Searching for monkeys in all the wrong places: Part I

Greetings everyone! KT here. I’ve decided to split this post into two parts because I wanted to share a detailed (yet enjoyable!) account of my daily jaunts in forest and it was getting a little too lengthy. Plus, who doesn’t love a good cliffhanger? I hope you look forward to Part II!

It’s 4:30 am, and I am awoken by the sounds of call to prayer. The room is dark, and I turn on my headlamp to adjust the mosquito net that’s fallen a little too close to my head overnight. A rooster crows, and I can hear dogs barking in the distance. I’ve got about thirty solid minutes of sleep left before I need to wake up for good, so I close my eyes and let the calls to prayer lull me back to sleep.

5:00 am rolls around, and I contemplate the notion of “sleeping in” for another thirty minutes. If I wake up now, I will have enough time to brush my teeth, boil water, pack my field bag with snacks for the hike ahead, munch on a granola bar, and relax with a good book and hot coffee before my field assistant picks me up on his motorcycle at 6.

Today, I decide to snooze it up. It’s 5:30 and my alarm is sounding again. I reluctantly break out of my mosquito net cocoon and open the door to my room. The sun is just rising over the mountains ahead—a layer of fog veils the ground below the peaks, while the clouds above reflect brilliant reds and oranges from the sun. It’s certainly a sight to behold first thing in the morning; a reminder that waking up this early isn’t quite so painful. After taking a moment to appreciate the view, I rush downstairs to get ready for a day in the forest.

It’s now 6:15, and I’m still waiting for the other half of my research team to arrive. If he’s on “Indonesian time” today (and he usually is), it means I’ll probably have another 10 minutes to enjoy my coffee. This is both good news and bad news. The good news is that I got to sleep in AND finish my coffee – huzzah! The bad news is that whole the point of entering the forest pagi-pagi (early morning) is to find the monkeys while they are still eating breakfast, making noise, and thus, relatively easy to spot.

Just as I start lamenting the unfortunate correlation between the amount of time I get to sip my coffee and the amount time I will have to hike until I find a monkey, I hear the hum of a motorcycle engine. A short, friendly beep outside the door announces the arrival of my trusty field assistant. Off to the forest we go!

The ride down to the nature reserve is 15 minutes of nonstop excitement; the road is winding, filled with potholes, and, by American standards, should really only accommodate one-way traffic. An added thrill is frequent maneuvering around creatures of all kinds tempting fate; we break for cows, dogs, chickens, and the occasional toad. As we descend, we pass brightly colored houses on stilts, warungs (store fronts selling everything from luke-warm drinks to pantyhose), mesjids (mosques), and lush, green sawa (wet rice) fields. Kids in uniforms on their way to school wave and shout, “hello mister!,” a common phrase Indonesians like to greet bules (the equivalent of “gringo”) with.

After much ado, we arrive at our destination and hop off the motorcycle. Guarding our entrance is a fruiting, emerald green ficus tree. Above, a massive limestone karst formation–one of the tallest in the nature reserve–towers over the forest canopy. I glance up at it, hoping the monkeys have not already scaled the cliff for a post-breakfast nap. It’s 6:40; we exchange a few words about where we will look first, adjust our binoculars, and step into the forest. The monkeys await…


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