The following is the text of a press release I created for La Ceiba foundation work in the dry forest of Ecuador. I spent approximately one month in the wet forest, dry forest, and Galapagos Islands of Ecuador doing plant and animal research for La Ceiba. In part to the research I collected, La Ceiba was able to convince the Ecuadorian government to add additional protected lands.
The Bosque Seco Lalo Loor [BSLL] protects over 250 hectares of transitional semi-deciduous lowland tropical forest. The forest supports a large population of Mantled howler monkey. The reserve is located in a dry area of Ecuador’s coast where it receives a little over 1000 mm of rain each year, nearly all of it falling between January and May. For the rest of the year, the forest receives almost no rain at all.
The monkeys eat a diet of mostly leaves, but they will eat fruit if it is available.. Leaves are a good source of carbon, but they lack nitrogen; therefore the diet is not especially nutritious due to the high concentration of leaves. As a result, the monkeys live a fairly sedentary lifestyle compared to other tropical monkeys.
La Ceiba Foundation is collecting data for demography, range, and feeding habits of the monkey population. A group consists of 2 people. Each group will have binoculars, watch, compass, trail map, and a data sheet. Each group will work a separate area of the trail for four hours once in the morning and once at night. Once a monkey is encountered the group will stop and a collect data for 30 minutes.
Other notable plants and animals in the forest include:
I don’t know if I ever mentioned that time I went to the Galapaos Islands. I think going to the Galapagos Islands are one of those things that are on nearly everyone’s [ok maybe not everyone, but every traveler, animal lover, and science nerd I know] bucket list. My own adventure to the islands involved a bit of serendipity and a lot of meclizine.
Flashback to 2010:
It was September 2010, and I was working for an ecological research/preservation company. The original plans were for me to split time between the Mindo Cloud Forest, the Lalo Loor Dry Forest, and the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest. I did all that and more. But the highlight of my conservation internship was when I was asked to spend 10 days on a research boat on the Galapagos Islands tagging turtles.
These guys are huge and can live up to 175 years in captivity or 100 years in the wild
and checking on these guys
don’t forget about these fellas
and revel in the cuteness of these lovable lions
My home for the 10 days was spent between living on a boat [not ideal for someone who gets motion sickness as easy as I do while on a boat] and spending time at the Charles Darwin Research Center. There were not a whole lot of tourists on the islands. I don’t know if it was due to it being the low season [September] or the fact that back in 2010 there weren’t a whole of of tour groups coming to the island.
Before he died in 2012, Lonesome George was the center’s most famous resident. He got his nickname because he was the last surviving member of his species. Scientiests tried mating George with several different ladies who were genetically close to George but nothing happened. He died without having reproduced and with his death, his species became extinct. I feel a little bad for him, living his last years in comfort but without the friendship of someone of his own kind. George was also known for being a little bit of a recluse. Each time I saw him, he was hiding behind something or behind the trees, but always munching on grass.
The giant tortises like George can weigh up to 800 pounds fully grown.
Hard to believe that these little fellas will still be with us in 2180 and will be 800 pounds. I’d be lucky to survive to 2080.
One of the cool things about being a ‘researcher’ is getting to go where is usually off limits to tourists. And when you are in places not often frequented by human, you catch animals, or in this case turtles, having sex. I’ve never thought about tortoises having sex before, but I sure didn’t imagine them doing it ‘doggy-style’.
It must have been giant tortoise valentine’s day or something. I found another couple doing the same thing.
All that tortise sex results in lots of babies, and it was because of the babies that I was there. See that yellow writing on the shells? That’s my handiwork…tagging baby land tortises for future scientific research.
These guys have such personality. And they are only found on the Galapagos Islands. A lot of the creatures on the islands are like that. Being located over 600 miles from mainland Ecuador equals not a lot of genetic diversity. And that is a good thing especially from an evolutionary point-of-view.
For most of August and September, I am in Ecuador volunteering with an Ecological organization which has me going to a tropical rain forest, a cloud forest, and a dry forest. I’m current in the dry forest area.
Tabuga is the village closest to the reserve. I use the term “village” loosely as it has–at last census–428 people in four different areas. It has no laundry, no internet, no bus terminal, one store, 3 (I think) streets (not paved). I have to walk to get there and it is about 1.5km from the front of the reserve. But Tabuga is the largest village between Pedernales (30.000) and Jama (7000). As such I guess that qualifies it for a 4 day festival and the festival began today. Since we took the AM off to do administrative things and buy food, we took the PM off to go to the festival.
It seemed like a regular, uneventful Friday when I was informed that there was a festival tomorrow. What in the world could a ‘town’ of 428 be celebrating? Who knows, but any event to attend a festival seems like a good idea.
First up, boys indur. The teams were made of six boys from Tabuga on each side. They were probably 6-9 years old. Final score 1-0. The boys of the winning team each won 75 cents. They took up a collection prior to the game and came up with $4.50 for prizes.
Second up, was open mike singing. Some good, some truly awful, and I, as the only foreigner in town–special guest from South Carolina, got to be the judge. The prizes were 1st–a chicken 2nd–food from the vendors and 3rd beer or coke depending on the age of the winner. Two hours later, I awarded a chicken (live) to a teenager named Segundo, and he was beaming ear to ear as if he had won a million dollars.
And finally, movie night. The Jungle Book shown on the big screen [aka white sheet held between goal posts and projected via laptop].
Tabuga is a small town with 75 families located on the northern coast of Ecuador, in the province Manabí. Manabí is the poorest and most illiterate province in Ecuador. There are no conventional phones; there is no cell phone signal nor television signal. There are two stores. They sell basic things like canned tuna, rice, sugar, soda, beer and Caña Manabita. Caña Manabita is a sugar cane alcohol that compares to ever-clear in the US and is sold for only $1.20 a bottle, a beer costs $1 and doesn’t get you to the point of falling over drunk sleeping in the dirt road. [A bottle of water is almost $2] Given the choice, the men in Tabuga choose the cane alcohol and some don’t make it home until Sunday night… if they leave on Friday. (Women do not usually drink alcohol.)
The majority of people live in traditional wood houses and many live in even more traditional flattened bamboo (called caña) homes. The majority of the income in Tabuga comes from machete work done for other large land owners. In addition, many families have small parcels of land where they grow bananas, passion fruits, java beans and yucca. The machete workers earn $5-7 per day. The average number of kids per family is 6 and their diets are almost solely plantains and rice. Plantains are a starchy, chewy, banana look-a-like that has almost no nutritional value. I don’t understand why plantains are so popular when Ecuador is the banana capital of the world. The more well off families buy eggs and chickens.
My volunteer experience here is very different than my time at El Pahuma, the rain forest, or what it will be like in the Galapagos. Lalo Loor Forest is located about 2 km from Tabagua, but since I am the only volunteer and they don’t want to completely isolate me, I will split my time working at the reserve and then helping out a former Peace Corps volunteer with various community projects. I will still stay at the reserve as that is really the only place in town for visitors. (No hotel or guest houses in Tabuga). The volunteer house is a bamboo and palm frond creation that can house up to 25 at a time. It doesn’t have electricity or running water. No heat. No air. No indoor plumbing, no hot water. When there are more volunteers, there is a cook too. When there is only 1–no cook, but I do get to go to Pendernales to shop for my breakfast and weekend food. I get to eat lunch and dinner in town. In the forest, I monitor animal behavior, go for hikes, search out birds, snakes, and insects. I am also helping to construct a staircase on one of the closed trails. I call it La Escalera de Michelle.
It gets dark about 5:30 pm…maybe a little earlier at the house due to its location in the forest. From about 6p-9p, I read by candlelight. [I found a Spanish language copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It’s slow going, but I am making my way through it, and its improving my Spanish language skills.] It also gets light about 5:30am. I wake up a bit earlier than that due to the howler monkeys that start their screaming about 4. Thank god for the siesta.
It’s been a rough last three days. Starting with the arrival back to Quito from the Amazon rain forest. Funny thing about Ecuador. You pretty much have to go through Quito to get to any other place in the country. The middle of the country is all mountainous and not fun at all to travel. So hot and humid meets cold and damp. A quick check into to my hostel [in the sketchy part of town] to drop off my stuff and off to the mall to buy supplies for the next part of the journey [mainly rubber working boots]. At 9p, a quick bite of pizza, and a [very short] slumber, I am off again…
A bonanza of modes of transportation in one day, and me with my giant backpack, little backpack, and plastic shopping bag with my rubber boots. Up at 3:30A to leave the Mindo cloud forest for the coast. Caught the early bus to Quito. Arrive in Quito and transfer to the trole station so that I can get to the OTHER bus terminal where the bus to the coast leave from. At 5:45am I am on the electric trole that runs through downtown Quito stopping every 200 feet or so to pick up more people.
Three troles later, I arrive in Quitumbe terminal to wait for the bus to Pedernales. The bus to Pedernales is a regular bus which is great beacause we are decsending through the Andes montains. Brakes are a good thing to have when you are decending from 10,000 ft all the way to sea level. At Pedernales, I transfer to a local bus–much less comfortable and much more crowded–so crowded in fact that I can’t get off at my stop and it takes 1km before I can get the driver to stop so that I can get off. Luckily for me a very nice girl offered to bring me back to my stop on her moto-bike. So its her doing the driving and me with my two backpacks and sack on the road. I’m sure it was a funny sight to see. Amazingly enough, we did not crash and I safely made it to the welcome center of the forest where I´ll be for the two weeks or so.
Some of the highlights of my new lodgings:
What they call it: Ecological toilet What it actually is: an out house–A very large hole in the ground with a toilet seat attached to a built up concrete platform. [outhouses still freak me out due to a very close call I had in one as a child involving a snake and a very full bladder]
What they call it: Environmental shower What it actually is: a hose hanging from the ‘ventilated’ building using rain collected from the rainy season [Yes, it is cold]
What they call it: Candlelit evenings What it actually is: citronella chic because the mosquitoes will eat you alive and take your bloody carcass to their lair [This province hasn’t had a single documented case of malaria in YEARS, but I still plan douse myself in 80% DEET when I am in the woods. Wait, what am I talking about, I’ll be living in the woods]
What they call it: no electricity What it actually is: no electricity– the house is constructed from bamboo so there are gaps in the walls, the roof is tin and palm thatches, also gaps in it, and birds and things can just fly through. Glad to have the mosquito nets, and glad that the cabin is elevated off of the ground.
This is the meaning of roughing it?
But in exchange I get 3 meals a day, a bed with mosquito nets, and a chance to do conservation education in a place that is just starting its conservation efforts. And I found out today that there is the chance that I will be able to go to the Galapogas Islands for a week for next to nothing–which would be awesome because tours to the islands are around $1000, which is definitely not in the budget.
2018 Michelle checking in here: The electric shower is a scary occurrence in several areas of central/south America. One one hand, I’m grateful for hot, flowing water; on the other hand, I was seriously scared for my life. BUT figuring out how to work this calamity was one of my greater travel achievements. I don’t think there will be electric showers in Rwanda, but if there are, it’s OK. I’ve figured that out once before.
Either this was such a traumatic experience for me before that I’ve put it out of my memory or this is some Colombian designed torture device; this is what greeted me the morning after my arrival to Bogotá.
It’s a large electrical time bomb hanging above my head; luckily all the ends of the electrical wires were covered in electrical tape. I have since found out that this is not always true nor is this device confined to Colombia.
5 steps to surviving an electric shower
Is it high enough so that you will not hit your head? I’ve had problems with showers before that were mounted for people no taller than 5 feet tall. Luckily, all the electrical showers I’ve encountered are way up there out of the way of an errant splash.
Are there any bare wires that could come in contact with water? Did you bring electrical tape? If not, a wash cloth and the sink might be the best option.
Get naked. Do your thing, and get out. If you have rubber soled sandals, wear them. This is not the time to reminisce about the day. Chances are the water won’t be at optimum temperature anyway. The only way I’ve found to control the temperature of the water is to control the flow of the water. There’s a science-y explanation for this but essentially the water needs time to roll through the metal plumbing to heat it up before it before comes out. So you can have warm water flowing like maple syrup in winter or cold water flowing like a fire hydrant. But not both. Your choice.
If the pop off valve does indeed pop off– DO. NOT. SCREAM. Like I did the first time this happened to me. Uninvited visitors will show up and cause some slight embarrassment. It is supposed to keep water from spraying up into the wires which could save your life,. However, I have found that they just pop off whenever they feel like it.
Yay! You are clean, but also soaking wet. How to turn off the faucet? You will only reach for the metal knobs once before muscle memory kicks in and you will remember why you never want to do in again. Nobody in these parts have ever heard of grounding wires. My suggestion is to have a small towel–hand towel sized–that you use for turning off the knobs.
No need to fear the electrical, non-grounded shower. I, like several before me have survived; you can survive it too.
An older post, from my private journal about my very first day night on the job right before I moved to Durham, NC for my ‘first’ adult job. 5 year ago. Also, it was the last time I did something ‘crazy, and unexpected’. Somehow, that was considered ‘responsible’ while taking some time off to explore seems ‘careless’. I’ve done a bit more research and decided that I am going to try to visit all 13 countries on the South American continent. I’ve been in touch with some volunteer outfits that will allow me to stay for free if I agree to work a certain amount of time each day. Win-win. My current plan–if you can call it that–is to arrive in Caracas, skedaddle on over to Colombia as quickly as possible, follow my way down the Pacific coast all the way down to the Beagle Channel, scoot back up the Atlantic coast, and hit the interior where it makes sense. I’ve currently got applications for a Bolivian and Brazilian visas in the works and for the rest of it, I’ll figure out things as I go along. I leave in 2 months; let’s get packing.
Reality is the first night on the job.
I have had a license to practice respiratory care in South Carolina for a whopping 8 days, and here I sit, at the hospital on a Saturday night, working. I am the only respiratory therapist in the building. God help us all if there in an EMERGENCY tonight. I am working with my favorite hospitalist, so that helps.
You know, I have never moved. I’ve done a lot of shuffling back and forth between here and there, but I have spent my entire life essentially within a 50 mile radius. (You know, other than when I lived in Mexico or spent the summer in UK) I am beyond nervous, somewhat excited, and generally hopeful that I haven’t committed a major fuck-up. My biggest fear is that I won’t be good enough or smart enough to handle taking care of actual sick people.
Here’s the thing… even though I worked at Hillcrest almost the entire time I was in school, spent time in ER and ICU, I can still count on my fingers the number of bona-fide emergencies I’ve been involved in because Hillcrest is a place for the not-well or those recovering from surgery. It is not a place for the actually dying or people in actual emergencies. There just not the equipment or sheer number of people needed to participated in a real life-or-death situation.
And I am going to work in a hospital with a Level 1 trauma center, a level 3 NICU, and very large PICU, and while I don’t know where I’ll eventually end up, I chose, I chose, PICU, NICU, and ER as my top 3 choices of where I’d like to work.
The reality of what I’ve done is starting to set in. I’ve packed up a month’s worth of clothes, a few books, my laptop, a sleeping bag, my kick-ass stereo that goes with me everywhere, and a sense of adventure. In the morning, after working a 12-hour shift, I’m moving to Durham, North Carolina where for a least the next year, I’ll be participating in a pilot residency program for newly graduated respiratory therapists. I’ve left Shadow, Spot, all my friends, and all the bad memories of the last few months behind.
And later that day…after driving 272 miles, crashing for a few hours in my sleeping bag in a hammock on the screened-in porch, and unpacking my paltry amount of possessions…
I’m living in a roughly 8 x 15 cement cinder block room in the basement of a rather large house. It’s double the size of a jail cell, slightly smaller than a dorm room. I have a minuscule closet, a wall full of wooden built-ins, and an old parquet floor. It looks like a hallway and furniture arrangement is going to take some, um, creativity. Lighting is awful; I have those old, tube fluorescent lights, and the tiniest of windows which I can’t even open. My guess is that it’s not a ‘legal’ bedroom, but whatevs, it’s cheap, and close to the hospital where I’ll be working.
The bathroom beside my room has clearly seen better days. It has a stand-up shower, a pedestal sink, and a toilet. The minimum. Rent is $282.50/month… which hopefully after a month or so of settling in, I can begin to save up money, pay off student loans, and finally take a vacation. I don’t even have a bed yet. I report to work at promptly 8:30am. It’s too late to turn back now. This is my new reality.
So I did a thing… well two things really if you count one of them as this blog. Well, three if you count having a milestone birthday… which I did today. The thing about milestone birthdays, at least for me, are indications that I should re-evaluate my life and see if I am on the path I want to be on. And while I love my job, it is not a job I want to be doing for the next 35 years. So here I am, re-evaluating my life’s plan.
Milestone birthdays–not just markers of time…
Adventure Adikt*, is my blog 2.0. I wasn’t really sure what to do with this re-incarnation of the blog. I started blogging way back in 2005 as a way to process my feelings about life and death, love and loss, endings and beginnings, and whatever else life was throwing at me. Back then, I’d just graduated college, moved to a new city, started my first job in healthcare working with teeny tiny babies and really sick children. I processed all those changes by writing. And traveling.
But I wasn’t ready to release those thoughts into the blog-o-sphere. So I blogged for me. It was essentially an on-line [but private] journal.
So here it is, a few years later. I’m still in healthcare. I have moved back to South Carolina. I want to buy a fixer-upper. Grad school is in my future although I still can’t decide between physician, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner, so until I do, I’m going to keep plugging along. And traveling. A lot. And writint to process my feelings.
In order to to avert my impending mid (?)-life crisis, I’ve decided to go public for the first time ever. I love my job. I love learning languages. I love history, the history of places, and the history of things. I love science–what it is now and what it used to be.
In a nutshell, my ‘new’, reformatted blog is a [very] vaguely chronological timeline of life events, travel, and mishaps along with some life lessons and musings thrown in for fun. Life is life. Adventure is still adventure, and wanderlust is still wanderlust; I’m trying to find new ways of having a bit of each in my every day.
The ‘other news’
While opening up the blog to the public is one attempt to stave off the potential mid life crisis, some may say I’m already in full blown crisis mode. Earlier today, as I am prone to do when I’m bored, I was surfing the ‘net for airline deals. And I came across a steal. Without truly thinking things all the way through, I jumped on it. I found a one-way flight from Charlotte to Caracas for $99. I bought it. Have I ever been to Venezuela? No. Have I ever even wanted to go to Venezuela? Not particularly. But I studied their history while in college. I speak the language. And I really do want to see Angel Falls. What else will I do? Who knows? Where will I stay? Not sure. Will I be kidnapped by narco-terrorists? I certainly hope not. And the big one– When will I come back? I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll hate it and only be gone a week. Maybe I’ll love it and try to figure out a way to stay permanently. Who knows? But follow along and see how this little adventure plays out.
I turned 30 today. It’s a big milestone. I’ve always thought of 30 year-olds as adults. I am nowhere near ready to be an adult. And truthfully, I’m freaking out just a bit.
*Why Adventure Adikt? I went through a lot of names [A Traveler Rests was one of them] before I decided on this one. Somehow, it just fit. And I like the word adikt better than the word junkie. I seek out adventure–in all ways, traveling to foreign countries to explore history and culture, hiking in my back yard and across the country, trying out new recipes in the kitchen, and life in general. My goal is to never stop learning and never stop adventuring… just never stop.
What is this place?
Hi, I’m Michelle and this is my own little corner of the interwebs where I write, share photos, and interact with others in the blog-o-shpere. So in addition to that–Who am I? I am –in one way or another– the following: hiker + backpacker + swimmer + pediatric respiratory therapist + registered nurse + avid traveler + cat parent + gardener + photographer + medical science junkie + adventure-seeker + DIY enthusiast + voracious reader + history and science nerd + football fanatic + aging athlete + wannabe chef + trying not to succumb to the trappings of a 9-5 life. And beginning in 2018, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Madagascar.
Everyday life doesn’t have to be routine. Anyone can do just about anything he or she wants to do– sometimes one has to find creative ways in doing it. Sometimes one has to tear down the barriers that might stopping them. Everyday is an opportunity to choose your own adventure. That is what I ultimately write about.