I agreed to go somewhere without knowing where it was….

One of the best parts about doing cultural anthropology research is being able to go to other parts of the country and see the cultural differences.

You could also call this a mini vacation.

Whatever you want to call it, a group of us decided to make a trip to Puerto Viejo this weekend. I had no idea where this actually was until the morning after we had gotten there and looked it up.  Turns out its right next to the Panama border, never would have guessed that.

One of the girls was heading back to the States to start law school at NYU and she wanted to make one last trip that didn’t involve examining monkey poop under a microscope to see what they were eating.  That seemed pretty reasonable to me.

While I greatly appreciate the public transportation system in Costa Rica (and the fact that I can actually take the public transportation), there are always some drawbacks.  This one just happened to be taking 4 different buses with a total travel time of about 7 hours. That was just getting there.

But hey, it was cheap and a good way to see some more of Costa Rica.

Then I found out that if you just drove there it would take 3 and half hours. I must admit my jaw went from closed to dropped pretty quickly at this point. Thankfully this was after we had arrived so I didn’t have the time to consider splurging on a cab.

It was dark when we arrived and it turned out the hostel we had planned to stay at was full.  Then again I don’t imagine many hostels will have enough beds when you’re rolling 8 gringos deep (technically one of the guys was Costa Rican, but he was with enough gringa girls that I don’t think it mattered).  Since it was dark we settled on one that had a large dorm-style room with 9 beds in it for $8 a night. The beds looked slightly sketchy and the windows weren’t all that close-able but we could lock the room up and keep valuable safe and there was wifi so I was pretty happy, the $8 thing was pretty great as well.

Puerto Viejo, I came to realize, is a very “backpacker” town. It’s small with plenty of cheap hostels and restaurants, a little dingy but for a backpacker that’s not necessarily important so it gets away with having a cool local art scene along with plenty of your typical tourist shops FILLED with “Pura Vida” branded items. You could walk anywhere within 10 minutes depending on how distracted you got by the ocean or the couple horses roaming around, or in my case the delicious smells of the bakeries and the health food/all natural stores.  I was geeking out a little but it was all completely justified.  I mean, I found fresh brewed Kombucha Tea at a farmers market where there were also locally made bracelets and other foods, how could I not get super stoked on that?

I was also introduced to the dish of “riceandbeans” during the trip.  I’m sure you are wondering why this is an exciting thing. Haven’t I been eating rice and beans for weeks now? And basically with almost every meal? And loving every bite of them? All yes. BUT. This riceandbeans is different. Yeah it’s different (I’m sorry I couldn’t help myself).

Because they also cook them with coconut milk.  This seems like a pretty hard thing to imagine because there are a whole lot of flavors going on in there but it’s a very delicious combination of white rice, black beans, some spices, and coconut milk. It’s a pretty wonderful combination of salty and ever so slightly sweet and tropical-y. I think I might have actually had this in Belize and not realized it, but eating it again was like a re-awakening that everyone just had to know about.

There are basically 4 bars in town that everyone gravitates towards, so we could walk to each one and check things out.  Then it turns out that the 4 bars turn into 2 just because people will naturally go to where the crowd is in terms of bars. More people = more chances to find someone you can go play chess with right? If you haven’t picked up that playing chess doesn’t mean playing chess then here is a clear indication that playing chess is a cover up for other…slightly more physical activities. I could actually make a whole metaphor out of this…perhaps another time.

So first we hit up a Reggae Bar, grab some drinks and dance the best you can to Reggae, usually just some swaying, if you’re lucky and have a partner you can do some spinning action but then when you couple that with drinks you end up making far more enemies than friends. And you just hog the dance floor, which is kind of rude.

No matter what, Mango is THE place to end up at. Big dance floor. Lots of tourists looking to dance to a collection of American top 40 hits and some classics like “My Humps,” and also kind of weird amount of locals standing on the outskirts of the dance floor doing too much staring and using all the wrong pick up lines/being aggressively forward. Sorry you have to read this Mom, but it’s a cultural experience, right?

There was dancing, more spinning, drinks, semi-creepy dudes, all the things you need (maybe not the creepy dudes)….and then there was rain.

So much rain.

The hostel was probably less than 300m away from Mango, and in one trip there and back the rain managed to soak through all of my clothes including my lightweight rain jacket.  I was wearing a white tank top. I guess I should have known that vacationing on the beach always involves a wet t-shirt contest. It actually wasn’t that bad, I just felt compelled to put something about a wet t-shirt contest in there.

I’m slowly realizing how much I am typing so I will now super speed up the summarizing.

That night finished and we went to bed only to be woken up by torrential downpour and thunder and lightning multiple times in the night, later I heard it rained 5 inches which was not hard to believe because I could hear zero things over the rain pounding on the steal roof separating our uncomfortably sleeping bodies and the closest thing to a hurricane I have ever experienced.

The next day was also decently rainy.  Enough to make me want to get a blanket and watch a movie even though it wasn’t even cold outside and I was right by the beach. We walked through some of the shops, went to a farmers market where all the cool Costa Rican hipster artists sell things and hung out. Some people got a deal on a scuba diving lesson but I wasn’t too down to spend money to not be able to see underwater because the rain made it really muggy.

That night we went to El Pescador get fish for dinner, I was budgeting money and had only eaten oatmeal, bread, and an apple with peanut butter so I could get some fresh fish at dinner.  It was well worth it because I ordered a Red Snapper casado.

Note: Casado is a Costa Rican dish that you can get with all types of meat. It’s kind of similar to a sample platter because it will have meat, some form of rice and beans, plantains, and a small salad.

So I get the casado and was ever so pleased to find out that when the waitress said the cook slightly fries the fish she meant the entire fish, head and all.  It was a sad moment realizing I didn’t bring my camera or phone because it was raining outside and it didn’t seem worth it to damage it. But this was a decent sized fish, with decent sized riceandbeans, patacones, the cook’s special Caribbean sauce, and a salad.

And I ate it all.

And then I ordered a brownie with ice cream.

And I ate all that too.

And I was happy (really full).

*shakes hands in air like champion*

And we go out to the same two bars and dance even though I can’t really move all that much so I just adapt a form of waddling and call it dancing. And it was the same deal as the night before but with less rain and slightly more spinning because I was wearing a dress that is fun to twirl around in.

Of course the next morning when we would be stuck in buses all day it turned out to be sunny but I made the most of it by getting up a little earlier and walking around, drinking some coffee on the beach and talking with an interesting, slightly-off man who lives in Costa Rica for 45 minutes in Spanish about life and culture and education and he seemed to be not as off as he first appeared and had a great philosophy about life.

After that I met up with everyone else for breakfast at Bread and Chocolate which blew my taste buds away and sent them off with the perfect meal sitting in my belly for the 7 hours of bus hopping back. Cinnamon oatmeal pancakes, eggs scrambled with a little cream, seasoned potatoes, jerk BBQ sauce, fresh fruit, and to top it all off my own little French press full of coffee all for me. I would ride the 7 hours in the bus just to go back to that place.  Everything made in house with organic eggs and a selection of truffles and dessert to take with you. I got a mint chocolate brownie for the trek back and the mint was so fresh I’m pretty sure people around me might have thought I was chewing gum.

That was probably the worst attempt at quick summarizing I could have done.

Woops.

Adventure Time with Palomo

Palomo is one of the forest workers at the station. He is Nicaraguan and for a while a lot of the students thought he was so mysterious that Palomo was actually the only name he needed, so basically he was like Madonna. He is also from Nicaragua and fought in the civil war, but I don’t know too many details about that…yet.

Palomo knows the forest better than anyone else on site, it’s hard not to when your workday consists of going out and clearing trails. I was invited by some of the other long-term researchers here to go out and explore the primary and secondary forest with him Saturday morning.  Weekends are oddly not really a thing for primatologists since monkeys don’t really know what a weekend is and the primatologists need data, so this little break with Palomo was going to be well worth not getting monkey data.

Therefore, my response was hells to the yeah I will go into the unmarked trail rainforest with super badass/mysterious Palomo.

Breakfast is still served at 7 and we leave around 8.  David and Marvin (pronounced Dah-veed and Mar-veen), 2 other workers at the station, also come with us. We take the marked trail, crossing the river by walking over some rather shaky bamboo and almost falling a few times because the bridge washed out, and walk all the way to the end. On the way Palomo points out some ocelot tracks, some types of fruit, and different types of trees that all look the same to me but are amazing nonetheless.

Once we reach the end its time to pull out the 16-inch machetes and clear the trail.  Both him and Marvin carried machetes and chopped away with the ease of a natural, a slight tap here and big swing there and we were through. At one point we emerged from what some of the girls call “the rabbit hole.” Very appropriately named because we emerged into a field of just tall grass and no tree coverage, then when we looked back to what we came from it was this tiny hole leading into the dense forest.  And we were still just coming from the marked trail at this point.

Next we went into the part with zero marked trails. We walked in the trees instead of on a path around them.  Wonderfully tall Almendra trees were pointed out and Palomo said they are a favorite of the Macaw bird.  Unfortunately, no Macaws were out, but there was something even better…a white hawk. Apparently it’s super rare, it was also super far away, this did not stop me from utilizing the super intense zoom feature on my camera to get a semi decent look at it. I also discovered Instagrams new filter, rainforest humidity, it made a cool vignette-like edge blur around the picture.  And while I’m sure it wasn’t the greatest thing for my camera I really think I could be onto something with this instagram filter.

We continued walking around, though I don’t know how much you can call it walking because the floor is so slippery from humidity and there are tree roots sticking out everywhere and those are slippery and then you have to watch out for spider webs because those just come up out of no where and sometimes we have to cross more sections of river which is actually pretty tricky because you never know what parts of the mud are 3 inches deep versus the parts that are 2 feet deep.  One of the girls found that out the hard way. Also, not all pieces of wood/logs are as atable as you think they might be because of the humidity and sometimes they will just crumble right out from underneath you. As far as I can tell there are a lot of downsides to humidity, most of the upsides involve some chemical reactions all happening below the surface/help the plants breathe and whatnot. But in terms of laundry it is about the least helpful thing you can imagine, some of my clothes smell sour.

Anyways, so we are gallivanting around the forest and I’m channeling my Joseph Conrad to see if there are any grand speculations about the nature (and horrors) of humanity I can make but then I get distracted by Palomo pointing to a small little leaf sprouting out of the ground, then pointing to a very large tree a couple feet away and tell me they are the same thing which just absolutely blew my mind and I was so in awe that I just stopped and looked up and gave nature a mental high five…make that mental double high five with some extra gusto because she deserves it.

There was also a point when we couldn’t find ourselves on the small GPS one of the researchers brought and a few points where I saw Palomo look around one too many times. But after about 4 and half hours of walking in what I could only perceive as a bunch of squiggly lines we made it back and I filled a bowl with white rice and black beans, not even bothering to change my sweat and dirt stained clothes or wash off my deet-ridden body…and I ate until I was full, took a very lazy shower, and fell into bed with a happy stomach and a slightly aching body.

Reasons Why I’m Ashamed I Owned Rain Boots in the States

  1. There are streets and sidewalks there. Not half cleared trails that are semi overgrown with ferns and plants that people have named the “hurty” plant and the “itchy” plant and “malamujere.”
  2. My ankles are typically not in danger of being a snake snack. Even though I haven’t seen them doesn’t mean they aren’t there….
  3. Puddles are usually only a couple inches deep.  Not sucking mud that seems like it wants to eat you whole.
  4. Better drainage systems. As in slipping down a hill covered in slick mud into a very dirty-looking swamp river is not an issue. Good news though, I have mastered the art of mud surfing…almost.
  5. I want to jump in puddle and feel the rain soak into my shoes. Instead I almost fall out of sheer clutziness due to lack of ankle mobility.
  6. They look way better when worn with trail pants that go up to your belly button, a long sleeved shirt tucked in, a rain jacket worn only over your head with the rest tucked between your back and you backpack (to keep the mosquitoes away from my neck), and my glasses attached to some croakies. I make a pretty sexy adventure librarian. Unfortunately there was no camera around to capture this.

 

While I know there are locations in the US where all of these things probably happen, those are places I don’t visit frequently. At this point I completely accept that rainboots should only be used in the most functional sense. Thinking about how rain boots are a fashion statement rather than a functional wardrobe item had me wondering why I ever bought them in the first place. Moving from SoCal to NorCal isn’t exactly a HUGE difference, even though it seemed so when I had just graduated from high school (welp, that just made me feel old).

 

Now that I have gotten the shame out of the way, the last couple days have been quite awesome. I have gotten a tour of the small town a Primavera where I am staying, and rode on the bus to the slightly larger town of Cariari (yeah, I’ve been spelling it wrong…woops), where there are larger grocery stores for people to do their weekly shopping. It’s a small, slightly claustrophobic town with bakeries on and sodas (small Costa Rican restaurants) everywhere, the line between the sidewalks and the streets is barely visible because they have been deteriorating for quite some time.  It was a nice outing, we got some lunch, did some snack shopping, got some ice cream, and 2 and a half hours later got back on the bus.

So that was supposed to be it, but now that I have walked the half a mile to the Internet shack, a small room with an Ethernet cable, it has started raining like a monsoon.  So I am semi-stranded because I forgot my raincoat and am pretty sure that getting my computer wet is not in my best interests…

In other news, a group of capuchin monkeys moved through the trees in front of the house I’m staying at. I could see them from the sitting-room window. Once again I feel like someone needs to pinch me because I was almost unbelievably excited and sprinting around to get my camera and then once I got my camera the battery was dead so I had to go get the second batter and hope the capuchins weren’t in any hurry so I could capture them on film, and by film I mean memory card. I finally get the camera and do my tourist thing and am standing outside taking pictures when I feel about 4 more mosquitoes land on and bite me. I would definitely say it was worth it. And now I understand why the dining and sitting rooms of the house have screen windows on all sides. No like I hadn’t noticed the mosquitoes before, but they are very sneaky.

The site is in the small town of Primavera, it’s fairly rural and is bordered by banana and pineapple plantations.  Bordered is kind of a lose term though because there are places where it seems like the town got in the way of the plantation and not the other way around.  These plantations also seem to dominate a lot of the life here, with a majority of the men working long days in the fields, being exposed to pesticides that then leak into the rivers going through the station, apparently people have seen frogs with an extra leg. The conditions are not ideal but there are rarely any other places to work in such a small town and Cariari is an hour away which is a 2 hour round trip commute that could be spent working.

Also, apparently sloths are everywhere in the forest around here but no one ever sees them because they basically never move, one girl saw one come down a tree to poop once and that was it.

Therefore, my free time will now be known as Sloth Watch 2013.

The Alarm is Set for 4:15 AM

I’m sorry…what?

Not like I haven’t been up that early before, I woke up at 3:30 to run Big Sur Marathon and had no problem.  There’s just always the initial shock to hearing that.  Then again, I was so tired that I went to bed a little before 9 (it gets dark here early, ok?).

The La Suerte Biological Field Station houses field schools and groups of students looking to study primates, environment, forest preservation, etc.  I am here with 3 other girls working on studying capuchins, but I will be doing a study on human health and cultural influences in the small town the field site is located. I have a more flexible schedule and am still reading up on articles and whatnot so I’m tagging along with the girls and the other primatology field school for now.

Back to this 4:15 nonsense though.  There are 3 types on monkeys in this area of forest: howlers, capuchins, and spider monkey. In order to study the monkeys…you have to find them. And so begins the most serious game of hide and seek you will ever find yourself involved in.

We ate early breakfast at 4:30, with the musical stylings of mother nature pouring rain outside, then everyone put on whatever rain gear they had, and some headlamps, and we were off!

2 hours of searching, a river crossing, some boot-sucking mud action, and other wildlife sightings later and we had nothing.

So by 7 AM most people were done for the day. Hammock nap? Ok.

In quick list form…other exciting events before I must disconnect:

1. I saw howlers in the wild! I basically feel like I am in the middle of a rainforest special on the Discovery Channel or something, it’s insane. I also figured out that howlers “howl” in two ways, with their voices and their stench, you hardly need to hear them because you can smell them before anything.

2. I have seen about 30 small poison dart frogs already.  And if I didn’t know that bright=no touchy in the forest I probably would have tried to hold one. Until I looked in a field guide and saw that the bright green and black frog’s poison is enough to kill 8 humans.

The forest means business y’all.

3. A caterpillar got stuck to my pants. This is not exciting. Round 2: The caterpillar that was stuck to my pants brushed up against my leg, resulting in a burning sensation.  I have yet to figure exactly why this happened. Did this caterpillar have a beef with me?

4. I went running with 2 other girls in the rain today. And the humidity. But I was too busy geeking out about HEY, I’M RUNNING IN COSTA RICA to focus on that.

5. My rice and beans and coffee consumption have skyrocketed. I can’t get enough and they are served at every. single. meal.

Seriously, the coffee is available all the time. Just when I thought I was weaning myself off of the caffeine I’m right back in the throws of it’s wonderful powers of alertness.

The 5 Minute Update

Hokay. So. Here is ze deal.

I’m leaving in 5 minutes to go on a 2.5 hour drive to the field site in La Suerte, Primavera. But I haven’t said anything about the trip here. (technically I didn’t finish…so this post is uber late already, my apologies)

So here we go:

Drank champagne in first class. Then was offered dinner. Declined at first because of the whole airplane food but then realized…hey, I’m in first class and that never happens.  So vegetable gnocchi and cheesecake it was. I was honestly surprised, airplane food tasted delicious for once!

Land in San, Jose, Costa Rica.  Navigate our way to a taxi (trusting that the airport service workers wearing white polos would suffice) to hotel Don Carlos, where I have been staying since then.  The hotel is pretty sweet, a nice little eco place where they remind you to conserve energy and water and have recycling bins all over.  I grabbed some food from the wonderful breakfast buffet, took it up to the room, and set it one the table to eat later while I passed out.

Costa Rica is way different than El Salvador.  It’s not hard to tell that it is more developed based on the stores and even just the types of dogs roaming the streets, or not roaming the streets because it seemed like there were a lot less.  Streets were in a grid fashion and numbered, there was Calle 3 and Avenida 3 and hopefully you didn’t get them mixed up.  The streets also rarely run straight for very long, meaning that they are broken up by shorter streets, continuing on the other side or to the right or left of other streets and creating a labyrinth of confusion for visitors. Me included.

We try not to look too lost which is inevitable as a group of 4 girls who aren’t from the area.  Eventually we find what we needed, some food, calling cards, etc then back to the hotel for napping round 2. My body was completely thrown off by all these short sleeps, I felt like I was going into military style sleep and relying on coffee to fill in the gaps.

After some anxiety on getting to the site, some more roaming around,a meal at a small Costa Rican health food cafe (surprisingly delicious, with juice drinks that don’t taste like they’ve had 6 spoonfuls of sugar added to them), and a run through the city to a small park on the outskirts, we faced the day we had all been waiting for with excited grins.

The drive was so beautiful, we were on the same highway the entire time, lined with tall trees and butterflies floating around, it was a tad bit surreal with the thick clouds and fog covering some of the greenest, vine-iest trees I’ve ever seen.

And then we got there and got out of the car…

I swear I have never felt more like li was walking “into” the air than I did with those first steps.

I imagined those first steps are what it feels like to walk into a forcefield…or a giant cube of hot sticky jello…it was almost like an anti-gravity environment of warm air particles that had me going from dry to sweat-stained in about 5 minutes.

The next two months are going to be quite tasty.

The Day Nature was on Our Side and then….

the day(s) air travel was not on my side.

It was my last day in Montana and Seth’s day off so we decided to make a trip out of it and head to Yellowstone.  It’s technically a 2 hour drive both ways which doesn’t seem all that appealing. But when there are trees all around and big beautiful skies and no traffic it’s really not the bad.  Then again I was not the one driving.

I had no idea how large Yellowstone actually was…or that upon entering the West entrance you were also entering Wyoming (there was no welcome sign, so I guess Wyoming wasn’t all that excited to see us). We really only had time to drive through the lower left corner of the park to see some geysers and hot springs with some stops to walk through a river and do some handstands/falls.  We even got up close and personal with Ojo Caliente, one of the little hot springs, and by up close and personal I mean no one was around to tell us not to step over the barrier and touch a small stream of the water that we hoped was not going to scald our skins. And the water flow changed the color of the rock from grey to rust orange to brighter orange to pure white.

I mean, sometimes nature is neat.

Then we arrived to Old Faithful, whose faithfulness lies between 40-126 minutes.  We had no idea when the last eruption had been but walked around, vowing to keep her (it?) in our sites. Just a short while after hiking up to a viewing spot the show started. I must say, I was impressed. Even though we were a short distance away up a hill you could tell that baby was blowing, steam/smoke effects included.

But the best part about this whole day was that even though it was raining off and on.  The on parts were always when we were in a car, and the off parts were always when we were outside. I’m pretty sure that rarely happens so I’m to take that as a super big “Good on ya!” from Nature herself.

Yet when I tried to deal with technology and society and modern means of transportation I was met with delay…

upon delay….

upon delay…

I was already pushing it by getting back Saturday afternoon and leaving Sunday night for  Costa Rica. Then my flight was delayed so my layover involved me running through airports and have barely any time to think. I get back feeling frazzled and start doing laundry and unpacking and repacking for the next portion of my trip…took a break to see Despicable Me 2 (pleased with Agnes’ screen time). I had a feeling that the crash at SFO would change something, and sure enough I was woken up at 8am to hear that my flight was cancelled and moved to the next day. First I was upset because I was getting antsy to leave, then I found out I was put in first class…so I was alright with the change after all.

Original plan:

SFO to LAX leaving at 8PM (1 hour flight)

LAX to San Jose, Costa Rica leaving at 11PM

First flight gets delayed until 9:12…then 10…then 10:24. According to my calculations that means we ain’t makin’ it folks.

So we change it to a flight that was supposed to leave at 7 but has been delayed until 8:30…and then 8:50…and then 9. We ended up making it to LAX at 10:40 and walking to our gate (and first class seats) with hearts pounding and stomachs ready for complimentary drinks. I heard someone say something about chan=mpagne so when the flight attendant came by for pre-departure drinks I replied with little to no hesitation…

I heard there was champagne?

Sitting in a Tube, Floating Down the River

Days of hiking and nights of dancing are the best way to spend a summer.  I was having a wonderful time hanging out with Seth and making new friends. The star gazing was absolutely amazing and I never wanted the sun to come up except then I got a bit chilly and changed my mind on that, I’m not the most warm-bodied person there is. Thank the beach gods I managed to plan my trip for the exact week that the one and only Beach Boys had also planned to visit Big Sky.
Completely unintentional.
Completely awesome.
It also led to the meeting of even more new friends, who then invited us to go river floating with them.  I had heard this was a thing to do in Montana, but assumed that I would just be in Big Sky the whole time.  These guys were from Bozeman, the city an hour away where the airport is located. Unfortunately Seth had to work….
Side note tangent: the fact that everyone I visited had work at some point made me feel like I was behind in the job game, but then I was like, hey, there’s time for that in a couple months, and then everything was ok. Yes I know this was slightly/mostly irrelevant…that’s how I roll sometimes.
(cont.)
…the next day, but one of his coworkers did not and was very interested in going. His name is Riley and he is one heck of a good-time singing machine. He has no shame listening to his ipod and singing along with Fergilicious and I respect him for that.

We get there and are invited to go shoot some shotguns for America. But actually.  I have never experienced anything like this. Sadly while we were on our way to that adventure we got a call that people were leaving to river float so we had to go meet up with them.

It was almost the most complete American Fourth of July EVER…almost.

But I mean, there was still river rafting.  Meaning we bought a lot of beer, threw it in a cooler, which then went into the back of a pick up truck along with every inner tube and inflatable object we could find, and we were off. We got there and I realized that this is a very popular thing to do considering the sides of the dirt road were covered with cars, all packed with people and inner tubes. It was almost like a ride in the sense that everyone would situate themselves in their respective tubes, then make sure the beer was ok, then grab a beer and drift into the current, reaching out to form one mega-float of people.
And then you quite literally just go with the flow.
Sometimes your butt gets caught on a shallow part. Sometimes you start drifting away and have to double-time it back. And sometimes you misinterpret a small rapid, scramble, and get flipped over.

The big finale to it all? Bridge jumping.
Yup, that story is one for the books.