Sunday, May 3, 2009

Rain in the dry forest

Palo Verde National Park, Costa Rica

I have a love-hate relationship with the OTS field station at Palo Verde. Love, because the monkeys play in the trees in front of the comedor, large and beautiful birds constantly fly overhead, and ctenosaurs (pronounced "tinnosaurs", long, iguana-like lizards that prompted the one-word response from our charismatic participant from Trinidad: "tasty". Now that I think about it, she has that response to many creatures we see. As a vegetarian, I remind myself that field courses are as much anthropological experiments as ecological experiences) lie in the sun and scuttle across the metal roofs. The hate part is not the unquenchable heat and negligible humidity, but instead reflects my bias against the insect world: the mosquitoes, the scorpions, the spiders, the pseudoscorpions. You name it, they have it - and worse than just being around, these bite-y creatures have a tendency to crawl into one's boots, clothes and, worst of all, bed. There are mosquito nets over all the beds for a reason.

My paranoia peaked when, just as I'm ready to go to bed, a visiting researcher mentions in passing that he found a 'kissing bug' in my room a few days before. I had forgotten about these critters - they have long snouts, bite you and then defecate in the wound. That part doesn't actually bother me. It's the eventuality of Chagas disease. Wikipedia it if you'd like to stay up at night. Personally, I checked my mosquito net carefully before going to bed. Several times.

So far, no suspicious insects and no suspicious bites. A hike up the limestone cliffs has restored my love of Palo Verde, and the constant entertainment of trying to photograph spider monkeys has kept me laughing all afternoon. The coatimundis are bushy-tailed and fearless, and the tiger herons form regal silhouettes in the trees. I watched cowboys head out on their horses to herd cattle in front of the soccer field around the research station.

It rained last night - the first rain since November. It was enough to keep the plants happy and the forest smelling strongly, but hopefully not enough to engage the mosquitoes. The sight of a flying stork brought me luck, as did, I am sure, the post-lunch session of cleaning Guanacaste tree seeds. A rather messy session - but amusing due to the constant competition for a large pile of seeds, and exciting, due to the prospect of necklaces and ear-rings hand-made by our multi-talented cook - a wizened Costa Rican man, Romelio, who is not only the most unlikely-looking chef, but also the most unlikely-looking jeweller. Last night's chocolate cake with home-made dulce-de-leche icing was fantastic. I am sure that the necklaces will be of a similar caliber.

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