I’m at the Hotel Cacts in San Jose and it’s the final morning that we will be in Costa Rica. Our flight leaves at 12:05 this afternoon. I always start and end my Costa Rican experiences at Hotel Cacts. It’s small, quiet, comfortable, affordable, and owned by a Costa Rican who does everything she can to make her guests comfortable and happy. After each trip, I take time to reflect on the experience and recount the events of the journey. These are my thoughts and reflections of the past six weeks.
First, while traveling to Costa Rica with this crew of six young women, a few questions came to mind that have now been answered. Despite what you might think the first question was not: What have I gotten myself into? I was excited and curious to see how things would play out. I wondered how they would get along with each other? How will they deal with the conditions at the station? Will they be able to handle the physical nature of the work? Will they engage in their own adventures outside of what I have planned?
How did they get along? From my perspective, they got along very well. Cano Palma is a little space carved out of the rainforest with virtually no space to call entirely your own. When it’s raining it is even more difficult because most people are gathered in doors and conditions become even more difficult. The only places you will be left completely alone are the shower and the loo. Even then, you may have some unexpected visitors: right Heather! We had an interesting moment when Todd was providing a tour of the station for some newcommers. He was showing them where the toilets were when the door swung wide open to reveal a very surprised Heather! However, Heather, in her usual laid back style just laughed and shut the door.
How will they deal with the conditions at the station? As mentioned above, the station provides virtually no private space. You are likely to share your room with a number of non-primates including spiders, beetles, ants, geckos, scorpions and occasionally Maggie the station dog who sneaks in during thunder storms. The showers are “refreshing” because the water is not heated. Our crew adopted two strategies to manage the temperature of the water. One, slowly sprinkle water onto yourself or expose one limb at at time to the water until you are sufficiently acclimatized to step under the shower. Two, step right in and get it over with all at once. Actually, there is a third option. Don’t shower. That’s not a good plan given the close quarters and the capacity of the human body to produce odours that are thoroughly unbearable. That said, this crew of six settled into the routine of cold showers and they even began to look forward to them. Showering in the wee hours of the morning after a long patrol on the beach is simply awesome!
Did they handle the physical nature of the work? In short, yes. Walking on a sandy beach sounds romantic and it is if you are taking a short leisurely stroll. Turtle patrol is something different. We try and maintain a pace that gets us from one end of the study site to the other in about an hour. That’s a pace of about 5 km/hr on sand in the dark. Doesn’t sound too difficult. Try it for a total of 4 hours on a night with no moon and get back to me. This crew also endured the humid rainforest, mud, mosquitoes, sand fly bites and the hot sun while completing their daily duties as researchers at Cano Palma. Now that the experience is over, we are all more fit and confident.
Did they have adventures? The certainly did. Most of them are recounted in their blogs but a few were missed. First, Meaghan and Charity had a stressful morning when a local dog chased – and captured a pregnant goat on the beach. They managed to catch up to the unfortunate goat in the water and get the dog to release his grip on it’s throat. Everyone now understands why we do not encourage dogs to accompany us on the beach. Second, Leah and Bailey made several attempts at practical jokes ranging from hiding under cabins to “scare” Mario and myself to attempting to drop frozen coconut milk down my back. If you know these two, they can’t hide anything. They are as easy to read as Dick and Jane book. One of Heather’s “moments” was recounted above with the toilet incident of 2011 which leaves us with Clarissa. Clarissa managed to fly under the radar for the entire six weeks. If she had any unusual adventures, she’s kept them to herself. As for me, capturing Fer-de-lance number two along the beach trail after morning census was a highlight. Charity and I were just at the south end of the Turtle Beach Lodge property when we happened across a Fer-de-lance crossing the trail. With no hook or snake bag available, I modified a fallen branch and asked Charity for her backpack. The snake was eventually coaxed into the bag and the capture was complete. Any day that I can capture a Fer-de-lance is a good day in my books!
What’s next? Everyone has provided me with valuable feedback regarding their experience and the overall summary is that this is a very worthwhile investment. I will take time to reflect on the experience, make adjustments, and begin to plan for 2012. The selection process for the second trip will begin this fall. I can’t wait!