Blog for 2009-07-17

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This day has turned out to be the first of many 'lasts' on this trip. After traveling from site to site for the better part of six weeks, our final day in the rainforest has finally come upon us. Despite the gravity of this fact, and the hesitance many of us feel about the possibility of returning to the 'real world', there was nothing truly different about the way we started the day. Some of us woke up at around 5AM in a ritual established the week prior, seeking a final chance to hear the cry of the gibbon (and perhaps follow it for a while) or trace the Bornean Pygmy Elephant.
A certain research team on the last day of data collection!
Others (myself included) 'slept in' until the oh-so-late and lazy time of 6:45 and rolled into breakfast yawning at 7, to looks of derision from those who had been awake for much longer.

Despite such playful combatance on our part (which had become something of a habit in its own right), a good deal of this day was exceptionally ordinary. Having been charged three days ago with data collection for our respective group projects, (another last, of three, mind you) this was our last chance to scrape up any notes on our widely distributed subjects, with the hopes that any points we gather will further our material toward some sort of interesting conclusion. For some groups, this led to a great deal of time spent within the conference room. To some it might appear to be an air-conditioned paradise, but for us, it had become a sign of the tough work that we will need to complete upon our return to Kota Kinabalu. The impending return of our teams to the R software draws closer each day, and with it, an interpretation for all of the data we have worked so hard to collect while at Maliau.

To break from the somewhat harried atmosphere of the projects condensing in the conference room, Cam presented us with the option of taking one final hike in the rainforest. At around 4:30 those that desired (those of us whose field observations did not take them far into the forest, primarily) passed beyond the mowed bounds of the Research Center and into the untamed wilds of Borneo a final time. While our terminal (or perhaps "ultimate" is a better word) hike was not necessarily representative of the "wild" ways of this island, as no large mammals were spotted, we took the chance to walk and listen to the forest on our way, taking in as much as humanly possible with what time we had left. Our path took us zigzagging through the strip of forest between the Research Center and the expansive Kuamut River that drains the Maliau Basin. Along our way, we passed by trees of genera with which we had become fond and familiar, of particular note, the fruiting group Ficus. One tree, estimated to be several hundred to a thousand years old, had become host to an epiphytic fig plant, and actually grown around the roots that had formerly lain at the surface of its bark. At our height, it was possible to see the strangled fig roots bursting out of the bark again near the base of the tree.
Taking a chance to relax in the river.
It was quite a sight! We finally wove our way down to the riverbank, at which point we took a chance to swim in the dark, yet shallow river. The leaves of countless trees fall into the river from the canopy above, and as they slowly decay in the riverbed, the chemicals produced by the trees to protect their leaves from insect attack leach into the water, yielding the dark color; a natural counterpart to the local Sabah Tea!

After our refreshing stop at the river, we returned to camp for a final dinner at the Research Center and a light discussion on the possible paths for a student in science after obtaining an undergraduate degree. As the dark crept in around us and the moths began to soar above, it was time to pack and prepare for our return to Kota Kinabalu early the next morning.