Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The schedule

Wednesday, June 28, 2007

US Airways flight 1852
Depart San Jose 2:20 pm
Arrive Charlotte 8:29pm

US Airways flight 1505
Depart Charlotte 7:45am
Arrive Phoenix 8:59am

US Airways flight 2748
Depart Phoenix 10:07am
Arrive SLO 11:46 am

Sunday, July 1, 2007

US Airways flight 7160
Depart San Luis Obispo 7:49pm
Arrive San Francisco 8:47pm

US Airways flight 784
Depart San Francisco 10:40pm
Arrive Charlotte 6:35am

Monday, July 2, 2007

US Airways flight 1773
Depart Charlotte 11:17am
Arrive San Jose 1:21pm

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Fifth in a series of catch-ups

La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica
June 15, 2007, 10:15pm

Howler monkeys woke me up about 4 times this morning—they sound a little like a lion with a cold. There were a million birds singing, so I got up and went to breakfast at 6:30. It’s funny how that’s so easy to do in this latitude—everything else is up and going, so it is easy to do the same. After breakfast (which wasn’t all that exciting), we went out on our intro hike. It is much easier than at Cuerici for several reasons—the fact that we’re only a double-digit number of meters above sea level is certainly one of them. For instance, there’s enough oxygen that you don’t have to nearly black out every 30 feet. Also, it’s so hot and sticky…it’s actually not all that hot…but the stickiness makes me pour off sweat.

So, before we even left the patio in front of the dining hall, we saw some parrots flying overhead. We also saw—this was last night and I forgot to tell you—this beautiful bright green arboreal iguanoid type thing on Tracy and Melissa’s screen. I picked it up, and it tried to bite me, but I didn’t let it. So we put it on the ground, and it walked like a drunkard because it has such long toes that it kinda has to…paddle on the ground…and it has to move its legs about 4x too fast for how fast it moves. So, I put it outside, and chased it away from the door once, and then went back in. About 8 minutes later (or less—maybe five minutes later), we opened the door to go do laundry, and the lizard ran (drunkenly) into the room. We almost died laughing…so I tried to pick it up, and it tried to kill me…but it didn’t. I put it back on the window screen…and today it is gone. Nobody knows what happened to it.

Anyway. This morning we saw a pretty yellow bird, some toucans (chestnut mandibled, not the bright bright billed ones, although if I get up early tomorrow morning, I will see those, too), and a cayman (you know, the small alligators?). We also saw (from a distance) several iguanas lying on big old branches of trees way far up. One of them was probably 2m long. No kidding. They look like they should be related to rhinos, because they are so…rocky looking.

As soon as we got across the river (in which we saw some fish), we saw the howler monkeys! Males have white testicles. (that was about how relevant it was when the guide told us that, too…just sharing the experience…) They were all acrobatting around in a tree, and some of them howled a little bit at us. Others tried to throw their poo at us when we got too close. They were up in a rubber tree (the latex tree; not a tree made of rubber), eating the fruits, which kind of look like the small, flat kind of persimmon, but are softer. After we all ran around being totally amazed for a bit, the guide took us over closer to the edge of the forest (this was just in the clearing near some of the cabins), and we saw a 2m long boa constrictor. He (?) was so beautiful…red and yellow and browns…we didn’t see his head, although I came back later and rustled the leaves until he poked his head out and did some tongue flicks at me. He kind of looked just like a big Kokumuo…but he wouldn’t have been as cuddly if he bit me. His head was a deep cream color, with some brown speckles on it, and it definitely had that…shape. The one that is kinda in common with the boids and the pythons. His tongue was long and slithery and black, and I backed off after taking a few pictures of him. That is my second wild (and biggest) snake, now…but the black one was a bigger adrenaline jolt, probably because I wasn’t expecting it.

After we tore ourselves away from the boa, we saw a bunch of leafcutter ants carrying pretty purple blossoms…and their highways, man, they’re like that bike path that goes down the hill next to the west side of Corson-Mudd Hall…you know, about 5 or 6 in wide, and totally cleared. Leafcutters are completely common and mundane here, although we all are still impressed by them…kinda like giraffes in Africa. Turns out, they are more like giraffes than I thought…some people estimate that they cut 17% of the foliage of the forest every day!!!!!! So they’re like, the most important pruners of the forest ever. Kinda like giraffes are…in Africa.

We saw a huuuuge harlequin beetle (maybe 5 in long, with antennae at least that long, all patterned in sorta…tribal face paint type patterns..in cream and brown and black). We saw the “blue jeans” poison dart frog—a little red froggie with dark back legs that look black but are actually blue. They are endemic to this part of the world (although I’m not sure how big “this part” means. They’re the ones we’re gonna do our project on tomorrow morning at 6. woo. The adults aren’t (and don’t have to be) worried about predation, since they taste gross, but the tadpoles—that’s pretty cool. When the male mates with the female, she lays her eggs in the leaf litter. Then, when they hatch, she comes back, and carries them one by one to a little water container (usually a bromeliad…which is a plant that kinda looks like an artichoke with long long leaves) and puts them there. THEN she comes back periodically, solicits a response from her tadpoles, and if they are still alive, she’ll lay unfertilized eggs in the little pool of water for them to eat. And these frogs somehow keep straight which bromeliad and which tadpoles are theirs. But monkeys, toucans, possums…lots of things like to eat the tadpoles. So if you’re a blue jeans, and you make it past tadpole, you’re home free. Another interesting thing about them is that the toxicity of their secretions varies by region—all are toxic, but some places it’ll knock you out much more strongly than other places. They aren’t sure why, but some researcher here is working on it by mildly shocking the frogs (electrically, not with surprising news) to be able to collect secretions…and stuff.

We heard some white crowned parrots…more as pets in the US than wild in CR…and of every one in captivity, maybe 10 or 15 died in transit. Sad.

We saw a lot of cool flowers and bugs…and trees…learned about lots of trees that are nearly extinct because they’re such gorgeous wood…that trees slough (exfoliate) their bark sometimes to get rid of strangler figs and other plants…saw a tree that makes a leaf you can write on…allegedly, pirates used to use them for playing cards.
I found a tiny Norops (not sure the species—just an anole type lizard) that wasn’t more than two inches from nose to tail tip. And it was nearly full grown!

And THEN we saw spider monkeys. They were even cooler than the howlers, because they are so…graceful, and yet they are so completely clumsy. We got to see a mom make a bridge with her body for her baby, and then heard her call it to cross…we saw them eating the rubber fruits (again), and saw them throw things at us because they didn’t like us. They climbed all around in the tree, and the two mothers took their two babies away, and hid them, and then ate a little more, and then got their babies and went and made big branch-cracking noises to frighten us away…I got some really cruddy videos and pictures, but it was just amazing. Did you know that they have no opposable thumb? We saw one hang just by her tail, though…the way they use the tail is truly amazing. Spider monkeys are one of the best barometers for how healthy the forest is, because if your forest isn’t really healthy, they won’t be around.

In one swamp we went through, when it is wet (not today), the canta rana (song of frogs, or frogsong) is so loud that you can’t hear yourself talk.

We saw a damselfly that had blue (dark and then light, two stripes together) wingtips…it looked like two helicopters on their sides, with their feet tied together. And in spite of the fact that the wing motion looked totally drunken and random, it was incredibly precise in how it could hover just above a flower to drink the nectar…if that’s what it was doing.

We saw the kind of tree, “wild almond” that the great green macaws love to eat, and saw the way they split the thick thick nutshells to get to the nutmeat inside. Great green macaws…are in the same situation as those parrots, only worse. We heard some, but didn’t see any.

The bullet ants are about an inch long and look as deadly as they sound. In reality, they’ll give you a sting like a wasp that lasts for longer than a wasp sting will…narsty little buggars.

We saw a bright blue cicada, and heard it sing while our guide was holding it. They drink the sap from trees, and in swarming season, if enough of them are on a tree, they can kill it through dehydration. Yikes.

We saw a totally unpolluted stream with a lot of fish in it.

We saw a lot of other things, but I’m fading kinda fast, especially because of that 4.5 hour hike…I think I covered all the amazing points, though.

After that, we had lunch, and I straightened more stuff out with Anden. I really am considering applying to the REU program in La Selva for next summer, if I can’t find something in Africa (I seem to be unintentionally heading for hardcore tropical field ecology…suddenly)…although I sweat what feels like gallons, it’s not actually uncomfortable. I mean, it is really uncomfortable, but it’s also really bearable. If I just kinda say “ok, I’m going to be literally soaked with sweat almost all over,” (because there is no evaporation)…it becomes…sorta…secondary. As long as you carry a bandana.

After lunch, I mailed my cell phone (finally) to my mom, and went with an REU girl I’m making friends with to feed mango peel to some fish…they jump out of the water to grab it. Maybe tomorrow I’ll take a movie of it. Then I had that conversation with Doug, and hung out a little more with Anden, and then we had the meeting to talk about our Frog Project.

Then we had a lecture on a species of bird that is totally dependent on army ants flushing arthropods for its food. This Ph.D student is doing really interesting work on the army ants and the obligate follower birds…there’s this whole really complex interactional system between birds and their neighbors and all kinds of things…but I will tell you another time, because I have to walk half a mile back to the cabins and then hopefully shower…and for the first time in a while, I’m actually a little cold (I’m in an airconditioned room…by myself….does it get any better?).

So after the lecture, there was dinner……and then we went on a night hike. Before we left, Ricardo (our driver) went to get his boots and then he came charging back up saying (in Spanish) “There is a BIG SNAKE IN MY HOUSE!!!!!”…turns out it was a little snake on the railing of the stairs that leads to his house…a baby boa constrictor (about as big as Kokumuo, but skinnier)…and we got to hold him. He was very cute, and people got pictures of him, which makes me happy. He was the strong, too…and the scared. He struck at Tracy once, but I guess I’m used to Kokumuo enough that my brain is convinced that a snake that looks just like him isn’t scary…because I wasn’t really very scared of him. We put him back in the leaves in case some idiot came along with something they could hurt him with. It made me miss my snake.

On the night hike I didn’t spot anything, but we saw some redeye tree frogs, and a yellow one, and a bunch of bugs, and a moth or twenty…and lots of leafcutter ants. We heard howler monkeys (or maybe jaguars?) and then came back…..

The only other thing of note that happened today (just remembered) was that I saw the howler monkeys howling back at the weedwhackers (they sound like lawnmowers—the weedwhackers, not the monkeys)…when the workers turned off the motors, the monkeys shut up. It must be frustrating to be a monkey and have to howl at everything so much. Especially something that goes on all afternoon without taking any notice of you whatsoever.

PS One last gripe: dumb OTS decided they can’t pay me through direct deposit….unless I send them another form…those dingbats have had the form for over 2 months, and they couldn’t figure that out until yesterday?! I hope the Peace Corps is better about doing stuff like that for Liz...

Fourth in a series of catch-ups

La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica
June 14, 2007, evening

I did not stoke the fire last night
And woke up feeling not-quite-right
It had gone out—the room was cold
But I was good and did not scold.
For breakfast I had watermelon
And milk and cookies that were good-smellin’.
Then I finished packing up
And helped load bags into the truck.
Yesterday Doug said, “Mouse group walks
To the top of the mountain—no backtalk!
The lizard group has work to do
So we’ll take a car and catch up with you.”
But this morning we got out of our bind
Because Ricardo was feeling kind
He drove us right up to the gate
Where us and bus just had to wait
For the lizard group in their vehicle
But they came up without a wheelicle!
It turned out Doug made them walk instead
“Teehee, Teehee,” was all I said.
Then we drove up to the road
Where Carlos and bags waited to unload
And reloaded bags into the bus
With much muttering and fuss.
Carlos hugged me, kissed my check
Said “please return,”…I couldn’t speak,
Because I forgot my espanol,
So I nodded and said “I will”.
We went off like a herd of turtles
All so sleepy from bounding hurdles
In the form of altitude, hikes, and goodbyes
(There were very few dry eyes).
The bus was slow and lunch was late
And people were crabby and the food wasn’t great
At the truckstop, but lucky again for me
I got rice, avocado, tomatoes, and cheese!
So much better than the meat dishes
Which all (to me) looked quite suspicious.
And then we bounded off again
Through traffic, tunnels, rain, and wind.
Frank and I, we shared a seat
Airconditioned, away from the head
And we both fought to stay awake
But neither won—sleep us did take
To strange dreams, and to headaches
To stiffer necks and drool lakes
But we made it to La Selva, at end
With 90% humidity and sunlight to lend.
It’s beautiful, and parrots fly overhead
Unaware that their species could be dead
Sooner than we think or wish or hope
But it’s too lovely for that mope.
We a nice dinner passed-ed
And laughed and joked and un-fasted
Javez made all of us grin
By whispering and dropping his chin
“This place, dude, everyone’s so white!
I feel like I gotta beat ‘em up to make it right!”
Sammie, she felt the same way
And we were the only brown ones there today
Except a few.
Maybe five—or two.
We then had a meeting
Before Doug got to the rule-reading
I said, “I have an announcement
Everyone listen, it’s im-por-tant!
Anden (an REU kid I know)
Has asked us who would like to go
Canopying on a zip-zip line
Zooming through the trees—how divine!
What’s more, they want to go that way
On the afternoon of our off-day
The morning of which we’re white-water rafting
And the afternoon could be flying and laughing.”
(Somehow I’m in charge of finding
Seven NAPIRI people to agree to a binding
Agreement to round out twenty,
Because for a discount, that’s plenty
But only just barely
(19 isn’t fair, y’see).).
Tracy and Melissa did their laundry
With mine, and I just turned the dryer ondry
Jeremy wants to come and talk...

…(insert 45 minute conversation with Jeremy…somehow, afterwards, I am not in the mood to continue the Dr. Seuss poem)…

Third in a series of catch-ups

June 13, 2007

I woke up at 5:30 today (June 13), and was warm and cozy, because someone left an extra blanket in the lab last night. I didn’t even have to stoke the fire in the night. When I woke up, I thought that my leg was a lot better, but I decided after the hike that it was not the case. We ate breakfast early, but still didn’t leave until 7am. This time, Leo went with us up up up the mountain (I walked with him, and nearly died--again). My leg hurt a lot and at one point, I had to stop and lean on a tree and just cry because I was frustrated and sad and in pain, and, of course, lonely. That tends to come out more when other stressors unite.

I ended up making it ok to the trap site, and we then collected the traps—we got 9 mice in all. Thank God there weren’t more, because we all got pretty chilly up there measuring and combing and stuff. I got to be the data recorder. Erin came with us today, but she didn’t bring a sweater, so Maria gave her hers, and then Maria was cold, so I gave her my raincoat, but then I started to get cold…so I just toughed it out, because I didn’t want to make Maria be really cold. Better to distribute it evenly, I guess.

I’m starting to feel like a little bit of a mommy for this group, because I’m the one who has aloe, and sunscreen, and I’m the one who seems to have the most hiking sense of all the students except Shawn. I kind of like the feeling of helping to take care of people. Of course, I wish that more of them would take more care of me…but I think I am learning how to keep a little bit of a balance. This NAPIRE program has definitely made me way more laid back about life. Since it’s started, I’ve only been extremely frustrated to the point of near-snapping at someone once, and only a couple times have I been sharp with Doug when I thought he was being an ass and he thought he was being funny.

So, we got back in time for lunch, and my leg hurt the most. I’m really worried about it, but at least there will be a couple days where we won’t be doing much hiking…except for tomorrow. Doug decided that my group (which already has done about 2x as much hiking as his “we can’t start early cuz we’re too tired to walk 100 yards” group) would start walking up the road at 7am tomorrow, and that the rest of them would get a ride at 8am to meet us. Lunch was good…it was Carlos’ trout, and because I couldn’t eat it, the nice ladies made me eggs instead. After lunch, I slept on the floor of lab next to the fire until it was time to count the parasites we got off the mice. Pee-yewie…breathing alcohol fumes. Jeremy, Shawn, Faiane and I did most of the analysis thinking and work (which was dumb, because Marcela basically said “ok, pretend you care about the data and go find interesting things in it” which was almost impossible in the first part because there are only 9 datapoints, and for the second part, it was almost all redundant.)

But we prevailed, and had a pink and blue real basic presentation by dinnertime, and we gave it and it didn’t suck too much. Then Doug talked about networks, which was interesting, and then everyone else had s’mores, and Frank sang some social dance songs with his drum, and I went to go pack, since I hate packing in the mornings. I feel like I have fleas. Then I came downstairs and hung out with Carlos and for a while we just sat there (there were other people too) and it was awkward, because I was pretty much too tired to try to speak Spanish, and he’s a person who tends to give you space and not talk a lot unless there’s kind of an established conversation. But then we started talking about all kinds of things, and he said he likes to learn about homeopathy, massage, and reiki…of all things! That was a surprise. He says he goes to San Jose to take meditation classes, and a lot of people come here for him to lead meditations. It’s totally not what I would expect. I asked him to come visit us at Las Cruces, and he said he wouldn’t, but that I could come back and visit. I told him I really wanted to, but that I didn’t know when I could because I wanted to go visit mi novia (It means, ‘my girlfriend’) in Africa. And then I explained what the Peace Corps is (en espanol). He didn’t have any kind of violently eww reaction to my use of the "girlfriend" and he also didn’t correct me. And he just said that it sounded nice, and so I think he’s not a jerkoff Catholic redneck, the way I was a little worried that he might be (sort of the Catholic part…he’s not a redneck because he’s a revolutionary conservationist). And that makes me happy.

I’m still worried about him possibly being sketchy…I’m getting a little bit the same vibe that I got recently from someone else…but not the sketchy so much as the extremely interested in knowing about me. I don’t understand why some people have that reaction, and I’d really like to get rid of it, because it would be much nicer if people didn’t seem to think I was Something Special. Honstly, I don’t really see why it’s so much different than everyone else. I mean, hell, I FEEL different than I think everyone else does, but that’s just the definition of the personal fable, and that’s nothing to base any kind of theory on.

So, then he went to bed, and we hung out a little more…I wrote a short note in the guestbook, thanking him…I drew a hummingbird and a fuschia flower too.

Today in the forest Javier was really cute with the dog, whose name is Muneco (there’s a tilda ~ over the n, but I am too lazy to insert it. It’s pronounced Moon-yecko and it means ‘doll’). The dog loves him, and he played with it, and talked to it, and also made faces at it to make it not chase the mice we were trying to measure. He also (Javier and Muneco too, come to think of it) spent a lot of time sleeping in the roots of a tree.

I’m incredibly tired. I can’t believe it’s only June 13. It feels like it should be July 4 or something…this is so intensive…it’s like we are ALWAYS busy. Or if we’re not, we’re always recovering from the busyness. Word thinks that busyness is a word. Dumb old ‘puter.

Let’s see…Melissa showed off for Ricardo (one of the people who lives here) by doing Kung Fu, and we all kinda hung out speaking pidgin Spanish with Ricardo for a while…then I came out here and started my writing. This is a little short because I wasn’t very enthralled with today, and I’m both sad and happy to leave Carlos and Cuerici behind.

Second in a series of catch-ups

I didn’t write yesterday (June 11) because I was very tired, and today (June 12) I am even more tired, but I decided I needed to write you because I’m going to forget the important things if I don’t. So, yesterday, Carlos took us on a hike through some primary (and secondary, but mostly primary) oak forest. He apparently teaches all kinds of survivalism classes and stuff in his forest, and he told us about a lot of cool plants that you can use for things. There’s a leaf you can chew that’s a pretty mild anesthetic and in Spanish its name is ‘broken molar’…there are nettles, and a mint relative that works as bug repellent…and little tiny avocadoes (aguacadoes) that the quetzals eat. The avocadoes are good for reforestation and are also good timber…and there is another kind of bird that eats the avocadoes too…but if you want to do reforestation, you choose the seeds regurgitated by the quetzals (the other bird poops them out, so you can tell cuz they’re dirty) because quetzals are much more selective.

There is a robin here that is the most beautiful birdsong I’ve ever heard—it’s like a flute, but also just…a very true song. We hiked up and up and up and up into the mist and the clouds, and everything was dripping. There is a hugely amazing variety of moss and stuff growing all on the trees…if you are thirsty, you can lick the moss. Finally we got up up up high enough to get to this raw rough lumber deck that Carlos has built at a vista point, and we looked up towards the highest mountain in Costa Rica, and then down the valley (carved by glaciers) to his farm. I took lots of pictures. There were buzzards with white bars on their wings soaring far below us, and in spite of everyone talking and being silly, it was very, very peaceful. Then we went down down down through more oak forest (bamboo understory—more exciting things about this when I get to the ‘today’ part of this entry), and saw white mushrooms that mice eat, and all kinds of moss and a few dark birds which turned out to be buzzards…which may or may not have been the same ones we saw flying below us.

The ground is covered in leaf litter, but it’s too high up (and too cold) for me to be looking for lizards in it, so that was a little bit of a relief. There’s a little bit of pressure for me to be finding da leezards, ya know? (that would be how I’d say it if I were a cross between Javez and Sammie….)

Let’s see…yesterday I also talked with Carlos a lot. We talked about hummingbirds, and how I really love his farm. And about fuschias—those flowers that look like dancing girls, their lighter, upper skirts flaring out while their darker underskirt stays down, covering their legs…they may be my favorite flower. I explained to him why, in English, ‘hummingbirds’ are called hummingbirds. We just kind of sat for a while on the steps of the porch, and that was very nice.

When we got back from the hike, I went to lie down on the ground near the trout pond, and just lay there watching them for a while. I also made friends with a duck (the kind with a lot of red around its eyes)…when I walked up, it hissed at me, and did all kinds of intense neck-bobbing and breathing things…I couldn’t tell if it just wanted to quack and couldn’t, or if it was doing some complex communication. So, I sat on the ground and said “pato, pato, patito, patitico, pato, pato” and it came up to me and sat next to me and I petted it for a while before it decided to go away. It was so cute. In Spanish, adding “ito” (or “ita”) to the end of a word means “little” whatever that word is. So, senorita is like little senora. In Costa Rica, they say “tico” and “tica”, so patitico is like little duck. It was after that that I watched the trouts.

Then it rained. It rained for about the rest of the day, from 1:30 to whenever we go to bed, which ends up being around 9ish. Tonight I am staying up extra late because I want to finish this...even though it is a shorter, less descriptive one.

Yesterday we had a lecture about how the diversity is all going away because people suck…that made me sad. Then Doug talked about hypotheses, and why they are important, and what characteristics they need to have. Then we had dinner, and I spent a lot of time reading some papers that will eventually have to do with my project for the summer. Doug and Jeremy and I had a conversation about the degree to which it is a good idea to focus on being published. Doug seems to be on my wavelength in terms of we’d rather have a cool question to work with than an easy paper to publish. Jeremy's a little more focused on publication.

A note about Doug, though. He’s turning into kind of a weirdo here, because he says things like “It’s only a 10 minute walk, and it’s all downhill.” That translated to an hour hike that had more downhill but had significant uphills (that was when I didn’t walk from a long way to Cuerici). Or he’ll say “there are a few blackberry bushes, and the hillside is easy to get to”…which translates to people having to crawl and clamber up a cliff face to get to a hillside that is mostly thorns. Or “an easy 10 minute drive” is actually a 30 minute ride that leaves everyone carsick. Or “you guys can do this on the bus”, which actually means that we’ll all be puking if we try it. So…he seems to be proving himself to be pretty oblivious to what it’s like to be a student. But it is pretty funny, because…well…nobody knows what to expect when Doug opens his mouth. Nobody is entirely convinced whether that is a good or a bad thing, though. At least, I’m not.

Today, well, we had pancakes for breakfast (auuughhh yuuukkkk) and they were thick thick thick and heavy heavy heavy, so I barely ate them. Then we went on a truly high-altitude hike…the Paramo (pronounced PAh-rah-moe) is the climate above montane forest, and it has no air. We drove 30 sickening minutes there, and then tried to go up a hillside, and I swear to you that I had to stop every 30 or 50 steps to put my head down and try to get some air, because…there just wasn’t enough. We started out at about 11,000 feet above sea level (big change from Mystic, and I sure felt it), and just climbed. There are TONS of medicinal plants up there, and the sun is bright and there’s a beautifully cool breeze, so once you acclimate, it’s incredibly gorgeous. All the plants are small-leaved, and there are lycopodium species (good for antibiotics, antihistamines, and have flammable spores that make fires happen…used to be good for camera flashes), valerian roots (wish I had one…god I hurt all over), coffee relatives, St. John’s Wort, bug repellent…all kinds of things. We caught a lizard (I saw 4 more, but they all got away), and I had it bite me so that I won’t be scared of being bitten by them, and it was beautiful blue and black speckled…they also come in green/black and yellow/black and combos of colors/black speckles…to blend in with lichens, and my god, there were SO many gorgeous lichens. We went up and down and up and down a few mountain peaks (within about 1200 feet elevation of where we started, so nothing too horrible), and we saw and dissected puma scat. When we got back to Cuerici, everyone was completely bushed. We had taken a smaller hike (about 40 minutes shorter) than the group did yesterday, and we were still tired…but we only had a little time (2 hours) before setting off on our mousetrap setting adventure, which is in the oak forest I wrote about, but we went the opposite way around the loop.

We got back at 12, and at first, we were going to leave at 3 to go up and set the traps. Then Marcela pushed it back to 2. I was talking to Carlos, because he was going to take people on their oak forest hike (the two groups switched off—they did paramo yesterday, while we did oak forest, and then we switched) in the afternoon, since they spent the morning catching lizards in the field full of thorns. I was planning to nap, after we talked. But that didn’t happen. I told him I wanted to write him a letter, but that it would be a very simple letter, because I can’t speak Spanish. He said that that was ok, that it was better to remember and have short letters than to not remember and have long ones. Because I don’t entirely get everything he says (I do generally get the jist, though), I’ve started to be a leetle nervous about him being sketchy. I don’t think he is, because he seems pretty paternal and platonic, but I guess I’m just (egotistical?) paranoid.

So then we went up to set the traps, and my god, I thought I was gonna die. Leo couldn’t even go, because he was gonna get a migrane, and Sammie and Faiane were in even worse shape than I was…I was at least able to keep my legs under control, even though I was tired.

We eventually made it to where we were going, and set out the grids. I got the prize of being the best person at running a measuring tape in a straight line, so I got to crash willy-nilly through the bamboos to help flag out our trapping grids. That’s pretty much the only exciting part. We came back down, eventually, and I tried to play soccer when we got here, but I got my bare foot stepped on with cleats, and I think my left leg is slightly dislocated from my hip. Ouchie-wawa. So I had a shower (first one since arriving at Cuerici), and then went to dinner. Erin (Doug’s daughter) and I are really getting to be friends…she knew I hadn’t showered, so when she saw my wet hair she said, “Oh no, you finally broke down and took a shower!” hee. hee. So we had dinner, and they make the BEST hot chocolate here every night. It isn’t too sweet, and it isn’t too chocolatey, and it’s just…our favorite part of dinner.

Then we went to the lab, and Carlos told us the story of Cuerici Biological Station (via translation by Marcela). It is a really fascinating story, but the basics are that he used to be a hunter/logger/trapper for a living, but he’s decided the better thing to do is to try to conserve the wilderness and work on sustainable development. I have a lot of respect for him. I like it that he teases me a little—like I was sitting almost in the fire cuz I was cold and my hair was wet, and he said “Cuidado! Tu vas a ser una Barbeque!” Which is funny! (Watch out! You’re going to be a barbeque!) After the talk, he told everyone good night and hugged and kissed me on the cheek (which he did last night, and which is a common thing to do in Latino countries, apparently)…Jeremy says he was talking to him earlier and he (Carlos) said that I was a “very special girl”. I really hope that it’s not sketchiness, because if it is, I will become bitter and cynical about the possibility for making friends with pretty much any guy over 40.

Then a bunch of us stayed in lab (me cuz I sleep here) and had our whining session, and then talked of various and sundry things. Then everyone left except Leo, and we talked ballroom for 30 minutes, which was surprisingly fun for me. I think I’m secretly addicted to it…shhh! He showed me videos on his camera of him and his girlfriend dancing, and she had good movement…but Liz is, of course, much better.

So now I am sitting next to the fire in lab, and I’m about to die (for the nth time today…it has been a perilous day) of no sleep and soreness. But I drank almost 2L (platypus bottle! Everyone loves it!) of chamomile tea, so I hope that I will feel better tomorrow…that probably has something to do with feeling like I need to pass out completely. They all teased me about the tea looking like pee. But they shared it with me (aww), so it was good.

Tomorrow is our last day at Cuerici, and we have to leave at 6:30 (our usual breakfasttime) to go up and get the mice and count the parasites they have…if we are lucky we will be back for lunch. If my legs won’t go tomorrow, I don’t know what I’ll do. I got points today for having a good idea for how to keep Doug’s group’s lizards from walking themselves in their lingerie bags off the tables—you pushpin them to the wall!

First in a series of catch-ups

June 10, Cuerici Biological Station, Costa Rica

We left for Cuerici at around 8am—putting the stuff in the van was a nightmare paretly because not all of it would go back in my bag!!! They said “leave stuff at Las Cruces,” but somehow I didn’t really get that memo…oh well. I did leave my big Savage book (the field guide that the TSA almost took from me), though.

Doug wanted us to work on our scaling presentations in the car, so we all tried, and all of us ended up carsick. Lucky me for remembering to take Dramamine! We had to stop so that everyone could become unsick…exept me.

While we were stopped, I took a picture or five of banana leaves for our project. I also saw a brown man longing a white yearling horse. Or maybe it was gray. Longing (pronounced, “lunging”) is basically having the horse practice listening to you and get exercise by running around you on a long leash—a longe line.

I tried to sleep the next two hours to Cuerici, but although I had a much better seat than before we stopped (I had been sitting on a fold-out seat that had enough spring in the back that every time we speeded up, it felt like my seat was preparing to jettison me through the windshield), I had nothing to lean on. So that whole sleeping thing didn’t go so well.

When we got to the driveway for Cuerici, some people got out and walked, because Doug said it was not very far and not anything but downhill. I didn’t get out because I am SO SORE. Even my shoulders and arms…everything hurts. So our bus made it down the narrow, bumpy dirt track to the gate, and then we loaded all the stuff into a jeep with a pickup bed in back (oww—the loading, not the jeep), and walked the last half mile or so. It was very steep, and the fog was pretty thick. If someone was about 50 yards in front of you, they were just a ghostly shape.

Cuerici is in the Montane/high montane rainforest classification…there are mosses and vines everywhere, and it is too cool for bugs! Hooray! The mist flows in and around everything, and you can’t really tell (except that the ground is so steep) that we are at about 2500-2800 m above sea level. That’s right. Meters.

Carlos, the man who owns this place (with 7 anonymous collaborators—apparently that’s a common way to have business ventures in Costa Rica), is an amazing person. He bought this land (about 200 hectares of primary rainforest which connects a national park and a wildlife sanctuary) a long time ago from a man who’d gotten it from Carlos’s grandparents. It is a totally centrist endeavor—he believes that both total conservation and clearcutting are bad ideas, and Cuerici focuses a lot on how to keep the land healthy while living on it. He has an amazing trout farm—one of the two in the country (the other is run by the government), and he does it all manually. And it is organic, too. The trout start in long, deep bathtub things, maybe 50 ft long and 1m deep, 1.5 m wide…then they go to a round pond at the top of the hill that is also a garden (which sits just below the house, which is connected to the lab by a 50ft walkway underneath a roof so that nobody gets rained on going to and fro)….got that? (haha). Water from that pond drains down to a long, deepish pond 30m downhill where the fish go when they have gotten bigger. There are several steps like this; each pond has bigger fish, and at the bottom of the garden there are two big old ponds where they keep the breeding fish—they are bigger than my forearm (maybe as long as my arm, wrist-to-shoulder), and very fat.

At the bottom pond, we saw two male ducks (brothers) fighting…they hopped out of the water, beat their wings on the water (lots of splashing and loud slaps), and tried to push each other under. I took a minute-long movie to put online at some point.

After the big-fish pond, the water goes through pipes to their hydroelectric plant, which is just a shack with a turbine in it…there are no funding organizations in Costa Rica, so he has to do it all himself. But he bought and set it up about 12 years ago (for around $4000, which is unheard of wealth here, and especially in that area)…and there really isn’t a way to fix it if it breaks. He has to do it himself…so that is not so good.

The house/lodge kind of sneaks up on you as you come down the trail out of the mist….it is a big wooden structure that smells like a home. The floors are split raw wood, worn smooth, and there is a big, beautiful deck with rocking chairs and hammock chairs as well, all looking over a natural-log railing across the deep, deep valley to the mountains beyond…when it’s not foggy, that is. The dorms are upstairs, above a beautiful kitchen and the dining room…lush grass is all around, and there is a small mora plantation in the garden, which is organic. The garden supplies most of the food to the house (although not to the students who visit). The classroom (lab) is where I’m sleeping tonight, on rough-hewn boards next to a fire. Carlos doesn’t speak English, but we have made friends.

This place is so amazing. So completely…at peace. The word Carlos uses is “tranquilo” which means peaceful, tranquil, and something more that doesn’t really translate (sorry to sound snooty about it)…I guess tranquilo is kind of the essence of the place. That or the other way around.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

There's a moth with a wider wingspan than my hand is long over there on the wall

We left at 7:30 for our 6 mile hike, and although it was completely amazing, it nearly killed almost everyone…one notable event was seeing a leafcutter ant soldier with a head and pincers bigger than its thorax (natives used to use them for sutures…hold the ant up to the held-together wound, let it bite down, and then cut off its head. Then your cut or whatever is held together for a while). Seems kinda painful, but looking at those mouthparts, I would totally believe that it works.

During the hike, we also saw several amazing furry caterpillars. One was rainbow colored with white fur…its back was red, its sides were yellow, its lower sides were green, and its feet were blue-black. Javier found that one, and I got a picture of it. I found one that was dark brown with little tufts of white on each corner which looked like eyebrows or pompoms or something. I also found a stripey millipede that was in a big hurry.

Initially, Jeremy and I started kinda fast in front of the group, because we wanted the chance to hear monkeys before everyone else came through being loud…but we didn’t hear monkeys. The people with Rodo (resident biologist, whose real name is Rudolfo Quiroz or something like that) did, though, because he knows what to listen for.
Rodo does this funny thing where if he loses his balance and is waving his arms, he’ll make frantic monkey shout noises to make everyone laugh. It always works. He had a machete (actually, they call them ‘cuchillos’ which means knife, but can refer to a butter knife or a…machete. Apparently in Costa Rica, machetes are rounded and used for gardening…I really want to get one, and he told me the two good brands. Coronetta and Imacasa…or is it Amicasa? I’m not sure…probably the second one, as it’s more Spanish than French.)

At dinner, I played with my food and made a design with lentils, carrot, chayote, and rice. Then I wrote my name with rice on the plate. It made people laugh.

So, on the hike I caught two lizards, and got to see a third one. Two of them (the one Doug caught, and the second one I caught) were Norops (anoles)…and one was more of an iguana type thing…I think the species is Corytophanidae christus, but I am probably wrong. Corytophanidae isn’t a genus, for instance. It is related to a JesusChrist lizard, which are named that because the juveniles can run across water (bipedally) when they’re scared. Apparently the adults also run bipedally. I would like to see that. It seems comical.

After the hike and after lunch, I tried to siesta, but couldn’t sleep, so I went down to the forest to have some space, and maybe make a bamboo flute. The flute didn’t turn out so well, but before I started it, when I was walking around, I saw my first wild wild snake. I was walking down a path and looking for lizards to practice catching (both of mine got away today…damn damn damn), and I heard this swishy swishy noise, so I turned around, and I saw this big black snake (about 5 or 5.5 feet long, and not so fat, but not really skinny) coming out of the ferns towards me, about…oh, 20 feet away, and kinda fast. I jumped, and said “Oh my god!” started backing away, and when it was 15 feet away, it stopped, reared up about 15 inches (it had a pure white ventrum), and just looked at me, flicking its tongue. I looked back, and part of my brain was like “TAKE A PICTURE YOU IDIOT THIS IS PERFECT” and part of my brain was like “SHIT is it a mamba? Is it going to chase me? Do they HAVE mambas in Costa Rica? I don’t think so….” And the other part of my brain was like “Are you serious? I’m seeing a 6 foot snake and it’s just standing there looking at me? This is SO COOL!!!!!!”. But by the time I unfroze (15 seconds or maybe 30…it felt like forever that it just kept flicking its tongue and looking at me in a totally impersonal “hmm” kind of way) and started to fumble through my pack for my camera, it had put its head down and begun to go back from whence it came. I got two pictures of it slithering, but I can’t get the picture of it slithering after me out of my head…it freaked me out, a little. Of course, then when I ran into a branch, I completely flipped, and my legs were shaking pretty bad. And I had to check everywhere around benches and stuff for a while before sitting down. As it turns out, that snake eats venomous snakes around here. But it still startled the crap out of me, and I’m pretty sure that that is the first real wild snake I’ve ever seen. Certainly the biggest. I think the reason it got me is because I have that mamba story in my head. But…if nothing else cool happens this summer, that was definitely worth all the bugbites so far.

After that, I kinda didn’t do much interesting for the rest of the day. We measured banana leaves in the pouring rain, and got so wet that we could barely see (it then rained for almost 8 hours, alternating between heavy drizzle and outright downpour)…we went to town the same way they toted us back from our hike, in the back of a jeep on benches with our backs to the side windows, knees all squished in the center. About 9 of us went, because we wanted to get warmer clothes. I got an L.L.Bean jacket and some nice fleece pants (green and purple jacket, burnt orange fleece pants) for about 3400 CRC (which is around 6.50 USD). After that, a bunch of us went to the grocery store and I bought peanut butter, which is good emergency field food, since it’s good, slow energy (everyone else pretty much bought excessive amounts of beer…first of all, YUCK, and second of all beer is mildly forbidden (Doug considers it “unimaginative”, which means you won’t get kicked out unless you’re drunk, but you will be minorly persona non grata, which isn’t so good), and thirdly, we’re leaving tomorrow, so they are just going to have to leave it here. Oh, and most of them are now broke. Sheesh. I am considering getting a bottle of really nice tequila, except I don't like tequila.

While we were waiting to come back home, a drunk guy hit on me pretty hardcore in Spanish. But, I didn’t understand most of it. There were a lot of ‘guapa’s (which means hot, or cute, or pretty), and some “—a mi casa” s (which means at my house). Jeremy says the guy thought Jeremy should marry me, and when he said he didn’t want to, the guy wanted to instead. EW. But I just ignored him, because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Dinner…not so yummy, but good food. I played with it…then we had the herps lecture, which was pretty interesting, but nothing hugely new or different. Not at all exciting compared to what happened earlier with herps.

Tomorrow morning we leave for Cuerici, and after four days (i.e. on Thursday, 6/14) we leave for La Selva. After La Selva, we spend three days (starting 6/18, when we leave La Selva and arrive in time for lunch at Bribri) at the Bribri reservation, then spend the afternoon and evening of June 21 in San Jose (I’m going to buy a hammock and a machete…cuchillo…whatever), and the next morning we … go to Guayabo national monument, which is an archaeological dig site, or something. The NEXT day (June 23) we come back to Las Cruces, and then really start rolling on research and research prep.

Friday, June 8, 2007

It didn't rain today!

After breakfast, which was good but unremarkable, we had a 90 minute lecture on plant taxonomy. For some reason, I’m really a lot more into Bio in general now than I was when I took it—what a pity. After the lecture, we all went out into the gardens and jungle and got about 12 plant samples, and came back and tried to identify them down to order, or maybe family. I forget. What crazy plants around here—so much diversity…it’s really, really hard to believe. While we were searching for plants, I saw an agouti, which is a medium sized rodent. They have big rumps, and kind of look like big rats, except they have small ears, flatter snouts, and no long skinny tails.

I did get to see a coati in its entirety, though. They are related to raccoons, and they are SO CUTE. They look kinda like possums, with long skinny, tapered brown furry tails about 2/3 as long as their body, which is kinda humped up (but not as much as an agouti), and a long skinny nose, like a possum. The eyes kinda end up looking like raccoons though, because I am pretty sure that as they get older they end up with white spectacles. The one I saw was a baby.

After lunch, we had the same 90 min gig, except this one was insects…and then we went to collect—you guessed it—insects, and then identified them. I found some gorgeous coleopterans…one was dark gray on its back, with a white band on the wings, and when I turned him over, his sides were orange and black barred, and his stomach was orange/red with black legs and a long black straw kinda folded back from his mouth down to way past his back-est legs. Doug also caught a Norops lepis (or lepsis?)¸ which is one of those lizards with the big extendable dewlap. I didn’t identify him right away, but I intuited the genus correctly, so that was good.

After insects, we went down to play soccer…que bueno!!!!! Quite a ways down the hill from the housing, they’ve dug a soccer field out of the ground, so it has steep red walls about 10 feet high on two sides (a long and a short)…it’s maybe 50 or 60 m long, so it’s not too big to play with small teams, and the goals are proportionately small. About 15 of us played—Frank, Javez, Erin (Doug’s daughter), Tracy, Natasha, Thomas (a researcher here), Javier (pronounced ha-vee-air), Doug, Mitch (Doug’s son), Leo, Shawn, Melissa, me…I’m sure I’ve forgotten people…but basically everyone but Sammie, Charlene, Maria (Doug’s wife), Fiane, Tanika, Marcela, and Jeremy. It was probably the most fun soccer game I’ve ever played…aside from the ball bouncing off the walls, taking sections out of banana tree leaves (they are huge…..over a meter and a half long—we’re actually doing a project with them, but more on that later), and falling down into the jungle…when retrieving the ball down a 7 foot slippery mud slope, I discovered the only way to go down is to slide on yo’ ass. Going up is exciting. My team ended up winning, and I was about upper-middle of the road in terms of ability/skill. The corner of the field that is in the corner of the walls is extremely muddy, so we pretty much gave up on the possibility for using friction and just slipped and rolled around in that corner. From afar, people playing in that corner appear to be registering tremendous and overstated double takes, so it becomes soccer in intensely slow motion….that is somehow speeded up, because every second you have to correct your balance about six times.

It was a great game, though, because everyone was playing to have fun…there was intense competition, but when better players encountered worse players it wasn’t with the intent to show them up, make them feel bad, or hurt them…it was just playing for the sake of playing. A real game….just right. I got to play as hard as I could, and everyone was really positive, and I didn’t even feel bad when I let goals through when I was playing keeper, because everyone was so positive. And after the game, it was really apparent that we were all playing because we love the game, not because we were out to win, or something.

That’s the reason you play games. I don’t even remember the score!

After the game, we came up and had dinner, which was again good but unremarkable…and then we had a 90 minute lecture on primates, but that was not followed by collecting them, because nobody except Doug has seen any yet. In this area there are white faced capuchins, and at La Selva there are Howler, Spider, and Squirrel monkeys. We got to learn so much about their behavior and sociality, but I thought the most interesting part was about how different troops of Howler monkeys in particular interact with one another. There are usually around 18 monkeys in a troop, and the youngest one of each sex (discounting juveniles, of course) are alpha…but all males are above all females in the pecking order. Dumb old sexist monkeys. Howler monkeys eat a lot lot lot of leaves…about 15% of their body weight a day, and they have to travel around to find the youngest, highest protein, lowest cellulose leaves, partly because leaves are so expensive to digest, you know…the normal stuff. But it turns out that they call in the morning and at night (and when disturbed, duh)…but they aren’t doing it to protect their territory. They’re doing it to minimize competition with other troops, saying “Hey, we’re here, and we’re trying to eat, so do everyone a favor and go eat somewhere else”. That’s such a cool thing…it makes me really happy, in a strange, hidden kind of way.

Spider monkeys can scoop water with their tails! I’m not sure how that works, but that’s what Maria said…and she is a primate behavior person, so it must be true. They also—the adults—will stretch their bodies from tree to tree and let the babies climb across, if it is too far for the baby to jump.

Javez and Frank have major schmajor crushes on Javier…it’s really funny. They talk about him all the time, and keep trying to figure out what it is about him that makes (supposedly) all the girls go crazy for him. The evidence is that funny old lady at the market, so I’m not sure too much about the girls, but those two pretty much talk about him for part of every meal. I’m sure part of it is trying to figure out how to be as cool/sexy/whatever…but it seems like an awful lot of attention to pay. We tease them about it, but they’re so chill that it really is all in good fun. “Oh, Javez, I got a thing he does! You can’t talk, just smile when people say things to you” “Yeah, man…and I been workin’ on that leanin’ shit he does alla time…I mean, he is always leanin’ on somethin’! I gotta learn the leeeean. Hey Frank, dude, we gotta do the leanin’ thing if we wanna get some girls, man!” Javez is hilarious…he’s so laid back that he just makes everyone else that way too. I’m happy that I'm capable of relaxing into that silly, almost jock-style humor and hanging out—loud noises, playing the “let’s laugh at them eating noni” game, playing soccer in a field without friction…those things. It’s really super great for me to be able to feel like I’m just one of a group. There’s just a lot of camaraderie here…and I…it’s really nice. I think it really helps me stay emotionally centered, more or less.

We put up a sheet with lights to attract moths, and there are all kinds out there right now…and a ot in here on the white walls and the ceiling. Most of them look like leaves, or parts of trees, but a lot also look like butterflies, or slivery things…there must be 300 total hanging out around our lights. The internet party here in lab is pretty tame tonight…only Fiane, me, Tracy, and Thomas (who is actually doing research). And we’re all trying to get to bed…especially me and Tracy.

Tomorrow we have 6< mile hike from 7:30 to 12, and after that we go collect data for our scaling experiments. We are trying to see how banana leaves width is related to length. Nothin’ special…when we were down taking some dry run data, though, we saw a gorgeous red and black and brown tarantula, some more agouti, and Melissa got landed on by a giant beetle and ruptured our (mine and Fiane’s) eardrums…she’s a little high strung in a different way. But anyway…once we leave for Cuerici, I’m not sure when I’ll next have Internet. I mean, we’ll be back here in a couple weeks, but I think there is no Internet at Cuerici, which we’ll be at for 4 nights, and then we’ll be at La Selva (where we may see cats and monkeys and snakes…it’s ‘classic’ rainforest), which does have Internet but may be too slow to use, since the station will be packed full…then we’re going to the Bribri reservation, which I promise will not have Internet at all, and I’m not sure how long we’ll be there.

My hands are actually swollen from bugbites

This entry is from yesterday...starting Saturday for a couple weeks I do not know what the possibility of Internet access will be. Thus, the night referred to in the entry is not actually LAST night, but the night before last. Time for a fiesta before our second round of tasks. Leave me comments!

We were cold last night, and for a lot of today we were damp, and it was pretty chilly…low 70s, I'd guess Tropics, eh? At the same time, though, I'd rather it be this way than steamy like it will be at La Selva.

After breakfast (at which I had options other than beans and rice, for which my intestines are profoundly grateful), we went on a hike from 7:30 to 12…we walked through the bromeliads, the cycads, the palms, and saw a really big fig tree, too. Those are all in the botanical gardens..then we walked down towards the forest, and covered ground very, very slowly …we saw bamboo that grows maybe 50 feet in 2 months, and a big strangler fig that's probably 300 years old that towers up, and looks like it's made of rope lace. It's an epiphyte, which starts growing on a branch, and sends its roots way far down to the ground, and eventually either shades out its host, or crushes it, because they get absolutely huge. We climbed up part of it, and it's like a tunnel made of big thick mossy ropes, which seem like branches, but are actually the roots. The branches don't start for at least 30 feet.

We saw also the tiniest bamboo in the world, which looks like grass. And lots of invasive bamboo, and a bunch of ornamental gingers with crazy flowerthings, and mossy vines, and ferns with 5 to 10 foot fronds, and flowering banana trees, and tiny flowers, and birds, and some people saw a snake (but I didn't get to). We saw bright blue metallic tiger beetles, and in the morning I hung around the bananas and got lots pictures of some amazing birds. Tomorrow we're gonna go out and try to get pictures of some frogs. Turns out that hiking in rubber boots isn't all that bad, provided you don't mind having a little slippage be a given. It's kinda like walking in slush at Cornell, where you have to always be trying to not slip. Here, if you fall down, most of the time you'll be a mud person before you've even

We made it down to the river, and looked around, and then it was 11:15 and we had to sprint back for lunch. Tracy and I made it our business to make it to the station ASAP because she had to pee, and I felt like my legs were gonna die. I kept wanting to stop, but decided that it was better to just mush on, because then at least it'd be over.

Turns out Las Cruces is a great place to study restoration ecology and conservation biology, because they're slowly taking back clearcut pasture land and bringing it back to secondary forest. Even in five years, it's possible to get back almost a quarter of the avian biodiversity, they've found…they're working on attaching it to the Guaymi reservation, about 7km away, to create a forest big enough to have actual significantly sized predators (tapir, jaguar), because right now it's around 230 hectares, which is not big enough yet. But there are over half the species of hummingbirds in Costa Rica here, and 410 species of birds. Actually, there are 250 in the botanical gardens alone, many of them endemic. I feel so lucky to be here. There are 100 species of mammals, including whitefaced monkey, and 40 species of bats…so pretty low (relatively) diversity of mammals, but they're working on that. On project is trying to make a biological corridor from coast to coast to connect the two biggest wildlife sanctuaries in the country, and Las Cruces is close enough to eventually become a part of that larger chunk. It's so rare to have a success story in conservation and restoration biology/ecology, that this is really exciting.

I've picked up a speech pattern that's kinda funny…influenced by the tendency of Spanish speakers to end with "si?" which means "yes?"…so I've started kinda talking in a faster monotone, and ending with "yeah?" "I-dunno-I-mean-it-seems-kinda-repetitive-yah?" Interesting, but I feel like it's a little bit annoying.

We had the fruit lab tonight, and there were some really great ones, and some really disgusting ones that barely anyone would eat. Noni was the worst…the first time, Frank, Leo, and Javez decided to eat some, and they all ran outside and spit it out and did the "EW YUCK EW YUCK GROSS EWWWW AUGHH" dance for a while. Then they ate some of that pod stuff that Javez bought at the market, and it wasn't as bad as we thought it would be…we were all kinda disappointed. Then they decided to try to eat noni again!!!! Dumb old boys. We all watched and laughed. My favorites were the coconut, the mamones (little green fruits that are mostly seed, very slimy, but sweet and very tart and mildly astringent…you have to suck/chew the slimy stuff off the seed, so it takes a while to eat), the camote…which was like green sweet potato, the guava (which is not like guava in the US…it's like a long bean pod with big old beans inside coated with a fluffy-slithery sweet coating), and the passionfruit. Did you know there are two kinds of passionfruit? I ate one of each, but they aren't nearly as sweet as passionfruit-flavored things. Tamika calls them snotfruit, because you eat the stuff that has the consistency of snot that is all mixed in with the seeds….of course, we were all raring to try them after we heard that. Ahar. Ahar.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Beans: it's what's for dinner

So, it's been a long, hard few days since June began. Special thanks (again) to Carol, because it would've been incomparably worse without you...Carol, David, Addie, Bud, Tiana...thank you.

Khere's the earth. It's a-chillin. Here is what I have written in my first days here, starting with waking up in the hotel in San Jose.

The birds here start at 4am and they sound just like squeaky shoes—I couldn´t figure out for a while whether it was loud people sambaing in loud shoes in the hallway, or birds. Sammie (who will be my roommate in the hotel) hasn´t shown up yet.

It´s light so early here that I´m worried that my watch lost time…but I doubt it. IT makes sense for the sun to rise early nearer to the equator…right? Not really….because it´s in the high latitudes that you get the midnight sun and so forth. I guess I´ll get dressed and go downstairs for food…

They have a pretty extensive breakfast here, but all the food makes me feel just a bit woozy…not sure whether it´s that I´m still very tired, having not caught up on my sleep, or whether it´s just the different food and the level of grease. But, they do have WONDERFUL watermelon and fresh pineapple, and what tastes like fresh squeezed fruit juice (orange and…maybe mango?) I got locked out of my bathroom, but the guy who fixed it just wiggled a flat-head screwdriver around in the keyhole, so I know it won´t happen again. Then he asked me (in Spanish) whether I spoke Spanish, and I said a little, and he started rattling off at me. I didn´t understand, and it was really sad, because I felt so stupid, but…it´s ok. My brain tried to make it into French. I wonder when that will stop. I kind of hope it doesn't, but I suppose it's bound to.

I ate bagels and hummus for lunch at the OTS office on the campus of Costa Rica University, which is where we went after I sent you that e-mail this morning. The architecture was really cool…they had a little pond under some spiral stairs, and there were cute little tiny poi fish in the pond. There was even a cute lil waterfall. I did not eat the fishies. So far, everyone has been really great about finding me alternatives for meat…they brought out hummus for me, especially.

There is pineapple and papaya and watermelon at pretty much every meal here, and the pineapple is much better than anything I´ve ever had in the US. It´s not acidic at ALL—or at least it doesn´t seem acidic. The watermelon is pretty good, but I haven´t been brave enough to try the papaya yet. I tried some a long time ago and couldn´t stand it. Before lunch at OTS, we had a meeting in a circle, where they told us about Risk Management—it boils down to ¨don´t leave your stuff around to get stolen¨ and ¨don´t be stupid otherwise¨ and ¨no drugs and please don´t drink excessively¨. So, all in all it was ok.

Then we had lunch, and hung around forever and a day. Doug has these really neat poles for catching lizards—they are about 20 feet long when they are extended, but they collapse to about a meter long. So you can take off the cap, and pretend like you´re casting a fishing pole, and all of a sudden, the pole grows. It has a little clear noose on the end for catching lizards, and then you pick them up and bring them down and measure them and stuff. Pretty neat.

When we finally finished waiting for Marcela we went to the market. We walked down a long mall near what Marcela told us was the nicest theatre type place in the city, and then we got to a covered market type thing…which is basically a big barn with a tin roof, and there are about a zillion stalls inside, with people selling everything from medicinal herbs (Javez, a marine biology / geography major from Hawaii) bought a big long (3 feet) pod with some horrible smelling center to fruits, to fish markets, and little mirrors with rubber around the edges. Our assignment was to buy fruits, and I had to buy papaya, camote (a type of sweet potato), chayote (they look like greenish yellow apples crossed with tomatoes), and Yuca, which looks and feels like a waxy, rotten yam. I hope it tastes better than it looks. Marcela had given us each 2000 colones, because this fruit we bought, we´re doing a (haha) lab on it. …. Which is to say, we´re going to eat it day after tomorrow night, and while we´re doing so, we´ll learn about the different parts of plants. I think that´s a quite brilliant and pretty tasty way of doing it.

Also in the market was wonderful, intensely vanilla ice cream. It was so much more refreshing than normal ice cream…it had small crystals of ice all through it, and it was...like a soft serve, only more viscous. It was yellow, and there were little tiny specks of vanilla bean in it. Jeremy shared one with me, but that was ok, because it was kind of easy to get enough of, as good as it was.

After the market, we got into the bus and went back to the hotel, from where we walked to have dinner at this really great, really basic restaurant. We all sat at this wooden picnic table (all 20 of us) and the waiter came out and told us we had one choice for drinks (blackberry juice! Apparently Costa Rica is a major exporter of organic blackberries. Who knew!?), and three choices for dinner: cow meat in tomato sauce, chicken with rice, or fish. Marcela came to my rescue, and so I had some really wonderful black beans, rice, some buttery cauliflower and potato type veggies, and a slice of fried cheese. Except, the cheese had the texture of really firm, really silky tofu, and the flavor was absolutely amazing. Like a cheddar crossed with something kinda smokey, and kinda…animal flavored. And when they fried it, it didn´t melt, it just got this crust. For dessert there were little ounce servings of rice pudding rich with cinnamon and whatever else rice pudding is rich with…cream, probably. Yum. Oh, and dinner was served on boards with handles on one side, and the plate (between the wood and the food) was a square piece of leaf. Whee!

When we got back to the hotel, a few of us went to Wal Mart, which, here, is Hiper Más…and its mascot is a whale. But it really is WalMart. I got some laundry soap, and Sammie and Charlene, the two girls who got here today sans luggage, got some clothes. The reason I bought laundry soap is because to do laundry at Las Cruces, there are two options. The suggested option is to buy laundry service at the price of 8 dollars per laundry bag. Seriously??? My alternative is to do my own damn laundry. By hand, in the sink, every night. That means that I will save money, but honestly. I wouldn´t mind at all paying people to do my laundry, but with the conversion, I end up paying 4120 CRC (Costa Rican Colones) per load. Which is a little absurd…and yes, I really am just that cheap.

I found out that there will be crazy orchids growing wild at Las Cruces, so I´m going to try to get a nice enough photo to give to Addie in a frame….I think she would like that. We also may get to see Howler and Spider monkeys at one of the sites we are going to visit. I really hope so. If we are really, really lucky, we´ll also spot an ocelot and a jaguar. I´m not gonna get my hopes up about that, though. Apparently, it´s really super rare.

So the next day, we drove to Las Cruces, about 300km away. On the way we went up and down some big mountains. There are all these little houses and shacks along the side of the road, some of them seem to be just barely clinging to the mountain. They are made out of all kinds of things, but they are almost all either brightly colored, or worn to look kinda like … stonewashed houses. You know, instead of stonewashed jeans? Some of them are little triangular prisms…very pretty, but I bet they are not very comfortable to live in.

We stopped at the top of a mountain for a pit stop, and Jeremy got some pretty pictures of hummingbirds and stuff…I got a picture of some trees. Turns out that I may be working a little bit with Doug's daughter, though…she's about 16. She seems nice and stuff, and kinda shy—junior in high school, and has been all over the world…seems kinda mainstream, though. We shall see.

We stopped for lunch in Buenas Aires, and I had rice and beans and pineapple. On the drive we saw lots and lots of pineapple plants…they grow close and low to the ground, like a lot of yucca. Did you know that?? For some reason I always assumed they grew on trees. The fields are big, and the ground is red, and the way the fields are set up are with big chunks of the field (maybe 30 feet long and 10 or 15 feet wide) with paths almost as wide as roads in between, so the overall effect from a long way away is like a gray-green crazy quilt (a quilt with no specific pattern, just random shapes and sizes) stitched together with wide red-brown ribbons. Or something.

After lunch, on the way to San Vito (where we bought rubber boots), I saw the butt end of a coati as it ran across the road, causing our second almost-accident of the day. Driving here seems to be considered a contact sport. Or a near-contact sport, anyhow. So, I got to see its long brown tail, and part of its back. At Las Cruces, we got to see more of one, because they have this big old bunch of bananas hanging for the birds, and this coati had climbed up the pole (or into the bunch from the nearby tree) and was stuffing its face…they are very, very cute. I'll get you one.

There is an orchid trail here…I am going to try to get some pictures for Addie. They have a rotting flesh scented orchid vine here, and the flowers are as big as small conch shells, and look really similar, except they're kinda dark pink with big black-red spots and speckles in the inside. They look vaguely pornographic, and very very poisonous…if an open one were sturdy enough to hold water, it could probably hold twice as much as my cupped hands. They also have these long thin pink tails that trail down maybe 12 inches or so.

On the way, we also saw a lot of schoolchildren. I guess the younger kids get out earlier, so that any time after noon, there were a bunch of ninos and ninas walking all over. My brain is littered with so many disconnected, potent images. I really wanted to ask the bus driver to stop so I could take pictures of these things, but we were speeding along.

A young girl in a pink skirt walking under a big backpack towards a pole barn near a house, the only bright thing in the image is the pink of her skirt and the intense, alive jungle green…everything else is drab, comfortable brown, brown-red, and gray.

A boy, maybe Tristan's age, walking towards a small house, again, very little color, but somehow very intense, his black hair still combed from school, wearing his school pants, but swinging his overshirt from his left hand, head turned almost backwards to watch the bus go by, eyes squinting in the tropical sun.

Several children walking, unconcernedly down the road. The oldest (tallest) girl shouts something to the boys (her brothers?), who suddenly scramble, in such hurry that it's almost a caricature, to get out of the way of our bus. The driver does not slow down.

Three men dressed as farm laborers sitting in the middle of a vast, plowed red hill, in a row, watching something in the trees, eating lunch.

Two very young girls with incredibly brown faces watching us very seriously as we go by, unimpressed at our bus.

So it turns out that I am going to be rooming with Jeremy….our room is amazing. It is not very big, but there is a nice porch with an overhang, and we (Frank, Javez, Natasha, Tracy, Leo, and me—they are all our neighbors, because the porches kinda connect, if you do not mind climbing over a railing, which none of us do) saw a few toucans pulling nuts from palm trees.

Then it began to rain, and then it began to pour. There are plants growing out of the tree trunks, and lichens and mosses all over. After dinner (beans and rice again—still good, but the same), we had a meeting about more Risk Management and so forth…

I haven't yet written anything about today, but the basics are that we went on a very long hike and saw a bunch of beautiful forest, then we had 4.5 hours of lectures, and then after dinner we had our plants lab. Very long day, and tomorrow promises to be at least as long.