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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Further Great Times at the Lodge

Baby Cranberry
More babies!
Hanging with Isaac
Last night, we got invited to the Simien Lodge to spend the evening with the BBC film crew! It was such a fun evening. It started out with an invitation to come to their tech room and watch some of the footage they have been taking for their 3D movie. It took a while to get all the equipment up and running properly (the electricity kept cutting in and out), but once it did, AMAZING! They have some truly astonishing footage, and the 3D filming and glasses really make it feel like you are standing right there on the hillside with the monkeys. The movie is going to be SO cool! They are filming in 18 other locations in Africa, so I’m sure the footage they take elsewhere will be equally incredible. It was so special to get to see the raw film before it had been edited or compiled or anything. I really felt like I was behind the scenes and part of the production! The film crew was all so nice too. They invited us to dinner afterwards, and we got a chance to chat with them about the filming progress and the other shoots they have been on. It was quite a star-studded cast – the various people working up here at the moment have worked on Lord of the Rings, The Last Samurai, movies with Martin Scorsese, Human Planet, Life, Planet Earth, and all sorts of other things (including the California farmer commercials!). Some of the world’s most famous wildlife filmmakers were sitting there eating soup and bread with us! It was seriously a dream come true. They were very generous with their time and their stories, and it was very neat to hear about how they had all gotten into the field. The producer of the movie even told me that I was a really good public speaker – so gratifying coming from someone who has done so much! It’s been such an amazing experience working next to them in the field. They are so respectful of our data collection needs, and are always asking our advice about where to set up their equipment so that they can get the best shots. It will be amazing to see the film when it is all finished, and to be able to say “I was there! Right there out of the shot while they were filming it!” It will also be very cool to see my monkeys in 3D on the big screen. The movie isn’t due out until December 2013, so there will be quite a while waiting in gleeful anticipation…..

What else? Data collection has been coming along fairly smoothly. The first half of this week was awesome – I got at least one (and in many cases two) focal observations on all the individuals in four of my six units! I also collected quite a few fecal samples – always good! The other two units in my study have been MIA for the last week. Very frustrating – we do a lot of driving around trying to find them, but they seem to be hiding! Hopefully they will be back tomorrow or early next week. Today was particularly irritating, as we couldn’t find ANY of my monkeys! I’ve got six units, each with an average of seven kids and about the same number of adults. You would think that we could find SOME of those geladas, but no – not a single group was at any of the usual places (or even the unusual places!) today! Fingers crossed that tomorrow is more successful. It’s very frustrating to not be able to get any work done at all.

Since there were no monkeys to be found, I spent a few hours reading my book down at the lookout behind our house. It was amazingly clear today, and the view was exceptional! The combination of yellow flowers, green grass, and agricultural fields made for a very beautiful patchwork of colors down below our lookout. I could hear geladas fighting but didn’t see any from where I was sitting. It was nice to get to be outside relaxing while the weather was nice! Usually we spend that time working and arriving home just in time for the cold and cloudy afternoons. I might go out on Sunday to make up for not getting any data today – it will depend on how tomorrow goes, I guess! Hopefully some of my units come back to their normal haunts.

Aside from data collection and our fun times at the lodge, not too much is going on. We are all chugging along with work and play. We are headed down to Gondar and Bahir Dar in a couple of weeks to mail our hormone samples back to America, to celebrate Halloween with ourselves, and to generally relax for a few days. It should be really nice – a chance to use the internet and call home, in addition to just getting out of the mountains for a little while! Also good to have a bit of vacation.
Ali and me in our UC Davis WFCB (Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Bio) shirts

Two funny stories from our assistants. This morning, we asked Esheti and Ambaye when their birthdays were. Ambaye said "January 21st". Esheti just looked confused. So we tried to be very explicit and said "on what day of the year were you born?" He thinks about it for a moment and goes "Wednesday!" then a pause... then "1982" (which is 1990 our time). Eventually he decided he was born on a Wednesday in June, possibly the 12th, but he wasn't sure. very funny! Also when we were at the lodge last night, the two of them and our scout stayed with us. They were in the dorm room next to us, which had two bunk beds. The three of them went in there and then it was verrrry quiet. We went in to see if they were okay, and Esheti said "There is a problem! Only two beds." Apparently they had never seen a bunk bed before and didn't realize that you could sleep on the top bunk too! :) very funny. In the end, Ambaye slept on the top bunk and did very well - he didn't fall off during the night, which was a serious concern!

Hope all is well back in America and wherever else you are! If you feel like sending me a letter, I'd love to hear from any of you (and send pictures of what you're up to nowadays!)! Getting mail is one of the most exciting parts about our weekly town trip. I think airmail stamps are only 78 or 98 cents - and it would make me so happy! :) My address is:
Caitlin Barale c/o Shifarew Asrat
P.O. Box 18
Simien Mountains National Park
Debark, North Gondar


  1. Cool pictures! If you send Caitlin mail, she would be SO excited if you put a dry soup or sauce packet in with your letter :-)

  2. Hello Julie, Caitlin, and Ali! Thanks for the blog post shout out! Hope things are going well in the Simiens. We are back home and gearing up for the next African adventure. Best of luck on the rest of your trip.