Army ants are a passionate bunch: Dzombo the forest on the hill

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November 3rd 2007
Published: November 3rd 2007
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We went out to a new forest to do was especially interesting (read gruelling) being the first group out there. The journey there was itself quite the adventure. Once one thing goes wrong, you know more things are going to go wrong. In fact, it almost makes me think you shouldn't go on. I guess some people are of different schools of thought. In any case, all the trouble really did lead up to some torture. Part of it was just my frustration because things don't always run very smoothly or according to schedual here. You really come to expect it, but it can be frustrating when you are in a time crunch for a deadline you feel obligated to make, even though it is irrelevant. But anyway, let's begin by getting in our vehicle. We were supposed to be back by 3 pm so that we could leave in time to get to our camp before dark because we would have to set up. Our matatu smelled of dog and fish and of course it was old. That's fine, I guess. Only my seatbelt wouldn't come undone, the one next to me didn't have a clasp, and the one next to it had to be tied together. Our leader insisted on it working, so she gave us some WD40 (minus the top) and this is where I managed to get my shorts coated in WD40. Roll with the punches. I was then transfered to the front seat because the seltbelt was beyond fixing. There was so much stuff in the front I was sitting like a goofball with my feet on the dashboard. This was only for a few minutes until we got into town to pick up the rest of our people...then I was moved to an extra seat. Of course, the seat belt was jammed in the side but I was exasperated and not about to make a fuss.

So our ride is all fine and dandy until we come to a huge mud puddle. With the knowledge that our drivers (2 expedition staff) had gotten stuck in mud just the other day. So all 10 of us get out, someone stands in the mud to see how deep it is, and we all watch as the van careens through the mud, spinning wildly, ALMOST clearing the patch....until it gets horribly stuck. This is where the messiness begins. It is also 1 of 4 times that we push the van out of mud, most of which I am directly behind a wheel getting splattered. I thouroughly enjoyed the whole process. It's a lot of fun pushing a car. I did manage to break my flip flop and most of the time I was shoeless in the mud. Getting dirty out of here is unavoidable so you start to embrace it. That being said, we got disgusting in the forest and rewore our clothes and didn't shower. Honestly I didn't see the point and couldn't be bothered. Part of the reason we got stuck in the mud is because we had to drive up a footpath to get to our campsite....once we got there, just as darkness had fallen, we were told that we should not camp there because of how rainy it has been-our car would probably get stranded there. So back into the village we went, eventually ending up at the local primary school. Now, it's completely dark (the milky way is a beautiful creamy smudge across the sky) and we have to put up 3 tents. I can't say that I helped too much, but everyone else was equally inept because I saw the tents go up and come down about 3 times before they actually stayed up. The tent constructing ended on a light note with one of our leaders on some guy's shoulders attempting to put on the rain guard that we had forgotten at the appropriate time. It all worked out and we eventually ate some tasty take-out food that we had brought along with us.

The real fun started in the forest....but I will just sum it up. I guess technically Dzombo is a mountain it's 334m?? well anyway. We had a guide, and we were in small groups, fighting our way up the hill. We walked on a bearing, so we basically went through most things that we came to. That meant a lot of crouching, crawling, kneeling, whatever got you through the thorns, vines, etc. When you were really tired this meant a lot of power struggles between vines-who was going to come down first? We didn't really see much wildlife, especially not any monkeys that we were meant to be surveying. I suggested that we do an army ant survey because we sure ran into tons of them. Crawled into a lot of them. Painfully. Took off our pants after running through hoards of them. Imagined them biting us because of all the grit that found its way in our shirts, and also because they had previously covered our bodies. Are now ant phobic. Passionately hate army ants. Painstakingly search the ground for movement. You get the picture.

The work itself was not so bad, just hot, sweaty, and physical. That part was great. The scrapes that I gathered on my hands and arms and the many thorns that I grabbed got annoying. The absolute lack of food was just plain frustrating. I was dumb with hunger. Some of it was miscommunication with the village, some of it was poor planning by the management. Try starting a survey at 8 am (after being up at 6 and eating a banana and a donut type thing) insanely making your way up and down this hill until 2 pm (having a jam sandwich, and a roll with jam, and 2 bananas--some of which were smushed and sacrificed to the baboons) and then waiting around for about an hour....and then walking 2 hours to get back to camp. The walk was flat but it was also in the hot sun. Oh and luckily I had had half of an extra sandwich. Yeah right, I was in deathmarch zone. I was walking to food. Only to find out that I wasn't really walking to eventually I ended up eating these dried salty little fish things, that apparently most locals thought was hilarious that we ate. Most people cook them. I was pretty freaking hungry.

That's all I'm going to say about that.

The next day went better because one of my group members had bought TWO packets of cookies which we devoured while sitting in the rain...and we got to turn around and end survey due to weather. Hurray! No more blinding hunger for awhile. What was fun this day is that we went back to camp in the middle of day, which is in the middle of a school. None of these kids had seen mzungus before. They were completely enraptured, surrounding us. It was really bizarre. In fact, they started slowly closing in around us. The best part is that you could run at them and they would run away screaming. I also brought out my camera at one point, and they all ran away. We found that hilarious. Eventually we got them playing games with us and we had a little sing-along. We played the hokey pokey.........and then we got to go back to base!

Last night I had a riot making bean burgers...we got ridiculously messy and covered in flour and bean mash. It's funny when you are cooking for everyone and just making it up and not taking yourself too seriously. That makes you laugh even harder. It actually turned out to be a good meal. We were actually following some sort of recipe, it's just that our consistancy was a little off and it felt like we were playing in mud all over again.

I'm also getting really good at being British. I'm gathering my phrases. Everyone out here is always knackered, things are minging, manky, and wiffy. If you help me out, cheers. There are dodgy stomachs galore, it's rubbish.

For Halloween I dressed up as the ocean. I had on my new turquoise thai fisherman pants, a turquoise tank top, and I drew a bunch of pictures of sea related objects and stuck them to myself with duct tape. It was fun, but we didn't really do much except laugh at some costumes that people came up with. I ate some chocolate and had a coke but that's nothing out of the ordinary.

I'm spending the night in Diani and then I have to be back at the cottage to meet about sat camp. We leave early Monday morning and drive alllllll day to Kidong. There we are helping them build a community center, teach them about tree nursurys, educate them on cooking fuel efficiency/smoke related health concerns, and other odd things. I will be there for a week, and then I am sent out to the forest again (maybe Dzombo, there are some concerns about our methodologies and what exactly we are going to do because we are supposed to be copying a survey that was done 7 years ago but pangaing through the forest is scaring the colobus and we are not seeing anything). Then we have a party and then my time here is done! That happened so fast....there is still more to come but there are also people that I'm not really going to get a chance to see much anymore. This place is finally starting to feel like home. Oh well, it is exciting in terms of what there is to come on future travels.


5th November 2007

Kelly, you're my hero.

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