Saturday, October 31, 2009


Happy Halloween everybody! Hope everyone has a great time tonight. Send me photos of your crazy costumes so I can live vicariously through you. Or just drop me a line and let me know how things are going.

Miss you guys.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Monkey profile: Oz

While we haven't officially worked out who is dominant, (ie. gone through the data and looked at the frequency of dominant/submissive behaviors exhibited by individuals) Oz is definitely somewhere near the top of the hierarchy. His face is very dark compared to the other males, with a bright white scar which runs from the bridge of his nose to his mouth. While most of the males have similar battle wounds (Artemis lost about half of his upper lip this week in a fight), his especially make him look like a particularly hard individual. The middle finger of his right hand is also stuck in a rude gesture, hence the name Oz after Ozzy Osbourne. He isn't the biggest or baddest of the males, but nonetheless manages to hold on to power through a combination of diplomacy and fearlessness. He also spends a lot of quality time with the infants and juveniles, which is particularly endearing.

In my opinion, he is a noble leader. I'm eager to see how his reign progresses over the course of the mating season.

It took me a while, but I finally decided that If he was a movie character, he'd be Vito Corleone from the Godfather.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ben (Photo by Chris)

It's my first (healthy) day off while Chris and Dave are in the forest. It's nice to have the apartment to myself for the day and to have enough time to check some things off of my to-do list. I took a small walk this morning to a part of town Chris told us was the 'touristy' bit. While it's a nice part of town and it looks like there are a few good places to eat, at the first sight of tourists I turned tail and walked quickly back the way I came. For some reason they made me supremely uncomfortable, and I was happy when I made it back to our small section of Azrou, which isn't included in Lonely Planet's description of town, and so for the most part is blissfully free of anyone else who stands out like a sore thumb. I'm not sure what this behavior indicates, but it worries me.

We've started collecting fecal samples. While one would think it would be a straightforward and simple task, it's actually added a lot of pressure and difficulty to our day-to-day operations. Fecal collection for the purpose of hormone analysis is absolutely integral to Chris's project, and a lot hinges on collecting an adequate number of samples every day. There are 7 females in the group, and in a perfect world, we would collect one sample from them every day, along with one from each of the 9 males every few days. In reality, we've been lucky to get 4 of the females and 2 of the males every day. I'd like to go into exactly what is involved in this madness, but I think it may deserve its own post (you've been warned).

The homesickness has been coming on in progressively stronger waves, and at times is honestly a little unbearable. I've been told to expect this around the 2 - 3 month period, and I knew it was going to happen. But knowing you're going to get hit by a cement truck doesn't make it hurt any less. Needless to say I'm missing the crap out of every single one of you, and if you're among those who have been waiting for an e-mail from me, I apologize. I'm uncertain of what to write about, and my head lately has felt like it's in a thousand places at once. Hopefully I get my act together soon and become more communicative, but in the meantime please don't let my silence discourage you from writing. Every e-mail or letter lifts my spirits a thousand times, and is very, very much appreciated.

My next day off is on Thursday, so expect an exciting update around that time.

Soundtrack: John Lee Hooker

Thursday, October 22, 2009

All better now.

Finally got over whatever it is I had (nausea, fever, headache, exhaustion, loss of appetite, did I mention the headache?...). Spent today in the field and it was wonderful.
Also, I got to drive for the first time today. Wee! Chris and I went to Fez on Tuesday after Paolo left and got the papers squared away. This is mainly useful because now Chris doesn't have to come to the forest with Dave and me every day, and finally makes it possible to have a regular schedule. We're going to try 3 days on, 1 day off per person. This way we can keep at least two people in the forest at all times and don't have to worry about losing the group on weekends and spending all of Monday finding them again.

Love and miss you guys.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Sitting in the apartment feeling useless while Chris and Dave are in the field. Just ate for the first time in 24 hours.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Volubilis (Arrabia: "Yo-yo-wee-lee")

Took a semi-spontaneous trip to the Roman ruins of Volubilis on Saturday. It was the only thing Paolo had left on his wishlist for Morocco, and it was incredible.

Volubilis is about half an hour outside of Meknes, a large city an hour north of us. It was originally founded by Carthaginian traders around the 3rd century BC, but was annexed by Rome in 40 AD. At it's peak, it held around 20,000 people (thank you, Lonely Planet). The Berbers weren't huge fans of Roman imperialism and managed to chase them off, in the appropriate Berber fashion, around 200 years later. It's the best preserved Roman site in Morocco, and has some really fantastic mosaics, standing structures, and foundations. The best part is that you can walk pretty much wherever you'd like. But don't walk on the mosaics. Please don't walk on the mosaics.

I think Paolo felt right at home.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fajita night! Time to right the wrongs perpetrated in Ceuta. Full weekend ahead, so I'm hoping to make it to the haddaf (marketplace) for some photos of our favorite vendors.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What IS this?

Found it in the forest.


Autumn is here

Artemis enjoying the view

Monday, October 12, 2009


I'm sure there are other places on the planet like it. I just haven't been to any of those places. You leave one universe and enter another and all it takes is a walk down a 100 meter no-man's land.

Point: We had to take a cab from the parking garage in Morocco to the border. Dave attempted to put on his seat belt and the driver almost physically restrained him from doing so, amidst many emphatic "No, never in Morocco" mutterings. We cross the border, get in a cab to go to the hotel, and (yes, you guessed it) the driver insisted on seat belts.

Ceuta was, I think, like most other European cities. People zooming around in and on tiny shiny automobiles. Crazy loud euro-pop. Gratuitous PDA. Tapas (yum!). The only difference between it and European cities of course being that Ceuta is on the African continent.

We all suffered from some pretty severe culture shock for the first few hours.

The drive there was also beautiful. I was under the impression that ours were the first mountains you crossed when arriving from the coast, but we descended from the heights of our own Middle Atlas range only to find ourselves surrounded by more mountains (the Rif), quite distinct from the first, which lasted until we reached the sea. All told about a 5 hour drive. It was fantastic seeing more of the country, and I really can't wait to do some more exploring. I think the Sahara might be pretty high on the list, so here's hoping.

Friday night we had an awesome Tapas experience at a wonderful little local place buried in a residential neighborhood, and then went to some clubs. Personally I would have preferred just staying at the Tapas bar for the rest of our time in Ceuta (clubs aren't really, but we had a good night regardless.

We spent Saturday exploring Ceuta, the main focus of which is a giant wall/fortress built by the Spanish, and visiting the supermarket to stock up on tasty treats. The city itself is built on a small peninsula that juts out into the Mediterranean, and on a clear day apparently you can see Gibraltar across the water.

We went to a Mexican food restaurant. I don't want to talk about it.

One of the best parts of the trip for me, however, was getting back to Morocco and feeling like things were back to normal again. Which is, of course, ridiculous. If there's anything I like to reiterate about this place it is it's unwillingness to abide by any preconceived notion of normality. I guess that can only mean Azrou is beginning to feel like home.


Sunday, October 11, 2009


Just wanted to post these. A full review of our Spanish adventures should appear within a couple days.

The road we took to Ceuta cut through the Rif mountain range.

Moat! The water flows in from the Mediterranean.

Ceuta and the sea

Moroccan lights

Monday, October 5, 2009


Had an exceptionally nice day in the forest today. After sleeping most of yesterday away recovering from a pretty wild night in Ifrane, it was impossible not to feel well rested. The weather is getting warmer and sunnier every day, and it seems to be affecting not only our morale, but the monkey's as well. They kept us very busy today, and there was never a dull moment. What was especially exciting was the number of male coalitions we witnessed close up. These are the interactions that Chris is especially interested in, are fairly rare, and by far the most challenging type of behavior to record accurately. While it's still very challenging work, days like today are the reason I think we all put in the time and effort we do.

The re-habituation efforts seem to be complete, and the moments of aggression towards us are becoming less and less frequent.

The trip to Ceuta, a semi-autonomous Spanish city on the Northern coast, is definitely on for this weekend. We'll drive up on Friday afternoon (about a 3 hour haul) and stay there until Sunday. I'm very excited about seeing more of the country, and about seeing the Mediterranean for the first time. Some bacon and decent tapas would also not be amiss.

Miss and love you all.

Soundtrack: The Mountain Goats -- Up The Wolves

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Practice, practice, practice

It's been a beautiful week so far in the forest. Today was especially spectacular. The group has been hanging out in a very secluded part of the forest (as opposed to the area by the road) and it's quite high up, so every now and then you stumble upon a spectacular view of the surrounding territory. Sadly I haven't been taking my camera to the forest lately because of rain paranoia, but I think I'll leave that at home tomorrow instead and try to take some good photos.

We're still practicing data entry with the palm pilots. It's a slow process, and can be very aggravating, but we're beginning to see the light (I think). Right now we pretty much know exactly what we need to be doing and have the knowledge necessary to do it, but are too slow entering the data and identifying individuals. I give it another two weeks before we start to collect actual data.

Yesterday Chris and I drove to Fez to get some things sorted out with the car rental agency. It was strange being in an actual city after a month in Azrou. I hadn't really realized how far removed we were from the rest of the country until driving through the downtown streets of the big city. Because we spend all of our time here, I had begun to think that all of Morocco adhered to the slow pace of country life. Not true. Fez is a bustling metropolis, with around 1 million people, where everything moves at a breakneck speed. The short trip made me eager to travel to other parts of the country.

Speaking of which, I think we're planning on visiting the ancient Roman city of Volubilis at some point in the near future. A trip to the Spanish town of Ceuta has also been planned for the 19th as a combo birthday (Chris's -- the 19th) and going away (Paolo's leaving after a year here) adventure.

I'll post some fun pictures of the forest tomorrow.