On the morning of the 16th, we hiked down from the second camp to spend a few days herping around the Barangay Maddiangat (elevation 200m) at the base of Mt. Palali. Once again, unexpectedly cold weather at the second camp resulted in low amounts of specimens being collected — at least for the herpetologists. I think the ornithologists were doing really well the whole time on Mt. Palali. Hopefully the lower elevation of Maddiangat would have hotter, more humid weather that would result in better herping conditions.
After we arrived at the baranagy hall (where we’d be camping out of), the boys and I walked across the street to a sari-sari store and we pigged out on junk food. Sari-sari stores are little food stands that are brightly decorated with all different types of cookies, crackers, chips, sweet bread, and candy. Any single item averages about 5 pesos (about 10 cents USD). Camping across from one of these little gems of the Philippines has led to me making several trips a day to purchase and consume junk food that has fueled a sugar high that has spanned across these past few days.
At night we have tried herping at a few different locations, but sadly the most common herp in town is Bufo marinus — the cane toad. In short, it’s an invasive species from central America that people purposefully introduced into the Philippines (among other countries) to help with pest control. The cane toad, unfortunately, prefers a diet of local frog species over agricultural pests.
I have befriended a group of local kids that use the Barangay Hall as a playground. They call me Madam Allie. And now the other members of the field team call me Allie Palali.
Today was cold. Very cold. Too cold to find any herps — except one. Perry brought a tiny snake from the genus Calamaria that he found near his tent.
Up until now, I had avoided handling any of the snakes. I don’t mind holding domesticated pet snakes, but I’m still hesitant about wild snakes. I asked to hold the snake. Anthony handed it over. Rafe could see my nervousness and reassured me — “Don’t worry. Calamaria don’t bite.” Right as he said that the little snake decided to sink his vicious little teeth as hard as he could into my finger, right above the knuckle of my right index finger. I yelled out in surprise “Yes they do!”
Rafe had to pry Lil’ Jaws of Death off me. Specimen RMB 13503 actually made me bleed. So be warned — although Calamaria survive on a diet consisting mostly of earthworms, their bite can pack quite a punch. I’m currently sporting on my hand a bloody bite mark the exact size and shape of a 12 point font parenthesis mark.
Today is my birthday. It is also Linda Trueb’s birthday. I don’t know if she knows that we are birthday buddies.
So, I celebrated my birthday out in the field on Mt. Palali. It was a wonderful birthday. I always think that the food at camp is delicious, but I think the food was extra good today with chicken and rice for breakfast, beef stew for lunch and the grand finale of the biggest batch of spaghetti I’ve ever seen! And the cake! How can I forget the cake? Arvin and Rafe hiked down into town yesterday to replenish our food supply and they came back with a birthday cake for me! How lucky I was to actually have a birthday cake out in the middle of the rainforest on an isolated mountain in the middle of Luzon!
One of the town officials hiked up to join us for the spaghetti and cake. He smiled at me and said “This year you celebrate your birthday with Philippinos!...And one Mexican!”
I also want to mention I had quite an adventure last night. We went to a new stream to look for different species we haven’t collected yet. This stream was full of murky, dark waters and was surrounded by fields of tall grass that stirred up feelings of claustrophobia. When I had fallen behind the boys and the local guide and I was navigating this hellish stream all by myself, my knees actually started shaking I was so scared. Fears of pit vipers and God knows what else I could come across in the murky waters filled my mind (Enteng and JB brought back a good-size eel from one the streams around the camp less than a week ago). Did I mention this was nighttime and all I had for light was my headlamp? Anyway, I continued forward and finally managed to catch up with the boys and the guide. To my relief, the stream opened up to more forest-like the surroundings. We were still following the narrow stream in a single-file. Herping in a single-file wasn’t working out very well for me, being that the guide in the front was catching all the frogs, the boys in the middle collecting the few herps that the guide missed, and me in the back desperately trying to spy anything else that was missed by both the guide and the boys. And at one point, I noticed a fern-like plant hanging over the stream. I remember noticing Enteng the other night checking big leafs on plants for frogs and lizards so I decided to try the same thing. On the second leaf I pulled down, I found a skink from the genus Eutropis. I was so surprised I yelled to the boys “I found a skink!” The boys yelled back “Don’t just tell us! Catch it!” And I did! First reptile on the trip for me. Later, we proceeded to scale a waterfall that was also very exciting. We returned to camp that night with a good amount of specimens and an adrenaline rush.
I’ve discovered on this trip that one of the most satisfying things for a herpetologist is for them to spot and catch a herp. I was a bit mopey yesterday because I failed to spot AND catch a single thing the night before. The boys, trying to help out, would point out a frog or gecko to me and let me catch it. But it is much more satisfying if I actually spot it myself and make the capture on my own.
Last night I had my best night yet, spying and catching four Rana similis by myself. This was my biggest contribution yet. I also learned last night that although I can be utterly giddy with the successful capture of four Rana, nothing can satisfy the boys more than catching a snake. Definitely the “trophies” from last night’s collecting would be the two snakes. And the skinks come in on a close second on this trip for most satisfying to capture. Man, those skinks are hard to find!
Today we moved down to the lower elevation camp on the mountain (721m). The hike down was steep and slick with mud; it involved a lot of tripping and sliding. I call it “strategically falling down the mountain.”
We were all happy to move down to the lower elevation. We were all cold on the top of the mountain and aside from a handful of skinks and a single crotchety, old, one-eyed snake, we were only collecting frogs at the top elevation. I was totally content with just catching frogs, but here at the lower elevation we might catch Varanus, Draco, more skinks, different frogs and snakes — including possibly pit vipers (eep).
Right now I’m relaxing in my warm, yellow tent. We’re still on the high elevation camp. On the second night of herping I caught my first Philippine frog — an unlucky Platymantis montanus perched on a palm-like plant over the stream. I also caught some frogs from the genus Rana. Luke pointed them out to me. That was two days ago on the sixth. Yesterday was a bit dreary. My tropical field clothes are definitely not warm enough for the chilly, foggy weather we’re experiencing up at the high elevation camp. Herping wasn’t as successful as previous nights. I learned how to record frog calls that night — or at least learned the idea behind it and what’s usually involved. We had problems finding calling frogs! Oh well. I’m sure sometime in the next two weeks I’ll have more opportunities to learn to record.
Here’s what a typical day on Mt. Palali is like for me:
Breakfast of white rice + meat/veggie dish cooked on wok over campfire
Drink instant coffee
Preserve/prepare specimens collected previous night and/or
Attempt daytime herping
Lunch of white rice + meat/veggie dish cooked on wok over campfire
Drink instant coffee
Preserve/prepare specimens collected previous night while listening to boys quote Will Ferrell
Dinner of white rice + meat/veggie dish cooked on wok over campfire
Drink instant coffee or piece of candy
Go out collecting amphibians and reptiles
Return to camp and listen to boys quote Will Ferrell while we wait for others to return to camp with the rest of the catch of the night.
Snack of crackers, cheesewhiz, peanut butter, and Tanduay.
I just got back from hiking up to the peak of Mt. Palali, which is just under 1700 meters elevation. For some absurd reason I thought it would be more of a gentle, nature walk to the peak – just a little ways up from our camp. It ended up being pretty challenging and I got covered in mud and sweat in no time! We went up to rake for skinks. Skinks usually can be found by breaking up decaying logs and raking around leaf litter. We came back with one juvenile skink. Too bad we didn’t find more.
I should mention that last night we went herping (herping” = “looking for amphibians and reptiles). It was great; my first nighttime herping session! I followed Rafe and Anthony up the stream just below our camp. It was pitch black and our only source of light was our headlamps. After a few brief moments of hesitation I followed Rafe into the stream (which averaged about knee deep). I tried really hard to find frogs, but Rafe and Anthony spotted and caught all the frogs. Hopefully tonight I shall return victorious!
I'm currently enjoying a breakfast sandwich and a tall Americano at the Starbucks near our hotel in Manila. Luke has just called Rafe from the town of Solano (about seven hours north of Manila). The boys were supposed to head up to the first site and establish camp at Mt. Palai, but only seven of the 30 porters that they hired yesterday have shown up.
The boys had left ahead of me as part of the advance team yesterday. At the market in Solano, they bought our food supply, hired porters, and a local guide. Today, Rafe, Arvin, Aloy, and I are driving up to Solano. Tomorrow we were planning on making a courtesy call to the mayor of the region and then hike up to join up with the boys. Plans might change now due to the porter shortage. The decision has been made to have the boys and the 7 porters take what they can and head up the mountain. Perry, an entomology student from the Philippines, will stay behind in Solano with the rest of the gear. Rafe and Arvin will hopefully straighten out the porter situation when we arrive later today. We also have a request to bring rum, cigarettes, sharpening stones, and rubber boots. And the blowpipes that they left at the bus stop yesterday.
At the museum
Today we took a walk through old Manila and visited the National Museum. I've included a photo, below, of Jeepney. They're one of the most interesting things I see around Manila. They are a converted jeep that's heavily decorated and used for public transportation.
Now that you are caught up on my Liquid F emergencies, I can fill you in on what happened just a few days into our trip to the central islands. After a brief visit to Cebu Island, we made our way to Dumaguete City on Negros Island. In my opinion, it is one of the best places to visit in the Philippines. Dumaguete is quiet college town with plenty to see, great restaurants, and less traffic than most cities surrounding it. Of all of the great restaurants in the town, my favorite is Jo’s Chicken Inato. The restaurant serves very simple, cheap meals consisting of a cup of rice and a skewered chunk of rotisserie chicken. However, the meal also comes with a small dipping container that you can mix fish sauce, soy sauce, and spicy sili peppers to dip your chicken and rice into.
I am a bit of a spice junky, and on every visit I ask for extra peppers. This particular visit I had five small peppers I began to crush in the tiny, plastic sauce container. You are not served silverware, and so I began to hastily crush the peppers and liquid with the end of my wooden skewer. As I am sure you already guessed, the cup flipped and the contents sprayed directly into my left eye. As the sensation of liquid hot magma hit my eye my eyelids closed, and I could actually feel a seed stuck under my eyelid. I explained to you what formalin feels like so that you would be able to understand that this pain felt as close to formalin in your eyes as you could possibly get. Being in the middle of the restaurant, I didn’t want to make a huge scene. Somehow I managed to stumble blindly to the hand-washing sink and dunked my head under the small faucet, trying to hold my left eye open. After a few minutes I realized I needed a bigger sink. I left money for my friend Jason to pay the bill and I somehow stumbled back to our pension house and sat under the sink for 20 minutes. Now I wear goggles while prepping specimens, and while eating at Jo’s Chicken Inato.