Welcome to the jungle
After we waited for our cabbie to show this morning, he took us 1 1/2 hours from Coca, east across a well-kept paved private oil road to Pompeya, a small village on the north side of Rio Napo. We waited an hour for our canoe to show and when it didn't we hitched a ride with one of the motor boats schlepping people across the river. After making our way through the RepSol checkpoint, and putting our luggage and persons through the X-rays, one of the administrators, Carlos, picked us up in his truck. We took the oil road, rocks and dirt this time, another 1 1/2 hours to Yasuní.
We passed a few small villages and school children on our way, including a group of Huaorani in helmets and vests working for the Company (this company being RepSol). We questioned Carlos about the station, local plants, largest dangers in the rainforest - mostly bugs - and the whereabouts of the local Huaorani tribes.
The station is a little rustic but well kept, with 4 long buildings, a large, well-stocked kitchen and many, many pairs of Wellingtons. Matt will be building an app to help the administration manage the rooms for people who come to stay in the station. In return, we get to stay in Yasuní for 3-4 weeks, hopefully working on projects and tagging along with grad students studying tree frogs, ants, cecropia trees, what have you…
During dinner we met a few of the students here, mostly American grad students and a few Europeans. Two are studying the auditory range of a certain species of frog, two are studying special differences in mating calls of the same frog, one is studying jungle vines and another diecious trees and their spacial distribution. So naturally everyone chatted about lighting ants on fire to celebrate the 4th of July and which parasite they'd like to take home with them to show all their friends in the US.
One student from Colorado State University recalled a story of a professor who couldn't get the right paperwork to bring home certain parasites he was studying so he ingested them and carried them in his belly. Another spoke of a professor who was impregnated with botfly larvae, which can burrow their way under your skin before hatching and taking flight. After his wife couldn't take it anymore and pulled a half-exposed pupa out of his arm, he exclaimed that he finally knew how it felt to be pregnant.
The plant students go out during the day to work, but those on frog detail head out after dinner. We're hoping to tag along on each in the days to come. When not out studying due to rain, the students seem to do a lot of this:
Here are some of the creatures we encountered on our first afternoon in the jungle…
These leaf cutter ants, in addition to building a hill that looks like an expertly thrown clay pot, bring bits of leaf into the hill, masticate them so that a fungus will grown from the fermented leaf mulch. Apparently when they build a new home they bring a bit of the fungus along with them. Even ants like their ferments.
There's a mama and bebe tapir at the station. So the students tell us, they're pretty harmless when viewed on grounds, but in the woods they can be quite sassy. Here's a print we found in the mud of presumably the mother when we were on our very first 10 minute walk into the jungle.
In addition to ants whose sting apparently feels like a gun shot, caterpillars whose hairs can cause an entire limb to feel on fire or completely numb, tree frogs that can kill if you touch them, and of course boas that suffocate and vipers with poisonous bites there are also these furry little cuddly creatures, this one measuring about 6" who has been stationed outside the frog lab for the last 3 weeks.