Birthe Reese's Diary


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
Thursday, November 17, 2005 Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Tuesday, November 15, 2005 Monday, November 14, 2005
Sunday, November 13, 2005 Saturday, November 12, 2005
Friday, November 11, 2005 Tuesday, November 8, 2005
Friday, November 4, 2005 Monday, September 12, 2005
Wednesday, August 17, 2005 Tuesday, July 5, 2005
Friday, June 24, 2005 Thursday, June 23, 2005
Thursday, May 12, 2005 Tuesday, April 29, 2005
Tuesday, April 12, 2005 Friday, April 8, 2005
Friday, February 25, 2005 Tuesday, February 8, 2005
Wednesday, January 26, 2005 Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Monday, December 6, 2004  

Saturday, November 26, 2005 It was time to say goodbye. The PI’s and expedition staff planned to drive back home by car shortly after breakfast. They had a lot of stuff to pack and started early in the morning. Amadeo, our pilot, arrived the evening before.
 
We met in front of the lab building to get a last group picture, and everyone used his or her camera to get the same shot. The mood was sentimental. Even though I was sometimes yearning for the end of the expedition and felt homesick, suddenly I was afraid the time here could have been too short or I might not have taken enough advantage of it. I guess this is the normal wrench.
 
When the cars started their engines, we volunteers formed a guard of honor and sang “Country roads, take me home, to the place, I belong...” This was a big surprise for the ones leaving and an emotional moment. I am sure all eyes were filled with tears.
 
Then it was time for us to get to the plane. While Amadeo was packing the luggage, the mosquitoes were buzzing around us as if they knew it was their last chance to annoy us. When we were rolling to the airstrip, we had a lot of them in the cabin, and it took us some time to get rid of them.
 
The flight was the last chance to enjoy the great views of the Pantanal wilderness. The early rainy season already had an impact on nature. The water levels had risen, and parts of the area were flooded already.
 
Taking our last photographs, every one of us was quiet and lost in our thoughts.

Friday, November 25, 2005 It was the last day in the Pantanal and, at the same time, it was the first day off for us. The morning started with pouring rain. I used the time to put my stuff together, relax in the room, and review the whole expedition in my mind.
 
At noon, it cleared up, and David, Jose, and I decided to follow our plan of canoeing on the Rio Negro. For safety reasons, Ellen equipped us with lifejackets and walkie-talkies. After short instructions on how to use the boat, we set sail.
 
We enjoyed the quiet travel by boat, listening to the voices of nature without disturbing engine noise. While I tried to steer the boat carefully and slowly along the riverbanks, David took the photos he was longing for. We saw a herd of peccaries, ara macaw, and beautiful kingfishers, which are birds who jump straight into the water to catch fish. I took some good pictures of caimans following our canoe. I enjoyed the three hours on the river as a quiet farewell. When the mosquitoes started becoming more aggressive, we decided to return and drifted back. A lot of curious eyes followed us.
 
The last day ended up with a nice presentation Ellen showed that was made from some of our pictures and slides from the conservation team. It was like we had been here for months, and seeing the pictures I realized how many things we saw and experiences we had. I am sure it will take me a lot of time to assimilate this adventure.

Thursday, November 24, 2005 Today was the last workday for us volunteers. I was again lucky to be part of the mammal census team. This time, I was riding a huge white horse named Little Plum, and we got along very well. The horse was doing what I wanted and was going in the direction I wanted him to. I was sure to be really good at horse riding. But when we came back into sight of the fazenda, he put me right. He knew the track we were riding and stopped following my commands because he wanted to go home.
 
My task in the afternoon was a very smelly one. First, I had to wash all the feces from the four tortoises that we kept in the lab until they passed their waste. I used two sieves and washed the feces under running water until all the mud was gone and just the solid parts were left. I was so deep in thought that I did not recognize that we had problems with the sink, and all the stinky water came back up into the lab until Vanda came in. I immediately changed over to the other basin, and we had to clean the lab.
 
After washing the feces, all the seeds needed to be separated. I really had to concentrate hard because some of the seeds were as small as sesame seeds. I never thought before that I would spend so much time with an animal’s excrement.
 
When I finished, we had found a minimum of 10 seed species, nuts, mushrooms, and parts of snail shells and insects. Ellen was very enthusiastic, and I was proud. She now had enough data on tortoises and their role as seed dispersers that she could publish it. Even this stinky job was significant and made sense.
 
After finishing that work, I felt ready for a long, hot shower to wash away the smell of horse and tortoise feces. I jumped out of my clothes and into the bath, turned the water on and…nothing. Not even a last drop. The other rooms had the same problem, and I decided to wrap myself in a towel and wait until the water was back.
 
Falling on my bed, my eyes got a glance of a really big spider (10 centimeters—four inches—with legs) under the bed between Nicole and me. As Nicole was dressed, I asked her not to look under the bed but to leave the room to look for Ellen immediately. Nicole is frightened of spiders, and of course she had to have a look under the bed. She saw the spider and ran out while crying for help. I stayed on my bed, watching carefully what the spider would do next. Ellen came into the room and was really surprised, too. She grabbed the spider with her long tweezers and disappeared through the back door. Nicole and I were both glad it happened at the end of the expedition.
 
Meanwhile, a big thunderstorm came up, and the world seemed to drown. It was very stormy, and the water came from all sides. It rained all night long.
 
For dinner, we tasted piranha soup, which was very delicious. It was the last day before the fish team left, so we decided to have the farewell party this night with music and dance and some more caipirinhas. Because of the rain, this was the first evening we could enjoy without mosquitoes.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005 New experiences are waiting for me—today’s was horseback riding. Ellen needed to do some extra work at the lab, so the rest of us had to do another job—follow a track around the fazenda to do a mammal census. That meant we have a three-hour ride where we note all mammals we see, identifying species, number, gender, location/GPS data, and distance.
 
I remember Michela’s (prior Alcoa Earthwatch volunteer in the Pantanal) diary story about the horse named Pampas, and I got the chance to ride him. When we went over to the stable and I saw Pampas face-to-face, I was afraid he would probably not be strong enough to carry me all the way….
 
For me, it was the first time on a horse, and I was a little bit nervous. But the only problem I had was that Pampas was very, very, very slow, and I always felt behind the others. I really was worried about Pampas, because it seemed to be hard work for him. At the first rest stop, Vanda and I changed horses, and I felt much more comfortable.
 
Vanda is responsible for the horses, and he was always the first to spot the animals. David and I were kidding that he probably had distributed the mammals next to our path early in the morning, or he left battery-driven toy animals at particular places. Of course, it might be his experience at finding animals in nature.
 
The sun was burning. When we finally returned to the fazenda and jumped back onto the ground, I knew why riders used to have bowed legs. The first minutes I could not get my knees together, and we all walked back to our rooms with our legs apart. Unfortunately, the list of mammals we spotted was very short at the end: feral pigs, marsh deer, capybaras, and a sleeping coatia (sloth).
 
Back at my room, I met the guys of the Rio Negro Fish Project. Most of them work at the University Mato Grosso do Sul. They made a good catch and were examining the fish on the big stone table directly in front of our room door. With 35° Celsius (95° Fahrenheit) temperatures outside, a disgusting smell was around. When I saw all the big fish and even piranhas they caught, I decided definitely not to take another swim in the river.
 
After one week at the fazenda, it was nice and interesting to meet new people and get some information on this fish project. In the evening, we were invited to another concert with Celso and Picolé, and the “fishermen” asked us to dance.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005 This morning at breakfast, I didn’t have jam, so it was hard to eat the very dry and fluffy rolls. As we have rice and meat for every lunch and dinner, I didn’t want to start with it at breakfast. The best in the morning is the Brazilian coffee with lots of milk and sugar. Although I normally prefer tea, I don’t care for the type that is served for breakfast here.
 
So I headed off hungry today to look for more peccaries with Mab and the team. The morning was very successful. We found six white-lipped peccaries and two young animals (age class I, approximately six to eight months). It took us some time to collect all the measurements and blood samples.
 
We had a hard time early in the morning because the mosquitoes were very aggressive. Later in the day they disappeared, and we enjoyed it.
 
While driving through the jungle, there was a feeling of freedom and adventure, and some great variety. We returned late for lunch and just had a very short time for resting. Then we headed of to Fazenda Casa Luca, were Alexine had to do some work on her husband’s aquatic project.
 
The sky was very dark, and the rain did not wait long to start. It took us some time (one-and-a-half hours) to get to the boundary of Fazenda Rio Negro and pass another fazenda and its piece of land before we reached Casa Luca. The long drive gave us a clear sense what neighborhood means in this wide landscape.
 
The Swiss family living there is running a small lodge hotel and a big cattle farm. They own 4,000 head of cattle. When we reached the farm, the cowboys had driven some cattle together to get them vaccinated.
 
Celso and Alexine had to change the location of a measuring device. While they walked into the lake with socks and shoes and trousers—it seemed to be very wet—I had time to take some portrait shots of the others.
 
My favorite subject is Bajano. With his 75 years, he is marked by lifelong work in nature, has a proud posture, and seems to be a well-balanced person with great charisma.
 
We returned late, starving. The longer I am at the fazenda, the more I appreciate the rich meals. Jolanda, our cook, is doing a great job. The meat especially tastes delicious, and her rice pudding with cocoa is just superb.

Monday, November 21, 2005 Another sunny day in the Pantanal. Mab, Ellen, and I drove around the fazenda to check the pitfall traps again. When we came out of the forest at the first baia line, I found a tortoise on the track. As the PI’s have the habit of giving names to all the bigger animals they catch and mark, I named her Tina.
 
Tina the Tortoise had to stay in the car and return with us to the fazenda. Ellen was very happy about that and said she was hoping for another one to get enough data. Just 10 minutes later, we met another big male tortoise that weighed around nine kilograms (20 pounds). The male tortoises have an inwardly curved (concave) bottom shell, while the females have a flat bottom shell. That’s how to distinguish them.
 
After the lab work in the afternoon, Ellen, Vanda, Jose, and I took a boat trip to a nice riverbank on the Rio Negro. The three had been there some days ago taking a swim. I was not sure I was courageous enough to do the same. But when we arrived, the water was so inviting that I tried. At that place, the current is very strong, which is why it is safe to swim there. Caimans and piranhas prefer the slow-moving water to hunt. The caimans always escape anyway when people approach because they are very timid.
 
The water was warm and brown because of sediment, but the most important thing was that it was free of mosquitoes.
 
I stopped counting the bites and stings. I have nearly 100, most of them on my legs and feet. At night, I suffer because of the frequent itching. During the day, you are always trying hard to fight against the mosquitoes and avoid more bites. But you have no chance to escape, and even long sleeves and long trousers in combination with strong insect repellents cannot protect you properly.
 
The evenings at dinner time are so funny. We all try to tell our stories and are communicating in English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and even French. Nicole tries to teach Celso in German, and he can already say “Schwein” (pig), “Wasser” (water) and “gern geschehen” (you are welcome). It sounds so funny, and he is happy when he can use his new words. We really have a lot of fun together.

Sunday, November 20, 2005 Nicole and I went out with Ellen to check the pitfall traps at the salinas and baias. We did not catch as many frogs as we had expected after all the rain yesterday, so we were able to check all the traps in a very short time. One little frog was lucky, because he usually lives in trees and does not belong with the ground inhabitants we are collecting the data from. We released him immediately, and he thanked us for that with big jumps back into the forest.
 
After lunch, we had enough time for a long nice rest. When I lay on my bed, I fell asleep immediately. It must be the physical work in the fresh air and high temperatures making me so tired.
 
In the afternoon, we had a lot of lab work. David and Vanda brought in more than 100 frogs. In total, we measured around 130 frogs. I put all the data into the laptop.
 
We finished in the late afternoon. I took a short walk to the riverbank to watch the sunset and take some romantic pictures, but not before putting on lots of insect repellent. I first tried to get a good portrait of a caiman dozing on the riverbank. When I snuck up, he suddenly noticed me, made a big jump, and escaped. At first glance, I just saw sputtering water and waves and could not figure out in which direction he headed. My heart was thumping, and I was lucky that he escaped to the middle of the Rio Negro. “Great souls think the same,” and David came along to enjoy the quiet evening and take some pictures, too.

Saturday, November 19, 2005 David and I joined the peccary team today. We took the big jeep to the baias and salinas to check the traps placed in the surrounding area. We had heavy rain the whole morning.
 
At the first cage, we were lucky already. Three white-lipped peccaries were trapped. The funny thing was, a smaller peccary obviously belonging to the same group was waiting outside the cage to remain with the group. The peccaries in the trap became more nervous when we appeared, running around in the cage, pushing their noses into the wire, and rattling loudly with their teeth, which is a kind of threatening gesture.
 
Bajano and Celso had to be quick to catch them with lassos, and the rest of the team moved backward to not disturb the peccaries anymore. Once they were roped, the peccaries were pulled near the fence so Tatjana could give them anesthetic injections (corresponding to the estimated weight). As soon as they were under—it took about 10 minutes—we started with the measurements.
 
I had to register the data, starting with the place, global positioning system (GPS) data, gender, weight, and length of the body, head, ear, hind foot, shoulder, and tail. Alexine placed them in an approximate age class (class I to IV based on tooth wear). We caught two females and one male. Tatjana took blood and microflora samples, and Alexine marked all of them with microchips so they can be identified in case of recapture.
 
We put them back into the cage since they can’t be released until they are fully recovered from the anesthetic. We will return later in the day to release them.
 
In the second cage we passed, two old male peccaries were trapped and another one was waiting outside. While taking the measurements, Alexine was sad about their very bad condition. They were underweight, had some scars and a lot of ticks—even in the mouth—and were very old.
 
On our way, we passed a baia where we discovered a couple of marsh deer grazing in the high and lush grass. Celso stopped, and we got a chance to get some pictures. I sidled up to them as quietly as possible and was able to get some good shots. They seemed to be much bigger than the fallow and roe deer we have in German forests.
 
While driving, it was the volunteer’s job to find signals from the radio collars. Therefore, we had to adjust the different collar numbers at the receiver and listen for signals from each. Near a salina lake, we got signals from collar number 080, which is on a peccary named Camilla. The signal was ticking irregularly, and Alexine was sure there was something wrong with the collar.  We stopped and walked through the grassland trying to get more signals. David had to take the manual antenna, because he was the tallest team member. As we followed the signal through the “jungle,” we lost it again and again. Alexine was kidding, saying David was fired because he could not find the collar.
 
In the afternoon, we released the other peccaries and watched a big group of capybaras taking a bath in a salina. It was another good opportunity to get some nice pictures. The capybaras are not very shy, and I could approach up to approximately five meters (16 feet).
 
The mosquitoes have come to be a real torture for us. Nicole and I received bites at places we cannot believe. After lunch, we each had two caipirinhas (a traditional Brazilian drink with smashed lemon, brown sugar, and sugar cane spirit) and forgot about the mosquito plague. Celso and Picolé gave the first concert on the veranda—funny pantaneiro songs accompanied by guitar and accordion. We had lots of fun in spite of the hundreds of beetles flying around that were attracted by the light.

Thursday, November 17, 2005 Today I have been in doubt about this whole expedition and me being a part of it. I went out with Ellen and David to check the pitfall traps at the salinas and baias, while Jose went by boat together with Vanda to check the lines in the gallery forests.
 
At the first pitfall trap, I wanted to empty the bucket. This means you have to go on your knees with your head nearly at the ground, fishing with your gloved hand and long tweezers in the deep of the bucket for snakes, frogs, and lizards. This would not matter, but in the bucket there are lots of jumping insects, cockroaches, little scorpions, vinegar scorpions, and spiders. I started to panic. I tried again and again, but I was not able to do this.
 
I was surprised and disappointed that I reached my limit at the third day already. Suddenly, the fascination of this beautiful place and all the new experiences gave way to realizing I had to stay here nine more days. I did not feel very well and had some problems with my circulation (could not see clearly, weak knees). Probably all these new adventures, impressions, the climate change, and tiredness fed into this weakness. When we returned to the fazenda shortly before lunch, I felt better again and took a short walk around the fazenda to take some pictures and clear my head.
 
After lunch, we started with the lab work. The collected frogs, snakes, and lizards had to be weighed, measured, and identified. Lizards and snakes are marked, because they maybe will be recaptured. Snakes get a small chip injected under their skin. The lizards are marked by cutting their fingers following a special system. The four feet are A, B, C, D, and the five fingers are numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. The first lizard of one species will loose a tiny part of finger A1, the second A2, and so on.  The lizard suffers no immediate or long-term problems from the marking.
 
The registration includes date caught, weight, measurements, gender, in which bucket they were caught (for example SA1 is the first bucket of the salina line A), and the chip number or marking.
 
In the evening, we had the first thunderstorm, but no heavy rain. The temperature did not cool down, and it was even more humid than before.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005 The day starts with breakfast at 7 a.m. and a volunteer raffle to set up a rotating work plan. The rough daily schedule looks like a normal working day:
6:30 a.m.     Wake up
7 a.m.          Breakfast
7:30 a.m.     Fieldwork
Noon            Lunch and siesta
2:30 p.m.     Fieldwork or lab work
6 p.m.          Break, refreshing
8 p.m.          Dinner
 
Today, David and I joined the peccary team. Alexine is the PI, Tatjana the veterinary, Celco the driver, and Bajano, a real cowboy living on the fazenda. We had to drive out to the field surrounding the fazenda to set up traps for the peccaries. There are small mobile traps, just big enough to catch one peccary, and bigger cages—four to five square meters (4.8 to six square yards) to catch even more.
 
We changed the location of the small traps, putting them next to the fresh peccary tracks to make sure the peccaries will pass by. The cages are equipped with trap doors spanned with a small rope that is connected to a wooden construction in the back of the cage. Around this construction, we put manioc, corn, and fruits to attract the peccaries. When they feed on the food, they will break down the branch construction, the rope will snap back, and the door will fall down.
 
On our way, we saw a lot of wildlife, including jaburus (big storks with black necks), tapirs, and capybaras (a rodent as big as a small pig). When we passed a salina, Tatjana, who was sitting on the back of the truck, shouted for us to stop. She had discovered a yellow anaconda. As they told us, we were very lucky to see one. The Anaconda was approximately four meters (13-feet) long and as thick as a leg. Her back was of amazing, beautiful color and pattern. We all tried to get out our cameras quickly to get some good shots before she disappeared in the high-grown grass. We were so excited.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005 Pickup time at the hotel was 7 a.m. We first met Ellen, the principle investigator (PI) of the herpetology (lizards, snakes, frogs) project and Camilla (fruits and frugivores project). A two-hour drive to Aquidauana, where the regional airport is, led us through wide cattle fields and forests. Everywhere we could see red little knolls, which were the termite hills. Because of the red soil in this area, Campo Grande is also well known as Cidade Morana (Red City).
 
Aquidauana is located on the Rio Aquidauana and 138 kilometers (86 miles) from Campo Grande. This is where the Pantanal starts.
 
Airport Aquidauana is a bit of an exaggeration. It is just a hangar, a small building with a veranda, and this red soil airstrip that looks more like a field than like a runway. It took some time to put all our stuff into the small six-seater Cessna. Amadeo, our pilot, was drenched in sweat when he was looking us over to find out weight and height to place us well and arrange us equally in the plane. The Cessna was jam-packed, and I realized that this must be flying at its original tenor.
 
While Amadeo was checking the machines, we could see the plane with the PI’s starting up. Nicole took a “happy pill” (tranquillizer) because she was suffering from claustrophobia. And then it was our turn. Wow, what a feeling and what a view. Crossing the extensions of the Pantanal, we got a first impression of its fantastic biodiversity and territory. Lots of lakes, wide fields, a fazenda from time to time, widely spread cattle, red-flowing rivers with white riverbanks, green forests—and all this as far as you can see. That’s nature!
 
After a 40-minute flight with some turbulence, my stomach was rebelling. I felt a little bit sick, but then we reached Fazenda Rio Negro, situated at an awesome bend of the Rio Negro in the open grassland and framed by red-flowered flamboyán trees. That’s our home for the next two weeks.
 
After a warm welcome and moving into the rooms, we met for lunch. Ellen gave us the first field instructions, and we headed off to the field. The plan for the whole team today was to open as many pitfall-traps for the amphibian project as we could.
 
One pitfall trap line consists of four plastic buckets dug into the ground at a distance of 15 meters (16 yards). The buckets are connected with plastic foil drift fences, which lead the snakes and anurans (frogs and toads) to the buckets. We had to repair some of the fences, because the foil was weather-beaten and partly pulled to pieces by the wild animals. There are pitfall trap lines placed in the forest near the salinas (salty lakes with white beaches and nearly no vegetation) and the baias (sweet-water lakes with lots of vegetation and algae) as well as in the gallery forests (forests near the river).
 
On return, we all were hungry and had the first meal together: chicken pie, salad, roasted meat, rice, and beans. After dinner, Ellen and Alexine (principal investigator of the peccary project) gave us a short overview on Earthwatch and the Conservation Research Institute.

Monday, November 14, 2005 After a rich breakfast at the hotel, we started to discover Campo Grande and had a look for the shopping center to buy further stuff we might need. We walked nearly six kilometers (3.7 miles) through the whole city, suffering because it was high noon, the sun was burning, and the temperature was rising up to 35° Celsius (95° Fahrenheit).
 
Coming back, we took the bus. All the people were very helpful, and with Jose speaking Spanish and Portuguese, it was more or less easy to get our ideas across.
 
We took a typical snack in a small bar, where we had an interesting conversation with the other people. Well, Jose had the conversation and I tried to listen but could hardly understand what it was all about. I better improve my poor Portuguese knowledge.
 
In the late afternoon, we met the other three volunteers—Mab and David from England and Nicole from Germany. We went out to have our first typical Brazilian meal and ended up in a recommended fish restaurant. The atmosphere was noisy and uncomfortable, but the fish was delicious.

Sunday, November 13, 2005 5:40 p.m., Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil
 
I met Jose around midnight at Madrid Airport, and our flight was delayed for nearly two hours. The 11-hour flight to São Paulo seemed to pass by very slowly. But after dinner, two films, three hours of agitated sleep, and breakfast, we approached for landing in São Paulo.
 
I have never seen a city like this. You can look in every direction and just see high-rises up to the horizon. São Paulo stretches across an area of 3,200 square kilometers (1,236 square miles): 80 kilometers (50 miles) long and 40 kilometers (25 miles) wide! Around 15 million people live in this urban agglomeration.
 
As we arrived later than expected, I changed my flight so we had time to take refreshments and get some change before we took the free bus to get from Guarulhos International Airport to the Congonhas National Airport. It took us 40 minutes through the busy streets of São Paulo. The temperature was warm—25° Celsius (77° Fahrenheit). The tiredness caught up with me while waiting for the flight to Campo Grande.
 
Following a smooth landing in Campo Grande and a 15-minute taxi drive, we at last arrived at the hotel. After a total of 28 hours of travel and hours of waiting and waiting, and waiting at the airports, I took the first warm shower. What a treat it was.

Saturday, November 12, 2005 6 p.m., Frankfurt Airport, Terminal 2—the day of departure
 
My luggage is checked in already, and I’ve made a last call to say goodbye to my family. Now I just need to wait for boarding. I can see the airplane outside, getting loaded. It is just a three-and-a-half hour flight to Madrid, where I will meet Jose. Now the adventure starts, and I start to wind down.

Friday, November 11, 2005 Unbelievable. It is already the last day before heading off to Brazil.
 
Weather conditions in Frickenhausen at 7 a.m. were 2° Celsius (36° Fahrenheit), misty, with the sun trying to get through the clouds. It will be another nice and sunny autumn day like we have had for weeks now.
 
At 11:11 a.m. on 11/11 (today), the carnival season started in Germany. There will be some celebrations in the main carnival strongholds like Cologne and Mainz. In just two weeks, we have the first Sunday in Advent. People will start to decorate their homes for Christmas, and the smell of warm cookies and Glühwein (mulled wine) will be in the air. I really like this time of year and the long, cozy evenings with hot tea and candlelight. I am a little bit sad I have to miss it.
 
At 2 p.m., I left the office before it got too sad. A lot of colleagues came to say goodbye as if I will never return, and all have best wishes for my trip. They are already looking forward to my travel stories when I return.

Tuesday, November 8, 2005 Just four days left. I am checking my luggage list every day, sorting my papers and travel documents. I hope I am well prepared.
 
In the office, I try to finalize all open issues. Thanks to my nice colleagues, I was able to send out a plan yesterday that will help keep the business running smoothly during my absence.

Friday, November 4, 2005 Just eight days left before I will leave for Brazil. Time is moving quickly now, and I am getting more and more nervous every day.
 
The first packing last weekend showed 36 pounds (16 kilograms) on my scales, and the backpack was just filled with the recommended equipment. There was no space for extra clothes for my travel after the expedition. It’s not the clothes weighing too much that’s keeping the weight high. It’s all the little things, like toiletries, repellent, sunscreen, camera, briefing, dictionary, and guide book.
 
My thoughts are zoning out to Brazil, the Pantanal, hyazinth aras, caimans, peccaries, and wide, wide wetlands….

Monday, September 12, 2005 Today, Tina from Earthwatch distributed our team list. In addition to Jose (the other Alcoa volunteer) and me, there are two volunteers from England and one from Germany. Tina also sent a picture of the new dining room at Fazenda Rio Negro, which is reserved for the expedition team members. It all looks so nice and cozy. I’m glad, because this will be our home for two weeks.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005 Last weekend, I took the detailed list of necessary equipment to bring, which I received with the Earthwatch expedition briefing, and I went to an outdoor store nearby. I guess I will become their best customer in the coming weeks.
 
They have everything you can think of. My favorites that I bought are: a toothbrush garage (a small plastic cap that covers just the head of the toothbrush); mosquito-proof trousers and shirts (I bought one of each to make sure I won’t get any bites); a spray that you use to impregnate your clothes against mosquitoes and ticks; a nice hat to protect against the sun; a mosquito head net (not that nice…looks very funny…the Pantanal animals will roll on the floor laughing when they are aware of me); and a toilet bag with a hook so you can hang it up anywhere.

Tuesday, July 5, 2005 The last two days I participated in first-aid training offered by Alcoa. It might be very useful if I get lost in the jungle. We learned to bandage different kinds of wounds as well as the recovery position for people losing consciousness. Now, I am a first “aider,” able to help in emergency cases, which hopefully will not happen.
 
This evening, I started my first Portuguese lesson. Bom dia! One of my colleagues is married to Elvira, who is originally from São Paulo. She will help me get the basics. I hope to be able to make myself understood come November.

Friday, June 24, 2005 The last two weeks, I got a good feel for Brazilian culture. In Sindelfingen, near Stuttgart, an international street celebration took place. It is a big party in the downtown streets with information on all the cultures represented in Sindelfingen. There was a lot of international cooking, music, and dance. The Brazilians really like to dance and sing and seemed to be very open minded. There was one Brazilian guy just starting to play his guitar, and suddenly there was a crowd of people around him, clapping and singing and dancing. It was a fantastic atmosphere.
 
Yesterday, there was a concert by “Beija Brasil,” a Brazilian band that combines vitality, dance grooves, and thrilling arrangements. They play Brazilian music like the traditional samba, samba-reggae and actual Brazil-pop with parts of hiphop and funk. All the guests were up on their feet dancing and celebrating. It was great, and I look forward to feeling the Brazilian fire on my own soon.
 
Thursday was my birthday, and I received the first travel kit: sunscreen, repellents, sticking plaster to prevent ticks, and a notebook to write down my experiences.

Thursday, June 23, 2005 I received my tickets today. I wish I could start right now. Unfortunately, I still have to wait, and I have a lot of things to do. I need to buy all the equipment requested for the trip.

Thursday, May 12, 2005 I got the booster shots for two of the vaccinations today. I need a second booster in November, shortly before travel starts.

Tuesday, April 29, 2005 Yesterday, I drove to Tübingen to get more information on the yellow fever vaccination . It was hard to find the hospital, so I was turning around for nearly an hour. I found a lot of hospitals, but I could not find the tropical one. Finally, I decided to park the car and search by foot, which took me just 10 minutes. Strange world.
 
The physicians seemed to be very qualified, and they indicated a yellow fever vaccination is necessary. I got the shot there the same day.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005 Today, I had the first appointment with my family doctor to discuss the health form and the vaccinations. I had a complete check-up, including a blood test. Yes, I am in the best of health. He gave me some general information on traveling and also gave me numerous vaccinations. The first shots I got directly before breakfast: polio, diphtheria, and tetanus in the left arm, and hepatitis A and B in the right one. At noon, I had heavy arms and a feeling like a very strong muscle ache.
 
Because I was unsure if I needed a shot for yellow fever, I planned to contact Tropenklinik, which is a hospital in Tübingen with the best knowledge on travel preparation and health care in tropical countries.

Friday, April 8, 2005 I am on my way to Switzerland to meet Gaby, a good friend of mine. I first met her in Zermatt, Switzerland, at the foot of the famous Matterhorn, where I started my career in the hotel business. I told her about my trip to Brazil’s Pantanal, and she had the same idea I have: once in Brazil, why not extend the travel to learn more about Brazil, the culture, and countryside. So, we decided to meet in São Paulo after the expedition’s end and travel together for another two weeks.
 
There is now no reason to wait anymore, so I contacted the travel agency my company works with in Europe. Sandra, the team leader who is able to solve all travel-related problems, will help me to find the best flights at a good rate. There are different options, flying via Frankfurt, Madrid, or Amsterdam. It will be a long trip, and I guess I will plan to arrive two days before the expedition starts to get acclimated.

Friday, February 25, 2005 I had the first contact by mail with Jose, the other Alcoa Earthwatch fellow on this expedition. He works in the environment department of the Alcoa smelter in La Coruña, which is located in the northwest of Spain. We are looking forward to meeting each other, and hopefully we can at least be on the same long-distance flight to São Paulo.

Tuesday, February 8, 2005 Checking my email this morning, the first heading I saw besides other new entries was “Earthwatch Fellowship 2005.” I was getting nervous, but to keep myself in suspense, I first opened the other emails.
 
And then, opening the Earthwatch email, I read just one single word: Congratulations.  Wow, this cannot be true. Reading further: “…Pantanal…Brazil….”  Yes, it’s really true. I will travel to Brazil to help with conservation of the Pantanal. I started laughing, and the first tears of happiness began running down my face. I am a bit shaky on my feet. The feeling I had—reading the confirmation that I will join the Earthwatch Fellowship Program—was like swooning.
 
Unfortunately, Hannelore was not selected. Even though she and the secretaries I work with are all happy for me, they seem to be more nervous than I am. I really don’t know how I can stand waiting until November to leave for Brazil.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005 After four days without my voice, at last I can speak some words again. Because of a very bad cold, I am out sick and cannot check my emails. What if I miss an Earthwatch email?  I hope I will feel better soon so I can get back to work!

Wednesday, December 15, 2004 It’s 8:48 a.m., and I press the send button. The application form is gone. There’s no turning back, but it’s a big chance to go forward! I have travel fever already, even though I don’t know if I will be selected.
 
A day doesn’t go by without my reading some of the diaries of the former Alcoa expeditioners. Reading these diaries and getting an impression about the adventures the expeditioners had was very exciting. I really hope to have this experience one day! To be up-to-date just in case I am selected, I have already started writing my own Earthwatch diary.

Monday, December 6, 2004 Today, we all received an email from our top boss about the Earthwatch Fellowship Program—this is the first time I’ve heard about this program, even though it’s been running since 2003. I have to admit I did not understand everything at first glance, but fortunately my colleague Hannelore told me that she will register. So, I went deeper into the text and realized what a great opportunity this could be. 
 
I took my first look at the Earthwatch website, and my dreams started coming back: travel anywhere in the world to help scientists!  I immediately started to fill out the form with my personal data. Maybe the email from “Santa Claus” will turn into a much bigger surprise. And maybe Hannelore and I will be lucky enough to travel together.

Photo Gallery


View the images from Birthe Reese’s diary.
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Earthwatch Institute


Learn more about this international nonprofit, which supports scientific field research worldwide.
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Conserving the Pantanal


Learn more about the expedition and its scientists.
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