Our last days in the mountains

Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Rafe Brown


I caught a glimpse of the mountains as I left the field team, two days ago. Over the last 48 hours Dr. Tess Sanguila and I drove back and forth along the north coast of Mindanao, visiting various government offices, having specimens inspected, and applying for export permits to ship our collections back to Kansas. Today we went back to the edge of the forest, at the closest drop-off point near our final field site, to pick up the team members. Our plan has been to transport them down to a beach side hotel where we intend to spend a few days, washing gear, cleaning clothes, sorting specimens, and getting ready for the trip back to Manila, and then Kansas by way of Japan. After a couple nights in hotels, I felt guilty picking up the crew in the clean university van. I was showered and comfortable, well fed, wearing dry clothes, a couple nights of air conditioning under my belt… they were grungy and wet, muddy and smelled like mold. Several of the students have constellations of skin infections covering their legs. No one was in a very good mood.

I had one last look at the mountains as we turned the van around and retreated down the muddy road. As I have often done in the past, I could not resist the chance to voice my vow to return (A sarcastic cross between MacArthur’s “I shall return” and Arnold Schwarzenegger “Ahhh’ll be baaaack.”).

A couple days on the beach raised most of the team’s spirits. We had great food, cold beer, air conditioning, TV and internet—luxuries most had come to crave over the last few weeks of the expedition. Reflecting on the team’s performance and endurance over the 9-week trip, I’m pretty impressed. We got through several tense logistical challenges and a few scares, braved severe extremes of cold and heat, handled a few minor medical issues, navigated the gauntlet of permitting regulations, and got along reasonably well with each other. The new information on vertebrate biodiversity of northeast Mindanao—and the biocollection documenting that diversity—represents a research and conservation resource that scientists, conservationists, wildlife managers, and students will rely on for many decades to come. What a summer…it has been a thrill to see the wild side of Mindanao again. I can’t wait until the next Mindanao field season! What an amazing, complex, fascinating and sensationally diverse island!