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Skiing and Snowboarding : Science

Penguins Can't Fly, But Apparently They Can Climb

A new study shows that in recent years, some emperor penguin colonies swiftly adapted to a lack of Antarctic sea ice by moving their breeding grounds—to the tops of nearly 100-foot ice cliffs.

A group of researchers set out to determine why two colonies of emperor penguins are sometimes found on sea ice and other times are atop large ice shelves. Analyzing impressively vivid satellite images and aerial surveys, they saw that, in years when sea ice formed according to a normal pattern, the birds set up breeding grounds on the ice. When the ice was late, as it was in 2011 and 2012, the colonies appeared atop ice shelves, which are large chunks of glacial ice that have broken off the mainland.

Exactly how they got up there is still a mystery, but scientists do know that the Antarctic Peninsula, where these colonies live, is one of the fastest-warming parts of the continent and has lost a significant amount of sea ice over the past 50 years. This behavior seems to indicate that the penguins are quickly adapting to their changing environment.

{%{"quote":"Climbing up the sides of a floating ice shelf—which at this site can be up to 30 meters (100 feet) high—is a very difficult maneuver for emperor penguins."}%}

"These charismatic birds tend to breed on the sea ice because it gives them relatively easy access to waters where they hunt for food," says Peter Fretwell of the British Antarctic Society and lead author of the study, which was published in PLOS ONE. "What's particularly surprising is that climbing up the sides of a floating ice shelf—which at this site can be up to 30 meters (100 feet) high—is a very difficult maneuver for emperor penguins. Whilst they are very agile swimmers they have often been thought of as clumsy out of the water."

Researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography and an Australian research group coauthored the study.

The researchers do not yet know how moving the colonies will impact the birds, or whether it could soften the blow of late sea-ice formation. But, they write, "Current climate models predict that future loss of sea-ice around the Antarctic coastline will negatively impact emperor numbers; recent estimates suggest a halving of the population by 2052."

While some of the icy cliffs have 100-foot faces, the researchers note that, "Ice creeks often indent the cliff face giving a potential route up onto the ice-shelf itself… King penguins climb up dry glaciers in warm weather to stay cool; perhaps the less-agile emperor is also able to climb slopes, particularly where ice shelves weather and ablate the steepness of the shelf face."

The environment on the ice shelves is not optimal for breeding, due to high winds, potential calving near the terminal edges, and exposure. Scientists also do not know what physical toll the act of climbing up on the shelves will take on the animals, or how breeding patterns might change. But they think this discovery is an important one. Their report concludes: "This previously unknown and surprising behavior recorded in such an iconic animal suggests that other species may also be capable of unpredicted or unknown behavioral adaptations that may also increase their survival in a future warming world."

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Blood in the Sand: Killing a Turtle Advocate

IT WAS ONLY eight o'clock on the evening of May 30, 2013, but the beach was completely dark. The moon hadn't yet risen above Playa Moín, a 15-mile-long strand of mangrove and palm on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast. A two-door Suzuki 4x4 bumped along a rough track behind the beach. The port lights of Limón, the largest town on the coast, glowed six miles away on the horizon. There was no sound except the low roar of surf and the whine of the engine straining through drifts of sand.

Riding shotgun was Jairo Mora Sandoval, a 26-year-old Costa Rican conservationist. With a flop of black hair and a scraggly beard, he wore dark clothes and a headlamp, which he used to spot leatherback sea turtle nests on the beach. Mora's friend Almudena, a 26-year-old veterinarian from Spain, was behind the wheel. The other passengers were U.S. citizens: Rachel, Katherine, and Grace, college students who had come to work at the Costa Rica Wildlife Sanctuary, a nonprofit animal-rescue center. Almudena was the resident vet, and the Americans were volunteers. By day they cared for the sanctuary's menagerie of sloths, monkeys, and birds. Working with Mora, though, meant taking the graveyard shift. He ran the sanctuary's program rescuing endangered leatherbacks, which haul their 700-plus-pound bodies onto Playa Moín each spring to lay eggs at night.

The beach's isolation made it both ideal and perilous as a nesting spot. The same blackness that attracted the turtles, which are disoriented by artificial light, provided cover for less savory human activity. In recent years, the thinly populated Caribbean coast has become a haven for everything from petty theft to trafficking of Colombian cocaine and Jamaican marijuana. For decades, Playa Moín has been a destination for hueveros—literally, "egg men"—small-time poachers who plunder sea turtle nests and sell the eggs for a dollar each as an aphrodisiac. But as crime along the Caribbean coast has risen, so has organized egg poaching, which has helped decimate the leatherback population. By most estimates, fewer than 34,000 nesting females remain worldwide.

Since 2010, Mora had been living at the sanctuary and patrolling the beach for a nonprofit organization called the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network, or Widecast. His strategy was to beat the hueveros to the punch by gathering eggs from freshly laid nests and spiriting them to a hatchery on the sanctuary grounds. This was dangerous work. Every poacher on Moín knew Mora, and confrontations were frequent—he once jumped out of a moving truck to tackle a huevero.

Rachel, Grace, and Almudena had accompanied Mora on foot patrols several times over the previous weeks. (Out of concern for their safety, all four women requested that their last names not be used.) They had encountered no trouble while moving slowly on foot, but they also hadn't found many unmolested nests. On this night, Mora had convinced Almudena to take her rental car. She was worried about the poachers, but she hadn't yet seen a leatherback, and Mora was persuasive. His passion was infectious, and a romance between the two had blossomed. Almudena was attracted by his boundless energy and commitment. Something about this beach gets in you, he told her.

The sand was too deep for the Suzuki, so Mora got out and walked toward the beach, disappearing in the night. Moín's primal darkness is essential to sea turtles. After hatching at night, the baby turtles navigate toward the brightest thing around: the whiteness of the breaking waves. Males spend their lives at sea, but females, guided by natal homing instincts, come ashore every two or three years to lay eggs, often to the same beaches where they hatched.

{%{"quote":"Masked faces crowded into Almudena's window. The men demanded money, jewelry, phones, car keys. They pulled Almudena out and frisked her, and the Americans stayed in the car as the men rifled through it, snatching everything of value, including the turtle eggs."}%}

Around 10:30, Almudena got a call—Mora had found a leatherback. The women rushed to the beach, where they saw a huge female baula backfilling a nesting hole with its hind flippers. Mora stood nearby alongside several hueveros. One was instantly recognizable, a 36-year-old man named Maximiliano Gutierrez. With his beard and long reddish-brown dreadlocks, "Guti" was a familiar presence on Moín.

Mora had forged a reluctant arrangement with Guti and a few other regular poachers: if they arrived at a nest simultaneously, they'd split the eggs. After measuring the turtle—it was nearly six feet long—Mora and Rachel took half the nest, about 40 cue-ball-size eggs, and put them into a plastic bag. Then Guti wandered off, and the turtle pulled itself back toward the surf.

When they returned to the road, a police patrol pulled up. The cops warned Mora that they had run into some rough characters earlier that night, then drove off as Mora and the women headed south, toward the sanctuary, just six miles away. Soon they came upon a palm trunk laid across the narrow track—a trick the hueveros often played to mess with police patrols. Mora hopped out, hefting the log out of the way as Almudena drove past. Just as Mora put the log back, five men stepped out of the darkness. Bandannas covered their faces. They shouted at everyone to put their hands up and their heads down. Then they grabbed Mora.

"Dude, I'm from Moín!" he protested, but the men threw him to the ground.

Masked faces crowded into Almudena's window. The men demanded money, jewelry, phones, car keys. They pulled Almudena out and frisked her, and the Americans stayed in the car as the men rifled through it, snatching everything of value, including the turtle eggs. Almudena saw two of the men stuffing a limp Mora into the tiny cargo area. The four women were jammed into the backseat with a masked man sprawled on top of them. As the driver turned the Suzuki around, Almudena reached behind the seat and felt Mora slip his palm into hers. He squeezed hard.

The driver pulled off next to a shack in the jungle, and the men, claiming to be looking for cell phones, told the girls to lift their shirts and drop their pants. Mosquitoes swarmed them. After being frisked, Almudena caught a glimpse of two of the men driving off in the Suzuki. Mora was still in the trunk.

The four young women sat on logs behind the hut with two of their captors. The guys seemed young, not more than 20, and were oddly talkative for criminals. They said they understood what the conservationists were trying to do, but they needed to feed their families. One said that Mora "didn't respect the rules of the beach."

The men announced that they were going to get some coconuts, walked away, and never came back. After an hour, the women decided to make a break for it. Huddled close together, they walked down to the beach and headed south toward the sanctuary. They were terrified and stunned, barely speaking and moving on autopilot. Two hours later they finally reached the gate but found no sign of Mora. Almudena started to sob. A caretaker called the police in Limón, and soon a line of vehicles raced north along the beach track. At 6:30 a.m. the police radio crackled. They had found Almudena's car, buried up to its axles in sand. There was a body beside it.

{%{"image":"","caption":"Jairo Mora Sandoval."}%}

MORA WAS FOUND naked and facedown on the beach, his hands bound behind him and a large gash on the back of his head. The official cause of death was asphyxiation—he'd aspirated sand deep into his lungs.

The news spread quickly. A chorus of tweets cast Mora as an environmental martyr akin to Chico Mendes, the Brazilian rain forest activist who was assassinated in 1988. The BBC, The New York Times, and The Washington Post picked up the story. An online petition started by the nonprofit Sea Turtle Restoration Project called on Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla for justice and gathered 120,000 signatures. Paul Watson, the founder of the Sea Shepherd Society and the star of Whale Wars, offered $30,000 to anyone who could identify the killers. "Jairo is no longer simply a murder statistic," Watson wrote. "He is now an icon."

There was a sense, too, that this killing would be bad for business. Long the self-styled ecotourism capital of the world, Costa Rica relies on international travelers for 10 percent of its GDP. "What would have happened if the young female North American volunteers were murdered?" wrote one hotel owner in an open e-mail to the country's ecotourism community. "Costa Rica would have a huge, long-lasting P.R. problem." Not long after, President Chinchilla took to Twitter to vow that there would be "no impunity" and that the killers would be caught.

That task fell to detectives from the Office of Judicial Investigation (OIJ), Costa Rica's equivalent of the FBI, and Limón's police department. The OIJ attempted to trace the victims' stolen cell phones, but the devices appeared to have been switched off and their SIM cards removed. Almudena, Grace, Katherine, and Rachel gave depositions before leaving the country, but it was clear that finding other witnesses would be a challenge.

Moín is backed by a scattering of run-down houses behind high walls. It's the kind of place where neighbors know one another's business but don't talk about it, especially to cops. The hueveros met OIJ investigators with silence. When detectives interviewed Guti, he was so drunk he could barely speak.

Not everyone kept quiet, though. Following the murder, Vanessa Lizano, the founder of the Costa Rica Wildlife Sanctuary, dedicated herself to fighting for her fallen colleague's legacy. I e-mailed her and asked if I could come visit, and she welcomed me.

I flew to San José two weeks after the killing, arriving at the sanctuary after dusk. Lizano, 36, unlocked a high gate adorned with a brightly painted butterfly. "Welcome to Moín," she said in a theatrical voice, her auburn hair pulled back in a ponytail. The property covered about a dozen acres of rainforest and was dotted with animal pens. Paintings of Costa Rica's fauna adorned every surface. Lizano opened a pen and picked up a baby howler monkey, which wrapped its tail around her neck like a boa. "I keep expecting Jairo to just show up," she said. "I guess I haven't realized it yet."

Lizano had been running a modeling agency in San José in 2005 when she and her parents decided to open a butterfly farm near the beach. She leased a small piece of land and moved to Moín with her infant son, Federico, or "Fedé," her parents, and a three-toed sloth named Buda. They gradually transformed the farm into a sanctuary, acquiring rescued sloths and monkeys, a one-winged owl, and a pair of scarlet macaws seized from an imprisoned narcotrafficker. Fedé pulled baby armadillos around in his Tonka trucks and shared his bed with Buda.

{%{"quote":"Almudena saw two of the men stuffing a limp Mora into the tiny cargo area. The four women were jammed into the backseat with a masked man sprawled on top of them. As the driver turned the Suzuki around, Almudena reached behind the seat and felt Mora slip his palm into hers. He squeezed hard."}%}

Lizano operated the sanctuary with her mother, Marielos, and a rotation of international volunteers, who paid $100 a week for room and board—a common model for small-scale ecotourism in Costa Rica. The sanctuary was never a moneymaker, but Lizano loved working with the animals.

Then, one day in 2009, she discovered several dead leatherbacks on the beach that had been gutted for their egg sacs. "I went crazy," she says. She attended a sea turtle conservation training program in Gandoca, run by Widecast, a nonprofit that operates in 43 countries. There she met Mora, who'd been working with Widecast since he was 15. Lizano arranged for the organization to operate a turtle program out of her sanctuary, and in 2010 Mora moved to Moín to help run it.

They soon developed something like a sibling rivalry. They'd psych themselves up by watching Whale Wars, then compete to see who could gather more nests. Normally a goofball and unabashed flirt, Mora turned gravely serious when on patrol. He loved the turtles deeply, but he seemed to love the fight for them even more. Lizano worried that his stubbornness may have made things worse on the night he was killed.

"Jairo wouldn't have gone without a fight," she said. "He was a very, very tough guy."

Lizano told me that her mission was now to realize Mora's vision of preserving Playa Moín as a national park. She had been advocating for the preserve to anyone who would listen—law enforcement, the government, the media. It was a frustrating campaign. The turtle program had been shut down in the wake of the killing, and poaching had continued. Meanwhile, Lizano seemed certain that people around Moín knew who the killers were, but she had little faith in the police. On the night of the murder, when Erick Calderón, Limón's chief of police, called to inform her that Mora had been killed, she screamed at him. Since 2010, Calderón had intermittently provided police escorts for the sanctuary's patrollers, and by 2013 he'd suspended them because of limited resources. Prior to the killings, Lizano and Mora had asked repeatedly for protection, to no avail. The murder, Lizano said, was Calderón's fault.

But there was plenty of recrimination to go around. The ecotourism community blamed Lizano and Widecast for putting volunteers at risk. The family of one of the Americans, Grace, had demanded that Widecast reimburse her for her stolen camera, phone, and sneakers. Lizano told me the accusations were unfair. "The volunteers knew what they were getting into," she said. "We would say, 'It's up to you if you want to go out.' "

Still, she was overwhelmed with guilt. "I know Jairo was scared, because I used to tease him," she said. "We'd make fun of each other for being afraid. We'd always kidaround that we would die on the beach." She'd tell him that she wanted her ashes carried into the surf by a sea turtle. Mora was less sentimental. "He always said, 'You can do whatever, I really don't care. Just drink a lot. Throw a party.' "

We sat in the open-air kitchen, and Lizano held her head in her hands. "If you've got to blame somebody, blame me," she said. "I was the one who took Jairo and showed him the beach, and he fell in love."

{%{"image":"","caption":"Hueveros: The man on the right, Guti, saw Mora the night he was killed."}%}

MORA WAS BORN in Gandoca, a tiny Caribbean town near the Panama border. He caught the wildlife bug early, from his grandfather, Jerónimo Matute, an environmentalist who helped found the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, a sea turtle nesting area. Jairo began releasing hatchlings at age six. Once
he became a full-time Widecast employee, he sent much of his salary home every month to his mother, Fernanda, and completed high school through a correspondence program.

By 2010, Mora had moved to Moín, living in a tiny room over the sanctuary's kitchen. Some days, Mora and the volunteers—college students, mainly, from all over the world—counted poached nests or monitored the sanctuary's hatchery; some nights they'd go on patrol. Mora was clear about the risks involved, and some chose not to go, but others joined eagerly. It didn't seem that dangerous, especially in the early days, when the Limón police accompanied the patrols.

Still, there were tensions from the beginning. During nesting season, the hueveros squatted in shacks in the jungle. Most were desperately poor, many were addicts, and all considered Lizano and Mora competition. Lizano had no qualms about reporting poachers to the police.

A leatherback typically lays 80 fertilized eggs and covers them with about 30 yolkless ones. Poachers consider the yolkless eggs worthless and usually toss them aside. Lizano and Mora often placed those eggs on top of broken glass, causing a poacher to cut himself while digging for the good ones. Lizano even set volunteers to work smashing glass to carry in buckets to the beach. She sometimes found obscene notes scrawled in the sand. She'd write back: Fuck You.

Lizano got caught in shootouts between police and poachers at the beach four times, once having to duck for cover behind a leatherback. In April 2011, she was driving alone at night on Moín when she came across a tree blocking the road. Two men with machetes jumped out of the forest and ran toward her truck. She floored it in reverse down the dirt road, watching as the men with the machetes chased, their eyes full of hate.

{%{"quote":"A few weeks before his death, Mora told a newspaper reporter that threats were increasing and the police were ignoring Widecast's pleas for help. He called his mother, Fernanda, every night before he went on patrol, asking for her blessing."}%}

In the spring of 2012, Calderón suspended the police escorts. Limón had the highest crime rate in Costa Rica, and the police chief was spread too thin trying to protect the city's human population, never mind the turtles. Mora and Lizano shifted to more conciliatory tactics. They hired ten hueveros and paid each of them a salary of $300 per month, using money from the volunteers' fees. In return, the men would give up poaching and work on conservation. Guti was one of the first to sign on. The hueveros walked the beach with the volunteers, gathering nests and bringing them to the hatchery. It was a steep pay cut—an industrious huevero can make as much as $200 a night—so Lizano pushed the idea that the poachers could eventually work in the more viable long game of ecotourism, guiding tourists to nesting sites. But the money for the project quickly ran out, and Lizano wasn't surprised when poaching increased soon after.

Around the same time, a menacing poaching gang showed up on Playa Moín. They seemed far more organized than the typical booze-addled hueveros. The group dropped men along the beach by van, using cell phones to warn each other of approaching police. They were led by a Nicaraguan named Felipe "Renco" Arauz, now 38, who had a long criminal history, including drug trafficking and kidnapping.

In April 2012, a group of men armed with AK-47's broke into the hatchery, tied up five volunteers, and beat a cousin of Mora's with their rifle butts. Then they stole all 1,500 of the eggs that had been collected that season. Mora, out patrolling the beach, returned to find the volunteers tied up. He went ballistic, punching the walls. Then he exacted vengeance, going on a frenzy of egg gathering, accompanied once again by armed police protection. Mora collected 19 nests in three nights, completely replacing the eggs that had been stolen. But a few weeks later, Calderón once again suspended escorts, and no arrests were made.

A month after the hatchery raid, in May 2012, the dangers became too much even for Lizano. She was at a restaurant in downtown Limón when she spotted a man taking Fedé's photo with his cell phone. She recognized him as a huevero and confronted him angrily: "It's me you want. Leave the kid out of it." The man laughed at her. That was the final straw. She moved with Fedé back to San José, returning to Moín alone on weekends.

Mora remained, however, and when the 2013 season began in March, he returned to his patrols—mostly alone, but occasionally with volunteers. By this point, the volunteer program was entirely Mora's operation. The Americans, who arrived in April, knew there were risks. But according to Rachel, Mora never told her about the raid on the hatchery the year before. She entrusted her safety to him completely. "I had gone out numerous times with Jairo and never really felt in danger," she told me. "I knew he was there and wouldn't let anything happen to me."

But just a few weeks before his death, Mora told a newspaper reporter that threats were increasing and the police were ignoring Widecast's pleas for help. He called his mother, Fernanda, every night before he went on patrol, asking for her blessing. When Lizano saw Fernanda at Mora's funeral, she asked for her forgiveness.

"Sweetie," Fernanda replied, "Jairo wanted to be there. It was his thing."


The cop next to me, young and jumpy in the darkness, pulled his M4's slide back, racking a cartridge. As I crouched down, I saw two green dots floating—the glow-in-the-dark sights of a drawn 9mm. About 100 yards off, the police had spotted a couple of shadowy figures. Hueveros.

I was on patrol. Following Mora's killing, the sea turtle volunteer program had been suspended, but two of Mora's young protégés, Roger Sanchez and his girlfriend, Marjorie Balfodano, still walked the beach every night with police at their side. Sanchez, 18, and Balfodano, 20, were both diminutive students, standing in bare feet with headlamps on. They weren't much to intimidate a poacher, but Sanchez was fearless. Before we set out, he told me with earnest bravado that he planned to patrol Moín for the rest of his life. When we saw the hueveros, we'd been walking for three hours alongside an escort of five officers from Limón's Fuerza Pública, kitted out with bulletproof vests, sidearms, and M4 carbines. Perhaps it was just a publicity stunt by Calderón, but it was a comforting one. We had encountered a dozen plundered nests, each one a shallow pit littered with broken shells. The hueveros, it had seemed, were just steps ahead of us.

Then the cop on my right noticed two figures and pulled his gun. Three of the police told us to wait and confronted the two men. After several minutes we approached. The cops shone their flashlights on the poachers and made them turn out their pockets. One wore a knit cap, and the other had long reddish dreadlocks—Guti. They were both slurry with drink, and the cops seemed to be making a show of frisking them. The men had no contraband, so the cops let them stumble off along the beach.

After a while the radio crackled. Another police truck had found two nesting leatherbacks. We rushed to the spot. In the darkness, a hump the size of an overturned kiddie pool slowly shifted in the sand. The baula's great watery eyes looked sidelong toward the sea as it excavated a nest in the beach with back flippers as dexterous as socked hands. With each labored effort, it delicately lifted a tiny scoop of sand and cupped it to the edge of the hole. Sanchez held a plastic bag in anticipation, ready for her to drop her clutch.

Then Guti's drunken companion stumbled up to us, knelt beside Sanchez, and offered a boozy disquisition on sea turtle biology. The cops ignored him, and the spooked animal heaved forward, dragging her bulk away without laying any eggs. A few more heaves and the foaming waves broke over the turtle's ridged carapace.

The night wasn't a complete loss, though. A short distance away, the second leatherback had laid its nest. Soon a second patrol truck pulled up and handed Sanchez a bag of 60 eggs. We hitched a ride back to the sanctuary and a wooden shed packed with styrofoam coolers. Sanchez opened one, sifted beach sand into the bottom, then began placing the eggs inside. I noticed that a pen had been stuck into one of the coolers. Next to it, a set of stylized initials was scratched into the styrofoam: JMS. Altogether, there were perhaps 1,000 eggs in the coolers. Almost all of them had been gathered by Mora.

{%{"image":"","caption":"Mora's protoge Roger Sanchez (left) waits for a turtle to lay eggs."}%}

A COUPLE OF DAYS later, I went to see Erick Calderón at the police headquarters in Limón. With his small build and boyish face, he seemed an unlikely enforcer, and he'd clearly been affected by the pressure the killing had brought on his department. Since the murder, Calderón said, the police had patrolled Moín every night. "I want to make the beach a safer place, control poaching of eggs, and educate the population so the demand isn't there," he said. But it was unclear how long he could sustain the effort. He said that only a dedicated ecological police force would make a lasting impact. They'd need a permanent outpost on Moín, a dozen officers supplied with 4x4s and night-vision goggles.

Then Calderón insisted that Mora's murder was an anomaly and that Costa Rica was "not a violent society"—an assertion belied by the fact that the previous afternoon, a shootout between rival gangs had happened just a few blocks from the station. He seemed ashamed that the murder had happened on his watch, that Lizano had screamed at him. "I know Jairo was a good guy," he told me.

That afternoon I met up with Lizano's father, Bernie. His means of processing his sorrow had been to turn himself into a pro bono private investigator. A former tuna fisherman, Bernie was 65, with a full head of white hair and a pronounced limp from an old boating accident. As we drove around Limón, he seemed to know everyone's racket, from the drug kingpins behind razor-wire-topped fences to a guy on a corner selling drinks from a cooler. "He keeps the turtle eggs in his truck," Bernie whispered conspiratorially. At one house he stopped to chat with a shirtless, heavily tattooed man. The guy offered his condolences, then said, "Let me know if you need any maintenance work done." As Bernie pulled away he chuckled: "Maintenance. That guy's a hit man."

We drove to a squat concrete building with dark-tinted windows on the edge of town—the office of the OIJ. After Bernie and I passed through a metal detector, one of the case's detectives, tall and athletic, with a 9mm holstered in his jeans, agreed to speak with me anonymously. He said that OIJ investigators in Limón were the busiest in the country due to drug-related crime. I asked whether he thought the killers were traffickers, and he shook his head wearily. "If they were narcos, it would have been a disaster," he said. "Every one of them would have been killed."

Like Calderón, he promised that Mora would not be a mere statistic. He insisted that they were closing in on serious leads. Walking out, Bernie told me he had spoken in private with the detective, to whom he'd been feeding every scrap of information he'd gotten. "He told me, 'We are very close to getting them, but we don't want them to know because they'll get away.' "

Bernie's PI trail led back to Moín, where he had tracked down a potential witness—a man who lived near the beach. The man had been the first to find Mora early on the morning of May 31. He walked Bernie to the spot where he'd found the body. As he described it, there were signs of a struggle from the footprints around the car. It looked to him like Mora had escaped his captors and dashed down the beach. Another set of tracks seemed to show a body being dragged back to the vehicle.

Bernie had begged the man for some clue, mentioning Paul Watson's reward, which had now swelled to $56,000. "He said, 'No, no, I don't need the money. It's not that I don't need it, it's just that they did something very bad.' " If he talked, he was sure that he and his family would be killed.

{%{"image":"","caption":"A poachers hut near Playa Moin."}%}

ON JULY 31, the OIJ conducted a predawn raid, called Operation Baula, at several houses around Limón. Dozens of armed agents arrested six men, including Felipe Arauz, the 38-year-old Nicaraguan immigrant suspected of being the ringleader of the violent hueveros. A seventh man was caught ten days later. The suspects were Darwin and Donald Salmón Meléndez, William Delgado Loaiza, Héctor Cash Lopez, Enrique Centeno Rivas, and Bryan Quesada Cubillo. While Lizano knew of the alleged killers, she was relieved that she hadn't worked with them. "Thank God none were my poachers," she said.

Detectives from the OIJ had been talking to informants and quietly tracking Mora's stolen cell phone. According to court documents, one of the suspects, Quesada, 20, had continued to use it, sending incriminating texts. One read: "We dragged him on the beach behind Felipe's car and you know it."

{%{"quote":"The cop next to me, young and jumpy in the darkness, pulled his M4's slide back, racking a cartridge. As I crouched down, I saw two green dots floating—the glow-in-the-dark sights of a drawn 9mm. About 100 yards off, the police had spotted a couple of shadowy figures. Hueveros."}%}

To Lizano, the motive was clearly revenge, but the authorities cast the crime as "a simple robbery and assault." They also laid blame on Mora and Lizano's failed attempt to hire poachers for conservation. An OIJ spokesman claimed that the program had bred resentment among hueveros. The accusation infuriated Lizano. "They're just looking for a scapegoat," she said.

Lizano thought that the authorities were deflecting blame. It turned out that on the night of the murder, a police patrol had encountered several of the suspects—they were the same men the cops had warned Mora about. A few hours later the gang lay in wait. Whether or not they intended to kill Mora will be argued at the trial later this spring.

Even so, the arrests haven't brought much closure to those closest to Mora. Almudena, back in Madrid, was deeply depressed when I reached her. "Jairo is dead," she said. "For me there is no justice." The only positive outcome, as she saw it, would be for a preserved beach. "In ten years, there have to be turtles at Moín," she said. "If not, this has happened for nothing."

Lizano, meanwhile, redoubled her efforts to protect Moín. Any legislative change to preserve the beach is far off, and the turtles now face an additional threat—a massive container-port development project that a Dutch conglomerate hopes to build nearby. Still, Lizano told me, "I really believe it has to continue. I can't stop and let the poachers win. For me it's not an option."

In July, Lizano brought Fedé back to Moín. She woke him up one morning before sunrise, and together with a group of volunteers they walked to the beach. The night before, at the sanctuary, the first turtle hatchlings had broken up through the sand in their styrofoam-cooler nests. Lizano showed Fedé how to lift the tiny flapping things out and set them gently on the sand. The people stood back and watched as the turtles inched down the beach, making their way toward the breaking waves and an uncertain future.

Matthew Power wrote about Australia's northern territory in February 2012.

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World's Weirdest Van Goes Ultra Green

Otmar Ebenhoech was cruising down Interstate 5 last spring in his stretch Vanagon—that's a 1986 Volkswagen Synchro merged with a 1982 Volkswagen Westfalia, no big deal—when calamity struck. The engine threw a rod and he was forced to take a pricey tow ride back home to Corvallis, Oregon.

This was already the second engine he'd built for the 15-year-old rig. (He'd swapped out the gasoline engine for a turbo-diesel in the mid 2000s so he could run on biodiesel.) Disheartened, he was ready to hang up the keys for a while. But then a buddy of his sparked an idea: why not pull the engine out and replace it with an electric motor?

"I like the idea of EV camping. But the Achilles heel is that EVs have such short driving ranges [it’s hard to get them out into the wilderness]," says Ebenhoech. That's true for just about all EVs except, of course, for Teslas, which get at least 200 miles on a full charge (up to 300 with the 85kWh battery). What's more, Tesla's network of lightening fast "Superchargers" could get him from Oregon to Death Valley, Calif., his favorite playground, very quick-like.

But only a crazy person would buy a $90,000 luxury EV, pull it apart, and convert a Franken-van into an electric Franken-van. But what about a Tesla Model S that's been in a wreck? Ebenhoech scoured insurance auctions and struck gold: a badly banged up Model S for $40,000.

So now the fun has begun and he's building the "Stretchla." The van's busted diesel engine has been removed and Ebenhoech has entered the long, mysterious, pioneering process of trying to sculpt the Tesla innards into his stretch Vanagon. He expects some potholes.

"Tesla has not made its service manuals or wiring diagrams available to the public yet," he says. That means it'll all be trial and error, but Ebenhoech is used to that. A long-time mechanic and tinkerer, he also drives a Porsche 914 that he electrified and he developed a motor controller, called the Zilla, that opened the doors to EV drag racing. He's kind of an EV rock star.

Ebenhoech is pretty meticulous in his note-taking and sharing his process on his blog, so if you’re a fellow EV obsessive, check that out. But here's the basic plan: More than 80 percent of the Model S will be used, including the wheels, suspension system, seats, and, obviously, the motor and battery pack. "I might even use the tail lights," he says.

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The Top 8 Fitness Trends of 2014

New year; new you. From augmented-reality training to wearable technology, 2014 will be the year that science puts you at the top of your game. And these are the eight must-follow trends that will get you there.

8. Muscle Tracking
Until now, the only way to reliably measure muscle activity was through a specialized test in which a trained professional stuck electrodes that monitor muscles' electrical signals to the skin. But Silicon Valley start-up Athos figured out how to incorporate those sensors—sans adhesive—into stylish compression garments that also track heart and breathing rates. The result: smart training shirts and shorts that will highlight imbalances, improper posture, and over or under exerted muscles so you can optimize your workouts, and reduce your chance of injury. Coming this spring at a starting cost of about $300.

7. Bike Commuting Goes Mainstream
Prediction: cycling fashion, technology, and infrastructure will converge in 2014, making this the year of the bike. 

Let's start with smartwheels. Two companies, FlyKly and Superpedestrian, plan to sell battery powered, smartphone-enabled rear bike wheels in 2014. The design makes it simple to turn most bikes into electric rigs, so commuting will be easier than ever. The price, however, may be too steep to start at $590 for FlyKly's Smart Wheel, and $699 for Superpedestrian's Copenhagen Wheel.

On the fashion front, cycling lifestyle brand Rapha saw sales balloon 80 percent in the first half of 2013, with no sign of slowing. And Swedish airbag helmet, the Hövding went on sale in late 2013, promising to end helmet hair for commuters while maintaining their safety.

Finally, no fewer than eight major U.S. cities plan to launch bike sharing programs in 2014, creating the infrastructure for more people to stay fit, and ride safely and easily. Look for Vélib-like services in Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Austin, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Portland, San Diego, and Seattle.  

6. Bodyweight Training
Thank CrossFit and obstacle racing cultures for ushering in a return to minimalist, go-anywhere, drop-and-do-it-for-free full-body strengthening. This year, for the first time ever, bodyweight training appeared on the American College of Sports Medicine's annual survey of 3,815 health and fitness professionals predicting fitness trends for the upcoming year.

"Body weight training uses minimal equipment making it more affordable. Not limited to just push-ups and pull-ups, this trend allows people to get 'back to the basics' with fitness," ACSM wrote. No gym, no excuse.

5. Helmets Get Smart
Skier Askel Lund Svindal won the World Championship in downhill and Super G this year while wearing a Sweet helmet emblazoned with a little yellow sticker that reads "Mips."

Backed by 15 years of research, Swedish company Mips is revolutionizing helmet technology with a system that reduces forces to the brain by up to 40 percent when the head strikes something at a 45-degree angle.

The magic lies in a layer of low-friction material sandwiched between a helmet's outer shell and inner liner. "This material allows the shell to move around in relation to the liner, thereby limiting the forces passed straight through to your head," Gizmag explains, lessening your chances of suffering a concussion or serious brain injury when you eat it.

While POC debuted the first Mips-enabled ski helmet in 2010, expect to see the technology taking over helmets in every sport from skiing and cycling to motocross, football, and hockey as the price for protection drops, and Mips forges new partnerships. Look for the yellow Mips sticker on seven new helmets in 2014, including the One Industries Gamma, SCOTT Sports Stego and Commuter, Lazer Helmets Helium and Beam, Sweet Protection Bushwhacker, and O'Neal 10 Series.

4. Personal TENS Machines
A staple in physical therapy offices for decades, TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) machines send small electrical pulses to the body through electrodes placed on the skin, and are thought to block pain signals from hitting the brain. They're also thought to improve circulation and lower inflammation in the area being treated.

Brands including the IRest Massager marketed iPod-sized TENS units at marathon expos in 2013. But at $350 to $400 a pop, the products were pricey. Now there are no fewer than 12 portable TENS machines available on Amazon, most hovering around the $50 mark, making TENS a viable at-home pain therapy for the masses.

3. Workout Happy Hours
From spin gyms to running stores, fitness businesses are amping up their social game, offering online networking, post-workout raffles, food, and drinks. Indoor spinning company Cyc, for example, lets customers challenge one another to virtual races, send each other messages, see who's signed up for class, and which bike they're riding. Spin chains Flywheel Sports and SoulCycle are also adding social elements to their classes, according to the New York Times, like letting customers see which Facebook friends have signed up for class.

Expect more retail stores to host free weekly workouts, often with themes, always with swag. (Check out Manhattan Beach, California's iRun MB for an example of a store putting in more than the typical 9 to 5.)  All of this socializing boosts business, and your chances of finding a fit companion—without the awkward bar introductions.

2. Partner Endurance
Tough Mudder sparked this trend. In 2014, look for more non-obstacle racing events meant to be done en deux. Already big in Sweden, swimrun competitions are expected to debut in the U.S. (though dates have not been finalized), while established partner-oriented competitions like Ohio's American Triple T Triathlon are selling out their 2014 slots in record pace. Other partner events including the AXS Adventure Xtream Series, Couples Triathlon, and the Summit Credit Union Couples Triathlon and Duathlon are also planning to host record numbers of athletes in 2014.

1. Integrated, Wearable Tech
Say sayonara to the days when your phone, GPS watch, and bike computer each worked independently of one another. New tech promises to streamline your data and provide easy, real-time access to it when you're on the go.

Recon Instruments is leading the charge with their Jet heads up display. The Google Glass of fitness, the glasses pair with smartphones, heart rate monitors, power meters, and cadence sensors to project your information in front of you as you work out. No more fiddling with phones and gloves. The Jet ships in the spring for $599.

COMING SOON: Augmented Reality
Wingsuited daredevil Jeb Corliss trained for his September 2013 "Flying Dagger" stunt using augmented reality. He'd jump out of a plane wearing goggles that projected 3D images of the 30-foot-wide fissure he planned to zip through, then try to navigate the crack without crashing.

Augmented reality takes heads-up display technology one step further, using it to simulate specific race or game-day scenarios to prepare athletes for what's coming while minimizing the risk of injury during training. Heads up displays could also help athletes analyze performance in real time, suggesting running and cycling routes based on biofeedback, for example, or showing a receiver who's open.

The NFL is already using Google Glass to tinker with augmented reality, but pundits predict it'll take two to three more years before the technology is fully developed.

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In the Jungle With Dr. Feelgood

IN THE Peruvian Amazon, in the city of Iquitos, there is a soiled waterfront barrio called Belén, within whose borders strains a vast market. Among its cacophonous lanes is a passageway, freckled with fish guts, fly-covered watermelon rinds, and mysterious oozes, known as Witches Alley. When the sun is savage, which is to say when it is up, the keepers of its stalls string tarps overhead in a patchwork defense. Against the humidity they have no counterattack, although someday a go-getter here will probably find a way to bottle humidity and make a killing in the export trade. These vendors tout powders and potions no less wondrous.

Plant hunter Chris Kilham, explorer in residence at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, was strolling Witches Alley, explaining its wares. Kilham is just over 60, with the (relatively) unlined skin and (decidedly) trim form of a man in his upper forties. He has been variously employed as a yoga teacher, honorary consul to the U.S. for the Republic of Vanuatu, child star of a Welch's grape juice commercial, and author of a New Age book that offers second-life insurance to those who fear an undesirable reincarnation. For the past two decades, he has made his living as a medicinal-plant hunter, one of a small cohort of scouts who ferret around obscure parts of the world to bring wellness, vitality, and, just perhaps, sexual potency to Western consumers. His chief employer is Naturex, a French company that is one of the largest processors of plant extracts in the world and has bestowed on him the somewhat orotund title of sustainability ambassador.

Navigating Witches Alley with Kilham was an unhurried affair, since every stall offered a didactic opportunity. He spoke in the measured cadences of someone who knew he was saying slightly unbelievable things that would be more believable the more level his delivery. Plying his trade on television has abetted the habit. Kilham discovered years ago that TV networks, like universities, enjoyed having a botanical Indiana Jones around, so he christened himself the Medicine Hunter, complete with logo, and now appears regularly on-air as the Fox News Medicine Hunter. He collects honorifics the way some people collect fridge magnets.

Kilham stopped at a stall with caiman skulls the size of desktop computers and picked up a bottle of viscous crimson liquid.

"Sangre de Drago," he said admiringly. "Dragon's Blood. Latin binomial Croton lechleri. It's been used for ages for just about anything bad that can happen to skin—bites, burns, sores, rashes, you name it."

We paused at stalls offering cat's claw, a woody vine that studies show is an antioxidant and possibly an anticarcinogen; sap from the catahua tree, used as both a poison for darts and a purgative for the stomach; and a pile of bright red achiote seeds advertised as aids to the prostate.

A few paces farther along, Kilham came to a full stop. Before us were a couple of tables with a prodigious quantity of strange brews. The stall next door was also well bottled, and so too the next and the next and the next.

"We have arrived," he said, spreading his arms wide. "Welcome to Aphrodisia."

{%{"image":"","caption":"A vendor of chuchuhuasi bark in Witches Alley."}%}

The forest of bottles bore the tattered and stained labels of Inca Kola, Fanta, Trapiche Malbec, and other assaults to the palate. Kilham zeroed in on one whose second label—each bottle bore a new one, plastered over the remains of the old one—announced its contents, cryptically, as "LPM" and its brewer as El Chamán de la Selva, the Jungle Shaman.

LPM contained what Kilham had come to Peru for: chuchuhuasi. Pronounced chew-chew-wah-see, it is a towering canopy tree so little known in the West that, until last year, it had no entry in that great registry of human fact, Wikipedia. The Shipibo people, native to the region, regard the tree's bark as a general tonic, an anti-inflammatory, and an analgesic for the relief of rheumatism, arthritis, menstrual cramps, and back pain. "Studies show that it's also an immune-system modulator," Kilham said.

I was glad for this knowledge, but my interest in chuchuhuasi was more prurient, for the bark, above all, is prized locally as an aphrodisiac.

The round, vaguely lascivious stall keeper gave Kilham a free pour of LPM in a plastic cup. The Medicine Hunter ventured a swig and passed the rest around among our little party. The concoction tasted liqueur-ish—sweet, but not cloyingly so. LPM, the round man said, stood for Levántate Pájaro Muerto—Arise Dead Bird. None of the male drinkers in our group, however, reported such a rise. Kilham's wife and business partner, Zoe Helene, the sole woman among us, felt no stimulus either.

"It's not meant to take effect immediately," Kilham offered. "With most of these preparations, you're supposed to take them for weeks to see results." It sounded like a good business model—the Prozac plan.

Among the chuchuhuasi potions competing for shelf space were ¡Para! ¡Para! (Stand Up! Stand Up!), Levántate Lázaro (Arise Lazarus), Tumba Hembra (Female Tomb, more liberally translated as Knock Her Flat), and "SSVS," short for Siete Veces Sin Sacarla (Seven Times Without Pulling Out). It is the custom the world over to market sex enhancers to men, but many of these brews were said to have a good effect on women, too. I asked Kilham how many, in his estimation, actually worked.

"Some of these shamans," he said, choosing his words with care, "do a better job with ingredients and processing than others. And so some will be more effective." He looked thoughtful, then added, "You know, there's a place for reductive scientific thinking. There's a need for lab work and peer-reviewed research. But with this"—he gestured at the potions before us—"I'm open to the idea that any of this stuff might work."

Wellness through plants does a booming business in the United States. About one in five American adults takes a supplement with at least one herb in it. The yearly sales of all those pills, powders, and tinctures—most of them unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration—total roughly $30 billion in the United States and $100 billion worldwide. Someone has to find all those plants, and Kilham is one of the foremost someones.

He has been stalking herbs for a quarter-century. An indigenous Bostonian with a bachelor's degree from UMass Amherst in mind-body disciplines, a curriculum of his own designing, Kilham spent the 1980s running the nutrition departments of the natural-foods chain Bread and Circus, eventually rising to vice president for marketing. Along the way, he wrote books like The Complete Shopper's Guide to Natural Foods and, what remains his most popular work, The Five Tibetans: Five Dynamic Exercises for Health, Energy, and Personal Power, which has been translated into 26 languages since its publication in 1994.

Kilham's first big sortie into medicine hunting came the next year, when he went to the South Pacific to investigate a root called kava. Long used by Melanesians as a sedative, kava had been sold in the West, but meagerly, before Kilham convinced Pure World Botanicals to send him to Vanuatu to look for a good supply. Pure World, which was bought by Naturex in 2005, was a refiner of raw ingredients for makers of herbal products. If you used ginkgo biloba or St. John's wort or ginseng at the time, odds were fair that it had passed through Pure World's New Jersey plant. Kilham secured a supply of the root and spent the next few years talking up kava in lectures, interviews, and a book, Kava: Medicine Hunting in Paradise.

"To become a star, every herb needs a prophet," a Wall Street Journal reporter wrote in 1998. "In the case of kava, it is Mr. Kilham.… He has become a one-man public relations agency for the herb."

Demand for kava soared. By the late nineties, Kilham estimates, worldwide sales were in the ballpark of $200 million. Vanuatu's gross national product grew by about 8 percent. The tribespeople of one island made Kilham an honorary chief, and he served as one of Vanuatu's consuls to the United States from 1997 to 2000.

Kilham went on to popularize more herbal remedies, with a particular passion for what he calls "hot plants"—aphrodisiacs. In Malaysia, he found tongkat ali, a slender tree whose name means "Ali's walking stick" and whose root has been shown to increase testosterone. In central Africa, he encountered yohimbe, an evergreen whose bark stimulates nerves in the lower spine, with animating consequences for the loins. In China, he studied epimedium (horny goat weed), which yields firmer and longer-lasting erections, and in Lebanon, he came across zallouh, a shrub that, legend has it, enabled King Solomon to give pleasure nightly to a substantial fraction of his 700 wives and 300 concubines. Many of these herbs tested favorably in independent modern studies: in one Lebanese trial of zallouh, for example, 80 percent of men with erectile dysfunction reported improvement.

Kilham, who is dutiful in his investigations, has self-experimented with these and a great many other herbs. In his 2004 book Hot Plants: Nature's Proven Sex Boosters for Men and Women, he describes a Ghanaian feast at which two hostesses offered him a yohimbe-based drink, after which the trio repaired to a more secluded spot. ("The night wore on, happily and delightfully," he synopsized.)

Various of Kilham's wives have also aided in his research. Forty-nine-year-old Helene, who styles herself the Cosmic Sister, is his sixth wife; theirs is both his longest marriage (six years), and his last, the couple insists. A former marketer raised in North Carolina and New Zealand, Helene runs their sprawling website,, helps with Kilham's travel logistics, and sometimes accompanies him on the medicine trail. On her own time, she blogs about environmental devastation, most notably the plight of New Zealand's endangered Maui's dolphin, of which a mere 55 survive.

"A lot of people think medicine hunting is all Chris trekking through the jungle," she told me. "Or, for that matter, the chiefs and elders he works with. The men get the headlines. But it's women behind the scenes who are doing the planting and harvesting and chopping."

{%{"image":"","caption":"A woman sells natural medicines and food in a market in Cotamana."}%}

Helene was a planter, harvester, and chopper. Kilham did not disagree in the least. As for his own job description, he was frank that he's no scientist, just a self-taught guy who doesn't so much evaluate plants (though he thinks he does OK with that) as evaluate what people think of them. As he sees it, if a tribe or nation has used a plant for ten or twenty or a hundred generations because they think it does X, then more often than not it probably does something like X. Why else would they use it?

"It's not rocket science," he said. "But it's patient, necessary work, and it helps the local people, who make a little better living because of it, and it helps people in the West, who are getting this health-giving plant. It helps Naturex make money, too, which some people reflexively don't like, but they have to make money if they're going to work with these plants, right? And since we give people what they need to harvest the stuff sustainably, it's good for the environment, too. I see what we do as win-win-win-win."

Kilham's work has earned the approval of wellness-popularizing doctors like Andrew Weil, who hails him as "a trustworthy guide," and Mehmet Oz, who has given him repeated segments on The Dr. Oz Show. James A. Duke, a retired USDA botanist who authored The Green Pharmacy, the herbal-supplement standard, says, "He's quite knowledgeable. Of the products that he's worked on, the ones that I know of at least, I approve. They're real, and he's right to advocate for them."

Not everyone sees it thus, including some mainstream medicine men who would prefer Kilham not peddle plants until they have been proven safe and effective by double-blind human trials—trials that are, of course, rather expensive. One such critic, Steven Novella, a neurologist at the Yale School of Medicine and founding editor of, cites Kilham as an example of what
happens when "ideology trumps logic and science." Novella writes on his website, "I think he is too soft on botanicals and too harsh on the pharmaceutical industry."

{%{"quote":"Maca is a food for epic sex. Among the hot plants, maca is as hot as they get."}%}

OF ALL THE HOT hot plants that Kilham has promoted, perhaps the hottest is a South American tuber called maca. Kilham began hearing enticing things about it in the mid-1990s and eventually told Pure World that if even half of what he was hearing was true, maca could make the other plants in Pure World's garden look like so many dandelions.

Maca resembles a turnip that got confused and sprouted mustard leaves. It grows high in the Peruvian Andes, rarely below 8,000 feet, sometimes above 15,000. The Incas seem to have thought it a gift from the gods: it was said to inflate stamina, vitality, and virility. According to legend, the Incas gave maca to warriors before battle, but after a conquest they took it away to protect vanquished women from maca-fueled lust. Another story holds that the Spaniards, after conquering the Incas, gave it to their livestock, which had become barren in the high altitude, and the animals became fertile again. But it was not until the end of the last century, with the swell of interest in alternative medicine, that maca spread beyond the highlands.

Kilham went to Peru for Pure World in 1998 and came back convinced. "Maca is a food for epic sex," he summarized. "Among the hot plants, maca is as hot as they get."

Pure World commissioned a team of Chinese researchers to see whether rodents agreed with him. Maca-dosed rats had sex far more often than their non-dosed confreres, and in one study even castrated rats that were fed maca got erections as quickly, when electrically stimulated, as some intact, similarly stimulated testosterone-fed rats. A modest amount of maca, in short, could rival testicles and testosterone.

{%{"image":"","caption":"The group looks at the giant ceiba tree on the Amazon River."}%}

Preliminary human trials were promising as well: In studies at Australia's Victoria University and Massachusetts General Hospital, women who had lost libido after menopause or while taking antidepressants reported a stronger sex drive on maca. In a Peruvian trial, healthy men who took maca reported heightened sexual desire. In Italy, men with erectile dysfunction reported improved turgidity. And in the UK, in a test of maca's effect on general stamina, eight cyclists rode 40 kilometers, then took maca for two weeks and rode the distance again. They averaged a minute faster.

Pure World contracted with Peruvian farmers to grow, harvest, and dry the maca, then the company refined it into powders called Maca Pure and Maca Tonic. These it sold to herbal-supplement manufacturers like Nature's Bounty and EuroPharma to put into pills or bottles for retail sale.

To the press, meanwhile, Kilham hailed maca as "Peru's natural Viagra" and a begetter of "Chinese New Year's fireworks in your pants." (This was not exactly how the Andean highlanders I spoke to put it. They lauded maca, but not as feverishly. On the other hand, James Duke, the USDA botanist, told me, "When I first heard of maca, I thought it was bullshit. But I tried it and felt some stirrings. Me—in my eighties! It's real.")

Maca proliferated on the shelves of GNC and Whole Foods stores, and websites dedicated to it sprang up. American TV crews flew to Lima, and traders from Europe and Japan got into the game. Worldwide sales have now reached something like a quarter-billion dollars. Today, Naturex is one of the world's leading processors of maca, which is among its ten bestselling botanicals. Still, it is far outsold by nonsexual extracts like cranberry (marketed for its antibacterial properties), ginseng (for mental acuity), and bilberry (for vision). Indeed, sex enhancers as a whole make up a mere 15 percent of Naturex's U.S. sales, leading one to conclude that, contrary to the old adage, sex doesn't sell. Kilham says not so.

"The demand for sex enhancers is vast," he explains. "But so is the number of products. Guy walks into the supplements aisle, he doesn't know what works and what doesn't. Even with a product like maca, which he may know is legitimate, a lot of companies can't guarantee that each dose they've processed will have a standardized amount of the active compounds. So maybe he buys a product that's not so good and it doesn't do anything for him, and he tells everyone, 'This maca stuff is a waste of money.'"

To relieve problems of trust, Kilham teamed up with the manufacturer Purity Products to buy Naturex's maca, turn it into capsules, and market it as Chris Kilham's Vital Maca, with his respected face on the label. Purity also makes Chris Kilham's Vital Brilliance, Chris Kilham's Vital Focus, and Chris Kilham's Vital Rest. At $2,086.20 per year, attaining full Kilham-ian vitality is not for the faint of budgetary heart. His own ledger is enhanced by royalties from these and other products by about $125,000 a year—not opulence, but neither will he starve.

{%{"quote":"As Kilham sees it, if a tribe has used a plant for twenty or a hundred generations because they think it does X, then it probably does something like X. Why else would they use it?"}%}

NATUREX WOULD NOT object if chuchuhuasi became the next maca. But with no scientific research yet on the bark's sex benefits, Naturex and Kilham are emphasizing its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, for which there is a small body of supporting science. Kilham thinks the bark may someday be a common salve for the aches of arthritis sufferers and through-hikers. His self-experimentation suggests that chuchuhuasi is on par with ibuprofen for anti-inflammation—and perhaps with maca for sex.

All of which was good enough to merit a trip deep into Amazonia. A few days before we visited Witches Alley, Kilham led our party up the remote Ucayali to meet a Shipibo trader who, if all went well, would supply chuchuhuasi to the world. It is 270 scrubby, heavily logged miles upriver from the timber port of Pucallpa to Contamaná, where the trader, Margarita Maldonado, lives.

Our vessel was the Apus, a small two-decker owned by Kilham's trading partner, Sergio Cam. ("Absolutely every-thing I do down here, I do because Sergio makes it happen," Kilham said.) Cam, Kilham's junior by six years, is a man of ample cheer and circumferences: waist, chest, and head. If his face lacked its breadth, the smile that habitually plays across it would have to hang in the air.

Our trip was the maiden voyage of the Apus, collectively anyway: her decking, to judge from its wear, might have been scavenged from the Niña, and her motor could have been known to the Merrimack. Cam had cobbled her together to bring Naturex's raw goods out of the jungle and, on the empty trips in, to bring a free, floating dental clinic to the villages where Naturex traded. Naturex, via Cam, had set up a similar clinic in the region that supplied its maca.

"Do we do this just because we're nice guys?" Cam said. "No, man. We do it because it's smart business. If the people know we'll help them, they're gonna like us, and they're gonna be good back to us and give us a reliable supply."

It didn't seem the worst form of self-interest. The Apus shoved off with 14 crew and passengers, including Kilham, Helene, Cam, and a medicine man who dressed like Tiger Woods and gave cranial rubs with his thumbs that felt like having five-irons bored into your skull. There were also three gentlemen with sidearms and bullet loops strapped to their thighs.

"For pirates," Kilham explained. "The qualification you look for in guards down here is ammo. You want a lot."

"The pirates here don't really hurt people," Cam reassured us. "They usually just slap you around and tie you to the boat and take your stuff. They don't sink it or kill you—just leave you to drift. Someone will find you."

As it happened, we had more pressing concerns. The Apus sailed her first and last uneventful hour before getting stuck on a mud bar. The crew pulled out long wooden two-by-two's and after 15 spirited minutes heaved us free. A half-hour of calm sailing ensued, then the engine made a sudden racket like a lawn mower running over a pile of branches and died. We learned then that the Apus had no anchor, which seemed an odd choice to a landlubber, so we drifted aimlessly until the boat lodged itself on a submerged hummock. Here, a broken water pump was diagnosed, and the pump from a small secondary engine was cannibalized, with the hope of limping the remaining miles to Contamaná. It was not clear how many, because the boat had no GPS. We could not radio for help because there was no radio, another arresting feature of the Apus.

When the pump was at last installed, a noise resembling a motor rang out triumphantly. But only after four or five men, including Kilham, jumped overboard and shoved on the hull in chest-high water for an hour and a half were we set free.

Kilham alone looked more refreshed than worn on returning to the boat. He was an advertisement for herbal living. "Rule number one of medicine hunting," he said, toweling off, "you will have transportation problems. You just don't know what or when."

{%{"image":"","caption":"Kids play soccer in the slums of Iquitos, Peru."}%}

IN THE END, we made the remaining five hours to Contamaná in a mere thirty. It was an attractive little town, with crumbling buildings and a couple of leafy plazas. Maldonado's compound consisted of a warehouse, drying shed, house, and fence, all of which could have fit on a basketball court with room to take a few jump shots. Every so often, men would pull up on the riverbank in skiffs and haul huge bundles of roots or bark over to the open-air shed, where their contents would be spread to dry on pallets before being shipped up or down the river for sale.

Maldonado was a short, polite woman who parted with her words on an as-needed basis. After Kilham's four-day journey from Amherst to Hartford to Newark to Lima to Pucallpa to Contamaná, I had expected some serious bargaining—maybe an appraisal of the crop or a gentle but probing interrogation of the harvesters or haulers along the chain of supply. A few years earlier, Kilham had entered negotiations with a Shipibo chief to supply Naturex with botanicals, only to discover that the chief was a con man with nothing to deliver. Even with an honest broker, he'd told me, it was often hard to know whether the person could deliver goods in the right quantity, of the right quality, at the right time.

But today Kilham merely told Maldonado that Naturex's interest in chuchuhuasi was becoming acute and the company would probably order a batch in a few months. Could she deliver? She said she could. And that was that. The discussion took about as long as it takes to get a tamperproof seal off a vitamin bottle. It seemed awfully little to come so far for, and I asked Kilham later whether he couldn't have just picked up the phone.

"I know it doesn't seem like much that we're doing here," he replied, "but no, you can't just make phone calls. If you don't come in person, the people don't know you're serious, they don't trust you, maybe they sell their stuff to someone else. And you don't learn whether you can count on them."

This was no doubt true, but it didn't quite sound like the whole truth. I recalled an exchange Kilham had had some years ago with a reporter who asked, "What does maca need for people to start using it?"

"It needs you," he had answered.

The Medicine Hunter had gotten his you on this trip. I had thought I was coming to the Amazon to watch him do fieldwork, but it gradually dawned on me that the bulk of the work was working me. It is a virtue of Kilham, however, that he is candid when questioned, and when I asked him about it later, he acknowledged unhesitatingly that medicine hunting and publicity hunting were of a piece.

"At least half of my work involves getting messages out to the world," he said. "If I can show you what is going on—the deforestation, the loss of habitat, the absolutely hor-rific marginalization of native people, the benefit of these plants—then maybe, just maybe, you will write about it. And just maybe that will make a difference."

"Plus," he said, "every once in a while you make a serendipitous find. You never know when you're going to make it, but you will make it if you keep coming back."

Indeed, he made just such a find in Contamaná—an oil called copaiba that he'd been seeking for months. Copaiba is soothing to the skin, but it usually comes out of the tree as a dark gum, which is about as appealing as tar to cosmetics companies. However, from the depths of her compound, Maldonado produced a bottle of copaiba in milky amber.

Kilham held it like a kid with a report card that said all A's. "This could be a big thing," he said. "A big, big thing."

IN THE MONTHS after our trip, I received periodic e-mail updates from Kilham. He'd visited Morocco's Atlas Mountains for the olive-leaf harvest ("olive leaves are anti-viral, anti-fungal, antibacterial"), the Ivory Coast ("tons of army guys with machine guns stopping us constantly, great food, wonderful people"), Namibia, South Africa, Hong Kong, and the Peruvian Amazon again. He would soon be off to Siberia, he wrote, to check out a powerful anabolic plant called maral root. ("There are wild horses that eat the stuff regularly, and they look like the Incredible Hulk. You've never seen horses like these. They make Clydesdales look like anorexic runway models.… I expect very big things from this, to take the market by storm.")

It was about what you'd expect of a man who has logged three million miles by air alone. I liked thinking about Kilham among Clydesdale-dwarfing steeds, or having guns trained on him at military checkpoints, or shoving a boat out of the Ucayali mud, whenever I took an echinacea pill or drank ginseng tea or, truth be told, popped a maca capsule.

One day not long ago, I received a small package containing a bottle of chuchuhuasi tincture from Kilham with the note: "It's happening." Over the next few weeks I partook of it with some liberality, but I could not pass judgment on its effects. My sexual appetite seemed normal, but then again, it waxes and wanes, like everyone else's.

Chuchuhuasi still stands today where maca did a quarter-century ago—tradition's drug, not the lab's. Perhaps 25 years from now it will achieve a maca-like respectability, backed by a young but growing science. Or perhaps it will have joined Spanish fly and rhinoceros horn in the dustbin of erotic history. The Medicine Hunter has proposed; science, if inclined, can dispose.                   

Steve Hendricks is the author, most recently, of A Kidnapping in Milan: The CIA on Trial.

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