May 7, 2014

February, March, April, May...my how time flies

Hey out there everyone,

Obviously it has been a while since I have posted anything, and for that I apologize. I decided for those of you following along this adventure that you might be interested in the next phase of this research. Why should the adventure end in Madagascar?! The photos are on hiatus until further notice, but I think everyone might like know exactly how the trip ended and what I have been doing since I returned to San Francisco. O.K. here we go!

During the last two weeks in Madagascar (February 1 - February 12) things were moving much more slowly then they had been the two weeks before. We had completed most of our field work, aside from one trip, and were finalizing all the steps before shipping off our new-found specimen to the US. Danny and I spent day after day typing/writing notes for the mushrooms we found, acquiring permits and documentation to export our precious finds, and most importantly packaging each specimen with every detail written on the package. That doesn't seem very time consuming, but I am telling you it literally took the entire time.

We managed to slip in a few more outings in the field, after all we were here! We took a day trip (which totally should have been a two or three day trip) to Ambohitantely Reserve.This place was incredible! It is quite literally a rainforest in the middle of savanna grassland. During the drive, I was waiting and waiting to hit a rainforest, and we never really did. Instead, we drove down this very muddy hill to a small station. Behind the station was a faint trail leading up to some trees, but you would never be able to tell that behind this hill of trees was a large, isolated rainforest. There is debate over the history of this area whether it was initially rainforest that has been chopped down to grasslands, or if it was grasslands all along and this patch just sprung up over time. You be the judge.

Once, we completed our paperwork and paid our park fees we entered up this steep trail. Mind you it was raining when we arrived and the trail was more like a Slip 'N Slide. We managed to get on top of the water and into the sopping wet forest. This was hands down the wettest forest we had been to so far, and it was full of mushrooms! I immediately asked Roki why we didn't get more time here. Bummer. Oh well, must make the best of it!

We couldn't stop collecting and photographing, we were busy until the sun set, and we had a lot of success! I even spotted a giant snail! This was the biggest snail I had ever seen, and I love snails! I was alone when I saw it though, so I had some private time to dance around and rejoice with the find, being mindful not to loose the pile of Marasmius I had in my right hand. What a thrill!

We had one more day of field work in store. We wandered over to the zoo on a particularly fickle day. One minute the sun was shinning, the next it was pouring rain so hard we couldn't see. We were carrying camera equipments and some lovely baskets so we kept dashing from one shelter to the next, even hiding under the branches of trees. When the sun crept back over us we managed to find a whole land of Marasmius and Tetrapyrgos under a bamboo hedge. We were there for quite some time, scanning this one hedge of bamboo that was full of finds. It ended up being quite a successful field day in the zoo!

After we got back to the field station, we spent the remainder of the trip finalizing all the details to get us and our mushrooms back to the states in one, totally dry, and undamaged piece. This was no easy feat, and we were working until the very last minute. We safe guarded our box with plastic bags, duck tape, and more plastic. At one point Danny said "I prepare for the worst when I pack dried specimen. If this box was to crash land in the ocean and was recovered, they would all still be intact and dry." Needless to say, it was secure. We sent the 6kg box through FedEx and crossed our fingers that it would make it home safe.

Danny and I journeyed back to the US on February 12th, and even got stuck in New York during the freak snow storm that hit that week. Eventually, we got home, and the box arrived safely a few days later. HURRAH!!!

Now... it May 6th, 2014 and what has happened since February? Well, things were slow to start when I first got back. Eventually, I got settled down and started to get organized. I put my specimen through one more series of freezing and drying, just to make sure no bugs came along the trip. I took my first specimen after a week of freezing and drying and cut into it. After all this work, it almost breaks my heart to have to cut into this little guys, but I did it and I mounted my specimen on a slide and took my first peak under the microscope. Marasmius have the coolest microscopy! They have interesting cells everywhere, and little by little you will know more about them as I learn about them (pictures to come!).

Once I have my slides and I draw what I see and take copious notes on the structures. I have been doing this as often as I can. In addition, I am taking tissue from my samples and conducting molecular work on them.

I think it would be cool for you to know how this all works, and so as I continue I will keep you posted with pictures of my drawing, my lab, and the molecular findings! STAY TUNED! <3

February 10, 2014

January 29-31th: The Littoral Forests

Life off the littoral forests and sea (hebergements-villageois.com)
We got a nice early start and drove down the coast, over some sand dunes, and into the littoral forests. It was hot and dry, and I was worried about finding Marasmius here. I was starting to wonder if this leg of the journey was worth it, sure it was beautiful and the fish was delicious, but did we come here just to be disappointed? We were warned of the wasps and vipers that live in these parts just before walking into the brush. “Awesome...” I mumbled to myself. The mosquitoes were the worst here, I was getting eaten alive and it was driving me a little crazy. I kept looking and looking, and no Marasmius, tons of fungi, but nothing I needed. I just announced to everyone that we should leave when I tuck under a little dark patch of trees, and there in all it’s little parasol glory was some Marasmius sect.  haematocephaly, lots of it! I found another species just next to that. Yes, thank you! I was happy, it was the best collection I’ve had so far, and I was still amazed that they are here in this dry, sandy forest. We kept finding specimen, but they were a bit dry since it had not rained here in a week. :\

We kept going, it was so hot, miserably hot, and the bugs just kept coming. Some Marasmiellus here, another Marasmius there. Just as we left the forest, Danny spotted a viper! Yikes! We headed to another spot and collected some more that day.

Day two was a little more sparse. It was so dry and everything was looking a little sad, but in the end we had collected a nice amount of specimen, and we had even more mosquito bites. Danny made an attempt to visit one more spot on our way out. He jumped out of the car and dashed into a clearing in the forest, and then he ran back to the car, a little red in the face, and told us he walked right near a big wasps nest with 50 wasps! These wasps are no joke. Tahina was stung a few times, and she had big lumps on her neck. When Danny asked if it was painful she said “Ya!”. No wasps for me please!

After the second day, we decided our third day we would pack up the car, head to one more spot for a half day of searching, and head back to Tana. A long day indeed. We went to what we thought would be a wetter location in the littoral forests, but no one could have predicted how dry it was here. It has just been a warmer year.
The Ambila-Lemaitso mushroom team!!! WOO! In the back from left to right is Joes (the guard), hotel helper and frisbee player, Arthur (hotel manager), Danny, Rocky (with the famous invisable drink), front from left to right is Nirina (local guide and brother of Jose), Emile, me (sunburned), and Tahina.
We were finished looking with only four good collections by early afternoon. We said our goodbyes over some rum and beer, and thanked everyone for their amazing help. Two sons of the president had been helping us in the field (Nirina and Jose), identifying plants, and guarding the car, just like in Andasibe. They were a big help, and very fun.


Danny cuddles with kittens
The team was incredible, I want to give a very big special thanks to Danny Newman for all of his amazing work, which you will get the pleasure of seeing later ;). I could not have done any of this without him. He is not only my mushroom teammate, extremely gifted parataxonomist, and photographer, he is a dear friend and I am so happy to have shared this experience with him.

Thank you for all the late night hours of working, for all the laughs, and spontaneous moments. Thank you for making this trip even more unforgettable. It has been a pleasure and more. <3

We started driving back to Tana late in the afternoon, even though we had been warned of a major storm over the highlands. The drive was hands down the scariest road trip I have ever been on, and I have been on a good number of sketchy roads. The climb into the highlands was long, the visibility was 2% due to the pouring rain, and don't forget the massive trucks racing down the mountains! My nerves were totally shot by the time we got back to Tana. We would hit a little bump in the road and my eyes would well up with water from the stress of it. all. Danny managed to "sleep" through the whole trip while I sat in the front pinching the skin between my thumb and index finger trying to calm myself down. Rocky on the other hand was singing to his playlist and having a grand old time, this was not his first rodeo on these crazy roads in the middle of a cyclone. Piece of cake! Needless to say, by the time we got home, I was shaking and my anxiety was through the roof. I managed to take a hot shower and crawl into bed. We had some work to do in the morning, but for now my body and my mind needed some TLC, and that's what I was going to give it.


January 28th: Trip to Ambila-Lemaitso

Hello Madagascar rainforests, my how green you are today. :)

Back on the road for another 3-hour trip to the east coast. Our reason for coming to the east was to survey the littoral forests, which is vegetation that grows from sand soil. It is really interesting, I have never been in a forest that resides on sand! I was hesitant once we got into the region about the likelihood of Marasmius, but I was excited to see if they were here. The landscape changed from the jungle mountain terrain, to a flat sandy spread of palms (the famous traveler tree, so named for it holds water after the rains for travelers to drink from) and coastal scrub community. We passed the roadside town of Brickaville and continued along the old train tracks. At one point we turn onto this tiny dirt road that climbs up behind the town and drops you down into the nearby coast land. I asked Rocky “Is this the road? Are we driving on this?” he confirms by gasing the car up and over into pothole kingdom. If we thought the potholes in RMP were bad, these were much worse. In some places the car went sideways trying to scale the small bit of road left to drive on. Other parts were remedied with planks of wood that the car had to drive over, not a bridge, just two planks of wood...I would total the car if I was driving in this. Danny volunteered for the back seat, and I think he was beginning to regret this decision half way through this section of the drive. I was not feeling any good either. These roads make me so ill, which is funny because I hardly ever get car sick usually. Goes to show you how mad the roads are!
Ravenala madagascariens (Traveler tree)

Soon enough though we cross a small bridge, and in the river below is a jolly man taking his afternoon bath in some red boxer briefs. Emile gets very excited, and asks Rocky to stop the car. The half naked man is all smiles as he approaches the car. Emile knows this area well, he has friends here and spends his vacation time in these parts. Why was I not surprised when we were informed that this man was the ‘president’ or chief of the area. We had a short introduction and he welcomed us “enchant√©!”. We continued along the road until we reach a large shallow estuary/river, the sea water coming in slowly onto the land. Another Toyota Land Cruiser was in front of us, very handy cars in this country, and was boarding a ferry to cross the river. How cool!
River crossing to Ambila-Lemaitso
The ferry was composed of six metal canoe-like boats that were strapped together and had planks of wood laying across them. They would line up some other planks of wood from the edge of the road to the ferry, and drive the cars over them. *Do not attempt this without Malagasy supervision.*Two cars could fit on the ferry with all the passengers. The water is very shallow, so we were pushed across by way of long sticks against the ground. It was awesome to experience, and for a moment we forgot about the car sickness, and the pressure of field work, we forgot about our day of travel and we were just there slowly gliding along the surface of the water just off the coast of the Indian Ocean in Ambila-Lemaitso, Madagascar. It was one of those moments you savor in a busy trip. It was beautiful, and I was relaxed for the first time this day. Sigh.

Once we crossed the river, we drove up the coast for another 10 minutes before reaching our very cool bungalow-style hotel. The manager was a customer service master, in Malagasy terms, and darted out from behind the bar to greet us with this cheesy smile that grew on me during our stay. He and Rocky chatted it up. Danny and I are now so used to Rocky just handling everything for us, it is a real luxury. In no time at all, we were looking at rooms and I was excited. These bungalows are situated on the shore of the channel coming in from the sea, the ‘natural bath’ as Artour, the manager, described them. Electricity here is run on solar power, which was not enough to meet our needs, and so we purchased a generator to power all of our equipment. We settled in, but it was getting too late to do a quick survey of the nearby littoral forest, and so we enjoyed some time off in this paradise of a town.


View from the bungalows, solar panel power, and fresh water to bath.
Ambila-Lemaitso used to be a hot tourist destination when the railroad, located across the street from the hotel, carried passengers up and down the coastline, but since they stopped carrying passengers, this town has evolved from a booming tourist beach town, to an abandoned village, to a quiet community by the sea. People here are fishers. They take these canoe-like boats out to sea with some nets and brave the waves. They have a healthy diet of rice, fish, and fruit, and so everyone here looks very healthy, and strong. The people here are beautiful!

I have to admit, it felt like we were on vacation, but I know I am here for work. Work couldn’t start until the next day, so for this moment we enjoyed some ginger and cinnamon infused rum and appreciated the moment. Once the sun set, I bathed in the water and watched the stars for the first time in a while. I often forget to look up when I am hunting for mushrooms, and it was a clear night and a beautiful sky in the warm water. Trip highlight. “Rest easy tonight, tomorrow is another day” I said to myself as I drifted off into a rum induced sleep.

January 27th: Andasibe Piste 5

Forest ceiling makes it so dark in the afternoon
We had a bit of a late start on day two in Andasibe, but we pulled ourselves together and ate some lunch (remember Malagasy people get up at 5:00am, lunch around 11:30, and  dinner around 6:00). It was a chinese-style soup with noodles, meatballs made of zebu, and some Auricularia (jelly fungus). Yum! We picked up Sabotsy and his son, and went up the same road from the day before. We parked in the same place, and left Sabotsy’s son to watch guard. This time he was more prepared (I don’t think he knew how long we would be gone) with a rain jacket, a large stick, and a small machete! What a guard! We headed down a short hill and crossed some rice patties, the first time I got to walk through rice fields. We then walked up a steep path, it was much hotter this day, which worries me when it comes to Marasmius, but we found them not too far along the trail, they just love the humidity!

The vegetation was a little less spiny, which I was happy about, and it was easier to wander off the trail. There were little patches here and there that were open. Sabotsy would wander off trying to track down the people illegally cutting down trees. He was a distracted. We would walk over the places where they had been, it was obvious that the cutting was recent. Piles of wood shavings littered the trail. We were just getting a hang of the habitat when Rocky called it (even earlier today 3:00pm), but everyone seemed a little on edge about the cuttings, so we respected the safety protocol and packed up, not before taking some wonderful shots of a Marasmiaceae with no gills, Gloiocephala!!! I had never seen these before, so we collected it and photographed it. They were so tiny 1-5mm wide cap, but beautiful! The hymenophore was just exposed, no lamellae! Ah so cool!

As we left the forest, we passed a sleeping Madagascar boa constrictor! He was out cold, must have just eaten lunch, and so we took some pictures, and when everyone had walked by it, I decided I need to pet it. I know, not the smartest idea I’ve ever had, but I had to, and I did. I touched a wild boa constrictor. Aaah! So awesome.

AH! Madagascar Boa!!! (Photo by Danny Newman)

This was our last day in Andasibe before continuing our trip to the east, and we felt like we could have had another day, but we collected a lot of good stuff, so we were happy. Another night of work, and some Radio Lab podcasts, which Danny and I listen to while we work. Yay Robert and Jad! Love Radio Lab.

February 8, 2014

January 25th-26th: Andasibe and the Vohimana forest

Gorgeous Medinilla (Princess flower family Melastomataceae) flower. This beautiful flower is rare, and Rocky had never seen it bloom before. We had this in our room and it bloomed for us in the morning when I snapped this shot. The plants are just as incredible as fungi. ENJOY!
January 25th:

Once we were back on the road, I became excited again. I was looking forward to heading to the east coast, though this time I insisted on sitting in the front seat. Our team had one modification: Paul the CAFF/CORE representative was replaced with an herbarium employee, her name is Tahina. She is very expressive, AHing and OHing at the slightest stimulation, I found it very entertaining. This trip was much shorter, only three hours to get to our destination of Andasibe. The forest there are similar to RMP in that they are humid forests, but with different vegetation, hence maybe some different Marasmius. The trip went by quickly, and soon enough we were searching for our new Dada Paul in a town near Andasibe. Rocky told us about a man here like Dada Paul. His name is Sabotsy and his level of respect and knowledge of the local vegetation was unmatched in this area. We tracked him down by asking a neighboring village if they’d seen him just as he zoomed past on a motor scooter. We caught up with him, and conducted the official introductions. Sabotsy was so different from Dada Paul, he was way more energetic, and it seemed like he was half here and half everywhere else. Sabotsy was also the chief of the village, so he has a lot of responsibility, and a lot to worry about.
Office of the forest service, and fun hut.

When we finished in the village we drove to our hotel in Andasibe. We all grouped up together in one bungalow for the five of us. It was cozy and nice. We went to bed early that night knowing full well tomorrow would be a different story.
View of the Andasibe National Park from our bungalow

January 26th:
Indri (photo by Zafison Boto)
The jungle outside of our window was full of frogs, cicadas, and Indri (the largest of all lemurs) that howl like orcas in the wee hours of the morning. It is truly a symphony of sounds, music to my ears, except when the cicadas get too close and too loud, they are deafening. We gathered ourselves up and we ate a nice big breakfast. Soon we headed back to the village where Sabotsy lived. We completed some paperwork at the little office in town and headed out to the forest. The road was insane! The incredible Toyota Land Cruiser owned the terrain like it was eating it for breakfast. We drove through rivers, up steep gravel, and over hillsides before we got to a break in the road. A place that had been eroded by heavy rains. We parked the car and left it with Sabotsy’s son who was hired to stand guard while we were gone. There have been a few safety issue since we have been here, some thieves and robbers about, but Rocky has been on top of it, and has made sure we don’t head anywhere that is rumored to have safety issues.
The road is cut in half!
We hiked up the quartz filled road toward the Vohimana forest. It was heavily mist raining, not enough rain to want to wear rain gear, but enough to get completely soaked. I couldn’t help but wish my glasses had wipers. We walked up a hill until the tree cover became thick. The jungle was upon us again. We soon found Marasmius. This time the vegetation was much different. “This is an unfriendly forest!” I kept shouting from the brush. As I pushed back trees, vines, and shrubs I was getting torn up by numerous spines and spikes that adorned the flora of this habitat. Little by little we continued to find some very cool fungus, including some amazing Cordyceps! The day went smoothly and soon enough, Rocky called it at around 4:00pm when safety becomes a concern in these forests. This is a newly protected area, but people still come to cut down trees for wood, and they are very keen to do it in secret. We did not want to cross paths with them. We meandered back to the car, picking up some quartz souvenirs on the road. We hike back up the road, and through the river that cuts it, and found the car and the guard safe and sound.
The team from left to right Danny, Sabosty's son aka guard man, Sabosty in the car next to Rocky, Tahina and of course Emile on the far right. All ready for our big day in the field.

As we were driving back, Sabotsy’s son told us about a patch of mushrooms near a small village on the way back. We jumped out of the car, crossed a little river, and walked past what smelled like a massive pile of zebu poop. A man was thigh deep in it scooping some of it into a bucket. Although she was speaking in Malagasy, Tahina asked what this man was doing and why he was doing it, she had the same look on her face that I did. A bit gross, but hey I guess it’s fertilizer. Just past this zebu poop pool was a pile of corn husks and stalks from the harvest in November, and growing out of this mound was dozens of big, beautiful, Volvariella (pink spored Agarics). Some of the locals eat them, though we were not feeling adventurous enough to do that ourselves, it was nice knowing this cycle of decomposing, growing and eating was happening. It’s a lovely cycle!

We dropped off Sabotsy and his son, and drove back to Andasibe where he had dinner. This town is situated on a major road that goes from Tana to the east. Most of the vehicles on this narrow two-lane road were huge trucks, some with beer, some with mountains of green bananas from the south, some with bags of grass/hay for livestock. These ten-wheeled  trucks are considered monsters by the locals. Different trucks have different names, but all the names represent some sort of terrifying creature. As we ate dinner by the road, the sounds of them driving at top speed down this winding mountain road, at night, made us a little on edge...maybe a lot on edge! More on this deadly road later.

We made it back to hotel and got straight to work, we know how much time we need to process all of our specimen, and so we were diligent, moving at a steady pace until we were done. Sleep feels so good.

February 3, 2014

January 23-24: A long trip to Tana and preparing for Andasibe

We packed like sloths. We were silly, a little grumpy, and fuzzy. For me, when I don’t sleep it feels like I'm dreaming: light, airy, but fleeting. We managed to get all of our stuff together, dry our specimen, and eat something before leaving Ranomafana around late morning. We decided to take the backseat of the Toyota, or back benches I should say. We thought we might be able to sleep through the ride. We could not have known how different the pothole-ridden road feels from the front seat of the car to the back benches. It was so bumpy and uncomfortable, but we have seven hours to hold on and hope we could close our eyes for a little. We would take turns falling asleep here and there, but no real sleep was promised until that night. The day dragged on, and when we thought we had made some progress it seemed we still had so much more trip to go. It was much different from the magical journey to RMP. We did have fun though. We ate lunch at a hotely in a small town, and we were the last ones to eat lunch. The staff didn’t see us in the corner of the restaurant, and started to blast the music to attract more customers. Emile wobbled around the corner and said in Malagasy “Um, did you forget we are here?” It was funny. There were many moments like that.

The highlight of the day was souvenir shopping at a crafts shop along the road. Rocky informed us that this place was the origin of many cool craftsman artwork from this area.  We got to watch a little demonstration on how they make these gorgeous panels of inlaid wood of a variety of colors. They stain different types of wood in mud for a month to get a range of colors including yellow, grey, green, brown, red, and white. They then cut our patterns or designs from thin slices of this wood and inlay them in bigger board, creating this mosaic panel that is just exquisite. I had to indulge my artistic side and get some things to take home.

Before heading into the car, we managed to get some famous wild silk scarves. Finally we hopped back into the car, and I realized that sleep depravation and shopping is a dangerous combination. The rest of the ride was long, and I kept getting these strange waves of nausea, but finally, around 11:30pm we drove up to the biodiversity center, and I was so happy to lay down my aching body in my soft bed in the dorm room here. Sleep came all too quickly and I drifted off into my malaria medicine dreams once again.
...


I woke up in a daze, but thankful that I had got some sleep...finally. I knew I needed to do laundry today. My Peace Corps skills came drifting back into focus as I submerged our soiled clothes in OMO (laundry detergent) and cold water. I had washed my clothes by hand for two years in Morocco, and I knew exactly how to do it. There is nothing quite like the smell of laundry that has been line-dried by the wind and sun. I volunteered to do all the laundry, and I managed to finish by 3:00pm, just in time to catch some rays and prepare myself for another day trip tomorrow. We only took one day between field trips, and it was not enough for me. Though I am glad we are using our time here as efficiently as possible. We left again for Andasibe at 7:00am in the morning. Phew!

January 21-22: Field Day #2-3 Ranomafana National Park

Breakfast/brunch at the local hotely restaurant
We started our day the same, but just a little slower, slightly tired from the long night and big day of work ahead of us. This time we headed up out of the valley to reach a high altitude secondary forest just beyond the park entrance called Parcours Andranofady. Now that our first day was behind us, everyone seemed to have the hang of this mushroom collecting business. (Side note, I have decided to lump day two and three of RMP together because I didn’t take a single picture day three, so it wouldn’t be a very fun looking post. :P) We first made a stop to enjoy the waterfall that pouts into the park, the one we crossed the day before. It was beautiful. I love waterfalls, seemingly endless rushing of water, water makes me feel so alive, very present. There is constantly something going on during this trip, but I try to practice being present. It’s sometimes hard not to get lost in future, but I continue to remind myself to be here now in this moment, no matter how hot and sticky, because now is the best time to be alive. Little yogi tangent...onto the trail head!
Gorgeous morning views of the park waterfall

We quickly wandered into the forest. This time it was just Dada Paul, Emile, Danny and I. Rocky and Paul had to take care of some more official documents and couldn’t join, but it was nice having a smaller group. We were not too deep into the forest when we starting finding Marasmius. They are truly everywhere here, they love this climate, it is just a matter of finding them in a place we have access to, but it has not been too challenging at all. Once I find a nice collection, I take down size and color, because those are the two characteristics that fade as it dries up. We collect the mushrooms in tackle boxes, and I tuck them in with a small bed of moss to keep them moist. I name each collection with a number and a fun nickname like ‘cream puff’ to keep track of them. Dada Paul helps me identify the substrate, his help is invaluable. Everything was much smoother today. We knew what we were looking for and we knew exactly what we wanted to do. We came, we foraged, we photographed, we conquered!

Danny working in the field in the thick of the forest, so green
A tactic we started to adopt on this day, but that we fully adopted day three was to make a little base camp where I would have all my note-taking things, and everyone, including myself would scour the forest floor in all directions looking for Marasmius. Then we would put all of our findings on a mat, and I would organize them. In the beginning, this method was quite chaotic, people were bringing me mushrooms left and right and I could barely wrap my head around them, but eventually we all synced up and we created a nice pace of finding, organizing, identifying substrate, finding, organizing, identifying substrate, until we had a good enough collection. Because my little mushrooms are so small, finding a few doesn’t mean I have a good collection. It is really important that I find many of the same species so that I will have plenty of tissue to work with when I conduct DNA analysis back at SFSU. Sometimes we will find a super cool  loner mushroom, and it is so sad to have to reject it since there is not enough material for good work and good descriptions, but hey that’s science for you! We need to be as comprehensive and accurate as possible. 

Danny is the official photographer. All the photos are in editing, but you will get to see them later. They are incredible. Go Danny!

Day three we went back to the park entrance and hiked to a higher elevation to reach the primary forest. We collected the most fungi the final day, and it was also the hottest day. We were all moving slowly, but surely. We found a lot very quickly and spent the remainder of the day hiking around. We even ran into some lemurs (Aapalemur giseus), and we happened upon some rare lemurs that are difficult to see (Hapalemur aureus)! I felt so fortunate and lucky, and it was a wonderful day in the field with a lot of work ahead of us.

After three days of collecting, Danny and I had a lot of work to do before leaving for Tana again. We gave a heartfelt goodbye to Dada Paul and tried to start our work. The weather was not on our side though, and one of the most beautiful lightning storms came and hovered over us for a while. As Danny puts it “the sky was falling”! The power went out and without power there was very little we could get done in the pitch black forest with our little headlights, so we decided to wait it out, and just sit back and enjoy the best light show I have ever had in my life, and I have had my fair share of light shows ;). The sky lit up in different colors with different intensities of light. Pink was the most intense, when there was a bolt of lightning, the yellow, blue and green tones to the lightning came from lightning behind the clouds and muddled with the thickness of the storm. It was pouring rain so hard that just the back-splash of water from the ground would soak you. Danny and I cracked open some beers and toasted the storm of a lifetime. The light would ignite the entire landscape making it look like midday for just a second. Truly magical experience, and a nice break from our work.

Eventually, the thunder began to fade and the lightning became a calm flickering, and we decided we just need to work with headlamps and flashlights. Eventually the power came back on so we could use our working light and our dehydrator, but our bungalow light had blown out. It was still sweltering hot, so all the windows were open, and the insects just loved the light, and our legs! We were getting eaten alive, and no matter how much bug spray we used, they just kept coming. I saw some of the most crazy insects I’ve ever seen, and I ducked it out with a camel spider and scorpions! There were cicadas the size of my iPhone flying into my head! A huge black pray-mantis-like insect, and when I mean huge I mean it would be uncomfortable inside my Nalgene, lingered around the table. In local folk lore a giant black pray-mantis is magical and brings you god luck...I’ll take it, thank you!
We continued working tirelessly through the night in the light of our lamps. I kept telling Danny not to tell me what time it was. I knew it was late, but I figured if I didn’t know what time it was then when I went to sleep and woke up I wouldn’t know how little I slept. The sleep deprivation from working three nights like this, started to make us a little silly, and we started laughing at the slightest comment.

Happy little Marasmius family
At one point, while Danny was having a cigarette break, I lit a candle thinking that I needed more light, and as I am leaning into the light to examine some lamellae through my hand lens something happens. Thank God Danny walks in right at this moment, because my hair was on fire! I had leaned my messy bun right into the flame, and it just ignited. Danny, almost too casually (his version of sleep deprivation goofiness), puts his hand on my shoulder and pulls me back from the flame. I look up at him, barely registering what happened, but knowing full well that horrible smell, and I said “Did my hair just catch on fire”, “yup” he replies with a similar nonchalant-ness as before. We break out in a weird sort of laugh whimper. I finish my work, and start cleaning up the room a little, but I still plan on sleeping soon. Remember I have no idea what time it is. At one point, I look up and the sky is a light grey blue. What? No! Did we just pull an all-nighter? I am shocked, but get over it pretty quickly. We have a long day of travel ahead of us, and I need to get my wits in order. We toss everything on the dehydrator and hope by the time we are ready to leave that everything is dry. Good thing Marasmius dries quickly! Wow...what a day, what a night, what a trip! Now we leave for the biodiversity center, and a crazy day of travel.
Marasmius sp.