Last night, we were at the house and Sonia prepared dinner.....a bean spread on tortillas with pico de gallo. It was very good! Before dinner, they were kind enough to let us sit in their bedroom where the TV was and watch some TV. So we watched the Spanish version of VH1. The floor was unfinished concrete and Sonia came in to put a little towel under my bare feet - I motioned to her that I was OK, but she insisted. Considering they wash everything by hand, these people were incredibly generous. We found that to be the case in this country. There is a high level of generosity and hospitality by the people (reminded me of the folks in Fiji)
We presented them with a box of nice chocolates that we bought in Santa Barbara as a thank-you and they seemed pleased by the gesture. We were under the impression that candy was a bit of a luxury there. Still, I felt we couldn't fully thank them for opening their home to two strangers. In fact, we didn't even know we were staying with them until well into that day! We had a long talk with them. We explained the changing seasons here and what happens during each one. That was fun to explain. Stuart told us he was a painter and he likes the mountains and also about their own flora, fauna, and seasons in CR. I asked him how they celebrate Christmas (the house had Christmas decorations up everywhere!) and it is very similar to here, minus the pile of gifts. It was an experience to be there. Amistad wants to create international citizens out of people to broaden their worlds, hence the home stays. I think it was a very cool experience spending time with these kind people. I would recommend staying with a local family at some point.
JAN 8th - So we rose at 4 am and left our host family in Heredia. They were the nicest people!!! We walked in the dark down their steep road and Rebecca's dad drove us through some seedy neighborhoods in San Jose to catch the public bus from San Jose for the 5 hours to Santa Cruz. Robert and Rebecca from Amistad told us that bags "disappear" on buses, so we purposely packed backpacks and duffel bags, with only clothes in the duffel bags, so if someone stole them, all we'd lose is clothing. We were fine the whole trip, but we were told repeatedly to take such precautions.
We get on the bus and we were so happy to have seats! A lot of people were standing for much of the trip. Little did we know that we would be standing on the 2nd 3-hour leg of the trip on the 2nd bus for about 2 hours of it. We tried to stay awake since we were instructed NOT to fall asleep and leave bags unattended. we each took turns dozing off, but were alert for much of the trip. It was hot and loud on the bus, anyway.
So we waited in Santa Cruz for about two hours for the next bus, but not before I wrangled our bags out of the bus so they wouldn't disappear. There were bathrooms with no running water or TP. I had to pay a girl 50 cents for a few squares before going in......I did successfully ask for extra. There was a little market and a place to get cold drinks. We hung out with Kat until our bus rolled up. It wasn't signed. I asked the guy..... Ostional???? He said Yes, but by the time we got on, all seats were occupied. So we were standing.
That was an experience. It was sweltering hot and dusty on dirt roads in this rickety bus, balancing our backpacks and duffel bags on the floor. I wanted to take a photo, but needed both hands. This one old lady was kind enough to hold up my bags when a guy selling stuff out of his cooler to the occupants squeezed by. He was selling frozen slushie-type stuff in tied-off sandwich baggies. People would suck on them to keep cool. I noticed that there is a lot of poverty, but the people are clean and take pride in their appearances. Especially the women - some even had pedicures. You'd see woman dressed to the nines riding a bicycle on a dirt road! It was very bizarre to me. The bus was a bit of an adventure and I am glad we did it. Unbeknownst to us, Megan was on the crowded bus with us we we'd learn upon disembarking, that she is one of the research assistants there - she is from Melbourne in Australia. Here is the building we worked in/lived in.
We got to Ostional and wandered for a bit and caught up with Kat and then met Paul right away.
He is a South African Canadian who quit his job and sold his house and is traveling until....whenever to the Galapagos and then to Patagonia. He is inspiring and such a sunny personality. At dinner, we would meet the others who would be working with us. First, we met Freydis. She is starting a PhD program in April in her native Iceland in biology - she specializes in birds. He boyfriend is a marine biologist there and will be meeting her in CR after she leaves Ostional. We then met the other two girls - Jamie a grad student in writing from Brooklyn and Tara an undergrad from southern CT. Nice girls!
The food has been good. Rice and beans is eaten at every single meal....and a lot of eggs. They have cool juice here. Cas and tamarind are among the juices. The have a big bucket in the fridge with a ladle, and you just help yourself. We are sharing a room with 4 Costa Rican students. There is zero privacy, but everyone minds their own business so it has been doable. There are 4 girls and 2 guys in our room in total. At first we weren't sure of bathroom protocol since we're married and all, sharing facilities, but we just do as we always do and in a couple days, they did as well (2 of them are a couple) so it wasn't so awkward. Only one is a speaker of English and they were in a different program doing different things while were were there, so we passing ships in the wind. Wendy spoke English, Carmen spoke a few words, and our other two roomates spoke no English at all.
This is our room.
Our neighbors were our primary workmates and comrades....Kat, Paul, Jamie, Tara, and Freydis. It has been really cool to be with people from all over the world. There was a huge group of Aussies as part of the ISV (International Student Volunteers), and their work overlapped with ours, but they stayed in a building about a hundred yards away. We were working specifically for the MINAE (prounounced min-EYE) - the Ministry of the Environment. This was a very different experience from Africa. There is less interaction with the staff and absolutely no alcohol is allowed. One wasn't better then the other.....just entirely different, so it was cool to see how another place does things. It was useful to have done this type of thing before however. There are a few things it is helpful to know.
JAN 9th - Early in the morning, we rose to collect driftwood off the beach. There were about 20 of us out there from.....Australia, Switzerland, Iceland, New Zealand, Canada, Britain, Costa Rica, and us along with two other Americans. That was tiring!! Evidently, the turtles can´t make nests past the driftwood, they can´t make the trip, and consequently, the tide may wipe out the nest.....so we are trying to clean things up. Some logs were so big, it took and international consortium of volunteers to move them. I took a photo of one such effort and then quickly joined in....there were about 10 of us.
That was very hot, tiring, and sweaty. The benefit of working by the ocean is the obvious setting and the fact that you can wade through the glistening water on the way back. We did feel like we were doing something concretely beneficial for these animals. The exciting thing is that we saw maybe a hundred little olive ridley turtle babies emerging from the sand and on their way to the ocean. I can´t explain how exciting that was. I took photo and video!
The middle of the day is down time/"siesta". I went by myself after napping with Steve a bit to the beach to watch the sun set. I saw vultures circling around a known turtle nesting area and chased them away as I walked down to my spot on the beach. Then I took pictures......
Last night we did a beach patrol. It was a briskly-paced 9 mile power walk back and forth on the beach in the sand in the dark. Everyone wears black and carries flashlights with red cellophane on them as the turtles aren't as sensitive to red light. It was dark and quiet. We are hurting pups, but it was an amazing experience being near the ocean in the dark. We walked north to Punta India. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and stars were out in full force. I hadn't 't seen anything like it since Fiji.
There is bioluminescent (sp?) algae on the beach, so when people walk, they kick up the glowing flecks in the sand. The real feat of Mother Nature´s genius, is the light show (as Steve calls it) from the ocean. The waves rustle up the algae and they consequently glow in the dark as they rise and disappear into the dark surf. I have never seen anything like it in my life.
During the walk, we stopped when we reached each side of the beach for rests - the shift was from 7 at night to midnight of power walking and then resting and so on. We fell asleep a couple of times on the beach to the sounds of the waves crashing as our eyes closed to the star show in the sky. On one trip down the beach, we encountered some tourists who appeared to have moved an adult olive ridley female onto the beach and took flash photography of her, disorienting her - remember, they don´t respond well to lights. We saw bright flickering lights and angrily and quickly trotted over there making jokes about kicking butt when we got there, but the researchers are very non confrontational and the tourists moved away from her shortly after we got there.
We tiptoed into our room so as not to wake our sleeping roommates, showered and climbed into our bunk beds.
JAN 10 - This morning, we have the day off. We started the 2 hour walk on the dirt road to Nosara with Kat and Paul which has internet and stuff. That is where we are now. Apparently hitchhiking is not so bad out here in the country. We 4 thumbed a ride on the back of a pickup truck by two tourist surfers who gave as ride partly to town. We walked the rest of the way into town seeking shady spots on the side of the rural road. That was exciting for me. Hopefully, we can hitch a ride back.
The people out here are very friendly. In the village we are staying in, Ostional, the people all know we are turtle people, so they are cool. A bunch of the research people live right in town so they are used to us. We live in a dorm on the beach and can hear the waves crash as we sleep. Steve and I have the top bunk bed next to each other so that is nice. And our roomies were all very cool.
This has been a real test of endurance....it´s different from helping people. You get a smile or a thank-you. But with animals, we´ll never know or see our impact here (or in Africa, for that matter). Olive Ridleys are endangered. They also have a leatherback program also and they are critically endangered. Apparently, by 2015 they will disappear if we don´t do anything. This is an important area for both turtles.
Tonight Freydis and I are watching over the hatchery from 6pm to midnight. I expect to learn a lot about Iceland since there are no lights or loud noise out there. They collect the leatherbacks' eggs and simulate the nest and they have a 30 percent success rate. On that stretch of beach, there is a zero percent success rate. Vultures eat the turtles, the heat gets them, shrimp boats, poachers; there are a lot of obstacles.
Here is the hatchery:
Steve on the other hand has another beach patrol from 7-midnight. It´s hard work here, but everything is optional, so no one pushes you. On Friday morning, we clear wood.
The 2nd half or our trip here is going to be fun also. I feel like we have experienced so much already!! Dón´t worry about us people do this all the time. We met a guy from Seattle at the bus station traveling only with his ukulele. People live here and are happy. It is a very simple lifestyle.....much like in rural Mexico. They don´t have much and don´t need much. I am inspired (again) to discard stuff when we get home. Too much clutter complicates my life. I feel like material things get in the way of our humanness. Does that make sense? It just seems like these people are much closer to the human experience here and it aren't hindered by synthetic needs, like lattes and brand name gear.
PS - We have to let the turtles (tortugas) be - I saw one whose one rear flipper had been eaten off by a vulture and she was slowly making her way to the water. We have to let natural selection take its course however painful it may be to see. Working on these things has brought me closer to animal suffering in a weird way and that has been hard.....like the emaciated dogs here. One approached me shaking with his tail between his legs hoping for food. I am still upset about that. Our girls are so lucky! We are so lucky to be Americans.....we have so many blessings....you can´t conceive of how many blessings we have in America. It reminds me to be grateful everyday.
We miss the girls fiercely. That is the hardest part for me. I think about them all the time. That is a hard part of traveling for me. Can someone tell us how they are doing???? I miss them!