Sunday, June 17, 2007

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!

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