Today was a long day…again…I should have asked for an hourly wage instead! We spent 11 hours in the lab tediously extracting DNA from the soil samples collected from our study plots last week. My back hurts and my nerves are shot. But as I sit here in my Swiss Family Robinson room feeling sorry for myself the orchestra of rain and crickets outside reminds me that with all things considered, even the longest days here are amazing...it is incredibly beautiful, I am surrounded by people who are here to make me smarter, and above all else I am getting paid to be here! I still can’t get over it…oh AND there is bound to be a “jungle surprise” along the way to break up the monotony of the day!
After lunch a couple of days ago, I was walking across the suspension bridge and found myself caught in the crossfire of two warring troops of howlers presumably fighting over who had toll collecting rights. Coming in from opposite sides of the river, the troops met in the middle of the bridge with balls swinging (see photo above!) and switch blades in hand just like something out of West Side Story…I think they were planning a dance off for the evening showing. Anyway, there was a lot of howling and some blows were thrown ending with one of the males falling into the shallow river 30 ft. below. In retrospect, it could have simply been a bitch slap and poor balance that led the monkey to fall. Nevertheless, he made his way back onto the bridge to reestablish his toll collecting dominance sporting a lovely new bloody jaw and a gash on his arm. Feeling a bit uncomfortable by the amount of testosterone and nudity exhibited, the others and I paid our banana to the gate keeper and went on our way...back to the lab for me…
The topic of discussion at lunch today was snake encounters. When you first get here, “snake” is always on your mind…your eyes are glued to the ground and you try to stay away from areas that look “snakey”…like that’s supposed to mean something…it’s a jungle…the whole place is “snakey.” But I always try to sneak a peek over the log before stepping and make every effort to stay away from buttress roots where Senior fer-de-lance is known to hang out with his comrades Seniors Coral Snake, Eyelash Palm Pit Viper, and Hog Nose Pit Viper. Up until last night, I had had the good fortune of not being introduced to any of those troublemakers. But, despite the fact that my parents have always warned me to stay away from those kinds of boys, last night true to form, I made the acquaintance of a very bad bad boy. On my way to dinner Senior Coral Snake was waiting at the bottom of the steps leading from my room and scared the living bah-jesus out of me. I politely told him that I wasn’t looking for a bad boy anymore and am patiently waiting for a nice boy with a good reputation…now scram so I can go eat.
At least my encounter was a little more civilized than undergraduate Virginia’s was. Like me, she took a research assistant position here for the summer. Unlike me, she spends all of her time in the jungle setting and gathering live capture rodent traps…to a snake those traps are like a cafeteria in a starving village with locked doors just brimming with tasty morsels. So here is poor Virginia, alone in the jungle about 4 km out just trying to do her freakin’ job so that someone will accept her into grad school. She is reaching down to collect her trap when out of the corner of her eye no less than 8 inches from her hand she watches Senior fer-de-lance, fangs glistening with deadly venom, take a strike at her…what a jerk. Fortunately for her the thing had bad aim. There is no question in my mind that I would quit my job immediately (but only after changing my soiled underpants, going to the bar, heavily sedating myself and leaving the bar tab sitting on my bosses desk). I have decided that the lab isn’t such a bad place after all, oh and mom, can you send me some body armor and a snake bite kit? Okay thanks! Ciao for now!