How About That Weather We’re Having

It’s October now and the weather sucks.

Sorry–that’s just the truth of it. The factual, objective truth. There is nothing pleasant about what’s going on outside. On-and-off wind and rain. Just enough sun to make wearing a heavy coat uncomfortable. Nobody likes this. If you do, you’re either lying, or you subconsciously associate the season with pumpkin spice. Get help.

So why am I writing this? Why am I bitching about Washington weather on a blog about Costa Rica? Am I missing it? Am I worried about online traffic? Did I run out of stories to tell?

Answer: Yes, no, never.

The real answer is right there: I’m bitching about Washington weather. Me! I’m from here! I used to live here! I grew up dealing with this about 8 months of the year, and did I whine then? Yet I caught myself grumbling the other day, as I was watching the rain fall on all my outdoor plans.

Because yes, this weather is uncomfortable. But you know what? So was the Tropics. I spent my first months and even years in South America adapting to the heat, humidity, and storms. Yes, it took time. Yes, it was kinda scary at times. But after a while, I just dealt with it, and then spent the next few years dealing with other newcomers complain and adapt too.

So the other day, what did I do? I went for a walk. Just pulled on layer after layer of warm clothes and rain gear, slipped on my big ol’ jungle boots, and went outside. Just felt the wind on my face and the rain seep under my collar. Nearly lost my hat. Definitely got soaked down to my socks. Might have splashed in some puddles.

Found salamanders, too. Yes, even in the cold, wind, and pouring rain, I can still find herps.

Sometimes the best way to adapt is to just go for it. Jump into the cold pool. Run headlong into discomfort. It worked for me in the jungle. It worked for me again back in Washington. And it’s my go-to self-prescribed response to whining. Especially about the weather.

What I Will Not Miss

With only a few weeks left here, my days are mostly consumed with packing, handing off my work to others, and soaking in as much of this place as I can. It’s bittersweet. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that goodbyes aren’t final, but I’m afraid it will be quite a while until I can return.

I’m going to keep on blogging when I can and probably a little into my return to the States, spreading out the various topics and photos I have on backlog. But today something came to me when I while I was chatting with someone from back home. We were discussing travel plans and things I was looking forward to, and I realized that nothing I was saying made any sense. That is, the concerns I was voicing were an utter world apart from what they dealt with, and it was a good illustration of my mental state from living in this place so long.

So I’ve compiled here a brief list of ways in which my mind has been changed from jungle life.

  1. I See Snakes Everywhere

Everywhere. On the sides of roads. In corners. Under furniture. Even if I don’t see them, I know they’re there. Except they’re usually not. But my senses have become so fine-tuned to stay vigilant for snakes that I’ve become hyperaware. Or maybe paranoid. I don’t like to sit on a couch with my feet dangling out because I will convince myself that there is a snake underneath, ready to bite my ankles. Toilets are even worse. The other day I looked up and knew, knew, there was a snake in the rafters, and even ID’ed it to a Bothriechis palm viper, possibly a rare subspecies not usually found in this area, and I was practically writing the account in my head when I realized it was just a knotted rope.

Sometimes it’s a pattern. Certain tiled floors, for example, set me off. Or braided fabrics. It’s like a new version of trypophobia. The last time I was allowed in town I was standing in line at a store and the woman in front of me had sandals on with snakeskin pattern straps. I practically jumped a mile. They must have thought I was a freak. But maybe because I was staring at her feet for a while afterward.

IMG_4570
I still maintained a proper social distance, though.

 

  1. I Don’t Sip Cold Drinks Anymore

I guzzle them. Why? Because cold drinks don’t last. Your smoothie will become juice and your beer will skunk within minutes. You gotta enjoy them while they last. Speaking of beer, I’m going to have to pace myself when I get back to a place where beer is darker and has more than a trace of alcohol.

  1. My Anxiety Dreams Are Bonkers

So most people have that recurring dream where they’re at school without clothes? I have dreams where I’m in the jungle without shoes. And I’m usually standing in ants. Then I wake up in a cold sweat screaming about vile insects. Oh, I also usually wake up in ants, too. I’m really not going to miss ants. I think that goes without saying.

20200709_101814
Can you see the ants? Neither can I, but I can sure as hell feel them.

  1. My Basic Survival Instinct is Not to Stay Warm, But to Stay Dry

This is reflected in everything. I grew up in Washington. It doesn’t get too cold there, but enough that homes are built and clothes are worn with the intention of maintaining heat. You generally wear shoes indoors. Keep a furnace running, or a wood stove. “Room temperature” generally means significantly colder than you are.

Here, it is different. The first thing I do when I get home is take off my shoes and socks and dry my feet. Get down in there between the toes. Foot rot strikes quickly, even when it isn’t raining. My entire life is based around air flow, from the storage of my clothes to the arrangement of my furniture. My ultimate luxury is a big, wide bed where I can spread out like a starfish. I require a fan. And speaking of clothes…

  1. I Shop with Very Specific Specs in Mind

My clothes have to be light, but not too light or mold eats right through them. My rain gear has to be long, but not heavy. I don’t count on electronics to last. I like high-end laptops, but if I get a custom build I usually end up on the phone with someone about which model does best in humidity. It’s not exactly a spec that’s listed in the manual. And I buy cheap phones because they just don’t last that long. I’ve gone through two in less than two years. The point is, I represent a very niche market, and it’s hard to find things that are functional and durable for this climate. REI doesn’t exactly have a Tropical market yet.

IMG_4556
Yet.

And the list goes on. I will forever shake out my shoes on reflex before putting them on because you never know with wayward scorpions. Keep my knives sharp and oiled and close at hand because there is always vegetation to cut back and rust will ruin a good blade. Store electronics in a bag with silica gel to get another month or two of use out of them. Just shrug when I see a spider in the room, because of course there’s a spider in the room.

I’ll go on a few more hikes and night walks to get in some good content before I leave. I may have been here so long it’s driven me near insane, but I don’t want to take this place for granted.

This Month in Snakes (Already)

The fact that it’s been barely a week into June and I’m already doing one of these should tell you something.

I live on the ground floor of a three-story apartment-like building. The stairs are outdoors, connecting balconies to the patio. As I stepped outside one day, I narrowly missed getting beaned by a shoe that dropped out of the sky. Several more followed. Even in rainy season, shoes are a bit much, so I investigated, calling out if everything was alright. I was answered by the grandmother of the family who lives onsite and does the cooking and housekeeping, calling from the top floor. “Come help me deal with this snake!”

20200601_122531
What snake? Oh, this snake.

A young rat snake (Senticolis triaspis) had crawled onto the landing of the top floor, effectively trapping the old lady. She was flinging her shoes at it to get it to move, to no effect. I stepped in, and later used the snake for a quick snake-handling lesson with some of the other staff.

This little fella’s a Roadguarder (Crisantophis nevermanni), although something’s snipped off the end of its tail. These are venomous, but the venom is very mild and their fangs are short. I’ve never been bitten, and this one didn’t even try.

IMG_20200103_085850
He did musk me, though.

I’ve been seeing so many cat-eyed snakes (Leptodeira) out at night that I’ve stopped documenting them. I just hope no one mistakes them for something dangerous. Also unphotographed: an oriole snake (Spilotes pulatus) that crawled right past my window while I was in a video call. I can’t make this stuff up.

I admit this one’s from a while back, and I forgot to ever post it. I just today found the photo on my phone. I’m not 100% sure, but I think it’s a coffee snake (Ninia maculata) a very small and discrete species that are often uncovered by farmers working in coffee fields.

IMG_20191227_124202
Thus the name, in case you were wondering.

And we’ve got fer-de-lance #20 (only counting ones on the property that I had to catch and relocate), this one found right outside the clinic within spitting distance of where we work. As in, less than an arm’s length from where people had their actual arms. God knows how many long it had been there. I only spotted it when I happened to glance up as I was leaving. I called everyone in for a morbid game of Eye Spy, then performed the smoothest capture in my career. Hook—box. The snake was perfectly calm and cooperate.

20200518_100241
Imagine playing this game like your life depends on it. 

Can’t see it? Here’s a closeup.

20200518_100232
You lose.

It’s probably the rains that’s causing all these snake encounters. I remember last year around this time we were averaging several snakes a day, and a viper every two weeks. Rising water and flash floods fills in burrows and sends ground-dwelling reptiles for dry cover. Wet Season, y’all. Frogs are also a good food source for some species, and the rains tend to wake them up.

20200604_082026
Frogs, and other sleepy amphibians.

But we’ve got a major storm cell headed our way. The last few days have been absolutely tipping down. So if weather is any indication, we’re going to be getting a whole lot more of these.

Naturalist Dudes’ Night Out: When Herp Nerds Bro Down

While this blog is supposed to be anonymous, you’ve probably picked up by now that I am male, outdoorsy, and rather eccentric. To put it mildly. I generally prefer the company of animas to people, nature to civilization. I don’t do well in large groups. Or small groups for that matter. And I never properly mastered the technique that is known in our society as “male bonding.”

But in the rare occasions that I find myself in like company, my inner bro emerges. And if conditions are right, the shenanigans increase exponentially. Think the Hangover, only with more monkeys and everyone is Zach Galifianakis. Adventure ensues. Legends are born. All of it acceptably macho, emotional but no too emotional, and also extraordinarily exaggerated with each retelling.

IMG_4371
See: this entire blog.

Last night was, by comparison, relatively tame. But a proper case study nonetheless. It began with four of us, some of the last sanctuary staff stuck isolated on the campus, throwing back beers and just chewing the fat well into the late hours (read: past 9pm). Then someone brought up snakes.

We started swapping stories about the great ones we’d caught and the ones we’d lost. Pics were demanded and phones whipped out. We creeped on each others’ Facebook and iNaturalist accounts, trying not to act jealous or competitive. More beers were had. Every sentence ended with “dude” or “mae.”

IMG_20200303_000636[1]
“It’s always the best ones that get away, mae.”
At that point, a night walk was inevitable. There was no way any of us could say no, even if we’d wanted. So we grabbed boots and flashlights, grading and recommending the specs on each others’ gear and strode off into the jungle, strutting a perfect line four abreast.

The night did not disappoint. Within the first 15 minutes we found a coral snake crossing the path, and I recounted in grisly detail the effects of its venom. One guy edged closer for a photo, but we held him back. He told us he “totally had this” but we kept him away. Convinced him it wasn’t worth it, man.

Later, we came upon several cat-eyed snakes, a horde of litter frogs, and even a rare casque-headed lizard. We rattled off common names in English and Spanish, and even a few scientific names when we could to impress each other. Near a creek we found a turtle, and then this toad that I’m ashamed to say I could not identify. It’s probably a Giant Toad, Rhinella horriblis, but with that head crest and bright orange color? Help me out here.

IMG_4518
Seriously, help me out here. An Amphibian I don’t know? This will keep me up at night.

The night was crowned by our true unspoken goal, the one thing that is always on a young herpetologist man’s mind: large deadly snake. As one guy joked out loud, “fer-de-lance, where are you?” one appeared right in front of us, as if by magic, curled in the middle of the trail. Further attempts to likewise summon a jaguar were unsuccessful.

IMG_4526
This is the only time a selfie stick isn’t just appropriate, but recommended.

Who knows how long we would have remained out there, stomping past frogs and terrorizing night life, but we heard thunder moments before it started to pour and we decided to call it a night. Because, like, we didn’t want our boots wet for work tomorrow. Not because we were scared or tired or anything.

So the night ended well, and didn’t escalate into a caiman hunt or a trip to the hospital. No one climbed a tree. And all of us enjoyed proper male camaraderie in the presence of scaly or slimy creatures. A tremendous success. Probably because we stuck to beer and didn’t get into the real jungle hooch. Either way, that’s enough socialization to last me another year or so.

Morale Compass Declination: An Over-Extended Metaphor

I was twenty when I first learned about Magnetic Declination–the fact that Magnetic North can vary significantly from place to place depending on local magnetic forces in the Earth’s mantle. It surprised me that I had gone so long and had so much compass use without learning something so important. Moreover, it struck me that something I had assumed to be precise and empirical was, in fact, subjective.

To me, a compass was absolute. Hard science. Quantitative and unbiased. How was I supposed to deal with the knowledge that its directions were subject to the whims of local geography? To little swirls and eddies in the liquid ruminations deep below, all mixing and layering and simmering for some time?

IMG_3893
Have I mentioned that I am not a geologist?

I’ve come to realize that so much of science is based off data that is–(yes, I’m using “data” as a collective singular word, deal with it)–is not as absolute and empirical than everyone would believe. Just like a compass, it is affected by “local geography,” so to speak, or to put it in other words: “deep ruminations, simmering for some time.”

You get it? It’s our minds. The psychology of the researchers collecting the data.

IMG_3951.JPG
“I think they get it.”

Morale. The project-killer. The devil in the footnotes. The qualitative bull in a quantitative china shop. The curse of bias. The Heisenburg Unhappily Principle. During stressful periods, I worry that data is tainted by biases of the mental/emotional states of myself and my fellow researchers.

Examples: One day earlier this week was perfect. Good weather–overcast but no rain. We found the monkeys by miracle and stayed with them all day. The took us through a good area, nice and open with few thorns or ants. Crisis struck: my friend stepped into a sandy gully and sunk up to her thigh. Quicksand! I helped haul her out, and we laughed it off despite the fact that she was now soaked in what looked like concrete from the knees down. The monkeys let us catch up and we collected a record amount of data.

Few days later: Pouring rain. Miserable. Personal trouble at home had put everyone on edge. We followed monkeys through soggy brush and rough terrain, griping all the while. Summoned the energy to do a few observations while sinking in mud. I had ants crawl up my pants and grumbled about the stings all day. Observations were incomplete owing to visibility. We followed protocol, but ended up with little to show for that day.

IMG_3967.JPG
Nothing except several bites in places I’m not going to show. Here’s a picture of a caiman we saw instead.

 

Morale might be the greatest, most significant factor that never appears in any scientific publication. When’s the last time you read a paper that gave a margin of error in its results, but then said something like, “also, these reports were entered after a long week of rain.” Or, “two of the three individuals conducting this study had just suffered a difficult breakup.” Or, “the following protocol was sound, but for several days the PI had gone a long time without a smoke break.”

I try to keep things together as best I can. This doesn’t mean I put on puppet shows or tell Dad jokes to elicit laughs from my coworkers, but minor things like checking up on everyone without being too nosy. Or keeping our workplace relatively clean of cockroaches and mold. Or cooking big satisfying dinners and the occasional warm baked good. I don’t do this because I’m a social butterfly or natural entertainer. Nor am I anyone’s maid or personal chef. But group morale has an actual, significant effect on data, and I know it’s the little things–little shifts in local geography–that can get that compass needle to point back to True North.

IMG_3871.JPG
For me personally, the best method is small doses of giant reptile, administered regularly. This doesn’t have the same effect on everyone.

Wettedland

It had been six days since I’d been in the field. A combination of illness, injury, and three straight days of rain had prevented us from getting any work done, and I had barely left my room. The house was damp and musty. Everything was flooded. I was even starting to miss the monkeys. Well, almost.

So when a friend of a friend offered to take us to Palo Verde for the day, I jumped right into my boots. I had never been to the National Park despite its proximity and the fact that it’s the largest protected Wetland in Costa Rica.

IMG_3930.JPG
“Wetland” being somewhat of a joke in that it’s hard to find a place here where you are not, at some point, rather wet.

Tropical Ecology, regardless of environment, usually operates between extremes. Resources are only ever offered in abundance, or not at all. There is no middle ground, no moderation. Any addition–water, sunlight, etc, triggers a dramatic shift. Example: a Rainforest is nutrient-limited, and and addition of organic matter (animal carcass or fallen tree) causes an explosion of activity to reclaim it. A desert is water-limited, and any rainfall portends a mass emergence of sprouting plants and thirsty animals.

But Palo Verde is a Wetland surrounded by Dry Forest–an ecological oxymoron. And it doesn’t work the way you’d expect. Rather than mitigating each other, the two environments create a massive expanse of dynamic micro-habitats that push and pull at each others’ resources, constantly in flux and constantly disturbed. And if there’s one thing tropical biodiversity thrives off, it’s disturbance.

img_3924.jpg
And if there’s anything biologists thrive off, it’s disturbing.

 

We arrived after a long rainfall, but after enough time had passed that the flooded plains had shrunk to isolated pools. Vegetation had been uprooted and waterlogged, then left to decompose high and dry. Aquatic life had been allowed to flourish, then trapped and concentrated. It was textbook Trop Ecology. Life was busy here. Things were happening. Everybody was out and about.

Spiny-tailed iguanas basked on every available surface and only grumpily moved out of our way when we got close. I plucked one of the biggest milipedes I’ve ever seen off the middle of a trail. Ponds swarmed with fish, some of which were squirming through the mud or even across the roads to find new water.

IMG_3946.JPG
Making then easy prey for hungry birds and curious naturalists.

And the birds. My god, the birds. Palo Verde is a known birder’s Mecca in the dry season, but even now it didn’t disappoint. One spot, just off the road, was full of Wood Storks, White Ibis, several species of small heron, and all three species of egret. All perched together or wading through the flooded grass. I saw several Northern Jacana–small, delicate wading birds–along a boardwalk. We even caught a glimpse of Scarlet Macaws, something not often seen up North.

IMG_3933.JPG
The Jacana–I admit, I had to look most of these up. Birds are too mainstream for me.

Oh, there were mosquitoes, too. Like, swarms and swarms of them. It was awful. Some didn’t just itch–they actually stung a little when they bit. We couldn’t stop moving, and every retreat to the car was followed by a swatting party as we tried to massacre all the ones that had followed us into the car.

But one place we managed to escape them was a lookout, a high point on a pinnacle of karst limestone that overlooked the river and flooded plain. It was a great view, with perfect weather. We took advantage of the fact that both the weather- and mosquito- gods were showing us mercy and took it all in.

IMG_3922.JPG
It was almost enough to make me decide to invest in a new camera that isn’t several field seasons past its prime. Almost.

The Water is Wide and Deep and Fast and Might have Crocodiles

This current rainy season seems to be making up for the brief drought we experienced over the last month or so. Every day, tall stormheads sprout up like mushrooms by late morning, and by noon they start to creep over the land, dumping rain as they go, thundering all the while.

IMG_3719.JPG
And leaving behind spectacular sunsets.

With such narrow and discrete showers, we can often feel the effects of nearby storms even when they aren’t currently drenching us. Damp air carries the sounds of thunder for miles. Slight breezes carry the scent of mud and wet foliage. The rumpled valleys and rolling hills of this region quickly fill up and form streams and rivers that swell along their whole lengths.

That last one is a problem for us especially, since monkeys often lead us over little trickles of water that we easily ignore. It isn’t until heavy rains upstream turn them into torrents that we realize that a), we should have paid more attention to the weather and b), we might have to sit and wait for a while.

One river we regularly cross here is only ankle-deep, with a few stepstones above water. The other day, a park guard alerted us that the approaching storm had already been filling the rivers upstream, and that we should contact our other party who had crossed. They answered just as the downpour began. By the time they reached the river–sprinting, not even bothering with ponchos–it was about calf-height, and they just forded through. A few hours later, it was chest-height, had spread about 30 extra meters in width, and was full of small trees being carried by the current. If they hadn’t crossed when they did, they would have been stuck on the wrong side until the water had gone back down.

IMG_3771.JPG
This guy should be standing on dry land.

Crossing rivers is no joke. Water is deceptively strong, and its strength is exponential to its depth and speed. Even little rivers, shin-deep, can sweep you off your feet, especially when wearing a full unbalanced backpack and walking on loose stones. Ever tried to right yourself while tangled in straps and your nose and mouth are filling with muddy water? I once fell and got my pack caught on an underwater snag. I couldn’t find the buckles and couldn’t keep my head out of the water. I had to cut myself free, and always carry a knife within arm’s reach when I hike now.

Another time I found a river that was deep, but not too swift. The channel had spread and allowed it to move slowly. I took off my boots and lifted my pack over my head to keep it dry, priding myself on foresight. It wasn’t until I was halfway across and neck-deep that I saw the crocodile. It was about 3 meters long and lying on a bank upstream. It helps to pay attention to more than just the water.

IMG_1701
Crocodiles rarely ever attack people, but won’t say no to a stupid drowning hiker.

My advice for crossing a river that has risen from the rain is this: use common sense. If it looks still passable, loosen your bag, unbuckle your straps, and pick your steps with care. Maybe carry a stick, and have the smallest person go in the middle of the group. Don’t bother walking on rocks; you’ll probably slip and wet boots are a worthy sacrifice for not drowning. If the water is too deep or too fast, just wait it out.

If, however, you feel that you must cross a flooded river despite the danger, I have a handy 3-step guide:

  1. Don’t.
  2. Stay put and get comfortable.
  3. The fuck is wrong with you?

Transplanted Again

I missed my last chance to post from Monteverde, so we’ve already moved sites to Guancaste, Costa Rica’s northernmost province.  Back in a field station–a proper one this time, complete with rickety bunk beds, no hot water, and a regular assemblage of clumsy insects circling the lights at night.  None of these are complaints, by the way.  I’m not upset, just nostalgic.

Anyway, our drive here took us about half an hour on the highway and a full hour on an access road that covered about a quarter of the distance.  It was more ruts than road, and wound through a relatively cleared section of tropical dry forest.  The environment was pretty typical until we heard thunder and the rain opened up.

IMG_2062.JPG
Rain?  In the wet season?  Who would’ve guessed?

There’s a proverb in the Pacific Northwest that it will not rain as long as you wear a raincoat.  Rain waits for you to be unprepared and take off your waterproof gear before coming down.  If that is the case, then drought-afflicted Guanacaste can thank this unwise bunch of soggy gringos who waited too long to cover the bed of their truck with a tarp, and packed their raincoats at the bottom of their bags.  It dropped a true, honest-to-god tropical downpour on us, turning our already primitive road into a slurry of red clay and debris.

We bounced along in our cab, packed in with groceries and whatever bags wouldn’t fit under the tarp, alternating between AC and lowered windows to stay cool.  It was during one of these latter periods that we brushed past a lowered branch that scraped into the open window frame and deposited a dozen angry cicadas into the cab.  We bottomed out several times on exposed rocks and flooded creekbeds.  But the only time we stopped was when we spotted a tortoise crossing the road.  Then, of course, we had to pile out to take photos.  Typical biologists.

IMG_2063
It wasn’t like either of us were in a hurry.

But we eventually made it to the field station, an open hacienda-style affair near the base of Volcano Orosi.  It was getting dark when we arrived, but I had a chance to take in the view in the misty twilight—a long, flat expanse of reclaimed forest.  No doubt full of damselflies.

Life on the River

I think I may have jinxed us with that last post, as today we finally got some rain.  That is, we got a light ten-minute shower followed by off and on pelo de gato, “cat hair”, the local name for gentle sprinkling.  Really just heavy fog that mostly falls downward.  But it was enough to dampen this thirsty forest, put down the dust, and bring out the animals.

It feels like the forest is waking up.  Sure, down by the river, we’ve had plenty of activity, as it’s become the only source of water for kilometers in any direction.  In fact, just focusing on our little microhabitat workspace, you wouldn’t even know there was a drought on if it weren’t for the level of the water.  This high in the watershed though, the animals don’t mind, and besides our damselflies we’ve had steady sightings of hummingbirds nabbing spiders off of webs in preparation for nesting, coatis passing through on their way to more important things, and water anoles on rocks looking like they’re posing for shampoo commercials.

IMG_2022.JPG
Dove: For reptiles.

In the water, too, there’s stuff to see.  You usually think of crabs as sea creatures, but Costa Rica hosts a number of freshwater species that come as high as the montane cloud forest.  While these are not as abundant nor, thankfully, as bold as the coastal ones, they’re a common sight scuttling in and among the leaf litter, munching on algae.  Crayfish, too, are here, rarer but much larger than ones I’m used to in the US.

IMG_2002.JPG
What I would call eatin’ size.

As for the damselflies themselves, by now I’ve gotten a full portrait of their life cycle.  After a long period as a flightless aquatic nymph, they crawl out of the water and go through a kind of mini-metamorphosis as they develop their adult body parts.  When the adults ecclose (I love that word.  It means “emerge from a cocoon or exoskeleton”.  Man, scientists have a word for everything) they are bright, near-luminous yellow, as their chitin is still soft and their wings are delicate.

Reproduction is far less romantic.  After a male locates a female, he uses the cersi on the end of his tail to grab her by the neck until she agrees to receive his sperm or he gets bored.  If she relents to this awful courtship that I will not anthropomorphosize further for reasons of decency, she curls her tail towards him and they create the copulatory wheel.  She then lays her fertilized eggs underwater, and the circle of life continues.

IMG_2020.JPG
They make a heart. Because nature has a twisted sense of humor.

Teaching in the Rain

We made it through the week.  The kids left yesterday morning, leaving behind weary staff, a few misplaced smartphones, and a noticeably lower level of general volume.  Activities occurred with varying degrees of success—we were supposed to teach them about sustainability, reforestation, and carbon offset, but the biggest hits were another appearance of an eyelash viper, the monkeys almost peeing on someone’s head, and getting to see the pigs.  No, not the wild pigs.  The ones in our stables.

We'll take what we can get.
               We’ll take what we can get.

Eh, I suppose it’s all related.  Anyway, one major factor we all tried to prepare ourselves for was the weather.  Wet season was a little delayed this year, but it seems to be making up for punctuality with intensity.  While we still tend to have mild mornings, like clockwork the rains descend around early afternoon and for the last couple weeks have continued into the night.  Afternoon activities were conducted in the wet, and students and teachers alike returned looking like they’d gone swimming.

On top of that, most of the trails are flooding.  Granted, we’re on a slope, so any floods usually don’t last more than a day, but trails are waterlogged deep mud and slippery.  Hikes through the forest have become a choreography exercise in what I like to call the I Meant to do That Dance.

Steps include the Mud Slide, the Two-Step Ass Drop, and the Dammit, These Were My Clean Shoes!
Steps include the Mud Slide, the Two-Step Ass Drop, and the Dammit, These Were My Clean Shoes!

Reactions from our guests varied.  Most griped about having to work in the rain, but some took it in stride.  Most of the boys, to no surprise, were all too happy to run around in the wet and mud, and nearly all of them ended up in a river during one nature hike.  But all of them, teachers included, acted surprised and unfamiliar with the weather.  They seemed unprepared, having brought only token rain gear and the naïve attitude that they could wait out the worst of the showers.

It made sense after a while.  This was a school from San Jose, a city in the mountains in a fairly arid climate.  Not only were these city kids, they were desert city kids.  And the teachers were as well.  This trip was like taking a group from Houston and sending them to Alaska for a winter.

With even feistier wildlife.
   With even feistier wildlife.

So maybe if our lessons in sustainable farming and carbon sequestration fell short, I’m sure these kids took something away, even if they weren’t immediately aware of it.  They have a little better image of what their country looks like, of what it means to live out of the cities and in closer contact with nature.  It sounds cliché, but that’s often the best thing a research station can offer.