Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Fishing just once a day (as opposed to twice) is Changing My Life, and I've been taking full advantage of opportunities to go off into the forest and get my butt off the boat. It’s pure heaven to stretch my legs and bend my squeaky knees (they literally squeak...), even if doing so requires coating all exposed skin in DEET, schlepping through calf-deep mud in the jungle, and accepting that the mere act of standing results in heavy sweating.
The Brits keep calling them "wellies"; in 'Merica, we call them "rubber boots". Either way, they get muddy in the jungle, as do the trousers.
Before I signed on for this trip, the Peru director (now my buddy, Rachel!) assured me my expired ability to speak Spanish would not be a problem. In hindsight, instead of pointlessly attempting the memorization of 1000+ fish species in the very lovely (and sadly unknown-outside-of Opwall) "Fishes of the Pacaya Samiria Reserve, Peru", my time would have been better spent brushing up on the ol' EspaƱol…
A toucan, just chillin' in the tree (Photo by Eric)
A sloth, just chillin' in the tree. We have much to learn from the sloths. (Photo by Steph)
Most of the students and staff here are from the UK or various European countries, but our Peruvian guides only speak as much English as I speak Spanish (Less, probably. Much, much less...). Beyond telling folks my name, what my father does for a living, and asking for a beer or a bathroom, my language skills from 20 years ago have proven quite useless. And since my field-acquired foreign language skills have historically involved fishing lingo, I often find myself spouting an incoherent mash-up of Swahili, Bemba, and Spanish. 

It does make for some highly entertaining conversations, though, and I’m constantly amazed how we eventually (accidentally) hit upon some form of understanding despite our communication barriers. And with the aid of some drawings, hand gestures, a few key nouns/infinities, and some luck, we dance around meaning and assume we're all talking about the same thing. No harm in that, really...
I drew this picture in my field book in an attempt to ask Samwell if the lake was connected to the river year round (it is, I think...)
I’d been told that mist netting for understory birds was not to be missed, so I spent yesterday afternoon out in the forest picking tiny birds out of mesh nets. It felt a whole lot like fishing, only for birds…in the air…  We pull down the nets, let them “fish” for 30 minutes, and then go collect birds/take measurements/band a subset for population estimates. I wish someone would have told me to bring a book…but the waiting part turned out not to be so bad. 
I have a feeling he wouldn't sit still except for the fact that his legs were pinned between fingers...
(Photo by Eric)
During one of those stretches of downtime, Jorge, our guide for the day, came and found me.

“Teacher,” he said. “Come.”
(I love that he calls me "teacher"; to the others I'm usually "Helen" or "Elena"; I answer to just about anything at this point.)
So I followed him into the forest, and he showed me a giant pile of tiny dead fish swarming with flies.
A giant pile of tiny dead fish swarming with flies.
Even with my limited vocabulary, I gathered these were the remnants of the receding flood waters. We are deep in the heart of the largest protected flooded forest in the Amazon, and the water level can vary as much as 12 meters between the high and low water periods.
Some evidence of the falling water (check that old water line...)
You read that too fast. I'm sure of it. That's almost FORTY FEET.

THAT'S LONGER THAN A SCHOOL BUS, PEOPLE. This river can fluctuate more than the length of ONE SCHOOL BUS every year. WHAT THE WHAT!!!!

This picture doesn't do it justice, but when the Rio first arrived at site, the water level was up to where that guy is standing. True story.
A few months ago, the solid ground we walked upon had been covered in water, and as the floods began to recede, little lakes formed in depressions. Those little lakes eventually dried up, and a whole lot of tiny fish got left behind. Crazy.
Left behind :(. Unfortunately I never got to see this one alive...when he still had eyeballs. 
The bird survey was...fine. I'm not the biggest fan, honestly, but it's a pretty rare opportunity to see all those understory birds up close (even if the birds themselves don't seem to love it). 

As for the speaking-of-Spanish, I’m getting by, for now, and getting better by the day.

[Note to self: get Rosetta Stone when you get home…]

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