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

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Backpacking Barefoot and Other Stories

Sorry I've been bad about writing... lots of things are going on! There are three weeks left in the semester right now, so things are starting to get crazy. I just spent the last two days re-writing a paper... and from now on there are projects and papers and tests non-stop. Nothing like Reed, though. So.. I guess the last you heard from me was before spring break... The paper I just finished was from the experiment I did the week before break. We were at a station in the mountains near Panama, and everyone had a week to design and conduct an experiment of their own. So I did a project on mushrooms in these forest fragments above the station, which involved a lot of bushwacking around looking for fallen logs. I thought I had bushwhacked before with hiking and working trail crew and all... but walking 10 m through all them crazy twiny spiky vines and things is entirely different. And it involved a lot of late nights identifying, with me and a bunch of books wondering what the @#!$% that little brown thing is. Moral of the story - mushrooms are cool. And never conduct an experiment without a hypothesis again. You will be re-writing your paper for days... I know...

So, spring break we finally got to rest a little and go travel around in our own directions. I was going to go backpacking in Corcovado park on the Osa peninsula, in basically the most pristine forest in the country, with my friend Ingrid. This girl is amazing. She speaks four languages and works at an art museum, has traveled all over europe, started a local organic food program at Columbia basically single-handedly, and now is studying ethnobotany and sustainable forestry. She's spending the summer in a mayan-descended community in Mexico doing an inventory of native-used species. Basically, she's my hero. So one of the other student's dad was visiting, and we drove down to the peninsula with them on our first day. That was a Saturday and the banks were closed... and the only ATM on the peninsula didnt accept any of our debit cards... so we found ourselves a little short on cash for the week. Definitely not able to pay for meals at the ranger station we were going to stay at in the park. And then I find out that Ingrid had fallen head over heels for this grad student from Stanford who was doing research at the station, and about to leave for the States... and then Angola and Turkey and she was basically never going to see him again... and he had asked her to stay with him for the break! The thing was he had asked her at five that morning, and she didn't want to let me down, so she had left even though she wanted to stay... Well, I basically told her she was only going to live once, and after a lot of agonizing about it and a little bit of rum she decided to go back to spend a last weekend with him, and meet up with me later in the park.

So, I went into the park with Jake and his dad. Corcovado was amazing! The backpack in was along 15 km of absolutely perfect, absolutely deserted beaches. There were flocks of pelicans and scarlet macaws and parrots just everywhere. And hermit crabs. and Peccaries. and Jesus Christ lizards (they walk on water). I even saw a tapir! They're something like a cross between a deer and a hippopotomus... one was just sleeping under a tree in the river by the station. That river was a crazy river. On my first day I was going to cross it and check out things on the other side, but the tide was high so it was a little swollen at the crossing at the beach. I was thinking about just swimming it, and looking at the mouth of the river when I saw a big fat crocodile swimming maybe 10m farther up the mouth. So, I decided that was a bad idea and sat down to wait for the tide to go out... and as I'm watching the water I see a bunch of splashing where the waves came into the river... and there were three sharks swimming around in the mouth, just down from the crocodile. I stayed at the ranger station there a whole week, and never crossed that river. I actually had a great time being more or less on my own. I made friends with the threerangers and the cook. My spanish has gotten pretty good, I guess. And I met a lot of other travelers, and Bruno, the french wildlife photographer who was looking for jaguars. I heard some great stories - like about Mr. Jeevers the Taliban monkey from an ex commando who now tests outdoor gear for the army (monkeys with hand grenades are one more reason NOT to join the army) - or doing CPR on a heart-attacked tourist while scubadiving in Egypt from a pair of Aussie doctors who were traveling around the world. Never a dull moment.

After spring break, I met back up with the program in San Jose. I think Corcovado will keep a little chunk of my heart, but I was definitely glad to be eating something other than tortillas and peanutbutter again. (I don't think I will ever be sick of rice and beans) We went to a reserve called Cabo Blanco, which is on the tip of the Nicoya peninsula on the Pacific. Dry forest (they have dry forests! a rain shadow half the year...) and a marine reserve. The field station was right on the beach, and we were studying marine biology, mostly. What an ingenious excuse to go snorkeling in the name of education! They scheduled us snack time with cookies and juice, and I didn't miss a sunset all week. It was glorious!
The wierd thing that happened that week: three people got bitten by vampire bats! Vampire Bats! Crazy! They were sleeping outside and would wake up with open cuts. It took a while to figure out what it was... and then we were all impressed. They had to get rabies shots and all. It's almost worth it to have been bitten by a vampire bat though, eh?

Well, after Cabo Blanco, nothing could be as good. And it wasn't. We said goodbye to Cabo blanco with a bonfire and dancing on the beach, then went to a place called Palo Verde, which is dry forest, next to what becomes a wetland in the wet season. It was hot and dry enough that no one wanted to go outside. For a bunch of crazy bio nerds that's pretty ridiculous. Course we had papers and lots more reading to start doing, and I've been feeling kind of sick again. That's ridiculous! I've been sick way too much already.


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