A self-taught geologist and finder of prehistoric shark teeth,
Roberto is the eyes and ears of world-renowned paleontologists who
share his obsession for the Carcharocles megalodon shark,
which terrorized the sea between two million and 16 million years
ago. Consumed with the geology of the Ocucaje Desert, this
50-year-old with an aristocratic Spanish heritage prefers a life of
few possessions - some desertworthy garb and gear, books, a chess
set, and a signed declaration from Peru's National Institute of
Culture that names him an official protector of the Ocucaje. His
home in Ica, 200 miles south of Lima, is decorated with satellite
maps of the desert. Most of his megalodon collection is stored
elsewhere - perhaps someday he'll open his own museum. Even so,
Roberto considers himself a finder, not a collector.
I FIRST MEET ROBERTO a few miles from Ica at my hotel in
Huacachina, a tiny palm-fringed lake surrounded by monstrous sand
dunes. "So, how'd you hear about me?" he asks. "And why would a
woman from New York City want to go 150 kilometers off-road to look
for sharkies in one of the driest deserts in the world?" I blurt
out: "When I was a little girl, my grandfather used to take me to a
canyon in California, where we found fossils of fish and seashells.
I was completely in awe of the fact that something millions of
years old could still exist. My grandpa was the most fascinating
man I'd ever met." Upon hearing this story, Roberto melts. And
suddenly I realize that my entrée to the depths of the Ocucaje
hasn't been a sure thing. "You've passed the test," he announces.
"I will pick you up tomorrow morning at eight."