E21 – Bonus Clip: Field Mishaps in Remote Chile

Selecting a site for a seismic station in Peru. Credit: Lara Wagner

Check out this clip that didn’t make it into our recent episode, X-rays of the Earth’s Gooey Center, about some of the challenges Lara Wagner and her team face when setting up seismic stations in remote places.


Shane:              Hi, Lauren.

Lauren:             Hey, Shane.

Shane:              So, we’re back for a special thing.

Lauren:             Bonus clip?

Shane:              What? Yeah, I guess that is what it’s called. What I wanted to ask you, you travel a lot.

Lauren:             Yes.

Shane:              So, have you ever had any kind of travel mishaps in your adventures?

Lauren:             I have. The one that really comes to mind is, I actually lived in Peru for four months in this small town [00:00:30] called Ollantaytambo. And one day we … One weekend, we went to Cusco, which is a big city in Peru, for the weekend. And it happened to be Carnival, which is like basically Mardi Gras, the big giant party right before Lent. And, we were on the way back. We were on this bus coming back to our small town, which is about an hour and a half away. About 20 minutes into the ride, it breaks down. We have to get out, and there’s nothing to do. So we just start walking, hoping that some other bus will pick us up at some point. But, apparently, it is a tradition in Peru during Carnival [00:01:00] to throw water at people, and spray them with shaving cream, and throw powder at them. And so, as my friends and I are hitchhiking down this lonely highway outside of Cusco, people are driving past and throwing water on us and spraying us with shaving cream.

Shane:              That is … I got nothing.

Lauren:             Yeah. It was quite an experience. We did make it back okay. We made it back, but yeah.

Shane:              Well, I asked-

Lauren:             You learn something new every day.

Shane:              Yeah. We have a bonus clip. One of our recent episodes that’s not, I guess, quite that eventful but still can kind of relate on the mishap end of things.

Lauren:             What do you think is the biggest adventure you’ve had so far?

Lara W.:            I was trying to help get eight stations installed in Chile. That project ended up being exciting. We ended up driving up the mountain towards the border with Argentina, and the entire … There was a gate about 20 miles from the border, and everything from there to the border was owned by one land owner. This was private property and it was a private road. And so, we had to get given access to get past this gate to go up this road, and we were going as close to the border as we could go and find a good site. It was going to be safe because it’s a private road in the middle of nowhere. It should be okay. The land owner felt pretty good about that. But there’s nothing else up there, and there’s no one else going up there.

Lara W.:            So, we drove up, and we find a nice spot, this beautiful spot with this stream coming by. It was a stunning sunset. We poured our concrete, set up camp so that we could wait for it to cure and put in the equipment the next day. And, I was with two other guys on this trip, and so I was the only girl. I was like, “Oh, I’m going to step away for a moment just to have a moment of peace to myself.” And I find this beautiful spot. I’m sitting there and I’m watching the sunset over this now purple looking river, and it was just stunning. Down the dirt road rides this man in a … Looked like a home woven poncho with a big, broad brimmed hat. It was like straight out of central casting. It was amazing. And he rides down slowly and he says something to me.

Lara W.:            I did not understand what he said. My Spanish wasn’t great, but I thought it would’ve been good enough. I’m not sure if it was just a dialect or what, but I had no idea what he was saying. And he said the same thing. He kept pointing back towards where the guys were, and it didn’t seem to be an emergency, but he said it several times and I just kind of said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” And he just gave a hearty laugh and rode slowly on by. The next morning, I figured out what he was laughing about, which is to say we had a flat that wasn’t just kind of flat. It was on the rim flat. The van’s [00:04:00] tire was gone. It was just all the way down there. And so, I was like, “Oh, that’s how you say flat tire,” and whatever he was saying. Yeah, that was not great.

Lara W.:            We went to jack it up and fortunately the road was quite flat there, so we go to jack up the van and it was really hard to do cause we had a bunch of stuff still in there, but we were jacking it up and we get the tire off. We’re all kind of [00:04:30] working to get the tire off, and all three of us have our hands in the wheel well as we pull this tire off, and the van rolls off the jack because we were dumb and did not put stops behind the other wheels. That was a mistake I have not ever repeated. Fortunately, we all managed to jump clear. Everybody’s fine. But now, the van is actually on the rim, right? The wheel is off and it is all the way down there. And it turns out that where the jack has to be, and all that kind of thing, it’s much harder to jack it up when it’s that low than it is on a normal wheel.

Lara W.:            And it was this little … It was the generic jack that comes with every vehicle, and the little crowbar was bending. I was like, “This Jack brakes, we are 20 miles plus from nowhere up this mountain on a private locked road, and the one Gaucho that’s [00:05:30] going to come by rode away last night and I didn’t know what he said.” So-

Lauren:             My God.

Lara W.:            We stopped. We emptied out the van. The guys were basically pulling up the corner of the van as I am trying to jack this thing up and we’d get it … You know, whatever. It all ended well. We got the wheel on. Crisis averted. Installed the station. It was a great station. We drove down the mountain. We almost ran out of gas. That was also exciting, but we did get to a gas station and we eventually made it all the way back. We made it all the way back to Santiago the night before our plane was going to leave to take us back to the US. We get all the way back. We park in front of a coffee shop right at the university that had sort of a patio you could pull into, but we parked out front in downtown Santiago, just to go into the coffee shop that was right there, have a cup of coffee and decompress.

Lara W.:            We come back out, we drive into the little car port, and we go [00:06:30] to unload and we’re like, “Why is the back unlatched?” And it turns out in the half an hour we’ve been drinking our coffee, somebody had broken open the back of the van and just started unloading stuff. Fortunately, mostly what they got at that point was empty boxes because we had already installed all of the equipment, but they got a laptop and some empty boxes that actually did need to be replaced because you need them for shipping, that kind of thing. And so, we had to fill out a whole police report for that. Yeah, that was an adventure.

Lauren:             Wow.

Lara W.:            Yeah, it was kind of exhausting. The poor Chilean grad student that we were with was like, “I am traveling with Indiana Jones and Lara Croft,” and it was not meant as a compliment.

Shane:              All right. Well, thanks all for listening and be sure to check out our interview with seismologist Lara Wagner in the full episode, X-rays of Earth’s Gooey Center.



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