First few days at CICRA

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January 14th 2010
Published: January 14th 2010
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Sorry I haven’t updated this blog for sometime but life has become very hectic! I’m currently sitting in the dinning room at CICRA, on my day off. I am trying to remember what has happened since I last posted but some of the days are starting to merge! I probably won’t get a chance to do this again for another week or so. Thanks to everyone who has left encouraging comments J

For those of you who don’t know, I got my bags back ok. When Karina and Erin arrived it turned out that they also had only got 90 day visas so we all took a jolly adventure to get the visas and my bags. Our taxi driver, Carlos, was a hoot. He had a tendency to play the same song off his CD five times in a row. We went to the airport first to pick up my bags, which went surprisingly smoothly. We then tried to find out if we could extend our visas. Apparently we had to go to the immigration centre in Lima to do it. Carlos, however, wanted to eat breakfast first so took us to a random shop and tried to feed us bits of fried pork, eggs and tamales. After an hour or so Carlos, who turned out to be a former Policeman, took us to the immigration office and straight to the front of the very long queue of irate Peruvians. We spoke to a close personal friend of Carlos who told us that we couldn’t extend the visa but could pay a dollar for everyday we extend our 90 days. So much for the advice on the British Peruvian embassy website!

We eventually got back to the hostel (Malka), spent the rest of the day contemplating what had happened in the morning and just chilling out. In the afternoon, Karina and I watched Bridget Jones’s Diary 2 on the DVD player in the hostel’s living room.

The next morning we said goodbye to Lima, and Carlos, and flew to Puerto Maldonado. We met up with Kat at the airport and the fantastic four was complete! The flight had to stop to refuel in Cusco and the descent into the airport was amazing as we were surrounded by the Andean mountains. We stopped there for half an hour before flying onto PM. The mountains quickly gave way to rainforest and soon it stretched as far as the eye could see. The International airport at PM was TINY so landing on the seemingly miniscule runway was a little nerve racking, especially as the trees were only a few metres away from the side of the landing strip. Baggage reclaim was very speedy and quickly made our way outside to the swarm of waiting Moto-taxi drivers (Moto-taxis are a cross between motorcycles and rickshaws!). When Kat announced that we would need two to take us to our hostel we were descended upon and had numerous people trying to take our luggage out of our hands. We eventually got all our bags stuffed onto the back of two of the vehicles and Kat started haggling to get the price down. Once we were all decided upon 10 soles per vehicle we set off on one of the wobbliest journeys I have ever been on.

When we got to the hostel we were surprised to find fans and a tv in the rooms, both of which were greatly appreciated by me and Karina! After settling into our rooms we decided to go out to look for some lunch as all four us were ravenous. We wandered around for a while only finding market stalls, hardware stores and a large number of gold dealers. Eventually we found a vegetarian ’restaurant’ a little way back from the main drag. Thinking this was too good to be true (two of the four of us being veggies) we went in. From this point onwards the cultural barriers became very obvious. We tried to order food but were told that we could only get either fruit juice or a fruit salad. We decided to order four juices. While we were waiting for these numerous locals came in and were greeted with bowls of soup and plates of vegetables and rice. After about 15 minutes Kat tried to ask if we could get some food to which one of the cooks replied “We have no food”. This was obviously not true so Kat asked if they weren’t serving us just because we were gringos, which turned out to be the correct answer! Furious and starving we paid, left and went back to the hostel. In our rooms we found a list of local restaurants that did take-away so we phoned a couple of them, all of whom were closed until 6pm. As it was only 2pm at that time we thought we would probably expire before 6pm. The last number on the list, thankfully, proved to be successful. They were open and 20 minutes later delivered four plastic boxes of chicken, rice and chips, which was inhaled very quickly!

After the stress of securing food we decided to retire to our rooms. I was sharing with Karina and we ended up watching some awful film with Jessica Alba in it on the Warner Brothers channel, a channel that we came back to a lot over the next few days. Our collective stomachs started rumbling again about 6pm so we ordered take-away pizza. Unusually Peruvian pizza doesn’t have tomato sauce but this didn’t spoil our enjoyment of eating it in our pyjamas and watching “The Big Bang Theory”.

At 7am the next morning, all four us geared ourselves up for foraging for our breakfast in the market only to find a fantastic spread laid out downstairs in the hostel! Kat and Erin went out to explore more of PM after breakfast but Karina and I thought that a fan cooled room with TV sounded like a much better idea - it would be a long time before we would experience such luxury again! At about 1pm Mini, Gideon and Mini’s family arrived. For a treat Mini took us all to a Thai restaurant out by the airport that had pet monkeys. Now, I know what you’re thinking. I thought the same thing too when she said “pet monkeys” but it really wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Instead of seeing starving creatures in tiny cages the restaurant was surrounded by about an acre of forest that the monkeys had free range over. Before we even got into the restaurant a juvenile howler came over to say hello! He was very curious and jumped between everyone in the group. While we were eating lunch a white lipped tamarin and an emperor tamarin managed to find a hole in the roof and came down to investigate the delicious smells. They were quickly shooed away by the owner, much to our disappointment. To make up for this, after lunch she took us out into the forest with a bunch of bananas to feed the monkeys. At one point I had the howler, and one of the tamarins feeding from the same banana while a capuchin used my head as a spring board!

Eventually Mini had to tear us all away so we could get back to the hostel so she, Gideon and her family could sort out their bags. In the evening we walked to another part of PM to get ice-cream (another last for sometime!) and ate in a restaurant where you could see rats running along the rafters. I also managed to have an epic Spanish language fail. Karina doesn’t speak much Spanish so asked me to translate the menu for her. I saw that there were tortillas so suggested we get some. It wasn’t until two omelettes turned up that I remembered the different meanings of the word ‘tortilla’ in English and Spanish. Karina was quite happy as she rather likes omelettes but as I really don’t like eggs I mostly ate the fried plantain that it came with.

We were all up bright and early the next morning to get taxis to Laberinto where the boat for CICRA left. As usual there was a slight problem. In the night there had been a clap of thunder that woke Karina up. Thinking it was someone knocking on the door she begged me to get up to check that it was fully locked and that there wasn’t anyone outside while she (brandishing her pen-knife!) checked no one was in the bathroom. Obviously there was no one there but somehow she must have locked the door from the inside and then shut it so the next morning we couldn’t get in! Embarrassed and desperate for the toilet we went downstairs to ask if anyone could help us. A man who we think was the owner/manager came up to investigate. Having tried to force the door he decided that the only course of action was to climb up and through the opening above the door, jump down into the bathroom and unlock the door from the inside. For a man in probably his early 50s he was very nimble!

Eventually we got to Laberinto, loaded up the boat (one step up from a dug-out) and were on our way. The scenery was spectacular but after six hours sitting on a small, hard, wooden seat I was very thankful to arrive at CICRA. Unfortunately I had forgotten about the 250 steps from the boat up to the station! Somehow I managed to palm my very heavy suitcase off to one of the station workers who seemed much stronger and fitter than I was but I still had to carry my small backpack and waterproof suitcase. I very nearly collapsed and died halfway up. I also contemplated what on earth I was doing volunteering for a project chasing monkeys in the rainforest if I couldn’t climb some stupid stairs! When I finally managed to get all my stuff into a cabin, my home for the next five months, it was almost pitch black. Trying to unpack and ort out mosquito nets in the dark with only head torches was almost impossible with the additional problem Karina freaking out about the cockroaches.

After a restless sleep we woke up at 5.30am in time for breakfast at 6am. Breakfast was followed by several hours of presentations by Mini and Gideon about everything we were expected to do and learn. There was a lot to take in and my doubts from the previous day were increasing with every hour. After a hearty lunch everyone, including Mini’s family, went out on a introductory hike into the jungle. We were incredibly lucky as we managed to find a spider monkey, which is rare in the area as they have been heavily poached by miners for food. I also managed to spot a small group of emperor tamarins who are very cute with their white moustaches.

The next morning, at 5am, I went out with Mini, Gideon and Kat to bait feeding platforms and traps. The traps are because Mini wants to get blood and hair samples from the tamarins so she can do genetic analysis on them. The traps are baited with bananas but ironically tamarins don’t know what bananas are so random platforms are covered with bananas everyday to encourage the animals to eat them. While we were out we briefly saw the outline of a Goeldi’s monkey, another rare species. In the afternoon all of the new assistants were given a solo navigation task. We were told to follow a set route on the trails using just our maps. It doesn’t sound a particularly difficult task but when the trail markers are only every 100m and some of the trails are very overgrown it is surprisingly easy to wander off trail. I managed to do it until I got to a near vertical slope and decided that probably wasn’t the trail. Only about 15 minutes into the trail I heard a rustling in a near-by tree. I turned to look and saw a capuchin. I knew they never travel alone so decided to wait for a little while to see if anymore turned up. Thank goodness I did because about a minute later I heard a noise behind me and turned around to find two squirrel monkeys. Two quickly became four became eight and very soon I was literally surrounded by them!!! They seemed to be rather curious about me and some came to within a meter of me. I was in heaven. I managed to follow them for about half an hour before they went off trail and I thought I should get back to the task at hand. We also helped make traps out of wood from old food boxes and chicken wire. If my old DT teachers could have seen me!

The next day was bad. I was feeling very homesick after speaking to Mum on msn the previous night, got bitten/stung by a very large black ant (apparently not THE infamous bullet ant but a different species in the same genus that still packs a nasty sting) on my right leg above my knee, got stung by something else very soon after in the small of my back, the soles of my wellie boots rubbed my feet and got blamed for loosing a group of tamarins Rhea (the research assistant who had been working on the project since November) and I were tracking. Another long trek in the afternoon was the last straw and it all came out in a rather undignified fashion. Thankfully I haven’t had any more wobbles.

Yesterday was incredibly physically demanding. Gideon, Kat and I were following the main group that has already been trapped and identified. They had been sleeping in a tree close to the station so we got there at 5am to follow them when they woke up. They quickly scampered over off the embankment by some of cabins. They then decided to stay in a tree that was too far from the embankment for us to watch them from there and too far from the trail at the bottom of the embankment. Twice we tried to make our way down the embankment slope only to come back up again. That was NOT fun as it was a VERY steep slope. Finally the bloody monkey moved down closer to the path at the base of the embankment called Playa. We had been hoping they wouldn’t do this as it is one of the hardest trails and is full of fire ants. To get down there we had to use the 250 steps. Finding the monkeys was fine but following them was almost impossible. With all the recent rain it was very muddy. I managed to get my boot stuck twice. The first time I tried to pull it out and fell to my knees with my hands in the air so I protected the precious voice recorder we were using to record our observations. The second time I tried to pull myself out using a branch overhead. Unfortunately it was dead so snapped from holding my weight so I fell flat on my bum. I was so glad I put on clean, white underwear that morning! A few minutes later I was using my binoculars to observe the twins and inadvertently leaned against a tree that was covered in fire ants! As soon as I noticed the monkeys started moving so I had to run through more undergrowth while trying to keep an eye on them and remove the ants. When they stopped I asked Gideon if he could kindly remove the ants that were all over my right shoulder. Half an hour after that the heavens opened. The monkeys all huddled up right in the top of a tree so we decided to head back to camp, via the stairs. That was a VERY tiring day.

Today we had the luxury of waking up at 6am! So far today I’ve managed to soak my dirty clothes and also saw a large group of squirrel monkeys and capuchins feeding off the embankment. We also managed to spot another spider monkey and got a fantastic view. Later I have to input a load of data from the past few days but I don’t care because I get to rest my feet and wear clean, dry clothes *sigh*.

Hope all is well with everyone. Lots of love Emma and the monkeys


14th January 2010

Boot camp...
So! Boot camp! Say no more! Basically, I see that you're on holiday, enjoying yourself and getting excercise - enjoy!!! Beats Monkey World I bet...
15th January 2010

Emma and the Monkeys!
Loving the blogs Emma! Keep them coming! Sounds like you are getting into the swing of things :-) Sounds like you have seen a lot of monkeys already, that's so cool that 8 surrounded you! Hehe! xxx
16th January 2010

Well done Emma :) I'm so impressed by your adventures so far - it sounds amazing (and SOOO tiring!!) You are going to come back SO fit by the sunds of it - much better than what Fenners can ever do for you! I hope you have a great few days. I'm excited to hear more :) LOADS of love and prayers xxxx

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