Thursday, January 28, 2010

A day in the life...

The monkey returned from his vet visit today with an almost entirely clean bill of health. He’s been stitched up, had a little portion of his tail amputated, and looks like a real live animal! Thanks to everyone for their concern for Trino’s well-being! He still looks a bit like Gollum, but he’s doing really well. I’ve had a rough couple of days physically. Yesterday I was closing our radio telemeter and got my pinky stuck in it and managed to pierce my fingernail with the corner… so that hurts. This morning I got stung by a wasp before we even saw the monkeys, I fell into a whole, and I got a minimum of 8 fire ant stings. I still haven’t been eaten by a jaguar, stampeded by peccaries, knocked off of an embankment, or caught in a tree fall, though – so there’s something to look forward to.

So I’m all settled in at CICRA. As of tomorrow, I will have been here for three whole weeks. Time enough for me to have established a basic daily routine, which, since it’s in the Amazon, is perhaps exciting enough to merit a blog post.

My day begins at 4:00, when my first (of three) alarm goes off. Depending on my mood, I either spring out of bed to get dressed, or I doze until my second alarm at 4:15 and my third at 4:30. I’ve been getting up between 4 and 4:15 so I have enough time to get dressed and eat something sort of substantial before heading out. By 4:30, I’ve walked down to the Commodore (the dining room) and am getting myself a nice helping of an oatmeal concoction affectionately known as monkey poo – raw oats, powdered milk, sugar, cocoa powder, and some hot water. Our lunches are in Tupperware waiting for us in the giant refrigerator, so we grab those, a spoon, and a few packs of cookies and saltines. For the first two weeks, the cookies were these orange squares that said, “Galletas con sabor de naranja” (orange flavored cookies). I don’t think I’ll ever be able to taste anything artificially orange flavored again without thinking of the Amazon. More recently, we’ve had chocolate flavored galletas, and also vanilla and strawberry wafers.

Generally, I’m back in the lab getting ready to head out between 4:45 and 5. I need to collect things like the GPS, the data book, a compass, flagging tape, the radio telemeter, and the dry bag. Plus apply DEET. We usually leave for the field between 5 and 5:15 so we can get to the tree the monkeys fell asleep in the night before. If we don’t know exactly where they went to sleep, we can use the radio telemeter to trace them because one member of the group has been radio collared. Generally, though, they wake up sometime between 5:30 and 6, and as soon as we see them pop out of their sleeping tree, we begin recording data. We take scans of behavior of all members of the group every 10 minutes, and there is a constant focal being recorded about the twins – what they’re doing, who they’re interacting with, who’s carrying them, things like that. Plus we record some additional data on specific things like mating, fights, and scent marking.

Following the monkeys generally consists of short bursts of stressful running after them or pushing through bamboo, followed by longer periods of sitting in the same place while they forage or rest. Recently, they’ve been spending ridiculously long amounts of time in brambles where they are entirely out of sight. Then they take 20 minutes or so to travel to a different bramble, eat a little on the way, and then spend another hour or two out of sight. Between 8 or 9, I usually am hungry and need a little more energy, so eat a pack of crackers. Lunchtime comes around 11 between scans, or sometimes we take 15 minutes apart from the monkeys to eat with all our attention. We usually get rice and either the previous night’s dinner, or lentils. The time between about 11 and 1 is when I personally have the hardest time keeping on top of things. It gets really warm and sunny, and I’ve just eaten a big meal, and kind of just want to take a nap. Plus we’ve been awake and working for 6 or 7 hours, and have another 5 or 6 to go … that’s a long period. I usually end up eating another pack of cookies around 12:30 in a vain attempt to become energetic again. The afternoon continues much the same way until about 3:30, when they make a mad rush to a feeding tree, and then an even madder rush to their sleeping site. They’re generally asleep between 4:30 and 5 – the latest I’ve seen so far was 5:30, the earliest just before 3.

After they go to sleep, we hang out a little while longer to make sure they’re actually going to bed and not just foraging some more, and then head back to camp. The first order of business is to shower – get rid of the day’s dirt, fire ant stings, and sweat. I generally do data entry and some internet things between when I get back and dinner (at 6:30). After dinner, it’s more internet and transcribing focals. I try to get back to my cabin between 8 and 9, and then read a chapter or two on my Kindle. I just finished Little Women and Things Fall Apart – my current books are Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Anne of Green Gables. And then … I go to sleep, to the sounds of night monkeys and insects and birds and bats and wind and the rainforest!


  1. Your day puts a different spin on "get up, get breakfast, and go to work", doesn't it?
    Please take care of your stings and fingernails. We don't want you to do any more damage to yourself!
    Keep updating us as to what's going on. We can't wait for your new posts.
    Love you!
    M,D,B,I,F,A,E and F

  2. I really enjoy reading your interesting posts. Wish that I could be out there with you.

    Grandpa Norm

  3. That's marvelous -- I'm really proud of you.

    -Alex W