Being woken up by a thunderstorm around midnight is usually one of my favorite feelings: the wind blowing, the flashing of lights, rain falling on the rooftops and knowing I have several hours left of sleep. But on this particular morning, my first thought happened to be, “Oh, crap…” At 230, I would have to start preparing to reach the bonobos’ nest site by 5AM. Nestling back into my sleeping bag, I just hoped the rain would stop in time.
A couple hours later and after spooning Nutella in lieu of real food with my coffee, I met with the Mange, Bekan and Syrri to reach the bonobos as the rain continued on. We reached them before dawn and listened to their cries as I groggily recorded how many, genders and took a GPS coordinate of their nest site. Bekan and I set off after them as Mange and Syrri stayed behind to collect the nest information.
Of course 45 minutes later, they decided to descend to the ground and disappear. Oh you teases. This had been frustratingly common recently and so we picked a good spot and sat and listened for them. Within the hour, we came across a female with an independent infant and were able to follow her for over six hours as she waded behind the group eating bofili or rested while her infant swung in the trees fearlessly 40m up. Several times per hour, she’d call to the group and follow in that direction–lagging about 100m.
Today made up for all the past partial follows–getting ready in moon and starlight and losing them within an hour or two. Sometimes I wonder if following monkeys is really what I want to do but after days spent in the forest surrounded by them and nights spent reading about them, the early mornings don’t seem to matter as much. I would much rather be running around the forest than stuck inside.
Even collecting phenological can be fun–especially when you get to climb some vines or up a bomambo or lokumo tree. After finishing a transect, Estelle came up to me with a lifambu–fruit from the bofambu that looks kind of like a mango. Expertly popping it open, she splits it as we dig into the sticky flesh, sucking on the seeds. Tastes just like sour patch kids.
With such little time left, there are so many things I will miss about living out here. Despite my complaints about the lack of variety in food, it’s always very rewarding after a long day in the field (although we recently opened up a jar of jam–HEAVEN). The guides have all started asking if I will return. I usually shrug and respond it’s expensive. Leaving will be bittersweet. Things I will miss about the forest:
- eating fruit from the forest
- sleeping in an open tent and guessing what animals wander by at night (my favorite thing!)
- walking through camp at night during a full moon when everyone else is asleep
- bathing in a stream while an antelope runs by
- Congolese hospitality
- the food (especially Rojer’s peanuts!)
- watching the chickens run and
- listening to the cries of the monkeys and bonobos.
Being home and looking for work will be strange after all this.