I’m on a field course- get me out of here!

jungle picSo, it’s that time of year again; as the cold, damp, dark, weather sets in we look to warmer climes for escape and entertainment. So; Take 26 people, from all walks of life, throw them together in a tropical paradise to camp with bugs, beasts and cold-water showers for 10 days and watch the dynamics and lessons unfold….

Ok so we’re not exactly celebrities, we didn’t skydive into the savanna, or have Ant and Dec provide a narration to our every move, or eat blended kangaroo testicles (though incidentally on the same trip last year I did try ox testicles!), but we were a mixed group, many of whom were experiencing the tropics for the first time, and out of the luxury of their usual lives, forced to live together in tents for 10 days.

On our field course of Tropical Ecology in Kenya with our final year undergraduate students, I was struck once again by the sense of camaraderie and togetherness that the experience brought to us all.  Nothing like scanning each other for ticks to build trust! There is no comparison to learning through experience and that is exactly what we spent the week doing; from buffalo management and human wildlife conflict, to climate change and community development projects. I think that we are lucky in the field of ecology for these sorts of opportunities to present themselves that many other fields may not have; the chance to go out and live and experience our science.  I think it is really important for humanizing the science too- being able to interact and see how others problem solve under pressure or with limited resources; hard to gain in a one hour lecture twice a week or the odd practical.

We did have a few “Bushtucker” trials of our own though:

Sk-Hipp to the Loo

  • Dodge the giant grazing hippos in the dark to reach the bathroom without scaring them into crushing your campmate

The Hike of Hell

  • Walk for 3 hours in the grueling heat of the Equatorial midday sun with no shade and an Irish complexion, the trail littered with dead flamingoes.

Mystery Meat Curry

  • Might be goat, might be donkey; If you don’t think about it it’s fine!

Gorge-ous day for a climb

  • Creep along the perilous algal covered gorge slopes to reach the other side without falling to your death (or at least a lot of bruises)

What’s that bite?

  • It went from red bubble to blackish- green triangle: Hospital or Savlon?

Pothole Perils

  • Steer your overloaded minivan at high speed around the giant potholes without ending up in a ditch.

Prickly Plant Polka

  • Rash or puncture? Only one way to find out; walk through the forest in shorts and count the war wounds… And don’t lick the prickly pear en route

TenAnt trials

  • Try to pack a tent at 6am without disturbing the ants nest underneath

Pitch Perfect

  • The most frightening of all; stand up in front of your campmates to present an original research project idea for funding…

At least I can say that the public wasn’t voting people off the trip!

Author: Deirdre McClean, mccleadm[at]tcd.ie, @deirdremcclean1

Photo credit: Deirdre McClean

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