4 weeks to go….

Time is still FLYING along here and I cannot believe it has been 17 days already since last post.  Less than 4 weeks to go which is also absolutely incredible.  Luckily I am heading off to do some great travel, and so I am not feeling too sad about leaving Costa Rica.  (yet.)

Night walks have now stopped, as the green turtle season is over.  We are still getting either a nest or a half-moon on the beach every few days, but there is definitely no need to walk every night in the faint hopes of seeing a turtle.  Even Tortuguero beach is very quiet, with a peak in the season of literally thousands of tracks on the beach, to around 25 tracks on Sunday on a 15-mile stretch.  I am missing the night walks however, we do far less walking and in fact it seems like far less of every survey, when we are not going out every night.  There is a lot of teaching and community work going on, and of course the normal Jaguar, Bird and Morning Census surveys are still ongoing.

I went out on a bird survey on Cano Harold a couple of weeks ago, which is my first one for the phase.   I have not passed my Patrol Leader test for birds and probably now will not.  I went out to have a look-see and try to spot a boat-billed heron.  We were very unsuccessful though in the boat-billed spotting stakes, and in fact the survey reminded me that birds are NOT my favourite species around here.  I’m getting better at identification but usually only manage to identify ‘it’s a bird of some sort’! as they are flying past.

Another long weekend has passed, fairly uneventfully.  A lot of the volunteers stayed behind, and we went to Turtle Beach Lodge for dinner, and basically had a relaxing weekend.  The new 5-weekers arrived after this, 3 new girls who are all very nice.  Unfortunately for them, apart from the first day they arrived it has been raining almost solidly since then.  It is a very different place around here in the rain.  Of course it is the rainforest so it is to be expected, and the plants and animals of the region are all flourishing.  On the other hand, it is quite depressing to be wet all of the time, and of course we are definitely not stuck indoors, surveys continue rain or shine, so we spend a lot of the time soaked to the skin and then unable to dry any of our wet clothes.  The base is at risk of flooding at the moment as well, it has had to be evacuated the past couple of years when the canal level rises too far and swamps base.  The canal was over the dock yesterday, but has receded by a couple of centimetres today so we’re all hoping that it will keep going down, not up…..

One of the old volunteers returned this week, with some of his own volunteers to do some beach cleaning.  Bill was on my phase in June/July of this year, and returned to Colorado to take up some construction management work.  That unfortunately fell through due to the current economic conditions, but rather than sulk about it he set up his own NGO to do beach cleaning, called Habitat Healers.  It was quite incredible to hear him tell how it had all fallen into place, since coming up with the concept he has had amazing support and sponsorship from a variety of different organisations, from free t-shirts and shorts for the volunteers, to accommodation from local lodges, to architectural drawings for a recycle centre for the local community.  He put out a notice to the local community and university in Colorado, and arrived with around 10 volunteers for the clean including photographers and videographers to record the event.  GVI also helped a LOT with the cleaning as we clean up the local beach on a weekly basis as part of our tasks.

I am currently studying for my boat-driving license, I have not done any practical yet, but am working on the theory side so I can pass the state of Florida exam.  I asked ‘why Florida’ and it is because their local waterways and aquatic wildlife are reasonably similar to the canal systems around here, so their training is quite relevant.  I can’t wait to start actually training on the boat, and it had better happen soon as I only have a few weeks left!  We had a presentation from one of the staff members from the Mexico project who was visiting for a couple of days.  I did not realise that GVI was so large.  They not only have the worldwide volunteer projects, but have a corporate alliance division which organises huge volunteer programmes, for example for 20,000 of Wholefood Markets’ staff members to travel to see how their goods are sourced (what a perk!), and apparently they are running some other VERY large potential volunteer programmes as well.

Mario Rasta, the ex-base manager, came to visit for a couple of days as well (and I’ve noticed a small piece of graffiti on the table saying Jah! since he was here, I suspect the Rasta’s of that one).  He is a botanist and as he lived here for a couple of years, knows an amazing amount about the local flora.  He took us on a walk of the base trails and gave us a super interesting presentation about a variety of different plants.  He covered hallucinogenic plants that the indigenous peoples of here and similar rainforests have managed to discover.  One plant produces a hallucinogen, but one that your brain can naturally metabolise and have no effects.  However, there is another plant which stops your brain doing this, so when combined, boiled, reduced to a paste, dried and ground to a powder, makes you trip out.  It is very intriguing to try and imagine how the native peoples managed to discover this combination of plants and the required process to actually get these effects.

We also saw the Curare plant, which is a poison and best-known for being used on poison-tipped blow darts in the amazon forest.  Other plants are used for cuts, mosquito bites, anxiety, stomach upsets, are anti-parasitic and used by local midwives to cauterise the cut umbilical cord.  There are also some very large trees on base that are a valuable hard wood, and each tree is worth around US$6000 when processed into wood.  Apparently there is a local company which sells so-called ‘sustainable’ furniture to Europe, but is in fact using these giant and ancient trees and is not sustainable at all.  We are surrounded by national park here, but apparently if you are up in the air, you can see forestry works completely surrounding the park, and eating into the parks’ trees wherever possible.

Had a disaster the other evening on the way back from DE’s…. sank the Kinkajou! For those that do not know, the Kinkajou is one of the two canoes here on base and is notoriously unstable.  I have never rated it as being too bad, but now hate the thing! It was ridiculously easy to sink, one rock of the boat to let in a little water, followed by overcompensation to the other side, more water flooded in and down we went.  We had to swim for it to the dock, shrieking and waking up the whole base in the process.  All was well however, no harm done and the boat was rescued and righted to terrify volunteers for many days to come.

This Sunday I FINALLY went on a Jag walk! Jag walk is our survey in Tortuguero National Park, which studies Jaguar predation on Green Turtles along the beach.  it involves walking 15 miles along the beach (taking an average of 8 hours) and carrying a heavier backpack than normal due to the additional water and kit requirements.  I have not done it up until now due to the fact that I arrived here with a broken collarbone.  My shoulder has finally been feeling strong enough so I went for it this week!

The weather was very co-operative and we had an overcast day with a small amount of light rain.  These conditions mean that the walk is MUCH easier than on a scorching hot day and I did the 15 miles without too much difficulty.  Unfortunately I stepped on a rusty nail with 4.5 miles still to walk, but it did not puncture deeply and my foot is doing OK.  I have to be very careful not to get an infection however, as it is so wet here.  We did not see any Jaguars but we saw a LOT of prints on the beach, virtually the entire beach had 1-2 Jaguars who were prancing about and going in and out of the forest.  And yes we do know they were prancing as a lot of tracks had claw marks, which only appear on cat prints when they are running.  We saw 7 dead turtles which are always a gruesome sight – you have to examine them closely and use CSI-like techniques in order to determine time since death, parts eaten, point of attack (usually neck) etc.  Very interesting day however!

A dog followed us from Tortuguero for the entire 15 miles.  When we got to the end a local guide asked us if it was our dog, and then advised us we’d have to take it back to Tort on the boat, due to the fact that Jaguars are eating dogs in the area at the moment.  The park rangers’ dog had been eaten the night before and we have talked to a local farmer who has lost his last FIFTEEN dogs to Jaguar predation.  His latest dog has managed to survive for quite a while, however with turtle season being over, the Jaguars will be looking for meat in other places, more than likely cattle and other dogs in the area…

I am starting to look to the end of my time here in the rainforest, and plan my four weeks of travel once I leave.  I am very excited to be heading to some Mayan Ruins at Tikal and Copan Ruinas, and am also hoping to climb a volcano in Guatemala and do a little diving in Honduras.  Four weeks is not long enough though and I’m sure that I will be wanting to return at some stage…….


2 Responses to “4 weeks to go….”

  1. MutantMaster Says:

    We have a small tabby cat that would make good jaguar bait if you’re interested?

  2. Gwan Says:

    Oi! Hands off my cat!

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