Friday, February 19, 2016

Semana seis/Week six (2/7-2/13) Monteverde and Costa de Pajaros, Costa Rica

I feel that the theme of 'lots of work assigned and completed' is going to just need to be implied from now on. I'm frankly tired of complaining/commenting on it. But yes! I had lots to get done. Many fun things, but many of them. I do have one complaint that is new; it's freaking cold right now! It's probably sixty most days, which sounds warm to you people in New England, but I don't have a coat or any layers. Also, the wind is clocking in at twenty miles per hour ALL the time! And it's raining. I am wet, cold and hungry. We are either burning a ton more calories trying to keep warm or we are atempting to all build the Blubber Insulating Layer (TM). Can't quite decide which. Also, wet jeans + wind = no fun.

But! Good things did happen this week. How could they not, we are in one of the most bio-diverse places in the world, there is always something new to see (yes, I am the kind of person who will sing 'oh what a beautiful morning' to a grey and rainy sky in hopes that I'll freak the clouds out and they'll run away. It's getting warmer and dryer so it might just be working). Also, though the weather is always a bit damp from the horizontal rain (we are basically sitting in an invisible cloud all the time) this results in something known here as la Estaciรณn del Arco Iris. Translated into English, the Rainbow Season. We get spectacular rainbows here at least once a week. Mostly more like three times. I've walked under a rainbow now, and right past where it lands. The only gold I saw was dry grass so I guess someone beat me there. Or maybe the leprechauns don't bother when they are throwing up this many rainbows. Payment through view. Sounds like a solid plan to me.

This week has been a lot of prep for next week, when we are going to finish up all pressing projects as we head out on our mid-semester break. Nicaragua here we come! (I am going to roast and get very sick, I know it) So most of this week consisted of doing homework and sitting inside and staying warm. I generally do homework in the Institute library until it closes at 5:00 pm and this week was no different in that respect (the library also happens to be the warmest room in the institute). What was different was that on two separate occasions I went and bought things to eat from the near by cafe. I was just hungry all the time and wasn't bringing enough food with me to classes. I got a brownie the first day and, after trying a bite of one of the other girls, a quiche and hot chocolate the next day. The quiche was absolutely delicious and wonderfully filling. I was very happy with it. The hot chocolate was good too and I really appreciated its warmth.

We had a wonderful talk from our director on the Three Waddled Bellbird and on how people have been working to preserve it. She is a wonderful speaker, fascinated by her subject and so knowledgeable. But all the questions she asked us were ones where she had a theory but not an answer. I have been seeing that used a lot here as a teaching tool and honestly I love it. People aren't expecting a specific answer, they just want you to think. I'm so used to there always being one right answer that I found this strange at first, but now I've seen the light I'm not looking forward to going back to the single right answer style questions. If you have no idea what a Three Waddled Bellbird looks like, google it, they are cool. Also, she promised to teach us how to mist-net birds if we would like and I would really like. (I have the seed of an idea forming for a potential senior thesis and that's all I'm going to say.) I had a wonderful time and really enjoyed the whole experience.

On Friday we went to the Gulf of Nicoya, to Costa de Pajaros, or the parrots coast, to see a small tourism operation. It was murderously hot, 95 degrees, and slightly humid from the nearby ocean. I say slightly as the earth was parched and dry like decade old bones. Flowers bloomed though, and butterflies fluttered past every so often. The big activity of the day was a boat trip out into the gulf to see the area and its attractions. We walked down to the beach, passing under a tree full of Oropendola nests. The tide was out and I stepped in deep mud once or twice, thinking I was still on solid ground. The open water was much cooler than the land and had the added benefit of a cooling breeze, both from the movement of the boat and from air moving back and forth across the gulf.

Our first stop was at a preserved fishing area. The coast relies on fishing for their livelihood and once fish populations became damaged due to over fishing, the area set aside a large piece of the ocean for protection. Though it is protected, fishing is still allowed; but only line fishing. Nets, drag nets, long-lines and any other type of fishing is prohibited in this area. This has helped the fish populations rebound and has opened a new kind of industry for the area; sport fishing for Costa Ricans. The gulf has fantastic fishing and though not many tourists may want to experience this, though some do, many Costa Ricans are. This opens up both a local market and one that doesn't rely solely on foreign interest and the use of international advertising to draw in customers. The area is marked by big yellow buoys, one of which we almost ran into. Our next stop was an oyster farm. It was right next to a protected island covered, and I do mean covered, with pelicans, frigate birds, herons and an immature red footed boobie. The operation is owned by a non-local but staffed by the towns people, mainly women. It is a small operation in that it doesn't take up much area but it is worth a boat load. They have about 150,000 oysters maturing and sell them for 300 colones a piece (about $ 0.50). It's impressive and a well designed operation. It was very interesting to hear the manager of the sight talk about it. He was riding about in a little motorized dinghy and generally ensuring that everything is in order at all times. From there we headed out, past two more islands, less populated by birds, and past a large sugar factory with a huge dock for tankers to the mangroves. The tide was down so we didn't see as much as we might have at half tide, but we did see green, great blue and little blue herons, ibises, an osprey and a roseate spoonbill. That was lots of fun and then we stumbled across an illegal fishing net in the middle of the mangroves. It was stretched across the waterway and the water around it was frothing slightly from the trapped fish. I understand that people here are poaching to survive and that they feel they have no choice, but empathy for them does not make me approve.

We headed back after that, we had reached the end of the mangroves anyhow, and saw a giant tanker pulled up at the dock by the sugar plant. I will never get over how big those things are. Our ride back was fast, I was sitting in the back of the boat and my side got soaked with salty water. As I licked my lips I got the taste of salt and seaweed down my throat. Tiny fish jumped out of the water at our sides, frightened by our passing and once a small ray took a flying leap to our left. By the time we arrived back it was twelve thirty and we were hungry. Not that we are ever not, but we were ready for a full meal. We walked back up the beach, stopping briefly to look at baby mangrove plants taking root in the open sand. Our lunch was just about ready for us when we arrived and as we were sitting down it arrived; rice and beans, salad and a whole fried fish. It was delicious; the fish was fresh as could be and the rest of the food well cooked. After lunch the president of the organization gave us a talk on the history of the site. It was interesting and impressive, she is the kind of woman who becomes a famous historical figure. She has so much drive and determination I admit I'm jealous. I've never been that passionate about anything. It was mid afternoon by then and we still had a several hour drive ahead of us. We said goodbye and headed for home. On our way up the mountain, we saw a stunningly bright rainbow that stretched across a valley that ran parallel to the road taking us upwards. I've never seen one so large or so vivid before in my life, it was absolutely stunning.

Photos of my adventures are included below.

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