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.

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