Sunday, June 29, 2008

Welcome to the Jungle!

After 24 hours of travel, 2 full days of setting up the lab, marching all over the god forsaken jungle, and then laying in my bed for 48 hours only getting up to purge from both the northern and southern exits..... if you know what I mean.....i have arrived! read on if you want to hear how it all played out...

Week 1: I am having a great time down here but am totally exhausted. We (Bill, Emily the Butcher, and I) have been working all week to put the lab together and gather all of the soil samples so that we can start working in the air conditioned lab this week. We are hiking anywhere from 5-8 km a day on the trails and through the undergrowth and riding 6-12 km a day all on top of being really sick...but all is well and i am having a lot of fun. I am soooo excited because they have loaned me a mountain bike for the summer seeing that my study plots are about 6 km down the trail. That can make for long trip out and back if you are walking. However, no matter the means of transportation, it is a beautiful trail to be follows the Rio Sarapique and there is a ton a wildlife. I still cant believe that i am getting paid to hike and bike in a tropical forest! Saw howler monkeys today on the bridge and in my study plot...their name says it all...the males grunt and howl when they don't want you near them....rumor has it they also throw feces...i suspect they haven't done it to me because they have heard of my sickness and know that I am capable of throwing it back. Have also seen a ton of beautiful birds, poison dart frogs, peccaries (jungle pigs with musk), coatimundais (like raccoons), and ants.......SO many ants....they are just part of my creapy crawly life here.

The weather has been comparatively cool and less buggy compared to years past. not sure if that is due to it being earlier in the season or different location....probably both....i suspect it will be hotter than two rats humpin in a wool sock soon enough (thanks for that metaphor fits well here!). The rain comes everyday and stays for minutes to hours. My boots are thoroughly soaked and are beginning to smell pretty bad so they have been banished to the hallway outside of my room. i feel bad for the poor guy rooming down the hall...but not bad enough to move them inside....sorry guy.

When I finally get a chance to go to bed, i retire to my room which is straight out of Swiss Family Robinson with a bed, desk, small closet, and a fan. No boots allowed. i have a view of the river and the suspension bridge which connects the two side of the campus. I have to cross it to get from the main dining area to my room. On the bridge there is a sign that says something like 'swim at your own risk...crocodiles are present in the river'....lovely, i think i will least until it gets really unbearably hot or I get incredibly drunk. this place is like a mini college campus in the jungle with the labs, dining area, living quarters, and library all separated by trails. this can be a little intimidating at night when you only have a head lamp and have to walk 10 minutes through the jungle with snakes and ants all over!

There are probably close to 80 students and researchers here from all over the world so there is always someone new to talk to...or bother you....the classic conversation starter is "so, what are you studying?" and "hey dirt girl" or "hey frog guy" (who by the way is totally smokin' hot!) there also seems to be a distinct social hierarchical cast system emerging where your place is determined by what you study. As far as I can tell, the microbiologist (thats us) are the highest class (duh!), followed by the botanists, then the herps (herpetologists whom I only put in here because they got extra points for good looks), with the bottom class consisting of a conglomerate of ants, bats, mites, and who knows what other nerdy stuff people are studying. Then there are the 'untouchables' who are the dorks coming in for a couple of days to learn 'Tropical Biology' and don't have the huevos to actually leave the safety of the trails. Basically, this place is like a zoo full of nerds and club med all wrapped into one!

Bill and I are working well together as always, and Emily, an undergrad from the University of Tennessee who is working with us all summer, is fitting in like a champ...and ENJOYING being around Bill and I! That is important when you have to work and live side by side with each other all summer! Not to mention smell us! We actually don't refer to her as Emily anymore ever since her new nickname was bestowed upon her....she is now known only as the Butcher following an unfortunate series of rapid events where a toucan was knocked out trying to mistakenly fly in front of her as she recklessly careened down the trail on her bike, a green poison dart frog was run over by her tire, and a bat met its demise with the spokes of her tire....sad yes, but hysterical to watch it all unfold!

Today, we all went into town (Puerto Viejo) to go to the supermarket and have lunch since we were out in the field when lunch was served at the station. the lovely ladies in the kitchen will pack you a lunch to throw in your soaking wet pack and take with you out into the field if you politely ask in Spanish, however we didn't think we would need it became a good excuse to go into town. not to mention I am a bit leery of eating the packed lunch because I suspect that may have contributed to my bout of dysentery and the illness that landed me in bed for 48 hours last week. The cab ride cost $3 and took 5-10 minutes to get there so all three of us piled in and split the cost....good thing they pay me the big bucks! At the cafe, ate arroz con camarones and some ceviche which was delish and bought an umbrella, soda water, limes, and a pint of vodka (to kill the bacteria living in my stomach) at the supermarcado. Life is good.

Well, that is all for now...i hope you didn't fall asleep reading my novel. i am off to bed to rest and enjoy my first day off tomorrow. think I will get up, drink some coffee, go for a ride on the bike, and will of course be keeping you posted on more of my adventures as they unfold!

Mucho besos!