Saturday, September 27, 2008

7-23-08 A day in the life

Let me take you through a typical day in Breu.

The roosters start making a real ruckus at 5 a.m. and shortly after that it seems that the whole village is up. This is followed a little bit later by the Spaniards and Argentine in the next room obnoxiously laughing and carrying on about who knows what. Eventually Laurie gets up and shuffles around under the hammocks. I stay in my cocoon as long as possible, as does James. Eventually I hear "Kim, Kim are you awake?" I've learned that if I answer then he gets up and expects me to do the same, but if I stay silent, he'll lay in his hammock a while longer and so can I. Once up I try putting off the inevitable as long as possible, having to put on my still wet, still very muddy, and very smelly work clothes. They are so gross there is no way they will be leaving Breu with me.

We are served "porage" for breakfast. I'm not sure exactly what this is, but I know there is some type of milk product, and something to make it very thick and a little gelatinous. There's also some little bitty chunks here and there. The Peruvians add hot chocolate powder, that makes it a little better, but today I just couldn't bring myself to drink it. Instead I relished my instant coffee with powdered milk and lots of real sugar.

We are usually supposed to leave at 8:00 to head into the field, but as I'm trying very hard to get used to, 8 often turns into 10 or even later. Once we are finally ready to go, its a good 15-20 minute walk down to the river. There we must wait again. We have hired 5 men from the village to be our guides. The drive the boats, lead us to the sampling sites and carry all our gear. The guides push the cart with all our gear to the river and so must take the longer route. They carry all our stuff down to the boats and then go up to the neighboring huts to get the peca-pecas. These are the special motors for the dug-out canoes. Supposedly the old models were really slow and made the sound p-e-c-a---p-e-c-a--etc. as they went. The new version goes pecapecapeca... very fast as we careen through trees, logs, and debris strewn across the river that often looks impassible and way too shallow, but some how our guides usually know with amazing accuracy where to slip the canoe through. Although not always. Today we spent even more time waiting because Carmelina, our boat driver, broke the propeller not once, but twice.

Everyone else collecting in the lake I wouldn't go in.

Once we dock the boats, its usually at least a 20 minute hike through the jungle to the day's
destination. These hikes are usually quite amazing, although very hot and sweaty. But at least we get a little relief from the direct sun. Eventually we arrive at some small murky body of water that I never would have imagined going into, but in the name of science I jump in and press forward with net or electric fish finder in hand. Except today. There was absolutely no way I was going in. We stopped at several points along the trail that was being hacked by our guide to look at the water. Even at first glimpse I didn't want to go in. Then the guides shared their knowledge of the lake.... lots of electric eels, perfect for Cayman, and maybe even a few anacondas. The guides didn't even want to go in the water. But of course Roberto and Isabell, our fearless Peruvian ichthyology students, just had to go in and catch some fishes. This of course made everyone else feel the need to not be wimps and go in the water too. Except me. They could call me a wimp if they wanted but there was no way I was going in there. The funny part is that everyone came out miserable, saying they wished they hadn't gone in either and that I was the smart one.

We sometimes stop at a second location, usually in the river, on the way back to Breu. We eventually arrive back sometime between 2-4, but the work isn't done. Even though we've spent the whole day more uncomfortable than you could ever imagine, soaked in sweat, river water, and bug repellent, we now have to catalog all the fish, photograph them, take tissue samples, and preserve them. This usually takes several hours and doesn't finish until dark, around 6.

Once the lights come on for the evening, we have dinner. Its often beans and rice, but when its not, I often have no idea what it is. I've decided its better not to ask, because what ever it is, I need to eat. The rest of the night is spent sitting in my hammock and reading, writing, or just chatting. every few nights I actually get to bathe! We're usually asleep shortly after the lights go out at 9 and have to snuggle under our new blankets at night because its surprisingly cold at night.

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