s spouse travel policy for Steph to accompany me, as did our 15 month old daughter, Hannah.

In 1979 there were no direct flights to San Francisco from Costa Rica; that still appears to be the situation today. The most direct routing was via Guatemala City to Los Angeles on Pan Am, and then a ‘local’ connection on to San Francisco. Pan Am used Guatemala City as their Central America regional hub in the 1970s.

As we lived in Turrialba, about 86 km west of San José’s Juan Santamaria Airport, we must have left for the airport in the early hours to catch the morning flight.  It was a bit of a hassle in Los Angeles, going through immigration and customs, and transferring terminals. Thankfully, Hannah was mostly a good flier and, as I recall, we had an uneventful journey.

I’d made a hotel reservation in the center of San Francisco, but had wanted to stay at another, the Hotel Beresford on Sutter Street close by Union Square. In those days there was no online booking, of course. So, it wasn’t until we arrived in San Francisco that we discovered the Beresford was just a couple of blocks away, and so transferred the next day. My parents had stayed there when they visited San Francisco on their once-in-a-lifetime post-retirement trip to the USA in 1976.

Mum at the Golden Gate in summer 1976

I think my elder brother Ed had also stayed at the Beresford when he was doing part of  his PhD research in the San Francisco area. It came highly recommended, and we certainly felt more comfortable there than our first hotel.

So. You’re in San Francisco for the first time. What do you do, remembering, of course, that anything we planned had to take into account the eating and sleeping needs of a small child? Wandering around the Union Square district we opted for a Gray Line bus tour of the city, taking in a crossing of the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County among other sights.

Otherwise, we wandered around on foot, or took a taxi to specific places we thought would be interesting. And of course there was the requisite tour of the bay around Alcatraz Island and its former penitentiary, a wander around Fisherman’s Wharf, and dinner on Pier 39.

Too soon, our short visit to SF was over and we headed north to Vancouver, the next leg of a journey that would take us also on a road trip from Vancouver to Edmonton, Alberta, a flight to Madison, Wisconsin and a side-trip to the USDA’s potato station in the northeast of Wisconsin at Sturgeon Bay, before returning to Costa Rica via Chicago O’Hare and Miami International.

The Big Apple
In March 1981 I resigned from CIP having accepted a lectureship at The University of Birmingham. Although we could have flown directly back to the UK, we planned to travel via New York. We held a bank account with Citibank in New York, and wanted to close that account, withdrawing our savings for transfer to the UK. That meant visiting the bank, completing all the necessary paperwork, then walking out of the bank with a bank draft.

It’s remarkable how smoothly everything went. I’d obviously advised the branch president (manager) of my visit. In those days it was still possible to have personal contact with someone in the bank, and she told me to ask for her when I arrived at the branch. I headed off to the bank first thing in the morning, and was waiting for. She had the forms ready for me to sign, and while she personally transacted the paperwork through the system, gave me several cups of coffee while I waited. After about 45 minutes, I guess, she came back with the cheque, and I went away several thousands of dollars to the better.

That left the rest of the morning and afternoon for sight-seeing, fulfilling two ambitions: a trip to the top of the Empire State Building and a walk round Macy’s. Sight-seeing with Hannah was easier than two years earlier. She was now almost three and seemed to take everything in her stride.

I’m not sure how we came to choose our hotel, on Park Avenue or close by. Maybe the travel office at CIP in Lima had made the booking for us. The name ‘Loew’s Drake’ comes to mind. But from what I can find through a Google search, that hotel ‘The Drake’ would have been beyond my means. Who knows?

We arrived late to New York on a Lufthansa DC-10 flight from Peru, and went straight to bed. The second night we decided to dine in-house. You can imagine my consternation when I sat down and the maitre d’ placed a jacket on the back of my chair. I hadn’t complied with an implicit (but not obvious) dress code, by not wearing a jacket of my own or a tie.

Deaorting for the UK, we took a British Airways flight from JFK to London Heathrow, occupying a row of three seats (window, middle and aisle), with Hannah in between Steph and me. We must have been about 20 minutes into the flight when I heard a British gentleman in the row in front mutter, rather loudly, to his wife that he hoped the little girl behind wouldn’t bother him throughout the flight. I hadn’t noticed until then that Hannah was sitting with her legs out straight, pushing against the back of this man’s seat. I told her to stop immediately, and she didn’t do it again for the rest of the flight. Anyway, I got out of my seat (I was on the aisle) and moved round to face this man, and explained that I hadn’t noticed what Hannah was up to, it would stop henceforth, and I apologised profusely for the inconvenience. You can imagine how gobsmacked I was when he refused my apology. So I just returned to my seat, somewhat nonplussed. One of the cabin crew had seen this unfold, and as she passed, discreetly encouraged Hannah to continue pushing the seat. We had a good laugh at that.

I’ve been back to New York on at least one more occasion since, in the early noughties. It’s a city I’d like to return to and explore more, maybe arriving there on the Queen Mary 2, sailing under the Verrazon-Narrows Bridge, past the Statue of Liberty, and taking in the iconic Manhattan skyline, just as my father did in the 1930s as a ship’s photographer for the Cunard White Star Line. My mother trained as an orthopedic nurse in New Jersey across the river from New York, and watched the Empire State Building being erected in 1930/31. Stories about New York were part of my childhood years.

New York skyline in the early 1930s

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
¹ Jackson, M.T. & L.C. González, 1979. Persistence of Pseudomonas solanacearum in an inceptisol in Costa Rica. Am. Potato J. 56, 467 (abst.). Paper presented at the 63rd Annual meeting of the Potato Association of America, Vancouver, British Columbia, July 22-27, 1979.