I have seen plenty of field reports, heard plenty of tales over a drink or two, read numerous books and have done plenty of ‘wild’ travel myself. However, in terms of specific advice about working in the field, here are 10 things that were never mentioned and wish they had been. So reader, I hereby impart some words of wisdom, that those who follow me do not fall into similar traps.
1. Never walk through a filed of cactuses in shorts*. Perhaps more specifically, ask your colleagues if you are going to a cactus field, before chosing to wear shorts for the day.
2. Don’t let the drivers move the cars when you are in the field without telling you.
3. If they do, don’t then believe the directions of your colleague as to how to get back to the cars. Especially if he is walking in a different direction at the time.
4. ‘Tomorrow’ can mean almost any point in time in the future (including in ten minutes, and never) but this definition will not actually include the next day.
5. Don’t take a bathroom break in view of a ‘friend’ with a ‘sense of humour’ and a telephoto lens.
6. Do not drink baiju if at all humanly possible at Chinese banquets. If you have to, try and make a student drink it for you. Much safer.
7. Don’t let your driver run himself over. Yes, he really did. No, I did not think it was possible either.
8. If you think the bit of bone you just found is exciting, it’s probably worthless. That scrap you threw away though probably belonged to a new species / genus / family / phylum.
9. “Just below that funny layer with the thingies in” does not count as a record of the horizon in which you found your specimen. Apparently.
10. Never defecate in the desert during a sandstorm. You will either get sand in the ‘front’, or the ‘rear’, or both, no matter which way you face. This is bad.
As many must have guessed, despite the jokes, pretty much all of this has happened to me, or was witnessed by me in the last month or so between filedwork in China and Mexico. I am sure people can add plenty more. Seriously, anyone would think you just turned up and pulled the damn bones out of the rock…
* NB My North American readers, shorts have a different meaning in the UK.