Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Routine and Adventure

A while ago, a balloon pilot friend and I were talking about routine.  We were talking about how most balloon pilots don’t seem big on routine and love adventure.  Then he said that researchers must have a routine, and I replied, “Well, sort of, but it’s never the same.”  How is routine never the same?  I’ve been thinking about that conversation a lot since then.

Everyday, our general schedule is wake up to go out on obs at 5:30, observe the hyenas till about 9am, return to camp and eat breakfast, work and do camp chores during the day, go out for evening obs at 5pm, observe the hyenas again until about 8:30, return to camp and eat dinner, and go to bed.  We do this general thing everyday of the week.  It sounds simple, but it rarely is. 

There are surprises that don’t change the routine much if at all.  For instance, I can be sitting at the same seat every morning for breakfast.  You would think you would see the same view every day, but you don’t.  Sometimes we’ll see an elephant crossing the plain in front of camp, dwarf mongooses working up the courage to try to steal some peanut butter, warthogs walking up to us to snort for our leftover vegetables, zebras grazing by my tent, etc.   The following pictures are all taken from our dining table at Serena.

Some of our warthog breakfast companions

Zebra by my tent

Dwarf mongoose eating a banana

Driving down our driveway after obs, we don’t expect to see much of anything besides antelope, but then there are those days when you have a lion or a rhino in the “front yard.” 

Lion at the bottom of our driveway in Serena

But most of the time, none of these things are there.  There are the extremely rare and amazing surprises, like when you’re driving the same path you take everyday, and all the sudden a leopard appears right outside your window!  Those experiences are so unusual, they just take your breath away.

These events don’t actually alter our routine any, but they definitely make it so much more interesting.  Other occurrences can radically change our schedule though.  Usually it’s cars that make us completely drop everything and deal with them, rather than following our usual schedule. 

There are things that we do frequently enough for the cars that should be simple, but because we’re in Kenya, the chores run on their own time or some strange twist occurs.  For instance, you can go get petrol for the cars and be stopped by tourists to take awkward photos shaking hands.  Or, you can go to pick up car parts from the airstrip one day, but they weren’t put on the plane, the next day the plane forgot to unload them, and finally they get sent to the wrong airstrip, but your great Kenyan friends drive out to get them for you…Even car parts have adventures flying around the Mara.  If you have to go into down after a tire puncture on obs, you may have to explain to everyone why there is a fake hyena in the back of the car before they will fix the puncture.

People exclaiming about us having a fake hyena in the back of the car while changing our tire in Talek town.

Cars are so important to us; they’re necessary for us to go out on obs and follow our plan.  They’re so crucial that one of the rules in the Research Assistant Manual is always drive with the windows down so that you can immediately be aware if something breaks.  When (not if) something breaks, we have to drop everything and get the car fixed.  This leads to us spending whole days with the mechanics and not doing our routine work.  There are the rare, awful for us animal-obsessed researchers, occasions when we can’t go out on obs at all because there is something wrong with all of the cars.  Other times, everything is working until you drive into an unseen mud hole you can’t get out of after all the tour cars that can help pull you out have left the park…then your plans change from going home for dinner and bed to spending the night in the car in the middle of the Mara until a balloon tractor can pull you out in the morning.

Tractor to the rescue! You really can't see what we got stuck in...

To me though, the worst change in the routine happens when you find out a hyena is dead.  Sometimes you find it on obs, sometimes you get a call from someone and get a pit in your stomach because you don’t want to know who was found dead; we get to know all of our hyenas really well.  When there is a dead hyena, we have to drop everything, ID it if it is one from one of our study clans, and then perform a necropsy and collect the skull.  All of this is time consuming to say the least, but it’s also emotionally draining but interesting to see something’s insides.

Basically, there is always something that can pop up in our daily routine that is out of the ordinary.  I find myself frequently saying, “Always an adventure,” when I’m out here.  There is so much that can change or happen at any given time whether it’s a hunt, a rare animal, an engine explosion, an unexpected hole, a surprise storm, a shower gone awry, or any other thing you can (or can’t) imagine.  Everyone who has been out here has their own crazy stories.  We come to expect nothing to go as planned; so maybe that is our routine?  Our “routine” always is an adventure.

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