"We" being those of us who work in the Amazon chasing monkeys. Of course, we don't think so. We think it's perfectly normal to get up before dawn, put on heavy long pants, long sleeves, hats and boots in 100% humidity and up to mid-90 degrees and go slogging through various habitats, covered in biting insects and mud.
And rain. Pouring-so-insane-you-have-no-idea rain. Sometimes we have to swim across channels in all of our clothes with all of our gear. And plus more biting insects. All perfectly normal. I have told everyone on Houseboat Amazon to look at everything twice -- something my grandmother used to say to me when I would go off and travel. What she meant was, "Look at it once for you and once for me." "That way," she rationalized, "I can hear your stories and feel like I was with you."
The directive here is about surveys. I changed it to, "If you don't look - you won't see." I look at all kinds of things that are not animals: dead leaves, wind-wiggling leaves, far-away dark spots on branches, and lots of termite, ant, wasp, and bee nests. I also see lots of stuff that we are meant to see like monkeys and other animals, but I don't feel foolish looking around through my binoculars because sometimes I see things I might not have if I were not looking as intensely. (besides, just two days ago I discovered that bats use old termite nests as roosts to sleep during the day!)
I realized that all of the fun and amazing photos we send of the boat and forest don't describe a normal day for us. The "how" behind the things we are seeing. There are a lot of variations on "surviving" we must do--both in our daily lives on the houseboat and in the forest or on the rivers. Remember: All of this is normal for us, but even so, we definitely notice the insects, rain, fatigue, food -- especially since we are getting lower and lower on supplies, living conditions and working conditions. And insects.
And we still get up each day and go for it (unless the day comes with pouring rain and then it's Life of Pi. I'm the tiger.) We all have variations on this workday, but it goes something like this: The night before we do surveys, Alessandro and Ivan go into the community where we have parked (intentionally or opportunistically, depending on the river and survey needs) and speak with potential guides -- local men who know the area. Often this is done on a moving day when we have sailed the barcos from one village to the next as part of the general methodology to survey as much different habitat as we can (if you have real interest in this, our publications are starting to be submitted--soon you will be able to use Google Scholar to search "Houseboat Amazon" science papers!).
Once we know how many possible trails, igarapés, or várzea/igapó there are, how many guides are available, and how many small canoes they have if needed -- THEN we make a plan for the next few survey days. We try to do five surveys a day in a combination of flooded or unflooded forest (small canoe or walking), terra firme (hiking) igarapé (large canoe). The "real adventure" part of our day isn't simply that we are working in the Amazon. It is that we are facing trails and areas we have never seen previously, meaning -- we are surveying in novel areas that have surprises for us all day long. We regularly face too small and too fragile tree "bridges" that are slippery, high off the ground, expand a long distance over streams, and/or are half rotten and break or large fallen trees. We have to carry canoes over in an igarape or constant showers of ants and spiders in our faces and hair in varzea when the guide makes a choice to go through a tight spot in the flooded forest. All the while taking notes, photos, and observing the creatures around us. So many adventures in a package that is entirely adventure!
On a hike day, I get out slightly different clothes and gear than I would for a boat day. Even igarapé days are different than várzea/igapó days. The size of the canoe makes a difference in how I manage my gear and data collection. For a hike in all kinds of habitats, I need a backpack. I used to carry my normal field pack with a poncho and large plastic bags and an umbrella (Sim! In rainforest! It works perfectly for a downpour if standing still).
But with the business of having to swim or wade across streams, go down igarapés or through small igapó to get to a trail -- I have been using a dry bag backpack instead. It's easier in some ways and more of a pain in others. It's easier because it can withstand a downpour. It's harder because if I need anything, the item swims around in a single compartment making it impossible to get anything out of it quickly.
In every habitat I carry: my notebook and pencil and pens (in case the pen fails or gets wet, I have a pencil), GPS, extra batteries for GPS, camera, extra battery and card for camera, GoPro, and binocular. I carry a compass in one pocket for triangulation of primates. Depending on the habitat, I carry different things: in terra firme I have a knife, sometimes a machete, a water filter in case I run out in my Camelbak, a torch in case we come back late, insect repellent, lunch (unless the guide or someone else carries it), and in my pocket a ziplock with wipe cloths for the camera lens; walking in the forest makes the lens fog up from my body heat alone.
On boat days I add sun cream, sunglasses, and earplugs because the small motors are so intensely loud.