Thursday, February 18, 2010

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Well, I’m writing this at quarter of 8 on my half-day off (the internet isn’t on yet, so I’ll probably post it closer to 10). As I said, it’s quarter of 8. I’ve already: Soaked laundry, ate breakfast, washed laundry, hung laundry, entered data, cleaned my computer screen, and sat down to write a blog entry. Now I can add started blog entry to that list, I guess. I mean, it feels like it’s been pretty productive for a so-far-off day, but comparing it to yesterday, it feels pretty measly. We’ve been following a group for the past two days that lives pretty far out of camp. This means that yesterday morning, in order to get to their sleeping site by 5:30, we left camp at 4:30. Which meant that in order to leave camp at 4:30, I was awake at 3:30. Hiking out of camp at 4:30 in the morning means that it’s dark for the majority of the hike – in this case, 2 and a half kilometers on the trail, and another 500 meters or so on. The group that we were following was very strange in that there were 14 adults!!!! Most groups we follow have 4 adults – a group of 7 adults sticks out as weird. So this was pretty mind boggling. It took a lot of effort to follow because there was just so much going on. Usually you can focus on one or two animals and be set, but even among the four of us following, you had to keep track of a bunch more animals and they were spread so far apart. It was pretty crazy.

As you’ve probably noticed by this time, the vast majority of my waking hours are spent in the field. However, when I am not in the field, I can generally be found in one of three places: the lab, the Commodore, or my cabin. Whatever the field lacks in comfort (and, to be honest, while the rainforest can be described as many things, comfortable isn’t one of them), these three places make up for in some way.

All of the project materials live in the lab: dry boxes full of computers, tables covered in binoculars and Rite in the Rain notebooks, trapping material, batteries, chargers, bananas, and (perhaps most importantly) the chocolate stash. This is where I’m writing from this morning – it has big wooden tables set up with benches and stools around. It gets electricity and sometimes internet during parts of the day. It’s in the same building as all the other labs (on the ground floor), a few more offices and the library (on the second floor). The library is a pretty big bookshelf with an eclectic mix of books – everything from Don Quijote and Amor en la Tiempo de Cholera, to a Short History of Everything and Lord of the Rings, to trashy romances, to Don’t Let the Pigeon Ride the Bus! I’ve finished Things Fall Apart and You Shall Know Our Velocity – I’m in the middle of Lake Woebegon Boy. The lab itself is a big concrete building with concrete walls. The second floor is made entirely of wood, with a thatched roof. The windows are all screened in to both let in air and keep out mosquitoes. This has the sort of strange consequence of leaving no reflective surfaces at the station. If it weren’t for my computer screen and the occasional photograph, I’d have no idea what I look like. Checking my hair in the reflection of my computer screen as it turns itself on has become a ritual on the same lines as looking at myself in windows before I go in a building.

The Commodore acts as the station’s living room, dining room, study, and kitchen. A building about the same size as the lab, it has three long tables with benches where we eat dinner (and breakfast and lunch on the rare occasion that I eat at the station – usually we eat breakfast early in the morning while getting ready to head out, and lunch is packed for us to eat out in the field). The filtered water, oatmeal fixings, and cookies to take to the field are in the Commodore, and the kitchen and pantry are rooms separated off the back end. There are also several big futon-like couches, two kitchen table-sized tables, a number of games, and a guitar. At night, I usually write and do data entry in the Commodore – the internet is a little quicker from in there, and the electricity turns on at 6:00 so I can charge my computer. Kat is great on guitar, so there’s frequently music coming from there (there was a period of time where Kat, Sarah, and I were learning Helplessly Hoping in three-part harmony. Probably to everyone else’s relief, that’s petered out – it does mean that we’re not sitting and singing the same repetitive song slightly discordantly).

My cabin is about a 5-10 minute walk from the lab and the Commodore, down the beginning of one of the trails. I pass the wooden dorms (built to house a WWF project, now used for researchers and visitors), the entrance to Premier Mirador and Carratera (two more trails), the football field, and five other cabins plus the bathroom and shower before I get to my cabin. It’s about 20 meters off the main trail and sits in a little clearing beneath a big Green Berry Tree. I’ve seen a big coral snake coming down the trail, as well as a number of bats and lizards. Last night I saw a giant toad (reminiscent of the toad in Pan’s Labyrinth!) whose eyes glowed purple in the light of my headlamp.

My cabin itself is about 4 feet off the ground. I have a small front porch perfect for brushing my teeth off of, and a clothesline strung up along one side under the eaves to hang underwear and socks from to dry. In my cabin, I have my bed and mosquito net, two wardrobes (the cabin originally had two people in it, so I’ve got double everything, though the second bed was put up against the wall and now I have a little more room), and two bedside tables. The wall is solid wood about 3 and a half feet up, and then screened until the roofline. The roof is thatched and makes a lovely home for all my geckos and lizards, the occasional stickbug, and the even more occasional bat. My Kindle and Spanish-English dictionary live in their own ziplock bags on my bed, where I read every night for about a half hour before crashing off to sleep!


  1. Sound like a great place to be, and with all the comforts of home,... at least some of the time.

  2. Hi Erin,
    Thanks for painting such a great picture of your home away from home. Cicra sounds like a pretty comfortable place to spend five months, even if there is no hot water. We love reading about all your adventures.

  3. Erin - Just tuning in - you're ruining my image of tiny open huts lit by kerosene lamps and surrounded by lianas. Actually bamboo sounds worse than lianas - now I know why it's classified as an Alien Invasive in this part of the world.
    And do you have any particular friends yet among the group you're following?

  4. Hey Erin, Adam Baer here. Hope all is well, miss you.