1: Getting Ready for the Trip

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Luzon Island, Philippines
© L. Heaney
Jeepney

I've been in the midst of increasingly hectic preparations for the last few weeks. That includes wrapping up the course I've been teaching on Biogeography at the University of Chicago, advising on a new museum exhibit on Conservation, helping to get projects in the Division of Mammals on track while I'm gone, and actually getting ready for the trip.

I've been pulling together my camping gear and field clothes, notebooks, cameras, GPS units, plastic bags, nets, and traps, as well as applying for my visa, confirming airline tickets, and e-mailing people in the Philippines who will be joining the crew.

I've just gotten in touch by e-mail with Danny Balete, who a few days ago ended a nearly month-long survey of Saddle Peak, a small mountain in southern Luzon. Danny tells me that in over three weeks, they had rain every day, often hard enough to make the creeks rise by anywhere from three to seven feet in just a few hours. If this continues, it's going to be a tough year for field work (see the photo below showing dense fog on a previous trip).

On March 23rd (Easter Sunday), I'll need to get to the airport at about 8:30 AM for a noon flight. By the time I fly to Minneapolis, then to Japan, and then to Manila, I'll be on planes or in airports for at least 30 hours (the flight from Minneapolis to Japan will be 13-14 hours in the air). If the flight is on time (it's often a few hours late), I'll arrive in Manila at about 11 PM on Monday night.

Danny will meet me at the airport, and on Tuesday morning we'll begin the process of checking in with people at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Philippine National Museum. We'll also go to the office of the Conservation International-Philippines program, where we've stashed much of our field equipment, and get everything packed up.

From Manila we'll probably take a big "Greyhound" type of bus to Baguio—the largest city in the Central Cordillera—on an overnight trip (it takes about seven hours) on Wednesday evening. In Baguio, we'll check in with the regional DENR office and meet some of their staff who'll be joining us.

From Baguio we'll take a smaller bus north along the twisting mountain highway for about six hours to a town where we'll hire a jeepney (they look like brightly-painted, oversized World War II jeeps—see the photo above). It will take us on a muddy dirt road to the park headquarters—a couple of small buildings at the base of the mountain—for Mount Pulag National Park.

From there, we'll hire 25 to 30 local young men to work for us as porters, and then we'll begin walking uphill to the place where we'll build our first field camp. I can give you more details later, but I would guess that from the time we leave Manila to the first camp will take about four days. And this is a guess—with field work, nothing ever goes quite the way we plan it.

More soon (eventually),
Larry Heaney

© Liza Duya
Dense Fog