Thursday, July 28, 2016

La Garúa


My friend Nels in Lima commented about the unusually clear weather. Having been on the coastal plateau of the western slope of the Andes in winter, all I can say is, make the most of that sunshine. You may not see it again for six months. Because: La Garúa.

La garúa is a thick sea mist caused by warm tropical winds interacting with the Pacific ocean chilled by the Humboldt current. A thermal inversion. La garúa is a persistent low-level cloud cover, or fog, that blocks out the sun on the western Andes for months on end. Officially, it's winter from May to December. No matter that you're close to the equator. No sun means it's cold and damp and gray.

At sea level, la garúa drizzle evaporates, so there's no rainfall. It's an odd sensation. You can feel some dampness on your face, but if you sit on the ground, it never reaches you. Sort of like San Francisco's June Gloom on steroids. La garúa is bone-chillingly SAD—as in Seasonal Affect Disorder. A soul-smothering purgatorial greyness seemingly without end, without benefit of the delightfully earthy odor of petrichor.

The greater Atacama Desert is the driest place in the world—3 million years' worth of extreme hyperaridity. A rainshadow desert caused by the extreme height of the Andes. There is almost no rainfall along that entire thin strip of coastline that stretches the length of South America from Chile to Perú. It hasn't rained in some places in over 400 years.

The Peruvian Coastal Desert and the Sechura/Nazca Desert are northern extensions of the Atacama—by right it should be called the Sechura-Atacama desert. Bolivia lost its coastline in a Chilean-British conflict over guano during the War of the Pacific, (1879–83). Normal precipitation (in the from of fog) in the Atacama is about 0.07 inches (1.7 mm) a year.


When it does rain in the desert, the ground is so dry and hard as pavement, even an inch of rain can cause colossal flash floods. Like in 2012 and 2015. A freak snowstorm in 2011 dumped 31" of snow. I'll leave you to imagine the catastrophe that caused. (see my post Atacama Floods). Less than an inch of rain in March of 2015 (first rain in 80 years), caused not only mudflows, but an aftermath of colossal bloom of desert mallow (malvia).

Even the driest desert will bloom. The Atacama after a freak rain—a once-in-a-lifetime malvia bloom —Washington Post

But I digress, lost in the dizzying tracts of flowers... on the lower slopes of the western Andes, where the cloud cover kisses the mountains, a heavy fog drizzle also creates some biomes, or lomas —seasonal oases of unusual flora. A desert cloud forest.

La garúa makes Lima a damp place to be in winter. So if you've got sunny skies, pack all that sightseeing in, pronto.

What the travel guidebooks don't tell you is that la garúa makes it difficult to handwash your clothes—unless you have access to a clothes dryer. We never found any laundromats in Lima. Try drying your clothes on the clothesline during la garúa. Not gonna happen for at least six months. I melted a hair dryer trying to dry my clothes. Nae knickers and I was one cross camper.

Most people don't have washing machines, let alone clothes dryers. Some natives wear their clothes until they can stand up on their own, and just buy more when the dirty clothes run off on their own. The region is dry and dusty to boot, and aquifer water is scarce. Everybody else uses the drycleaners.

Going to the drycleaners at rush hour qualifies as a contact sport. My feet never even touched the ground as that seething mass of humanity inexorably pushed us forward to the counter to pick up our clothes. Added a whole 'nother dimension to Take me to the cleaners. I must admit I felt sheepish taking my underwear to the cleaners. But I was a much happier camper with clean knickers.






There's not much online about Lima's La garúa. The Wiki link, er, stub doesn't make much sense. In Argentina, la garúa does mean a light drizzle (llovizna in Spanish). In Brazilian Portuguese, the word garoa also refers to a drizzle, but not in Lima.

All I could find on La garúa were two blog posts. I guess mine makes it three.

La Garua, Lima's fog This post equates fog drizzle to rain, confusing precipitation with rain but there are rarely rain clouds, no storm cells, ergo, it's not rain.

A Year in the Fog  Surfer dude journal

Atacama Floods I discuss the fallout of that freak rainstorm that dumped less than an inch of rain in March 2015, and mention what the desert's like. I also mention la garúa.

Atacama Civilizations  a bit of armchair research on my part on the downfall of ancient Peruvian civilizations where I took a slovenly New Scientist journalist to task—that led me to discover the research of the delightful Cambridge archaeologist, Dr. David Beresford-Jones, and his 2004 PhD thesis. There I delve in depth on the formation of la garúa. 

Chilean Miners a post about my reaction to the the heroic rescue of Chilean miners trapped underground, the San José mine  is in the northern Atacama Desert. Someone actually lifted this post and pasted it in her own blog. Weird form of flattery.

If you want to know more about those garúa-related ephemeral seasonal oases, called lomas, see this new paper by David Beresford-Jones, et al  Re-evaluating the resource potential of lomas fog oasis environments for Preceramic hunter–gatherers under past ENSO modes on the south coast of Peru 

Some of my Ecuador journals (prose poems and poems) where la garúa is mentioned:
Post Office Bay, Floriana Island, Galápagos Journal
In a small boat, adrift, between Islands, Galápagos Journal
LA MITAD DEL MUNDO


2nd draft, original post:
La Garúa is a thick sea mist caused by warm winds interacting with the cool Pacific ocean, a low-level cloud cover, or fog that blocks out the sun for weeks. There is almost no rainfall, but on the lower slopes of the western Andes, where the cloud cover touches, a heavy fog drizzle creates unusual flora. At sea level, la garúa drizzle evaporates, so no rainfall. La garúa makes Lima a damp place to be in winter. So if you've sunny skies, pack all that sightseeing in, pronto. Try drying your clothes on the clothesline during la garúa. Not gonna happen. I melted a hair dryer trying to dry my clothes. Everybody uses the drycleaners. Going to the drycleaners at rush hours qualifies as a contact sport. My feet never even touched the ground as that seething mass of humanity inexorably pushed us forward to the counter.

It always blows my mind when I find the original post (usually a comment on Facebook), and next thing I know, I've got a thousand more words on the subject at hand. Ergo, the saving of the first draft has become an important feature of my writing process. I missed out on the first draft on this one.

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