Molly Brown’s Diary
Climate Change, Canopies and Wildlife in the Ecuadorian Andes

October 2, 2009: More aerial taxonomy
September 30, 2009: Bromeliad Queen
September 28, 2009: Aerial Taxonomy…
September 26, 2009: Snakes and the Forest
September 24, 2009: Holy TeleferiQo!
September 22, 2009: I’m leaving on a jet plane…
March 19, 2009: Climate Change, Canopies, and Wildlife!
October 1, 2009: More Bromeliads…
September 29, 2009: Transpiration and Precipitation
September 27, 2009: Waterfalls and Bromeliads
September 25, 2009: We're on our way now....
September 23, 2009: ¡Es una emergéncia!
July 5-10, 2009: So much to gather up!

October 2, 2009: More aerial taxonomy

After breakfast we left for another aerial taxonomy study. We went out to the self guided trail and then down into the forest. It was so steep and slippery that I now understood the need for walking sticks. I had to brace myself with the stick and then find some vines to brace my foot against just to take a step. At one point I slipped down and brushed my arm against a stinging nettle plant. If you feel one it is like brushing up against a cactus with fine needles that sting your skin and cause it to swell up with large blisters. The pain is not bad. It goes away in about 10 minutes and then the blisters start to go away. I just had a line of red dots down my arm from the sting. Martin asked Agi, Bob, and I to go up the hill to see if some trees were marked. It was really hard because we didn’t have a machete to cut our way up the hill. So Bob, who I am now referring to as “Jungle Bob” found a stick and got busy hacking a path for us to go up. We got up to some trees and found that they were not marked. We spent all morning searching for tagged trees. That afternoon, Tim asked me to take a photo and a group of us went back out into another area of the forest to try to match up tagged trees with an aerial photo of the canopies.
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October 1, 2009: More Bromeliads…

I started on the bromeliad after breakfast. I spent the whole morning sorting the leaf matter. While I was doing that, Tony and Tony were working with Matt on transpiration. After lunch I worked with Anne and we finished the Bromeliad work. Santiago arrived at dinner time. He is studying the spectacled bears in the next reserve called Maquipucuna. He is trying to show that the Spectacled Bears are using Santa Lucia as a corridor to the northern territories so it will be protected. It seems like fascinating work. The bears are also ancient relatives of the North American black bears.
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September 30, 2009: Bromeliad Queen

Today after breakfast I started on the bromeliad work. Tasha was out working on the bird survey so she didn’t come back until 10 am. I got out the trays and worked on sorting through the soft matter from between the leaves. I pulled out all of the insects I could find and would put them into the alcohol mixture. It was very tedious work and I did that until lunch. After lunch Tasha and I went to work on the bromeliad in the bag. We had to cut it apart and wash off the leaves. As soon as I opened the bag I spotted a frog in the bottom of the bag. It is tedious work but not hard. We worked on it until dinner time. After dinner we had another presentation: the staff playing the guitar and singing songs. It was great to listen to them.
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September 29, 2009: Transpiration and Precipitation

I am working with Matt and James on the precipitation and transpiration study today. We are taking leaves from trees in the forest and studying how quickly they transpire (lose water vapor from a plant's surface. To accomplish this we have to put the leaves in a bucket of water with a plastic tube and a glass tube. The idea is to get the leaf in one end of the plastic tube and the glass tube in the other end of the plastic tube without getting any bubbles in the two tubes. Then the whole thing gets put in a meter that measures how long it takes 10 cm of water to transpire. It is so hard to get the leaves in the meters without any bubbles in the tubes. We eventually start holding the leaf and tubes under water and using Vaseline to clog the holes. Of course then getting them out of the water and into the meters without dropping them became another issue because of our greasy hands. So once we conquered all of those issues and had the leaf in the meter we would take a light reading, record the start time, and the finish time. After the leaf was finished transpiring we took a tracing of the leaf and noted any damage. We also put the percentage of damage to the leaf on the paper. We managed to get 6 sets of leaves done all day. In the downtime we are just talking about British vs. U.S. culture. After lunch the clouds rolled in and our study really slowed down. We spent the rest of the afternoon watching two leaves because it was taking so long for them to transpire. The presentation after dinner was about camera traps in the reserve. Xavier heads up that program and showed us some great photos of Pumas, Spectacled Bears, and other animals.
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September 28, 2009: Aerial Taxonomy…

HummingBirdFlying After breakfast Agi and I set off with Tim and Martin for the aerial taxonomy study. We walk around the self guided trail until we come to a bit of forest where aerial photos had been taken by a toy helicopter. We are trying to determine which canopies belong to which trees and tag the trees. So this process involved quite a bit of machete work to go off the path into the forest and find the trees. It is my favorite thing I have done so far. Agi is keeping track of the tag numbers and I am marking the GPS positions of the trees. Once we have them all tagged properly the botanist will go back and identify the tree species. The scientists will then be able to teach a computer to look at a photo of the canopy and know what species of trees are in the photo. We spent all morning in the brush and then headed back for lunch. After lunch Agi and I went back out with Martin (Tim was not feeling well) and continued on with our tree tagging. We went into some even steeper areas that were slippery and downhill. I was trying to slide down sideways without losing my footing and falling down the hill. Agi and I were helping each other and Martin was trying to machete us a path. We tagged trees until about 4 pm and then headed back to the lodge. I went down and changed my clothes since I was soaked and completely muddy. After dinner we had a presentation by Miguel on the reason for the biodiversity in Ecuador. It is amazing how many species of plants are here.
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September 27, 2009: Waterfalls and Bromeliads

Insect2 Today I am helping with the Bromeliad study that Tasha has been leading. We are going to walk down to the waterfalls and check the pipe traps that have been left in the trees. The hope is that insects will treat the pipe traps like a Bromeliad and start to live in them. After breakfast, Agi, Edward, Tasha and I start off down to the two waterfalls. It is so steep on the way down but when we get to the waterfall, it is absolutely amazing. The first waterfall is the largest of the four waterfalls and looks like smooth black rock. It is a quick walk to the second waterfall, which is smaller but just as beautiful, where the pipe traps are located. The pipe traps are up in the trees on pulleys so we have to pull them down without spilling them and dump the contents into a clear jar to see what we find. We find an inch worm and some leaf matter in one pipe. We work on the second pipe trap and find nothing but we did leave data loggers in the pipes before we hoisted them back into the trees. After we are done with the pipe traps we head back up to the lodge. It was a 45 minute walk down and an hour and a half back to the top. After a nice lunch we move on to the second part of the Bromeliad study which is taking a plant apart leaf by leaf. Agi is afraid of spiders so I set about cutting the plant apart in the bag. The plant is filled with spiders, centipedes, a frog (big find), and tiny aphids. After I cut a leaf Agi and Ed clean it off with water and push all the dirt into a sieve. The material from the sieve will be sifted for any insects that were missed while I was cutting it apart. When that is almost done it is close to dinner time.
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September 26, 2009: Snakes and the Forest

After our safety briefing we took a quick (1 ½ hour) walk around the reserve. While we were on our walk we saw the pasture, the secondary, and the primary forests. We learned about the different types of aroids and ferns and saw some bear droppings which, we were told, are quite unusual. Next on our walk we went to the area where they have 7 hammocks set Spectacledbear up in the forest. We can go sleep in them one night if we would like…they are trying to talk me into doing this. I don’t think that will ever happen. Finally, we came to a tree nursery where they are trying to grow trees to re-populate some areas of the forest. After lunch we watched a tape on the Earthwatch Program and learned about the different studies. I am going to do the Bromeliad study tomorrow.
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September 25, 2009: We're on our way now....

We all met for breakfast in the hostel and were very excited to leave. The bus arrived at 9 am and we were met by Tasha and Martin (a married couple working on the project) and Matt (a student at Sussex). We loaded all of our gear onto the bus but had to wait for one more person whose flight was delayed. I bought a little painting from a woman while we waited. Once on the minibus we drove north out of Quito and crossed the Equator on our way. Back in the Northern Hemisphere! A half hour into our ride we stopped at a petrol station and bought some snacks to take with us to the lodge. Then we continued on to the office at Santa Lucia’s base. Once we picked up Noe (he leads the bird survey for Santa Lucia) we went through the town at the base of the lodge to meet the mules and start the climb up the mountain. We have to walk up to 1920 meters to get to the lodge. I seriously underestimated the amount of work this would be! I am walking with Tony, Tasha, Matt, Miguel, and Edison. Miguel and Edison are both botanists in Quito. On the way up to the lodge we passed a farm and had walked for maybe 30 minutes when we came to a store. We stopped for a minute to take a water break. Then Tasha informed me I had just done the easiest part. I was not prepared for that statement! So we rested a while and then off we went to the trail. It was so steep, but gorgeous. It was really hard work. We made our way to the first rest stop (there are three on the way up to the lodge). We had some more water and then continued on to the lodge. While we were walking up, a guy with mules asked if we wanted a ride up to the lodge. I happily took him up on that offer. So I rode up to the lodge on the back of a mule. That was one scary, steep ride but it sure as heck beat walking the rest of that trail. When we all arrived at the lodge we were given fresh juice, legumes, rice and blanched cabbage after a bowl of potato soup. It was a fabulous meal! After that we walked around and learned where everything was located. The lodge (1920 m or 6299 ft) is a three story wooden lodge with showers and compost toilets outside. We are all staying in the new cabanas that they built. There are five cabanas located below the lodge and five of the six women are staying in one of them. So Agi, Jessica, Megan, Daniela, and I are all in the same cabana. After we got settled in we went up to the lodge for dinner. It was fresh pasta with a pesto sauce, fresh cheese, and banana cake. Dinner is at 7:30 pm every night. It is also the only time there is any lighting available that is not a headlamp. They have a solar panel and a generator that they use to power small appliances at dinner time. They also turn on the lighting in the lodge for dinner. All the power is switched off by 9 pm.
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September 24, 2009: Holy TeleferiQo!

I went downstairs for breakfast with Agi, Tony, Denis, and two new friends. We met Anthony Fishers from Holland and Anne Maurais from Canada. We decided to go on the Teleferiqo up to 4100 m altitude (13451 ft). It was fun getting there in the cab. Jorge our cab driver dropped us off at the base and we took the gondola straight up the hill. It was a bit claustrophobic but wonderful views. At the top there was a café with an oxygen bar. We walked to the end of the park and there were people with horses that you could ride. We stayed at the top for about an hour before we went back down. At the bottom we caught a cab to Old Town. We wanted to go to the Plaza Grande but the cab had to drop us off a few blocks away due to a demonstration. We walked down Chile St. toward the Plaza Grande and came to a Cathedral that was having a mass in honor of a Patron Saint. They were setting off bottle rockets outside and throwing rose petals. It must have been standing room only because people just kept coming out of the Cathedral. From the Cathedral we walked to the Plaza Grande were the students were demonstrating and the riot police were out. They had a large tank that was in the middle of the road. We continued up Garcia Moreno Rd. and came to a local restaurant. I ordered a platter with fried fish, fried plantains, cerviche with shrimp and squid, rice, and potatoes in a peanut butter sauce along with a cerveza. I managed to order it all in Spanish this time. So after lunch we continued on to the top of the road and came to the Cathedral by the police station. The same one we had been at the day before. Denis and I took photos in front of the station. When we got back to the Hostel Tony was already back from the Consulate. We sat around and chatted for a while and then everyone went off to dinner. We are all excited about leaving for Santa Lucia tomorrow.
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September 23, 2009: ¡Es una emergéncia!

I went downstairs for the free breakfast at 7:30 am and found Denis having coffee. As I was talking to him we met a fellow Earthwatcher name Anthony (Tony) Flint. Denis is from Quebec, Canada and Tony is from the UK. We all sat together and had breakfast, then decided to go to Old Town Quito. We walked from the hostel to Old Town Quito’s Plaza Grande. On our way to the Plaza Grande we passed a demonstration about potable water. There were lots of people in the march but it was very peaceful. After the demonstration we headed up to a gorgeous Cathedral on the hill by the police station… which will come into play later. The Cathedral was beautiful on the inside. They sell prayer cards and candles on the outside of all the Cathedrals. When you enter you find all of the Patron Saints of the church are displayed behind glass and have candles burning where people have offered prayers and flowers. From the Cathedral we walked into Old Town and found a local café. We ordered coffee and sandwiches. After the sandwich Tony tried to order a glass of fruit juice and ended up with a cup of eggs! Hugo (juice) and Hueves (eggs)! See, my Spanish is getting better. We continued on to the Museo De La Cividad which is the Civic Museum of Quito and has all of the history from the Incas to present day. After the museum we walked up Garcia Moreno Rd. to a restaurant. It was a nice looking local spot for lunch. Once we ordered our Cebiche de Camaron we sat down at a table. Tony sat down and put his backpack on the table when a seemingly nice girl told him to put it on the floor so it wouldn’t be stolen. We all put our backpacks down on the ground. We went along with our lunch when all of the sudden Tony exclaimed “It’s gone”! He was referring to his backpack. The girl who told him to put it on the floor had stolen it when she walked out. Unfortunately he had put his fanny pack with his passport and money in the backpack when we sat down. So he used my phone to call and cancel his bank card and credit cards. Also had to cancel his cell phone and find a police station to report the theft for insurance. So luckily I had noticed the police station by the Cathedral. We headed back up the hill to the police station (those hills are killers at this altitude)! Once we arrived at the police station we had to overcome the language barrier to explain the situation. The police officer told us to wait one moment while he arranged a ride to the tourist police station. After about 20 minutes a truck arrived with three police officers who were going to take us to the tourist police station. Tony and I got in the back with one officer and Denis stayed at the police station. Once we got to the tourist police station Tony had to fill out a form and we were back on our way to Denis. We made one stop with the police for them to work on some business. Once we got back and gathered up Denis we headed back to the hostel. We cleaned up a bit and then headed out to Azuca for dinner. After dinner we came back and found out Agi had arrived so we went and found her and spent some time chatting. Tomorrow we are all going to go on the Teleferiqo which is one of the highest gondola lifts in the world. The gondola takes you up to 4100 meters or 13,451 feet in altitude.
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September 22, 2009: I’m leaving on a jet plane…

I left Lafayette for the Indianapolis Airport at 11:00 am. I parked in the long term parking and had so much to juggle. I had my large backpack that I borrowed from a friend and a duffle bag with my boots and sleeping bag, and a carry-on back pack. When I arrived at the Continental desk to check in for my flight it was not crowded. It took me no time to check in for both flights, check my baggage, and go through security. My plane left Indy at 3:00 pm for the flight to Houston, TX. From Houston I caught the flight to Quito, Ecuador. Both of my flights arrived on schedule. When I go off my flight in Quito I followed the crowd to customs. We had filled out the forms on the plane so when the next window opened up I gave the woman at the counter my form and passport. She stamped my passport and I was on my way to claim my bags. Once I got all of my bags I went through the customs baggage check. It wasn’t as hard as I thought. They just scanned the bags and I was in Quito! Walking out of the customs baggage area was crazy. There were close to a hundred people standing there waiting for people to pickup or yelling that they would give you a cab ride. It was overwhelming and at first I did not see the driver from the hostel. I had made arrangements before I left to be picked up and taken to the hostel. There was one man there in a window who spoke English. He pointed me in the right direction and I found my driver to the Hostel Posada del Maple and we were on our way. He spoke no English and I know little Spanish so it was a quiet ride. Quiet but not slow! I felt like I was in a NASCAR race. It was 11:30 pm Quito time but the only cars on the road were cabs and utility vehicles. We were literally in the middle of the road at times! It took about 10 minutes but we arrived at the hostel to find a policeman out front…comforting! It was $10.00 for the ride and I found out later that was twice what I should have paid but I thought it was a great price. At the entrance to the hostel you had to ring a bell and the innkeeper came and let me in. She spoke no English (boy I wish I had studied more Spanish!) but we managed and I got my key to room. Looking forward to meeting Denis and Agi tomorrow!
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July 5-10, 2009: So much to gather up!

I have spent the whole week gathering up everything I am going to need for my trip. New backpack, new hiking boots, new rubber boots, sleeping bag…who knew it would be such an adventure. The place that I am going to in Ecuador is a lodge in the Santa Lucia Cloud Forest Reserve in the Western Andes. I will have to pack everything in a backpack that will be strapped to a mule and carried up the mountain to the lodge. What have I gotten myself into now…I just hope there are not many snakes!
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March 19, 2009: Climate Change, Canopies, and Wildlife!

When I walked into work this morning I didn’t think about the Alcoa Earthwatch Fellowship that I had applied for at the beginning of the year until I opened up an email congratulating me on being selected as one of the 15 fellowship recipients. I couldn’t even concentrate as I tried to find out which expedition I was going on and when. It turns out I am going to Ecuador at the end of September. Everyone is so excited for me! Now I have tons to do…6 months and counting.
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