Monday, July 29, 2013

Back in the USA

After almost 6 amazing weeks abroad and more than 24 hours of travelling, I have finally made it back home to the United States. I can't believe how fast time flew by and what an incredible experience I  have been having so far. While I am sad to be home , it'll be nice to finish my work in quiet and to see some of my friends and family who I haven't seen in quite some time.

Here is an update of my last week in Greece before returning back home:

On Monday, I looked at different bilateral agreements between different coastal nations in Europe as well as different countries views on maritime laws, etc. I also learned more about the Greek education system during class which was cool to compare our system to theirs.

On Tuesday I got to go to a place called Arkadi which was a Holocaust Monastery high up in the mountains between Heraklion and Chania. This monastery played a big role in Cretan history during the Ottoman empire. Many Cretans resisted the Ottoman rule and took refuge in this monastery before sacrificing themselves after 3 days of battle rather than surrendering to the Ottoman rule. The monastery itself was really beautiful  and it was interesting to see all the sites.

After this we went to Kournas Lake, a huge natural lake nestled between mountains and then we headed to Rethymno, another big city on the island of Crete and a major university town. To end the day, we went to the movie theater to watch “A Green Story,” a movie about a Greek entrepreneur who started a green company in California called Earth Friendly Products and who has a major green laundry detergent called Ecos which is sold all over the USA. It was the story about his life and all that he went through to make his company happen.

After class on Wednesday I worked on my research finishing up most of my notes for the paper. I only have a few more sections to go and then I can actually start compiling what I have found and put it into dissertation format. I started to work on the historical background part of the actual paper and I’m glad it’s finally starting to come along.

On Thursday  we went to a pottery factory where they showed us how they make different clay pots from start to finish and then they even let each one of us make our own mini piece of pottery art. After this, we went to the small village of Ross Daly-Houdesti where there is a huge museum and school for lyras (a violin-type musical instrument). We got a tour of the museum to see many different types of lyras and heard about a huge music festival that will be taking place there next week which we will unfortunately miss. Next we went to the Kazantzakis museum to learn all about the famous writer. We got to see a short film on his life and learn about how smart and talented this guy was. Not only did he write hundreds of books, he knew many languages and was a hard-working and well-travelled man.

Friday was the last day of classes and the last day to work on my research while in Crete. I started to finish up my writing on the historical background section and felt like I made a lot of progress. We also  all presented our research in front of the class and then talked about what we liked or didn’t like about the trip and what suggestions we would make to make the abroad experience better.

The Ghost...Cow...Horse

So there we were, in the pitch dark, chasing after a car like crazy serial killers. As the car turned the corner taking the light of its headlights with it, I thought to myself “how did I end up here?” But all in good time. 

June 27,2013
Yesterday was a pretty packed day for us. After walking up the mountain towards the Cloud Forest Reserve, we came along a dog. This dog stood apart from the other Costa Rican dogs we had seen earlier. For starters, she lacked the tiny legs that almost all dogs from around here sport. (Actually, it’s a type of dominant dwarfism very similar to human acondroplasia.) Secondly, unlike the native dogs who follow for a short distance before returning home, this dog followed us all day. She went with us to all our site checks and followed us back down the hill, all the way past where we originally found her and to La Colina. We had caught on now that this dog had attached itself to us so we hid inside the lodge for a bit to see if she would lose interest and return from whence she came. But no, she waited outside for us and then followed us home where she lay outside our front door.

She was an incredibly nice dog, very well behaved and got along very well with the other dogs we met. But we are leaving in a couple days and we couldn’t take her back with us. So we chained her out front of Ms. Mary’s for the time being while we finished up our work for the day. She would have followed us onto other people’s farms and we weren’t sure how the owners or their dogs would react to her. She was very dejected looking. 
The afternoon, Ms. Mary asked us to help her trim and give her little dog Moshi a bath. Moshi is a bit of a mischief maker. The day before, while I was walking over to Ms. Mary’s to ask her a couple questions, I heard whining and yelping. Following the noise, I discovered Moshi had once again jumped into the 6 foot deep garbage pit and couldn’t get out. I tried to lower a plank into the hole for her to climb out on but she just kept slipping off. She looked so pathetic and scared. This called for the heavy artillery so I returned to the house and enlisted the help of Kaitlin and Tessa. Kaitlin bravely jumped into the pit, retrieved the poor terrified dog, and climbed out. (Her rain jacket still smells like junk.) Even though she hosed Moshi down after rescuing her from the pit, she has looked bedraggled ever since. This morning, Ms. Mary noticed a mat so large that it almost tied her back legs together. Enough was enough. Armed with a couple pairs of scissors and Tessa’s knowledge of dog restraining picked up at a vet clinic, we set to work freeing poor Moshi from her hairy restraints. We must have cut so many dreadlocks caked in mud from the dog’s tail, hind legs and under ears that the pile once we were done was almost as big as she is.
That's Kaitlin's hand in comparison.  Moshi was surprisingly good throughout the whole thing. She obviously wasn’t happy about what we were doing but she accepted it with reluctant grace. Having three people fawn and pet you while one snips off your hair apparently is not so bad.
After, it was time to give her a bath which she reacted to similarly. We had apparently only washed the first layer of dirt and grime off when we pulled her out. Ms. Mary figures she must have been in there all night. I would like to remark that our little duckling of a dog was with us through this debacle and calmly laid down to wait for us to finish, all fancy like.
 She really is a very pretty dog. 
After retrieving the last of our data from the Stucky Farm (the farm next to this one), we prepared for our final Burger Night at La Colina. This time we had one extra with us: the dog. (We didn’t give her a name because we didn’t want to end up being attached to her.) We took her with us in the hopes that her owners would be there or she would attach herself to someone else. (I would have kept her if I could. She’s pretty awesome.) After a great meal of burger and churro-esqe round things of goodness (again I had way too many) and some hola hooping, we set out in the dark to return to our abode. We were happy to discover that the dog had attached herself to a nice family from Texas that had just moved down to Monteverde and had, we assumed, gone home with them. 
Thus it was that we were walking in the pitch dark, our path illuminated only by my flashlight and phone. (I was the only one to remember lights.) And from the distance we saw a form. Pale white. Too far and too dark out to clearly see anything. Of course the rational thing to assume was that it was a ghost. Thoroughly freaked out, our lights racing  around as if from the Blair Witch Project, we continued forward. Suddenly, I felt something move in my hair. Letting out a very girlish scream causing Tessa to in her turn scream as well, I whipped around to discover what it was: Kaitlin’s hand. The jerk! She had reached around my shoulders and pulled on my hair. After settling down, we look forward to realize that the shape, what had sort of resembled a cow, had disappeared. A car slowly passed by shedding light onto the road ahead. Kaitlin began to chase after it. Her idea was to follow the car and its lights to what ever it was that we saw. We ran after her, flashlights dancing. Just barely glimpsing the form as it ran around the bend we found that our ghost was in fact a white horse. A ghost horse I’m convinced since once we round the bend, we never saw it again. 

Today was our iButton collection day where we brought in all of the gear we had deployed. So up to Curi Canch we went, all together this time, our last time. Kaitlin, Tessa and I have been working together so long that all the retrievals went like clock work. Hiking up to the humming bird garden to visit our final bivy, karma struck back against Kaitlin for her scaring me the night before. 
“What is in my pocket? What is in my...GRAHH!” Kaitlin whipped her hand out of her pocket. Her reaction to me looked like mine would have been in I found a large spider in there. But no, Kaitlin reached in and pulled out...a banana. Kaitlin laughs at Tessa for having nightmares about army ants in her bed (which she’s adjusted to now) and Kaitlin freaks out about a banana. This wasn’t any banana. Oh no. this was one she had found in the cow pasture, presumably dropped when Tessa went and fetched bananas for this morning’s breakfast. Apparently this banana had been cut down the side which is exactly where Kaitlin had stuck her fingers when she reached into her pocket. The slimy moist feeling was what caused her reaction.
We all had a good time laughing. And thus, we left Curi Canch for the last time though not before thanking Mauricimo, the manager, and presenting him with some thumbprint cookies (more about these later). He graciously welcomed us back (for free) anytime we were in Monteverde with our families.
So this afternoon, we packed up all of our field equipment to take to Frank Joyce’s tomorrow. Now I sit here typing this as the smell of warm cookies floats through the house. After testing the recipe yesterday and figuring out the exactly spot in the over where the cookies don’t crack or spiderweb, I’m making more to take to the other land owners who let us tramp around on their property for the past six weeks. This research would have been really hard to do without their welcoming us to look on their land. These cookies are not chocolate chip as I made before, these are thumbprint cookies made with the remains of Bennie’s home made passionfruit jam and orange marmalade. They are really good cold we discovered this morning. (Nobody judge. We are running a little scarce on the breakfast food and you would eat them too if they were sitting in the fridge looking oh so tempting.)
 And now that we have emptied the jars, we have enough jars for each of us to take back some of Ms. Mary’s home made peanut butter which is ridiculously good!

Research Update

Research Update

“Science, my boy, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth.” 
― Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth

This quote nearly perfectly describes my past weeks of research. Substituting problems for mistakes would more appropriately describe my research,  but, the step-by-step nature of learning is entirely accurate. My research focuses on expanding a previously published limited study, and modeling charge generated strain in any carbon electrode present in any ionic liquid electrolyte. Reproducing the previous work is a necessary baseline to ensure all subsequent results accurately deviate, solely due the the variable difference, and not other factors. Replicating the aforementioned study has been far more complex than initially anticipated, as many problems arose. Solving each of those problems one by one has ultimately lead to similar results as the prior study. Each week the IMN's energy materials group meets, and presents their current research . Below are some powerpoint slides I prepared for the meeting, which outline all of the problems/solutions I have come across in my research quest. 

Initially, an insufficient amount of  ionic liquid electrolyte
infiltrated into the device. This was solved by increasing
the number of syringe evacuation/injection cycles. 

The dilatometer contains a porous T-shaped frit to act as a separator
in-between the working and counter electrodes, and allow electrolyte
 to flow between them. Carbon particles were getting inside the frit
thereby contaminating it. I went through a series of mini experiments,
using various spacers, trying to reproduce the prior study (which
had not used a spacer). 

Unfortunately, introducing the separator hindered the performance as
you can see in this cyclic voltammetry curve.  In experiments,
I am just going to cycle in new glass frits to prevent this problem. 
Another problem that persisted throughout the prior experiments,
is faulty sealing of the dilatometer. Frequently, when a syringe was used to
evacuate the cell, and inject electrolyte, there would be air leakage. This was
discovered to be a result of poor sealing between the dilatometer housing
and the tubing. 

Another problem involved the spacing between this membrane disk and a spacing disk
in the dilatometer. The spacing disk was too thin, preventing good electrical
contact between it and the membrane, yielding CV as seen above.  This was solved by
introducing a additional gold membrane disk to allow proper contact. 

And after solving all of these problems the results finally are similar to
the prior study's data! Now that a proper baseline has been obtained,
I can begin varying the ionic liquid electrolyte to see if it performs
as expected.  

 In addition to all of this lab work, I have been seeing a lot of different cities on weekends. I will upload another blog containing pictures and descriptions shortly.

"Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost"

Usually, I refrain from utilizing quotes because I believe I possess the ability to convey my thoughts in an eloquent manner; however, J.R.R. Tolkein's quote from The Fellowship of the Ring just happens to convey the theme of the past two weeks in such a brief manner that I think this time I can make an exception.

At the top of Cathedral in Berlin

Those Who Wander
I have heard many times from all sorts of people that traveling changes your worldview.  Personally, I did not think I would change that much from this experience.  I thought I would remain somewhat resolute in my beliefs and ideas about life, but they seem to be altering at a much faster rate than I anticipated.  When I travel, it seems my mind travels as well, exploring different frontiers.

I wish it wasn't blurry, but this was on a building in Berlin.
For example, I know I have said that Germany seems to be much more relaxed and I would like to continue to incorporate that aspect into my life when I get back to America; however, there's more.  Living in Germany has provided the opportunity for me to live on my own and to take care of myself without having a direct dependence upon my parents.  When I am in trouble or stuck in a city like Manheim last night, I cannot rely on my parents to get me out of a situation.  I have to and had to figure out what to do.   Because the trains did not start running again until four in the morning, I decided to stay the night in a hotel and leave on a train at six so that I would also have enough sleep for work the next day.  On this trip, I have had many moments where I planned and handled situations that normally my parents would control without my input.

Also, I am not going to say that this entire trip has been happy and gay without any hindrances in my happiness.  Personally, I do miss my friends and family; however, I know at some point in three weeks I will see them.  Going back means a lot of tough choices which I do not wish to divulge on the Internet, but Germany has prepared me to face them without compromising on who I am as a person.  I think one of the greatest lessons that anybody can learn is to stay resolute in who you are and actually stay who you are no matter how hard any alternative is.

Anyway, besides my mind wandering, I have also done a bit of wandering around this beautiful country.  Over the past two weeks, I wandered to Lovely Luxembourg and Beautiful Berlin.

Living Lavishly in Lovely Luxembourg
I love Luxembourg.  What was so nice about the city was that it had two levels to explore.  My colleagues and I were able to explore a castle and most of the city.  I would recommend the city to anyone especially because the people there are fluent in at least three languages which are French, German, and Luxembourgish, but most of them also know some English.

In a castle fortification in Luxembourg

One thing about Luxembourg though is that if you can find the elevator from the bottom level to the top level take it.  Literally, the walk from the bottom to the top was so difficult because of the heat and lack of refreshments.  If you want to get in shape, go to Luxembourg or even Berlin.  Luxembourg is a little bit on the expensive side though.

After Luxembourg, our group went to another city in the Saarland where we relaxed and had dinner by the river.  I felt the city had a Disneyworld Epcot feel for some reason.

More Pictures From Luxembourg:

These elephants were all over!

Biking and Bruising in Berlin
If one has not noticed, I love alliteration. This past weekend our group, the fantastisch four (to keep with alliteration), visited Berlin.  You really cannot compared Berlin to any city in America except maybe New York City and then not even.  In Berlin, you can bike anywhere and that's what I did.  On Saturday, I biked the entire city until I bought porcelain souvenirs and had to go back to the hostel.  Then, I went back out and biked some more.  I saw museums, churches, restaurants, stores, parks, monuments, and more just with the use of a bike.  Saturday was one of the best days I have ever had in Germany by myself.  I would not have done anything differently.

On Sunday, I decided to tour around a bit more with my friend and colleague Matt.  I managed to flip over the handlebars and off my bike because my bike wheel got stuck in the wet trolley tracks.  I got back on the bike and we continued around Berlin.  I saw many things twice which I enjoyed.  I also went through some of the museums again taking in more of the information.  I enjoyed looking at different works and being like that's a ceramic from how many thousands of years ago... material science is life people.  I wanted to know more about how the people from all those years ago produced or manufactured such goods and will probably look into different histories now to find out.  Honestly, I was content with wandering around ruins and old artifacts from the time period of Ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Moors.

To be honest, I was a little disenchanted with the museums in that they emphasized that Russia still held many of the artifacts from after World War II and that was a breach in international law.  Those antiques/items/artifacts do not all belong to Germany as many of them were taken from other countries which is where they should be returned.  To be fair though, the spread of artifacts does allow for more of mankind to learn about the past and that is what is important.

At the end of the day, Matt and I went to a flee market where I eventually lost him.  We were unable to find each other so I just went to the train station and then to home.

The Scene in Saarbr├╝cken
This past week I was finally able to electrospin both Polypropylene and Chitosan which means that I am on the next step of my project for electrospinning separators.  At the moment, I want to SEM the commercial separator and run electrochemical testing on that while I electrospin mats for different intervals of time to find the rate of deposition.  I am pretty sure I have other steps which I have to complete first and will figure those out after I finish this blog.  I also have to spin Polyethylene which should be in this week.

Thoughts on a Traumatic Train Experience
I guess it was not that traumatic, but I had to find a "t" word.  The train ride back was boring.  I love ICE trains but I transferred 4 times last night just to get back by 8am this morning so I could go to work.  After reading 1Q84, doing some logic problems, just writing for fun, and napping, I still had a good two hours of train ride left.

At some point during this trip, my advisor/mentor for this project, Dr. Jenny, advised me to play with my food in order to understand a particular scientific concept.  As a child, I always got yelled at for playing with my food so I just stopped; however, after Dr. Jenny provided that recommendation, I just wanted to play with food.  So, below, are some of the pictures from when I was bored on the train to Frankfurt from wherever I came from, Leipzig I think.

"The Last Supper" is supper out of gummy bears and oreos.

What happens if you add gummies to water?  The answer is bubbles.

So, yes, I wandered quite a bit over the past two weeks.  To be sure though, I was never really lost as J.R.R. Tolkein puts it.  I think I was a mere explorer looking to see what would happen if I turned down this road or that road.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Making the Rounds

July 20, 2012
Do you ever just look at yourself and think “I like who I am. Crazy hair, ripped to shred boots and all.” Those people who you met on airplanes and they have this amazing life story and they are just Superman or Wonder Woman. I finally came to the realization that I can be one of those people. I can race triathlons, travel where ever I get the chance, and be a doctor. (If I work hard enough to accomplish it.) 
I’ve also discovered that wearing shirts from old races gives people a starting point to talk to you about. I wore my City 6 5K shirt and have had 2 different groups of people comment on it so far. In this way, I met a bunch of teachers from Iowa, Arizona and Wyoming. 

On a completely irrelevant side note, I have discovered Cinnamon Tea and I’m not sure how I’ve lived my life without it. 

July 21, 2013
Despite the fact that yesterday was a iButton refresh day (the temperature probes only have enough space to collect data for four days and then must be plugged into a computer to retrieve the data and refresh the iButton) which entails hiking to all our currently deployed iButtons (these days are normally followed by an easy day to rest our legs), it sounds like today will be doing a lot of hiking. Kaitlin. The Puma bivouac at the top of Curi Cancha still has not emigrated so I will hike up there and check on them again. Kaitlin wants to go down to Bajo del Tigre to see if we can find and collect some more Eciton for thermotolerance. It’s hard to deploy iButtons there since one side of the path is a cliff face and the other a drop off. It makes it really hard to follow the raiding ants back to the bivouac over a cliff. She also wants to see if we can go down the Cafetal to hack our way through the valley of fallen bananas to find a bivouac we know is there somewhere. “Easy day” my butt. (In reality it’s really not that bad. Keeps a girl in good shape.)
I have recently been on a cooking and recipe kick. Since most of my cooking will be paleo when I return to Philly and I don’t know too many paleo recipes, I have been spending a good deal of my wifi time looking up paleo blogs. It’s odd. When people say no grains or legumes, you automatically think “uhhhh no.” But a lot of these recipes actually look really good. (My favorite so far is the coconut chocolate truffles but the curry made with coconut milk looks really good too.) I’m not saying that I could ever give up grains entirely but I think I am capable of limiting it. I also discovered that quinoa is a seed not a grain which means I can trick myself into thinking I’m eating grain when I’m not actually. (I didn’t know there was a difference between grains and seeds.) I also need to look up whether corn is a grain, seed or vegetable. I think it depends on what definition you are going by. 
On a side note: I did go back to La Colina and get the recipe for those Oreo truffles:
You need: cream cheese, Oreos, and chocolate chips
(I didn’t get the proportions but my guess is a block of cream cheese to a bag of Oreos to a bag of chocolate chip is around the right ratio. I’ll have to experiment when I get home. Oreos are pretty hard to find here and I don’t think the school would want me experimenting on their dime.)
To make (and I love how easy this is): Blend the cream cheese and Oreos in a food processor, roll into balls, and put on a cookie sheet. Melt the chocolate chips (a double boil system would be best I think) and drizzle it over them. Stick it all in the freezer until firm. And viola! Instant diet killers! (But they are so worth it, trust me.) 
July 22, 2013
Our time in Monteverde is drawing to a close. For some of us, I think we are relieved to go back to our families and friends in the states. Kaitlin is certainly feeling the crunch to get as much data as possible. With the finding of another raid yesterday, we only need one more colony to sample from to reach ten colonies, her target. Unfortunately, we keep finding them in Curci Cancha where we are not allowed to sample from.
Last night we took a very welcome break from our own house. Ms. Mary was invited to family night at the Guindin’s (the ones with the baby sloth), and, being the really awesome person Ms. Mary is, she asked if she could bring us along. So we made chili to bring and drove up to their farm. At this time, it was pouring. The rain was so loud on the tin roof that we could barely hear each other speak. 
The Guindin’s are a very large family. There were three of their children present, all the age of my parents, with their children but I think there are eight Guindin children in all. They were all incredibly welcoming. Everyone brought a dish which were all really good. There were some of the grandchildren there, some of whom were in college as well. When the meal was about to be served, we gathered around in a circle and again, as if on synchronized clocks, they all bowed their heads. Quakers. Then it was dig in time. Ms. Lucky, I thought, was incredibly clever and had everyone wash their own dishes so there wasn’t any clean up after. She also made a chocolate cake and frozen whipped cream. (Yea...I had two piece. But Tessa had three. I don’t blame her, it was a really good cake.) 
They have quite the menagerie: not only do they have the one baby sloth, they also have another grown one that hangs around outside.They also have a porcupine that was really cute though that ones not allowed in the house anymore after Ms. Lucky found it creeping beside her head when she was sleeping one night. They also have the regular pets like a cat that likes you one moment and hates you the next and a dog. Adding to the over the crazy top-ness of the house, everyone, excluding us, were bilingual. So there was always a whirl English/Spanish going around. At the end of the night, I was invited to play doubles solitaire. This was nothing like the slow, calming, and boring single player game. This was instead a crazy fast game where everyone can play off each other’s aces. Everyone else had obviously already played this game and on the first round I was thrashed. It was a bit sad actually. The second round I did much better, with the help of Ms. Mary. After that we went home to get Tessa to bed. (We’ve been going to bed pretty early here since Tessa and I never switched time zones. I’ve slowly been pushing my time later and later but Tessa goes to bed at 9:00 pm sharp.)

Still searching for lower elevation ants, today Kaitlin suggested that we hike down into the San Louis valley via the main road. And so down we went.
 You know a hill is bad when it’s so steep that it hurts to walk down it. We all agreed that it was going to suck coming back up. But, as with ever other hard hike we’ve done, there we some pretty incredibly views to go with the aching knees.
 And that was our morning hike. All in all we hiked for about three hours though most of this was spent hiking up the mountain.
 We all try our own way to get up: Kaitlin just powered up the hills, I went at a mildly faster pace and practiced yoga breathing, and Tessa decided to walk backwards up the mountain. To each his own I suppose. We did all stop to wait for each other and take breaks. These were my favorites. We got to sit down, eat some cracker to stave off the hanger (anger resulting from hunger) and enjoy the incredible views. And since we were on the pacific side of the mountain, we enjoyed and were a bit blown around by the wind coming over the mountain. 
Taking a short break at La Colina before heading over to whole foods and Abuela to get some lunch, we were distracted by the man at the lodge advertising home made lemon bars. Well Kaitlin and I could hardly resist. So we happily ate our snack as other animals around the lodge noticed. I saw them coming. Keeping a sharp eye on the turkey that has more than once come strait up to us and tried to peck at our shiny laptops, I didn’t even see the chicken until it had already snatched a bite from my dessert. Angry face. 
After quickly finishing our delectable treat before more critters could do it for us, we hiked over to Abuela so we could eat some more. Then we did some much needed grocery shopping. We had gotten a ride to  Packing everything into our backpacks to save on plastic, we realized that we did indeed look like school children.
 ... obviously my lunch was pineapple. I love pineapple and here it is sweeter than any at home. We’ll cut a pineapple at lunch and eat the entire thing in one sitting. I have this sinking feeling that we are going to go back to the States and I’m going to be “What is this? This isn’t a banana. Why is it green? Why is my pineapple still green? Why was this picked before it was ripe? Oh. Right. I’m not in Monteverde anymore.” T’will be a sad day I’m certain of it. But hopefully this will instill a new sense of greenness in me, if only because fruits are a thousand times better when they are picked when ripe and not before and left to ripen on a ship or in a truck. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Week 3 in Crete

I can’t believe 3 weeks have gone by already!! I have done so many things in just a short amount of time and I will be sad to leave Crete next week.

Because I have done so many things, I won’t be able to write it all down, but here is a quick recap from this past week:


This morning we had classes where we learned some more Greek words as well as talk about cooperative banking and the Greek banking system. We also did a quick recap of the last few days to remember all that we had done, including a trip to Santorini which was beautiful!!

After classes I worked on my research where I focused on formulating questions to ask over an email interview with Papadakis (the author of a book about Venizelos), along with more questions to ask a military general who I will be seeing next week.  I also did some work on making a structured abstract of my research paper which I needed for my ANTH-380 class and looking at more books to take notes on.


Today we hiked up a hill/mountain until we reached a place called Psychro Cave or “Diktaion Antron.” This was an underground cave with lots of stalactites and stalagmites and it was amazing to see all the rock formations. This cave is actually a very important part of Greek history as it is supposedly the birth place of the Greek god Zeus. Hira, Zeus’ mother, placed him there to be protected from his father Kronos who was trying to eat his children.

We then went to Elouda, a very ritzy part of Crete, to quickly see all the nice restaurants, resorts and beautiful beaches it had. After the beach, we went to another village called St. Nicolas. This town was right along the water with a few ports, beach front restaurants and lots of shopping. It was a nice change from Heraklion and it was cool to see a new place. St. Nicolas also had this really pretty lake in the middle of it which was nice to see.

Lastly, to end off the culture filled day, we went to a small village to see a festival in honor of Santa Marina and of anyone with the name of Marina. We first went to a small church to do the religious part of the festivities where we listened to services all in Greek, and then headed down to the town square for dinner and dancing. We got served all different sorts of traditional Greek food, of which everything was delicious, and then even got challenged to dance in front of everyone to traditional Greek music. I’m sure we embarrassed ourselves a lot but it was tons of fun to do!


Today in class, we learned about different Cretan rituals such as music and dance as well as look at different powerpoint presentations. We also had a dance workshop where we had a professional doctor/dancer come to teach us about 5 different dances and all the moves that went along with them. Most of the dances weren’t too hard to follow along to, but there were some that had many different steps and that we all kept on getting confused about once the music started up.
After this, I worked on my research. Today I focused on how religion can affect international relations. I was looking at different articles and journals and took down some notes to put in my paper.


This morning we went to a farmers market in Herakleion to walk around for a bit and to see all the many things they sell in the stands. It was fun to look at all the different types of fruits and vegetables they were selling as well as all the different types of clothes, etc. After the market, we took a quick stop back at the Deputy Governor’s office to meet with her one last time and to receive a few presents she had prepared for us all.

We then went to a little farm high up in the mountains in the cutest little village called Vonni-Agia Marina. We got to feed their baby goats, chicks and sheep as well as even try some fresh goat milk (which I wasn’t much of a fan of). After that, they took us on a tractor ride to another part of their farm to see some of their horses.

After the farm, we went to another village for a cooking workshop. We learned how to make different types of pastas, cheese pies and soups and then got fed a delicious meal using some of the things we had made. This was probably one of the highlights of the trip so far as I love to cook and learn about different cuisines.

Lastly, we finished the day off at the only aquarium on the island of Crete. It was actually pretty big and there were tons of different sea animals there ranging from jelly fish up to different kinds of sharks. I hadn’t been to an aquarium in quite some time so I was really happy we got to go see it.


Today we had classes in the morning.  We learned some Greek words about food and other things related to our fieldtrip yesterday as well as more things on Greek culture and music. After this, we got to watch another Greek movie called “First time Godfather.” It wasn’t my favorite movie but it was interesting to watch. This movie basically depicted a boy sent over to Crete by his politician father where he faced many challenges (such as having to eat snails) and also learned a lot, not only about himself, but also about corruption and being true to yourself and to those close to you. 

After class, I got lunch with everyone at the hotel and then worked on my research for the rest of the day. I focused on trying to finish up some notes on the subsections of the cultural history part such as on how religion affects international relations, the role of Greece and Cyprus in the Mediterranean and Israel in the middle east, along with researching some things on the CNN effect.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Just Your Average Week In Monteverde

July 20, 2013
There isn’t really a whole lot to report. The bivouac at the high elevation in Curi Cancha is dropping a ton of pupal casings which means that it’s going to be moving soon to meet the increase in food demands. We’ll have to go up there today to go hunt them down again. The weather’s been acting weird though. Like today for instance: it’s completely clear. A sky so blue I can hardly believe it wasn’t painted by an artist. (No, a clear sky is not really that normal for this season.) It’s barely rained at all this past week even though it’s suppose to be the rainy season. Yesterday it broke that trend and rained in the morning then cleared up for the afternoon which is the opposite of a typical rainy day. 
The clear weather did let us get to Burger Night at La Colina. So good. The burgers they were serving had bacon and a pineapple glaze. Mmmmmm. They also had these Oreo cheesecake truffles which were to die for. I have to ask for the recipe today when we go up there today. And the company was fun too. We met a bunch of people from Florida who are spending a month traveling around Costa Rica just because they can. I think we are suppose to have a picnic with them today at some point. This is my favorite part of traveling, meeting new people and doing stuff at random. After, you part ways with nothing but a really great story to tell. Here’s one of them:
We had finished our delicious meals and the night was wrapping up so it was time to pay. They were really laid back about it all really. Honor system and such which works here. (Sometimes I love rural living.) I went up to pay for my delicious meal. 
The owner asks: “You had the beef burger right? And two truffles?”
“Actually, I had three,” I responded sheepishly.
“What happened to you?”
“Don’t judge me! They were so good and we don’t keep chocolate in the house!” Well technically that’s not true. We just eat it all so there’s never any hanging around. That’s what happens when you live with two other females, chocolate has a very short shelf time expectancy. 
        La Colina also is the lodge with a bunch of animals running around. Last time, we found a puppy! They have a bunch of dogs here. Often you have to check chairs before you sit down for they like to sleep on them. 

My cooking has been getting better with all of the cooking at we do for ourselves. I made enchiladas with a sauce made from scratch. Well it was actually Enchilasgna, the tortillas would not cooperate. Ms. Mary gave me a sort of recipe for tomato soup that I played around with a bit. It still needs a bit of work. Kaitlin taught me how to make chicken broth from scratch and also how to make pie dough (something my mother will not even consider to fuss with, not sure what she has against rolling pins :) ). Kaitlin has a killer Banana Pie recipe so needless to say, we’ve been eating a lot of pie. (Not going to lie, we had banana pie for breakfast yesterday.) I also found and perfected a yeast-less cinnamon roll recipe. (We go through a lot of butter at this house.) I bought a journal from one of the stores in Santa Elena to write all these recipes down so I can make them when I get back to Philly. 
      Monteverde has been an incredible experience for me. I'll be sad to leave this relaxing setting in soon. You get all bogged down in city life and stressed about school and your future that you start to lose sight of who you are. For example, I've never been a shy person but lately I had been shying away from new people. (Not like me at all.) But here, all that is gone. It's lifted and I get to be my old self again. I had forgotten how much I love meeting and talking to new people. Listening to all their own crazy stories and even if you think to yourself "wow. That's nuts. I would never do anything like that," you kind of get to live vicariously through them and share their experience. And you share your own crazy stories and it's just one big living-fest...if that made any sense at all.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Confusing Spanish and Other Stories

July 14, 2013
So today we went looking for some lower elevation colonies in Bajo del Tigre, which doesn’t mean “short of the tiger” as the name and Spanish class suggests. Tessa and I were so excited when we recognized the words. “Short of ... the...tiger? What?” Apparently in Costa Rica, bajo can also mean valley and tigre So “Valley of the Jaguar.” Also here the stops signs say alto, which we were taught means tall. But alto can also sometimes mean yield. So good luck with that one. 

Today we also had issues keeping our pants clean. After a desperate search for wifi, first checking our usual hot spot which had since changed its password, we ending up at La Colina, a lodge right near the house. (When I say “near,” I mean ten minutes walk.) The owner, an incredibly nice man, invited us to sit on the porch or inside to use his wifi. (We are going to La Colina for all future wifi trips I think.) We were joined by the menagerie of animals that live in the lodge including a couple of really cute dogs that like to sit on your feet and a cat the just wants to be in your lap. There are chickens and roosters that wander around the grounds too. It was these last animals we suspect that had hopped onto the sofas on the deck and ... relieved themselves upon them. You know, you aren’t really looking where you sit when you sit on a sofa. You don’t realize that you’ve sat in something until your pants feel wet.

July 15, 2013
Kaitlin, with her desire to look for lower elevation Eciton colonies, decided today that we would go down into the San Luis valley today. There apparently is a whole other trail system here on the farm that we have turned a blind eye to. Including the Cafetal, this system branches off of the ones we have previously been working on. One of them steeply drops into the grassy pastures below in the valley which look disturbingly like the Shire.

The trail we were to take turned of the lower loop towards the cliff face. At first it was easy going.  Just our average hike in Monteverde. But then, as we round the corner to our first of multiple breathtaking views,
Kaitlin turns to us as says “now comes the steep part.” And so down we went. The path switchbacking down the side of the mountain. Other than being a little tough on our knees, the hikes down was fine. (We were still in a light mood to take a couple funny photos.)
But all you can think about is “god this is going to suck coming back up.” This went on until we reached the gate that may have marked the end of Mary Rockwell’s Farm. We aren’t quite sure. But what we were sure of was that nobody had traversed passed the gate in a long time. Saw grass and shrubs had grown where a once precarious path lined the cliff. Kaitlin, wild spirit that she is, pressed forward, machete in hand. Tessa and I, the two more concerned with trying to survive to at least grad school, cautiously followed behind. Every foot was placed carefully where another had already stepped, insuring that there was indeed ground there and not the deceiving plants that make you think that it’s there when in reality it's a drop. Eventually we came close to the tree line where we knew a traversable path lay. But to get there, the deceiving plants lay in our way. Onward we went. It’s odd when you walk on something and it’s squishy and bouncy. You’re not quite sure whether what you are standing on is actual ground with just a bunch of grass on top or if it’s just a bunch of grass holding you up. 
We did make it to the safety of the line of trees where we stopped to rest. Kaitlin and I had a little picnic of Chikys (a type of popular store bought cookie here. God, I’m going to miss them.) and crackers. Tessa decided to embrace her inner monkey and climbed some trees.
After our short rest we continued on. I was surprised to discover that the meadow of grass we had seen and set as our destination, me thinking it was the valley itself, was indeed not the lowest elevation. On our right was yet another cliff where the river could be heard though not seen through the thick trees. We made a couple attempts to get down but Kaitlin eventually just called it. And then we turned around.
What with Kaitlin hiking at the speed of a startled coati and Tessa with her not up to par knee, it was I who led our way back up. This time, I cut up the mountain on the path so we had something to lean against instead of balancing on what foothold we knew were stable. (I should mention that Kaitlin’s clearing on the way down made coming back up much easier.) After a while, you get used to the fact that a trip to the clinic was not even a foot the the right. You don’t notice the thorns and saw grass snipping at your hands and pants. You just want up to the gate where a well cleared path lay at your feet. After that, all we had to do was haul our butts up to the farm with Kaitlin nipping at our heals. (We wouldn’t let her lead.)

Speaking of coatis, Kaitlin had an encounter with one. We often see them in peoples yards, especially our own. They like to take the pineapple rinds from our compost heap. Once we saw once loping across the yard with the top of a pineapple taken from the bird feeder in its mouth. It was incredibly cute. Anyway, back to the story. Kaitlin was taking her turn being ill and was resting in the house while Tessa and myself were away checking on bivouacs. She heard a rustle and looks up, expecting to see one of us returning for some forgotten gear. But what she sees instead is the face of a coati that has half stepped in the open door. Kaitlin froze. Deciding that in our house was not actually where it wanted to be, it turns to leave but not before giving Kaitlin’s boots a thorough sniffing. I’m sure that the smell must have driven it away.

We do a lot of hiking. I’m sure I’ve instilled this in everyone already. When we do hike, which is often, we entertain each other with stories from our childhood and such. But eventually, the trail becomes too steep or long for us to keep the breath to tell stories or have conversations. It is here where I do a lot of thinking. Sometimes it’s pertinent stuff such as what bivouac still need to be checked or a mental check list of what needs to be done to check a bivouac (raid bearing, midden or trash pile, iButtons, ect.). Most of the time however, I have a little chat with myself in my head. How are we feeling today? Any stomach or joint problems? And today I found myself a little home sick. It’s been building for sometime now. It’s not as if I’m going to break down and cry but I find myself missing my family in Baltimore and my “family” in Philly. So I added a couple of things to our grocery list for today: extra flour, baking soda and chocolate chips. It was time to make some chocolate chip cookies. 
I don’t know about Kaitlin or Tessa, but just the smell of cookies baking makes me feel happy. (I’m convinced that anyone who doesn’t smile at the warm smell of baking cookies has some serious issues.) Though I had to substitute cane sugar for brown sugar, they taste almost perfect. Tessa, who has been very impressively devoted to avoiding “unnecessary carbs” such as Chikys, which Kaitlin and I devour on a daily bases, surprised me when she came in from the bodaga with the cutest look on her face and her hands clasped and simply asked “cookies?” It was much more demure that Kaitlin’s approach of: “Are they ready? COOKIES!” That’s what I love about chocolate chip cookies, they bring a smile and a much lighter atmosphere to everyone (except for the disturbed individuals previously mentioned). Now I’m off to share some smiles with our sick neighbor, Ms. Mary, who is just an incredible person and has selflessly helped us with any of our ICE problems. She really puts all of us to shame. Here we are complaining about sore knees and she’s got to be in her mid seventies and just climbed Chirripo, the tallest mountain in Costa Rica. It’s inspiring yet embarrassing to talk to her. Not that this has anything to do with my research... 

We have been having the oddest weather lately. I’m so used to the rainy weather schedule where it’s nice in the morning but very still. This is when we do our hiking. Then we collect ants to thermotolerance test and try to beat the rain home. But these past two days have been windy and cold but other than it misting in the morning, completely clear all day. We sit at home because we don’t know what else to do with this extra time we are given. It hasn’t rained at all. The benefit to this is that we have been getting the most gorgeous sunsets. They almost rival those over the harbor on Drummond Island. They have the same purple tint where even the air around you seems colored.