Every day at a research camp is identical and no two day are the same. The routine is mesmerizing and it is impossible to escape the rhythm of the routine.
The sun gently rises into a canopy of mist which hangs over the river for the early morning hours. The generator begins to whir and the natural light is soon accompanied by lit bulbs. Plentiful river water is used to wash down the bathroom floors and whisk bugs away, back into nature, to leave a clean floor for a brief and welcome moment. The cooks wash up and begin to prepare the morning meal.
Breakfast includes local cereals- corn flakes, muesli and choco-pops. Toast, jam and peanut butter are available and prepared food includes noodles, fried eggs and sometimes a tofu dish or rice as well. The kitchen was recently expanded, though it is difficult to understand how the cement sets In the near 100% humidity environment. The low-tech room includes a refrigerator, 4 gas burners and a pantry shelf. Even with this simple setup our 3 meals and afternoon tea seem to be prepared with ease. Water is boiled daily and filtered to provide the camp with plenty of hydrant for the hot muggy days.
The camp has access to plenty of water from the local flowing river. It provides water for the toilets, showers and sinks. All of the run off returns to the river so everyone is mindful about what they release back into nature. Rain water collects in a large cistern for the showers, and the first bather after a day in the jungle may even enjoy the treat of a sun-kissed lukewarm shower.
Following breakfast, accompanied by strong coffee or Sabah tea, we join as a group to stretch. It is a welcome release to untie our tight bodies before heading into the forest. We take deep breaths while we still have fairly fresh air to inhale and do a final gear check.
We alternate projects in groups of 3 or 4. Data collection usually includes measuring trees, collecting soil samples or assessing light. The trick to successfully interviewing nature is to avoid the ever present leech. It is important to notice the jumpers on your work mates as well. Team work is essential in the jungle to avoid excessive blood loss. It is much easier to flick the suckers away before they attach and leave a small hole that later itches while it heals. Heat seeking leeches actually look more like brown inchworms as they look for their prey. However annoying they may be, they are a sign of a forest with healthy biodiversity, and after filling with blood will not bite for another 6 months, so the brief encounters have a variety of endings. A recently landed leech may be spotted and flicked away. A sticky leech can be rolled into a ball and flung back into the woods (or tied into a knot by a playful researcher) or it may attach, suck blood with the help of the injection of an anti-coagulant, and once full, drop off unnoticed, save the blood stained shirt it leaves in its wake.
A boxed lunch is usually enjoyed in the field. It is a special treat when a break can take place by the river instead of in the leech-infested jungle. The river often provides some relief from the Olympic style leech long jump simply due to fewer leaf launching pads. Lunch is followed by some additional data collection and leech flicking before we return to camp and wash ourselves and our clothes in the river or enjoy a cool shower.
Sometimes there is some data entry or dirt activity before tea, and a lucky person can sneak in a little rest or reading. Tea is the best meal of the day. It may consist of donuts, fried bananas or green bean spring rolls. There is always something sweet and likely fried as the afternoon snack.
At 4:30 the generator is give a well-deserved rest. The shuttle-cock is not. The research assistants convene up at the newly expanded badminton court that is strategically placed between huge light experiment boxes that block what little wind blows through Malua. They jump, grunt and whack in a highly competitive manner in high end sneakers using top of the line rackets. The sport is taken seriously and when the electricity resumes, the battlefield lies in rest until the next day.
Dinner is served at 7 and always includes rice, with a variety of accompanying dishes- beef, chicken, fish, tofu and fruit for dessert. Around the table we share the trials of the day, connect with our fellow researchers and sometimes a local host story emerges.
Prior to settling down under our mosquito nets for the night, we enjoy a lecture about deforestation or biodiversity or perhaps a film. It is usually an early night for the clan and soon after the lights go out the whir of the generators and comfort of the fans stop for the night. The cicadas and frogs provide a soundtrack for sleep and the mist settles back down over the river.