Bioko Island seems more than half a world away as I sit in my sunny California backyard, just a week before I embark on my adventure. I have started to prepare for the semester that lies ahead of me, but after six vaccines, two pairs of quick-dry zip off cargo pants, and countless wool socks, it still seems impossible to imagine what’s coming.
I suppose I should probably give you a better idea of exactly where Bioko is. First off, it is part of the country of Equatorial Guinea, which is on the coast of West Africa bordered by Camaroon and Gabon. The island is nestled right in the corner of the Atlantic where Africa begins to narrow out and where South America once resided a very long time ago.
The small island covers about 2,000 km2, but is home to 11 species of primates, nine of which are classified as either “endangered” or “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The reason these animals are so threatened is the market for bushmeat in Bioko; the monkeys are considered a delicacy. While hunting these species is illegal in Bioko, it is poorly enforced. The reason for my journey to this unique part of the world is to contribute to research documenting the effects of hunting on the populations of monkeys on the island. This also means camping and collecting data in a tropical rainforest, which has seemed to make up the bulk of my “preparation” for the upcoming semester.
The last couple weeks have involved way too many shopping lists and digging around in my garage for gear. I’ve been told that pretty much everything will get wet, and nothing will dry. Hence, I’ve stocked up on zip-lock baggies (sorry, Earth), Rite-in-the-Rain notebooks, and non-cotton clothing. I even found a brand of quick-dry underwear, marketed with the slogan “17 countries. 6 weeks. One pair of underwear. (Ok, maybe two.)” However, despite the surprising extent to which I have managed to waterproof my life (this is quite a change coming from the land of brown lawn and unflushed toilets), I am almost certain there will be things I’ll forget and things I’ll wish I left at home.
At this point, I’m tired of packing and list-making and errand-running and hustling-and-bustling-about-looking-for-things and I just want to GO! I’m not even nervous. I swear. Ok, maybe a little bit. But I’m excited enough to forget to worry about being sweaty and bug-bitten (don’t worry, I got malaria pills), or homesick, or physically sick, or in any kind of danger. I chose this program for the very reason that it will force me out of my comfort zone, which is where I think the best parts of life happen. My shields of Gore-Tex and merino wool may not protect me from tears, but my wanderlust has gotten the better of me, so… adios!