Today we took the day off to work on our research proposals so I thought it a good day to take a moment to reflect on the trip so far. Last night we had a pretty big storm roll through and this morning ushered in a friaje. A friaje is basically a cold front that can last several days. The cool air is a welcomed change to the hot humid days that we’ve had so far but in hindsight I probably should have brought some warmer clothes. The temperature has plummeted from scorching heat to the upper 40’s during the day with high wind, hard rain, and a thunder and lightning show that has been quite impressive. It doesn’t sound too dramatic, especially to my NW friends who experience this kind of weather frequently, but there is no real relief from the elements as the windows here are simply screens. We just have to bundle up and hunker in until it passes. Thankfully my classmates and I are housed in the concrete dorms so we have a bit more protection from the wind and rain than those in the wooden huts with their thatched roofs and 3/4 walls of screen. This morning many of us were all gathered around tables in the dining hall talking, laughing, playing cards, and trying to avoid getting drizzled on as the wind carried the rain through the screened panels that lines the three outer walls of the room. I looked around the hall at the myriad of personalities from all over the globe and a huge smile spread across my face. What an incredible experience this is, not just for the amazing wildlife and research experience but also for the people that I am having the opportunity to meet and get to know. Each one of them with their own story of how they got to this place and where it is they would like to go next. I am so thankful to be here.
Today we all split up to look for the specific species of monkeys each of us chose to do our research paper on. I managed to find the Capuchins for about 12 minutes before they took off. A couple of us tried to follow them off trail but they ditched us in a thick, impassable patch of thorny bamboo. sigh… but I did see a lot of Titi monkeys and some Squirrel monkeys so that was fun. 🙂 I really enjoy watching the Titi monkeys and after hearing how they stayed so nicely in one area for over an hour while my classmates Linda and Seamus sat and took data on them today I decided that maybe I should switch and study Titi monkeys instead.
In our afternoon lab Dr. DeLuycker introduced us to radio collars. Collars were hidden like easter eggs around the field station and we had to use the transmitters to locate them. It was fun. If only my Capuchins today had been wearing one of those I might have been able to keep track of them a while longer!
The field station cooks here do wonders with what little they have but since they don’t have a very good refrigeration system way out here and the boat only comes in every week or two we end up eating a lot of rice. A boat came in the day before yesterday and I heard one of the passengers say that they saw a watermelon… I am so excited for them to bring it out. Fruit and veggies are also very limited here so anytime we are able to get a piece of fresh fruit people get really excited. I can’t wait to get home and go grocery shopping… I’m pretty sure that I will be tempted to buy every piece of fruit in the store.
On my list of favorite Amazon sounds: The call of the Undulated Tinamu (bird). It’s not much to look at but it has such a lovely sound.
A family of Titi monkeys resting on a branch.
(photo credit: Krista Lee)
(Photo credit: Christian Bordoli)
Pros to insane humidity:
1. Your clothes never stay wrinkled for long.
2. No need for moisturizers.
3. You can wear contacts all day long, no eye drops necessary!
4. Great detox, even better than a sauna!
Today was the hottest day yet. We were able to watch some Brown Capuchins this morning at the beginning of our hike. I love watching them moving through the trees. The individual I was observing was traveling from tree to tree foraging for food. Since it is the dry season here, tasty fruit is not readily available so the monkeys have to work a bit harder to find food.
In our lab exercise today we talked about the importance of surveying the trees and other plants within the ranges of the primates. We made plots and took some measurements and samples of the trees within the plots. We had a guest lecture by Varun Swamy who is studying the impact that primates have on tree diversity in the forest. I am blown away at the depth of research considerations that go into studying a particular species. It is all so fascinating!
Sunset here is a pretty big deal. Every night around 5:15 people start heading over to the cliff overlooking the river to watch the sunset and chat with each other. I’ve made it over there a couple of times. It is a beautiful sight to watch the sun color the sky in brilliant pink and orange hues as it disappears behind the horizon. The picture really does not do it justice. The only thing that could make this experience better would be to have my family here with me… and maybe air conditioning.
Sunset over the Rio de Madre de Dios
….and just for fun, here’s a picture of me swinging through the jungle on a vine! 🙂
We saw three groups of monkeys within the first 25 meters of the trail this morning (Saddleback Tamarins, Emperor Tamarins, and Saki monkeys)! It was so exciting! We practiced a couple of observation techniques which were more difficult than I anticipated but I think that it will get easier with more practice. The monkeys move so fast through the trees! Then we hiked for 4 hours and saw absolutely nothing… It was a really great hike though! There were a lot of beautiful views of the river, we got stuck in some muddy bogs, and climbed some challenging trails. This afternoon after our lecture about our morning observations the whole field station formed teams and we played the CICRA world cup soccer tournament! Our team won the first game 2-1 and then lost by one point in the championship game. The Peruvians played some pretty intense soccer. I also washed laundry in a bucket for the first time ever. I feel like when I get home doing laundry in the machine will feel like quite a luxury! ha ha! It was a pretty great day. ☺
After about 3 hours of no monkeys and trudging through thick mud we stopped for a silly photo shoot. 🙂
Krista the explorer
Today we observed Titi monkeys and Saki monkeys. We also saw a lizard, a toucan, a green parrot, a pretty little black bird that I will google when I have an internet connection that can handle an image search (edit: it was a Nun bird), some Ocelot paw prints by a stream, and some cool jungle flowers. I also tasted water out of a bamboo stalk, it was so good! It tasted a bit like cucumber water only with more flavor. We have been on the lookout for a jaguar but haven’t seen her yet. I was told that there are a couple of jaguars and a pregnant puma around here somewhere. Giant river otters and the resident anaconda are also on the list of things to see!
We are all starting to settle into the routine here. Finding the monkeys takes a lot of walking, listening, and looking but it is so rewarding when we finally find them! I am so exhausted by the time we get back that the frigid shower is actually refreshing (once I convince myself to get into the water). After lunch we have an afternoon lab then we get a few hours to relax and read our lessons for the nightly lecture. We only have electricity from 6pm-9pm so bedtime comes early but by the time the lights go out I am more than ready for sleep.
After five very long days of not being able to hear much of anything my ears have finally popped from the airplane ride! I celebrated with a cookie. Cookies are like currency around here. The nearest store is a six hour boat ride away so if you run out of something you pretty much have to ask around until someone shares with you. Everyone is so nice that it isn’t hard to get something if you need it. Cookies are a nice way of saying thank you though. 😉
Monday is our first full day off so we are all looking forward to relaxing a bit. Maybe I will even get a chance to finally start one of the books I brought with me!
Right now I am sitting under my mosquito net listening to someone sitting on the porch playing the old 5 string guitar (one of the strings broke) with the jungle sounds in the background. Tomorrow we will hike in and look for the Capuchins again. I am so excited!
A Titi monkey
Flower (my favorite so far). I think it looks like a Dr. Suess flower!
Flower (Kay I thought you would really like this one)
Today was so exciting! On our hike this morning we were able to observe Brown Capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella), Saki monkeys, Titi monkeys, and Saddleback Tamarins!
The Capuchin’s are my favorite and we were lucky enough to be able to watch them for about an hour the first time we encountered them and about 15 minutes the second time. They are so cute! We even got to see a mother nursing her baby. Most of the time they were foraging for either fruit or insects. When they are looking for insects they sometimes bite the bark and look for them underneath or they break off small branches and eat the insects off of the branch like an ear of corn. We saw several of the fruits they were eating but I’m not sure what they were. They were all small and most had large seeds in the center. My neck is so sore from looking up for so long! I thought about laying down but the chance of being bitten by ants (especially bullet ants!!!), chiggers, ticks, and spiders kept me on my feet.
The Saki monkeys were so pretty with their dark fluffy fur. The few that we saw today were not habituated to people and started growling as soon as they noticed us. The Titi monkeys were so small and cute. They were so close to us! Just when we thought the day couldn’t get better we walked back to the station’s dining hall for lunch and in the tree right outside the door was a whole group of Saddleback Tamarins! They are about the size of a large squirrel and are pretty adorable.
Aside from watching monkeys we learned out to use our GPS units and practiced navigating using our maps and compass so that when we start going out alone we don’t get lost. 😉
The jungle is much less treacherous than I had imagined. The wildlife is not as dense as I thought and it is not as swampy, at least on the trails that we’ve been on so far. That is not to say that there is not plenty that can hurt you out there but I find it to be quite a pleasant walk. I am surprised at how few flowers I have seen, maybe it is just not the season for them. The trees, vines, and fungi are all beautiful.
We typically have field work in the mornings from about 630-1200 and then readings and lectures in the afternoons so that keeps us pretty busy but sometimes there is an impromptu game of volleyball or soccer just before dinner. I think my group is playing soccer on Sunday in a mini world cup. 😉 It should be fun.
I am completely in awe of this beautiful place. It is so amazing.
Photo disclaimer: I thought it would be better to have a small camera to slip into my pocket and I didn’t want to get my nice camera wet so I brought a little point and shoot… it was the wrong choice. The forest is so dark that my wee camera can’t take decent pictures. The photographer in me is so upset but I am forcing myself to stop thinking about all of the shots I am missing and instead focus on the moments I am experiencing… that said, most of the images I am posting here are from various others in my group.
Overlooking the Rio de Los Amigos.
Saddleback Tamarins outside the dining hall.
Yesterday we left Puerto Maldonado and climbed into an oversized canoe that had a motor attached to the back of it and traveled up-river about six hours to the Los Amigos Biological Field Station (CICRA). Along the way we saw several cayman, parrots, toucans, herons, and a cow! It was a really pleasant ride, I think most of us fell asleep for at least a portion of the trip. We spent the rest of yesterday settling in, meeting some of the people here, and going over the course outline. It is so amazing here! I don’t really know how to explain it but this place is just exactly what I expected it to be only the food is better and the showers are much, much colder.
Everyone here is very nice. Some of the researchers we’ve met are covered in black markings… apparently there is a particular plant here and if you break it open and draw on yourself with the clear liquid inside it will turn black after a couple of days. It looks kind of like a black henna tattoo and lasts for a couple of weeks. So they all decided to draw on each other with it. I guess that’s what you do for fun after a couple of weeks in the jungle. 😉
We went into the jungle for the first time today. The trail system is very extensive, we hiked for 5 hours non-stop this morning on trails that were pretty challenging. I slid a bit down a muddy bank (the first fall of many, I’m sure), almost stepped on a snake, my boot was about 1/8 of an inch away from it (note to self: watch where you step), and learned that brazil nuts come out of a shell about the size of a small coconut.
The highlight of the morning for me was spotting two bats peeking out of a termite mound on a tree. They just popped their heads out and looked at us for a few minutes before going back in. It was so awesome! We also were able to see some Saddleback Tamarins (monkeys) as they crossed overhead on their way to their next meal! They were so small and incredibly fast. I can’t wait to find more of them. Today I realized that monkeys are not as easy to find in the jungle as I thought… We will try again tomorrow. Hopefully we will see some Caupuchins soon.
Traveling up the Rio de Madre de Dios.
Super awesome bats climbing out to say hello.
Powered by Qumana
Tonight I am staying at a quaint little hostel in Puerto Maldonado with seven other people from my course. It is my first time staying at a hostel and I am pleasantly surprised at how nice it is. The other people in my group all seem very nice, which is good since I will be spending quite a bit of time with them over the next month! We went shopping for last minute supplies today as this will be our last chance to go to a store before we head to the field station. I bought a few things but I’m not sure where in the world I am going to put them since my bag is already on the verge of bursting! I snapped a couple of pictures as we walked around the market but tomorrow I plan on taking a lot more as we make the trek up the river. I am so excited to take in my first glimse of the rainforest! Hopefully I will get some awesome pictures to share with you all!
In the motocar taxi on the way to the market with a couple of the girls…
Today I started my 3 day trek to the field station. I made it to Lima. When I came out of customs I saw a hotel driver waiting with a sign that said Krista and a last name that resembled mine only in that it began with an “L” so I went with her. I am sitting in my hotel room now (or perhaps the other krista L’s hotel room) enjoying the last few hours of solid, uninterrupted internet before I continue on tomorrow. It was dark when I arrived in Lima but from what I have seen it is unlike anywhere else I have been. I have a massive head cold so the warm, humid air is actually really nice and everyone I have met has been so friendly. I am struck by how little spanish I remember (let’s blame it on the dayquil). I’m hoping that some of it will come back to me as the trip progresses. Of course, once I get to the field station I’m not sure how much spanish I will be using. I called home and talked to the family for a few minutes. It was so nice to hear their voices. It’s only been a day and already I miss them all so much!
Well, I am leaving in two days and I still haven’t started packing, haven’t printed any of my materials, and have not downloaded a single book. There’s still plenty of time tomorrow…
I hope to be able to update this blog during my trip. We will see if the internet connection there can handle it. If not, I will continue to write posts and then upload them all when I get back! I set up an option to follow this blog so click on that if you want an email notification whenever I make a new post. 🙂