segunda-feira, 23 de abril de 2012

On the move!

I just put my butt in a bench at the airport. Today is April 21st and I will be moving back to Terceira for 1 month. Because my check-in is scheduled for something like 7:30 I decided to come some hours earlier by bus instead of asking someone a ride to take me to the airport at an insanely awful hour tomorrow.
Well, I will have plenty of time to type some news…

On the 3rd of April I went back to Madeira. The second expedition to the Deserta Grande was scheduled some months before and there I was, with Pedro, who travelled all the way back from Terceira in the Azores. After doing a slideshow presentation about the project and the needed shopping on the 4th, we were very sad to know that our trip to Desertas was postponed for 2 extra days, because that was arranged with a tourism boat for the 5th and it happened that there weren’t enough tourists to make the boat trip to Deserta Grande, so we would only go in the 7th. We took the chance given by a friend to grab a car on the 6th and to hike in a sunny and warm day in the highest summits of the island. We got to Pico do Areeiro with a combat meal in our backpacks and ready for a pleasant hike through the breathtaking rugged landscape that exists in this part of the island. The worst thing was the crowd, but well… it’s Madeira, there will be tourists everywhere. A funny thing: just in the beginning of the trail, 2 guys dressed up (and looking) like two natives from the Andes were selling random items and had one of those musical pieces that you can only find in obscure radios around midnight… Well, I’m not sure if they got mistaken in their flights, here it’s not the Andes. The hike was pleasant, of course. As usual, Pedro took some photos in the trail and me, well, you guessed: I looked for some interesting spiders. I caught mostly linyphiids, and I hope to look at these guys this upcoming week at Terceira. Sadly, the trail was far more beautiful about 3 or 4 years ago, before the huge fire that consumed a great deal of forest in the central area of the island. You still see the dead trunks of Erica. We got to Pico Ruivo, the highest summit of Madeira, around lunch time, and headed back through separate ways (at a point the main trail branches out in two separate trails until these secondary trails meet again later on).
Later, we stopped by Paúl da Serra so I could try to turn over some rocks, and sadly, the diversity was very poor, there was only Drassodes lapidosus and Haplodrassus dalmatensis, along with juveniles of Zelotes, most likely Z. aeneus. We had a good warm up for the trip to Deserta Grande on the next day.

It was raining on the 7th. We feared that this might scare off the tourists and be stranded in Funchal again, but apparently they showed up and we were off. Instead of a straight line toward Deserta Grande, the trip took a detour North of Ilhéu Chão to spot dolphins, and a large band was spotted, with maybe over 100 dolphins. It was a nice moment. The trip took place under cloudy weather, sometimes with some light rain, and a calm sea. When we got to our destination, we and Isamberto Silva rapidly joined with the rest of the bunch that was already there, 2 helpful guards of the Madeira Natural Park, 1 underwater photographer and 1 young man, who was doing some voluntary work in the Reserve.
In the first day we didn’t climb the Vereda, the steep rock stairway that leads up to Deserta Grande, but we rapidly glimpsed through a different landscape than the one we found last year. It was all yellow, the drought and the frickin’ goats didn’t allow any plants to grow. The only green we could see was the Ficus carica at the Doca that had only its highest leaves present, but if an abnormally long-necked goat shows up I guess this piece of green will go too. Indeed, these goats are vicious eaters of anything green that grows in Deserta, endemic or not. Who knows how many endemic arthropods connected to endemic flora have gone extinct by now… While last year the goats ran from us at first sight, this year they were actually found mostly around the house at the Doca.

The following day, the 8th, was to go directly to the Vale da Castanheira, to start our Hogna transect. As no night sampling would be done, we didn’t need to spend the night at “Hotel” Castanheira, which was a good thing, but also, physically demanding because we went there and back at the Doca, all in the same day, and before nightfall, to avoid the dangerous pieces of trail in Risco. We did half of the transect. We would have to come back. Like in the last year, we found the greatest density of Hogna ingens in the northernmost point of the valley, but it was not so easy to spot Hognas this year, because the drought created many crevices and fissures in the land and small animals like spiders and insects take their refuge deeper in the ground. We also found some potentially interesting novelties, like Mesiotelus and Xysticus/Ozyptila (need to check them this week). This was a sunny day. The return hike was done swiftly, with few stops. We reached the Doca just before dinner time.

In the 9th, I went up the Vereda again, which was a somewhat bold thing to do, because our first serious hike was a Castanheira hike and leg muscles felt some sting, but this time I would climb slowly and only turn over some rocks at Eira, a site just at the top end of the Vereda. I spent the afternoon looking for some faunistic and taxonomic novelties and headed down at the end of the afternoon. A smooth ride on another sunny day (today I realized that, as usual, Sandra was right, and I should have brought some sun cream with me… oh well).

In the 10th we decided to hike back to Castanheira to finish the job. Weather forecast was rather pessimistic, with threats of rain, but we decided to hike up the Vereda and check the weather up there once we got there. It was fine, with only some non frightening clouds in the sky. We went early in the morning and reached Castanheira around 10:30, a very good timing. We finished the job in a good pace and had our combat meals. We started heading back from the valley at around 2pm, at a slower pace than 2 days ago, I wanted to stop at some spots to look for spiders this time. Isamberto found the so longed-for males of a supposed endemic species of Lathys, previously synonimized with a known species, and later on, a male Dysdera. As we were finished with hiking Vereda do Risco, Isamberto asked if we wanted to know the only freshwater spring of Desertas, the Poço da Fajã Grande, after pointing to a dangerous edge of a cliff saying “there’s the trail to go there”. Both Pedro and I were not sure if it was a good thing to embark in such a voyage, since the trail was not treated and the wall itself, to which we held to, was collapsing at some points. But we reached this quite strange feature of an otherwise barren island, you could figure that out (of course) because you are reading this. The prize of such a scary hike was a male of Dysdera, that has quite an interesting look, will it be the 5th single island endemic species of Dysdera in the Deserta Grande? The answer will be known in few days.

In the 11th, time to rest the body. Weather was not the best too. A lot of Sudoku puzzles were solved (or tried to be solved)… Time to write a postcard of the Desertas to Sandra, too.

On the 12th, we had time to do some ad-hoc sampling. I had one last goal to pursue, and this would be to find and collect males of a supposed new species of Hahnia. The plan was to go to the South Plateau, where the greater abundance of this species was caught in pitfall traps the past year. I started to climb early, but Pedro had already followed before me (his aim was to do some photography, though). As I reached the top, the clouds started condensing and coming south from Madeira charged with rain. About midway from Eira to the South Plateau I had no chance but to confront some reasonable rain. I remembered to take shelter at the East guard, a ruin of a watchpost reminiscent of World War II, and found myself in close contact with a muddy area full of clay. I slipped but didn’t break or twist anything, and neither did I fell from tall heights. I had clay all over me though… I found the watchpost, and Pedro was there. While I grumped about my bad luck and he made some fun of me, we waited until the weather improved. Around noon rain was gone but clouds were still in the air, passing by. I decided to go for it, if it rained again, I would hike back to the Doca, if not then I still had an whole afternoon to lift boulders. I got lucky this time. It didn’t rain again and weather gradually improved, by 15:00 bad clouds had gone and sun was shining. And I started to get on a good mood when I started finding the Hahnia I was looking for, but after a while I got a bit less happy when I realized that all specimens that I had caught were females or juveniles. Isamberto later joined me and he too, didn’t found males… :/ I hiked back to the Doca with a bitter taste. The 13th would be the last full day in Deserta Grande and hikes were limited because some tiding up was needed. I asked around and decided to go for it, once again.

Friday the 13th. I said to myself that this would be a lucky day as I left the house at the Doca. But when I reached the South Plateau and started looking for some specimens, I realized that not only I was finding less specimens than the previous day but they were – again – all females or juveniles. I explored the South end of the island a bit more, but eventually, before 17:00 my patiente ran out and I gave myself to defeat, also because my stamina was diminishing; I could barely lift large boulders and when I did, putting them back in the original place stopped being a priority. My back was aching, and so were my arms, and my legs. I was aching. Period. So I descended back through the Vereda one last time, wondering when I would be coming back and if I ever would see those frickin’ Hahnia males (I am now depending on Isamberto’s luck and expedition schedule).

On the 14th, the ship of the Portuguese Navy showed up on schedule, filled with the crew for the next stay (and this would be a large one since 2 different research teams were there, one for arthropods and another for land snails). Due to the drought and the fact that the water tank is almost empty, we had to transport water for bathing and cooking to the tank. This was done through carrying canisters of 20 or 30 litters. Doing this, after one week of intense hiking through steep ridges and lifting boulders, is not recommended. I had to, of course, for the sake of the community welfare.
This time, unlike last year, there were no picnics and Pedro and I climb aboard the ship as soon as we could. Also unlike last year, the sea was nice and the only boring fact about this trip was stopping half hour to watch the crew inspecting some boat stopped aside the Deserta.
As we were going away, we had a last look on the Deserta’s amazingly rugged landscape.
Back in Funchal, I couldn’t help to feel something strange, something like a “wow, what is this?” when I turned left on the water handle of the shower, and then a jet of hot water fell on my back. After one week of cold shower, this seemed like an exquisite treat of the gods. It reminds me of the fact that people that are grown with the modern conforts of human technology (as I am) are no longer the resilient hominids that dwelled in the African plains (hey, remember the humans of the animation picture Wall-E?)…

Anyways, resting day apart and the next day I met with Celina Pereira, who kindly and warmly received me at her place, because my flight would be on Monday afternoon and I needed to crash down somewhere. We dropped off Pedro after a pleasant lunch at a local fish restaurant and went to have a coffee and chat a bit about life, past present and future. Later in the day, I went to meet her brother, who offered me a cup of home made sugar cane honey liquor. It was sweeeet! At dinner, a pleasant time as well, when some friends stopped by to join us.

My departure from Madeira was not done without some unexpected event, because when I got to the airport I noticed that my flight had been cancelled. TAP offered me dinner because I would be leaving not at 18:00 but at 22:00. During dinner, I had the chance to meet an engineer who was forced to sit down at my table by the gruesome gents that were serving us dinner. It was an interesting chat, with someone from a world I neglected some years ago. He joined me after dinner as well, in a waiting moment before the boarding. It was good to have someone to talk to, especially because I was playing Sudoku puzzles from 15:00 to 19:30 and was in no mood for more. I told him I would write him an e-mail. I guess it’s not everyday you get to know someone that studies spiders and declined a degree that provides a big check in the end of the month in favour of one that provides small temporary grants that are enough to survive… The price of happiness? Maybe, maybe not. Future can only tell.

In Lisbon, I had my uncle Afonso waiting to pick me up. I would sleep at his place and head home on the 7:00. Not much rest this night, but it was not so hard to get up, because I had installed a good biorhythm during Desertas, going to bed at 23:00 and waking up around 7:00. I got home, dropped my backpack full of dirty clothes, had lunch, and moved to Coimbra, where I arranged with Sara Mendes to identify some specimens from her last project. I stayed at Sandra’s place, and was warmly received by the Videira family, as usual.
On the 18th I did identification of samples from 9:30 in the morning to 20:30. It was good to get back in touch with folks at the Coimbra lab and to see a couple of friends at Uni. The smell of buildings and the life at Coimbra is unique and sometimes I sensed some nostalgic moments from my time as a BsC student.
For the 19th I intended to finish the task at hand, and that was done at about 15:00. I took some time to view some of my own ad-hoc samples from my homeland, and then left to say “hello” to some folks. I got the chance to schedule dinner with some friends and a Magic tournament with Ludgero at the local Magic club. A good time. Ludgero won the event, which was nice. J I drove him home, and headed back to the Videira residence to get some rest. Next morning, I drove back home.

This post will be put online on April 22nd, and by this time I am back at Terceira for 1 month to finish the last subjects of my Masters course and some lab work regarding some new spider species from Azores.
This will be a busy month with lab work + courses + thesis to write in my mind…

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