Friday, January 25, 2008
Turtle crossings in the Amazon
My image of the Amazon is dominated by a National Geographic article I read when I was little about the Amazon, and all the amazing animals there were. Photographs of dense green jungle and googly-eyed frogs - stories of indigenous tribes and intrepid scientists. That article probably had a lot to do with my career choice. This week I had my first Amazonian experience, and it certainly lived up to expectations...
Our field site is located on a scientific reserve, so it's definitely off the typical tourist track. About 50km on paved roads (the one highway out of Manaus, which heads north towards Caracas), followed by a left-turn onto an unmarked dirt road for 34km. By 'dirt road', I actually mean a clay bed - beautiful orange-red clay that reminds me that tropical soil science is a fascinating topic in and of itself. When exposed to lots of heat and sunlight, the clay road is not too hard to drive - but when it rains, it apparently turns into a bit of a roller-coaster ride. We were lucky enough to have sunny weather for our preliminary trip to the site, so the drive was fun, but not too dramatic.
The site is beautiful - surrounded by dense jungle - a thick understory filled with giant palms, lianas and strangler figs draped down the canopy, bright sun on the road and deep shadow when you step off the road and into the forest. The site consists of a telescoping tower next to an air-conditioned container, about a ten minute walk from the alojamento (lodgings). The lodgings are rustic (one room for everyone to sleep in, one room to eat/work in), but on par with most other remote tropical field stations I've stayed at. There's running water (supposedly we can drink it, but I'll stick with bottled), a cute puppy who liked my shoelaces, electricity until 10pm, and a very good cook (who is nice enough to make adjustments for us non-meat eaters, though he doesn't quite understand us!).
Highlights of the site visit (other than seeing the tower and arranging for my sonic anemometer to be placed appropriately, of course! not that my communication with the site workers wasn't an adventure with my spanish/portuguese hybrid) were seeing a little monkey up in the trees next to the tower and a turtle in the middle of the road when we were driving back.
The turtle was walking across the road as we drove up to it and stopped. It moved as slowly as one expects, so I got out to take some photos. As I approached it moved ever more slowly... Then I picked it up and moved it to the side of the road. Don't worry - I won't be quite so friendly with the snakes!