Monday, February 9, 2009

The Jet Lag Blues

Touchdown. I finally made it to the Philippines. Actually, I made it a few days ago after having spent a night in Hawaii. I highly recommend the Best Western at the Honolulu airport as a nice place to stay if you are only in town for 12 hours. They have waffles for breakfast! Once I reached the Manila airport I had to wait for quite a while for my three large duffel bags to arrive at baggage claim. Once the entire 170-pound shipment arrived, I was picked up by our close friend and collaborator, Dr. Arvin Diesmos. Over the last two days we have set up several meetings for early next week to begin working on site permits for upcoming expeditions. I have also showered twice and plan on brushing my teeth later tonight. Jet lag has to be the worst part of traveling to and from Southeast Asia.

My mother has worked for years at Frontier Airlines and I therefore grew up hearing about jet lag and methods for keeping the effects at bay. Some of these methods are effective, like drinking water throughout the flight, not overeating, setting your sleep schedule to match the country of destination, and of course wearing one pink sock and one purple sock. I have found other methods less effective, like sleeping with your eyes open while holding your breath.

To some extent a few days of jet lag are unavoidable, and to prepare you, let me paint a brief picture of what the average global traveler experiences. For the first few days you are living in one day/night schedule while your mind and body are still back home. The Philippine time zone is 14 hours ahead of Kansas, and while it is daytime here, it is the night before back home. Your body will tolerate things fine throughout the morning, given you wake up at 4 a.m. and can’t fall back asleep. Then there is what I like to call the 2 p.m. drug induced day walking. You know you need to stay awake, but your body and mind have decided to go out clubbing for the last 12 hours and are shutting down regardless of what you tell yourself. All I can recommend is being close to a bed, couch, or small hammock for a quick (6 hour) nap. Things have already started to improve. This morning I slept until 5:21 a.m. before the roosters and barking dogs decided it was time for the morning symphony of nature’s sounds. 


Monday, February 2, 2009

Everything Under the Kitchen Sink

There is leaving for an expedition, and then there is leaving for a nine-month expedition. Where to begin packing is a question I am always asking myself. The airlines have not made it any easier. While we used to be able to check-in two enormous 70-pound bags, we are now only allowed two 50-pound bags. This means I will be leaving my car at home this year. I would say that I get a little too meticulous about packing. Everything has to be placed out on the floor organized by size, and then by color. Lists have to be checked off, and then the list listing the original lists also has to be reviewed. Don’t get me started on making sure you have duplicates of everything in preparation for the day a thief targets my Britney Spears music collection and 15 containers of dental floss.

In the end, I have packed and repacked. Each time a bag gets full, I have to hold it standing on a scale to make sure it will make the weight. The process is tedious, but if you can pack 90% of the field supplies you intended to, you are a rockstar. Important equipment always comes on the plane with me. This means I have a daypack filled with camera equipment, my computer, important documents, and of course, my passport. With all of this equipment, my carry-on bags get pretty heavy. By the end of a long trip overseas I have the most beautiful red rashes on my shoulders and a back that has aged 10 years. Finally, you arrive to check in at the airport and you do what every field biologist does while checking in. You hold your breath. Are the bags underweight? Will I be charged one million extra dollars for my luggage? Can this Northwest Airlines agent smell my fear? Unfortunately, I am convinced that the scales at the airport make everything heavier, and what weighed 48 pounds at home will weigh 53 pounds at the airport. The lesson I have learned over the years is to pack with 5 pounds to spare. And so I depart for the Philippines, by way of four cities, and 48 hours of fun travel time. At least I have two copies of Britney’s recent hit.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's in Manila

Right now I'm at an Internet cafe in downtown Manila. Last night we arrived in Manila at 11:15 p.m. New Year's Eve. The city was lit up and fireworks were going off non-stop. It was quite a sight to look down at the city to see all the fireworks from the plane. We celebrated the New Year right outside the immigration office, en route to baggage claim. Today we walked around Manila. Many of the businesses are closed due to it being New Year's Day. All the people are out on the streets and in the parks celebrating and everyone seems to be in a fun, holiday mood. Later we're going the National Museum. And tomorrow, hopefully, we head out to Mt. Palai.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Rainforest Observations

Coming from South Korea and this being my first South American trip, I expected to see many scary animals such as alligators and snakes. I did see several snakes and I will never forget the shape of the green viper which surprised and jumped away from me as I jumped the other way. I also to expected to experience the type of “jungle” where we would use machetes to hack our way through, like Kungfu boys. But in a primary rainforest, it is actually quite dark, with very impressive massive trees that form a canopy, where you might expect to see dinosaurs. The jungle I expected was only along the rivers or in disturbed areas where all the plants were racing to the sun. As I expected, Neotropical rainforests present an endless learning opportunity for me.
A brief stop in Lima was necessary to collect the important export permit, which allows us to take specimens out of the country. A Friday night in a big city is like in any other: everyone relaxing, very friendly, smiling, readying for a late night at the start of the weekend. We took the chance to enjoy Peru’s famous cuisine in a nice restaurant in the Kennedy Park area, near the beautiful church, Iglesia de la Virgen Milagrosa, where we recapped the events of our trip.
Then we returned to the airport, with a precious cargo of specimens to remind us of every moment of this brief but productive expedition.
It is unbelievable that our most distinct memory of the Amazon is of the cold, which we will tell others, with minimal exaggeration. After returning home, we learned that Peru’s government declared a State of Emergency because of the extreme cold. \
—Choru Shin
Friday, July 16, 2010

A Cold Journey From the Fieldstation

boat travels

My alarm clock sounded at 5 am. It was still dark, rainy and cold. After two days of extreme cold, we were not looking forward to the day ahead, especially to the 4-hour boat travel back to Laberinto as the start of a two-day journey back home. The station cooks kindly prepared breakfast for us, and then we formed a fire line to load gear onto the boat. Fortunately, we were leaving with less than we brought here as we stored two action-packs of field gear at the station for our next visit.

The boat ride is one we will never forget. It was completely surreal. I was laughing, perhaps hysterically– this was definitely Type II Fun (fun only in hindsight). We were clothed in 3-5 layers, huddling in wool blankets, heading into the wind and rain, and still cold.

Laberinto appeared a miserable town in the rain, mud everywhere. Fortunately our two immaculate white taxis were waiting to take us to lunch in Puerto Maldonado and then to the airport. The food was delicious: fried yucca, fries, steak, and grilled Amazon fishes. But how should I feel about the dosage of mercury that comes in these freshwater fish? 


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bat Visitors Offer Insect Opportunity

batsWe occasionally noticed a bat flying around our lab space but didn’t pay too much attention to it. On our last night however, when it was unseasonably cold, several bats decided to use our lab as shelter. Often when the door opened one would fly in and around and then perch underneath one of our lab benches; five in fact were roosting together there at one point. I didn’t think too much of it until I recalled that bats have some pretty bizarre fly parasites that wander about through their fur. Suddenly this became an opportunity to make a novel entomological find. So eventually we got one in a butterfly net, and, while Choru held it down, I picked off the small flies with forceps. We let the bat go outside, but I suspect it may have flown right back in again.

—Dan Bennett

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hymenoptera Impressions, part II

collectingwaspsOther obvious hymenopterans at our field site include the eusocial wasps of the family Vespidae. Sure, in the temperate regions we have our hornet nests and paper-wasp nests, but these types of wasps really become conspicuous in the tropics. There are just so many more elaborate mud and paper domiciles hanging about trees, bushes, and buildings built by a number of interesting genera that are sadly missing from higher latitudes. In fact on one cool day, when few insects were flying about, I took the opportunity to collect these nests and their occupants. The lower activity levels due to the cooler temperature made the whole endeavor a bit less risky. Indeed, 12 nests and about 2500 wasps later I was only attacked once!

—Dan Bennett

Monday, July 12, 2010

Looking for Damage


Since the traps were established on Day 2, we have developed into an efficient 5-person vacuum of arthropods. This morning, we return to the plot to service each trap. We remove the insects and spiders that have been caught, replenish the ethanol, clean out leaves and twigs that have fallen on them, and make sure the traps are not collapsed or overturned. By lunch time, we are having a generous hot meal with our dynamic assortment of field station researchers, swapping stories about wildlife and research. This is such a select crowd: intrepid biologists with a sprinkling of stand-up comics. I am learning as much as I am laughing!

insect damage

The traps are working 24 hours a day but we go out on routine daytime, evening and nighttime walks. As I am seeking plant-feeding insects, I am searching the plants.  It is slow and intense, scrutinizing for feeding damage — scars, mines, holes — and then moving in closer to turn over leaves, pull down branches.  In this part of Peru, I am particularly interested in chrysomelids that have become specialists of bamboos and bambusiform grasses, palms (the ones a 5 ft tall person can reach!), and a particular chrysomelid species that live in unopened or slightly opened leaves of monocot plants in the Marantaceae and Heliconiaceae families.  This latter group is particular abundant here — nearly every rolled leaf has a few individuals of different species living in this tight semi-aquatic space.  Unrolling a leaf is like opening a Christmas present — which specimens, how many individuals, what is their feeding pattern?


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Monkeys vs. Birds



A very nice colony of oropendola birds was nesting outside our lab. We became accustomed to their comings and goings and admired their long, basket-like nests and gargling calls. They always seemed to come and go together and did so with much fanfare. One afternoon however, while the birds were away, three capuchin monkeys raided their nests, and we were lucky to see it. The capuchins systematically went to each one, inserted their heads and torsos into the long nests, pulled out the oropendola eggs, and ate them right there in front of us. It was quite shocking. Of course we were sad on behalf of the birds, yet at the same time excited to witness such drama. 

—Dan Bennett

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Keeping Up With the Traps

Our days have developed into a pattern of servicing the traps in the mornings: picking up all the arthropods collected by the traps, returning to the lab and processing the specimens (cleaning, sorting, labeling), then each person going off in a different direction to use specialist techniques to collect their favorite group.  I spend the afternoons surveying palms, heliconias and bamboos for their particular fauna of chrysomelid beetles.