Pagan: 13 July 2010
At about 6:00am I went up and took down the malaise, pitfall, and pan traps from Transect 3 – I was back by about 7:45. At 9:00 we were scheduled, to leave on a boat for the south part of the island, which we had been told has the best native forest. There had been considerable discussion leading up to this excursion on the previous night. We debated exactly what we were going to do there. We were told that there was some native forest on the lower bench, but the best forest was on the upper plateau. However, climbing to the upper plateau was rumored not to be an easy task and entailed climbing a steep, almost vertical hill. Furthermore, Mike wanted to hike up to the middle volcano and descend down into the caldera where there was supposed to be native forest, which he named ‘The Lost World’, that no one had been able to get to yet on these surveys. Mike was very persistent about getting to the crater, so I volunteered to go with him into the volcano while Christa, Stephan, and Mike went to the upper plateau. The plan was to for each group to camp overnight, and then we would meet back on the next day near the boat landing. I was very worried about this and the others were also feeling apprehensive. Overall it just felt like it wasn’t planned out very well. The biggest concern for me was water and the heat. Last night, as we discussed the plan, we all seemed to be a little on edge. When the camp guys heard that I was going to hike the crater with Mike, they were very skeptical and didn’t think I would be able to make it. Needless to say I was worried and I packed as light as I could – the majority of the weight in my pack was water.
Still unsure of exactly what we were going to be doing, we packed up our gear, loaded into the boat, and began our journey to South Pagan. The ride down was beautiful – we saw a group of spinner dolphins and our Captain, Jess, stopped for a bit so we could check them out. Soon we were once again motoring down the coastline, and after about 20 minutes we arrived at the drop off point. There was no beach, so Jess had to pull up to a rocky outcropping where we all hopped off. Jess then tossed us our gear, wished us luck, and motored back up to North. It was a strange feeling seeing him leave and watching the boat slowly disappear, knowing that we were on our own until 5:00 pm the next day. On the way over we were able to size up the south volcano, and it was clear that we would need a much earlier start, and I would never survive the hike in the heat of the day. Getting all the camping gear to the upper plateau also looked like a very daunting task, so we decided that we would all set up camp together on the lower plateau. The new plan was to set up camp, then Mike, Justin, and I would hike to the good native on the upper plateau, and Stephan and Christa would set up the malaise trap down on the lower shelf. Then early in the morning Mike and I would hike the volcano while the rest of group sampled more of the forest on the upper plateau. Just around that time, another boat pulled up and dropped off our friend, CNN. He wanted to get some more video footage. He also wanted to go the lost world, so suddenly I was off the hook. It all seemed to work out very well. We scouted a good camp site and then set up our tents – unfortunately, the tent Mike and I set up didn’t have a fly, which meant it would probably rain that night.
After a filling lunch of MREs, my spicy chicken with penne was the bomb!, Mike, Justin, CNN, and I hiked to the upper plateau. It was the hottest part of the day, right around noon, and the hike up that steep, rocky hillside just about killed me. I thought at any moment I was going to spontaneously combust. Of course, my heat rash was also flaring like crazy, that didn’t help. Once we made it to the top, we did a little sweeping in the sword grass – it was so hot and I was so drained, all I could manage was a few sweeps. I thing I got a Chinese rose beetle and a few other little things. Just before I succumbed to heat exhaustion, we thankfully entered the patch of native forest that was supposed to be the best on the island. Sure enough, it was a very nice area of native forest – no coconut or ironwood was mixed in. Unfortunately, yellow crazy ant was once again a ubiquitous component of the landscape, so there was still an apparent dearth of insect fauna. One bright spot for me was that I found some interesting termites. They were in a very wet portion of a fallen tree. We also saw a decent sized monitor lizard. After a few hours we began the descent back down to the camp site. Mike and CNN went down a different way, but Justin and I opted for the same route we used coming up. Going down was not nearly as bad as coming up, and it was much cooler.
When Justin and I made it back to camp, we went down the water to soak a little bit. Jess had told us of a little hot spring near the landing area so we thought we would check it out. There was indeed a small swimming hole in the rocks that was barely separated from the ocean by rocks such that fresh water would come in and out with waves over the rocks. I jumped in, and it was a little warmer than I anticipated. I tried to dive down and open my eyes, but the water stung and it seemed the temperature became more hot the deeper I went, so I quickly abandoned the notion of exploring the depths. I could see reef fish swimming around down below, so it couldn’t have been too hot. Although, I couldn’t see the bottom, so that freaked me out a little bit. There must be a thermal vent or something heating the water down below. Soon I started to get paranoid that there was some man-eating critter waiting to drag me into the blackness (I know, I’m an idiot), so I hopped out there. It wasn’t really that refreshing anyway. I was able to lay on the smooth rock where the water passed over, and that felt pretty good. A little later I found a pretty good spot in the rocks on the ocean side where I was almost half in the water and I could brace myself against the waves. That spot was heaven. I think I sat there for about 1/2 hour. The flies didn’t seem as bad down there either so that was another bonus. Did I mention that the flies seemed to be twice as bad in South Pagan compared to main camp? Unfortunately I couldn’t stay down there forever, so I went back up to our little camp site for dinner.
Our evening meal consisted of another round of MREs. This time I was treated to chicken cavatelli, and I was again very pleased with my choice. Mike was entertaining all of us by reading the information on the MRE boxes, I can’t remember why it was so funny but he had us all laughing. It was starting to get dark and we were a little surprised at the number of roaches (Periplaneta americana) that suddenly showed up. They descended in droves down from the ironwoods. That brings up another thing we noticed that was a little curious – we didn’t see a single centipede in the South. This was surprising since they were so plentiful back at Main Camp in the North. However, I did see quite a few of the big cane spiders in the South. The roaches appeared to be very hungry since they attacked all of crumbs and leftovers. Mike was particularly disgusted with his MRE mashed potatoes, so he put a dollop on a log to see if the roaches would eat – much to our surprise, even the roaches passed on the mashed potatoes. What then followed were a series of experiments to see what MRE foods the roaches would eat. I think Mike got some good macro shots of roaches engorging themselves on all kinds of foods – I recall that we all got a particular kick out a roach that had buried it head in some orange powder drink mush.
Once we all tired of watching the roaches, we set up a couple of light traps to collect insects. We were going to take shifts and Mike and Stephan volunteered to go first. I went into the tent to lay down, which was a mistake because I crashed hard. I didn’t have a sleeping pad and I didn’t even take off my boots – I just laid face down on the floor of the tent and immediately fell asleep. The night was anything but peaceful, however. The first time I woke up, I was in the middle of the tent and Mike was huddled tightly against the far side – I felt a little guilty and moved back to my side. Then, as predicted it rained, so we both jumped out and managed to finagle a tarp over the tent to keep the rain out. Amazingly, even though the tent was wet inside, I still fell back asleep in no time at all. From that point on, my memories of the night are a little fuzzy…I remember once waking up with my face a few inches from Mike’s face, which was a little weird, and I remember waking up a couple of times and being completely disoriented and not knowing where I was for a few seconds, but that is about it.