Vamos peru

Today started well. Being already in the mountains we didn’t have to drive much to collect our first specimens. But things changed a little afterwards. Alberto Salas had recommended us to drive from Canta, where we were, to Simbilca and then down to Huaral. He promised us endless seas of S. habrochaites. After a few minutes driving we realised that we went up quite steeply and that we were quickly going to be well above the maximum altitude for any tomato species. We were optimisic and figured that we’d soon be heading down into the next valley, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. In the end we drove for 2 hours to reach an altitude of 3600 m above sea level. The views were absolutely stunning and on the way up we also passed 2 cultivated potato fields that had been treated against P. infestans, the blue color of the pesticide was still visible, but showed some infections and also bacterial wilt symptoms. Yet, we were definitely short on tomatoes.

The way down on the other side of the mountain was pretty similar. Over an hour of pot holes and S-curves, but then, suddenly, when we dropped below 2500m, there they were, some lonely S. pennellii plants. Shortly afterwards, we saw even more of them and within a few km, there were tomato plants popping up left and right of the road every few meters. Just like before, some showed really no sign of any pathogen, others had some brown spots that could be anything. Then in la Perla Alta, we saw what was promised, seas of S. habrochaites. Some plants up to four meters high and as many meters wide. A magnificent sea of green with yellow flowers. Quite a contrast with most of the dry pampa we’d seen before. We collected as many samples as we still had energy for and then drove to a nice shadowy spot amidst the S. habrochaites, just on the edge of the village. Here we prepared our samples and decided that from here on, it would be a direct drive to the hotel. This trying to ignore all the beautiful additional tomatoes along the road.

All in all, it took us another 45 minutes to reach the main road. From there on, it was 1 hour on brand new and smooth asphalt to Huaral, where we found ourselves a pretty decent hotel. I have just returned from little walk in town and it’s buzzing. Tonight Peru is playing New Zealand for a place in the soccer world cup and everybody is getting ready for the public viewing that is coming up.
I might buy a white and red short and join them, totally undercover. Vamos Peru!

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.