My Trip to Kenya
I left Seattle today at 7:10pm on British Airlines. Getting there three hours ahead was not too early—lots of travelers these summer days. The flight is completely full, a huge Boeing 747 that holds over 280 passengers. I am in a middle seat between two nice women. One is from Hungary and is flying home for a surprise visit with her mother. The other is traveling to Zimbabwe to help with medical supplies she is bringing for AIDS workers. We had some interesting conversations.
July 6, 2006
Not much sleep on the plane even with earplugs, eye covers and a blowup neck pillow. I had a few catnaps I guess. We were packed in like sardines, with little room for feet and arms. The individual monitors for movies, TV shows, a map of our progress toward London, and some games was kind of fun I must say! It felt good to get out the of cramped plane and know my next 10 hours would be spent walking around gigantic Heathrow Airport. Wow—the duty free shopping area is as big as any mall! Good thing I’m not tempted.
I’ll try to get really tired of walking so I can sleep on the next 8 hour flight! I wish I didn’t have to carry my laptop and heavy daypack with me however.
I walk and sit and try to read and sit and sit. Ten hours go slowly. I take out my Earthwatch briefing and try to match the monkeys’ characteristics with their names: Angle has an angle in her tail, Sasha has a sash of white hairs on her ears, Nora has white nostrils, Poa has the round face, etc. Any little clue to match names with faces to help me remember. But will I be able to recognize them in the wild, the real monkeys as opposed to their photos, that sit so still in my hand and let me study them at length?
July 7, 2006
After another long wait and flight to Nairobi, then a fun prop plane “puddle jumper” to Malindi we have met up and arrived in our digs. Africa is amazing! I can’t believe how tropical the plants are and how beautiful the scenery is. I love the palm frond thatched roofs of the Kenyans. We have some Sykes monkeys around our rustic guesthouse and they like to run along the metal roofs and make a racket! I want to write much about all I’m seeing and experiencing, but I have to make this very short today so that we can run to the internet café and send this off.
I found connecting and sending this off very difficult and was unable to today as they were just closing the store. I’ll try again tomorrow. I like the 6 other teachers I’m with and found one, Karin, teaches first grade, so we have some things in common. We share triple rooms with a little cold water that trickles out for a shower and a toilet that only periodically works, but the beds seem comfortable and there is a fan that we can use at night, to keep it a bit cooler. I’m glad to see a mosquito net for the beds.
Today we had our first visit to Gede Ruins and a fine guided tour of the area which is full of rich history. I was so excited to see in our welcoming committee—the monkeys who greet you to see if you will give them food—that I could recognize Angle! To see in real life, the monkey I’ve looked at in a small photograph was a moving experience! They are so inquisitive, agile and quick moving. After they came to greet us and found we weren’t going to give any food, they dispersed throughout the treetops. That’s where our challenge begins and tomorrow we learn to follow one around. We’ll go in pairs, which will help.
This was a very full day. Up at 6, shower (cold water only) and breakfast by 6:45 and to Gede about 7am. We followed monkeys using binoculars, trying to learn to recognize them, until 12:45. No breaks, and no sitting down during that time! My group of 3 plus two leaders volunteered to take the new group of monkeys—not the ones I had been trying to learn all this time! These monkeys will be the control group. They are not fed food by humans, are more elusive and live in an area much more remote. The fecal samples from both groups are collected and tested for stress hormones. Does provisioning (being given food by humans, or stealing food) create more stress in monkeys as they associate with humans, vying for attention from people, fighting over food they find? Will the huge amounts of data being collected show a difference in stress between the more socialized, people-friendly monkeys verses the ones that live on the fringe of Gede and have very little if any human contact?
We had a great swahili lunch( rice, meat sauce, salad, mangos) from 1-2 then back again to the field from 2:15-4:30. We went to a little market on the way home, to buy some nibbles, had dinner at 7 and a meeting until 9:30. I’ve got to now memorize the characteristics of 8 new monkeys and we will begin to follow and record behavior of a monkey tomorrow. We are all quite exhausted from all the walking over very rough terrain, breaking trails in the forest, the humidity and heat, but are up for the challenge. I go to bed hoping that I am able to get to the Post Office tomorrow and send this posting out. They are supposed to be open even on a Sunday.