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Sunday, 16 November 2008

Cataloging the Biodiversity of Reptiles and Amphibians in Western Ecuador - Page 4

Written by Stephen J. Bugaj
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It wasn’t quite 9:30 in the morning and I was already wringing wet with perspiration. As we trudged up the steep slope of the mountain, the mud made my footing both arduous and precarious. Moreover, my left insole had an industrial-grade bruise from hiking several days across rocks and hardened mud, and I had several blisters on both feet.

Pata de Pajaro and the Cloud Forest

Pata de Pajaro was our second field site, and was considered remote even by Paul. Our bus dropped us off along the road, where we met Carlos, Rafael, a horse and a burro. After packing our bags on the animals, we hiked several hours up a "moderate" slope to our base camp (affectionately dubbed the hacienda).The next morning, we packed the essentials to last five days, threw it on our backs, and began an ever increasingly steep climb into the cloud forest.

We arrived at our campsite late in the afternoon, soaked and exhausted. While Tim and I set up the tents, Brian and Rafael went down the mountain for water, and Paul and Carlos returned to the hacienda to lug the remaining gear and rations to our camp. The cardiovascular fitness of my companions truly amazed me! As an illustration, Brian and Rafael routinely stuffed five gallon plastic bags into their backpacks, hiked down to a small stream, filled them with water and hauled them uphill to our campsite. At 8 + pounds per gallon, and traveling vertically for most of the distance, this was no easy chore. Just getting up that slope pretty much kicked my butt!

Both La Perla and Pata de Pajaro are situated right along the Equator. Before our trip ended, we determined that we had walked across this parallel no fewer than a dozen times.

I discovered that my old Army summer weight battle-dress uniforms (BDUs) were a poor substitute for the high-tech nylon synthetics that everyone else wore. The BDUs never dried out in the continuously damp climate of the cloud forest. For the most part, we all kept our sleeves down and collars up to guard against insect bites. Our rubber gauchos served us well - they not only kept the water and mud out, but protected us from snakebites and offered considerable support for our ankles.

Our tents at our base camp were pitched in very wet conditions; likewise, so was our lab and cooking area. While we were in the cloud forest, everything became not only wet, but muddy. The mud sucked at our boots, stayed on our clothes and got into our tents. The only time we changed into dry (somewhat clean) clothes was after the evening field excursion. Trying to keep our morale up as the rain beat down, Brian began to chant in Zen-like fashion, "Embrace the mud!"

Walking uphill or over level terrain proved a major effort, but moving downhill was more challenging; we had to learn to surf the mud so that we wouldn't lose our balance and take a header into the mire. Had I not had the snake stick to maintain my balance I would have "embraced the mud" in very short order.

(Page 4 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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