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rounding uplands. We “four fat boys in the forest” rapidly lost weight thanks to the
rugged terrain, but also because Jan, a slim vegetarian, supplied the groceries. Break-
fast was always posho, a kind of porridge, whereas with few precious exceptions oth-
er meals consisted of spaghetti, potatoes, or rice flavored with tomato paste or ground
nuts, as peanuts are called locally. Each night I rationed out one thin piece per herpeto-
logist from an Italian salami purchased in the San Francisco airport, and, always hungry
for meat, we held the slices on our tongues like fat-soaked communion wafers. At Bob's
suggestion we carried bottles of hot sauce for flavoring, and halfway through the trip
our cook enhanced the dinner pot with an exceptionally tough and scrawny rooster, pur-
chased along a road that skirted the reserve.
Mubwindi camp was seven thousand feet above sea level on a terrace beside the
swamp, and the hike from Ruhizha took several hours, after which late-afternoon ex-
ploring left us rain drenched and cold. As dusk fell, pairs of ibis flew low and silently
over the water, reminiscent of stealthy jet fighters, then squawked like New Year's Eve
horns when they landed. Cicadas screeched incessantly and frogs filled the gathering
blackness with boinks, chirps, and trills. I huddled with the others under a tarp shelter
and ached all over from paths that had seemed almost vertical as I struggled to keep up
with the Ugandans. After I'd had a hot meal my thoughts bounced from noisy turacos
and other brightly colored birds to shockingly large elephant dung on the tunnel-like
forest trails. I was especially puzzled by the strong body odor, at once strange and fa-
miliar, of the game guard I'd followed all day. Neither our ethnic and dietary differen-
ces nor his lifetime in the forest explained Vincent's provocative aroma, and at first I
couldn't place it.
My hiking companion was the most outgoing of those who guided us. Vincent had a
ready sense of humor and was enthusiastic about everything. I was in awe of his wil-
derness skills. He fashioned rope by weaving strips of sapling bark, made toast out of
moldy bread skewered over hot coals, scoured cooking pots with grass, and carried a
firearm “to intimidate poachers.” Within hours of our first meeting this cheerful, gener-
ous man was teasing me about keeping up, then doubled back from hundreds of yards
up a hill to show me where gorillas had slept the night before. As we walked on, Vincent
told me how game guards roughed up captured poachers, and near the end of our visit
he gave me two confiscated spears from a pile stashed in a shed at Ruhizha.
That first night at Mubwindi Swamp I fell asleep imagining Vincent's demeanor as he
interrogated prisoners, and the next morning, as a chilly dawn crept over us, I had an
unsettling dream that someone was methodically tossing small stones against our tent.
Eventually, awakened by the hooting of chimpanzees, I discovered that frogs we'd col-
lected the night before, hopping and softly croaking in a plastic bag next to my head,
were the culprits. A few moments later, still lying in my sleeping bag and listening to the
low murmuring of the Ugandans while they made tea, I realized that Vincent smelled
like thirty years of campfire smoke.
Arboreal vipers exemplify processes that shape tropical biotas, and having studied
the Central American species, I now wanted to see their African counterparts. Palm-
pitvipers split from terrestrial relatives when ancient oceans overran Mexico's Isthmus
of Tehuantepec, and subsequent uplifting, from the Chiapan highlands to Costa Rica's
Cordillera de Talamanca, separated coastal and montane prototypes. A Nicaraguan sea-
way further separated highland lineages, after which earthly rumblings and Pleistocene
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