New heights

Today we planned to leave the hotel early again. And, we did. We left 30 minutes later than the plan was due to issues with my bank card, but overall, it was fine. 6:30 am, we were on the road.

Traffic in Lima didn’t slow us down as much as other yesterday. By 9:00 we had left the city and we had a break for a proper breakfast in a town of which I cannot remember the name. Shortly after this town the landscape changed dramatically, from dry Lima-suburban-slums, we suddenly found ourselves in a lush and agriculture rich area. No wild tomatoes though. So, we drove on. The road followed the river up into the mountains and by the time we reached 800 m altitude, the first wild tomatoes appeared, S. pimpinellifulium again. Today we were totally professional and all efficient, so we picked the plants, but did not process the samples immediately. We would collect a few sites and do all in batches. We found a very good site with dozens of S. pennellii in a bend in the road, going several hundred meters up. Here we collected additional samples and processed the previous ones as well. Not far from this site, we also found nice, but lonely S. peruvianum just on the side of the road.

After this plant we drove for quite a while. The occasional S. pennellii plant popped up, but we wanted to sample from a big population, so we could pick the best looking symptoms. I was just about to give up on finding one and wanted to suggest sampling a couple of these lonely plants next to the road, when Philippe yelled “Stop, stop, go back, go back”. I must have been looking tired or stupid, because he repeated himself a few more times. This, however, was a good thing, because after I reversed the car for a few hundred meters Philippe pointed me at the absolutely stunning site that I just overlooked. At least 50 plants growing in a dry river bed.

With plenty of S. pennellii in the pocket now, we were ready to drive into S. habrochaites country. The altitude meter told us we were passing 2000m, the area became greener and yes, there they were. Sometimes individually and sometimes in larger populations. We stopped at a site where we also found S. peruvianum and a third species which I think to be S corneliomulleri. I found very few P. infestans like symptoms on the S habrochaites. I expected this, because in the lab S. habrochaites is more resistant P. infestans than the other species we tested. Interestingly, there were some beautiful concentric rings with a yellow halo on quite a few leaves, so Alternria spp are probably doing fine on the plant. Next time, we should expand the collection permit. When I was about to head back, I suddenly heard some exciting scream behind me. Philippe had found a plant that showed some very clear and strong wilting symptoms. The hypothesis for this trip was that  the bacteria would be mostly asymptomatic in these species, so seeing this is quite exciting. However, we’ll have to wait till we’re back in the lab to know whether it is really bacterial wilt.

Early afternoon, we reached Canta. Our preferred hotel was closed, so we had to look for something else. We also still had to prep the samples of the second half of the morning morning. We did this in a hotel recommended by others, but we soon realised that there was no decent wifi connection and the beds were covered in dust. Motivated scientist as we are, that could have been OK, if only had we printed or at all prepared our route for tomorrow, so after sample prep in the dining room of the hotel and after having eaten our lunch there, we decided to move to another hotel.

The new hotel was only a few hundred meters away and looked much better. By the time we had checked in and settled down it turned out to be almost 15:00. Because our morning had been pretty successful and we both noticed some tiredness from the previous days, we decided to call it a day. This meant we finally had time to catch up with email and other work and also to just have a bit of a rest. For dinner we found a very typical Peruvian place, so we ordered Deep fried Guinnea Pig and a Pisco Sour at 2892 m above sea level. To not upset the readers of this blog, none of us took a picture of our meal, which wasn’t that tasty, by the way. Tomorrow we’re going “off road” to find more S habrochaites. I’m looking forward to it.



Cars, cars, tomatoes and cars

Today started with a slightly different speed than yesterday. We had to drop yesterdays samples off at the lab to be cleaned up and we wanted to get some paperwork sorted to avoid issues with the police like yesterday. When we dropped our samples off, we ran into Tiina Sarkinen and Jean Ristaino who were about to leave for sampling themselves. Luckily we had a few minutes to exchange ideas. After this, we were meeting with Albert Salas, the CIP expert in wild tomatoes. He went trough our itinerary and made a few suggestions. Turns out that the plan that I made before, was quite OK. After the meeting we had to wait for the paperwork to be finished and we could be on our way.

The differences between driving in Lima at 6 in the morning or just after 10:15 are tremendous. There was so much traffic all around us, that at some moments I feared we would never leave the city. Luckily then some moments later, parts of the road appeared completely empty, which the Limenas took as a clue to see how fast their cars could go, until they realised they wanted to go elsewhere to swirl and turn without notice. We’ve found ourselves stuck between traffic with different route preferences more often than not and in the end it took us almost 3 hours to leave Lima. On the way we were stopped again by the police. I will spare you the details, but it took a lot more than some nodding and smiling this time to be able to drive on again…

Then at just past 13:00 we reached our first site and it was a beauty! We stopped because I spotted a lonely Solanum peruvianum plant and it turned out that he was surrounded by tiny S. pimpinellifolium plants and a third wild tomato that I could not determine. So, at one site we got three species. It would be very interesting to sample all plants and see how the pathogens on all of them compare, but in this particular project there is no time for that. In order to reach other sites and other species, we have to limit the number of samples we take per site. So, after collecting wilted plant parts and a selection of brown lesions from about 5 plants, we drove on and just after 14:00 we had a nice lunch in the nearest village.

The afternoon we drove further into the mountains. On our way we saw a lot of nice and not so nice S. peruvianum plants. Many of them growing high on very steep slopes. I nearly sprained my ankle when the piece of rock that I trusted to hold me on my way down broke off and I slipped down a dew meters. Maybe rock climbing and wild tomatoes should be limited to areas with good solid rock. We drove for a good 2 hours with quite a lot of stops to collect S. peruvianum specimens until we realised that we would also have to go back to Lima. So then, we turned around.

The way back started of nicely. We found a good spot to prepare the samples and were done doing that rather quickly. Also the first hour of the drive back went way smoother than we planned. But then Lima traffic hell broke upon us again. I can’t really find the words to describe what it is to drive in Lima, but i like to think that reversing the Middle ring in Munich while blindfolded is a similar experience. You’re barely moving and have no clue what goes on around you. After four near hits, one truck hit the side of our car.  Luckily nothing major, but both Philipe (who had been swearing and yelling of amazement by the drivers surrounding us) and me (who had been swearing and yelling of anger at the drivers surrounding us) decided that this was another good reason to change our plan. Tomorrow we are not going to do a round trip. We drive out further a field, to spend the night there and come back via a different route the day after. So, tomorrow we’ll sleep in a village of 2000 inhabitants at 2837 m altitude. I’m sure the traffic will be lighter.

The adventure starts

What a day! It all started perfect. Being properly jetlagged, Philippe and I managed to leave our hotel fully packed by 6am. We were well outside Lima by 7 and made our way southwards on towards the toll gates of the Motorway 1, Panamerica Sur towards Mala.

Lima police apparently don’t have much to do on Sunday mornings, so they stopped each car after the toll gates, including ours. This is great when you don’t really speak Spanish and the Police no English at all. As a model citizen I handed over my driving licence and the three pieces of the cars paperwork. The policeman looked once, twice, three times and then suddenly asked something that I really could not get. After some repetitions, I think he asked what we were transporting or for whom we were working. Turns out our car is registered as a cargo vehicle and apparently, you need a special license for that. Luckily the policeman appeared in a good mood, or was just treally fed up with my horrible Spanish, because after a few times of me trying to explain what we were going, and how amazing wild tomatoes are, he suddenly said that everything was fine.

In Mala we had a pretty heavy breakfast before we made our way into the Lomas de Condestable. The landscape looked dry, but not as dry as along hte road to Mala and the tgrc told us that once in 1974, someone collected Solanum pimpinellifolium there. So off we went. Unfortunately, nothing was to be found at the described site, so we drove on a bit. Then, the coffee from breakfast really had to leave my body, so we took a break and lo and behold, there it was: our first wild tomato of the day! Right next to us. And even better, it showed a beautiful mix of infected leaves and healthy leaves and a bit even showed wilting symptoms. Closeby, we found several other interesting specimens, so it was really time to put our mobile lab in action.


Further up in the valley, it became even more exciting and I had to combine two of my favourite things, wild tomatoes and rock climbing, because there was a beautiful specimen of S. pimpinellifolium hanging high on the rocks. Further in the valley were a lot more plants, so this was really a good start.

For the afternoon we headed back towards Lima and head north-east from a town called Lurin towards Cieneguilla. On our way we should spot 6 or 7 more populations. However, this turned to be not quite the case. Greater Lima spralws like no other and we found road, parking lots and homes where our plants were supposed to be. Heavy gates blocked to view to what were supposed to be meadows. Not good. So, after a successful early morning, we were again quite devastated by the time we sat down for lunch. Then again, it was not so bad that a good serving of Ceviche couldn’t cure it.

After lunch we followed the road 112 towards Sisicaya. Here we passed a field with cultivated tomato, which we decided to sample, just for the sake of it when we saw, on the other side of the road, on the edge of a chili plantation, our first S. pennellii. A bit further down the road the amount of plants slowly increased until suddenly, we were surrounded by a huge S. pennellii population. Over a hundred plants grew on the steep slopes on both sides of the road. Many totally healthy, but again some showed some disease symptoms. Between the hundreds of S. pennellii, we could also identify some lost S. pimpinellifolium, however these all seemed to suffer from drought and were more brown than green.

We drove around a bit further and founds quite a lot of individual plants along the roadsite, but no big populations like before. We samples some of them and we decided to call it a day. Then on the way back we saw what might be the biggest tomato plant on the planet. The thing on the picture below is one plant. The branches were often over 5 meter long and the base of the stem was about 8 cm thick! It looked very healthy, but had some interesting Phytophthora like lesions. Back back in the hotel fell almost straight a sleep. What a start!


Arrival in Lima

This morning I have arrived in Lima. I wanted to send an update before leaving, but things were very hectic in the last week. There were a lot of small things to take care of both for work to be done in Freising as for this excursion.

Today I landed in Lima at 5:30 a.m. The city was covered in its usual grey cloud blanket, but at least there was not much traffic. At the hotel (1,25 hours of city traffic later, instead of the usual 2 hours), I tried to get a little bit of extra rest, but after I laid down on my bed for about 5 minutes, I got a phone call from Philippe, my collection partner the coming two weeks, that we needed to go shopping. He forgot some things and I realised that I also didn’t pack my sunglasses and the taxi driver said that outside Lima, the spring has started.
So, after a quick breakfast, we wandered around aimlessly in a part of Lima called La Molina to find all the tings we needed.

For lunch we met with Hannele Lindqvist, one of our contacts at CIP, to go trough the project details, and of course to enjoy an absolutely lovely ceviche. After lunch we went straight to the CIP to collect all things we need in the field, like bags, samples, boxes, scissors. You name it. We went through some of the protocols and the schedule for the week to come and waited for our car to be dropped off. I can tell you one thing. It’s big, and it looks like we definitely have to go off road for our prospecting. Let’s see.

Now its time for a quick dinner, then some checking of coordinates for the populations that we want to find tomorrow and off to bed. Tomorrow we’ll leave early!






At the moment I am just hanging on my sofa and trying to update my website. In less than a week, Philippe Prior and I will be in Lima, performing the last checks for our field trips around Lima.

With our SPiRaSOL project, we are going to try several to sample pathogens from wild tomato, so that we  know which ones are the best. We will collect from at least four different plant species and aim to visit as many sites as possible. We’ll focus on Phytophthora infestans and Ralstonia spp. If the project is successful it will open ways for a lot of possible follow-up work to investigate the diversity of plant pathogens in the wild.

But, before we go, we still have a lot to sort. Our colleagues at the CIP are helping us getting a lot of things sorted, permits, hotels, car rental, but we still have to check all materials that we need and we have to make sure we know our routes. Thus we have to double check the locations for the wild tomatoes and also make sure not to forget packing our GPS.