By Ross S. Stein, GSA Distinguished International Lecturer

What a marathon adventure this tour has been!

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Guacamole with crickets. So crunchy!

The greatest part of the trip is just breaking bread with colleagues, meeting fantastic people, talking face to face, or sharing a drink. Nothing in Skype or email replaces this. GSA gave me this gift. I am now much closer to Allen Husker at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), and with Germán Prieto at Universidad Nacional de Colombia.

Seismologist Luis Rodriquez says that if you don’t cry when watching the movie, ‘Coco,’ you are not human.

At UNAM in Mexico City, my host was the chair of Seismology, and I spent time with the director of the national seismic network. The day before my talk, we visited quake-damaged buildings in the City. So many buildings were leaning that I sometimes felt drunk when walking inside them. Had I dropped a marble onto the floor, it would have shot away. That talk was just focused on the spasm of Mexico quakes over the past six months that we have been studying, sharing preliminary unpublished results.  I said I was there to seek answers from the experts in the room, and that together we could at least eliminate possible explanations. So, when the Q&A began, I asked them the questions. It was a very different and exciting interaction: The expertise was coming from the audience, not the speaker.

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Servicio Seismologico Nacional at UNAM
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The elegant Sanborn restaurant in Mexico City, inadequately braced, leaning badly, and filled with diners.

In Bogotá, my host was Germán Prieto at Universidad Nacional de Colombia; he was an assistant professor at MIT before returning home to Colombia in 2016. Last night we had a BBQ on Germán’s rooftop terrace with his family and parents. What could be better? I met with several other professors and their students, who showed me their work. I visited the National Seismic Network, and gave a talk at the Colombia Geological Survey sponsored by the Colombia Geological Society. As at UNAM, we struggled with projectors. I should have brought my own, but the QuakeCaster case is 35 lb and 4′ long, so I already feel like Sisyphus pushing a rock up the Andes. But since half the talk is a demonstration, I tried not to let it get to me. A very delicate issue is that I believe the Bogotá fault is active, most here do not. It has huge implications for seismic risk here, so I simply urged more attention to it.

German and Geronimo sm
German Prieto and his son, Geronimo, in Bogotá.

The next day, Sura Americana, the largest Latin American insurance company, had asked me to speak to their clients; I had expected a dozen insurers, and so I would talk informally about Temblor, with no QuakeCaster or slides. Two hours before the talk, they told me there would be 250 attendees, and they were commercial clients, not insurers.  I rewrote the talk to combine QuakeCaster and Colombian seismic risk in the taxi on the way over–thank goodness for traffic! They had a full reception with lunch, and simultaneous translation with headphones. One really needs to see the Fishnet Stocking Stress demo up close, so I invited all 250 up to the stage for that portion. They didn’t fit! At the end of the talk, the audience asked a large number of remarkably penetrating questions–all in Spanish–but I got the simultaneous translation in English. Then, I flew to Medellín with the Sura marketing people.2018-03-22 11.46.12
I spent the next day at Sura headquarters (which is absolutely slathered in modern and ancient Colombian art). I gave the talk to 150 clients and employees, but this time we were ready and a videographer who streamed the demo onto an LED screen.  This was followed by a reception, where I met faculty from the Universidad de Medellín. Afterwards, I gave a video interview for Sura’s Facebook page, and they took portraits.

Fortunately Sura gave me a car and driver in Bogotá and Medellín, which was a life-saver. One has to have wall-to-wall cell coverage because there are so many last minute connections and changes in Latin America–that’s $10/day–and you just have to roll with it.

I just arrived in Santiago. Here, I will talk at Universidad de Chile and the National Seismic Network (I will be staying at the home of the director, Sergio Barrientos, a former coauthor). Then I will speak with another colleague at Goldman Sachs, and finally a talk at Pontifical Catholic University just before Holy Week begins here.

R o s s