Some last photos…

June 22, 2010

Here are some snapshots from the past two week around Mancora. It was just what I needed. Lots of sun, beach, surf and food. I have just arrived in Lima and it feels very strange for lack of a better word. I’ll more when I can put my finger on it…

La Mar, World Cup

June 18, 2010

After sleeping on the Cruz Del Sur bus overnight with a short lunch stop in Lima, the World Cup kicked off and Liz and I rode the next bus to Mancora on June 11th. By the morning of June 12th we awoke not only to bosa nova pop song covers pumping through the speakers, but also by the sight of a vast, desolate desert. The visible roads peppered continuously with plastic bags and miscellaneous rubbage.

The transition between living in the rainforest and a metropolitan area begun. There are no geckos eating roaches off soap bars, or owl monkeys throwing fruit peels onto cabin roofs in a tropical coastal desert like Mancora, Peru. What better way to make the transition easier than to situate myself in a surf town?

The first three days were wobbly back on the board but I just kept eating a lot of fruit and fish and getting out there. Then the swell dropped a few days ago and it became the perfect environment for Liz to learn for me to teach my first lesson. It all went swimmingly.

Coincidentally all of this has coincided with my first attempt at constructing harmonica lessons. Someone heard me play the other night and is now paying me each day to give him lessons. “Old Man Pete” was so excited about learning that he really didn’t take no for an answer. Each day I give him some music and a lesson plan, then some homework for the rest of the day.

My major confession is that through all of this I have not taken out my camera… once. I have no idea why. Maybe it’s my form of culture shock, though I haven’t quite figured it out. It’s true that these places are fascinating, abstract and beautiful, but I can’t seem to find the motivation to document the life style around me. I’ll work on it.

Every day is filled with exciting World Cup matches and it seems that everyone in this town has shaped their lives around those games. Surfing lots… eating lots. I talked to some friends who own one of the local kite boarding shops about getting some gear soon…. Life is traveling at a tranquilo pace but filled with things to do.

Today’s sun set was quickly followed by two row boats spreading their nets in silhouette close to breaking shore. One last meal and then it’s off to bed so I can wake up for sunrise. Some things never change.

Locura

June 10, 2010

I left the Amazon basin in the cloak or darkness on a crowded bus at 7pm three nights ago.  The bus meandered through the partly paved highway snaking past Andes, broken windows that wouldn’t shut and all.  Needless to say, there was not much sleep to be had.  But, I had my best friend in the seat next to me, and I was heading to Cusco, “the city of great food and impressive architecture”.

At 7:20 am the bus came to a stop, along with all the other vehicles on the highway and engines were turned off.  Apparently, there was a strike that day and the locals had put up a roadblock that extended all the way to Cusco.  Liz and I, being the crazy gringas that we are, packed a day bag and then started walking down the road. 

We had obtained several estimates as to the length of our endeavor ranging from 2-6 hours of walking time.  Once we reached the first roadblock I asked an older women dressed in a plain colored skirt, embroidered sweater and fine-looking hat what was happening. Turns out, the lakes in the surrounding areas had recently been bought and privatized now making it increasingly hard for people to afford the water to grow their crops.  This roadblock was their response.  I say good on em.

An hour into the walk we learned that the outskirts of Cusco was another 28 kilometers away.  So be it!  It was a sunny day, and we were singing songs, talking to locals along the way and enjoying the mountains surrounding us.   The highway was littered with broken glass, rocks, trees and just about anything else one can throw into the middle of the road.  There were even some dilapidated cars sprawled across the sun-baked pavement. 

Yeah…so, four hours later, feet sore from walking on hard surfaces, and sun burned on our right sides…the spirits were not as high.  My comment around that time of “we’re so close to Cusco I could smell the alpaca” did not go over well.  Apparently blind optimism is not the best way to make a bad situation better.  I knew Liz had kind of lost it when we came across a dead cat half-hanging out of a bag and she burst into hysterical laughter.  I later found out that seconds before the gruesome sight she was thinking, “this could not get any worse”.

We finally made it to the end of the road blocks and hopped on a local bus to get to the center of Cusco, the Plaza de Armas.  Something about not sleeping for two days and walking close to 25 miles made us…well…delirious.  We missed our stop and ended up high in the hills outside of Cusco in some random town.  Cool.  It was actually a nice little tour of the outskirts of the city.  Once we explained our situation to the driver and he controlled his laughter we got on another bus that took us to our stop.  Found the hostel I was looking for and took a great big, desperately needed nap. 

When I woke up, I was a brand new person.  I grabbed my towel and flip-flops, headed to the wash room and took my very first hot shower in exactly 153 days.  Water…sweet wonderful hot water actually exists.  I´m not even going to describe the 10,000 different types of bliss my mind and body experienced while having that hot water shower.  It was….stupendous.

Cusco..still the same ol´ Cusco.  I love it here because of the people, food and the Incan walls.  It also brings up mixed emotions of pain and confusion when I think of the history of how this city has been destroyed, manipulated and transformed in the last century… even in the last twenty years.  I could write forever about it.  Liz and I met an archeologist who went into great detail about the city’s history and archaeological sites she has been working on surrounding the city.   I was beyond inspired by her knowledge.  When she mentioned that she needed an assistant next year for her thesis in the Cusco area I stepped right up and a possible option.  Never too many paths to learning I say.

So, that´s it for now!  I´m finally heading to Mancora!  I´m going surfing (if there are any waves)… and if not I´m going to relax like never before.  Life…wonderfulness.

Time for a Vacation

June 6, 2010

                                                           

Aaaaaand I’m back! With a final key stroke today I finished entering my last line of date into the excel spreadsheet. It is beyond insane that I am actually done collecting data for this project. Nine weeks of hard work gathering mosquitoes has now come to a close and this year’s chapter of Amazonian adventures has ended. In total, I have been living and working in the rainforest for more than five months in the State of Madre de Dios, Peru. How it has changed me… granted I am still the same ol’ Kat Fountain, crazy and all, but I can’t help but feel like I know myself better than ever, and that I have truly tapped into my life’s calling: working towards conservation of Neotropical forests. In the pursuit of happiness, I have placed my foot inside the door.

Oh Sachavacayoc, never without surprises. Que suerte he tenido con todos cosas! What luck I have had with everything! My best friend in the whole world, Liz Kimbrough, happened to be in Peru this month and is a fantastic botanist/field researcher to boot. I needed a volunteer, and she made some time to travel with me and help me out in the forest for a week. She has an extraordinary internship with Appropedia.org studying sustainable development and intentional communities throughout South America with her first stop being in Peru. As mentioned before, Sacha is the land of the world’s most wonderful little critters. Liz and I worked hard collecting mosquitoes and then made the most of all the time in between. This included exploring the lakes, taking night walks and hiking the breathtaking trails. I hope you will enjoy the photos below of all the tiny wonders of the rainforest seen in the past two weeks by yours truly. Also included in these adventures was my very dear friend and past volunteer, Angel. He has literally been an angel, helping me not only with the project, but by sharing his vast knowledge of the forest. I am forever grateful for his kindness in the past couple months.

On one of the night hikes we came across what Liz dubbed as “the Muppet”. This white fluffy critter is a fly in its larval stage, hobbling along a branch trying very successfully to look like a fungus. Unreal… seriously.

                                                       

One morning I woke up to find that the river had jumped up onto the banks and risen over 10ft.

                                                    

Two days later, the same set of stairs looked like this:

                                                                  

What next… well, this girl is taking a vacation. And not just any vacation either! Liz and I are going to take a three day bus ride (with a stop in Cusco) to the tropical beach town of Mancora. Where the beer flows like wine and the waves instinctively flock  like the salmon of Capistrano. The waves are supposed to be mellow but clean at this time of year and I am going to surf until my arms fall off and my skin becomes so saturated with ocean water that I will be a living raisin. “What?” you say, “Living in Peru for six months hasn’t been a vacation??” Not exactly! I’ve been covered with sweat and bug spray for 149 days eating nothing but white rice and meat for the most part. Best experience of my entire life? Yes. Ready to lay on a beach and eat ceviche in between surf sessions? Absolutely. I’ll keep posting while I travel for the next three weeks and hope that you come along for the ride. This year has been epic, for lack of a better word, and the good times just keep on rolling along. Thanks for checking in everyone!! Cuidate…

Winding down…

May 22, 2010

Even before I dragged my sleepy self out of bed this morning I was able to identify the soft chewing of an agutie, the monotonous call of the white throated toucan, the high pitched vocalization of saddle backed tamarin monkey and the ear-piercing shrieks of macaws. I love this place. I’m heading to Sachavacayoc tomorrow for two weeks to catch more them dem scurvy mosquitoes and will be out of the internet land once again. Just as well though. Nothing like clearing the mind then staying from the world’s best electronic distraction.

It was really hard to leave the Tambopata Research Station today for a myriad of reasons. I’ve managed to make a group of fantastic friends there and leaving today, knowing that I may not be seeing some of them again for a very long time, hit me like a ton of colpa bricks. My trip is winding down (one month left!!) and actually realizing this has been harder than I anticipated. But also spilling over in between my daily activities is the deep-rooted homesickness for my family and friends. Heck, I almost burst into tears the other day when I was putting the cap on my toothpaste that my Mother sent me.

I wonder how the culture shock will hit me… probably in many ways that I will not expect. What my “familiar surroundings” are at this point is blurry. I’m pretty sure I will be alright with not having rice and meat three times a day, or being run up trees by roving packs of overly-paranoid white-lipped peccaries. But, it will be so incredibly strange not speaking Spanish to those around me, being able to walk into the Amazon rainforest at my own discretion, and feeling like I have a purpose everyday inherently linked with conservation. One thing I do know: I’m coming back. Peru has become another home, and one does leave home forever.

In closing, here is a photo of a mosquito biting a rainbow boa. Fantastic. I’ll be back with more photos and stories in the first week of June, or as soon as I am able. A very sentimental entry, I know, but that’s just the kind of mood that I’m in. Take care amigos!

From bees to bullet ants

May 19, 2010

When I was too young to know any better, I used to wander around my mother’s garden and collect bees in jars. This was my source of entertainment for several summers in a row. I always let them go, of course, and can’t recall ever being stung. Of course… I once invited to my friend to join me on one of my trapping excursions and she was immediately stung by a struggling honey bee. It wasn’t her fault, she was an amateur. So when my friend Frank asked me to collect some bullet ants from the forest so he could study the venom it brought me skipping down memory lane. Lucky for him, we share the same insect permit so taking them to Lima will not be a problem.

Catching them…almost not a problem. Last night I found a bullet ant nest on my way back from setting my mosquito traps and squealed for joy. I had brought 3 plastic tubes with me for this very reason. I placed the tube over the venomous ant and waited for her to investigate a nonexistent exit away from the opening so I could pop the top on with lightning speed. Bingo. As I was trapping the second one, some of the ants had caught on that I was stealing valuable members from their colony and one hissed at me (yes, bullet ants hiss) and tried to launch itself onto the tube. Fat chance buddy. I incarcerated her as well.

Once back in the lab the tricky bit unfolded. I had to somehow open the lid, and fill the tube with alcohol without the ant crawling or swimming to the top and stinging me. The first two went without a hitch, but the third one (probably the one that hissed at me) managed to ride the wave of alcohol up and out of the tube and flew directly to my hand. The very millisecond I felt contact I freaked out and made a spastic maneuver which just so happen to fling her off before she could sting me. Somewhere in there, I yelled some pretty strong Spanish curse words, because after I had caught her again, my shirt covered in alcohol, I looked up to find one of my fellow researchers starring at me in confusion. “Who tries to catch bullet ants??” he inquired in Spanish, and not waiting for a response, rolled his eyes and walked away. Not try mi amigo, do. Crazy gringa…

So as of now, I have the five specimens I needed, with only one slightly squished. Of course… it dawned on me that I have only been stung three times since I came to Peru, makes another two stings inevitable due to the vengeful nature of the bullet ants. Never underestimate the power of revenge within the Paraponera clavata species!!!

Another friaje has rolled in which means no mosquitoes, and lots of clothing layers. Oh, and lots of tea. I miss my Grandma’s superior cups of tea!!

Everyone loves a zancudo

May 15, 2010

On the boat ride to the Tambopata Research Station I was just so lucky to meet a group of tourists who very quickly turned into a group of friends.  Corney but true, it was like being adopted for the week.  For some reason we all  just clicked, and they were fascinated by my project. I miss you guys!

Here’s Dave, the amazing doctor who stitched my thumb.   Thanks Doc!!

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The mosquitoes are slow.  Due to the friaje it is freezing!  I’m employing every article of warm clothing I have just to keep from turning into an ice cube.  Today- warmer!  I’ll be here at TRC for at least another week and then moving back to Sachavacayoc.  Another friaje is inevitable but I’ll just have to hope for high numbers of zancudos in between!

My best friends, Liz Kimborough and Sarah Fountain are both graduating today and while I can feel sadness creeping in a bit when I think of my absence from these profound moments in their lives, I’m overwhelmed with pride and joy for their accomplishments.   This frog is for you girls!!

muchas cosas

May 12, 2010

Well…yesterday took some interesting twists and turns. I had a wonderful morning in which I slept under all my blankets and didn’t get out of bed till 6:30am. We are experiencing what they call a “friaje” in which it is cold, COLD for about a week.  It has gotten down to 60 degrees!!  I’ve been wearing a fleece, down jacket, mittens and sweatpants to battle the frigid environment.    Once I did finally get out of bed I had breakfast with my wonderful tourists friends who have been so kind and fun to be around. Later, working in my lab, I was wrestling a glass tube into a rubber stopper and the darn thing broke.  My thumb slipped forward onto the jagged piece of glass and sliced open.    Note: this entry is not for the faint of heart (my Mom!) There was blood dripping immediately onto the floor and I grasped it with my other hand.  Well, that was kind of silly because I then did not have a hand to work with that wasn’t covered blood.   I managed to clean it out and slap some gauze on it with some tape… which bled through in about 3 minutes.   I knew I was in a little over my head so I went to one of my tourist friends, Doctor Dave, to see if he could have a look at it.   When he heard the story and saw the bandage his face lit up and he exclaimed, “I brought my suture kit!!!”. So he gave a good look at it and decided that steri-strips would not be sufficient at holding the wound together. He gave me two local anesthetic injections at the base of the thumb and then two stitches. It is the first time I have ever had stitches (strange but true) so I HAD to watch. The best part was that his amazing wife Deborah held my hand and sang me songs with the voice of an angel through the whole ordeal.  My adopted mother  for the time being since my own wonderful mother is nearly 9,000 miles away. Funny enough, I watched the whole thing, then as soon as it was over I started feeling very faint and nauseous. They told me my face turned a pale green color and I nearly passed out. Good times!! I am forever grateful for their caring kindness.

Another exciting event: these tracks pictured below were found less than 5 meters from where all us researchers sleep.

It wouldn’t have been a big deal if they were jaguar prints, since they rarely attack humans, but they were identified by one of the researchers as puma prints. Pumas are known to attack humans, especially if they are getting older and unable to catch quick-moving prey.  Of course, I learned all of this after I returned to the station from a night hike to the river by myself. I was greeted with a stern, crossed arm welcome from my very dear friend Liz (also the manager here) because she thought someone had told me and I was just being reckless. Well, I won’t be doing that again!! I have a volunteer coming tonight so no more night hikes alone for me.

And now for some silly things… Here is a rather ironic photo of a failed rescue attempt.   Sorry buddy..he’s gone.

And to wrap it up, here is a photo of the fuzziest moth I have ever seen in my whole life. I named him fuzzy face since I already named the tarantula ms. fuzzy butt.

That’s it for now! I’m off to sort through dead bugs and listen to Modest Mouse.  Oh, what a life.

Best Day E-V-E-R

May 10, 2010

The sun peeked through the canopy and shone upon my smiling face this morning at 5:45am.  I was 30 meters up in a tree and had not thought in the world except,  “This is going to be a glorious day”.   I have headed back out into the rainforest for another exhilarating round of catching mosquitoes.  I had the excellent opportunity to stop for a night at research station named Refigio on the Tambopata River and really hit it off with the staff and guides there immediately.   They were so warm and inviting that I forgot about my terrible Spanish grammar and had the numerous exhilarating conversations about life, the forest, and surfing.  That’s right- I found another stranded surf bum all the way out here.

I was lucky enough to be invited to go tree climbing the next morning with a couple of the guides, so I woke up at 4:45 and put my boots on.   We set up the gear and one by one hauled ourselves  up the rope and further into the air towards the canopy of the tree.  The view over the river with the fresh morning sun was fantastic.

After our tree adventure it was suggested that I come kayaking on the river as well.  Why not??  They were already taking a group of tourists and I could tag along.  The slow yet gigantic river meandered along and I got to take my time, just looking around and soaking it all in.  When I found out that I had 20 minutes till my boat left for the Tambopata Research Center I said ciao to my friends after thanking them for everything and turned my boat around to paddle back to the lodge.  There was something so special about kayaking on the river by myself surrounded by the beauty of the rainforest that really brought me into an elated state of being.

As if the day couldn’t get any better…the tourists I was sharing a boat with are some of the nicest people I have ever met.  Amongst the story telling and whatnot, the guide yelled out a word I thought I would never hear,  “Jaguar”!!!!  Behold,the most amazing moment of my adventure:  there it was, the magnificent jaguar briskly walking along the river bank.  I could not believe my eyes.  Not only was this incredible cat right in front of us, but he/she then started chasing a couple of capybaras who jumped into the river to evade the attack!!!  It was just all so unreal.  I didn’t even get my camera out because I knew I had only a very small amount of time to see the event and I didn’t want to miss a single second.  Some of the tourists had their wits about them and managed to snap a couple photos which I will post later.  Needless to say, this was one of the coolest experiences of my entire life.

When I got to TRC I set up my lab and quaint little bedroom and then made my way to the dining hall.  My wonderful tourists friends invited me to sit at their table at dinner and eat their amazing tourist food!! (The researchers get fed different meals of…well…a lesser quality usually).  Aw heck, they even bought me a beer to celebrate the jaguar sighting today.  So, like I said… best day ever.  I have a lot of work to do tomorrow including setting up all my traps on my own but I have a radio and enough “stokedness” to last me a life time.  How I ever managed to accumulate so much luck is still out for speculation.  But I’m not complaining  ;)

Photo by Alison Ravenscraft

Mas

May 8, 2010

Some more details about our stay at Sachavacayoc…

Alison and my quaint little cabin had a few other residents including bats,  geckos,  and a tarantula I named fuzzy butt.

Funny story about Ms. Fuzzy Butt. We removed her from the room once we found her but she kept coming back. One time when I was washing my hiking boots in a bucket I put them aside to dry while I took a little nap on the boardwalk.  When I accidentally tipped over the boot  little (er..big) Ms. Fuzzy Butt crawled right out.  It seemed that she had joined me for my boot washing adventure.  I was overly grateful that I hadn’t put my hand inside the boot and given her the opportunity to bite me.

There were so many tiny wonders at Sachavacayoc, but the one that captivated me the most was watching a colony of army ants raid a leaf cutter ant colony.  The army ants were like a never ending flow and little black bodies and legs moving like a silent river down into the depths of the leaf cutters colony.  The Atta colony seemed helpless to the onslaught and didn’t even bother to defend their home.  In fact, they carried on as usual moving organic matter from the outside world.  It puzzled me as to why the army workers of the Atta were not fiercely defending their larva as they were being carried off.  After all, each one would later be turned into food or be enslaved.  Ants….how brutal.   There is no need to point out the obvious comparison to another species we are so familiar with….

So, I’m heading back to TRC tomorrow for more mosquito collection and then back to Sacha for 14 days. In other words, I will be out of the internet world once again after this.   It has been a crazy ride here in the amazon..and part of me knows that really, it has just begun.


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