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January 17, 2005

Shimbweyeng Guest House, 9:16 AM

Took a walk early this morning to the end of town to get some pictures of Shimbweyeng emerging from the morning fog.  All the village cows sleep in the middle of the street. I love the sights and sounds of a rural village waking up. The first morning fires, the sound of water splashing on faces, the slap of flip-flops on concrete floors, the lone putt-putt of a motor scooter. I got some nice photos.

During breakfast we talked with the Education officer from Namyun township about local rattans. Learned several interesting things. First, that we have arrived right in the middle of the rattan collecting season, and that we would pass several rattan collector camps on the road to Namyun.  Second, we were told that there were probably more species of rattans in the mountains than in Shimbweyeng, meaning that we still have a lot of new things to inventory and collect.  Finally, we learned that most of the merchantable rattans in the forests along the Ledo Road have already been harvested and that the populations are now regenerating. [NOTE: This is exactly what what our first transect seemed to indicate].

5:24 PM

We've had a marvelous afternoon. After breakfast, we learned that the 4-wheel drive truck had just left Tanai and that the elephants had not yet arrived, but would later in the day. We decided to spend another night in Shimbweyeng and get an early start to Namyun tomorrow. We had already done transects in this forest type, so we decided to walk further north on the road and see if we could do some collecting. The cooks prepared a lunch for us and we set out walking north about 10:30 AM.

We walked for about three miles  and then came upon a magnificent specimen of Plectocomia, a large cane rattan known as elephant cane or "sin kyein". It was growing on a very steep slope, but our assistants said "no problem" and they set out scrambling up the slope to fell the rattan and drag it back to the road. They cut the stem and pulled and pulled, but the enormous, spiny whips (cirri) were firmly attached to the neighboring trees. The cut several of the surrounding stems, but the rattan refused to budge. At this moment, what should we see lumbering down the road but Luemai and Aumbu, our two elephants (see A Bridge to Far and Bathing the Elephant), and their handlers. They quickly sized up the situation, hooked Aumbu up to the rattan, and he easily pulled the whole 20 m cane out of the forest and into the road where we could work on it. This may be the first rattan specimen ever collected by an elephant (see Hukaung Valley Rattan Survey for video documentation). The whole thing was additionally exciting  because Andrew said that he had seen this rattan in norther India, but couldn't collect it, and that it was an undescribed species. Aumbu may have collected a type specimen.

We then took a break for lunch and walked down to a beautiful river with sandy beaches and fern-covered banks. A family had made a temporary house near the river while the father was collecting Livingstonia leaves to sell for thatch.  It was a beautiful sunny day and the forest along the river was filled with huge trees. The river, the forest, the lunch, and the elephants made the whole interlude very, very special.

After lunch we were able to make two other collections, both of them new records for Myanmar. About 3:00 PM we loaded up our collecting sacks and started the long walk back to Shimbweyeng.

We seem to have fallen into a pattern after several days here.  We come back from the field, we take a freeezing splash bath, we press the day's collections while sipping a cup of tea or coffee, and then, with a hot plate of roasted peanuts from the kitchen crew, I start to work writing in this journal while Andrew review's the day's photographs. At about 7:00 PM we have dinner, and very shortly thereafter, head to bed.

The plan for tomorrow is to proceed to Namyun in the truck.  We have sent the elephants on ahead and we will use them on the way back from Namyun. The idea is to make two or three base camps between Namyun and Shimbweyeng, and to spend several days  at each site collecting and running transects.  I also pulled a leech off my  ankle today. I only noticed it after pouring a bucket of water on my leg during my bath and noticing the blood.

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