On the tenth, we were officially oriented to the forest with a "solo hike" along a number of trails that we'll be crashing off of. I heard a lot of titi monkeys (look them up on Youtube or something - they have crazy calls that wake me up every morning. Also, they pairbond and frequently sit with their tails intertwined. Very cute), though I didn't see any monkeys while hiking solo. I did find some pretty cool insects, avoid vicious wasps, see a ground squirrel, and watch a pair of preening parrots in a tree above me for about 10 minutes before they flew away. I also feel much more at home here and walking around the forest. Once you spend three hours tramping around on your own, it's much less intimidating. It's certainly still a little intimidating, but you know that somewhere in there, there's a big group of saddleback tamarins waiting for you to come follow them.
My turn to do that was this morning. They wake up sometime between 5 and 5:30 every morning, and if we're lucky someone followed them to their sleeping tree the previous night so that you know where you're headed early in the morning. This morning Rhea, Karina and I headed out for Aerodromo Trail at 4:45 with some radio telemetry equipment, a data book, and the infamous Rite-in-the-Rain Pens which cost $6 and are almost as valuable as the monkeys! We finally found them at about 5:20, but they scampered off before we could make visual contact after leading us about 300 meters into a terrible bamboo thicket (full of exciting things like fire ants). Bushwhacking in the Amazon has its own exciting challenges, like avoiding bullet ants, snakes, and wasps. In the 10 years of this research station, there have only been three snake bites (and everyone was fine), so I'm not hugely worried, but I do carry my Venom Extractor with me while tramping.
We finally actually found them at about 6:15 this morning - 6 animals in our group, including two males, two females, and two twins of indeterminate sex (it turns out that until they reach puberty, tamarin genetalia look pretty similar). I was learning how to do scan samples this morning, which basically means you run through the forest - quietly - while keeping track of all 6 monkeys at once so that every 10 minutes you can write down what they're doing. We followed them all around this river bank - up, down, and through the creek - several times until they ended up settling in the trees right around the cabin I'm staying in! They're frequently found next to Emperor tamarins (look those guys up too - they're really cute. They've got fantastic curly moustaches and look like a marvelous combination of a Dr. Seuss character, a walrus, and President Taft), who have much whinier calls than our guys, but are also way more interested in who these giant weirdos following them are. It's very distracting to be trying to focus on who's carrying which twin when there's a tiny walrus monkey cheeping at you from about 6 feet above you. We did some focal follows this afternoon, where we use a voice recorder to say everything that one particular monkey is doing. This means that you must stick with your monkey at all costs, and can lead to awesome tangles of Erin, vines, and bamboo while whispering frantically into a voice recorder "Now he's jumping, the twins are still asleep," and shockingly bad language when I lose the beasties.
This evening after data entry but before a shower and dinner, I played a rousing game of volleyball with some of the staff and other researchers. I'm definitely a handicap to my team, but everyone laughs when I say "Soy una gringa fuerte!" and people generally are pretty forgiving. My Spanish is improving by leaps and bounds, but I still get pretty tangled up and say things that just make no sense. I tried to explain to the cook that I was splitting dinner with Kat (portions are ENORMOUS) and I think I basically said a bunch of verbs that were sort of conjugated and vaguely appropriate for the situation. But everyone is really nice about helping me. "Como se dice" is a fun game for meal time, and even making attempts makes everyone happy. One of the staff here is Quechua, and he's been trying to teach me Quechua at the same time. I do miss Swahili, though. I've been keeping up with the news on BBC Swahili, and singing Swahili versions of songs in the shower. This evening's rendition of Wimbo wa Bohemia (Bohemian Rhapsody) was awesome.
Tomorrow, I get to sleep late! I don't have to do anything until breakfast at 6:00! That being said, it's quarter of 9 and I am exhausted. Plus my neck and shoulders hurt from holding up binoculars and looking straight up all day! I will be like a rock when I get home! Good night!