A Blog Around The Clock

Kevin sent three new reports. This is the first one. Next one tomorrow and the third on Monday. All exactly at noon!

Qianjiaping Report
(tian-jia-ping)

30 June

There were rumors that Dr. Li and Dr. Stanford and Emma were arriving later this afternoon. They were expected around 6:30pm. By the time 7pm rolled around and no one showed up. Vanessa and I decided to get some food at a new restaurant (what we are calling the Red Lantern Restaurant). The restaurant was one of the more scenic restaurants in town. You have to cross a bridge in order to get to it, and due to all the rain, the river underneath was a huge rapid. The interior of the restaurant is open and red lanterns are spotted everywhere. The food was great; they had the tempura plant leaves that Linsen said he didn’t think I would be able to find in Muyu. I asked Vanessa to write down the name of the dish – but have yet to remember it.

After dinner we started heading back but Vanessa wanted to stop by the grocery store to pick up some crackers – earlier in the day I had eaten all of her crackers (with peanut butter and some sort of cheese – it was an awesome change of pace). As we walked into the store, I hear behind me “you must be Kevin.” I turn to see a rather tall man – Dr. Stanford, far taller than I had imagined; 6’4″ or so. We made our introductions; he had not met Vanessa before either. He was going to the internet café across the street to check his mail.

When I got to Yuan Yuan, Hi Yin asked if I knew about Dr. Li, I said I didn’t so she took me up to his room. It was very nice seeing him again. He told me he brought the book from Beijing, Fauna Sinica, Vol. 3 Reptilia, Serpentes. I told him about the snake and how it was not in any of the books I had, nor could any of my friends ID it. I took the book and headed back to my room and poured through it. It did not have any color plates, but some of the species had drawings of the head and dorsal patterns. Things were looking good until I got to the genus Oligodon, nearly every snake I was seeing had a loreal scale and many supra-labials – but once I got to Oligodon, there was one snake there with a blunt face, 2 post oculars, 1 pre-ocular, no loreal, and 5 supra-labials. The dorsal pattern had the 4 stripes that my unknown “lineata” snake had. Oligodon ningshaanensis, a snake known from one county in Shaanxi Province to the northwest, discovered in 1983. The common name for Oligodon species is the kukri snake. They get the name because they have some rear teeth that are shaped like kukri knives (a blade from India, a sharp one… though I suppose most blades are sharp). The find was obviously a provincial record, but just when I started to get my hopes up on a new species, I find the snake. Some good and some bad I suppose (good in new provincial record, bad in not a new species).

1 July

Today we (Me, Dr. Li, Dr. Stanford, his wife and 3 children, Vanessa, Emma, and Mr. Yang) went to Dalongtan to see the monkeys. This was the first time I met Emma – a British student from England who has been all over the place working with primates in various countries and other adventures. She will be staying in Muyu for a year…

At Dalongtan I was able to get a few more nice shots. I took the Protobothrops from Pinqian to take some photos; released him there as well. I also released the pregnant Sphenomorphus. Craig (as he wants me to call him)’s son, Adam, is very interested in herps. He is only 9 (turning 10 in a few days) and has been on collecting trips with his dad in Guatemala, Belize, and now he’s been to China – talk about an early start. We had lunch at Dalongtan. Afterwards we headed up to Xiaolongtan. This was the location where I had the cucumber from the mountain stream, though when we were there before we didn’t really go on the hike. This time we did. The place was gorgeous. It had rained the day before and the stream that was a tiny trickle when I was there before was a large flowing stream. It made all the waterfall photos that much better.

After we left this area we swung by the Little Dragon Pool – that mini zoo I had been to earlier. Craig wanted to see the species of Macaques they had there. I went to see if they still had those dried snakes in the gift shop. They did. They had two species, and the best I can tell, one is Amphiesma octolineata – a new species for Hubei, and Oligodon ornatus – also a new species for Hubei. Both are very dried though and aside from faint striping, or a red and black checkerboard belly, they are pretty hard to describe. Also, I do not know if the snakes came from Shennongjia. I need to find out. I learned that those salamanders I had seen at the hotel back on that first week I was in Muyu came from out of town and were not found in Shennongjia. It is illegal for the locals to eat, kill, or harm the local wildlife. Part of their “contract” for living in Shennongjia is that they have to preserve the wildlife, anyone found in conflict of this could be seriously fined or put in jail, so since these snakes are being sold at a high “traffic” area, I kind of doubt they came from the reserve.

That night we ate at the same lantern location across the river that Vanessa and I ate at before, the dinner was superb. We had the tempura leaves, two dishes of egg and tomatoes, one “spicy” chicken dish which was incredible, though not very spicy, and another non-spicy chicken dish for Craig’s kids.

The original plan for the next day (Sunday) was that everyone was going to go up to Qianjiaping, but because there were so many of us, we were running low on tents and sleeping bags. So I had said I would stay in Muyu for Sunday, and come Monday when Craig’s family had to leave, I would go up. Qianjiaping is the most protected spot in Shennongjia and so Craig’s family was only able to stay for one night. Under the original plan, this was going to be the single location I was going to sample for the entire summer, and this is also the location where Craig was the first foreigner allowed access to the property. The location is highly protected because of a military installation somewhere in the vicinity.

Since this was Emma’s first trip up there so had massive amounts of gear; she made a semi-jokingly comment of how I could be a porter and help her carry some stuff to the campsite and then just hike back down. Of course I took this kind of seriously and didn’t really mind doing this. It would at least get me in the field. Dr. Li and Craig jumped at the idea and the next 15-20 mins or so were debates on changing the plans in order to try and fit me into the equation somehow. So the newest plan was that I would come along tomorrow, help take some Emma’s gear up to the top camp, hike back down to the lower camp where I’d spend the night, and then the next morning I could hike up to the upper camp and stay there for a few days. My plan was just to stay as long as Dr. Li and Craig were staying.

2 July

Luckily the plan wasn’t to leave around 8am. We finally got all the gear loaded by 11am and hit the road. We had to stop by one location to pick up some extra sleeping bags. As for my gear, I had the laptop, camera bag, and backpack – finally full of gear (I had previously unloaded it because I didn’t need so much stuff since we were never camping).

The drive up to the ranger station (lower camp) was pretty long and extremely bumpy, about 40 mins or so by car. The station did not have any electricity. Tiger lilies were all over and the station had at least 50 bee hives. Emma dropped off some of her equipment in the lower camp; the remaining equipment was to come up with us. One difference from the previous year when Craig was here was the number of officers in the lower camp. He said the year before the place was deserted. Well this year there were several officers in the camp, so Dr. Li arranged for about 4-5 porters to help carry the gear. I had left my big pack in the lower camp since it had all my toiletry items, etc, etc in it. My sleeping bag was separated from the pack at the moment. All I had to take up was my camera bag. The day was misty and overcast. When we arrived we met up with Xue. He said it had been raining for the past three days.

We hit the trail around 1pm. The hike up was gorgeous. Portions were composed of a dwarf species of bamboo that reminds me very much of canebrake. Occasionally you would cross areas where the river or a small waterfall could be seen. Many parts were very steep and muddy. There was one portion where we had to walk up a small portion of a stream. The top tips of rocks were dry and you could barely manage to make it without your boots getting wet. Adam and I eventually took the lead. The habitat eventually started opening up to a gorgeous meadow. Pines were becoming more frequent. Through the trees a striped tarp could be seen, this was the camp. It had taken us something like an hour and 10 mins to hike up. The camp was really cool. There was a stone and mud oven/stove. A table, three benches, and a cooking table had been constructed many years ago. The ground had been lowered and flattened in some locations. It was about this time that I found out the porter’s carried my backpack up with all the other gear. We rested for awhile. I broke out the cards to show Adam and his sisters the same ol’ tricks. In return, Craig’s kids taught me how to play Gin. I had hoped to stay for dinner. I was enjoying all the English conversations and company, but Linsen said we should leave around 4pm because it got dark early and we had to make it down in time for dinner. So we departed. I left my camera bag since I knew I would be back in the morning, the only thing I took down was a single snake bag and my GPS.

The hike down took only 30 mins. When we arrived at the ranger station I started writing and looking up GPS points on the laptop in Google Earth. Mr. Li, one of the men that would be assisting Emma for the year in trying to locate the Golden Monkeys, walked in and I started showing him pictures of snakes, asking if he had seen any. I lingered on Protobothrops (Jerdon’s Viper) and Pseudoxenodon (the “false cobra”), but he didn’t make any comments. When I got to Trimeresurus he started pointing and said he had seen one the day before. Trimeresurus is a stunningly beautiful emerald tree viper with a white and red lateral line. They are supposed to be relatively harmless and I had yet to see one. Luckily Linsen was there. I made sure he wasn’t mistaking the tree viper with Cyclophiops major, the bright green snake we had seen in Xiagu and Dongxi, and really the only suspect that could be mistaken for Trimeresurus. He insisted it was the venomous variety. He asked if we wanted to walk up the trail to where he had seen it the day before to see if it was still there. Of course you know my response.

The site where he had seen the snake was further than I thought. Since the snake was seen the other day I didn’t bring anything with me other than the GPS, so I could at least record the location. I was walking behind Mr. Li and all of a sudden he jumps way back and basically runs into me. I look around, in front of him and asked if he saw a snake. He did not; he had stepped on a long branch. The portion of the branch that was in the long grass did look kind of like the body of a snake, and when he stepped on the portion that was in the trail the branch made a slight movement, obviously catching his attention and he thought it was a snake. Mr. Li was obviously very afraid of snakes. We continued along, then the snake thing happens and he points off the trail just a bit. I see some movement in the long grass and see a hint of a familiar green and red pattern. It was another Protobothrops jerdonii. This individual was gorgeous, easily the prettiest one I’d seen. I quickly pinned the snake, and standing there I realized and regretted not bringing any bags. I turned my GPS on with one hand and took the coordinates. Mr. Li said the place where he had seen the snake from before was still up just a little ways on the trail, so we continued on. This was the snake he had seen. The bright green is where the mistaken ID came from. We literally walked one minute longer before seeing another snake moving through the grass. With the viper in one hand I dove for the other. I had immediately recognized it as Pseudoxenodon. After I grabbed it and told Linsen that it was “mei yo du,” he recognized my situation and said he would carry the nonvenomous one back, though he felt the need to pin it…

This is the beginning of a long tangent; ok, so my philosophy on pinning nonvenomous snakes is that I am basically completely against it, especially, small nonvenomous. There are several reasons why it is very rare for me to pin a nonvenomous snake, or restrain it by the head. The foremost concern is the animal’s safety. Almost every animal on earth protects its head above all else – primarily vertebrates. This is because if the head (which contains the brain) is seriously damaged, in most cases that means it is the end right there. As a result, many animals will “freak out” when you try to restrain them by the head, and with a lengthy body, if you do not hold the snake properly, the momentum it can build up from flailing around can lead to some serious damage, if not death (from snapping its neck). Additionally, holding the animal by the head causes far more stress than if you held the animal elsewhere. It is more stressful for the reasoning mentioned above – they are more protective over their head.

I have picked up many defensive species, which commonly give repetitive bites, at mid-body without causing the animal any notable stress (no flailing or thrashing of the body), and am able to bag or re-release the snake without receiving a bite. However, in experience of picking up this species closer to the head I would almost always receive bites, or if I picked it up by the head and then had to release the head for whatever purpose (photography, or bagging, or releasing). Also if you are trying to photograph an animal, you want it the least bit agitated, and if grabbing it mid-body, as opposed to behind the head results in a calmer animal, then by all means I should be handling it at mid-body.

The final reason is sympathy; basically, I feel I deserve to get bit. I am taking the animal out of its natural habitat, stressing the hell out of it, if the places were reversed, I would want to defend myself – even if I couldn’t inflict enough damage to make a difference, I know I wouldn’t want to be restrained. And the animal is nonvenomous, so what’s the worst that can happen?? This is what I tell almost anyone new to herping, or anyone that is afraid to get bit. Many people claim that they are not so afraid of the pain, just that they naturally jerk back when a snake strikes. I used to do this as well. Unfortunately, if you do this too late, and the snake makes contact, your flinching could cause some teeth to get ripped out of the snake’s mouth, and further embedded in your skin. So this reaction is likely to end up hurting the snake. If you mess with snakes, you will get bit, and it’s my opinion to just get accustomed to this and to basically expect to get bit. This way, when the snake strikes, you will be less inclined to draw back. As for the bite itself, worst case scenario, the animal gives you a little prick of a bite, and typically by the next day, the wound is practically completely healed (even without washing the wound with soap or water).

There are very few nonvenomous in which I will restrain by the head, such examples would include extremely large Brown Water Snakes (Nerodia taxispilota). Many water snakes, unlike other colubrids bite and rip, causing lacerations as opposed to punctures, which are a bit more painful in my experience. Not to mention that most snake bites really do not hurt – unless the bites take place on the fingers… I hate those. Every now and then I will get a racer that insists on chewing on my index finger, and that usually ends up hurting a bit. The anti-coagulants in the snake’s saliva causes profuse bleeding that makes the bite look far worse than it actually is. When you combine all of these factors together, you reach my justification for not having to grab nonvenomous behind the head. Venomous of course are another story.

Back on track; so Linsen, Mr. Li and I are walking back to the station, with two snakes pinned in our hands. We show the officers the two snakes so they know what the venomous look like and so they know what is not venomous. When we got back to my quarters I only had the one bag, and the bag had a hole in it (circled with a blue marker), but it was one of the awesome parachute material bags. I put the viper in the bottom, tied a knot below the hole, tied another knot above the hole, and then put the Pseudoxenodon above that, and tied the last knot.

After putting the snakes up, one of the officers really seemed to want to have me for dinner. I do not know if he was impressed by the whole snake thing or what. The dinner was simple; the typical cucumber dish, some potatoes, and soup with lettuce and egg. As usual, the host wanted me to share a huge cup of alcohol with him. A combination of the hike that afternoon, the alcohol, and the lack of electricity resulted in an unusual bedtime of 8 o’clock that evening.

3 July

I woke up around 7am this morning. It seems the alcohol and everything else helped reset my biological clock (you like that Bora?), as the days before I would usually sleep in until 11 or 12. It is amazing how quickly my sleep cycle is reset when I am in a bed compared to being in the field. Anyway, breakfast was with the same couple and consisted of a huge dish of noodles, eggs, and onions. I could only eat about half. Linsen devoured his far before I was even to that point. I wanted to hit the trail as soon as possible. The day before, Erin (Craig’s wife), had mentioned that Adam would like it if I came up to the camp while they were still there – they had to leave camp at about 12:30 in order to make it down and catch a taxi in time. We were on the trail by 8:44am. I still had a fair amount of sparse gear, a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, pair of boots, and tripod, to bring up. Emma also wanted me to bring up a shovel for her. And since all my bags were up at the upper camp, it would be kind of hard to juggle all of these items, so no surprise, one of the officers got his wicker backpack basket and stowed all my gear and headed up the trail. The fellow that hosted the dinner and breakfast for Linsen and I, Mr. Yang (this was the 3rd Mr. Yang I have met), also made the trek. We made good time. The only breaks we took were for our two helpers to smoke a cigarette.

We arrived in camp in an hour. The remaining members of the Stanford family were out on a walk. Emma, Xue, and Craig were looking for the monkeys in one direction, and Dr. Li and Mr. Li took another direction. Shortly after arriving, Erin, Mikela, Gaelen, and Adam arrived back in camp. They had heard from Mr. Li about the two snakes. Adam and I went to photograph the two snakes – he is also having an early start in that field as well, photography. It’s going to sound old saying this, but I think “in this day and age” (the age of digital photography) there will be more and more, younger and younger, excellent photographers. I imagine, my generation will be one of the last generations to have learned on a fully manual camera and I am very grateful for having that experience. We photographed the Pseudoxenodon first. It took a lot to make the snake flare it’s hood. Usually you would have to tap the snake around mid-body and it would make a hood and raise back, but it would not sit stationary that way, like a cobra would. Next we brought out the viper and got a few shots from it as well.

Linsen told us about a cave nearby and wanted to know if we would like to check that out. Adam asked his mom, who said it was fine, and off we went. The day was overcast, but still warm, about 75º. The mouth of the cave had a cool mist in front of it, and inside it was 52º. There were also pig tracks inside the cave. At one point Xue said it was possible to go from one side of the mountain to the other via the cave, but later when he returned with lights, he said it was blocked off. When we returned from the cave, the next location to check out was the meadow, about a 15 minute hike above the camp. Erin and Adam came with us for awhile, but eventually had to turn around to make it back to camp and then down to the lower campsite where they’d pick up a taxi. The meadow was beautiful. Very open, spotted with trees. Some limbs had something reminiscent of Spanish moss. Emma, Craig, and Xue had headed in this direction earlier in the day looking for the monkeys, but we didn’t run into them. We wondered around the meadow for awhile and eventually headed back to camp.

In the meadow at the base of the camp was a large rock that begged anyone that could see it to sit and take in the scenery. Sitting here, this is what I had originally envisioned the entire China trip being. I was finally in a secluded location and by myself. Linsen was back at camp sleeping I think. This meadow was different from the meadow on the other side of the mountain, far more open. A stream was nearby that was now trickling with water. The day before the water was about two feet high.

Craig, Emma, and Xue eventually returned from their hike. They had not seen any monkeys, but had heard a bear. Dr. Li and Mr. Li returned even later, they had not seen any monkeys either. Dinner was great, tofu with peppers, a pork dish, rice, mushrooms, and potatoes. After dinner I thought Emma how to play poker. We just did 5-card stud, no Texas hold’em stuff. I am still fuzzy on that game having played it once. We didn’t have our wallets either and since it was Emma’s first time, we played with sticks. We had not figured out the sleeping arrangements that night, and since Emma had a four-man tent and was the only one sleeping in there, we figured it would be fine. We talked for several hours before finally going to sleep.

4 July

Happy 4th of July! Emma jokingly asked if we missed them (referring to England). I woke up around 8:45am. Everyone was already outside eating breakfast. They were saying things like “we found a mandarin ratsnake out here.” After breakfast, Linsen and I went with Emma, Craig, Xue, Dr. Li, and Mr. Li to look for monkeys (and snakes). Mr. Li said he found signs of where the monkeys had been, based on broken branches. While we were walking Craig told us about the sleeping situation. Last night when we were arranging sleeping situations, we had failed to take into account Chinese culture. Apparently Dr. Li said he was not sure if some of the reserve staff would really be able to understand that in western cultures it is perfectly fine for a man and a woman to share a tent. In Chinese culture, this basically wouldn’t happen unless the couple was married. So that basically settled the sleeping arrangements for that night.

We walked for quite a ways. Found the location with the broken branches, and though the branches could have been broken by the monkeys, there was no way to be sure. We didn’t find any snakes. I searched under several rocks and rotten logs for salamanders and didn’t find a thing. Many times China has really confused me. I have searched so many excellent amphibian locations, or I should say, what would be excellent amphibian locations if I were in the states, and have turned up nothing.

Our group split in two. Dr and Mr. Li took one way, Emma, Xue, Linsen and I took another. Our goal was to basically bushwhack to the top of one of the mountains and to walk along the ridge listening for calls on either side, or looking for movement in the trees. We hiked for a couple hours and didn’t see a thing, mammal or herp wise. We eventually started heading down a valley, into what we thought was the meadow behind the camp. When we finally arrived at the base of the mountain, it wasn’t looking quite like the meadow. Linsen and Xue were thinking we may be on the campground side of the mountain. As we walked out, we realized we actually were on the campground side. Oh well. Walking is walking.

We took a water break back at the campground and then decided to hit the trail again. We were planning on walking up to the meadow and exploring much of the same ground as the day before. When we reached the top, where the meadow begins, Linsen said we should split off and examine the top of a mountain where Mr. Li said he had seen many snakes. So the monkey group continued, and the snake group split off to the left. Hiking up the mountain I had my doubts, as I do so many times when someone says “I see a lot of snakes here.” Linsen made an insightful comment actually. He asked me why snakes would be here when there was no water and no food. I just responded, “I do not think we will find any snakes here.” Towards the bottom of the hill I could understand finding a few snakes. We hiked to the top and Linsen said something about how we were abused. I asked him to repeat that because I wasn’t sure if I heard him right and he said “this is abuse.” I told him he must be thinking of the wrong word. I said “this is false.” Thinking that false was the word he was thinking of. I explained that abuse meant to hit someone. He asked a question about an insult, and I told him that that would be considered verbal abuse, where you use words, instead of physical abuse. The next 15 minutes were lessons on words like “mistake, false, fault, abuse, and error” and how they can be used. He finally said, “Mr. Li is false.” This was true for the moment. I did not want to delve into trying to explain how “many snakes” to Mr. Li may be two snakes a week, or two snakes a month. Or that perhaps it was a specific month when he saw a few snakes at that location and so the place automatically was classified as “many snakes here” based on that one observation. So I just left it at “Mr. Li is false.”

After coming down the mountain we decided to walk around the meadow for awhile. I took some more photos of the Protobothrops. At one point we walked up on the ever-popular rock pile. These rock fortresses are perfect for snakes. They provide lots of heat, lots of basking areas, and it is nearly impossible for any non-ophidian predator to reach the snakes beneath. Not far from this rock fortress, however, was a different type of rock outcropping that I hadn’t come across before. It was basically a hillside and most of the rocks were deeply embedded in the ground. Some of them had openings underneath and if you stuck your hand in front of the opening you received a gush of cool air. The rocks were covering a cavern or something deep inside the mountain, possibly linked to the cave on the other side. Sticking your hand in front of these openings was basically like sticking your hand in front of some sort of air conditioning unit. I looked around for a hole big enough that I could just sit in front of but was unsuccessful. I’m guessing the air was about the same temperature as the cave on the other side, which would be from the low to mid-50s.

After wondering around without seeing any evidence of herp life, Linsen asked me if I wanted to continue on, and I was fairly defeated and said we could turn back. As soon as we reached the camp, I was starting to put up my camera gear just when a few rain drops hit. In about five minutes, the few rain drops turned into a downpour. Linsen said my decision to turn back was very good and that I must have had some sort of prediction. Every time it rains, all I basically say is “wo bu xihuan xue yue” (whoa bu she huan sha uu) which means “I do not like rain.” The tarp setup Emma had was good at deflecting most of the water, but it would pool in certain locations and I was afraid the strings holding the tarp up would eventually snap under the weight of the water. So I would periodically walk around and lift the tarp to empty the water. The downpour got so bad that eventually Linsen, Dr. Li, and I had to do this all at once, basically constantly to keep up with the rain. Shao Pong, our cook, was starting to prepare dinner. Shao Pong stays in the camp all day long, gathering sticks and keeps a perpetual fire tended from morning to night. She boils water, loads the thermoses, cleans dishes, and waits for everyone to get back, and then prepares meals. She is the same cook Craig had four years ago when he came to Shennongjia the first time.

After an hour or so Emma, Xue, and Craig showed up. Emma and Xue were completely soaked. Craig had brought his rain gear, so he was semi-dry. The rain kept up, and before we knew it, everyone was helping to bail water off the tarps. Shao Pong even had to take a break from cooking to help out. Mr. Li showed up as well. He had been down at the lower camp and had hiked up to the upper camp in the rain, so he was drenched of course. As soon as he got there he basically stripped down to his underwear to try and warm up by the fire. Craig asked if Emma had a problem with this, semi-making fun of their complaints about Emma and me sleeping in the same tent being bad, yet he could strip down and it was fine. Of course we all understood the circumstances. Emma said she did have a problem with it and that she didn’t like his choice of color, turquoise. The rain eventually let up enough for everyone to “sit down” for dinner. By sit down I mean either squat or stand, as the dining table was completely drenched, and most of everything else was drenched as well. The thing I hate most when it comes to camping is rain. It simply isn’t fun. It confines you either to your tent, or to the campground. A drizzle might not confine you, but a downpour certainly does. The only time I enjoy rain is when I know I can return and find dry clothes and dry shoes, and can dry off myself fairly quickly. Snakes aren’t going to come out in the freezing rain. You can’t take photographs. If you failed to bring any books to read, then you can’t read either. The tent gets wet or muddy very quickly from shoes and people tracking in dirt. It just isn’t pleasant. The sound of rain on the tent can be nice, but that’s about it.

At dinner, Craig would talk about the LA life and all his various studies, working with Jane Goodall in Africa, and other locations. He told us stories of running into celebrities at various charity dinners for primates. He talked about one time when he had dinner with Pierce Bronsan and how he was a very nice person and very normal. He said many of the celebrities are just downright stupid and barely have anything to talk about. When my watch went off at 6pm, signifying the start of The Simpsons (if I were in the US), he mentioned he was once on a flight from NY to LA and sat beside one of the writers (the brother of Mike Sculley), and that he told him a lot of the inside secrets of the show. I would LOVE to have a five-hour flight with anyone from the show. Very envious.

After dinner, Emma and I played some poker with money this time. I had 10 yuan, and she had maybe 15 or 16 Yuan. She dealt me a hand that I am sure will never happen again. We were playing with two wild cards, and she dealt me four aces plus the wild. Unfortunately she had a bad hand and I wasn’t able to take her very far into that hand. I walked away with +9 Yuan. Poker with Chinese currency is pretty fun. It seemed like a lot, but when you convert into US, it is basically $1.

That night I slept with Craig and Linsen. Around 5am I woke up to a wet sleeping bag, just the head portion at the moment. I moved the sleeping pad around, arranged some clothes into pillows and went back to sleep. I woke up again, permanently around 7-7:30.

5 July

It was freezing outside and still raining. We had a quick breakfast and started packing up our gear. We did not have porters this time to carry the gear down, so I had to load up my backpack with all the sparse gear and the camera bag. The camera bag was my biggest concern of course. Emma and Xue decided to wait for a couple hours to see if the rain would let up and if the sun would come out. Craig and Dr. Li had a meeting with some reserve staff later that afternoon, so we basically had to leave then. Luckily by the time we were ready to hit the trail the rain was down to a sparse drizzle.

The small trickling stream from the day before was now not only full, but the meadow was basically flooded. The primary trail flooded. Water was anywhere from your ankle to your lower shin. A few spots were just muddy though. When we come to the area where you would have to walk up the stream portion, it was pretty intimidating. We were walking on a tiny strip of land; to your right was a great raging river, to your left, the tiny stream was now a torrent. If you teetered one way or another, with the big packs, it would be pretty bad. We eventually had to walk across the mini-rapid to our left. Because of the white water, it made it hard to see the rocks underneath in order to figure out the proper footing. My primary concern was the camera. We all made it across fine. But that was just the beginning. Many parts of the trail involved climbing on nearly vertical rock steps, or walking down steep, muddy inclines. I ended up slipping and falling twice. I think Craig said he fell once. After we hit the halfway point, Craig made a good point. He said “you know, a lot of people would pay a lot of money to have a hike like this.” I laughed, and agreed. This was basically one of those intense eco-trips. I have yet to experience rainforest life, but I felt this was kind of like it; walking in a light drizzle, water up to your ankles for most of the time, pushing back the vegetation from the overgrown trail, carrying a heavy backpack, and taking in the gorgeous sights.

At the halfway point, Dr. Li and Xiao Peng said that the bottom half of the trail was flooded and that we’d have to go another route. We eventually made it down to the station, where it looked like they were just hit with a light storm. Not long after arriving the clouds cleared up into a beautiful blue sky and warm sun. Some of the officers took Dr. Li down the road, so he could get reception on his phone and call for a car. Craig and I started laying out some clothes to dry in the now blue sky. We chatted about various subjects while waiting for the car. Many talks about snakes. Herpetology was Craig’s original interest, but eventually moved on to primates. One obvious comment that I never thought about was that it is kind of hard to work with primates when you’re just a kid. He is currently starting a tortoise project in Thailand. There is a species of tortoise that lives on mountains with 45º inclines and thick bamboo forests. The species basically feeds on a single species of mushroom. I always find it hard to imagine an animal like a tortoise in an environment that requires a nimble life.

After waiting for nearly two hours we determined that a car was not coming, most likely because the road was impassible, so we had to walk. Now I had my backpack, camera bag, and laptop to carry. I also found a tiger lily that I cut to bring back for Hi Yin. Right before we were about to head down the road, Emma and Xue showed up. They were barely even wet. We were drenched once we finally arrived to the station. We asked how the trail was, and all the water had receded by the time they hit the trail. Oh well, it was still a fun adventure.

So now, Emma, Xue, Dr. Li, Linsen, Craig and I started down the road. Emma and Xue were kind enough to carry my laptop since they didn’t have near as much gear as I did. Craig also had a very large backpack. We had the option of taking a fast trail or the road, which was slightly longer, but far flatter. Craig, Emma, Xue, and I opted for the road. Linsen and Dr. Li took the trail. They said we would have three river crossings if we took the road. We had already had an earlier experience with a river crossing back at the top of the trail, so we figured it’d be fine. When we finally hit the first crossing, it was a bit bigger than we had imagined. The water was moving very fast and the stream was probably 25 – 30 ft across. The water was moving fast enough that you had to brace yourself against the current in order to keep your balance. As before, my primary concern was the camera bag. I held the bag in one hand, ready to keep it above my head in case I slipped. We all made it across. The water was about thigh deep at the deepest (a hole towards the end).

Craig and I tended to walk faster than Emma and Xue, and at one point while pausing to take in the sights we could overhear voices. Just up the road were Linsen and Dr. Li. They were surprised at how quickly we made it down as they had just arrived. They asked about the flower I was carrying. The four of us continued along. Another trail broke off, which Linsen and Dr. Li followed. Craig and I continued along the road. After awhile we saw Linsen by himself. I guess the second trail was a bit shorter that the road route. We stopped for a little rest and to photograph a beautiful waterfall. As I was looking at it I realized that the base of the waterfall was the road! And that this was the second water crossing.

About that time we saw Dr. Li, Emma, and Xue below. I went ahead and photographed them as they crossed. We made our way down. Linsen opted for another trail to bypass the water. Craig and I were talking about how awesome it would be if we didn’t have anything to do and could just spend the afternoon there around the falls. I photographed Craig as he went across as well. The cool mist felt great as you walked across. You could always tell when a water crossing was coming up, not only because of the roar of the river, but the temperature dropped dramatically as you walked across the stream, or bridge in some cases. The water was ice cold and my feet were numb by the time I made it to the other side.

Still walking the road… We determined that it was about 8 miles (it was 13 km). We had one more stream to cross. Before entering the water Xue and Dr. Li would usually take off their shoes and socks. At the third crossing Dr. Li found a leech on his foot. After the third crossing we were coming close to the bottom. We saw a little house, and of course the owner invited us for a sit and some tea. While sitting Craig saw a couple leeches on Xue’s feet and pointed them out. He had like four or five. He suggested we check as well. Neither of us had any. He said they aren’t bad if they’ve been on you for a little bit, but if they are on you for an hour or more it could be bad. I forget which country he was in at the time, but he told me of one occasion where he had some leeches on his feet and took it lightly and didn’t remove them until he reached his destination. He said the bleeding lasted 24 hours!

The owner had one of the tricycles with a cab and said he could fit two people and could take them to Muyu. Instead we suggested Dr. Li go and to take our two big backpacks. And that we would walk to Muyu. Xue said to walk from the ranger station to Muyu took him about 3 or 4 hours. We were very close to the main road by this point. My tiger lily was wilting fast. Craig said there would be no way for Hi Yin to appreciate the trouble I went through to bring her the flower. He said if she didn’t like it I shouldn’t talk to her anymore. I told him I barely talk to her as it is…

The road was closed due to construction. It is closed everyday from 11am until 6pm. It has been like this since we first came. While walking along the road we saw another tricycle taxi and I waved him down. Craig and I were fine with taking a taxi. Xue and Emma wanted to walk, since Emma would be making the Qianjiaping to Muyu trip often she wanted to know how long it took by foot. Linsen hopped in the taxi as well. Xue was arguing with the drive over the price. The driver wanted 8 Yuan, but Xue insisted that 6 Yuan was plenty. The time spent arguing over 2 Yuan was not worth it.

We finally got to Yuan Yuan. My bag was already in my regular room, 302. Hi Yin wasn’t there either. I promptly went upstairs and dropped my laptop and camera bag. My shoulders were incredibly sore from the backpack and having to carry the camera bag on my chest (reverse backpack). I hadn’t had a shower since I left and even though the water heater wasn’t turned on, I still took a shower.

After the shower I went to HQ to check my mail. Craig and Dr. Li were in a meeting signing a long-term contract to study the monkeys some more. I ran into Adam, Erin, Mekayla, and Gaelen. Adam was carrying a chess set. He asked if I played chess. I was very surprised. I love chess. At first I thought he bought the chess set around town, in which case if he did I was going to ask him where because I would love to have a small set – but it was a tiny traveling set given to him by his dad. Later on he and I started a game that we were unable to finish due to a dinner I was supposed to attend.

Around 5pm Linsen came to get me for a dinner. I was planning on eating with Vanessa after her class let out that evening, but I figured it was early enough to have a small meal, after all we never had lunch. And when Linsen said have dinner with him, I thought he just meant him and I, I had no idea he meant, me, him, Dr. Li, Mr. Yang, the Assistant Director, the Director, Craig, Emma, Xue, and the leader of the communist party there (so in other words, the super duper mega guy??). We ate at the same restaurant where the guy from Wuhan with the zoo took us. We had another private room, about twice the size of the private room from before. This dinner was certainly a lot nicer. I lost count of how many dishes were served, maybe 10. The host (the leader of the communist party) offered everyone a cigarette. Of course I declined, but Emma accepted. He said that this brand was the most expensive brand in Hubei Province, and if you converted into British currency, it would cost around 40 lbs a pack. I asked Emma what a typical pack costs, she said around 5 lbs.

At one point during the dinner, Craig was telling me that at the meeting, where he and Dr. Li signed for a long-term contract to study the monkeys, that the reserve was also interested in signing on a long-term herpetologist. He said I had impressed them that much. I was very glad to hear this of course, and pretty excited about the possibility of returning on a well-funded trip. A return trip would of course depend on funds, and it would be excellent if the reserve was impressed enough to actually put forth some money or at least expenses, though I am kind of doubting this is the case. Earlier when I was searching for funding sources within China, Kraig Adler (one of the authors of Herpetology of China) told me that it is very rare for the Chinese to fund a foreigner, unless the work is extremely important to China and they cannot find a Chinese student to do the work. We will just have to see…

As usual, many toasts went around the table. Some of the dishes included Beijing duck, cucumber (a hot version and a cold version), a spicy peanut dish, a spicy pepper dish, some beef with red and green peppers, a soup that tasted like chicken broth with some kind of melon like fruit that basically didn’t have any taste. The sugar coated cashews that tasted like frosted mini-wheat cereal were there as well. A fish dish was served. Some sort of mushroom dish also. And I am sure there are others I am forgetting. Craig got a little bit tipsy, as did I. Xue was a bit drunk as well. Craig thanked the host and said it is always important that a professor see his student (Xue) drunk at some point in time. It was approaching 8pm, and I had told Vanessa I would bring the Pseudoxenodon to class. The rest of the Stanford family was already at the class helping Vanessa. They had helped her the day before as well. I walked around with the snake. I gave Adam one of the Oligodons to walk around with as well. Towards the end of the class we sang Happy Birthday to Adam, he was turning 10 in just a few days. Vanessa had a cake and everything. After the class we all went out to the barbeque place for a few snacks. I was stuffed from the massive dinner earlier but managed to eat a little bit.

After dinner I went back to Vanessa’s to pick up a few things. I said my adieus to the Stanford family and headed back to my hotel. It was a very nice couple of days.

I suppose that is all. I am not sure what happens from here. I am hoping to visit Dalongtan for a few days in a row, visit Emma and Xue again and bring Vanessa, and then after that maybe one more unknown station (a high elevation one), and then I may start repeating some of the previously visited stations, specifically Jiuchong and Xiagu. I’m missing the sandhills. Hope everything is well back home.

Later,
Kevin

Pictures are on Photobucket

Previously in this series:

Snakes On The Plain: Kevin in China
Kevin in China, part 2: Three Kinds of Natural Beauty in Jiuchong
Kevin in China, part 3 – The First Westerner in Town
Kevin in China, part 4 – Snakebites as a Daily Hobby
Kevin in China, part 5 – His Legend Preceeds Him!
Kevin in China, part 6 – The Mystery Snake