Thursday, November 18, 2010


Look at this sea turtle that had the nerve to ruin my sand shot. We had just walked onto the beach and chatted with a French couple (the French are like the potholes here. they're everywhere... jk) who had been scouring the sands in search of the elusive little turtles when this little guy showed up. As he 'clawed/finned/flippered' his way out of the nest and the race to the sea began ! 
 Chelonia mydas aka Chelonia mach-5
NaCl-iest !

Here's a video of the race

well, that's almost how it went down.

The pics are from a recent trip to Tortuguero "Land of the turtles", which is a long stretch of beach and jungle along the carribean side of Costa Rica (Provincia de Limón). Tortuguero is a ridiculously humid area which receives 250 inches of rain a year and due to it's combination of marine, wetland, and lowland tropical rainforest habitats.. it has a crazy amount of biodiversity. The fact that it's an important nesting site for 5 species of sea turtle (Hawksbill, Loggerhead, Green, Leatherback, & Teenage Mutant Ninja), has a nice chilled carribean culture replete with dirt roads, and is only accessible by boat/airplane means that it is exponentially cooler than chepé (San Jose) and one of the greatest places in Costa Rica to visit. Sorry the rules of sigmoidal growth don't apply here cuz there is no carrying capacity for the coolness of spotting green macaws, baby sea turtles, eyelash pitvipers and enjoying an imperial on the carribean. 


When we asked a couple of cops about the crime they said the only real problems they have is some drug issues (it's the carribean, so of course ganja is everywhere), the occasional altercation, and poachers. It requires mentioning that the cops were strolling down the beach taking photos of turtle nests with their cell phones. 

We dropped our stuff off in our $8 a night cabina (with rugrat pillow). Meandered through the dirt roads and alleys in search of a cheap supper. Leftover delicious burger patties on stale bread and some 10cent bananas. Not quite a breakfast of champions, moreso a supper for the stingy! Following the 5-star cuisine we headed out to the beach to infiltrate the national park and do some night hiking. With my trusty headlamp leading the way we were off!

Night hikes are on par with spelunking or underwater basket weaving. It's as if you're able to see everything in a different light (ha.) or in 3D. But it's moreso like watching paranormal activity in an Imax theater... with giant wolf spiders everywhere... and bats that fly inches in front of your face.

Exploring Costa Rica through all the senses, especially taste.
 - Disclaimer - 
Snakes below (don't worry there are no planes/Samuel L. Jackson)
We weren't sure if it was a non-venomous Milk Snake (Scolecophis atrocinctus)
 or deadly venomous Coral Snake (Micrurus mipartitus). 
So we picked it up!!!

Haha, just kidding. It was dead when we encountered it (the good ol' poke it with a stick test proved it).
This lil guy however, was alive and venomous... and remarkably beautiful!
 Bothriechis schlegelii

We may or may not have spent 30 minutes taking pictures of this sucker. 
What's crazy is that it's a fairly small snake (this one may have been 11 inches max) and typically is in vegetation at shin/knee height... just at the protective boot line...
but no worries! It's a high bite/survival rate

The next morning we were off at 5am to find some more baby sea turtles and then take a rented canoe out into the canals. We yet again attempted to infiltrate the national park (this time through the canals) and were nearly in when a couple of rangers told us we were despicable, horrible people. 
(they politely informed us about the entry fee)

so we said...nah, lets explore elsewhere (and por dicha we did)
After nearly being dumped on by a male crane we stopped for breakfast, or as we considered it a 9am lunch.
Chef Oli whippin up some of his signature Avocado/Tomato sandwíches.
- They're a ridiculously delicious staple of our hikes

Then we made our way into this tiny canal

Which elevated the trip to a whole nother level.

We saw Green winged macaws, poison dart frogs, an otter, spiders, and a caiman. 
caiman !!! like 3.5 feet long

After exploring the canal and getting thoroughly rocked we headed back to the mainland to buy some bananas, japanese peanuts, and super cheap lemon cookies, - all part of a delicious and nutritious breakfast !
While we enjoyed our $2 meal we sat and watched a little guy catch a fish with his handy dandy wal-mart fishing rod, then picked up our stuff and headed to the docks. We arrived bought our tickets and sat back to watch the festivities (Nov. 4-7 is 'Turtle Fest'). Reggaeton blasted in the background, a creepy clown dazzled the crowd, and some guy sawed away at a log with reckless abandonment in an attempt to carve a... turtle/hand/head ?¿

- Interpretive art... gotta love it.
Here's a lil bit of the action
However, the injustices known as our 'spanish projects' had yet to be done and required a early departure...  in other words, we experienced Tortuguero in a half shell.

Tortuguero couldn't have come at a better time, as the day before my friend Oli got mugged in suburbia while (the only comical part about the story) walking two poodles. Him and the dogs are ok though ! 
In all seriousness, it's a problem which seems to be increasing at an incredibly rapid rate. Especially in San Jose, which although it has some good aspects... the bus terminal, El Steinvorth, & graffiti . . . the majority of the city is a congested foul smelling mess. It may seem like a biased gringo point of view, but it's a perspective which ticos of the surrounding central valley recognize. Tortuguero was so drastically different (admittedly due to the lower population of people) from San José that it seemed like an entirely different country. It was truly a breath of fresh air (literally and metaphorically) which demonstrated a side of Costa Rica which at times, can be tough to find.

Hasta Luego ! 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

It's 72° ..... and I'm cold

Although the news has been rolling in that it's ridiculously warm up there in Iowa and that the no-shave november beard, typically a necessity for the brisk and uninviting weather change, is quite unnecessary this year. That's fine and all for you guys, but we've got it rough down here. With the change in seasons (ridiculously relentless rambunctious rain to..... sun) comes a cold front just in time for Christmas.

- There are Christmas lights on some of the houses next door. The palm tree leaves continue to shine bright green and show no sign of falling... looks like i'll have to find a different pile of decomposing matter to jump in!!! (well, maybe not...)

That sun which finally (might) continue to shine... has been illuminating Heredia for the past two days and it's been stupendous.

- It's also got this song stuck in my head

To break any sort of chronological order... I'll jump back a few weeks before the sun broke through the grey weather.

- After getting back from Panamá on Monday I had an epic take home test for thursday to complete (3 days of nonstop statistics, essays on sexual selection, and lots of coffee) which was immediately followed by a 10 page paper on the evolution of Oophaga pumilio in Bocas del Toro for monday.... followed by a research (conducted while under the influence of 3 hours of sleep and copious amounts of coffee) project on sparrow population size in Heredia & San Pablo.

In case you were wondering... there are approximately 267 rufous collared sparrows per kilometer squared in San Pablo
-wikipedia it.

After I pulled out of my sleepless/coffee induced coma it was time to celebrate globalization at its finest: 

The holiday is in a weird state of cross cultural awareness... but that didn't stop us from costumes, 90's music/salsa, and the grilling of 10+ kilos of steak and sausage. Jen's host mom didn't have a grill... but she did have a flower stand, car rim, and oven rack.
That's Caitlin, she made her own costume (typical folklorical dress)
- mine's homemade as well
We filled up on food, chatted, danced, had a random kick-off (Germany-Capoeira vs. USA-Taekwondo), and got some nice stares at the bus stop. 

The congregation of foreignors, sorry party, wasn't the only throwback to the States. Last week I registered for spring classes... : /

Plant Ecology
Organic Chemistry & O. Chem Lab
Spanish Phonology
Creative Writing
Latin American Anthropology

A pretty good mix.... although chemistry isn't certified organic by the USDA or grown homerange... meaning a bunch of adverse side effects due to chemical overload. bummer. The other jolting reminder is the fact that classes are coming to a close (November 27th is the last official day of the program) and the rest of the study abroad group will be headed home...
- that's our spanish class (germans, americans, austrians, and Alexa - our profesora tica)
- and that's the jungle behind the classroom which is somehow more captivating than imperfect subjunctive

It's one of those bittersweet cliché moments where you realize time flies (even if it's 30 minutes late for everything -still making good use of that).
nevertheless, it's about time for a month of unrestricted travel

Saturday, October 23, 2010



Listen to that while you read, because to put it simply (cornily, sorry guys)... Panamá rocks. Not so much in a 70/80s rock way (no skin tight bedazzled pants, no haggar, and a lot less hairspray), but more along the lines of white sand beaches & coral reefs, more bicycles than cars, and a healthy helping of reggae to coincide with the laid back attitude. 

Bocas del Toro is the archipelago (cluster of islands formed tectonically) located in the caribbean just off the Costa Rica/Panamá border. The shake n' bake action of the tectonic plates expediated the collision of the Central American Volcano arc with Northwestern South America. This collision closed the Isthmus of Panamá, gave rise to the Great American Biotic Interchange, and caused ocean circulation to go all helter-skelter and generate a striking contrast between what is now the Atlantic and Pacific (fun facto! The Caribbean is warmer, more saline, and less nutrified than the Pacific - but hey, who needs nutrients when you can have Corona Commercial worthy beaches??). Then within the past 1,000-10,000 years a whole bunch of geographical magic happened to form one fantastic cluster of Caribbean islands!

Check out that island in the right corner!
oh wait, that's just a coconut.
my bad.

With the "Rocks for Jocks" lesson outta the way lets get down to business. A few friends still don't have their visas (the visa process is about as fun/efficient/fast as moving a beached whale with a red rider wagon) so we decided to use our 3day weekend to travel out of the country to fulfill their "72 hours out of country" -without a visa you can have up to 90 days in country, then 3 days out, then back for 90 days, rinse/repeat.

We arrived via water taxi to Isla Colon thursday afternoon to a swarm of Panamanians offering tours in broken english (is a group of 5 gringos and 1 ecuadorian that obvious?). We chatted with a couple maes who assured us that they'd show us around for free (apparently Bocas pays 'tour guides' to help people find hostels and tours). After checking out 4 or so hostels (filled, no kitchen, or stoned owner) we found a sweet hotel smack dab in the center of the town for $7 a night - thanks in great part to Felicitas ! - Austrians don't play games when it comes to finding a nice place to sleep.
- The beds were legitimately the most comfortable I've ever slept on

We checked out the market downstairs to get some grub (Every market in Bocas is owned by 'Chinos') and found a sight for sore eyes... ridiculously cheap prices! To put it into perspective, Costa Rica prices are essentially the same as that States (dang infrastructure and tourism...) while Panamá prices are 1/3 or less. 

The next day we went on one of the boat tours- 9am-6pm, $15 pp, dolphins, 2 snorkeling stops, and one sweet beach. The dolphins were pretty cool, though it was comical seeing 4 or 5 different boats filled with camera ready tourists circling 'dolphin bay' waiting for the optimal shot of flipper. 
Snorkeling was sweet! (more so salty)
1st spot was about 3m deep and had some sweet fish and coral
2nd spot, Hospital Point, was much better. The 'point' is the tip of a small island and drops quite quickly and deeply which allowed for some sweet diversity. While swimming against the waves to avoid crashing into the rocks, and juking out ridiculously abundant jellyfish, I saw a giant pufferfish! 4' foot! Even with my swimming up to it face-to-face I was unable to get this sucker to puff up... bummer.
Lest I forget, before we were admitted to Hospital Point.... we stopped by Red Frog Beach:
Located on Isla Bastimentos, Red Frog Beach is a ridiculously beautiful & picturesque which, thanks to  boat-only access had only a handfull of people. Unfortunately, I was far too busy looking for the Bastimentos color morph of Oophaga pumilio to snap photos of the beach in it's entirety... I mean, who wants beautiful beach and surf when there are frogs to be found? The logical answer to that question is this cute little guy:
This is one of the ~15 color morphs of Oophaga pumilio found on Bocas del Toro. As I stumbled through the jungle barefoot with only my swim trunks to protect me from the carnivorous black flies (think a mosquito but 10x more painful with bites that itch for a week) I managed to find a few of these guys. I apparently looked somewhat ridiculous, as an indigenous woman and her son stared at me like I was crazy... After a quick chat she and her son saw my logic and decided to help out in my search.

Unfortunately, these little guys amongst a plethora of plant, animal, and coral species are at risk due to large scale development of the "Red Frog Beach Club". It is an entirely unnecessary resort which, besides it's environmentally detrimental development, diminishes the secretive/deserted feel of the beach. The Panamanian government has denied the construction of a golf course on the island and is currently fining the RFBC with a $130,000 fine and an order to establish a 25-hectare forest buffer due to uncontrolled erosion from construction which covered mangrove swamps and the surrounding sea floor with mud. Hopefully Panamá, and ANAM (the environmental agency) will keep a close eye on the development of this eyesore. 

- Before leaving the beach I had to throw in a shout out to all my taekwondo friends back in the states

The next day it was time for some more beach action.
From the central park we took a bus to the other side of the island known as 'Bocas del Drago'. The bus ride was great and allowed me to get nice and nostalgic (Panamá bus drivers make sure the tires squeel around every curve and the fact that Panamanian roads are smooth and underpopulated means plenty of speed). 
More beautiful beach (even with the clouds blanketing the sun) awaited us

To arrive at starfish beach we had to walk for a few kilometers along the beach...
...and spot some vultures...

 ...until we found a shallow sandbar which contained wave sculpted sands, and of course starfish!
We spent the afternoon hanging out on the beach, checking out the underwater constellations, and getting overwhelmed by angry ants. Not too shabby. For the night, after the French took their fine time dining on their slow cooked food, USA & Austria teamed up to cook some delicious and super cheap spaghetti n' sauce with some delicious veggies. After some reggae/salsa/back flips into the carribean, we headed back to the hotel in the wee hours of the morning where Nikki & I ran into a Scottish bloke eager to chat it up. While we conversed about the plagues of society and other ridiculous topics, we were surprised to find the sun illuminate our third floor balcony. A quick look at the time showed 6:14am. Luckily for Nikki she didn't need to worry about waking up for the 7am water taxi back!
The next day we decided to rent some bikes to scope out the island via a leisurely pace. The result:
the coolest method of island transportation (other than riding a manatee... still waiting on that one)

 The smooth roads gave way to sand paths which followed the curvature of the 
coast all the way to bluff beach
 Bluff Beach was epic.
A gargantuan beach about a mile long with a total of 6 people, crazy waves, 
and coconuts ready for consumption.
- here's one of Felicitas' pic
The bluff 
 And another added bonus...

Oophaga pumilo !!! Isla Colon
You could hear the males calling everywhere

The ride back from the beach took some interesting turns as Monica wiped out in a mud puddle and my back tire popped.... 7km away from downtown Bocas...
Nevertheless, we managed to make it back via some interesting maneuvering (I sat on the back of Jen's bike and held the dilapidated bike for the entire ride back - props to Jen!). That night we got some cheap cheeseburgers with what little change we had left and spent the remainder of the night soaking up the last of the carribean vibes before taking the water taxis back to the real world...
As we crossed the bridge back to Costa Rica with heads low (not cuz we had to leave, but due to the fact that the gaping holes and flimsy boards were entirely ready to be fallen through) we understood the next stop was San Jose and a rough jolt back to reality... classes...
 yeah it's a hard knock life in paradise.

Pura Vida !