On the road. We have checked out of our hotel, packed enough for two nights and three days and struck out into the great beyond. The adventurers on this trip are myself, Akekwat, Pow (Formally Bau, Iím dealing with sounds I canít hear or repeat) and Ell. Pow and Ell (spelt incorrectly I assure you) and two beautiful young ladies that are working on their Ph.D.s. Both speak enough English to converse with me, if Iím slow and use easy words. This is very good, in fact its amazingly good, as I only know about 12 Thai words, all of which I pronounce incorrectly. Apparently the schools teach children a little English starting at about 10 years old.
We drove. And drove some more. Stopped for gas, if you spend more than 400 Baut on gas you get a free glass! Spent 410, so we got our free glass. Drove some more, and still more driving, into the mountains, up and down, around blind corners, etc, etc. It had been raining heavily that day, but was beginning to let up, then we drove above the clouds, and back into them. Our first stop was near a temple, (perhaps I have been here before). The fog was thick, but we wandered down. The water was cold, so much that it almost hurt, and the air was about 60.
It is here that I make an amazing find. I pluck from a blade of grass a huge exuviae (the skin left over when a dragonfly emerges). Its mouthparts tell me that it is in the dragonfly family Cordulegastridae. This family is unmistakable, even in the field.
Its cold, perchance there are newly emerged adults about, that have not yet flown away. I search the grass and find many more exuviae belonging to this and another family, Gomphidae. AND I find three newly emerged adults!! Later, looking through my books, I find that there is but a single species of Cordulegastridae know in Thailand!! And using a key from china I ascertain that the exuviae I collected are in the same genus. Very good news for my project. The Gomphid larvae and adults will have to wait until I get back home for identification, as I need a good microscope and a lot of patience to ID them.
Back to the car, very happy. We drove and drove and drove some more. Finally ending up, where else, by the highest place in Thailand, 2565 meters above sea level. (Approx. 8415 Ft.). This also happens to be a virtual cache, and is the first Geocache Iíve had a chance to visit in Thailand. There is a radar station on the other side of the parking lot. The signs in English and Thai read, "Photography is forbidden".
We drove a little ways and stopped at Aang-Ka Trail (Michael). I donít know what my name is doing on there, but its on the sign. It is a raised boardwalk through the forest. This place is a natural basin that has been filing with sphagnum moss for tens of thousands of years. Additionally it is home to many endemic species (plants and animals found nowhere else in the world). The most beautiful place I have ever been. Picture a tropical rainforest or a swamp, with the giant trees, beautiful flowers, everything caked in moss and lichen. Birds bobbing in and out, giant beetles shooting through the forest. Rotting logs to and fro. Now, imagine this rainforest at 65 degrees. HEAVEN! Ell (who, by the way, weighs almost exactly half what I do) was very chilled by the walk, and we had to quicken our pace towards the end for fear of hypothermia. She did regain her warmth only after a cup of hot tea later down the road. I, on the other hand, was exhilarated by the walk and am now planning on looking into cloud forests as a Ph.D. project (perhaps South America).
We finally reach where we will be staying the night after much more driving. The Royal Agriculture Station on Doi Intanon (the name of the mountain it is on). I whip out my trusty GPS and take a way point. How far, I ask myself, are we from the hostel we had stayed at the night before? 100 miles? 150 miles? Well, as the crow flies, only 31 miles! We were in Bungalow number 2. A small A-Frame building, with a front and back door, bathroom in the back and electricity. As we unload our stuff A says to me, "Maxwell lives in number three. He is the best." "What in", says I. "Plant Taxonomy."
A few words on plant taxonomy. This is the science of describing, naming, and figuring out how plants are related to one another. Plant taxonomists are a little touched in the head. To go into this field you have be a genius or slightly insane. Why, you might ask. Well Iíll tell you. Plants donít operate under the same rules as animals. Animals get one set of genes from mom and one from dad. If they get two from mom and one from dad the offspring is not viable and does not develop (and vice versa). Downs Syndrome is the result of only one extra chromosome (47 instead of the usual 46). Plants donít care. A genetic mixup during the production of one seed can result in an entirely new species in a single generation! Plus plants have few characters that can be used to reliably help with showing relatedness of species. Leaves, stems, flowers, can all change and look very different for closely related plants. Honey Locust and Soybeans are in the same family.
We eat and set up the light trap. The Cicadas are deafening. At all hours of the day too, not just evening. I check lights for bugs, take care of my specimens, and wander down to the main hall. Maxwell is there, Pow, A, and another Thai that had been helping Maxwell earlier that day. Max is European, probably English. Rags for clothes, thick glasses, speaks Thai fluently. Could drink an Irishman under the table. Chain smoker. Loud. Offensive. Speaks his mind and doesnít care who he bashes. Been in Thailand since 1969, heís 58 now. He was complaining heavily about posters and speeches that students are required to give, the incompetence of the professors, government, everyone in general. We ran through the list of faculty in Biology at Chaing Mai U. and he shot every one of them down. Mentioned that a few people need to die and get out of the way. He complained long and hard about a paper where they listed only the genus of oak, and not the species. A crazy old sumbitch, but most of what he said was right. Honestly I thought he was a great guy. He reminded me a lot of an old professor I had way back when. You need people full of (piss and vinegar) the old spirit, hate change, challenge the status quo, arenít afraid to speak their minds, ect., etc.
It is nice to have someone around who knows whatís going on. Why is there a forest agriculture station? Well, opium is a very profitable crop, and apparently sustainable and forest friendly. But its frowned upon by most of the world, so the King said no more opium. But the hill people still need to get money (I wonít mention that with education rather than a strong back, their children and future generations could make fortunes in computer related industries. Computers are universal, highspeed internet can be supplied as easily as cell phones [they do have cell phones] and when you only need $2 a day to survive, a lot of people would want you to help build and maintain their web pages, programs, etc.). So the government is trying to find alternative crops and using lots of pesticides in the mean time.
The walk along Aang-Ka Trail (Michael) was nice. But the area has been severally affected and changed do to the boardwalk that was built so that people could enjoy the area. And only 15% of Thailandís virgin forests remain. How deep is the top soil? A good 30 centimeters! Less than a foot! These things I learned from crazy Max. Cigarettes ran low, it got cold, people drifted off to sleep. About midnight the bottle was dry and we all tottled off to bed.