Jose Rios' Diary

Friday, December 16, 2005 Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Saturday, November 26, 2005 Friday, November 25, 2005
Thursday, November 24, 2005 Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Tuesday, November 22, 2005 Monday, November 21, 2005
Sunday, November 20, 2005 Saturday, November 19, 2005
Friday, November 18, 2005 Thursday, November 17, 2005
Wednesday, November 16, 2005 Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Monday, November 14, 2005 Saturday, November 12, 2005
Sunday, September 11, 2005 Saturday, August 20, 2005
Wednesday, June 29, 2005 Sunday, May 29, 2005
Friday, April 22, 2005 Friday, April 1, 2005
Friday, March 25, 2005 Saturday, February 19, 2005

Friday, December 16, 2005 Epilogue and Thanks
Once at home, after landing on the earth, fully immersed in daily life stress again and used to European winter, I undoubtedly think it was the experience of my life. I also think I positively contributed to the Earth’s preservation efforts. Should there be any doubt about the great effort made in traveling to such a distant place, I would say that the most important thing from such an effort is to plant the seed to grow awareness in people worldwide. I would add that it’s better for the Earth to spend my spare resources on efforts to conserve it rather than spending them on a beach vacation lying in the sun.
I especially thank all my expedition mates for the great team we formed. I have to thank Alcoa for helping me be a privileged witness to the most beautiful wildlife in its purest state and for helping me spread my views into the community to try to increase environmental sensitivity.
I also have to thank Earthwatch for having realistic descriptions of its programs in its brochures, as proven with my experience in the field.
I am also thankful that I got to meet a lot of very friendly, receptive people in Brazil. I took a small trip and visited four large cities, and I could appreciate the great people of each.
Finally I’m very happy for the understanding of my family, especially my wife Maricarmen, who supported my passion for taking part in this conservation project.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005 My main meditations four days after the expedition was over:

  • There is great conservation work being carried out in the Pantanal.
  • The investigators are great professionals, they are close to their staff, and they all make a fantastic team.
  • The area where we worked, because of its pristine condition, seemed to be from the past—two or three centuries ago.
  • The five volunteers on this team have performed respectfully, helpfully, and with a great sense of humor, facing all sorts of situations and helping as much as they could.
  • The wildlife is aggressive and hostile with humans, and it shows its intelligence by using the best weapons (waves of mosquitoes biting and trying to infect us with diseases) against us, the intruders.
  • We could say the pristine area of Rio Negro in the southern Pantanal is in a good state of conservation health.
  • Humans are civilization, and civilization is the opposite of wildlife. But humans like wildlife, and we say we have to preserve it.
  • Will we be able to share our planet and let wildlife go on without disturbing it?
  • Intervention in the Pantanal is respectful. It will give us valuable information to preserve other areas and know which enemies the area has to face: deforestation, rain, air and water pollution, etc. It is like a surgery to improve the health of the planet.
  • What is the answer to people who ask me, “What did you do, or which conservation improvements did you get?” It is a difficult question, because everyone wants a simple answer. I always say the same thing; we pursue little but achieve much to decrease what is now rapid degradation

Saturday, November 26, 2005 End of the Expedition
After having breakfast, we prepared everything for departure. The principle investigators, staff, and volunteers checked out and packed their luggage or tools.
Everybody is happy and melancholic. It had been a great expedition, with a well synchronized team. It will remain in our minds forever.
When leaving, we split into two groups, not without saying goodbye to each other and wishing to meet again. The principle investigator staff would have to make a 300-kilometer (185-mile) trip by car to the city, and it would take at least 12 hours. The volunteers would fly by the wonderful Cessna to start our way back home.
The five volunteers, recognizing the affection they had been treated with, put themselves at one side of the road to sing a goodbye song as the principle investigator staff cars were leaving. Ten minutes later, we all were in the small plane, enjoying the great sightseeing and saying goodbye to the area.

Friday, November 25, 2005 It’s our day off. I would have liked to take advantage of this free day to practice managing a hive of bees, as here they are said to be Africanized. I wanted to get used to managing this breed of bees to improve my non-professional beekeeper status. It was a pity that it was raining in the morning, so it was impossible to do this. I lost this great chance.
Instead of that, I spent the time sharing pictures with other volunteer mates. In the afternoon, I went to the river with Birthe and David to go canoeing for the first time.  At the beginning, my canoe was going quite without control toward the riverbank. A caiman frightened me by suddenly jumping when I nearly touched it with my oar.
No sooner had I nearly reached the riverbank in spite of my poor rowing skills, I felt a splash in the water when a caiman I couldn’t see jumped threateningly toward my canoe. Perhaps I unconsciously touched it with my right oar. 
Soon I could better manage the canoe, and I followed the other experienced canoe crew. We all went upriver, enjoying the quiet and taking advantage of our privileged position to take pictures of and film the variety of birds we found in the area.
Staring at the brown water (it’s said to be so because of the leached vegetation and soil in the area), I think it’s incredible it can contain such a wide variety of fish species, which we saw days before when the investigating team came to the facenda. Whether pintado, dourado, or piranha, the fish were all very tasty!
In the evening after dinner, we attended the end of the expedition presentation put on by Ellen and Alexina, the principle investigators. They said we achieved the main targets expected in herpetology, catching more then 600 frogs, 35 lizards, and 17 snakes. Regarding the peccary project, we raised the number of captures to 20 and the recaptures to eight. Apart from that, we recovered six collars from peccaries that had died. These data made Ellen and Alexina very happy, as it means a great step forward for the project goals. They now have a lot of work to do, continuing with the big challenge they are facing. 

Thursday, November 24, 2005 It was going to be the fourth and final day for me to be with the peccaries. It was the project that lured me more, and I did learn a lot from them and the role they are playing in this ecosystem.
I think we all met our needs. The principle investigator achieved a good collection of captures, and the volunteers were involved and immersed in the whole activity. We also became more convinced about the great conservation work the people are carrying on here.
There were only half of the total traps opened, so we didn’t have any captures except for Orlando, the lazy radio-controlled feral pig that was again inside a trap! We continued to close and remove traps since this was the end of this campaign. The following one will be in two or three month’s time to continue the project.
Alexina, the principle investigator, didn’t want to leave the area without looking for a radio-controlled peccary that she thought was dead, as the signal always came from the same point. We tried moving the antenna from point to point, and we got closer and closer until the signal came from a vast forested area. We decided to go into the forest, using our machetes and going slowly as it was full of quill, which could easily injure us. Finally, we succeeded again, finding the collar and the skull of the dead peccary, but not before having opened a 45-meter (150-foot) trail through the jungle.
On our way home, we found a herd of 20 peccaries resting in the middle of the road. We stopped the car without disturbing them, observing in silence their either moving into the forest or lying in the path. They did this for at least 15 minutes, after which we decided to make noise to have them run away.
For dinner, we had an enjoyable time with a group from Corumbá University that was there with a Rio Negro fish project. They had spent two days here, capturing some fish to study that we ate afterward for lunch.
After dinner, Picole and Celso gave us a guitar and accordion concert. We all danced and sang pantaneiros songs for two hours and had typical caipirinha drinks. It was a great way to finish our working days here, since the following one was a day off.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005 With the work of the expedition about to be completed, three of the volunteers, one principle investigator, and the experienced horseman Rocky went horseback riding through the jungle. Although the ride was for leisure, we did count the mammals we saw and took notes about the location and if the animals were male or female. We used a GPS device to get an accurate location. It was like being trained in how to do a mammal census. Unfortunately, we only saw two marsh deer, 15 or 20 capabaras, one small frugivore called quati, and approximately 10 feral pigs.
In the early afternoon, when I was recovering from, for me, the unusual and uncomfortable horse-riding position, I spent some time trying to identify the different labeled seeds that were found in the peccary and feral pig feces. I had to compare them to the approximately 90 to 100 samples collected from different trees in the area that were available in the lab.
This work might also be considered part of the wetland project, since the peccaries play an important role as seed disperses. This is an important way to extend and preserve the Pantanal forest. The seed identification will provide the scientists with more data to improve the knowledge about peccary feeding habits.
Once finished with this work, the whole herpetology team took the boat for another pleasant river tour and to have what was going to be the third and last bath in the river. It was not any less enjoyable, even after doing it before. I don’t get tired of seeing and hearing the quiet caimans, the herd of lazy capabaras, and the same weird birds flying across the river above us
I was feeling I had to say goodbye, not knowing whether I would have the choice to have similar experience again. Probably not.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005 It was the third day of working with peccaries. We continued increasing our success, catching and injecting microchips in another six peccaries. After they were put under, we took blood samples and the usual measurements. It took us quite longer, since we spent five hours doing the fieldwork.
In the afternoon, we left the facenda at 1:30 p.m. to visit a neighboring facenda. It took one hour to go approximately 20 kilometers (12 miles). Our goal was to look at the water level in the area’s lake and use it as a reference to measure the different weather parameters (water temperature, rain fallen, percent of relative humidity, etc.). This work was part of the wetlands project.
It was raining the whole trip over, and I got wet despite wearing my full rain gear as I jumped out of the vehicle to open every gate we encountered along our way. After greeting the neighboring owner, it was Alexina and her collaborator Celso who had to jump into the water to move the metric scale to a different area. The water was up to their thighs.
On our way home, we took advantage of the situation and made a few stops to follow some of our peccaries with radio-controlled collars.

Monday, November 21, 2005 It was the fourth day for me to work on the herpetology project. It was another warm day, and we had to cope with the consequences of that.
Everything was going well with inspecting our first set of traps until the principle investigator and I got a huge and undesirable surprise. A big herd of peccaries was coming toward us in the middle of the forest beside the river. We started making noises and tapping the trees, but they were coming nearer and nearer until they were 15 meters (50 feet) from us. They, too, were making noises with their jaws, and their hair was standing on end.
There were at least 30 peccaries making war noises, so we became very frightened, thinking they were going to attack us. I thought we could go to the river despite it being full of caimans, but the boat driver told us afterward that it would be better to climb a tree. After 10 endless minutes, the herd finally and luckily decreased their threats and convinced themselves they had to change their path. They left the area, and we finished our work and took the boat to return to the house. We remained quite nervous.
We had few captures today, but we weren’t worried since the days before had been excellent. The total number of captures was going well—nearly 600 frogs—and we hope to meet our goals by the expedition’s deadline.
After doing the lab work, we had time to take a river boat trip to the usual beach and have a swim. It was even better than the other day, as the water wasn’t as warm and we were more used to the flowing brown water.

Sunday, November 20, 2005 Today the sun broke out after yesterday’s very rainy weather. It was the fifth day in such an insolated area. I was quite upset and feeling down, probably because my marvelous rain boots had ruined soles. There were still seven days left to finish the work, and I had to somehow manage with only the possessions I had!
I had put my boots outside the room to let them dry. When I went to put them on, I found two toads inside each one. This happened quite frequently. The toads probably liked the smell of my feet. It’s quite a common sight to see some of them jumping on our room’s floor.
It was going to be the second day for me to work with peccaries. We hoped to find more animals than before, since it’s necessary to have as many as possible for the studies being pursued.
Finally we had an excellent day, which got me and the whole Alexina team more optimistic. We caught at least 18 animals. Eight of them were feral pigs, which we released after injecting a microchip and taking measurements for two of them. The great achievement was catching nine peccaries. We took their measurements and injected microchips.
Two of the peccaries were recaptures! When have a recapture (which we know is such because we can read its microchip code), it’s a great find. It allows us to compare the animal’s former data with current data, including length, weight, if it is pregnant, amount of parasites, etc. This is very necessary for the project’s goals.
It was a morning of hard work, and things were going excellently. Nature had a special color and sound that we perceived during our 20-kilometer (12-mile) trip in the morning among the forest, along the lake banks, and in the savanna. The sightseeing and the songs of a huge variety of tropical birds were more intense than usual, and it made our work even more enjoyable.
In the afternoon, we released the animals captured in the morning. We still had time to search for and follow animals with radio-controlled collars. We found different ones but did not see them.
The trip was long, and we had our choice of good sightseeing, including the usual variety of tropical birds, peccaries, feral pigs, and three or four marsh deer.

Saturday, November 19, 2005 It was the third day I was headed to herpetology. Combining the boat and jeep as our means of transportation, Vanda, Mab, and I inspected and picked up amphibians and reptiles from five set of traps that were in two different areas called Gallerias (near the river) and Bahías (near swamps).
There were fewer captures than previous days. It had been raining the entire night, and the buckets were full of water, allowing the animals to easily escape from the traps. The hot weather and the wave of mosquitoes made our work more difficult, but it didn’t prevent Vanda, a principle investigator, from carrying on with her work at the high level of commitment and professionalism she has every day.
Every bag is identified with the area where the animals are captured. We emptied the frogs and reptiles captured the previous day at the same place where we captured them. We then we used the same bag with the same label to transport the new animals captured in that area.
The boat trip wasn’t as nice as the previous days, mainly because of the smallest of enemies that didn’t stopped buzzing around us. It’s during the rainy days that the mosquitoes intensify their pressure.
On the jeep trip to Bahías, we again had an opportunity to contemplate the greatness of the wildlife, mainly near the swamps. We saw all sorts of birds and some mammals, including deer, capabaras, feral pigs, and peccaries.
In the afternoon, we worked in the lab taking measurements and inputting the corresponding data. Some of the animals collected would not be returned to the wild but instead would be sent to a university laboratory for more in-depth study. These included animals from non-predominant species or ones that may be considered trace species.
After dinner and a delicious caipirinha (a traditional Brazilian drink), we were gifted with some pantaneiro songs played by Picolé (accordion) and Celso (guitar). These two cowboys are our coworkers on the projects. It was a very good time to allow us to get to know each other better and have long talks about things other than the work we were doing.

Friday, November 18, 2005 It was another day of waking up very early (5:30 a.m.). To not disturb my roommates David and Mab, who were sleeping deeply, I went to the study room to get onto the Internet. It was time to connect to civilization and communicate to my wife that I was still alive. It wasn’t easy, because the room was full of mosquitoes, and one bird inside the study room didn’t stop with its very loud songs.
After breakfast, I headed to work on the peccaries project, which I was anxious to start as it was the one that appealed to me more. It was a long trip following car paths through the jungle to inspect the eight peccary traps. It’s a good thing to change our work so we don’t have time to become bored doing the same thing.
We went through different areas that either had vast forests or a type of lake. What the latter was called—salinas, bahias, cordilheiras—depended on the vegetation and type of lake water.
We only found a peccary in one trap and a very well-known feral pig in another one. It was Orlando, who was wearing a radio-controlled collar and was used to entering the traps to get at the food we put inside to attract the animals. He had been found the previous day in the same trap. After giving him a new radio-controlled earring and removing the old collar, we put him back inside the trap and left the door open so he could release himself once he woke up. 
We spent about five hours in the field, traveling approximately 20 kilometers (12 miles) and coming back for lunch at noon. I decided to lie outside on the hammock and hear the sound of silence...only to be disturbed by the expected mosquitoes.
We did little work in the morning so we could spend the afternoon looking for a peccary with a radio-controlled collar. Alexina, one of the principle investigators, thought it was dead since the radio signal always came from the same point.
We searched in several areas, using a jeep to follow the radio signal. We finally had success finding the collar, which had been dragged into one of the lakes. About six to nine meters (20-30 feet) away from the collar, we found the peccary skull. Despite the peccary’s death, we were very happy to find the collar, since we proved the radio searching system was reliable and we could reuse the expensive collar to follow another peccary.
We continued seeing different species of fauna throughout the rest of the day. For the first time, I saw a marsh deer, which was quietly grazing 180 meters (600 feet) from where we were.

Thursday, November 17, 2005 I woke up very early, so I decided to go for a walk near the facenda before having breakfast.
It’s during the early hours of the day when the wildlife starts to show its splendor. You can hear varied birds songs and see capabaras (rodent-like creatures) here, peccaries over there, lots of caimans along the river banks, and different birds on both sides of the river. Unfortunately, I had to get into the house unless I wanted to be eaten up by mosquitoes.
Although our expedition deals with three different projects (peccaries, herpetology, and wetlands), we mainly work on the first two. Today, I again headed to herpetology due to my ability to understand and speak Portuguese quite well.
We caught 60 or 70 frogs, one lizard, and no snakes. We finished our fieldwork at 11 a.m. and then did lab work before lunch time. It was another warm day, but the marvelous boat trip to get to the working areas compensated for our suffering.
Our colleagues who had gone to work with the peccaries came back quite dejected, as they hadn’t been able to catch any animals in the traps. In the afternoon, we continued our lab work, taking frog and lizard measurements, inputting the data, and taking pictures. We had a very fun time handling the frogs and reptiles, especially because of several poses we adopted for the pictures. We’re all going to overcome our phobias about handling these friendly animals.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005 The volunteers were split into two groups. One worked on the peccaries (pig-like animals) project, and the other on herpetology. I did the latter, collecting frogs and reptiles near the Rio Negro River and next to lakes.
After lunch, we worked in the lab collecting and recording data from the captured animals. We had a very good time taking pictures, with each of us handling the reptiles and amphibians. It was the first time I could dare touch reptiles, and I felt good about myself for overcoming my fears to have this interesting experience.
We worked hard, but late in the evening we were well compensated with a nice trip by boat along the river to a wonderful beach. We had a fantastic swim despite the fact that the water was quite warm and the mosquitoes didn’t stop buzzing around us.
I never would have thought I could be so calm swimming in a river full of caimans, which were no farther than four or five meters (13 or 16 feet) away from me. 
After dinner, the principle investigator of the peccaries project gave the second and last presentation to set the goals of this expedition.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005 As planned, all members of the expedition, including the principle investigators, met at 7 a.m. outside the hotel in Campo Grande . Everyone was happy to meet each other, and we were anxious to start the experience.
A van took us the first 150 kilometers (93 miles). For the remaining 125 kilometers (78 miles), we went by a small plane because there was not a road—just muddy paths full of water since it was the rainy season.
Flying no higher than 300 meters (985 feet) above the wide, flat land, we enjoyed the smooth flight without too much nervousness. It was wonderful sightseeing. We got into the heart of the Pantanal area, leaving the extensive cattle ranching land to enter into more pristine areas that had more forests and lakes. We saw the greatness of the Rio Negro River as we were approaching the facenda, where we were going to work.
The landing was as smooth as the flight, although we did become quite frightened when the pilot had to move quickly to avoid an emu (a large bird) that was crossing our path.
After a quick lunch, all of the group members headed by car to the forest. We started our herpetology (scientific study of reptiles and amphibians) work by raising the fences and cleaning the 2.7-meter-deep (nine-foot-deep) buckets that serve as traps to catch amphibians and reptiles. The weather was hot, and we worked hard for four hours. The fresh water we drank was delicious.
At night after dinner, we attended the project presentation. The project will last around three years, and we were participating in one of four yearly campaigns. Our job is to help the investigators collect animals, take their measurements, and collect other data about them. This will give the researchers as much information as possible to draw conclusions about the area, its state of conservation, and its enemies and compare the area to similar data from other areas in different conditions. It will help establish better conservation plans.

Monday, November 14, 2005 The whole trip was going according to my expectations.  In Madrid, I met Birthe, the other Alcoa employee on the expedition. We were together for the rest of the trip to Campo Grande.
We took a free day in Campo Grande, which is the state capital of Mato Grosso do Sul. This city is 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from São Paulo, and its population is more than 600,000 people. Its streets are long and straight, and its buildings are mainly low except for some skyscrapers with 20 or more floors. The city grew quickly in the last century as a consequence of being an important convention center and cattle ranching market. It’s also the largest city near the Pantanal and the main point to get to that area.
People in Campo Grande are open, kind, and talkative. They are proud of their country and like to meet and talk to foreigners. During evenings in the spring, they spend long hours talking to their neighbors while having a fresh drink.
At 7 p.m., the five volunteers of the Pantanal Earthwatch expedition team met at the hotel’s reception area. We introduced ourselves and, after talking for five minutes, decided to go for dinner in a restaurant near the hotel.
It had started to be a team. Only the principle investigators were left to join us.

Saturday, November 12, 2005 At last the day was here.
Was it going to be the experience of my life, as I was thinking the whole year? Would I be able to cope with all the difficulties in the wild?  Or would I run away, frightened by the enemies I was going to face?
My travel plans included a day off in Campo Grande , near Pantanal, to get used to the area. I thought it would be a good idea, since I was going to experience a big change between the European winter and the South American spring.
The time before leaving home was quite busy due to preparation issues, as there wasn’t nearly enough spare time since the first month of the year to do it all.
In the morning, I decided to do a three-hour cycling tour, although it was a rainy day with a lot of things to prepare. I needed to keep fit before such a long trip—more than 20 hours. I had never been inside a plane for more than three hours, and now I was going to cross the ocean on an 11-hour flight.

Sunday, September 11, 2005 While skimming through the 2005 Earthwatch diaries, I saw that nearly all Alcoan Earthwatch fellows have finished their expeditions. All express similar feelings of passion and excitement.
Those of us who have the last expeditions have the advantage of being able to learn from the ones before us, especially through the beautiful pictures they took. We also have had the whole year to focus on environmental and conservation issues. Our challenge, however, is meeting or surpassing their high quality work.
Everyone at work stops me to ask every kind of question about the trip and the project. Some of them even make jokes about snakes, monkeys, and whatever it is I will find in the Pantanal. I always tell them it’s not a vacation; it’s just an exciting couple of weeks conserving the Earth.
I’ve started the final arrangements, getting vaccinations, travel tickets, and camping items (clothes, mosquito net, insect repellents, etc.).
Despite this quite busy time, I hope to get all things accomplished before I have to leave for the project. This includes both job and family issues.

Saturday, August 20, 2005 Only three months remain until departure.
Forests throughout my home region are burning from side to side. This is also happening in Portugal, our neighboring country. The root causes are identical. People are migrating to coastal areas and abandoning the interior of the country. There are now very few ranches remaining. All this combined with a drought over the last two to three years makes it difficult to carry out an effective fire-prevention plan.
But something similar is happening in other areas all over the world, such as the United States and Australia. Is it due to global warming? Is it because we don’t reduce our oil consumption?
There will be future conservation projects, like those by Earthwatch, to recover the damaged areas. Right now, people don’t seem too concerned. When we acknowledge the real situation, it may be too late....

Wednesday, June 29, 2005 It is St. Peter’s day, which used to be a special date in my village.
I continue to improve my knowledge about the issues I’ll have to deal with on my expedition. Peccaries, the aboriginal species of wild pigs, are disturbed by the introduction of the feral pigs, which are preferred by hunters. Which one is the best at dispersing seeds? Can the feral pigs be disturbing enough to keep the peccaries away from the area?

Sunday, May 29, 2005 My Pantanal expedition has been set off to the side lately. The fact that it won’t take place until November makes it even more remote.
Today, I had an exciting cycling journey that included great sightseeing. I went with my group of amateur cyclists to Asturies, which is a steeped hill region that is a neighbor to Galicia (the region where I was born and still live). We went there to cycle a 100-kilometer (62-mile) course, climbing and descending into the vast forest on a very misty day. For our effort, we were rewarded with lots of clean air and great views of nature. We even had the chance to view several kinds of wild animals, some of which I had never before seen. These included a couple of deer, a herd of feral pigs, and an innumerable amount of predatory birds.
I started to think as if I were fully involved with my future project: feral pigs as seed dispersers...problems associated with habitat fragmentation…peccaries using an area only one-fifth the size of the home range estimates reported from the Amazon (because the Pantanal is more pristine than the Amazon?).
I feel my sleepy Pantanal expedition is starting to wake up again.

Friday, April 22, 2005 It is less than six months before my departure and 25 years after Spanish environmentalist Rodriguez De la Fuente died in Alaska while filming a sledding competition. Perhaps he gave our generation the necessary environmental seed to make us more sensible. He endeavored and encouraged his viewers to love all kinds of life, make reasonable use of the available resources, and have the same respect for the rest of the nature as we had for ourselves. Although not all the seeds seemed to have fallen on appropriate ground to germinate, every day we can see more people choosing the option of spending their vacations helping nature recover from damage rather than lying in the sun.

Friday, April 1, 2005 It’s time to start making arrangements for the journey to Brazil—filling out and sending in the forms, making travel arrangements, learning how to charge the expenses according to the Alcoa internal rules, etc.
I have already accomplished some duties. For instance, there was an article about my trip in the plant magazine, with many of my coworkers’ questions related to the imminent experience being answered. There have also been some jokes related to the event. One of my workmates warned me by saying, “Take care about the ticks; you will be able to get very tasty steaks from some of them.”
It’s interesting to read about how frightened, but finally successful, former Earthwatch fellows in Pantanal were, having suddenly felt as if they were completely alone inside a huge wilderness surrounded by a dry grass higher than they were, knowing nothing but imagining every kind of reptile or other fierce carnivore being around....

Friday, March 25, 2005 A lot of things have happened lately.

I downloaded from the Internet a lot of information about the wetland I am going to work in. I’ve also read the diaries from the two Alcoa Earthwatch fellows who went on this expedition in 2004 as well as some of the scientific articles about prior work in the area. I feel better situated as far as the area is concerned.

I’ve had time to think about the trip and the Pantanal, especially when I am cycling alone for hours on the weekends.  One of the things that surprises me the most is that long ago, the immense land of South America was below sea level. It has since risen to be about 50 to 100 meters (165 to 330 feet) above sea level. There must be an enormous stretch of flat land, as the Parana River has to flow 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) to reach the Atlantic Ocean while only descending 50 to 100 meters.

Such flat land reminds me of the Castilla area in the middle of Spain (La Meseta, or the plateau), but La Meseta is 500 meters (1,640 feet) above sea level and none of its parts is more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) from the sea.

I’ve always enjoyed wide spaces, fresh air, and contact with nature, but more so if the landscapes are steep or high hills. For instance, I’m fond of taking long walks through the forests and mountains in Asturias and Galicia in Spain.  Asturias is Galicia’s neighbor region, and Galicia is in the Spanish northwestern region known as the Finisterre—the end of the Earth.  This is the region where I was born and raised.

A mixture of emotion and fear begins to invade me as I continue reading different information: exciting sightings (at least from the small plane) and contact with wildlife (will I be able to see such exotic animals as anaconda, caimans, and peccaries?).  On the other hand, the ticks and bees may be terrible. I don’t know how I’ll be able to cope with them, mainly since they have always been very attracted to me.

What Michaela (the Alcoa employee from Italy who was the 2004 Earthwatch fellow in the Pantanal) described in her diary makes me relive the horrible situations I have had to cope with in Spain depending on the weather, the seasons, and the location. I’ll contact her to find out more about her experience.  I’ll also try to take protection. Perhaps my anti-bee mask would be a good weapon!

Yesterday, we had the last conference call in which all Alcoa fellows had the chance to ask questions about travel and project issues. Once the conference finished, I remained quite worried and embarrassed because of my scarce fluency in spoken English. People from English-speaking countries are lucky since they don’t need more than one language to go worldwide and be understood. In Galicia, the region where I am from and where my Alcoa location is, we usually use three different languages: Galician, Spanish, and English. Is this good or bad? Who knows, but at the moment in that conference, it was difficult for me to follow the other speakers and catch their basic meanings. But, no worry. Fortunately, I could understand nearly everything spoken and realized that all dealt with what was previously emailed or sent in the expedition briefing. Moreover, this event made me aware that this entire situation is real and gave me confidence that there are many people ready to provide help whenever it is needed.

Saturday, February 19, 2005 Great! Can’t believe it! I was chosen as an Earthwatch fellow!
What last year appeared to be so remote, curious, and from another world—ecological projects—is now almost within reach.  My factory mate Rose said to me a few days before I decided to send my application, “Why don’t you try again? You seem to have a chance, having been on the alternate list last year.”

I got quite a good surprise and am truly happy for having been given such a fantastic gift. It means that I’ll be going to the Pantanal—the immense wet and wild land in the heart of South America—for eleven days.

As someone who likes to spend his leisure time interacting with nature through outdoor activities, preferably in the middle of the forest or beside a clear river (as the old saying goes, every deer tends to escape to the mountains), I consider this fellowship the opportunity of my life. By November 15, I’ll be doing what I like most in a completely different environment from those I’ve ever been to and helping experts interpret the issues that may affect the ecosystem.

I’ve never been to the Americas or any other part of the world except for Europe, and this is the other reason why I am so happy. Many people from my region in Spain had to emigrate decades before.  A great many of them went to Brazil, where most of them still remain. Apart from that, who hasn’t heard about Brazil’s vast tropical forest with its varied and huge wildlife? All of these things increase my expectations about the trip and make me even more excited about it.

Photo Gallery

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Earthwatch Institute

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Conserving the Pantanal

Learn more about the expedition and its scientists.