Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Transfer

As per usual, anticipation has proven worse than reality.

It’s the transfer period.
Moving my stuff (imagine the Charlie Brown sad music playing in the background)
Every 2 weeks, our research vessel, the Rio Amazonas, takes a load of students back to Iquitos and picks up a new batch to bring out to our study site. Our accommodations have always felt a bit… basic, so I had No Idea I’d been living the high life up until this point. A small fraction of us stay on site during these times to keep collecting data, so I was forced to move all my earthly possessions to The Nutria (an iddy-biddy boat scarily-tethered to the boat full of undergraduates!) for 5 days until the Rio comes back.
Left behind ("WHAT IF THEY DON'T COME BACK?" --inner monologue, 10 seconds after I could no longer see the boat)
It took the equivalent of a 10-point turn to get that beast headed the right direction downriver.
In short, I found the prospect terrifying. One student said it was kind of like moving out of a 5-star hotel into a cardboard box. So now I’m sharing a tiny co-ed room with 6 other staff members, and “privacy” is just some word I used to know.
Home sweet home. I've never been in a crack house, but I suspect it looks something like this.
[Update: September 1, 2014; I came to love that tiny little boat and all the people on board (minus the snorers (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE) and the unnamed night-farter. Much love to my favorites, Nico, Emma, and Mario. Mu-ahh!)]
Nico and Emma, 2/3 of Team Herp
But it turns out not to be so bad. Communal living has its perks, and in some ways, it feels a bit like those first couple weeks of college when you don’t know anyone but find camaraderie in a shared novel experience. In our case, it’s surviving the nasty mattresses (shudder), relaxed expectations of personal hygiene, universal hatred of rice, and learned tolerance of mosquitoes and biting flies.  

As for the undergrads, they’re not as scary as I first thought, and some of them are downright endearing. In the past, I've often been frustrated with that (seemingly apathetic and entitled) age group; but on the flip side, they’re young and idealistic enough to believe that small conservation efforts can save a doomed earth, and that naive enthusiasm is truly refreshing.
The Peruvian staff on the Pithecia fixing food for 50 (ish...)
The other perk of the transfer is that we only go fishing once a day, so I actually get to take part in the other surveys going on in the Reserve. Last night I did point counts with Segundo, the macaw biologist, which basically involved driving the boat to various points on the river, ID’ing birds as they flew by, and enjoying the last lights of day as the sun went down.
Segundo (I think his real name was Archie), totally pulling off the fanny pack
"Blue and yellow! 100 meters! 1650!" --some kid on a macaw survey (ID, distance estimate, and time, in that order)
It’s my new favorite thing to do between 4:30 and 6:30.

But lest we forget the jungle basically wants us dead…

At our last stop of the day, I happened upon a tiny snake when I was trying to take a picture of the thousands of spiders lying in the floating veg. When I asked what it was, Segundo freaked out and said it was very dangerous and to stay away (after I’d already stuck my face as close possible for the picture…). Our resident herpetologist and my new roommate, Mario, told me later it was a fer-de-lance, one of the deadliest snakes in the Amazon.
Since I was (unknowingly) risking my life to get this shot, you'd think it would be better...
Lesson learned. 

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