Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Camp

Well, after a rather hectic few days of gathering supplies in Toliara, I am heading back to camp. Even though I really want to be back in the forest, its always hard to leave town. Leaving the net behind is like saying good-bye all over again, since its so much easier to communicate with you all online. Think I'll just have to start IMing with the lemurs.

Here are a few tidbits from camp:

Washing my dirty dirty laundry


Beans and rice


Goat in an ox cart


And then goat up a tree


Parking


My tent/ the market


Getting ready for a nap. I can now snooze on cement in 45+ degree heat!


and a lemur zombie


See you all in February :)

Kissiversary

Today is Ron and my 12th Kissiversary. I can never remember the date of our wedding anniversary, so this is kind of our more celebrated landmark. Here we are circa 2000 looking like babies:



This post is dedicated to my sweet (in a very manly non-racist Chuck Norris kinda way) Ronman. The following are perhaps the Top Ten reasons I love him:

10. He takes care of me when I need it.
9. He lets me take care of him when he needs it.
8. He believes in me. Even when I don’t.
7. He encourages me to follow my dreams. My being in Madagascar for 9 months = case in point.
6. He puts up with Sammy in the freezer for months, in addition to many other occurrences that may cause others to question my sanity.
5. He goes f*&%ing bonkers when we are on holiday. He inevitably gets hurt, but I find it oddly adorable.
4. He loves me as much as I love him.
3. He is my biggest fan.
2. He makes me laugh. Even when I am crying.

And the number one reason I love Ron:
1. He is my best friend. I know it sounds cliché and lame, but its true. There is no one in this world that I would rather spend my days with.

Wish we were together today. Sniff, sniff.

On a somewhat related note, the following is what I just drove past in Toliara, Madagascar. Perhaps I should inform the vendor that Divx is now Sonic?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The many hats of Maron-y

Besides lemur research, I have many duties at camp that may or may not be within my sphere of experience. These include:

1. Scorpion slayer. There is literally a scorpion under every single rock. And there are rocks literally everywhere. I actually had one directly on my big toe while bathing (with a bucket of water and a cup), but thankfully did not get stung. Scorpions are the most dangerous critter in Madagascar, which is good (good because there are no lions) and bad (bad because they are everywhere and can put you into cardiac arrest). Like any good biologist, what do I do with said scorpions? Kill them. With a shovel. Lets hope karma does not exist.

A freshly slayed scorpio:


2. Chicken wrangler. It did take some getting used to, but I can now catch my own chickens and put them to bed. When I get close they make their "uhhh I am unsure and I am a chicken" noise and give me the stink eye. Then, they either run around in circles or sit down. If they sit, I can just pick them up. If they run around, I have to corral them back to their day pen (which they are never in during the day because they are chronically escaping) and then grab them. To bed they go!

Here is my favorite chicken, Stevie:


3. Death sniffer. Apparently I have the nose of a blood hound. I can smell death like nobody's business. I was even lucky enough to sniff out a wee dead baby lemur. "Lucky" in that I was able to clean up the carcass and keep the bones, which I can now use to potentially identify baby lemur bits consumed by lemur predators.

Awe, poor little dead baby maki:


4. Fecal expert. Seriously. I know every turd in that forest. Boy, after a sentence like that I sure feel like I took a wrong turn in life somewhere.

Fossa poop:


5. Track expert. This one might be my favorite. The animals all have forest paths that they use. Some paths are heavily traversed by all (think freeway) and some are species specific (think bike path).

Giant Malagasy Hissing Cockroach tracks:


5. Osteological consultant. This one just sounds good.

Here is a small piece of the occipital bone from a ring-tailed lemur, compared to an intact lemur skull:


6. Gas station. Yes, I have barrels of gasoline that I dispense with a water bottle. Carcinogen? Smeh. Flammable? Smeh.

Generator time. Doesn't the generator look "retro cool?" It says it is anyhow.


7. Arms surveyor. I was sick for a couple of days in camp and was taking a mid-morning nap when Bronwyn woke me up. "Um, Marni, there are men in camp with guns," she said. I replied, "Ok. Are they shot guns or Ak-47s?" Like it matters. Bronwyn didn't know, so I got up to take a look. They were in fact AK-47s, but everything was fine. The gandarme dudes were just looking for Omby thieves. Automatic weapons are everywhere here. In fact, yesterday I saw a man riding a bike with an AK-47 slung casually over one shoulder.

NO PHOTO- I figure its best not to push my luck here.

8. Bread maker/ egg cooker. Once a month, on Sunday, I make bannock and it is unbelievably good. Daily, I make fried eggs. This job is not without significant personal risk. Once, a piece of hot greasy partially fried egg flew out of the plan and, WHAP, stuck to my forehead. Ouchie!

Check out my poor burned forehead:


9. Fearless leader. When I say fearless, I really mean not-so-bright but eager to explore. And when I say leader, come on, what I really mean is bossy.



That about sums up the many hats of Maron-y. Which reminds me, that the name game continues. In Madagascar I am Maron-y:

Research

Tsimanampetsotsa National Park (TNP) is in the southwest of Madagascar. My camp is about 10km inland from the Mozambique Channel, and maybe 1 km east of the Tsimanampetsotsa hypersaline lake. It is a really beautiful and bizarre forest, that literally kicks the s*%t out of me every single day I am there.



In the Natural History of Madagascar (Goodman and Benstead, 2003), Goodman said:

"This is a rather inhospitable zone, with its near lack of fresh water, impenetrable spiny bush, and razor sharp limestone outcrops."

For shiz. Additionally, on the conditions of TNP Braun and Yahnke (2010) state:

"Much of the vegetation has sharp spines and/or thorns, making it inhospitable to humans and difficult for researchers to navigate (emphasis added)."

Braun and Yahnke (2010) further note that animal behavior at TNP is 'difficult to document' because of rough terrain, and that the spiny vegetation is 'impossible to navigate'.

And they are correct. Oh, and did I mention it was hot? It is. F*%#ing hot. I have one camera trap photo with a temp of 55°C (131°F). The following photo of a shows a Harrier Hawk nest with a temerature of 53°C (127.4°F)- I can't find the 55 degree one at the moment. Just to put that in perspective, the hottest recorded temperature on earth is from Libya at a whopping 57.8°C (136.0°F).



So, its inhospitable, difficult, impossible, and f#@$ing hot. BUT, its also beautiful and the animals are fantastic. The lemurs can get around just fine and have all sorts of paths and routes throughout the "impossible" spiny vegetation. When they decided to move, I am comparably slow, but eventually I catch up to them again and again. And when its really hot, the lemurs sit in the shade and hug the bases of trees, which tend to stay cooler that anything else, well, cool as in 45°C can be. So I too sit in the shade and try to hug a tree. And drink about 7L of water. Seriously.

Here is some lemur tree hugging:



Now that I know the lemurs its hard to be away because I don't want to miss anything. Who's fighting with whom? Is 'Tumour' still popular with the ladies? Did baby 'Creature' or 'And The Brain' learn to alarm call yet? Did I miss it? Has the fossa been around?! Plus there are oodles of other critters to keep up with. Radiated tortoise, Harrier Hawk, the Bastards (ie Galidictis grandidieri), and of course my chickens.



That's all for now. Here is what might be my most exciting pic thus far...




Braun, S. and C. Yahnke. 2004. "Galidictis grandidieri" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed October 11, 2010 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Galidictis_grandidieri.html.

Goodman, S.M. 2003. Galidictis, Broad-striped Mongoose. In: The Natural History of Madagascar. Goodman SM, Benstead JP, editors. Chicago University Chicago Press.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

STDs and Dictators

I am pretty sure that the night before last I slept in the prostitutes' quarters of a hotel. Why, you might ask? Let's compare my room to the room Bronwyn and Meghan shared, which was at the same establishment.

Bronwyn and Meghan's room:
- is nice-ish
- has the bible in 4 languages (German, French, English and Malagasy, FYI)
- has several posters and papers stating that sexual tourism and the exploitation of children for sexual purposes will not be tolerated
- has a balcony, bed, two bedside tables, a table and two chairs, armchair, armoir and a full bathroom

My room:
- is not nice-ish.
- doesn't have a bible in any language, let alone four languages
- has no information on sexual tourism or the exploitation of children for sexual purposes
- has a bed, shower, sink, and beside table, but no toilet

And, the piece de la resistance:
- several packages of condoms on the bedside table.

Icky. Really icky. I did sleep exceptionally well, although, I think I may have contracted syphilis in the night.



In other news, yesterday was an impromtu celebration in Madagascar- Dictator Day! The DJ-turned-coup-leader-turned-self-appointed-president declared it a national holiday in an effort to show people how well the country is doing with him in charge. Everyone had the day off, there were pick-up trucks cruising abound town with full orchestras playing in the bed, and fireworks to boot. Forced fun for all!

OK, tomorrow I promise to tell you about my super fantastic research and all things camp life.





Veloma.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Transitioning

I am back in Toliara and it is scary. Not because Toliara is actually scary, but because Toliara is not the forest, and the hoards of people are not lemurs. Its busy and stinky and frenetic. Even facebook is too much for me at the moment. There are way too many options and the status update is way too difficult to find. It is really good to have access to internet though, along with nearly ANYTHING I want to eat. Ah, fruit.

The following is a pic that Bronwyn took of me while out in the forest. I am right in the center. Notice the lemur off to the left side.



I took this pic out of the car window. Very very different than forest life!




Anyhow, here is a blurb out of my journal from a while back...

Nov 4, 2010. 1:11pm. Camp.
I’m sitting in camp doing some data entry and just noticed that Bakira and Fiti are butchering Porky, who is/was my sick chicken. Poor thing is/was terribly sick and couldn’t even stand. I looked at her before lunch and tried to give her some water, but she wouldn’t drink. She had some sort of blockage in her gut. The staff and Felicien are going to eat Porky, but there is no way I am eating a sick animal.

Nov 4, 2010. 1:18pm. Camp.
Porky update. I went up to take a look at here carcass to see if I could determine what was wrong. Her carcass is now in a serving dish and is completely swarming with flies, which totally grosses me out. Bakira and Fiti were washing something off in the bushes and I asked to see because I thought it was perhaps the ‘sick’ part of her. In fact, it was an egg covered in layer upon layer of necrotic tissue. Poor thing had an egg stuck in her…well wherever eggs get stuck in chickens. Bakira was actually trying to wash off the egg with some water and a machete. Makes sense. The putrid stuck-in-a-dying-chicken egg was destine to be added to our bowl of fresh eggs. OMG. We noticed that Porky wasn’t well when we first got back from Toliara, which was three weeks ago. So the putrid stuck-in-a-dying-chicken egg could have been that old too. OMG. One of us would have gotten very ill from that nasty nasty egg. I was rather emphatic and said that we did not want to eat that egg. Bakira seemed a bit surprised, but I offered it to him and he also said no way. So gross.

Here are a couple of chicken pics from the happier times:





BTW I am definitely off meat here. I had been open to eating chicken, because it is generally killed shortly before you eat it. Thus, it is fresh and not likely to contain Salmonella or E. coli or like bacterium. The other meat sits around in the hot sun in open markets and has flies swarming on it for who knows how long, so there is no way I am eating that. Recall that flies also swarm poop, and poor dead baby Maki before they swarm on your carcass/dinner. No way no how I’m eating that. But now that I’ve seen the swarms on my freshly killed Porky, ick, I am totally grossed out and will not be having any chicken either. Yuck.

BTW2- I spilled gasoline all over myself a few minutes ago. Only in Madagascar would I refill a water bottle with gasoline, fill my generator and manage to douse my pants an foot in gasoline. Just saying.

Nov 4, 2010. 8:41pm. Tent.
Another crazy day. Had a freakin SCORPION on my big toe. I was in the shower and about to finish up when I looked at my foot and saw it there all ready to sting. I can’t remember, but apparently I screamed and somehow got it off of my foot without being stung. Close call. Too close

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Mery

For no particular reason, here is a pic Meghan took of me. Malagasy kids are generally keen to have their photos taken, so that they can look at the image on your camera. Here I am showing them their pics.



Once again, the following is an entry from my journal a while back.

Aug 31, 2010 Toliara. 7:48am.

I am at some hotel in Toliara and am the first one of my peeps up. Am drinking coffee alone. I love this time of day. Its warm, but not hot and the air smells tropical. I have to go to the University and to do a bunch of shopping today. I hope to leave for Beza tomorrow morning, but am not 100% sure we can get everything done today. I miss Ron and feel a bit sad this morning. Its always hard to go into the field as I know that I will have little contact outside and it just feels scary.

BTW the former president who is currently in exhile, has been sentenced to life in prison by the current government/courts. I were told that the judges are going on strike because they were being pressured by the current president (former DJ turned coup leader turned self-appointed president) to make decisions he favored. But there has yet to be a strike, so I guess the judges must have decided the pressure wasn’t so bad OR the pressure got worse and they caved. Who knows.

Made it through the sapphire towns yesterday. Sketch. Had to pay off one gendarme and got stopped a zillion times by others. There's something about dudes with automatic weapons that makes me uncomfortable.

Ok, so I will now tell you about the Mery...

Noting is official in Madagascar without having been stamped. Preferably a number of times. Preferably by a number of people. Preferably a number of times by a number of people. Preferably a number of times by a number of people in a number of places. Often you need a stamp from one location to get a stamp in another location all so that you can go back to the first location to get a third stamp confirming that you got the first and the second stamp. Seriously.

All official government stamps are in red ink. I asked Roki (the wonderful Malagasy Botanist who is helping me with the immigration process) why I couldn’t get some stamps made (there are venders on every corner waiting to carve rubber stamps) and get my own red ink (which is readily available in the market). His eyes got wide and he replied "NO." He said “sure you could buy red ink, but you must not use it.” He reminded me that red ink was only for government officials. He said we could buy blue ink and use that. Venders use blue ink to mark “paid” on every receipt and you could get your own logo or signature stamp to use with blue ink. I asked “what about black, or green or pink?” He just gave me an odd look and said “you could, but why would you want to?” Good point.

The “Mery’ is the most frequently visited stamping locale. The building is just off of the Avenue of Independence, which is chaotic and frenzied and notoriously dangerous. Inside the building, the Mery room is fairly large and the periphery of the room is lined with makeshift tables and benches with staff. The entire place smells of freshly steamed broccoli and the Backstreet Boys are nearly always are playing. Immediately upon entering someone is telling you to grab a freaking clue and get out of the way, in another language of course. There is pushing and shoving and yelling and comments I don’t understand, but lots of dirty looks, which I understand. Loud and clear.

Every single person in there has stacks of papers to be stamped. I alone have an inch thick bundle ready to go. Any letters that you personally write and sign, must be stamped, in order for party B to know that party A (the Mery) checked you are who you say you are. Any copies of other bureaucratic documents must be stamped, such that party B will know that this is a legitimate copy of some document which was checked by party A (again, the Mery). Also, I had to HAND OVER MY PASSPORT to Door 7 in order to apply for a visa, so I also need to make copies of my passport and have those copies stamped. Any documents that a Malagasy person has signed must be stamped, but in order to have then stamped, you must have the person’s official Malagasy ID card with you. I could hardly believe this one. We actually had to get an ID card from Jonah, who runs the Durrell Fund in Tana and is a University Professor. I thought, no wait, actually, I said “get his ID card?! I may as well just ask for his pants while I am at it!”

Ok, back to the broccoli-smelling-Backstreet-Boy-playing Mery….Half-ish way down the line of staffers (whom can only be identified by their position on the other side of the table) I handed off my stack of papers to one unmarked person. He barely looked at the documents, but stamped each page in a frenzy with a number of different stamps, using only red ink. He then passed my stack on to another person, who was sitting a few seats down, and was also unmarked, for additional stamping. My papers get passed and traded and stamped some more until I am eventually given a small wooden chip with a number on it. I assume this means wait, but there is no order to the numbers being passed out. I got 94, but 218 , 361, and 7 were all ahead of me, I think. Eventually, I do get my stack back, and for the equivalent of $1.50 leave unharmed, but heavily stamped. Some of my documents have 7 fresh stamps on them and are literally illegible due to all the red ink. But, they look pretty freaking official in Madagascar.

In total I returned to the Mery 4 times that week, including the following very complicated side trek. We went to the Mery to, of course, get some things stamped and signed. Then we needed to go to the “District” which is similar in function to the Mery, but is at a higher level of bureaucracy and thus has more authority. With our bundle of Mery papers in hand, we braved the streets of Tana once more and went into an unmarked door and up a very dingy set of spiral staircases (which were clearly designed for house elves) in order to get the required stamps and signatures from the District. District staff glance at our papers and informed us, that in order to get their stamps and signatures, we must go to the “fokontany” , which is one level below the Mery. Oy. So we head to the outskirts of town to go to the fokotany to got our stamps and signatures. After leaving the fokotany, I promptly stepped in what I believe was dog diarrhea and then got back in the car with my incredibly sh*tty flip flops. I really have a knack for stepping in sh*t. Anyhow, we zip-zag back across town, to go to none other than the Mery, to get our fokotany papers signed and stamped before heading back to the District.

This literally takes all day. At 3pm we arrive back at the District, where they are kindly waiting for us. We go into a stale smelly room which doubles as a paper graveyard and a man pulls out a rather large typewriter and tell us that because this will take a while, we should have a seat. Oy number 2. Rocki and the District staff talk a little and Megan, Denise and I talk a little, and then through Rocki we all converse a bit. One of the officials needed to get in a cabinet behind me and politely said “excuse moi Mademoiselle”. To which I responded “No problem, but its Madame”. “Oh?!” he responded, looking shocked. I then casually suggested that I could be Mademoiselle if he could get me a visa. We all laughed but the men kept carrying on about this marriage proposal business and just how willing they were. They even sweetened the deal and suggested they would through in some Omby (Malagasy cows, which are often exchanged in marriage deals), but I said that wasn’t necessary, just the visa would do. What’s wrong with a little green card marriage between “friends” anyhow? After many many strokes of the decrepit typewriter, we headed back to the Mery to get copies, signatures and stamps of the papers the District had just created, signed and stamped. Once I was back at the Mery Roki informed me that the marital status on my paperwork may be a problem at Door 7 or when getting stopped by the gendarme (recall the gem stone town bribery). Why on earth would my marital status be a problem? Because the man at the District to whom I proposed marriage in exchange for a visa had refused to put “married” on my new Malagasy ID card, yet all of my other stamped and signed paperwork listed Ron Mombourquette as my lawfully wedded husband. Oy number 3.

I have yet to actually receive a visa and my temporary Malagasy ID will expire on October 26th. The following is a pic of the required paperwork for the visa application process. This is of page 1 of 5 and in fact, Door 7 added a few requirements, just for kicks.



Maybe I could get a few Omby after all…

Monday, October 11, 2010

Not proud


I am currently so stuffed that I can barely think. Thank goodness I have a backlog of posts and don't need to think...

Oct 5, 2010. 7:30pm. Tent.

Today was a challenging day and my coping skills were not, ehm, 100%. I am not proud of my behavior, but because I am an “over-sharer”, I will share.

I told a female ring-tailed lemur to “go f*&k herself.” She also may of, well does, have an infant who is 4 or 5 days old. And I may have added in a “and f*%k your baby too.”

NOT proud. My “habituated” group, who were behaving like 21 near-perfect lemur angels last week have gone all rangy and anti-social since a) the birth of the groups 3 super fantastic and adorable babies and b) the arrival of the Madagascar Harrier Hawk couples who like to feed their siblicidal babies the super fantastic and adorable lemur babies.

My day has gone as follows:

Wake up at 5am. Get suited up for the day. Through some coffee down my pie hole (yes I am back on a wee bit of coffee and no I don’t have any pie), eat something and get a move on. Catch up with lemurs by 6am*. Try try try to remember who each lemur is from their various peccadilloes, such as cap and mask shape, scars, ear tears, coat condition, tail condition, penis length (yes, really), etc., which is remarkably difficult. Find one individual I recognize, such as “Scabbers”, “Chubbers”, Pinky, 300 (less-half-an-ear), He-Snoze, Hoppy, etc., and begin recording everything the animal does. Number of bites take, what a bite consists of, plant food type, location and species, dominance interactions, location, and vigilance are of particular importance. As are getting representative sample of all plant foods and collecting all feces for hormonal and nutritional analyses.

As if all this weren’t taxing enough, since the arrivals of the aforementioned super fantastic and adorable lemur babies and the big scary Harrier Hawk, the lemurs are having no part of my antics. What to they do? Repeatedly grunt at me something that sounds an awful lot like “you’re a dick” and then run. Run far far away. Forest Gump style. I have yet to calculate the actual ranges, but these guys have HUGE territories. And what do I do? Chase, far far away. Through all things prickly thorny and generally hurty, I look for them, I listen for them, and do my best impression of a lemur contact call until, hopefully, I eventually I find them again. They have such an advantage in the really scrubby forest that sometimes it take a long time to catch up. Oh, and did I mention that it is 30 degrees Celsius by 7am and anywhere between 45 and 55 between the hours of 10am and 2pm? Well, it is. So, after 5 hours of this fun game of “let’s ditch Marni and see how long we can lose her for” I was fed up. When I caught up and got the “you’re a dick” grunt from "Babymomma", I snapped and cursed her and her 4 or 5 day old super fantastic and adorable baby. Oh, and I may have threatened to slap an ridiculously protective male, but males get slapped around all the time anyhow, so that wasn’t such a huge faux pas on my part. Not that I am advocating domestic abuse or violence against near endangered animals, but these guys really do get slapped all the time.

Tomorrow is a brand new day and I promise to try not to swear at, threaten, or bribe any lemurs. Again, I am not proud of my behavior. BTW, the babies are so ridiculously cute and squirmy and have a habit of not knowing which end is up or forward, which makes them even cuter.



*The TNP lemurs get up at 5am. Can you believe the audacity?! Bastards. The Beza RTLs don’t budge before 9am. Now Beza is the 'land of plenty' and the land of the civilized lemurs. Hmph.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A day in the life


I am in Toliara for a few days and am filling my face with all things chocolate. I am really jacked up on caffeine (but have taken my beta-blocker ;)) and will be online for approximately 100hrs. The following outlines what my days have consisted of lately...

Friday Sept 17, 2010. 7:56pm. Tent.

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a wildlife biologist for a day? Although I am sure there is great variation in what wildlife biologists do, the following excerpt is what I did today. Please note that I am not complaining. Well, maybe I am complaining a wee bit about the flies, but other than that I am just stating what it is like. I love what I do and am fortunate enough to be able to do field work all the way in freakin Madagascar. Not many peeps can say that.

Sleep in until 5:45am. The lemur group (called “Akao” )Meghan and I will attempt to follow today sleep and sunbathe until much later than the other lemur groups here and so we take advantage and get a late start. At 6am I reluctantly roll out of bed. I am freezing. It is 10.6 degrees Celsius and I am wearing my toque and am inside my sleeping bag which is inside my tent. I very reluctantly crawl out of bed (a foam mattress on the ground), bundle up a bit more and dash to the lou. We are EXTRAORDINARILY luck that bathroom facilities were built here a mere 4 months ago*. However there does seem to be a mosquito problem in the squat toilet. As soon as I start to wee a grey army of evil mosquitoes emerges. Its actually a bit frightening. There are so many mosquitoes that they sound like the buzz that comes from a beehive. Ick. I brush my teeth outside and head over to the kitchen area for breaky. The flies have started stalking me and swarming my head. Lanto, our camp cook has hot water and coffee waiting. Wonderful! I down one small coffee and two small packages of instant oatmeal (from back home) and head back to the tent to get changed into forest clothes. Forest clothes consist of hiking boots, weirdo field pants with a lot of pockets, a tank top covered by a weirdo long-sleeved field shirt with lots of pockets, and a baseball style hat. Additionally I bring my backpack with radio telemetry receiver and antenna, camera, binoculars, data books, poop/bone/plant collecting pack (baggies, shovel, snippers, knife, sharpy marker), a small bag of peanuts (for snacking and totally unrelated to the poop/bone/plant supplies), sunscreen, keys and extra memory cards for camera traps, 3L of water, a GPS, and a compass. I take the long route (8km) to the lemur group in order to get some way points and check cameras traps enroute. I am curious to see if the lemurs are active at night and want all the camera traps to be functional for the upcoming full moon. I arrive at the lemur group’s home range at about 9 am when it is already over 30 degrees Celsius. On the way, I stopped several times to inspect poop on or around the trail, and also to note the location of a radiated tortoise skeleton, which I plan to go back for with a bigger bag than I have with me. The stalking (“stalking” because they follow you and are immune to near constant swatting or insect repellent) flies are driving me mad.

When I arrive the lemurs immediately start alarm calling. This group is the least habituated, and was a I bit more traumatized from the darting than the others because it took a great deal longer to capture the two animals, and thus they were being stalked by big scary humans for a lot longer. I sit down at what I think is a reasonable distance to watch the group and hopefully slowly get them used to my presence. We know from the camera trap photos that they generally leave their sleeping trees at between 9 and 10am. When they still haven’t moved at 11am, I decide to move around the other side of the trees such that I am farther away from their destination. This does the trick and they almost immediately move into the forest. I then go into the area of the sleeping trees which is partially a swamp and contains densely packed swamp plants that are about 7 feet tall. I somewhat carefully meander about looking for evidence of feeding or lemur poop samples. Its very difficult to maneuver in this habitat and every step is a bit tricky. Sometimes the ground is solid and will hold me, sometimes it is not at all solid and will not hold me, while sometimes it feels solid but then gives way before I can take my next step. I have no luck finding poop but do find a number of small pine cones that look like they have been munched. Pine cones are usually quite toxic, so I am not sure if it is the lemurs or maybe birds eating them. What an exciting little mystery! The stalking flies are driving me mad.

At 11:30 am I head back to camp for lunch. It is 5km away and the heat is nearly unbearable. It is 44 degrees Celsius and there is no shade to be found. I try to walk with my hands behind me, as they are perpetually burned and sore. My hands are the only part of my skin that is routinely exposed to the sun and even though I slather on SPF70 sunscreen, they are still always burned. The stalking flies are driving me mad. Seriously.

I have beans and rice for lunch along with lots of water. After lunch I pull out and get my generator running so that I can charge my computer, walkie talkies, satellite phone, etc. While that is running I work on trying to identify some plant samples and them wash a bit of laundry. All washing is done by hand and I must first pull water up from the well. I also pull up some water to wash myself and brave the mosquito den (aka bathroom) to have a bucket shower. I am only clean for about 7 seconds but the “shower” really cools me off and feels great.

The generator takes two hours to charge everything, so I ask Meghan to shut it off in an hour, and I head back to the forest to check on some other camera traps. I walk about 2k and have to shimmy down rock faces, up trees, under shrubs and through much lemur poop to check each camera. Once I get the cameras all adjusted as needed, I head back to camp and then back to the lemur group from this morning. The stalking flies are driving me mad.

Again, from the camera traps I know that the lemurs will head to their sleeping site between 4 and 5pm. I am there at 4 and get set up much farther away from where the group will be, than I had been this morning. I sit in the marsh, which immediately soaks my backside, and quietly wait. The stalking flies are worse than ever and driving me mad. About once a day I feel like I may cry if the flies don’t leave me alone for 5 seconds. These flies are driving me mad.

At 4:45 the lemurs show up and are not happy to see me! Oh, but I am glad to see them! The are so cute even though they are terrified and on high alert. Imagine if suddenly every time you went to leave or get into your bed there was a huge scary lion sitting there, quietly, with a camera and a big stupid grin… They stand bipedally to get a better look at me and take a long time to actually cross. But they eventually do and I get a number of photographs that should aid in identifying individuals. The flies are now accompanied by mosquitoes, both of which are driving me mad.

I head back to camp and arrive at about 6:30. It is just past dark and I have made it in time to see the resident camp mouse lemur emerge from its tree hole. So cute! The little bastards are also here, which is annoying, albeit cute. I have rice and beans and lots of water for dinner and exchange a few English words for Malagasy with Lanto and Felicien. I shoo away the little bastards a number of times and watch an oversized cockroach mozy on my. By oversized, I mean 5cm long body and equally long antennae. I swat away the mosquitoes and flies, whom you may have guessed, are driving me mad.

7pm is bead time. I head to the bathroom, which is literally crawling with insects, and then to my my tent which is FLY and MOSQUITO free. I take some Benadryl. I am covered in bug bites and a bizarre rash, and if I don’t take any anti-histamines I will scratch myself while I am sleeping and bleed all over my sheet/pillow (gross, I know). I check the satellite phone for messages. The battery in the phone needs to be replaced but I am able to get it powered up and read a message from Ron. Apparently the new episode of Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia is called “Mac fights Gay Marriage”, which makes me smirk. I read a bit and then listen to my Harry Potter audio book until I fall asleep.

I wake once to go to the bathroom, but the journey is uneventful. Out of my tent, flip flops on, avoid large spiders and scorpions (both of which I see everywhere), walk to the bathroom, fight my way through the army of evil mosquitoes, shoo the cockroaches, go, and then walk back to my tent and get cozy once more. It is chilly out at 15 degrees, but I am snug as a bug with Gary and my sleeping bag.

There you have it. A day in the life.

* Bathroom update. Bathroom is no longer functional. A shovel does the trip and the forest is much more pleasant anyhow.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Another Day in Toliara

Another day has passed and although we did approximately 1000000 things we accomplished very little... Lots of waiting. Lots of talking with a little translating. Lots of driving around. A few things were of note. They follow:

1) I saw a dead person today. He was a young man. He was being carried out of a hospital room. We were at the hospital in Toliara to check in on Edward, who is a staff member at Beza, and also a young man. Edward was fine two weeks ago, but quickly fell ill. He was transported from Beza to Betoiky on a motorcycle (wedged between two people) and then from Betoiky to Toliara on a taxi-brusse. Apparently on Sunday Edward was unable to walk or lift his head, but today he was able to lift his head, so that is a good sign. Edward's wife was there and so I did the only thing I could to help, which is leave a bit of money. Indeed, I hope it does help.

2) We visited an orphanage for physically/mentally challenged children. I have a doctor friend (you know, the real kind of doctor) who can get his hands on various meds and medical supplies, so I figured I'd check out the facility and see what they needed. Apparently today is a holiday for the children so they were off on a field trip. The lady we spoke with said that what they need most is wheel chairs, crutches, and medicines. It seems like they are doing some really good work, so I am going to check in with them again in October and see what I can drum up.

3) Last night there was music playing outside until 5am ish. I asked Jacky what was going on. He said "oh it is the circumcision time, so they make party." Makes perfect sense. Then tonight after dinner, we hear the music starting up and so I asked if it was circumcision time again. Jacky looked at me as if I were nuts and responded "NO. The circumcision music has many more drums." Note to self- circumcision music is drum-heavy and only total morons don't know that. Check.

Tomorrow we are FINALLY off to Beza! I hope to get there at a decent hour so that I can go for a forest walk and catch up with 300. I will be back in internet land on or around Oct 13th. In the mean time, I can receive short (160 character) email messages at 881631670424@msg.iridium.com OR snail mail at the following address:
YOUSSOUF Jacky (for Marni LaFleur)
BP 407 Tulear (601).

Leaving is always sad for me, even though I really want to get out into the field... I do look forward to the fresh air and animals and adventures ahead.

TTYS.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

No problem

Ack. I keep trying to get a post up but I either don't have decent (or any) internet or am so exhausted by the time I get back to my hotel that I simply cannot string together a series of syllables.

Anyhow, the Malagasy don't ever really say "no." Rather, they have a series of "yes's" that often mean no, if you know what to look for (which I do not). And regardless of whether or not there is a problem, they tend to always say that there is "no problem."

The following are a few adventures of late, all of which are no problem:

1) Made it through gem stone country. Back in 2005 there was one town that supported the semi-precious stone mining. There a

B) I just jumped up because a GIANT cockroach ran past my foot. I was going to take a picture of it, but then I saw the GIANT spider beside the GIANT cockroach. I quickly decided I could not live with the GIANT spider (cockroaches are no problem) but it quickly disappeared into my pile of luggage. Oy, no problem.

1) cont... There are now a series of gem towns. All of which are equally scary and filled with dudes with fully automatic weapons. It is legal in gem country for employers to execute employees they suspect may be smuggling. We got stopped a number of times by the gendarmes but only had to pay off one, which is pretty good in my books. No problem!

2) We were out doing some shopping today. One of the things I needed was a large vessel to store water in. Jacky was kind enough to help me look and purchase such a vessel. We drove past a small market stall with a large suitably sized container. The "problem" was that there is a large "flammable dangerous goods" sticker on it. Jacky asked if that was what I wanted. I laughed and said "yes, except for the flammable/dangerous part." Jacky then said ok and got out of the car to look around. I had to wait in the car because apparently if I were there, the price would double. A few minutes later, the flammable/dangerous container is being loaded onto the car. I said "but Jacky it says flammable/dangerous. Should I really be storing my water in it?" He said "Oh yes, its no problem."

3) I just got back from an amazing dinner of "Big Grill Shrimp" which can be found at a restaurant here in Toliara. It is a massive portion of big grilled shrimp which are fresh and tender and sweet and served with a side of pesto butter. Amazing! At the end of the meal we received a special complimentary delivery... It was a fortified wine (we think) served in a baby bottle (WITH a nipple) and shot glasses. A baby bottle (WITH a nipple) filled with unknown alcohol and shot glasses. Bizarre, but definitely no problem.

Night all :)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Yet another day in Tana

Tana is a city of 2 million plus people and a zillion vehicles, yet there are no stop lights. At some of the busier intersections there are officials directing traffic. Earlier today two such officials instructed 1) our driver and 2) a man on a scooter to cross the complicated 5-way round about intersection simultaneously. So, we were then involved in an MVA.

I never did learn the man on the scooter's name, but I will refer to him as MVA from here on out. MVA ended up perpendicular to the front of our SUV and the impact knocked him and then his scooter to the road. Our vehicle impacted with his upper body, and his opposite hip impacted with the road. The scooter slid under the SUV, but just barely. MVA was able to get up, but was in a lot of pain. The police wrote a receipt (which of course was stamped) for the MVA's scooter and we all piled in to go to the hospital. It is a 15-ish minute drive across town with super bumpy impossible roads, completely congested traffic, thousands of scooters/people/dogs/chickens/gendarme's with AK-47s, and of course, no stop lights.

We got to the hospital and waited. MVA was examined and X-rayed. Luckily there was no internal damage, including broken bones. He was given a prescription for topical anesthetic and some sort of pain killer.

Next, we all rode over to the Tsimbazaza Zoo (15 minutes away) to pick up another vehicle and then all the way back to the scene of the accident (30 min away) to pick up MVA's scooter. We were planning to help load the scooter into vehicle number 2, but it was a bit too sketchy an area for us (vazah) to be getting out of the car. We were right near the mouth of one of Tana's two tunnels, which are notoriously dangerous for both Malagasy and Vazah alike. MVA and his scooter made it into vehicle number 2, where we parted ways.

Through a translator, MVA apologised to us (vazah) rather profusely and thanked us repeatedly for our time, which made me feel horrible. Foreigners are placed on such a pedestal in Madagascar that everyone involved was most worried about us being inconvenienced. The man was plowed over by a 6000lb vehicle, yet was sorry to of taken our time.

On another note.... WE GOT VISAS!!!!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Room number 7

What a day. We set out merrily to get our research visas. I was equipped with water, snacks, toilet paper, handi wipes, a Malagasy University/Zoo official (Rokiman)and a big 'ol Canadian smile.

On the way there, as we are zooming throughout the insane congested traffic, we see a man between two lanes of traffic. He is so hideously deformed by scoliosis/polio/and other debilitating bone disease, that he is actually a quadraped. It was completely shocking. He was begging for money without an inch to spare from cars zooming past.

We get to the "Ministry" (I have no idea what Ministry) and they tell us to go to the next building. The Malagasy don't do anything fast, so this takes a while. Once we get to the next building, it is locked. We go around the building and after a long-winded conversation, they tell us to go to room number 7. So we go and we wait at room number 7. We get inside and Roki talks and talks and talks (the Malagasy do nothing quickly) to the lady behind the desk in room number 7. In addition to the stacks of papers I already have, we need to produce many many documents (all stamped, of course) to apply for the visas, including 7 identical passport-style photographs, and a criminal record check. The photos I can get, the criminal record check, I cannot. In both Canada and the US, you must be finger printed and present to get a criminal check. The embassies or consulates cannot do it. The funny thing is that I brought a criminal record check with me when I came to Madagascar in 2005, but because they didn't ask for it, I didn't bring one again.

The lady from door number 7 tells us that if we can't get the record checks while we are here in Madagascar, then we will have to fly home to get them. She sends us away. Roki talks and talks and talks to a lady in another part of the Ministry, who keeps threatening to send us back to room number 7.

We leave, armed at least, with a list of all the impossible documents we must produce. On the ride back, with all the crazy traffic and clouds of pollution, I saw two small children (a boy about 5 and a girl about 3) raking though a pile of garbage. The boy was using a stick to sift through the rubbish and they were both picking out morsels and eating them. This was not a behind a restaurant or grocery store style of rubbish, but rather, stinky rotten putrid diseased garbage. It was their lunch.

We then stopped by the Zoo and got an impromptu tour of perhaps the saddest zoo on earth. I won't elaborate, but it is not a pleasant place to if you are a captive animal.

Last, we had a wonderful dinner of Indian food. Go figure.

I am exhausted. Night all...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Another day in Tana

Sunday is a good day in Tana. Nothing is open, except for a few restaurants and food stalls, and there are very few people out-and-about. Even the street children (which are terribly sad to see), who can be ridiculously persist and and follow you for blocks asking for money, take the day off and barely blink when the vazah (foreigner) walk by.

Having nothing to do, Meghan, Denise and I walked up to the Queens Palace. It is about a two mile walk up the side of a giant hill. Once we got up there the gates to the palace were closed (given it is Sunday) but a Malagasy man (dubbed "Texas" by a former American boss who couldn't pronounce his Malagasy name) offered to take us on a tour about the palace. I am always hesitant to go anywhere with strange men, but the were three of us and he seemed harmless enough. Our tour was lovely and included amazing views of the city, an introduction into cock fighting roosters, and all sorts of tidbits about Madagascar's history. It was actually a much better experience than we would have gotten if the palace was open. He did try to swindle us out of a bunch of money at the end, but happily accepted our much reduced offer.

When we were walking back, we got asked if we wanted to be in a television commercial. This guy (with a large camera) came up to us all out of breath and said that they were shooting a commercial in the park across the street and needed a vazah to play a small role but hadn't been able to fine any. Although intrigued, we were worried about the time and the possibility of being caught out after dark way across town from our hotel. Alas, our Malagasy celebrity will have to wait.

I was going to post a few pic, but they are refusing to load. I'll try again tomorrow. Night :)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Tana

I've slept quite a lot and am feeling much more adjusted. Tana in 10hrs in the future of SD, but getting used to the time difference is remarkably easy when you are tired enough. Meghan arrived, and Denise (LG's student from UVic) is also here in Tana. Its great to have peeps! Last night we shared one of my coveted bottles of duty-free South African wine. It was supposed to be a treat for the field, but meh, When in Rome...

Tana is mostly the same- huge and congested and has terrible pollution, which makes the inside of your nose all black and makes your mouth taste like gasoline. There is a new American Embassy which might actually be the largest building in Madagascar. Its humongous and looks rather silly. I have no idea why a super-sized Embassy is needed, but in case you were wondering, its here. Also, there is a small lake in Tana (Lake Anosy) that you have to drive past quite often. In the center of the lake is the "Black Angel" which is a large angel statue that is painted black. It was a gift to Madagascar from the French and is a war memorial to the French soldiers that died in WWI. Anyhow, the Black Angel is now a Gold Angel! My driver said the the "president" (former DJ, turned coup leader, and self-appointed president) had it painted 'yellow' as a sign of freedom from the french and future prosperity.

We are going to walk up to the Queen's Palace today. It was actually destroyed by arson in 1995 and has yet to be rebuilt, but is neat to see and offers fantastic views of the city. I desperately want to take my camera, but know that it is a bad idea to have anything valuable out-and-about in Tana. Its is Sunday however and even thieves are more relaxed here on Sunday.

Happy Sunday all!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Crocs have invaded Madagascar

Note sure how to transition from regular blogging to posting journal entries, but I'll give it a go...

August 18, 2010. 7:52pm San Diego International Airport.
I am through security and the first person to arrive at the gate. I am sobbing. Tears are streaming down my cheeks and I have a completely soaked the nasty Kleenex which is griped in my hand. I can barely see my computer screen. I am 100% heartbroken to leave Ron. I knew this would be hard, but honestly, this is much worse than even I expected.

Plus, I f*cked up my flights. I booked on Travelocity and knew that I would have to transfer from EWR to JFK. Sounds like no big deal, right? I didn’t think it would be, as my itinerary says “transfer via AirTrain.” Well, it is a big deal when you have 220lbs of checked luggage along with as much carry-on as I can stuff into my two bursting bags. Normally at the airport of departure, I would be able to get boarding passes and check my luggage all the way to my final destination. Now, not only to I have to lug all of my bags from EWR to JFK in a taxi (I simply can’t haul all my luggage on the AirTrain), but I have to pay the baggage fees twice! Rookie mistake, I suppose. I had a serious melt down at the Continental counter when I realized. Well, that and 75 other serious meltdowns today.

8:25pm. Finally clued in that I was at the wrong gate. Flight leaves in 1hr. Must be careful not to “pull a Marni*”, like missing my flight while thinking the plane must be delayed, and how odd that I am the only one at the gate. I have all my really important things with me (Gary, my passport, computer, credit cards, phone, medications and $4000 cash) and must not lose anything or get lost. MUST NOT PULL A MARNI.

*Pulling a Marni refers to my tendency to sometimes act without thinking my actions through. Examples include taking Ron and I to the Medan Airport 24-hrs before our flight departed and 24-hrs after our visas expired (those cancel each other, right?), taking HAM to US Customs and Border Protection for an import inspection with duct tape over the VINs (I had parking tickets!), or waltzing over the San Yasidro border crossing with the intention of waltzing directly back over with my shiny new visa (It took 10hrs during which bribed, budged, nearly got beaten up by an old lady, and was almost kidnapped under a bridge).

Aug 19, 2010. 8:46am SD time, 11:46am Eastern time. Airbourne from JFK.
Survived the night flight. Barely. Slept a little. Cried a lot. Got to EWR and made a poor decision that I would like to call “sketchy cab.”

I was dazed and looking for the carousal for my luggage. I thought I found the correct carousal and figured I’d better find a cart, or rather, 2 carts for my 4 jumbo bags and 3 medium bags. A normal-ish looking older gentleman asked me if I was needed a taxi. At first I said no. The nice lady (Trish) that helped me at the Continental counter in SD said to look for a porter in a red vest and ask them for the best way to get myself and ALL my bags to JFK. So, I was gawking around for a red-vester, but had already found baggage claim without spotting a single person in a red vest. So, I turned around and told the helpful man that I was in fact looking for transport. I told him that I had a zillion pounds of luggage and we agreed on $90 for the 60min ride to JFK. He was immensely helpful and got carts and helped me will all my bags. Thank goodness. Then we went out to the car. Instead of going to where all the other taxis were, we took an elevator up and then walked up to a regular (non-cab-ish) looking car. He asked another man to help get my bags into the car, at which time I pointed out that this car “did not look like a cab.” Both of the men replied, no it’s a car service. The assured me that I could get a receipt and gave me a business card. They also pointed out the official looking number in the window. Something just didn’t seem right at this point, so what did I do? Got in and buckled up.

Clearly, I was not killed and raped, as I would not likely be chatting about the incident if I had. I was rather worried that I would be killed and raped though. The nice gentleman “Xavier” or happydaddyone@yahoo.com told me how risky it is to solicit passengers as he had me. Apparently the minimum fine is $500, so Xavier said he had to keep his soliciting on the DL. No shit. He also told me that I was getting such a screaming deal because he was not technically licensed to transport, well, people. That being said, he was actually a fairly good tour guide and pointed out some bridges, Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Atlantic, etc. One we got to JFK, he said that I must pay him in the car and that he would not be able to talk to me once I was out of the car. We pulled up and he asked the “airporter” dudes to help me with my bags. They got into a screaming match about whether or not they would remove bags from his car, but eventually they did.

Yeesh. My decision making skills need a kick in the arse.

Getting my bags checked in with South African Airways was less than pleasant… Apparently the checked luggage limit is 4 pieces. I had 5. Apparently they don’t accept over-weight items. I had one whopping 72lb bag. They told me “no.” I told them “no.” They hummed and hawed. I hummed and hawed. They asked for $550. I gave them $550. They told me not to try to check 5 bags again. I asked why not?
Anyhow, in all of this, I am still placing the vast majority of my nearly being killed and raped AND being $1040 poorer on Travelocity. I even called a couple of weeks ago to ask which airline fees I would have to pay for my extra baggage- would it be with the carrier I checked in with in SD or would it be the carrier of my final destination? They said Continental, since they had an agreement with South African Airways. You better believe I am going to draft one heck of a nasty gram for Travelocity.

In between all of that, I sobbed quite a bit more and talked to Ron a number of times. I complained about JFK- there was no Starbucks and no WiFi. Granted there was Pete’s and Boingo, but that’s not how I roll.

Also, Meghan is not on this flight. She left a frantic message just as I was boarding. She was connecting from DC and her flight got in late. There was 40 minutes before “our” flight left, but TSA rules stipulate that you must have 60min of time between scheduled flights or you will not be permitted to board. So her Dulles-JFK flight was getting sent back to Dulles for rescheduling. Oy.

Aug 20, 2010. 10:56am local time. On flight from Joburg to Tana.
I was just served a “light snack” on my South African Airways flight. Light snacks on North American flights may include a teenie tiny bag of pretzels or peanuts, or I once got a ½ donut on a Frontier flight. My SA light snack choices were beef, chicken, or veggie. I chose veggie and got the following: two spinach crepes, pasta salad, white chocolate pudding, whole wheat crackers, cheese, a chocolate bar, a bag of peanuts and a box of orange juice.

I have now been traveling for 32hrs and remarkably am feeling not too bad. I slept quite a bit on the earlier flight. I opted not to have any of the lovely South African wine and I think I am fairing much better for it. My biggest complaint is that I am f*cking freezing and have been for about 20hrs. For some reason, SA air cabins are kept at the same temperature as meet lockers.

There is a passenger behind me whom I would like to call “loud Chinese a&%hole”, who is a loud Chinese a&%hole. Go figure.

Am not feeling as completely bleak as I was earlier. The sobbing has stopped, which I am sure my fellow air travelers appreciate. When I border the plane at JFK, I was of course sobbing, and handed the lady working at the gate my ticket, passport, and one drenched snot rag. She took it with a look of shock and horror.

I thought that I had a 3hr layover in Joburg, but I actually had to haul ass to get to my flight. What a bummer, because the shopping in that airport is fantastic. I was going to buy some yoga-style pants and another hoodie, since I am f*cking freezing, but had no time. I did however take advantage of the 2 bottle limit of duty free SA wine (one Shiraz and one Syrah). I will enjoy those from the bush!

August 20, 2010. 4:33pm local time. Antananarivo, Madagascar. Hotel Sakamana.
Arrived without much drama. I just had a shower which was so wonderful after 38hrs of travel. Most interesting tidbit thus far- Crocs have invaded Madagascar. For shiz.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

the fattest f*&%ing dog

Since I was talking bodily functions yesterday, I thought I'd share this strange-but-true story which happened a few year ago at our extended family's house. For the sake of privacy, I will refer to the family members as Uncle X and Aunt Y, but the dog can have his real name, Reece. For the record the family is kind and generous, and much loved.

Ron and I took a drive to visit Uncle X and Aunt Y. It was a significant drive, so we planned to stay the night. This was our first visit to their house, so we had not yet met their dog, Reece. When we pulled up and got out of the car, I instantly started laughing. It was Halloween and I thought they had their dog dressed up in some sort of crazy-fat-dog costume. Alas, Reece was just really really really fat. I would say Reece had a medium frame, like a cocker spaniel, but had fluffy hair like a husky. The Vet said that Reece needed to loose at least 50 lbs right away, so this will give you an idea of how fat he was. Ron leaned over and whispered "that is the fattest f*&%ing dog", which became incredibly funny to me. In fact, I couldn't fall asleep that night because I was continually giggling about the "fattest f*&%ing dog."

Anyhow, Reece was actually a rather sad beast because he had significantly reduced mobility due to his enormous size. One of the rather unfortunate side effects of his weight was that he couldn't hunch over to relieve his bowels. Uhum, so there seemed to be an ever appearing small amount of liquidy feces on his rear end, which inevitably made contact with the carpet, the furniture, your legs, etc. Aunt Y was aware of this and diligent to clean up after Reece. She wore one of those fuzzy pink house coat/dress things with a zipper up the front and followed Reece around with a dish rag and a bottle of windex. In between clean-ups, she would swing the sh*t rag over her shoulder and keep it there. So we are all sitting in the living room chatting, and she keeps the soiled towel on her shoulder.

OMG, right?

The next morning, Aunt Y was nice enough to make breakfast for everyone. My appetite was a tad off and the plate in front of me containing 2 lbs of microwaved bacon was almost enough to put me over the edge (the 2 lbs were straight out of the package, all clumped together, and piled on top of each other, so the ends smelled of burned bacon, while the middle was completely slimy and raw). After breakfast, Reece got the leftover bacon, which was at least a pound. Ron and I stayed at the table, and Ron offered me some more coffee, which I accepted. He got up, washed my cup and got me another cup.

I was nearly done my second cup of coffee when Aunt Y came back in the kitchen looking for something. What do you think she was looking for? The sh*t towel. Where had she left the sh*t towel? In the sink. What had Ron just washed my coffee cup with? Dog sh*t. Dog sh*t from the fattest f*&%ing dog.

See? I told you the testicle coffee wasn't so bad.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

TMI

I have a dilemma of a personal nature, which I have started to think about quite a bit, especially at night. Those of you that have lived in a tent will understand. For those of you that haven't, well, sorry.

The issue is this: should I pee in my tent at night?

Why would I want to do such a god awful thing? First, I have to get up several times in the night to wee. At home its not a problem, because we have a toilet and there aren't scorpions or giant spiders roaming around the bedroom, so the whole ordeal takes 45 seconds and I fall right back to sleep. Second, getting out of the tent is a big ordeal. It involves finding my headlamp, putting on shoes, undoing the tent zipper (which is secured with my burglar-proof safety pin), and trekking out to nowhere to pee beside a bush and inadvertently all over my feet. Last, arachnids have a reflective layer on all 8 of their eyes, so when you are out at night you can see that your world is literally crawling with them. Big ones, with their glowing sets of devil eyes. I know they are there anyhow, but find it a bit disconcerting to face at midnight, and 3am, and 5am. So, then I am all awake and have the heebie-jebbies, and before long, it is time to go all over again.

So, why not pee in my tent? Well, it just seems like something that a grown woman should not do. Plus there is the issue of what to pee into. I once cut the lid off a 1 liter water bottle and tried that, but I was terrified that I would knock it over in the night, and in fact, nearly did. And then I had to take the morning walk of shame with my bright yellow pee jug. So, its pretty gross and could spill and you look like a total creep in the morning. I suppose I could get some sort of specialized pee container with a lid, but that still doesn't solve the grossness or the walk of shame. A special whiz container sounds horrible, but is it less horrible than having to leave the "comfort" of my tent three-ish times a night for some 250-odd nights?

I just don't know where I should go.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sprinkles



HOLY SH*T! Sprinkles is opening at my Whole Foods!!! I am going to gain 300lbs and love every bite. They have quite a few locations now, but I've only ever been to the Newport Beach and Beverly Hills (the original) locations. I get double chocolate, unless they have coco loco, which is dark chocolate cake with spicy Mayan chocolate butter cream icing. mmm...

Ron hates going to Sprinkles, but given that I love it so much, he puts up with the Sprinkles snobbery. His hate stems from the Sprinkles code of conduct, which includes the following:

1. You must not photograph the cupcakes. AT. ALL. And for that matter, there are no photos in or around the shop. The windows are etched glass such that you could never even sneak a pic of the wee cakes. I even feel guilty snapping a pic once we are gone.

2. Even though there is generally a line-up down the block, you must NEVER block the door open or even take too long in closing the door. If you do, the entire staff stops dead until the door is completely closed (and the offender is completely embarrassed). Apparently, an open door affects the freshness of the cupcake. Who knew.

3. Boxes are for two cupcakes. Not one, but two. Last time we were in LA, I wanted to take one cupcake home to SD to have after dinner. I even had a special cooler all rigged up so that my little treasure wouldn't get over heated. I didn't want my single cake in the paper bag they sometimes give, because then the icing touches the sides of the bag and the cupcake isn't as pretty. So, I asked for one coco loco in a box. I was on my best Sprinkles behavior and figured I had a good shot at getting my $5 cupcake in a box. The girl taking my order gave me a "seriously?" look and then leaned over the counter to put her hand on my arm. She chuckled a little and said, "on honey, we don't do that." Yipes. I thought I was gonna get booted! Luckily I was quick thinking enough to order two coco locos in a box. Phew.

Can't believe I am getting a Sprinkles 1.6 miles from home!!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Wimpy



Back when we were in college (as my Merky friends would say), Ron and I had a rat called "Wimpy." She was a white and tan dumbo with brown eyes. She was a bit portly and had dermatitis, but was a very pleasant rat. When we adopted her from the shelter we stuck her in the cage of the rat next to her (this was a VERY bad idea) to see if she was friendly. We also had Amy (the best rat ever, who LOVED me and slept on me for 2 years) and Coco (who seemed a bit lonesome because Amy was always with me), and wanted a new rat who could be bf's with Coco. Anyhow, Wimpy and the other shelter rat immediately went at it and blood was flying. I stuck my hand in and separated them (yet another brilliant idea). Since Wimpy was so nice and tame and friendly, we presumed that other rat was a real jerk, and that Wimpy was just a wimp, hence the name. Poor thing, her SPCA papers just said "not wanted anymore."



So Wimpy came home and we set up an introduction between Wimpy and Coco. Neutral territory, supervised, lots of treats and escape routes. In two seconds flat, Wimpy went for Coco's jugular, which immediately began spurting blood. I had to hold the wound with firm pressure for like 15 minutes. Poor Coco. Wimpy was not a wimp at all, but a great big rat bully. So now, we had a rat that loved people, a rat that needed a rat friend, and a rat that HATED rats. Go figure.

Anyhow, we worked it out... I rigged up a complicated series of ferret cages and a schedule of which rat got to be free-roaming at what time (except for Amy, who had special privileges). When Coco was roaming, she would sit on the other side of the bars from Wimpy (who would bite her toes). When Wimpy was free roaming, she would pee on Coco through the bars and then go about her apartment inspecting business.

One day when I came home Wimpy was all curled up in a piece of a sweatshirt that she loved, dead. Now I had been working at both the Animal Care Unit and the Zooarchaeology Lab at UVic, and had taken to putting carcases in my freezer, as one does. In my mind, I could put the my beloved critter in the freezer, come to terms with their passing, and then take the deceased some where nice when I was good and ready.

Ron hated my habit of keeping dead pets or roadkill (for the Zooarchaeology Lab), but he is an immensely patient man, and put up with dead rodents beside his popsicles. One day a month or so after Wimpy's passing I said, "Honey, I think its time we take Wimpy to the forest." So I took Wimpy out of the freezer and we went out to the forest behind our apartment. I took her out of the ziplock freezer bag, wrapped her up tight in her little sweatshirt, said a few kind words, and threw her as far as I possibly could, aiming for a massive patch of blackberry bushes. But, instead of landing somewhere peaceful and out-of-sight, Wimpy and her little shirt got lodged on the branch of a large tree right on the edge of the forest. Just dangling there about 10 feet up. My frozen dead rat, and her little shirt swaying from side to side.

Ron had a look on his face of complete horror. I'm sure he figured he was about to climb that tree to retrieve my frozen dead rat, while I was in hysterics. But he didn't and I wasn't. We had a good laugh and still laugh about the day Wimpy got stuck in a tree.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

DivX Party

We went to Ron's work party today, which was at the zoo. We also took a nap, went to the beach, did some shopping, ate dinner and settled in to watch some tv. A few minutes ago Ron exclaimed, "Hey, you weren't even socially awkward today!"

Yay for me.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Lemur Land



Lots have been asking about my my Madagascar plans. The following is a rough itinerary, which is bound to change, but will give you an idea of where I'll be.

August 18, fly out of San Diego.

August 20, arrive in Antananarivo (Tana). Yes, I arrive two days later, and no, I am not spending the night anywhere during that time. Oy.

August 23-24, Supplies and visa extensions in Tana.

August 25, Tana to Fianarantsoa. Stay one night in Fiana.

August 26, Finanarantsoa to Ranohira (Isalo). Stay 2 nights in Ranohira. Go to Isalo National Park (for fun!).

August 28, Ranohira to Toliara. Stay 3 nights in Toliara.

August 29-30, supplies and permits in Toliara.

August 31, to Beza for supplies. Stay 2 nights at Beza. Be sure to visit with 300 (pictured above).

September 2, to Tsimanampetsotsa National Park (TNP).

October 11, TNP to Toliara. Bronwyn arrives on Oct 12. Stay 3 nights in Toliara.

October 14, Toliara to TNP.

December 8, TNP to Toliara/Anakao/wherever (mini-vacation before Bronwyn leaves).

December 12, Bronwyn leaves.

December 13, Toliara to TNP.

February 20-27, TNP to Toliara/wherever for supplies, internet and vacation.

April 22, TNP to Beza. Store equipment and supplies. Stay one night.

April 23, Beza to Toliara. Stay one night.

April 24, Toliara to Fianarantsoa. Stay one night.

April 25, Fianarantsoa to Tana. Get final permits.

April 27, fly out of Tana.

April 28, HOME.

Being in Toliara means I can pick up mail and in Toliara/Tana means I will have internet. Being at TNP means I will have lemurs, but no running water, toilet (not even a pit one), internet, electricity (although I have a small "retro-cool" generator), or fresh food.

I am going to keep a journal while I am away, as I generally do, and will continue to blog when I have internet access. I am sure this news will be terribly exciting for my fan base of 4, which for the record, does NOT include Kitty.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Ruined

Ron and I have come to the conclusion that we are officially too odd for any other partners. We are ruined (pronounced "rooned") for anyone but each other.

We have a culture of sorts, which includes "secret" handshake/dance with the following lyrics:

Kaw Kaw
Raelians Rule
Speedo!

We create elaborate stories for all things LaFleur, such as Fridge LaFleur (who loves $100 bills, but hates mustard) or the artist formerly known as Sam LaFleur (who had a wildly successful button business that catered to gay men's underpants accessories).

I guess this is what happens when you've been together long enough... We love the same things (fish tacos, sharks, dinner in bed), hate the same things (snow, ear wax, pumping gas), and laugh at the same things, which generally make no sense (see Fridge LaFleur and the artist formerly known as Sam LaFleur). He doesn't protest my love of the dead (literally), or inability to wear pants at night (not in a weird way), my inherent selfishness, or incessant need for water. And in turn I don't scoff at his need to excessively worry, the fact that his ears are WAY too small for his body, or his unusual claim to hate his left foot (WTF?).

Its true, we are ruined.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Nasty Gram

I had a doctors appointment this afternoon, after which I came home, but had to turn around and go right back out again as it was time to pick up Ron. In the few minutes I was home our new neighbor put a nasty gram on HAM.

Check this sh*t out:



A) Neither Ron nor I have ever touch CHICKEN (what we have dubbed this other Jeep) with HAM.

B) What a passive aggressive note! Don't worry, I have already submitted to passiveaggressivenotes.com.

C) I really think the use of "accountability" is grammatically incorrect. However, the penmanship is lovely.

D) We've uttered quite a few cuss words and are going to sleep on this passive aggressive note before responding. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, August 2, 2010

16 days

Its now 16 days until I leave and I *think* I may be getting used to the idea. I feel a bit like a groom with cold feet... I've been working up to this trip for so long, and I love my lemurs, and I love chasing them around, and I love the forest, and I want to do my research, but the idea of being away for 8+ months (I am really getting off "easy". Some people do way way longer, like 2 years) scares the crap out of me.

That being said, things are starting to fall into place. I got my passport back from the Malagasy consulate today, with a shiny new research visa (thank you, Teague). I managed packed 50lbs of batteries into a tiny suitcase and 15lbs on to my behind. I have more medications than I will probably ever need in my life, and I am amassing quite a collection of audio books. Plus, I really am getting sick of REI, which is a sure sign that it is nearly time to go.

Not quite yet though. This weekend there is a huge sandcastle contest Imperial Beach and Ron's work is having a party at the Zoo. The following week is Ron's (get this) 40th birthday and I get a jazzy new porcelain crown on my upper M2.

Oh, while Ron was in Vegas getting puffy, I read "Look me on the eye" by John Elder Robinson. Its really good! Its a memoir of a dysfunctional upbringing written by a man with Asperger's. I enjoyed it so much that last night I ran (well, drove really) out and bought "Running with scissors" which is Robinson's brother's memoir.

Word.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Kitty and Marni Weekend

Ron has gone to Vegas to meet up with some old friends. He wanted me to come along and since I am leaving in 19 days, I was tempted for about 7 seconds. But seriously, I couldn't bring myself to go for the following reasons:

A) I don't want to cramp Ron's style and if I went he'd want to hang out with me and not go nutz with his friends. Plus I'd be reminding him to take his meds and watch his sodium intake. Total. buzz. kill.

B) I can't stand the heat. It was 112 degrees there today. Last time I had to lay on the cold tile floor to cool off. My head almost exploded!



C) Vegas is gross and quite possibly my least favorite city. Some of you may of seen this pic already- its an oldie but a goodie. Underpants, cigarettes and hair in the streets of Vegas.



So, its just Kitty and I this weekend. We already took a nap together and are planning a good snuggle for later.



Oh, I was out for a run this morning and I saw a stingray get accidentally caught by a fisherman. He unhooked it, but then was just gonna leave the poor beast there on the beach to suffocate! I got some other dude with a shovel to flip it over. I was too scared to flip it with my foot, given the great sting of '07.



Night.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Achievements

This week I:

1. Got my new computer! I don't know why I get so upset when my old puters die, since the new ones are always so comparatively awesome. Must be some weird computer amnesia syndrome. My new one is small and light and bright and has a 12HR battery life. Sweet!

2. Tried 'Heavenly Cupcakes', which is supposed to be San Diego's best cupcake shop. I got one double chocolate cup to eat-in and one to go. Eat-in was good but take-home was much better, as I put it in the fridge overnight. Neither were "Joan's on Third" or "Sprinkles" good, but I would definitely go back in a pinch.



3. Went out AT NIGHT. Ron and I were a bit embarrassed to realise that this was the first time we had been out AT NIGHT in downtown San Diego. Right? Even through all my yawning, it was super fun! We a) got me cupcakes, b) saw Adam Corolla at the House of Blues, and c) got to see all the costumed-up Comic Con peeps. Seriously, this is a big deal for me... I haven't made midnight on New Year's Eve since 2000! Here we are all out and about at 11pm:



4. Got a permit from the CDC to bring lemur poop into the USA. No poop smuggling for me!

5. Filed a lawsuit. Back in 2008 Ron and I got rearended in that horrible LA traffic. I sprained my neck and had to go to the chiropractor for a few weeks. Bastard insurance company won't pay my medical bills, so poor Ron get's to appear for me in Small Claims court in LA in September.

6. Tried to relax a bit with the leaving-Ron-and-Kitty-going-to-Madagascar-and-have-a-million-things-to-plan-must-freak-out. In the wise words of DVG, "Don't worry. In forty years you'll be f%#cking dead."

Later.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Thanks, peeps!

Well, Ron and Kitty talked me down off the figurative bridge last night. Also, I received some great comments and emails will much appreciated info and advice. Thanks all!



Today, I finally got to have some Miho Gastrotruck for lunch. Its a "farm to street" food truck serving whatever is fresh and yummy. I had a organic grass fed beef burger on freshly grilled brioche with roasted heirloom tomato and blue cheese aioli. Simply delish!


















Also, I put out a FB call for pics of Malagasy carnivore scat or tracks, which inspired all sorts of creative responses (poop is very informative, people!), along with some good genuine photos. Ron made the following for me while he was at work today.



Apparently someone was walking passed and asked if he was "drawing poop." Must be why he makes the big bucks?!

Big weekend coming... We are seeing Adam Corolla at the House of Blues tomorrow night. At night!