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.

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