.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

"It is the journey which makes up your life."

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

a room with a view

I climbed up a strangler fig this morning. These trees are amazing. They grow around other trees and form this lattice of fused vines all the way around. On the very oldest, the tree inside has died and rotted out, leaving nothing but the hollow fig. They're like something out of Fern Gully. There is something magical about them. I found this one about a quarter mile from the pasture restoration project we visited yesterday, and Vicki and I scrambled up the hollow middle. We got up maybe 60 feet, enough to sit in the canopy and marvel for a while. The light is different up there, and the birds come right up to you. Welcome to a remarkable universe.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Mmm... bug bites

So much has happened to me in the last couple weeks. After my week in the station at Monteverde, we headed up to Nicaragua and stayed on Omotepe island - which is basically two volcanoes in the middle of lake Nicaragua. The lake is huge! We had a two hour boat ride from the near shore... you can't even see the farshore! and I was so surprised that the spray wasn't salty because I felt like I was on the ocean. (the states definitely got jipped building the canal in Panama - the lake Nicaragua route is WAY shorter) The station where we stayed was an estate owned by this elite family that came back and bought land after the sandinistas lost power. Half the family wanted to make a resort, and the other half a farm, and the one son, Alvaro, wanted it to be a field station, so it was more like a resort than anything else. Pretty, lots of hammocks, and no forest.

The rest of the island showed how very different Nicaragua is from Costa Rica, though. All these mud brick houses, with dirt yards, kids playing everywhere, and farm
animals running around. The road (dirt, more potholes than road) was frequently blocked by cows and horses (according to alvaro, horse meat is cheaper, so they raise lots of horses there and sell them to a fancy canned pet food factory to sell to the states. yummy) I managed to get a pretty mean case of strep throat while I was there, so I missed out on the hike up volcan maderas, but i did get to visit the government clinic on the other side of the island. I was pretty impressed, considdering. It was clean, with a big open courtyard with benches where you sat in line for the doctor, or the maternity clinic, or the emergency care room... no appointments needed, I only had to wait half an hour and they checked me out and sent me off with some antibiotics and tylenol... all completely free! They refused to let me pay for anything! So, yeah.. by the time I had recovered, we were leaving the island.

We stayed the night in Granada, which is this beautiful old colonial city. I absolutely fell in love with it! I was expecting dirty, poor, underdeveloped... this teeming impoverished city, but downtown was all elegant old houses with tile roofs and internal courtyards with vines and fountains. The streets were pretty open- not nearly so many cars as san jose.. there are still horse-drawn carriages around! and the busses are all painted with wild tropical colors, some as animals, some with palm trees and clouds and such, some playing salsa music out the windows and lighted inside with colored christmas lights. They have a really incredible collection of precolumbian statues in the museum. I had lunch in this woman's garrage and played with her cat... she had this little barbeque and beans and rice table out front of her house, all for less than a dollar. That afternoon I met a really interesting group of mexican jewlery vendors in the plaza, who were on their way to Peru, making jewlery and playing music and sleeping where they could. The guy I talked to most had this great philosophy on how travel is the best kind of preparation for life, and how life is just preparation for our next journey. They invited some of us to their hostel that night, where I was hoping I could pump them for travel stories... but when we got there, they were playing a drum concert(a lot like the Lions of Rumba) and the hostel owners were moving all the tables so people could dance! It was such a fun night!

Our next field station, 15 hours worth of bus ride away, was high up in the Talamanca mountains at a place called Cerro de la Muerte, or "hill of death" And seeing as how all things are better when they have "of death" in their name, the place was fantastic. The best part, I think, was Don Carlos, the guy who runs the station. He was just this really incredible person. He grew up in the mountains all his life, knows so much about medicinal and edible plants and such that he can go into the forest for a month with nothing but a knife and the clothes on his back. The station, which he pretty much built himself, is on his farm, where he started a trout hatchery and grows blackberries. He's done a lot of stuff to make it self-sufficient and sustainable. All the silt from the trout becomes fertilizer, and the water flows through his hydroelectric plant to power the station. Leftover food gets composted, and they feed the worms to the trout. He planted a lot of trees to protect from erosion and supply firewood. Working on having his own garden. I spent the whole week just trying to talk to him, and ended up having a lot of conversations about life in our countries, and just life in general. He's one of the most genuine people I've ever met. And he seemed to like me too, because by the end he was giving me hugs, and invited me back if i ever come to Costa Rica again. Hopefully I will.

Right now I'm at a station called Las Cruces, on the south pacific side of
costa rica. It's very built up, in the middle of this huge botanical garden. The food is excellent, and it has great facilities, and I'm really enjoying the hot water showers, but i do already miss the wood stove and the hot chocolate and the company back at the cabin on the cerro. Right now it's pouring rain, and I'm off to dinner. Sorry for the monster post... this is the first
computer i've seen in a while =)

Sunday, March 06, 2005

The Tarzan Diaries

I had a free day yesterday, so i decided to hike to this waterfall... and on the way there was a huuuge vine hanging in the middle of the trail just waiting to be swung from. It was on a slope, so you could grab on, get a running start and swing thirty feet up into the air, just missing the trees. That's right ladies and gentlemen, I got my tarzan on. Wheeeeeeee!!!

The field section of my course has started. From now on I´m living in various field stations and doing biology for the rest of the semester. Just got out of Monteverde. I was a little disappointed to find out that my field station wasn´t technically in the cloud forests or in Monteverde preserve itself, it was just connected. But it was beautiful nonetheless. We had really good weather, so every day from the deck at the field station we had a view of Arenal volcano and the lake below it. It was the back side of the volcano, unfortunately, so we didn´t get to see any lava, but it did smoke and rumble a little for us. The forest is amazing in these mountains. Intimidating and dense, draping itself over huge steep hills.

I have had a shitload of stuff crammed into my brain. Frogs are amazingly cool! Apparently the extinction of the golden toad from Monteverde in 87 was part of an amphibian crash world wide, for many many species. I was also happy to meet our frog expert. He never studied biology... came to CR with a degree in spanish and literature and has just done all kinds of research assistanceships and studied on his own.. he´s the one who wrote and illustrated a bunch of field guides. Mark Wainwright. He took us out on night hikes to catch frogs. We found these phosphorescent mushrooms that night. It was so amazing! If you turned off all the flashlights long enough, you would slowly notice hundreds of these tiny glowing blobs, everywhere! I´m learning how to identify plants to family. Lena taught me how to weave baskets from vines. She's into wilderness survival, after dinners we had little weaving circles and sat around talking.

So, here I am on my way to Nicaragua. We are staying the night in Liberia before crossing the border tomorrow. The boat ride should be long, but I´m excited about this island.

I wish Cooper was with me. I'm normally so engrossed in the moment that emotions like that don't even surface. But I love that boy so deeply. I miss him. Especially in the quiet times, when I should have my head on his shoulder. Like last night when the sun set and the generator broke down. Red and black clouds behind the distant volcano, and the fire flies came
out on the uphill slope. Hundreds of them just flickering in the trees. Kelly and I nearly missed dinner just watching them. For all the work, there is very little stress, and I find myself immersed in wonder sometimes. I have been happy here on a very basic kind of level. Like the bedrock shifting beneath my daily life.