Tag Archives: wanderlust

The Return

I returned to Rwanda on January 22, 2019, but not as an active Peace Corps volunteer. It was a strange feeling… to return to the area I lived in yet not have a home. To speak the language [somewhat] yet know how much I’ve forgotten. To visit my banking town yet not have an active bank account at the present time. To visit my fellow volunteers who had to go to work, yet not have any actual work to do myself.

Kigali’s Convention Center–the most expensive building constructed on the African continent.

Rwanda is a small country that can easily be explored by a tourist in a week of so. In fact most tourist come to Kigali, go to a national park or two and go on to the next country on the list. I did that, but also found time to visit some of my fellow volunteers. In a situation where I don’t know if I’m returning to volunteering, I was a chance to have a little bit of closure. Being pushed out the country so quickly [there was only 36 hours between the time I was told I was leaving until I was on a plane] didn’t allow me to say good-bye to hardly anyone [in the village or to other volunteers]. This return allowed me to have a little bit of closure. And also gave me the opportunity to explore a little bit more of Rwanda

Lake Kivu…, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo

I made it over to Lake Kivu and explored parts of Nyungwe National Forest. I spend some time in the city where I could see the DRC, and went to Volcanoes National Park and climbed a volcano [and more importantly didn’t fall**]. I made it to Rwanda’s eastern border with Tanzania and safaried in Akagera. All these experiences were things I wanted to do while in Rwanda… Things I thought I’d have two years to do, but due to circumstances beyond my control, just didn’t happen.

I’m glad I went. I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience Rwanda on my terms. I’m glad I had the opportunity to say good-bye. In case I don’t make it back to Rwanda, I won’t feel as though I left things unsettled.

Among the hill in Northern Province… somewhere near Byumba

**My official diagnosis when I left the country was Morel- Lavalee Lesion of the left pre-patellar area. Due to the government shutdown, I have been unable to contact anyone at Peace Corps’ Medical headquarters to get approved for whatever treatment I may need. Truthfully, by the time I *DO* get in to see an orthopedist, the injury may have healed. A few days before I left was the first time I was able to put any weight on my left knee. I probably the only person in the history of Peace Corps’ to be medically evacuated because of a ‘bruise’ [what the PCMO said I had for nearly a month before agreeing to a MRI which proved that my injury was slightly more involved than a ‘bruise’]

Wanderlust

Wanderlust

I do not think that means what you think it means… Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride.

 

The English word “wanderlust” already existed in German dating as far back as High Middle German. The first documented use of the term in  English occurred in 1902 as a reflection of what was then seen as a characteristically German predilection for wandering that may be traced back to the  German system of apprenticeship, as well as the adolescent custom of the ‘Wanderbird’ seeking unity with Nature.

 

The term originates from the German words wandern (to hike) and Lust (desire). The term wandern, frequently misused as a false cognate does in fact not mean “to wander”, but “to hike.” Placing the two words together, translated: “enjoyment of hiking”, although it is commonly described as an enjoyment of strolling, roaming about or wandering.

 

I am a wanderer… both in the historic sense of the word and the modern.

 

I grew up an introvert, sensitive, an only child, and a bookworm with a keen desire to explore beyond my boundaries.  Pictures exist of me, I could not have been more than three years-old, packing a bag and leaving home. Of course, at three, I never really went anywhere. I saved the real adventure until I was five. [but that’s a story for another day].  I was athletic and sporty;  I lived for summer basketball and soccer camp.  Then later, volleyball and softball camp. I loved being away from home, hanging out on college campuses, and imagining when I would finally be able to leave my small town for good. I was 8 and already imaging life at 18.

I come from a long line of homebodies, inwardly jealous of friends and classmates who went to ‘the beach’ every summer. Or Disney World. Or anywhere really.  My dad’s idea of a vacation was a weekend trip to Atlanta to watch the Braves or a fall Saturday to Clemson or Columbia to watch college football. Week-long or even multiple week vacations were unheard of in my family.  My fondest junior high memory was of being left behind at Martin Luther King center in downtown Atlanta.  Upon returning from the restroom, my entire class was no where to be found. Cell phones were in their infancy; no one I knew had one. But I knew the city well enough, or at least how to get to the ballpark.  I was 13, and on my own in the big city (at least for a while). It. Was. Fucking. Awesome. Right then and there I knew I’d been bitten by the travel bug.

 

There’s a word in Korean that means the inability to get over one’s addiction to travel, a perpetual case of wanderlust. Once the travel bug has bitten, it indicates, there is no cure.

 The fixation with traveling that began with memorizing world capitals and drawing country flags on notebooks took on a life of its own. At 14, I managed to sneak away from home for two days, take the train to Baltimore, watch a baseball game, and get back home without my absence being noticed.  And once I’d gotten my driver’s license, the back roads and hiking trails of South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia became intimately familiar.  I was determined to go everywhere… working on a bucket list that didn’t yet have a name.

Chichen Itza

I’ve never been one to advocate for quitting one’s job in order to see the world. Yes, I have worked in jobs I hated and for companies I hated even more. I’ve worked in jobs or positions that I absolutely knew was just a paycheck.  But I knew that this was temporary. I was waiting for one or two thing to happen and then I was out of there.  I’ve always known that working these jobs would allow me to pursue my dreams.  I worked PRN-status for 10 years so that I’d be able to create my own schedule and take time off when I wanted to.  Everything I’ve done has contributed to my seemingly disparate goals of 1: seeing as much of the world as possible and 2: becoming a nurse practitioner.  One is not mutually exclusive of the other.

I got my first real job, other than the odd thing here and there, when I was 18.  It was working in a home improvement store where I learned to mix paint, use a commercial saw, and do basic electrical things.  I also had to count nuts and bolts by hand during inventory. I was by far the youngest person working there although there were a few guys that worked there on their college break. For most of my co-workers, this was there career.  They were satisfied with their two weeks’ vacation and only being closed three days a year.  I made nearly $5000 that first year; I had to file taxes and thought I’d amassed a fortune.  I made another $4000 working in a factory spring semester of my freshman year.  Oh God, how I hated that job. I sat there, loading parts on a machine, conjugating French, German, or  Spanish verbs in my head, thinking ‘this is why I’m in college…’

The ultimate goal was to earn enough money to spend my junior year of college studying abroad in some as-of-yet-undetermined major.[Spoiler alert: that never happened]

At 19, I had the chance to go to England for two weeks; I jumped at the opportunity.  When things didn’t go as planned, instead of coming home and working at the factory yet again, I stayed three months. I still have the journal I wrote it when I left Atlanta. It’s funny now… and telling.

“I’m on a plane to London via Amsterdam. I AM ON A PLANE.”

“I JUST ORDERED A BLOODY MARY FOR DINNER.  AND THEY BROUGHT IT. I HAVE ARRIVED*”

“TRAVELING IS AMAZING”

A series of travel mishaps later, I end up at the flat of a friend of a friend of a friend. The flat was empty. The landlord came and asked how I knew of this place. I told my story. No, I’d never met the previous tenant. Yes, I was only visiting. No, I didn’t want to rent it, but then, I was offered the deal of a lifetime–200 pounds/month for June, July and August for a 1 bedroom/1 bath in Stafford, England. My dorm room cost more than that. I said yes and after some international finagling of funds, I had $5000 transferred to me** and that is what I lived on that summer.

It’s not a gothic cathedral without stunning stained glass

That summer, I traveled. To Wales. To Scotland. To Ireland. And around England. I ate and drank in pubs. I learn to play darts. And cricket. And drink whisky. I met up with different people every week.  It was the life I’d always wanted. The day before I was to come back, I was in the pub with the friends I’d made this summer when I saw a guy I’d never seen before. He was scruffy and despite drinking a pint of Guinness, was clearly out of place of the regulars.  I went over, dart in hand, and said “hey, wanna play?”

His name was Nick or Mick. Or maybe it was Mark.  I don’t remember. He was from Australia. Or New Zealand. Those details are fuzzy now.  But he was well-traveled. Meeting up with a cousin before heading back home. Or something like that.  He was tanned in a way you can’t get in England and spoke of places like Chaing Mai, Siam Reep, and Angor Wat. I was mesmerized. And impressed. “Wow, you travel a lot.” He took a long swallow of his Guinness before answering me, foam still on his lips.

“Trying to. The world is an awfully big place and there’s always more to see.”

“That’s true.  Well, do you play or not.” I was trying not be be impressed by the late 20 something sexy stranger.

“Why not?”

“Good. You can be on my team.”

He told me about his running with the bulls in Spain and working on a farm in France. How he worked his way through Thailand and Vietnam. He told me about the spice markets in Istanbul and Marrakesh.  And about eating guinea pigs in Ecuador and piranhas in Brazil. I had never met anybody like him.  I had never met anyone who was doing what I wanted to do. I was spellbound.  Amid pints and double old fashions, he  grabbed me around my waist and pulled me away from everyone, kissed me hard on the mouth. At that moment, my world stopped. Mesmerized by those green eyes and mop of black hair. I had one throw left, and it was almost too perfect that I hit the bullseye to win.

I spent the rest of the night nuzzled in the pub, making out with the cute boy from far away, listening to his enticing travel tales telling myself that one day I’d be the one telling those tales. The details of that night have faded, but the feelings of knowing a life of adventures were waiting for me if only I had the courage to see it through has never left me.

 
*My very first alcoholic drink was at 30,000 feet flying over the Atlantic Ocean.  I have never felt more adult… more cool in my life than when I ordered and subsequently drank that first alcoholic drink

**International banking was a lot more complicated in the 2000’s than it is now.  I had $5000 wired to me and stashed the cash in a secret place in the flat. The secret place is the same secret place I stash cash in my current apartment.

Cats, Hemingway, and Key West

I have a confession to make that will put me squarely in the literary hall of shame–I have never, not even once, read a book by Earnest Hemingway.  It’s not as if I haven’t tried…I just find them incredibly boring, but to have been Hemingway, to have lived a carefree life of travel, whisky, women [ok, not interested in that part],  and writing, that part is appealing to me. And a giant house full of cats.  The only thing that keeps me from adopting all the strays in the hood is the fact that I do like to pack my bags and head out for a bit.  I can find kitty-sitters for  Lucy and Christopher; if I had 10 or so, it might be a bit more difficult.  Anyway, I digress…

Key West is well known for it’s unique and historic houses, but I’d wager the Hemingway House is the most popular if for no other reason than its former [and current] occupant[s].

hemingway house

The Hemingway House

The house was originally owned by Asa Tift, a marine architect and captain, who built the house in 1851. The estate didn’t become Hemingway’s home until 1931. He purchased the property, which by then had been boarded up and abandoned, for $8,000 in back taxes owed to the city.

Hemingway, his second wife, Pauline, and their two sons lived together in the house until 1940, when Hemingway left for Cuba. In 1951, Pauline (now his ex-wife) died leaving the house vacant, apart from the caretaker that lived on the property.

For the next ten years, Hemingway used the house as a place to stay during his trips between Cuba and his home in Ketchum, Idaho. When Hemingway died in 1961, his sons agreed to sell the estate.

During his years in Key West, Hemingway completed about 70% of his works including A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon and The Snows of Kilimanjaro. [of which, I’ve read none…hangs head in shame]

heminway study
I *might* could get some writing done in an office such as this.

After his death, the house sold at a silent auction for $80,000. A local business owner, Bernice Dixon purchased the house. She lived in the main home until 1964, when she moved into the guest house and turned Hemingway’s home into a museum. After Bernice’s death in the late 1980’s, the estate was passed onto her family who have kept the property open to visitors wanting to learn about the life of Ernest Hemingway.

My interest in visiting the Hemingway house was not because I’m a Hemingway fan , but because I love old architecture. I especially have a thing for buildings with wrap around porches and wooden shutters.

heminway house porch

Hemingway’s Cats

And the cats.  Oh yes, I knew all about the cats ahead of time. Any place that has cats roaming around is my kind of place. Each cat [and there are more than 40 fabulous felines roaming the house and grounds] has six toes or at least the genetic trait to pass on to future ancestors of Hemingway’s favorite pets. These polydactyl cats live all over the grounds. They were all born here and are completely used to camera wielding tourists. They can sleep through any shutter speeds, but occasionally want to be pet or scratched behind the ear.

During my walkabout the house, a cat pranced into the bedroom and clawed at the carpet [just like Lucy does]. She was permitted to do so [unlike Lucy]. She then plopped down at the feet a group of tourists … quite certain that no one would step on her [Much like Christopher. Cats really are the same no matter where you go]. Another cat was asleep on the master bed.

Hemingway cat 4

Legend goes that Ernest Hemingway was given a white six-toed cat by Captain Harold Stanley Dexter. Rumour has it six toed cats are good luck…kinda like cute little four leaf clovers. The gift-kitten was from a litter of the captain’s cat Snowball, who also had six toes.

Hemingway’s boys named their new kitten Snow White and as Hemingway once wrote, “one cat just leads to another”. Even today, some of the cats that live at Hemingway Home are descendants of the original Snow White.

hemingway-cat 3

Argghhhhh….I can’t even stand the cuteness of this guy.

There are so many cats at Hemingway’s house that the museum has its own veterinarian to care for them. How cool is that job. A Cat only veterinarian. Sign me up! Cats, unfortunately, do not live forever. However, there is Cat Cemetery behind the house where one can pay respects.

Hemingway House, cat 5
This guy looks just like my sweet Kaos.

Tybee Island

Tybee Island is one of the few places in the world [London is another place, but it requires an airplane ticket as it is much further away] that I return to on a regular basis. In the last 20+ years, I’m certain that I’ve covered the entire island on foot. The boyfriend and I have been there a few times… once in winter, twice in spring, and once when it was a miserable 110 degrees and the sand was too hot to walk on. I’ve taken family trips there. I’ve been to Tybee on Spring Break solo.  It’s a perfect beach for me.  Not crowded. Not commercialized. And close to one of my top 5 favorite cities in the USA.

Tybee Island’s Landmarks

The fishing pier

Tybee Island Pier

Tybee has a fantastic fishing pier. Sometime people even fish from it. I , like many other couples I’ve seen, have made out with my boyfriend at least once on the pier. I’ve hung a hammock from the underside and watched waves roll in. And I definitely have used it as a guide when I’ve gone kayaking. Tybee is a great place to learn ocean kayaking. The waves are never to rollicking and the currents are usually gentle.

Tybee Island Lighthouse

tybee lighthouse sunset
There’s also a lighthouse on the north end of the island. You can tour the grounds and even climb up the 143 steps to the top. I’d recommend not doing that in August, when it’s over 100 degrees though. That’s what I did, and I almost passed out from heat exhaustion.

below-the-tybee-island-lighthouse
Looking up at the lighthouse gives an idea of just how tall it is

Cockspur Lighthouse

There’s another lighthouse on the island too…Cockspur Lighthouse. As far as lighthouses go, Cockspur is quite tiny, measuring only 46 feet from base to the top of its cupola. But this structure is no slouch; it has endured high tides, hurricanes, waves from ever-growing container ships, careless individuals, vandals and – for a deafening 30 hours – the bombardment of nearby Fort Pulaski during the Civil War.

Cockspur-Lighthouse1

Remarkably, the lighthouse suffered little or no damage during the April 10, 1862, Union bombardment of Fort Pulaski. Crews manning 36 guns on 11 batteries stretching along the western end of Tybee Island likely used the lighthouse for sighting as they pounded away at the fort located about 1 mile beyond.

The Cockspur Lighthouse is one of the five surviving historic lighthouses in Georgia. It was re-lit in March 2007.

Ft Pulaski

ft pulaski

Fort Pulaski National Monument is located on Cockspur Island near the mouth of the Savannah River. Fort Pulaski was constructed between 1829 and 1847 [Robert E Lee was one of the principle engineers] to defend the port city of Savannah from foreign attacks and invasion. However, early in the American crisis that became the Civil War [or as some say–The War of Northern Aggression], Georgia state troops seized this masonry fortification.

On April 11-12, 1862, [exactly one year after the events at Ft Sumter] events at Fort Pulaski forever changed defensive strategies worldwide. Union forces deployed bullet-shaped projectiles from rifled artillery batteries on Tybee Island. After only 30 hours of bombardment the 7.5 foot thick brick walls of the fort were breached and the Confederates surrendered.

Today, the fort is a remarkably well preserved example of 19th century military architecture.

Ft Pulaski wall

Tybee Turtles

tybee turtle hatchlings

The Tybee Sea Turtle Project is a conservation project on the island. Its goal is to ensure hatchlings on Tybee have the best chance for survival. The average length of incubation is 60 days and so observation of the nests becomes a part of the daily dawn patrol. As a nest’s hatching time approaches, cooperators are assigned to “nest sit” during the night until that nest has hatched and the hatchling turtles make their way to the ocean. Loggerheads are the most numerous turtles on the east coast, but their population is still in decline. Nothing makes me happier than to see hatchlings headed towards the sea.

turtle tracks

 

Best.Day.Ever

Today just happens to be my birth day.  I just happen to be in Italy.  It happens to be Carnavale.  How is this my life?

You know, I was thinking back to this day last year.  It pretty much sucked.  The lowest of the low. It was the last day I ever talked to my dad.  On my way home from the hospital, I saw my then-boyfriend riding around with another chick in his truck.  Then called him and said ‘what the actual fuck is goinig on?’ We broke up that day. A mere 365 days later, I am in Italy. I’ve been to the Olympics.  I’ve explored a medieval castle.  I’ve consumed more wine than I can remember. I’ve participated in Carnavale in Firenze.  I bought a masquerade mask.

carnavale

carnavale maks

I took a train ride through the Alps.  I kissed an Italian.  And I still have three weeks left on my Italian vacation.  I’m going to Rome. And Naples. And exploring Pompeii.  Maybe I’ll learn more than a few words in Italian.  Maybe I’ll learn to cook.  Maybe I’ll become a expert wine drinker.  Maybe I’ll ride on a Vespa.  Who knows what will happen.  This I know for sure:

  • Italy is awesome.
  • The Winter Olympics are amazing.
  • The Alps are amazing
  • The history is exciting.
  • The food is orgasmic.
  • Snacks are orgasmic.
  • Gelato is orgasmic.
  • People are friendly.
  • And so full of life.
  • I could probably live here.
  • I could never dress as well as Italians do
  • I could never wear high heels like those Italian women do

But today is my birthday.  And this is what I did…

–>I concocted the best [portable] meal I could conceive of…
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a small vat of green olives, a passel of green grapes, fresh bread, chucks of cheeses, clementines, and a large vat of Chianti.  Throw in a view of the Mediterranean and it is quite simply amazing.

–>I took a train from Rome to Sorrento
–>I had an amazing meal
italian-dinner

 

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What an incredible way to celebrate another trip around the sun.

Adios, Huanchaco

Querido Huanchaco,

I am leaving you, and although I am a little bummed, I am not entirely sad about it.  We’ve been together for a while now–three whole months and part of another.  That’s the longest I have stayed with anyone (other than Campeche–but you don’t need to know about him).  You were good to me.  You introduced me to so many cool people from all parts of the world.  You have given me opportunities that I don’t know I would have gotten anywhere else such as establishing a clinic and helping to organize an art exhibition.  As a memento of my visit,  I am leaving you a clinic.  I have no illusions that it will actually survive when I am gone although do hope the printed material and posters will at least hang around a bit.

You allowed me to stay in an awesome apartment with an amazing roommate (Hey, Emily) and cool vecinos (Hola, Cameron and Corinna).  I learned about supply and demand of hot water in the desert and learned to love life with out electronics or ice.  [The ice part wasn’t too hard, and I learned how to rig up a system for music] But everyone you have introduced me to has already gone, too.  Don’t worry.  You’ll soon be full of Peruvian vacationers and party-surfer-dudes from all over the world.  Summer is coming and that’s your time to shine.

Huanchaco, we had some good times like dancing at the BeachHouse, bonfires on the beach, hanging out in the apartment, parties celebrating Halloween and Thanksgiving in the apartment with 30 or so people, clubbing at AMA, watching real ‘football’ in Trujillo, but there will be some things I am glad to leave behind.

Like how you think I am stupid because I am a white girl. I know it is only 1.20 soles to the mall (and sometime only 1 sol) , not the 1.50 you ask for every single time. Or how you think I will just hand over money because it’s a “fee”. Come on, I have been here too long for that. Another thing I won’t miss is how you think that just because I am walking, I am looking for a taxi [beep…  beep]. I won’t miss how you stop in front of me or your insane sirens, but what I will miss is how close you are to the ocean (I have never lived a block and a half from the beach before), that you are probably the safest town in Peru, how I can walk back to the apartment at 2 or 3 in the morning and not feel threatened at all… In that way you remind me of Due West, and that I will miss. There is a big wide world out there, and I need to explore it. So adios, Huanchaco, I am headed to south.

CouchSurfing in Ecuador

So what exactly is couchsurfing?

CouchSurfing is a program that is kinda like a cultural exchange where you stay with a local on his/her couch (bed, futon, whatever) and they show you a bit about their city. I first heard of the program prior to leaving, but haven’t really had the opportunity to use it. About a month ago, while in Quito, I met another traveler who used couch-surfing about 80% of the time while traveling and had 0 issues with it.  I am usually pretty cautious with where I sleep at night, especially since I am traveling as a single female, but hearing her stories convinced me to give it a try.

So here I am…

currently in Loja, Ecuador with my first couch surfer.

His name is Jamie; he’s quite cute and also is very nice…  I’m not going to lie, it was a little bit awkward–probably more for me than for him. Jamie has a small, but clean one-bedroom/ one bathroom apartment in a centrally located area of Loja. He insisted that I take the bed while he slept on the couch. My first night there he cooked dinner, and it was amazing.  I was tired and after dinner he went to a pub to catch a soccer game.  The next morning, he showed me around central Loja and gave me tips about visiting Vilcambaba and Cajas National Park.  It’ was kinda like staying with a friend–who happens to be a stranger. I ‘m not sure I could be as nice and helpful to a complete stranger, but I most certainly appreciate it.  By couchsurfing you not only save money because it is forbidden for a host to charge for the couch , but you also learn things about the city that you probably would not have found out on your own.

I stayed with Jamie for almost a week and at the end of my stay, I bought him a weeks’ worth of groceries as a thank-you, and on my morning out of town, he took me to a fresh juice / health store where you pick what fruits you want and they juice them and serve them fresh… I would have never found that on my own, but my pineapple orange juice was excellent. I don’t think I could do an entire trip by couchsurfing, but it is a nice change of pace when I get tired of hostels.  I will probably couch surf again at some point (and while nothing in life is 100% safe, Couchsurfing admins do take precautions about how the site is run).

Sometimes I still feel as if I am in the beginning stages of my journey because I spent a large part of this trip sort of away from civilization (good and bad), but with my arrival in Cuenca on Tuesday that began to change.  I actually met other travelers.  One lady was traveling with her teenage son–sort of a variation of home schooling.  She enrolled her daughter in University of Quito for $1200 semester and her son is in Spanish class in Cuenca… after a bit of that, they will go down to Machu Piccu to get in a history lesson or two. I think that would be the perfect way to educate children. They still have a schedule of what they must cover for the 9th grade, but they can do it however they want, and what better way to study World History than traveling the world.

I met another guy who is riding his bicycle! from Alaska to Argentina. He has been at it 15 months and figures to finish in February or so. I think that takes serious guts because pretty much once you cross into Mexico, drivers (and roads) suck… Every two weeks or so he pulls into a town on his bike to relax, go to Spanish school, do some hiking, stock up on supplies, ect… I think that is so cool, but I could never do that. I met another US retiree who is traveling to find out where to move. He said he is tired of the way the politics and healthcare in the US are run and is ready to sell the condo in FL and get out…

I have also met a girl from New Zealand (who loved my Southern accent) who was about to return home after traveling a year. Most everyone I have met has had some type of interesting story about what they are doing–which is nice to hear about…

 

 

Lalo Loor Dry Forest

My volunteer experience at Lalo Loor dry forest 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. It’s a new, unique concept where large landowners allow the Ecuadorian government to use their land for conservation, but technically still own in.  Lalo Loor was one of the first of these public-private partnerships and probably one of the more successful ones.   Lalo Loor’s owner has branded the area as a ‘research’ area, and to be fair, the dry forest, is a pretty unique ecosystem 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, not 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 Perdenales 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.

Little Bastard

 

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:

  • Jaguarundi
  • Howler Monkey
  • Ocelot
  • Tayra
  • White front capuchin monkey
  • chestnut mandibled toucan
  • choco toucan
  • Ecuadoran Trogan
  • Grey back hawk
  • Hook-billed kite
  • Palamandibled Aracari
  • Red Mask Parakeet
  • Boa Constrictor
  • Equis
  • Blue Morpho Butterfly
  • Helicopter Damselflies
  • and several species of orchids

Stopping by Swansea

After starting in the North, and making my way down south via Anglesey and Pembrokeshire, I have arrived in Swansea. Swansea’s, in south Wales,  first settlement was a Norman castle in 1099 during the reign of William the Conqueror. The city developed as a major port for the south Wales coal mines from 1700. Today, it is the 2nd largest city in Wales behind Cardiff. It is located on the beautiful Gower Peninsula – the United Kingdom’s first designated “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”.

 

part of the Gower peninsula

Gower Peninsula

 

With its abundance of high quality coal, Swansea became the copper smelting capital of the world, producing nearly 65% of the worlds copper. When deposits dwindled, the raw copper was then imported from as far afield as Chile. With the number of sailors that had endured the journey around South America, they soon became known as the “Horners” [from having to travel around Cape Horn in Patagonia] and a pub near the docks is still called “The Cape Horner”.

The area known as the Mumbles

Swansea also claims the first ever passenger railway, the old Mumbles railway which skirted its way around Swansea bay, but sadly, this was dismantled in the 1960’s.  However, Mumbles is still quite the destination as it has more than 100 restaurants and shops on the west side of Swansea Bay, and if the timing is right, the Mumbles Oyster Festival is one of the only ones in the United Kingdom.  If oysters are your things, prepare to suck them down.

Brandy Cove

Swansea is also the home of writer Dylan Thomas and there are a few monuments to him.

Dylan Thoma’s writing shed

Although I didn’t spend a lot of time in the city, Swansea was interesting enough to pass a couple of days in on my way to Cardiff.