West of the Fields

A tropical ecologist reporting from the field. Musings on life and art, botfly extractions, tropical plant identification, beer, parrots, machetes. Etc.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Headed to Nicaragua

Yes, it's that time of year again: my visa is set to expire, giving me a good excuse to take a vacation. We (Franklin and I) will be visiting Ometepe again, hoping the volcano gods will be good to us once more. We also plan to swing by the market at Masaya: Nicaraguan handicrafts for everyone on the Christmas list.

I am more than ready for a vacation. Last week I spent seven consecutive days in the field, in plots that are all more than an hour's bike/hike from the station. The work is pretty intense, too: I'm re-censusing seedling growth in my plots, which means bending down constantly to check tag numbers and make sure the measuring tape is in the right position. On a hot day, the dehydration headache sets in early when I'm spending half my time inverted. I am exhausted, worn down, and getting a cold to boot.

Usually I know that I need a break when I stop enjoying things. Sunday afternoon there was a troop of capuchin monkeys overhead, eating Welfia fruits and shaking the branches at me, and all I could think about was locating the next damn seedling quadrat, and dimly wondering whether Welfia fruits are edible to humans, too. All this work reminds me of being on the Trail in winter, sometimes: there's no possible way to carry enough food to keep myself satisfied. On the A.T. it was more a matter of the distance between town stops and the limit of what a body can carry. Here it's a matter of what can fit in my backpack along with the equipment: water bottles, radio, field gear, med kit, compass. Two sandwiches, an apple, and a bag of platanitos is about all I can cram in, and by day seven it's not even close to enough lunch.

I remember a day, four years ago now, when I was way out at the back of the property with my labmate Pablo. It poured rain all day, ceaselessly. On the way back, as we stopped to dump out our boots for the umpteenth time, I must had made some expression of displeasure. He just looked at me.

"We're having a rainforest experience," he said. "People pay good money for this."

When this work starts feeling like a chore, I always try to remember that. Then I start seeing the little things again: metallic green tarantula hawks (giant wasps) scanning the path for spiders; the pale lavender flowers and spindly white stalks of the parasitic plant Voyria tenella; the huge damselflies they call helicopteros whirring their blue and white wings in the open air. A rainforest experience. I am very fortunate.

I had hoped to upload some photos before we leave, but the Blogger photo upload system is down again. It's too bad; I have some really great photos of snakes eating things, always a big hit with any crowd. So stay tuned for snake photos and news from Nicaragua!


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