The State of the Mega Rice (and more)

Yesterday a couple of us went to our Mega Rice camp to see what’s going on out there.  Dave (head of the kelasi project), Luke (new OuTrop primate scientist), Supian (kelasi field assistant extraordinaire) and I took some motorbikes from camp out to the site, which took about 45 minutes and resulted in nice sunburns for 3/4 of us.  Our two main goals were to check out the state of the camp to see if it was still fit for volunteers to stay there, and to scope out the existing transect system to see what else needs to be done. Dave got a grant to do kelasi surveys at the site, which involve walking a grid of transects with a team of people twice a day to look for the monkeys. Unfortunately that requires a grid of transects, which we don’t yet have.  Luckily Yanto, who knows everything about everything, thinks that it’s probably not too difficult or expensive to get Dave’s grid cut within a reasonable amount of time.  Looks like surveys are a go!

The camp looks fine too.  It’s a bit more flooded than last year but all of the essential parts are still there.  It was kind of surreal- in a good way- to be sitting in the exact same place, eating the exact same food and making the exact same jokes with the same people one year after the last time I was there.  Luckily in a few days I get to do that allll day!  But as for now, today is the big fun day with volunteers. We’re going to an orangutan sanctuary and then to a Western-style hotel to use their nice outdoor swimming pool.  Last night we went to the Western restaurant in the mall here, and the vols went crazy! I think they’ve been missing the comforts of home, so hopefully this weekend they can recharge their batteries and get ready for the next 4 weeks in the forest.


Long Weekend Already?

Well I’m back in town to go get registered with the local police (the final step of our research permit process!), so I thought I would write a quick blog to catch everyone up with what’s been going on out here.  The long weekend for the volunteers is coming up, which means that I’ll be able to post a couple more times in the next few days.   It’s pretty crazy that the long weekend is already here- that means they are halfway done with their time here, but it still feels like I’ve only been here for a few days.

People are totally settled in at camp and we’ve been able to make some good progress on the volunteers’ research projects.  There are 3 students with projects this year, so managing those has kept me and the rest of staff here pretty busy.  The first project is exploring the effect of distance from the edge of the forest on butterfly diversity.  I haven’t been working on that one too much, but from what I know it sounds really interesting!  There are 5 sets of traps placed at different distances from the forest edge, and every day a team goes out to collect data on the abundance and diversity of butterflies in each place.  It’s a lot of work but I think the vols are having fun with it.

Another student is looking at the traits of the dominant tree species in the forest.  This involves taking data on tree size, root structure, presence of sap, and the characteristics of the leaves.  That project spans 23 species of trees, so it’s pretty data intensive, but things have been going quite smoothly.  The last project is a survey of the non-tree flora in different areas of the forest to examine how forest degradation affects the ground flora. I’ve been spending most of my time on that project, and it’s been really interesting because now I actually notice the non-tree vegetation while I’m walking through the forest.  Fun fact: there are 3 species of pitcher plant at our research site (Nepenthes ampulleria, N. rafflesiana, and N. gracilis, for those of you who are interested) and I am proud to say that I can now identify all of them.

Aaaand finally, tomorrow I’m planning to go scope out the state of the Mega Rice camp.  It’s been REALLY wet here- last night we had 47 centimeters of rain- so I’m a little bit nervous to see what it’s like.  Trekking in the MRP is difficult enough when it’s dry so I can’t really imagine what it will be like if it’s wet.  In Sabangau all of the transects have knee-high puddles of standing water, and if you fall in a hole you may as well just swim home, so it’s possible that the Mega Rice will be wet as well.  We shall see…

Okay and as I promised last time, I’m posting some sweet wildlife pictures.  I personally haven’t seen a thing aside from plants since I’ve been here but I stole these from Beth Barrow, one of the volunteers. Enjoy!

Green Tree Pit Viper

Boris the camp’s resident bearded pig

Female orangutan (I think this is Indy)

Red langur

Forest Fun

I’ve been at camp for the past few days, but we had to come back in to go to Immigration for our research permits, and to do a bit of shopping for supplies, so I thought I’d throw up a quick post to let everyone know what I’ve been up to and explain a bit about what we do every day.

I usually wake up around 5:30 or 6, which is usually earlier than others in camp.  Often there are people who go out following orangutans, gibbons, or kelasi (red langurs), and they leave much earlier than that- usually around 4 am- so camp is quiet when I get out of bed.  It’s a nice time to drink a cup of coffee and read a book while listening to the gibbons and birds sing.  Breakfast is around 7:30 and shortly after that we go into the forest to do our work for the day. Lately we’ve been working on some of the volunteers’ projects, which include plots for non-tree vegetation, taking trait measurements for some of the dominant tree species, and surveying butterfly diversity on the edge of the forest.  The volunteers are still quite enthusiastic about everything so they are happy to work long hours in the forest and come back for a late lunch.  We’ve also had some good luck with orangutans for the past couple of days, and about half of the vols have gotten a chance to go on a follow.  This is very exciting, because most of them came here to learn about primate research, and so getting to go out and see data being collected and observe the orangutans themselves is a cool opportunity.  We’ve also seen quite a bit of wildlife thus far: monitor lizards, pit vipers, macaques, kelasi, orangs, and of course our resident bearded pig at camp.

In the afternoons after lunch we usually have some free time, and we do data entry/office work, talk about projects, and just generally hang out. Yesterday I made a massive vocab list so we practice speaking Indonesian as well.  They’re learning quickly and have started trying out sentences with the field assistants, which is definitely entertaining for everyone!  The rest of the day goes quickly after that, as we eat dinner around 6 or 6:30, play some cards, and then people start getting sleepy.  Hopefully next time I’m in town and have internet access I can post some pictures of what we’ve been up to!

Oh, and if anyone is curious, my Indonesian number (if you’re trying to reach me from from outside of Indonesia) is +62 81251190719.  Okay, time for lunch here, sampai nanti everyone!

Day 1 in JKT, jet lag, and other stuff

Well it’s 3:00 am here and I can’t sleep. I don’t usually get jet lag because I’m just so tired from traveling that getting on the right sleep schedule is easy (and by the time you fly for 31 hours across 11 time zones you’ll believe whatever people tell you about what day and time it is), but for some reason tonight I’m not so lucky. Looks like it’s bloggin’ time…

Yesterday Sara (other vol coordinator) and I went to the science ministry to get our research permit process started. Luckily we have someone helping us this year, which makes everything so much easier and faster.  The process usually takes 5-7 days because there is a ton of paperwork to get from multiple government offices, but we are going to be done in just 2 days thanks to our new friend Eja and the other guys at Lahuka.  We wanted to fly to Palangka Raya (our town on Borneo) on the last flight out tonight, but every flight today is full and we just barely got on a flight tomorrow- they are also much more expensive than usual because it’s holiday time.  Last year I think I paid just 400,000 Rp (about $40) but this time it was 1.4 million Rp. Oh well, at least we will be at the field camp very soon!

Yesterday I also bought a phone- those of you that are 1. reading this and 2. want my number, shoot me an email and I will send you a text when I can. Right now I have a sim card for Jakarta but will probably get another in Borneo and so my number is going to change.  Buying the phone was also an experience, I haven’t usually had problems with people trying to take advantage of my clearly foreign appearance here, but yesterday no one would sell me a phone for less than 1 million Rp.  That’s a reasonable price in the states but not Indonesia, so I finally found a little shop that sold me a phone (with internet capabilities, so fancy) for about $60. I probably could have found one a little bit cheaper in PKY but this one is pretty nice and should do the job for the next few months!

In other news, I really need to learn how to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius.

A few thoughts on leaving

I always have mixed feelings about leaving the country for an extended period of time. On one hand, it’s extremely exciting to go somewhere new (or go back to somewhere old) and experience cultures far different from ours in America.  There are new languages to learn, foods to try, places to go, friends to meet and reunite with, and research projects to be done.  On the other hand, I feel guilty leaving friends and family back home because I know that there are fun and exciting things going on there as well. Plus, it’s challenging to try to keep up friendships when you can’t just drop by someone’s place for a visit, or when you don’t have internet or phone access for weeks at a time.  It’s hard keep up with the everyday details of people’s lives, which is a lot of what friendships are based on, and that can be stressful!  Luckily I’ve learned that real friends don’t forget you when you leave and that when you come home everything goes back to normal.  Unfortunately when you go away for a long time, you also risk missing big events- for example, I’ve been invited to multiple weddings that I couldn’t go to because I was out of the country, including one this fall that I am bummed to miss.

I’m in no way complaining about my life; I love doing field work, and I think everyone knows that I’ve been itching to get back out there since pretty much the minute I came back from Indonesia last year (I am in no way cut out for an office/city-bound life!), but I am also cognizant of the fact that it kind of sucks for my friends and family that I’m not around all the time.  Of course, I try to mitigate this by incessantly reminding people that they can always come visit ME- who doesn’t want to take a vacation to Bali?- but alas, it’s too expensive. Hell, there’s no way I could afford it if I weren’t doing this job!

Re: missing things, I constantly miss people while I’m away but rarely do I find myself actively wishing for material things.  However, I somehow managed to carve out a bit of time from my busy plane schedule of watching movies, sleeping, and playing Bejeweled to think about my top 5 list of things from Western culture that I’ll miss.  Without further ado, here it is:

  1. Cheese- there is no cheese aside from something pretending to be Kraft singles in Indonesia, which is complete torture for a Midwesterner such as myself
  2. Wine- goes without explanation, I think
  3. Wearing tank tops in public- out of respect for the local culture we wear sleeves all of the time when outside of camp, but it’s so hot that sometimes this is a super drag!
  4. My (stuffed animal) dog- sorry Pongo, but there was no room in the suitcase for you buddy
  5. Having clean feet and no bug bites- again goes without explanation

On the flip side, there are some awesome things that can only be experienced in Indonesia… so to even things out, here’s the top 5 list of those:

  1. Wildlife and the forest in general-the obvious choice for #1! Orangutans, gibbons, sun bears, tarsiers, hairy caterpillars, birds big and small, and the list goes on, not to mention the trees and pitcher plants and other vegetation…
  2. Avocado juice- along with every other kind of juice that you can get from little warungs (little food places on the street that will sell you rice and veggies for about $1 a meal), this is a mix of fruit, ice, and sweetened condensed milk. I know it sounds gross but it’s delicious, especially when chocolate syrup is involved
  3. Motorbike rides to remote field sites- SO FUN
  4. Fiercely competitive badminton games
  5. A cold mandi (Indo version of a shower) after a long sweaty day in the field- I’m convinced this is one of the best feelings ever, hands down. Nothing like dumping buckets of water on yourself to re-energize for the rest of the day.  The trick is to timing your mandi correctly. If you do it too early, you start sweating again, but if you do it too late you risk actually being cold when the sun goes down. It’s really a delicate balance!

Anyway, travel update: posting this from the Hong Kong airport- only about 7 hours of traveling to go! I feel like I stepped into a time warp since I crossed the date line from the west, but all is good.

Photos of Sabangau Forest

These photos by a very talented photographer are of the forest where I will be spending the next several months- they are amazing! I think he’ll be updating it over the next few days, so keep checking. He also outlines some of the important conservation work that OuTrop does, which I will also be writing about in later posts.

PS- got my passport back from the embassy! All I have to do now is wait and pack! Shoutout to the NYC embassy for being fast and efficient.