Dominica and the bats - Week 2

Published: July 31st 2018
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Tuesday July 10 - I slept ok last night, and woke up at 5:28, two minutes before my alarm. Just like in real life. I finished my packing and sat down to finish my yogurt for breakfast and make use of the wifi, but my computer would not connect. I was so disappointed. I tried a pathetic amount of times, but it never worked. I admit I may have an addiction.

At 6:15 I left to walk over to the ferry terminal. It took less than ten minutes, and there was already a line of people waiting to check in. They opened for business at 6:30am and processed us through. I paid my $33 departure tax (it's $13 in USD), got my passport stamped, and headed to security. I had to take everything out of my backpack, which is rather inconvenient, but this backpack is inconvenient for living out of as well. I sat down in the waiting room not long after 7am, about two hours before departure time. I set my alarm for 8:25 to remember to take my seasickness medication, and settled in to read my book.

Boarding started at 7:45 and I got a place upstairs. I think it was the exact same seat as the last journey. I hoped to see Jessica and Justin from the last trip, but no luck. Not sure what they ended up doing, but I don't think they were on the boat. Two women came and sat next to me instead. The boat left 45 minutes late, and it was very crowded, with people sitting in all the seats as well as standing on the deck, so I did not bother to get up to take pictures. The journey was rougher than last time, and I am glad I took the meds. I was worried they would not last the whole trip, since we left late, but I listened to podcasts the whole time, and fell in and out of sleep, and it was ok.

When the ferry arrived in Dominica, I saw the bat girls waiting for me on the other side of the building, which was nice. It took half an hour to get through immigration and customs, including all the people who cut their way forward. When waiting for customs, I was really firm with this guy who was trying to get in front of me. It worked. Small victory. I finally got out and walked with Meagan and Erin to the Beach Bar, where we met Lisa, ordered some lunch and used the wifi. Erin and Lisa did not actually say hi to me, but this is par for the course and a good indicator of what was to come for the rest of my time here. A few of the other Opwall staff walked in as we were getting ready to leave the restaurant. They might have had a student free day, since not all the groups had arrived yet.

There was something going on in the town, so some of the roads were closed off, and it took us 30 minutes to actually get on our way, which is impressive for such a small town. We drove to Soufriere, which is a volcanic area with hot springs on this island as well. Every island around here seems to have one. It was at least 5pm when we arrived and I had to change my clothes and shoes. The girls brought my stinky work clothes and gloves for me. Meagan and I carried our equipment in and set up in one location, and the others set up in a different location, also walkable from the car. Lisa is still having problems with the ankle that she sprained, so she is walking on one crutch and Erin is carrying everything.

It took us a while to get everything set up, as the double high net takes a lot of time to organize. The night was clear and there were a lot of stars. We spent our night talking to a guy who works in the area, then watching Billy Madison on Meagan's phone, and finally reading. We didn't catch any bats. Lisa and Erin caught one. It's only my second week out of four and I am feeling ready to head home. I'm not enjoying the work as much as I thought, and it is far more boring than it must be in other locations since the storm and not being able to catch many bats. Admittedly, I'm not as excited as I used to be about the idea of catching the bats anymore. It makes me feel bad to catch and handle them, even though we do not keep them that long. They are still stressed and I feel bad about it. I am glad that we're not marking them, aside from snipping some hair on the shoulder.

At 11pm we started to take the nets down and then walked over to the car. We had to wait 15-20 minutes for the others to show up, and then we packed up and started home. We arrived back at 3 Rivers around 2am, after the long drive, then the walk across both rivers, etc. I really don't like crossing the rivers, especially with all of my stuff. I still feel uncomfortable with it. My footing is great, and the shoes are not the best for doing that. We got back to the dorm and it was still messy. My bed didn't have sheets on it, so I'm sleeping in what used to be Meagan's bed, as she moved to Erika's bed when she left. But I think next week we switch back, as the head scientist will be staying in our room. I took a quick shower and read a little in bed before sleep.

Wednesday July 11 - It's hard for me to sleep in, but I made myself stay in bed until 10am, since that was about 7 hours of rest. I got my stuff together and came down for breakfast, which was porridge. As it often is. I spent the morning talking and reading, and eventually Lisa came down. Carcel gave her a mini cheesecake, and I asked if now was the right time to mention my birthday was tomorrow. He then came out with a little pink cheesecake for me. I hope it wasn't his, but it was good. When Erin came down, it was close to noon, and I asked if Meagan was awake, so I could go organize my things and get ready to give laundry here a try. Meagan was awake but watching a movie in bed, and I asked her if she wanted to wash anything. She added four shirts to my pile.

The washing machine here is not fully automatic. I grabbed the hose off the ground and filled the washer. I added the clothes and some detergent, spun the dial to 15 minutes and waited. Nothing happened except some clicking and the dial moving as the timer counted down. I asked Carcel for some help, and he just had to plug it in for me. As that was going, Meagan and I walked across the river to get the poles for the high net, as well as my boots, that we left in the car last night. We had to cross the river each way, and I really disliked it still. It just feels unsafe.

Back at camp, the laundry was clean and sitting in the wash water. It was now dirty, making me even happier that I washed my clothes. I had to drain the washer and fill up the rinse barrel. Carcel emptied the dirty rinse water for me so I could get started. Once it was full, I had to take each piece of clothing, dunk it in the rinse water, wring it out, and put it in the spinner part of the washing machine. When that was full, I spun the clothes for 5 minutes and then hung them on the line. The line was quite full, but I was able to get most of the clothes hung up. I had to do a second spin with a few extra pieces, and hung what I could. I brought Meagan's shirts and my pajamas back to hang up on the line at Ocean View, our building.

Back in the room, I organized my clothes and swept the room, which was of course filled with dirt and dead bugs, as always. I headed back down to the kitchen for lunch and brought a bunch of dirty dishes and glasses that have been sitting around my room since I first arrived. Before I left for St. Lucia, there were a lot of blister bugs hanging around camp. I can't remember if I mentioned them before or not, so here's a brief outline. They are small orange beetles that can spray acid on you on a defense mechanism when needed. Jem said there are not normally a lot of them, but the week I arrived, several people ended up with blisters, including me. You don't feel anything when it happens, but you wake up with a blister. I popped mine before I even knew it was there, as I laid in bed. The biggest problem is in keeping them clean and not infected. These beetles land on us a lot while we're out at night, but they had also been hanging around the dining area. Why am I mentioning this now? When I came down for lunch, many of the tables were moved and there were thousands of dead blister beetles. They were hanging out in the rafters above the tables and Carcel sprayed something to kill them. I knew they were around, but I was a bit shocked to see how many there were.

Lunch was cold pasta, as it often is. I added some hot sauce, which seems to be running dangerously low, and read my book while I ate. I headed upstairs a little after 3pm to get ready, since Meagan said we should leave around 3:30pm. She was asleep when I got there, but woke up just after. She said we would leave at 4pm instead, since we should have enough time. She left at 3:30 to eat lunch. I read a bit more in the hammock, and took another armful of dirty cups down to the kitchen on my way to meet her.

It was quite hot and humid when we left and we had to carry our equipment in quite a way. This transect was at the river near Banana Lama. We had to cross the river, but there is a bridge to make it easier, and then we walked another 400 yards uphill or so. We had to stop several times, and we traded equipment once, as the bag she normally carries is much heavier than the poles I carry. I was a hot mess when we arrived. Unlike the site last night, there was also a decent mosquito population, which proved annoying but not as bad as those in St. Lucia. Once we recovered from our walk, we set up the nets, as usual. Meagan is definitely in charge here, as I can't seem to get it together enough to do anything but follow directions. We do most of our talking as we set up, so I just participate in that as she moves around me doing much of what we need. I think it's the heat and humidity. We got everything set up early, so we sat and read a bit. We opened the nets at 6:00pm and caught four birds in our first check. Two of them were a little tricky to remove, and we had to work together. Meagan is more comfortable than I am with the birds, but I don't think either of us like working them too much. Two of these were finches and bitey.

The night went by, as it so often does, without catching a single bat. We saw plenty, but none flew into our nets. The transects are really pretty bad for bat catching. Before the student group came, we moved our tarp and made a fort. Maybe our worst try yet. Shelly brought the students out and I got to briefly meet her boyfriend Mike. It was nice to see her again. She also loaned Meagan her headlamp, since she had forgotten to bring hers along. And trust me, the headlamp is infinitely more effective when walking the trails and working the nets than an iphone is. We talked to the group but had no bats to show them. After dinner we moved our fort back to the first location and used it only to sit on, since it was a clear night. That was more comfortable. I spent the evening reading so much that I finished the book I started yesterday. Once we took everything down, we walked it part way back but left it at our site for tomorrow, so it wasn't as much work getting back as it was getting there.

Back at camp, Lisa and Erin were sitting around chatting. They weren't supposed to be back until 2am since they were heading back to Soufriere, and it was just before midnight. Something about scouting out a new site that didn't work out. I grabbed my dry (clean!) towel and headed up to bed. I showered after Meagan and by then the other girls were back. I read until 1am and went to bed. I don't sleep great here and woke a couple times to see the others were still reading/watching something in bed until at least 3am. I don't know how/why they do it. I'm happy to keep as normal a schedule as possible.

Thursday July 12 - Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday dear Jenni, Happy Birthday to me! I decided to sing to myself, since I won't get into town to talk to my mom today and she always sings to me. It's pretty cute. I woke up at 8am and stayed in bed until 8:30, but then it felt like I should just get up already. In the dining hall, there were several groups of students working, which I did not expect. I thought they'd all be gone by now. But I think they have organized it differently this week, since the groups did not arrive on time due to the storm. It's hard to say. I'm trying to figure out how they are doing science and being so girly with their chatting at the same time, but here we are.

It took a while to find someone to help me locate my breakfast, which was, and you may have guessed it, porridge. I like porridge in general, but having a big bowl of cold oats in the morning is not great. Due to my schedule, I eat almost all of my meals cold. Everyone else gets a warm breakfast and dinner. The joys of working the night schedule.

Lisa, Meagan and eventually Erin made their way downstairs. Meagan and I decided to go see two of the other waterfalls that are nearby, about 80 feet high and exposed from the main road after the storm. Before that, they were hidden in the jungle and more private for the people who live in this area. We had to walk across the big river and then turn up and walk upstream in a smaller river to get there. But, much like before, there was an obstruction from the hurricane last year. It was composed of several downed trees and a lot of dead wood. Ben mentioned that he'd made it through earlier, but I did not trust it. Meagan climbed up to the top of the first part, but I tried and did not feel safe. I could see it going horribly wrong so I stopped and let Meagan continue. She was gone for about 10 minutes. She saw the first waterfall but did not feel like she should continue over the next bit alone. She'll have to go back with someone else, since it's unlikely I'll change my mind about crossing it. It would have been much nicer to come last year than this year, I think.

When we came back I grabbed up all of my dry laundry from yesterday and dropped it in the room, and then met Meagan at Mermaid Pool for a swim. She was already sunning on the big rock, but admitted she had slipped a few times and had cut her elbow and hurt her hand in the process. Another thing I'm not feeling like doing. I did go in the water and even washed my hair in there. It's the third time I've washed it on this trip, and each time it feels dirtier when I'm done. My hair feels coated by the soap, or something else. All I want right now is squeaky clean hair. I think I will ask Meagan to borrow her shampoo next time just to see if it works better for my hair.

After the swim and failed wash, we grabbed our lunch to take back to the room. It was sandwiches, which might be the worst lunch of them all. It's composed of a thin slice of meat and maybe a piece of lettuce on a thick hot dog bun I don't like. I put some hot sauce on and dealt with it. But it's pretty gross. After that I read in the hammock and took a quick nap, but woke up with a bit of a headache. Not ideal to start work.

Meagan and I were supposed to leave at 4:30pm for the field, but it started raining a few minutes earlier and I persuaded her to wait a few minutes. I really didn't want to start the night soaked, and I hate the idea of my bag being wet all the time. We did manage to avoid the rain, but our pants were pretty wet when we arrived from walking past all of the Jurassic Park-like ferns. My boots were quite muddy as well, making the bottoms of my new pants muddy too. I just washed all of my clothes, but all of the clothes I hadn't worn until yesterday feel quite dirty already. I just wear the same clothes to work all week, and around camp I wear a different set of clothes, but the same ones all week, if I can get away with it. I have enough clothes - more than I would normally have for a trip this length - but I hate the idea of everything getting dirty and love the idea of having clean reserves when needed. At the end of the trip, I'll also need some clean clothes for a few days in Guadaloupe and then for the flight home, if possible.

We put our bags down on the tarp and set up our nets, as usual. When we raised the tall net to be sure it worked, there was a problem. We decided to set up the other two nets before dealing with this problem, as they are quick and easy to do. We came back to the tall net at 5:50pm, and we were able to take down one of the poles and fix the problem in time to have the nets up and open by 6pm. Not too bad. We spent the first 90 minutes reading, doing periodic net checks, swiping away mosquitos and trying to avoid blister beetles, which are attracted to our lights. We caught one bird, a bananaquit, and no bats all night. The students came out around 7:45pm, and one of them had a super bright headlamp that we could see from far away, so we decided to walk to the bridge to meet them. This site was on the same transect as last night, but closer, near Banana Lama, and you have to cross a bridge that has a sketchy entrance to get across. Meagan had the ipad with her, so we played a song and had a mini dance party on the bridge in the dark before they arrived. I'm sure they couldn't hear it over the roar of the river.

We took them closer to the netting site, where it was quieter, and had our bat chat. We eventually checked the nets with the students, knowing there was almost no chance of catching bats at this completely open net site. We were right, no bats. We offered the students to stay if they liked, or to head back, since the teacher in the group the night before complained that we did not keep them long enough. To be fair, she didn't look happy from the time she arrived, and didn't talk to us, but what can you do? They were with us for almost 45 minutes, and there was no real reason to stay, since we were unlikely to catch anything. But from now on, we'll offer them to stay if they like. I chatted with the teacher from the group last night, a French teacher named Amy, which is pretty cool for a trip like this.

Once they were gone, Meagan and I ate our dinners. Hers had chicken, mine did not. I must have gotten Erin's vegan dinner, which probably sucked for both of us. I only ate about a quarter of the food, as I am already getting tired of the same old food every day. After only two weeks, it's enough. And there are still two weeks left.

After dinner, we watched a movie on Meagan's phone. I chose, and I chose poorly. From her selection, I decided to watch a movie I hadn't seen - Funny People. It is long, and kind of depressing, though I do like Seth Rogen in it. We didn't quite finish watching by the time we closed down the nets, so we can finish tomorrow.

Back at camp, we dropped off our dinner containers and got the key to the room, which we store in a container near the kitchen. This container is where the science lab is located. As soon as we got back to the room it started to rain. So lucky. Meagan showered and went in the hammock to read and then I showered and got in bed with the lights off to read before bed. I turned my kindle off by 1am and put in my earplugs so I wouldn't be woken up by the others when they got back at 2am.

Admittedly, not the best birthday on the list of them all, but still happy to have had one.

Friday July 13 - I woke several times again last night, including more than once when the others were still awake and reading in bed. I have no idea what time they go to sleep, but it must be after 3am. I got out of bed at 8:30am, which seems to be part of my routine now. I got downstairs and had breakfast at 9am. Today it was the thing that is part pancake, part omlette, with a side of baked beans. There were a couple groups still hanging about. The butterfly group was learning about how to catch and kill the butterflies they would catch today, and the lizard group was going around trying to find unsuspecting lizards they could catch with their nooses on sticks, to practice for the fieldwork they would do today. Sometimes I feel like a failure, since I thought I wanted to be a scientist, particularly an ecologist, and I did not end up doing that. I missed the fieldwork, and I arranged for this opportunity this summer. But the truth is, I had forgotten what it is actually like and how I feel in this position. I love the diversity of nature and am amazed by all of the things that are out there and exist, and I love seeing them. But I am not personally comfortable with the idea of all the handling of the animals, knowing they are stressed the whole time. The bats in the net, the birds in the net, the lizards caught in nooses, the butterflies they will kill. I'm not really sure that it is worth it, and I'm pretty sure now that I know I do not want to be involved in it. It does make me feel better to come to this realization. Science is still great, and we need to learn more about our world in order to save it, but I'm starting to question some of the methodologies, wondering if it is all really needed.

After breakfast, I talked to some of the guys like Ben, who volunteers here, and Cathius, who works here, and had some watermelon with them. They are 18 and 20 yrs old, and some of the closest friends I have here. The watermelon was amazing. I see so little fruit here. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen area, since my room is filled with sleepers for most of the morning, and into the day, depending on where the other team is netting. It's the central place to be in camp, and there's often a cat around or a chicken or two coming through with her chicks. I love the peeps of the chicks but some of them are starting to look like small versions of their mom now, and today I watched what looked like a chicken deathmatch. Two of the chicks were jumping on each other, then giving each other a stare down, then jumping again. I could see the grown-up version coming and it was not nice. I was glad to see another chick break it up. There are usually a couple adult chickens taking dust baths in the area next to the kitchen as well. It's pretty cute.

I spent the day engaged in various activities - reading, writing, talking to Jem, Ben and Cathius. Lunch was rice and lentils and I added a lot of hot sauce. I'm getting a little bored now with the food. I'm not sure how some of them have done it for as long as seven weeks at this point. After lunch I was offered another slice of watermelon, also enormous and delicious. Surprisingly filling as well. Jem got us word that we would have a videographer roommate for two days starting tonight, so I went to clean off the bed I had been using as a table so he could make it. I read in the hammock a bit and relaxed. I'm not sure I like relaxing. I don't think I do it right and it often feels like wasting time, which stresses me out, so I feel worse after I "relax".

Tonight all four of us are netting here at the same three nets. We left for the net site at 4:30pm and it only took 10 minutes to get through, via the small river crossing. I didn't carry any equipment, which was nice. The four of us set up the nets, and I felt pretty useless, as the others have been doing this for a while and I'm still unsure of my knots, though we've not really remembered to have anhone teach me to tie them better. It didn't take long to set them up and we opened them at 6:10pm, rather than 6:00pm, since Lisa opens nets half an hour before sunset. We caught three bats over the course of the night, with one Jamaican fruit bat to show the students who came out. We also caught the nectar feeder and an insect eater, one that was new as a catch for all four of us, one of the ghost face bats. It was tiny and adorable. Much of the time, though, we were just sitting around, and I didn't even handle a bat, so for clarity, four people sitting around 3 nets is crazy pants. Yet Meagan and I couldn't even find 20 minutes to finish watching the movie. We still have about 10 minutes left.

It rained on and off all night, and I was pretty wet by the end of it. I don't feel like the waterproof jacket helps much, though admittedly my shirt was less wet than my pants. I felt something crawling on me under my rainjacket twice, and both times it was a blister beetle. Hopefully I don't have a new blister to show for it. My boots might take a couple days to dry, despite staying dry inside.

It started pouring just as we took the nets down. Lisa and I had the tall net, and somehow I screwed up the lines, and the pulley line got all tangled in the other one, despite our new fool-proof system for doing it. I have no idea what I did, and it was all the more frustrating in the rain. There was also a third rope stabilizing the pole that we don't normally have, and I could not find a fast way to dismantle it. By the time I got that done and started on my tangled mess, Lisa was already done with her entire pole, all three lines included. So embarrassing.

Back at the room, our new roommate was sleeping and we worked to get ready for bed as quietly as possible. I was last in line for the bathroom, showered quickly and got into bed by 12:30am. By 1am I finished reading and went to sleep.

Saturday July 14 - see Scouting in Soufriere blog

Sunday July 15 - see Bat Cave and Sunday Lunch blog


31st July 2018

Happy belated birthday!
If nothing else you came to the realization that field work is not for you. Nor would it be for me. And given the rough ferry crossings and what appears to be unappealing islands, I may take that off my bucket list and just take a cruise instead.
1st August 2018

Give it a try
Hi Bob. I wouldn't take the islands off your list - I think they are worth visiting. The people are so kind, and the islands are beautiful. The issues I had were work-related. And the ferry crossings were fine once I took some seasickness meds.
1st August 2018

Living in the wild
Medicine Man made all of us think we'd love field work. Hollywood can make boring work romantic. Life is full of experiences and we won't love all of them but it is worth trying.
1st August 2018

I'll give it a try...
My plan is to take the ferry from island to island and walk around each island on a coastal road, or at least a portion as the larger islands are much further around. So I might just take a bus for most sections. Do they have buses that circumnavigate each island? I want to see what island life is like, although for accommodations I do not want to rough ti like you did. Like you, I need my sleep!
3rd August 2018

St Lucia and I think Dominica both have buses that are easy to use to get all around. Martinique and Guadeloupe, less so. you may be able to do what you'd like, but I'm not quite sure.

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