A Herper’s Glossary

ATM: (acronym) About To Molt. The state a snake is in a few days before shedding its skin, when it is mostly blind, itchy, and especially cranky. Careful, she’s ATM and likely to bite.

Bag ‘n Tag: (v) To quickly and efficiently identify, capture, and store a herp in a labeled container for later release, either for scientific study or public safety. (NOTE: not to be confused with simply “Tag”, see below)

Barehand: (v) to capture a herp without any tools.

Corwin: (n) A semi-professional herper who often hams up Bag n’ Tag for attention, but has little academic background and is kind of a poser. 

Dance, The: (n) The process of trying to safely capture an excited and dangerous snake, often in front of a crowd of horrified students. Well, I flubbed the hook, so now we start the dance.

DBD: (acronym) Dead by Daylight, a reference to the myth that dead snakes do not fully die until the next morning, but really does refer to the long-lasting death reflex that can still cause fatal bites. Don’t pick it up yet, bro. Remember DBD.

Dundee: (n) A herper with no academic background, but has plenty of practical background and skill. He Barehanded that python, he’s a real Dundee.

GIS: (acronym) General Impression and Shape. Used as a reason or excuse for a vague identification. Alternate meaning: Goddamit, I’m Sure. How do I know that was a Leaf Frog and not a Tree Frog? GIS.

I know frog GIS. And this thing has frog GIS all over it.

Herp: 1.  (n) short for “herpetofauna,” reptiles and amphibians, evolutionarily distinct but often included in the same study for functional or historical reasons. Often autocorrected as “Herpes,” with disastrous results.

I went out with the guys last night and we all caught herps together.

2. (v) to search for, catch, study, or observe herps. See: Herper, herpist (obsolete). Conditions are good, so we’re going herping this weekend.

Horse Juice: (n) Antivenom, which is–seriously–made from horses. I got tagged, hit me with the Horse Juice.

Hook: 1. (n) The Snakehook, the herper’s trusty tool consisting of a long rod, usually stainless steel, with a short blunt hook at the end. Used for capturing snakes. Also doubles as improvised weapon, walking stick, staff of office, and back scratcher.

2. (v) to catch a snake using the hook with a simple scooping movement.

Irwin: (n) A professional herper who hams up Bag n’ Tag for attention, but has the academic background to back it up and is probably a really cool guy.

Kit, the: (n) Snakebite kit. Notorious among professional herpers as a generally ineffective placebo.

Phobe: (n) Short for Ophidiophobe: one who is afraid of snakes. Make it a quick Bag n’ Tag, there’s a phobe in the audience.

If you’re a phobe, you probably stopped reading a while ago.

Pollywog: 1. (n) regional slang for tadpole, frog larvae

2. (n) regional slang for intern, graduate student larvae.

Tag: (v) to bite a human (if you are a snake). She tagged me, bro! Get the kit!

WWSID: (acronym) What Would Steve Irwin Do?

Missed Information

As a naturalist and guide, I like to know (or at least appear to know) a little about everything. To have something to say about anything I might find in my particular habitat. My goal is to be able to, off the top of my head for any given plant or animal, rattle off the name, general classification, ecological role, and a couple of cool facts. For those IDs, one out of three should include personal anecdote or story. For those stories, two out of three should include some kind of bodily horror.

Coati…related to the raccoon…omnivorous and diurnal…once bit me on the ass.

But sometimes I get utterly stumped. It happens. Sometimes a client or student or I will stumble across a creature or plant that I have no idea of. No frame of reference. No clue. And when it happens I can lose my mind.

Now, I am not above uttering my 3 least favorite words (“I, Don’t, Know”). I am perfectly fine swallowing my male academic pride and admitting defeat in the face of identification. And I even relish a little challenge in investigating, trying to pin down an ID of a new encounter.

But in those first few moments, as the confusion sets in? I can get a little dramatic. Especially if it’s something I feel I should know. Or if I run into something I was simply not prepared for. Below are a few of those moments, as I remember them.

#1 Praying-crick-roach

Check out this bug! It’s got the back legs of a cricket, middle legs of a cockroach, and the front legs of a mantis. That’s nuts! It’s like someone glued together three different bugs. An insectoid chimera. A bug manticore. Bugticore?

It’s just so wrong. There’s too much going on her, too many parts on one body. It’s 50% cricket, 50% roach, 50% mantis, and no I did not do that math wrong. 150% of bug. That’s too much bug. Three Orders in one.

Update: I still have no idea what this is.

#2 Blow-Up Frog

What a cute little frog! Never seen this species before. It’s like, 3 centimeters long. Man, there’s so many different kinds here. This is tough. Need to check its feet. Gonna poke it…

Oh my god, he just puffed himself up rose up on his legs as a threat display! Like a tiny wrestler. That’s adorable! You go, little guy. Look at you, all tough and stuff.

Update: Still not sure what this is, but since it came from the Amazon, not Costa Rica, it could be one of hundreds of species.

#3 The Katy Perry Bird

This one has no photo because I never got a visual ID on it. Rather, I heard its call. And it sounds–and I mean really sounds–like the chorus riff from the Katy Perry song Dark Horse. If you know the song, you can hear the call. It’s spot-on. Uncanny. And the fact that I’ve never been able to actually see this bird calling is maddening. Plus, every time I hear the call it puts that song in my head, just like this paragraph put it in yours. Sorry.

Update: Still haven’t IDed this, but friends suggest some kind of antbird.

Other Update: No, I don’t generally listen to Katy Perry. Why do people keep asking me this?

#4 Red-Touching Black Snake

(OK, obviously I knew this was a snake, but the lack of specific knowledge led to a critical incident)

Ok, my PI just handed me a snake. This day rules. I wonder what species it is. I don’t usually handle snakes I can’t ID, but this guy knows best, right? I mean, he’s an entomologist, but should know better than to pass around unknown snakes. He’s got a PhD after all. I’ll ask him…

What do you mean you don’t know what kind of snake it is? It could be a coral snake! What’s that, boss? “Red touches black…?” That rhyme doesn’t work in the Tropics, you bug-loving maniac! Some coral snakes are red and black. You could’ve gotten me killed! I’m never trusting you again.

Update: It was a harmless tree snake.

Other Update: I never trusted him again.

So You Don’t Want to Be a Naturalist Anymore

So you’ve decided to change careers. The life of a naturalist just isn’t for you. Maybe you’re tired of being constantly bug-bitten and mammal-mauled. Maybe the apocalyptic scale of climate change has you despairing for environmental work. Maybe you’d like to for once in your life make some actual money.

I’m not giving up my dream just yet. But as a naturalist who has, at times, had to support my career with jobs outside my field, I thought I’d offer this self-help guide to readjusting back into normal, civilized, adult life. Here goes.

I know it sounds crazy, but there exists a job without ants.

Rewrite Your Resume

If you have a science background, you’ve been taught to prepare your resume/CV a certain way. To just pack that baby with every study, research project, lab activity, and field gig you were remotely a part of, and describe each one with as technical of wording as possible. Extra points for being as taxonomically specific as possible. Double points for including Latin words that barely qualify as English.

Well now you’re applying for a normal job and guess what? Not only does no-one give a crap about that, they will barely understand it. Some poor recruiting manager doesn’t want to have to scan through a list of “research experiences” involving animals they’ve never heard of. Especially if the work was unpaid and, let’s be honest, it was unpaid wasn’t it?

For example, I recently applied to an ordinary job for the season. I edited down my Research section greatly, and changed things like “conducted a species assemblage of amphibians across a geographic gradient” to “Studied frogs in the jungle.” Much more palatable. “Comparison of interspecific sexual and territorial behavior of damselfies” became “Made horny bugs fight each other. For science.” And anything involving the collection of feces…yeah, I removed that entirely. That sure made the document shorter.

Man, not even spellcheck knows what a damselfly is

Change Your Appearance

Did you know there are other colors for clothing besides green, brown, grey, and other drab earth tones? Did you know that some people buy clothing with appearance in mind, not function? That there are other factors to take into account other than a fabric’s ability to resist mold, scratches, and animal blood?

Strange as it seems, you may find yourself in a job where your appearance matters. You may be expected to meet something called “professional standards” of dress, grooming, and general hygiene. You will not be allowed to wear clothes that are stained or torn, even if they function just fine. You will be expected to shave and cut your hair, despite your protests that it will all grow back anyway.

It’s rough, but think of it as an adaptation. Civil camouflage. Clothes shopping is just gathering materials. Now go out and get yourself a makeover. Get dressed. Wear perfume. Put on makeup. Cut your hair. Do your nails. Take a bath, you dirty hippy.

Stop Telling Stories, Seriously Just Shut Up Because No One Believes You

Another personal anecdote: a while back on a construction gig, a coworker noticed the scars on my hand. He asked where they came from. I told him, “monkeys.” That guy never spoke to me again.

Yes, a monkey. And I still see his face in my dreams…

It’s a naturalist thing. Fieldwork talk. Research station stories. We all do it, all trying to share and impress and one-up. We talk about the places we’ve been. The adventures we’ve had. The animals we’ve seen, studied, or fought. The tales border on the ludicrous and push the limits of believability because that’s the point.

But back here in the real world? That junk is straight out of animal planet. Fantasy that belongs on television. Best case: people will think you’re full of shit. Worse case: they will think you’re insane. Most likely: a bit of both. So learn from my mistakes, mistakes I keep making over and over wherever I go, and curb that kind of behavior.

Bottom line: what happens in the jungle stays in the jungle. Or at least let it out carefully, gradually, bit by bit over time.

Also, maybe don’t talk about snakes so much. Can’t hurt.

All Part of the Job

Hey, I just found a way to recover a bunch of photos from an old memory card that I thought was broken! This was from about a year and a half ago, when I was in Costa Rica working at that rescue center. Ok, so it’s mostly more pictures of bugs and snakes, but…enjoy, I guess?

Are you at all surprised?

Man, I’m really reaching for content here. No, that’s not true. I got plenty more photos and a million more stories on backlog that I could use to regularly keep this blog active. So why the dry spells?

It’s just that this started as a kind of release. A side project, something completely different. I would spend most of my days outside, wandering in the forest, taking photos and screaming obscenities at wildlife, then come back to hop on the internet for a quick minute. It was the one place where I could say everything I couldn’t say on tours, or to students, and this was OK because it was mostly anonymous. I would pour out my thoughts, unfiltered and unedited, dump some photos, jot down some snark, and hit post with minimal effort. It was my one little corner of my life associated with technology and social media, and I was Ok with that.

But I went legit this year. Started a business. Established an online presence. Designed my own website with a professional work email. Even put my face on social media–friends and consultants convinced me to get a Facebook and Instagram page. I drew the line at TikTok, though. And YouTube, for now. I will consider OnlyFans, however.

“Subscribe to watch me catch snakes. For Premium members, I’ll do it without that hat.”

And that took work. Time, money, and a whole lot of mental energy. I’m a private person, and putting all this together, keeping it active and relevant, is exhausting. But it’s my job now, so I get it done without too much griping. But now this kind of thing feels like work. This blog feels like work. So it’s less fun, less of the release it used to be.

The blogging, that is. Catching snakes will always be fun.

So, will I continue Pura Vida Stories?

The answer is yes. Absolutely yes.

Because remember what I said earlier, about this being everything I can’t say on tours? My need to do that is go exponential if I ever start guiding fulltime. I’m absolutely going to need that release, that anonymous corner of my life where I can spill all. I won’t be talking about clients, or betraying anyone’s trust, but I’m sure to rack up more crazy stories worth telling and hopefully get more photos that are due wordy explanations. More wildlife encounters. And I will never escape ants.

So I’m going to keep this up, and try to keep it compartmentalized. Separate from my professional life. As anonymous as I can. So if you know who I am, please keep this in mind for posting comments or sharing. God help me if clients find this before a trip.

God help them, too.

The Curse

As a funny man once said, “I’m not superstitious, but I’m a little stitious.” I’m a skeptic with an open mind. Black cats don’t bother me unless they’re clawing at my leg for attention. I don’t carry good luck charms unless I think they look cool and I would probably carry them anyway. I don’t believe in astrology unless I’m trying to get laid. After all, I’m a scientist at heart, trained to think rationally and act pragmatically.

But I have to admit, after significant observation and data analysis, that I am under some kind of curse: Animal trouble follows me wherever I go.

And for once, I’m not just talking about the ants.

No, this is not due to my line of work. Even among biologists, my number of violent, dramatic, or otherwise unusual animal encounters is an outlier. For almost every job I’ve held. In nearly every place I lived.

My first longterm Costa Rica gig, who had the army ants infest his cabin, and his alone? This guy. That forestry job in Puerto Rico? We were told that invasive mongoose were a shy and rarely encountered species, and not a realistic threat even though they occasionally carried rabies. Yet who got bitten by a rabid mongoose, right outside the dorms, no less? Read my post about that. And the monkey house? Sure, we all had our share of monkey attacks, and monkeys throwing things at us, and monkeys peeing on us, but who had a opossum crawl across his face and fuck-no-o’clock in the morning while sleeping in his own goddam bed?

I have a post about that too, of course.

It sure seems like this is a pattern. Houses where I live see an uptick of pest activity when I move in. Farms where I work get more wildlife trouble. And the animal rescue center? Oh, sweet lord. The staff commented that he’d never seen so many snakes in so little time. Monkeys raided the kitchen. The mosquitos were unusually bad. An dang ocelot moved in and started harassing the sanctuary animals.

I’m forced to confront the “why” and seek solutions. Is this karmic justice for my past as a tracker and hunter? Or my past as a wildlife biologist? Or against my general antagonistic attitude to animals who disrespect me? Have I offended some self-righteous nature god?

Ok, so, yeah, I have spent a lot of time terrorizing animals in the name of science.

Either way, I should probably come with a warning label. After all, some of the places I’ve worked (zoos, large animals farms, vet clinics come to mind), the stakes were rather high concerning potential animal trouble. I suppose I should be thankful things weren’t worse. But regardless, I might want to cool it and seek some kind of understanding with the animal kingdom in general to prevent further catastrophe.

No joke, someone once tried an exorcism after the 3rd or 4th snake incident.

I’m going to be running a legitimate guiding outfit soon. I can’t have my past coming back to haunt me in the form of rampaging wildlife and other such close-encounters. Actually, that might be a selling point. I’ll think on this.

Costa Rica in My Mind

I’ve got Costa Rica on the brain.

I leave in July. Flights are booked, reservations made. Precautions taken. Prayers sent. There’s not much else for me to do now but double check itinerary, brush up on my Spanish, and continue to take all necessary COVID precautions while hoping the rest of the world can do the same. After all, if things don’t improve, pandemic/vaccine-wise, then I’m pulling the plug cancelling the trip. No sense taking undue risk.

A-hem.

But this is an important trip for me. Not just because I’m so jungle-starved that I’m starting to have sloth flashbacks, but because this is, in fact, a business trip. A site inspection. A test-run. It just happens to be in a beautiful tropical country that ranks among my favorite places in the world. No, it’s not a vacation. It’ll be work. Shut up.

But four more months!? I’m starting to lose it over here. I can practically feel the sunshine. Taste the mangoes. Hear the frogs and macaws.

Smell the monkeys.

But also because I’m really reaching for blog content these days. And photos of farm animals just ain’t cutting it. Yeah, there’s been a good amount of wildlife here, from chicken-stealing eagles in the fields to chicken-playing deer crossing the roads, but I miss cool. The colorful. The weird. The jungle. Hell, I even miss the damn bugs.

Ooh, I’m going to regret saying that, aren’t I?

So in between everything else I’ll try to throw up another flashback story or two to keep active. After all, writing a memoir seems like less and less of a reality these days so I might as well dig into some of those stories for content. Dig through my old journals and photo archives for lost gems. Maybe generate enough hate for one more rant about ants.

Ok, definitely going to regret saying that.

How to Fight Animals

Life on a small island with no large snakes to speak of has been comfortable, but has left me little inspiration or material. So I went through my old drafts and found this, which I planned to turn into a book at one point. Here’s a sample.

If you’re anything like me, you often find yourself in combat with wild animals. How the fight began–whether from competition for resources, an insult to honor, for the right to eat one another, or because you were just bored–is irrelevant. But due to the great number and wide variety of species that I have fought or still plan to fight, I thought I would submit this to the archive of the internet for the public good.

Please treat the following information with all the respect it deserves. Also, note that if you are already fighting an animal, it is too late to seek advice. You must do battle with nothing but your own wits. Good luck.

Stop reading, put your phone down.

Snakes

The obvious first entry. My bread and butter. A significant threat, a worthy foe. According to one good book I read, snakes have been mankind’s enemy since one gave poor dietary advice to two nudists. Also, they bite.

If you can’t ID the snake, assume it is venomous. But venom or no, all snakebites can be dangerous.

My experience is extensive and so is my advice about them. Ask anyone who’s spoken to me for more than 5 minutes. But key points to summarize: snakes are only dangerous at one end. This may seem obvious, but remember that once you immobilize that business end you can pretty much do whatever you want. Snakes, it seems, sacrificed their arms and legs in exchange for turning the rest of their body into one large limb, a gamble that may not have necessarily paid off when humans entered the picture. Granted, some snakes are strong enough to overpower a human with the rest of their body, but these are rarely encountered by humans and are usually so large that they lack the energy to go a whole 10 rounds. They tire quickly, and also have vital organs along 70% of their body that are sensitive to a sharp jab or a good tickling.

However, one important caveat: snakes are fast. Faster than you. Don’t be fooled by sluggish behavior–a free head is a bitey head, and can strike from roughly ⅓ a body length away. And some species can jump. But while you cannot be faster than a snake, you can be smarter. Try to predict where the head will go, and then go somewhere else. Wait for it to move, then go for the neck.

Like so.

Unless it’s a kind that spits, of course. Some do that. And mole vipers bite backwards. You know what? I should probably do an entry just on snakes. Moving on.

Large Flightless Birds

Don’t laugh. Don’t you dare laugh. Ratites and cracids and kin are no joking matter. These ain’t your barnyard chickens, which can already be pretty nasty. Ask anyone who’s gotten on a rooster’s bad side.

These are the birds who haven’t forgotten that they’re dinosaurs. The ones that traded working wings for serious claws. Your ostriches, emus, and rheas. Jungle fowl. Freaking cassowaries. I’ve tangled with a curassow that had been fed only fruit, and was trying to supplement its protein-starved diet with my fingers. Then it flew up to short branches and went for my ears. I soon discovered a reliable technique: the kick. A good hefty kick with a booted foot. Unblockable, Daniel-san. So sweep the leg and watch your surroundings.

Curassow: like a large jungle turkey. Females are brown, males are black. Both are ornery.

Bears

Full disclosure: I’ve never fought a bear. But I did hug one once, while it was sedated. It was one of the greatest moments of my life, and I never pass up a chance to tell the story. But while I was in its deep fuzzy embrace, I learned something: bears smell really, really, bad. I thought this was worth keeping in mind. If you do end up fighting a bear, you wouldn’t want to be taken off guard by its stench. Lord knows bears have enough going for them already.

Monkeys

If you are fighting a monkey, you have already screwed up. Terribly. There is no victory here, at least not one with any shred of dignity. There is no way to emerge completely unscathed. Step one is considering the life choices that brought you to this moment. Where did you go wrong?

Where didn’t you go wrong?

Monkeys are horrible creatures. Expect the craftiness and dexterity of humans with the raw aggression and strength of a wild animal. I had one capuchin grab me by the hair, yank my scalp back, then shove me face-first into a concrete path. And I was lucky. You don’t know fear until you’ve been curb-stomped by a primate that comes to your knees.

Seriously, monkeys eat ants. These things have no limits.

My only advice? Hold nothing back. Use every dirty trick and item at your disposal. Weapons. Fire. Explosives. Feint and scream. Fight Harkonnen-style: deception within deception. Don’t fight with honor because you will see none in return. Convince that monkey that it will face utter destruction at your hands. Only then will it consider cutting its losses and losing face. In fact, subjugation and dominance is one of the few concepts monkeys understand.

But they understand them well.

Oh, and note that my experience only extends to New World monkeys, which tend to be small. I’ve never fought, say, a baboon. And I don’t plan to. Baboons eat people.

That is all for now.

Return of the Roofsnake

I was just sitting down to lunch when the call came: “Snake!”

In the juvenile fantasy in my head where I have my own TV show, this is how each episode would start. I swear, it’s my call to action. My “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…” Here I am, settling down to my rice and beans when an old lady comes running up yelling about snakes. Then I grab my hat and the theme song kicks in.

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Intro credits over training montage.

Yesterday’s episode began as a rerun, with the same poor old long-suffering lady who runs housekeeping on the volunteer dormitory, which has since been turned into onsite staff housing since the shutdown. She’s usually the one to bring me the news, partly because she never stops working but mostly because she is deathly afraid of snakes. Either way, I’m always happy to help, and this time she led me to the outer balcony of the third floor. Up, in the rafters of the awning, was a good sized tree boa.

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“Hola.”

Now, our building—like many in Costa Rica—has a vaulted roof of corrugated metal. It helps with air flow. However, since the material is corrugated, it doesn’t sit completely flush with the tops of the walls. There are little gaps, gaps just the right size for snakes. Snakes that tend to climb to high places and look for small spaces to sleep in. I’m surprised this doesn’t happen more often. In fact, it was almost exactly a year ago when a parrot snake dropped from the ceiling right onto a ceiling fan, whirled around several times, and was then flung across the room. Oh, and the room was full of volunteers. I was summoned by the screaming.

Anyway, since that time we put up a thin sheet of insulation beneath the corrugated metal, which keeps the animals out of the room but provides even better housing. This snake, as you can see from the photo, was just peeking his head and most of his body outside, probably waiting for the sun to go down to go hunting for small rodents and sleeping birds. Or waiting to ambush bats. Neither of which was relevant to the lady, who refused to sleep beneath a roof infested with snakes.

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You’re saying you don’t want to fall asleep to this image?

But the location was complicated. The balcony didn’t go around that side of the building. There was nowhere for me to stand, and no way to grab the snake with any leverage. I could try to monkey-bar from the balcony over to the snake, but then how to grab the snake and climb back with only two hands? Grabbing it with a hook at this distance could injure it, and any way I had already packed my capture kit.

I eventually worked out my strategy: I would tie myself to the balcony with a short length of rope, vault over the rail, then wall-run up to the snake, parkour-style. At the height of my run, I would grab the snake with both hands and then just drop. After stuffing the snake into my shirt, I could then climb the rope back with both hands. Sure, it would be a little risky, but the physics checked out I had done worse.

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Friends, family–if you’ve ever wondered what goes through my head, it is this. This, all the time.
I already had my belt off and was wrapping it into a makeshift harness when I was struck by something that rarely comes to me: Common sense.

What the fuck was I doing?

I had four days to go until I left Costa Rica. Four. Everything was in place. I was packed and ready to get on a plane. All I had to do was survive until then. The last thing I wanted to do was risk an injury that would take me to the hospital right before an international flight. Also, y’know, death.

Forget TV shows—I’ve seen this movie! The one with veteran cop who gets shot “three days before retirement.” Or the one with the cocky daredevil who gets his comeuppance in the worst way, at the worst time. There’s playing the odds, and then there’s tempting fate. If I had had no travel plans, or fewer commitments, or better health insurance…but no.

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There may come a day where I kill or horribly maim myself catching a snake, but it is not this day!

So I gritted my teeth and swallowed my pride and did the thing I dread: told everyone I couldn’t do it. Tried and failed to catch the snake with a long stick and watched as it retreated further into the roof. Had to endure the scorn and disappointment of a old lady who will be bunking with her daughter’s family for a few nights.  That upper floor is going to be unoccupied for some time.

But at least I’m alive. My survival instinct outweighed my pride. And I can still go home.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Wunderbaer

The first word I learned in the German language was the word for coati: nasenbaer. Part of the reason it stuck with me is that it means, literally, “nose bear.” How great is that?

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Side note: there are no coatis in Germany, and no bears in Costa Rica. How’s that for weird?

Apparently many German animal names work this way. The kinkajou is the “honey bear.” A sloth is a “lazy bear.” Delightful. It’s almost genius in its simplicity. Name = adjective or notable trait + bear. But this has led me to an odd thought.

I have never been to Germany, but seeing that they apparently use the bear as their sole reference for new animals, I have to conclude that the country is populated exclusively by bears. Bears everywhere. Just bears. And when Germans travel abroad, they can only interpret foreign wildlife through the lens of the only animal they know, that is: the bear.

So as a service to any potential German travelers out there, I would like to offer this helpful Costa Rican bestiary, which I hope to publish one day under the title A Field Guide to Costa Rican Bears (German Edition).

Willkommen to Costa Rica!

Costa Rica is a beautiful and lush tropical country known for its proud history of conservation, and for its wide variety of native bears. This guide will provide a brief description of the many bears you may see during your visit.

Some of the most striking and most popular are the feathery wing bears, many of which are endemic to the country. Because of its geography, Costa Rica hosts a great number of bear species as they migrate across the isthmus, and many bearwatchers are drawn here to add to their lifer bear lists.

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With some experience, you may be able to identify a bear by its song.

Of course, at night, the little flappy wing bears come out in spectacular diversity, with Costa Rica supporting several dozen species. Here, you may find wing bears that have specialized to eat fruit, nectar, insects, fish, and even a few blood-drinking vampire bears. Don’t worry—they very rarely feed on humans.

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It’s a well-known fact that these bears sleep upside-down. Some, even under leaves.

Look up in the trees of the rainforest for nasty tail bears. Always iconic of the tropical forest, they are amusing and fascinating to watch as they socialize and forage. However, for your safety, please do not ever feed the bears.

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For their safety as well as yours. Some human diseases can spread to Tropical bears.

While you may be concerned about long scaly deadly bears, most of these are shy and rarely encountered. But be sure to keep your eyes out! Most of the ones you will see are only long and squeezy.

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Some very long, and very squeezy.

Around the rainy season you will see and hear plenty of slimy jumping bears, which come out to sing and breed when conditions are wet. Make sure to look and not touch, as many of these bears are toxic.

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Green-and-back poison dart bear.

It’s my duty as a guide and naturalist to accommodate all peoples and as many languages as I can. If you are German, I hope this has been helpful. I hope that you will keep Costa Rica in mind when COVID is over and you can leave Germany, where you are currently isolating, no doubt surrounded by bears.