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« January 23, 2005 | Main | January 21, 2005 »

January 22, 2005

Mile 21 Camp, 4:22 PM

A little bit of context. Myint Maung had to go back to Tanai and deal with warden stuff, and we said goodbye to him this morning when we left for the field. He was going to stop the first scooter that went by and ask the driver to send another scooter to carry him to Shimbweyeng which is 21 miles away. Apparently, this worked because he is not here now. [NOTE: Wardens can do this type of thing, apparently]. Zon Ny Ton, one of his ranger's who has been with us all along and is fantastic, will take over the liaison duties, i.e. talking to the local authorities.  It was great to have Myint Maung with us, and I appreciate his devoting several weeks to a rattan survey with a couple of American scientists.

Yesterday, the elephants went back to Namyun to get the rest of our gear, which was too much to take all at once.  We thought they would be back this afternoon, but on asking the first people that passed by (a truck, actually), if they had seen two elephants coming from Namyun, they said they had not.  The plan is to move to camp Mile 15 tomorrow, but that will only happen if the elephants show up.

Today was a bit rough, but very productive.  The problem in getting into the forest along the Ledo Road is that one side of the road is usually a steep road cut, and the other side is a sheer cliff. So far, we have lucked out and found rattan collector's trails that led us in to the forest. Today we were not so lucky. We found a short trail leading down to a river, but from there we had to bushwack for 200 m to complete the transect. The place was loaded with rattans and very steep. This is a deadly combination, because every time you start slipping and reach out to grab something it has spines on it. Andrew was off with one of the workers taking pictures of some Calamus fruits, while the rest of us were slipping and sliding and falling all over the transect. But there was an amazing amount of palms. I think we encountered six species of Calamus in the plots, and the most abundant species, C. flagellum, or "mauk chee kyein" (monkey poop cane) had almost 100 individuals in some of our 10 X 20 m plots. My problem was trying to slowly work my way up and down the slope with the fieldbook in my hand, and still stopping to record the data everytime someone called another rattan. As soon as I would close the book to try and climb a bit, someone would inevitably call another rattan. It was slow going to say the least.

After about 5 plots, the slope was so steep that I had decided to stop and look for another spot.  But the guys cutting line and the compassman didn't hear me - or didn't understand me - and they kept setting stakes. Saw Lwin and I decided that if they were going to keep running line than we could certainly count the palms, so we struggled on and eventually finished the 10 plots we needed.  It was an amazing effort and I was quite proud of the crew and pleased with the data we collected. It will be a wonderful paper.

As we walked down the road from our transect we came to a rattan collector's camp and stockpile. There were thousands of canes bundled up and ready for sale. The collectors had been working since November, and they said that they had collected about 10,000 canes, all of them from the species known locally as "kadin" [NOTE: C. wailang or C. nambariensis]. We chatted with the collectors for a while, had our lunch, and then started the 2 mile climb back up the road to camp.

It has been cloudy most of the day, and all of the laundry that Andrew did yesterday is still hanging, dripping wet, on the line.  Critical items, i.e. socks and underwear, are now hanging over the fire, drying a little and getting that nice smoky smell. I am writing this on the new table out in front of the camp, and as the sun goes down, it is starting to get cold again.  Another night that I am glad that I have a sleeping bag and pad.  

When we are walking to and from the field, I am inevitably one of the first to arrive.  The cadence of my pace seems to be a little faster or more consistent than the others. I noticed today that it probably has to do with the jade pendant that I have hanging from one of the zippers on my pack.  I bought it at the Shwedagon Pagoda (see Sunday at Shwedagon) in Yangon before we headed up to the Hukaung Valley, thinking that a little Buddhist "merit" probably wouldn't hurt anyhting. When I start hiking, every time my right foot hits the road the pendant hits the pack like a metronome.  I keep walking, it keeps hitting the pack, and on we go, uphill and down at a steady pace. My walking stick, which has proven invaluable, is made form the stem of a Pinanga palm. 

I am getting chilled and will probably move inside by the fire with the rest of the gang. The day is drawing to a close, and as the last scooter of the day chugs up the hill past our camp, I am very thankful to be sitting right here - 21 miles down the Ledo Road in northern Burma. 



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