I woke up this morning before 7 am when the generator turns on. I can hear the bats squeaking outside my window and the aroma of bat shit and mildew penetrates through my mosquito net. I untangle myself as I crawl out a small opening and don’t bother to make my modest bed. My headlamp comes in handy to get my teeth brushed and splash my face with treated water. As I decide which field clothes to throw on for the day, the lure of instant coffee and peanut butter gets me moving out the screen door. Dodging towels and muddy pants hanging from the lines in the hallway, I quietly step outside and hope I don’t wake up any of the others. First things first- a quick tip of the ‘Wellies’ to assure no scorpions made my boots their home for the night. I begin the slow, fluid meander down the paved path to the common building while hornbills swoosh overhead. The sounds of cicadas ring in your ears replacing the sounds of traffic in your not so distant past. You hope not to encounter the male macaque; it's too early for a stand-off. It looks like it’s going to still be dark inside, but the windows let in loads of morning light. A jungle rat or two still might be scrambling around and I do my best to keep my wits about me. One at a time, others filter into the room to fill their mugs with coffee or tea. Careful not to toast a gecko!
There are many ways you might start your day. Maybe you will grab a boat to some of the tributaries of the Kinabatangan River to change out the batteries and exchange the SD cards in the camera traps. Perhaps you will walk some of the nearby trails to check and readjust skink traps. Today I will go track the nocturnal primates’ nesting sites. I grab a GPS and VHF before heading out and quick douse myself with jungle juice. The morning goes by quickly- sweating, tripping over vines, and getting stuck in the mud. I quickly learn not to grab onto plants because their mechanical defenses will show you no mercy. If you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of an orangutan; you might even see a tarsier or slow loris up in the tree. I try to learn a couple new words in Malay and find myself repeating them over and over in my head as I clamber through the forest. When someone sneezes you say “bersin”, when something is very good you say “sangat bagus”, when you want to say 'can I' you say “boleh”, and so on……By the time you get your morning work done it is just about time for lunch. If it is not dumping rain you might be able to send a text home or post a photo on Instagram. But the rain, as it comes and goes throughout the day, outcompetes with the wifi-- rightfully so.
Lunch is divine as is every meal here I get the privilege to consume. The wonderful cooks prepare rice, curries, salads, and fresh fruit. Sometimes there is a rose flavored beverage (bandung) and on special occasions, like when people are departing, there is a tasty cake. After lunch you can either take a quick cold shower or enjoy a little down time. It is not possible to complain about the company here. A collective of likeminded people from different parts of the world call this place their temporary home and everyone is exceptionally genuine & friendly. The afternoon can mean different things for everybody depending on your task. Today I will go check the monitor lizard traps which right now are set up in the palm plantation. The data collected is important to studying effects of habitat fragmentation. To get to the plantation you must take a small boat along the river. You find yourself crossing logs over muddy streams and hold your breath that you don’t fall in and get eaten by a crocodile. There is a good chance when the forest is flooding like it is now that you will get a “booter” (aka boot full of swampy water). The cages are filled with chicken guts in the morning. Unfortunately, my task today was not filling the traps with bait but I hear it is quite the treat. The rain comes down like clock-work and you scrunch your face & let your skin lap up the water.
Dinner starts promptly at seven and somehow you are ready for another big, nourishing meal. If I’m not on the schedule for anything in the evening I will probably ask to go along to search for pythons. This data is also collected for another ongoing study on habitat fragmentation. At this point the moon light is the only thing illuminating the forest and therefore bright head lamps are crucial. The boat ride becomes a little more unnerving while the beams of light erratically flash the murky water. Every time light hits a submerged log my heart skips a beat with the realization that 20 foot crocodiles do indeed still exist and the Kinabatangan is their home. With a snake hook in hand we disperse into the plantation and start uncovering bits of grass and palm. The hope is that one of us finds a python. What you do not want is to discover a cobra. A few hours will pass and I have had no luck. We will see lots of palm civets and jungle rats but it is rarer to find what you are actually looking for. I seem to make it back to the field center with just enough time to take a cool shower and tuck myself into bed before the clock strikes 11, the generator turns off, and the jungle rats comes out to party. As I dose off into the night I hope that I don’t wake everyone again with a piercing scream from a night terror. The jungle can bring out all sorts of things!