Sunday, June 17, 2007

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.

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