Thursday, June 11, 2009
Our day started around 7:45 when we all piled into the cars and headed to UWI (the University of the West Indies) to hear a lecture from Dr. Brinsley Samoroo on the history of Trinidad and Tobago. After fighting our way through rush hour traffic headed to the Port of Spain, we finally arrived at 9am and learned about the discovery of the Trinidad by Christopher Columbus and the numerous groups of people brought to the islands to be labourers on the cocoa and coffee plantations- Amerindians (indigenous people), Africans, Chinese, and East Indians. He lectured for about an hour and then we asked a few questions. After, we walked around the campus and finally found ourselves at a coffee shop where we all ordered either strong, hot coffee or smoothies and food. Once we got back to Simla (our researcg station), we did the usual for lunch (sandwiches, cereal or other grabbable lunch items) and settled down to a brief lecture by Doc (well, it was suppose to be brief, but a few tangents led it to be about 105 minutes long instead of 60. After lecture we visited a pond out back and looked at some amphibian foam nests (which, unfortuneately, were laid in a pool of water that was drying up) and then broke for a few hours to give the students time to study for their exam (which is Thursday). Dinner consisted of red beans and rice, fried plantains, and corn/carrots and green peas.
Okay, now on to the SUPER EXCITING PART! After dinner we drove about an hour and a half to the coast to look for sea turtles. Now, we have looked for sea turtles before (as agroup and individually in Tobago), so none of us were really holding our breath. But, we found them. And, not just some, but maybe 10-15. We saw several mothers struggling up the beach, some already up the beach digging deep nests for eggs, some headed back after laying and we even saw hatchlings come out and head to the water!! The turtles were leather backs (the largest, I believe) and looked so majestic and surreal on the beach. We were really careful not to disturb the ladies while they dug their nests or ascended the beach. We did stay and watch one turtle dig a deep nest and sat there silently for thirty minutes or so while she laid her eggs (the eggs were about the size of a baseball, pure white and she laid more than 50!). The hatchlings were adorable- so small they could fit in the palm of your hand. It was truly a magical experience (as Whitney said, "This is better than DisneyWorld." The ride home was late- we didn't get home until after 12:30- and the drive was rather quiet. I am not sure if the silence was because the students were sleeping or because every one was just digesting the experience. If you have never seen a sea turtle- DO IT. Really, it was amazing!
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Today was pretty strenuous but a good one overall. Tim, Liz, and I began the day by waking up at 5am to meet our guide at 6 to make the four hour trek up Cerro Del Arippo, which is the tallest peak in Trinidad and Tobago. Yes this was a free day, no it wasn’t a punishment, and yes we did pay for it (physically as well as our wallets). We meet Cristo near our house and once I saw him I knew it was going to be a good hike. I hope we can attach a picture, but all I saw from the car was a man wearing military issue black boots with green pants tucked into them, a darker green sleeveless shirt tucked into that, a camouflage hat, a large machete attached to his belt, a green backpack (which I later learned actually said diesel on it) and he was about 5’9” 220. If I had passed this guy on the street, I probably would have crossed to the other side or turned around…quickly. But upon meeting him he seemed like a really nice guy as we drove up to the hiking spot. He is a local shaman (medicine man) in the town near where we are staying and in the 15 minute ride to the hiking spot proceeded to tell us a lot about not only his practices but other tourists and the students he works with from Trinity College (Conn.).
For those of you who don’t know Liz, I kindly refer to her as a preschooler with a Masters degree, and even before we got into the mountains she looked like a 3 year old girl who had been told that she could pick out what she wanted at Toys’R’Us. Tim and I were also excited, but we are not the early risers that Liz is. The hike started at a pretty good pace but we would frequently stop to ask questions, take pictures, and drink water. Some views were good but we were mostly surrounded by trees and could not see a whole lot of the surrounding area. Once at the top we took a lunch break of peanut butter sandwiches that Tim and I slaved over to make for everyone except Cristo, who allowed us to share half of his homemade pita and sausage/meat sandwhich/thing (I’m bad at remembering names). Anyways afterwards Cristo was able to chop us a path with his machete to look for golden tree frogs, which only occur on two mountain tops in T&T and only live in tank bromeliads, so in otherwords they are really rare and hard to find. After little luck finding any frogs Liz decided to try her hand with the machete, which was a little embarrassing. Cristo made it look easy and basically seemed to cut down most small branchs and bamboo with a flick of the wrist, but this technique did not work for Liz. She went for the two handed and full body technique, which still didn’t seem to work out a whole lot. After having a good laugh at her we trekked back down the mountain. After numerous falls and laughter, even with Cristo-made walking sticks (which are awesome), we finally made it back down the mountain covered in mud, sweat, and not smelling the best (esp. Tim man that guy sweats and he decided to wear a long-sleeve shirt as well as pants…). We were all quite pleased with our accomplishment and enjoyed the workout at the least. We dropped Cristo off back at his house (which was a 20 min drive and both Tim and I fell asleep) and then picked up groceries for the rest of the crew. We got back, showered, ate, read, hung out, and called it a night. In the end a good day and I think at least the three of us will sleep very soundly tonight.
For our free day, people decided to do their own thing for the most part. For Heidi and Ben, this meant building a sandman. It was like one of the sand mermaids that everyone and their mother makes when they feel like trying their hand at bass relief at the beach, but it looked more like a Rastafarian that got hit with the Joker’s crazy smiling potion from the original Batman. Ben was happy to see that a crab had made a home in the ear later, but there isn’t much more to say about that. Given that this entry is made way past the date on which it should have been written, no one else really remembers what they were doing that day. As I recall, people mostly just chilled out around the cabin and read. I’m about to finish my third book by this point, and at least three or four other people are too. We read quite a bit. The only true account that I can give is my own, given that I was alone most of the day. Background for my story: Saturday night, the Coral Cay guys staying in the cabin that separated ours had a big “anything but clothes” party. In short, it was hysterical. The party was fantastic, and about half of our number went and had fun. I talked with a guy who I’d met at their Saturday party last week (They only get Sunday off), and Swiss, the Swiss Tobago-an, said he would take me out scuba diving the next morning. Having a dive license, I’d been looking for a place to do it, and given that Swiss’s dad founded the best and oldest shop on the island, it seemed like a great idea. Unfortunately, his compressor went on the fritz the next morning, he forgot to pick me up, and I had to hitch a ride to Speyside. After a very very fast drive from and Indian guy who doesn’t believe in speed limits, I found that Swiss’s dive shop was done taking people out of the day, but given that he felt guilty for forgetting to pick me up, Swiss called all the people he knew to see if I could get out. Everywhere failed, and I ended up waiting for a Rasta named Spencer to get back from a trip. After being forced into a chat with Andy King of Fruits, knocking over a banana tree (oops), and missing the bus I intended to take back to Charlottesville, I found that there were no more dives with Spencer either. Cool guy though. I ended up hiking over a hill, getting shocked by a bad lamppost along the way, and snorkeling off the beach of Blue Waters Inn. It wasn’t great, due to the fact that I couldn’t get a boat out to a good snorkeling place, but it was an interesting day. I had some trouble finding my way home, but a nice French couple gave me a ride. The man spoke no English, and the woman spoke a little, but it was nice. Go hitching sometime- It’s fun.
Thursday June 4, 2009
This morning everyone woke up relatively early because we wanted to walk around town, the beach, and take in the last hours of life in Charlotteville. Due to some communication mix-up, we ended up being kicked out of our cottages a day early, and had to relocate to a hotel near the airport in Crown Point. After taking a group picture, we crowded into the cars amongst all of our luggage and set out for a long car ride. We were all very sad to leave Charlotteville because we all made many connections in the town. For two weeks, the slow paced beach neighborhood felt like home, and the busy city of Crown Point was a rude wake-up call. This sounds like a bad morning- and true, we were sad to leave our 2-week home by the beach, but we ate Subway for lunch and the new hotel had TV and air conditioning. Plus, a short walk from the hotel was a nice area with many souvenir shops. For dinner, we walked in search of an open restaurant of ethnic food, but settled with delicious pizza; a nice ending to an enjoyable fortnight in Tobago.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Today was my favorite day since we arrived! We all got up early and drove up to the Asa Wright Nature Center to bird watch. We got there around seven twenty and went out onto this big veranda over looking Arima Valley. Larkin and I counted a total of fourteen different species of birds that we saw just in that one sitting. My personal favorite was the Green Honeycreeper. It was bright turquoise! I also really liked the blue gray tanagers, which are a light Carolina blue color. Around nine we got a guide and walked down into the rainforest on one of the nature center’s hiking paths. Our wonderful guide’s name was Mollie. She was awesome. We saw a lot of neat things on the hike but my favorites were the mating leks and dances of two different species of Manakin. Also, Aaron, Trip, Ben, Liz, and myself all ate termites!!! They taste like really potent carrots. After our hike our guest for the day Nicola joined us! Upon arriving home we all ate and then Heidi and I decided to lay in the front lawn and try to get some sun. It was sunny for a little while but we mostly ended up laying in the rain, but it felt very refreshing so we stuck it out rather than going inside. For our afternoon session we went back up to Asa Wright and did another hike. We hiked down to the Arima River, spotting frogs and flowers, and birds along the way. After our hike we all went in a fresh water pool for a dip! We rounded out our day with a hardy meal of hot dogs, baked beans, and watermelon. Ben attempted to shoot a watermelon seed out the door of our cabin… he failed but overall our day was a success! : )
Early Friday morning, I got up to join Whitney, Heidi, Larken, and Chase for a run around town for my first and last time. Trying to keep up with Whitney was a mistake, and I quickly burnt out. After a quick rinse in the outdoor shower, which I discovered the day before hidden behind a tree branch behind our cabin, we listened to a two-hour lecture about brood parasites, birds that sneakily lay their eggs in the nests of other species. The unsuspecting hosts often raise these intruders as their own, if they don’t identify the foreign eggs and eject them out of the nest first. We also learned about the six biogeographical regions established by Alfred Russel Wallace. According to this system, we are in the Neotropics while North and Central America are in the Nearctic region, which is separated from the Neotropics by the Isthmus of Panama. Lunch after class was an event—it was the first day that we had doubles, sold to us for $4TT each, by an Indian vendor who, by popular demand, returned every class day for the rest of our stay in Tobago. In the afternoon, we loaded up in the vans and followed the winding hillside roads halfway across Tobago to Argyle Falls in Roxborough. After paying a small entrance fee, we met a guide who led us down a short trail through a former cocoa plantation to see the falls. On the way we passed a stand where a Rastafarian craftsman was selling hand-carved bamboo bowls, cups, and wall hangings. On the way back from the falls, a few people in our group bought tall bamboo cups carved with sea turtles, hummingbirds, and other tropical designs. Soon after, we reached Argyle falls, which consists of three falls, each with a clear pool full of silver fish with bright gold and black spots. We climbed up a steep path to the top of the falls, then back down to the lowest pool, which was the best for swimming. Most of us descended along a path so steep that we had to hold onto a long rope that ran the entire length of it as we lowered ourselves down. The braver ones skipped the path altogether and jumped from the top of the lower waterfall into the deep pool below, a good thirty foot drop at least. After relaxing in the pool and showering in the heavy waterfalls, we returned to Charlotteville for dinner. In the evening, we headed down to the beach bar just off the cottage grounds, which, as we’d heard from many the locals, was supposed to be the place to go on a Friday night. I guess we got there early though, because we had the concrete dance floor all to ourselves. As she had done a couple nights before, Liz danced with each of us, trying to teach us some ballroom moves. Due to our complete incompetence as far as dancing goes (for the most part—Ben’s got some moves of his own), she usually ended up taking the guy’s part, throwing bewildered people around the dance floor, making them look like they might actually know what they’re doing due to her strong lead. By the end of the night, Liz and I had nailed the tricky “Pretzel,” a series of spins that Heidi taught her a few nights earlier. We all had a great time hanging out and dancing, even though we seemed to be the only ones, and got some weird looks from locals sitting at the bar. After a fast late-night walk through town, up and down the hills of Charlotteville (I’m sure we got a few more strange looks), we returned to the cottages to get ready for our weekend off.
Hi all- there has been a lot of guest blogging in the recent week, but this one is just me (Elizabeth, the TA).
So, today was our first free day in Trinidad. Doc (the nickname I have used for Dr. Lehtinen for a number of years and now several students have picked up on), Ben and Aaron all tackled el Tucuche today. This is the second highest mountain on the island (just behind el cerro del Aripo, but only by about 4 meters). Their hike started super early (left the cabin around 5am) and continued until after 6pm when they finally arrived home, stinky, tired, and happy. They were hoping to see the Golden Treefrog which only occurs on the two highest peaks here in Trinidad and no where else in the world, but no luck. All three of them dropped into bed early.
While Doc and the two boys were trecking up a mountain, the rest of the crew decided to head into Port of Spain (the largest city). I drove everyone down to Arima (the closest town to Simla where we are staying) and we all used public transportation to get the rest of the way into POS. After the hour plus bus ride to the city, we were all hungry and craving some local flavor. Most of us tried "Roti" which is sort of an Indian burrito. It is a bread that is soft and spongy (somewhat like soggy naan for the Indian foodies out there), and it is packed full of potatoes and meat and curry. You can get it with pepper (which is SOO hot) or without which is slightly bland. The major downfall of roti is that the meat is not de-boned. So those of us who ordered chicken roti were munching through on bones with what felt like every other bite. About half of the group liked it, half thought it was gross and they never wanted to eat it again.
After food, we split into two groups. Chase, Tim, Whitney, Heidi, and myself decided to wander around the city, sample all street vendor food and do a little shopping. Larken was the ring leader in charge of the other group and led Trip, Emily, Alex B, and Alex V. toward the museum and zoo. Unfortunately for that group, the places they were hoping to see were closed on Monday. They walked around for awhile and decided to catch a movie- surprise surprise- it was Angels and Demons (apt since most of the group spent the two weeks in Tobago reading the book and passing it off to the next person). As I mentioned, my group made it somewhat of our goal to sample street food. First, we had a snow cone which was half guava and half pineapple flavored (absolutely delicious!!). Next, we had cashews that were honey roasted. Shopping was a lot of fun. Whitney and Heidi bought everything they could lay their hands on. Okay, not really, but both did try on a lot of clothes and each settled on two dresses to buy. We all bought lots of souvenirs.
After a day of walking around the city, we were tired and hot. We caught a bus back to Aripo and everyone gorged themselves on Pizza Hut and TCBY. Yes, I said Pizza Hut and TCBY- sometimes you just crave American classics.
Tomorrow is another free day, so stay tuned, there should be good stories and adventures to report.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
As I went into Charlottville to get the boats, I discovered that no one was around at the shop, Tobago Kayak Experience. I was deeply disappointed. So, I went to find some locals who might know what the situation was or how to get another kayak. It just so happened that the first person I asked was in fact deaf, making the situation extremely awkward for both of us. So naturally the woman across the room called me over to see what it was I wanted. She just so happened to be an albino, but had good information none the less. She gave me the phone number of the shop owner and I finally got a hold of him.
We ended up renting two tandem kayaks and one single; Heidi and Emily in one, Trip and Larkin in the other, and me in the single. As we were starting our adventure it started to rain, but Peter, the shop owner, assured us that this would not hamper our excursion in the slightest. As we set off the rain lessened to a mist and it was a perfect overcast sky. I was happy for these weather conditions because it was not blistering heat or sun.
We paddled up the leeward coast towards the island that looked so tempting from our beach. The water on the inland side of the island was shallow enough to scrape paddles on, but quickly dropped out of site. Team dynamics seemed to be working well till Trip wanted to try a bit of snorkeling from the boat. Larkin would not let any exiting happen for safety reasons. This was probably a good idea.
At this point I was experiencing some technical difficulties with my rudder, so I called everyone over and we rode ashore on one of the many remote beaches. I stopped and adjusted my petals. Trip and I then went to work on repairing the broken rudder on his boat. With the use of a piece of rope we found on the beach, we jimmy rigged the cable system to a prime working condition. We then shoved of to continue the quest.
After a bit more paddling, and a slight run aground on a rock, the ocean started to get the best of our stomachs. We began our paddle back to the shore back around the island and through the bay. Just next to the island a small hawksbill turtle poked its head up, and a school of tuna swam beneath my boat. As we pulled into the bay I considered going off to explore Pirates Bay since I was still feeling great and full of energy, but being alone in the ocean was not that appealing to me. We dropped off our boats and made our way back to the cottages. It was a completely successful trip.
Later that night we found out that the Coral Cay cottage was having a party after a week of hard diving. Apparently the theme was “anything but clothes”. What this meant was we were to make an outfit out of anything that was not a real article of clothing. The high light costumes were made of anything from curtains, to pillow cases, to class notes. It was a great time socializing with our neighbors, getting to know them and what they were doing. Friendships were made, and good times were had. It was a very eventful and satisfying day.
Friday, June 5, 2009
Today, we met as a whole to begin discussing our group field projects. Chase and Tim are continuing their I.S. topics- Chase with Whitney and Aaron and Tim with Alex B. Ben, Emily and Trip are observing the call of the Bloody Bay Poison Frog on different rivers. Larken, Alex V. and I are bird watching on Flagstaff Hill and noting the different bird species at varying altitudes along the hill. Half way during class, the Doubles guy showed up! If you haven't already heard, the Doubles guy is an Indian who drives around in his car selling the most delicious Indian food snack out of his trunk. It's a doughy fried pita with a chick pea mixture and mango chutney or even hotter sauce. We waited outside in heavy rain just for the Doubles. That is dedication.
A few of us went into town to use the internet at a dive shop/laundry shop/internet cafe for 10 T&T dollars for half an hour. Right next door is a small homemade icecream shop owned by the internet cafe owner's wife. There was banana, coconut and chocolate-not like American chocolate, but still delicious. Not to mention the woman's cute daughter who wanted to go home with Chase, Whitney, Larken, Ben and I. On a sidenote, Monday was the day that I found out Nadal lost in the 4th round of the French Open...devastating.
For the rest of the day until dinner time, the groups prepared for their field work or went to their various sites and started data collection. Typical lounging around activities include eating watermelon and pineapple, playing cards-spit, war, spoons, etc-reading our text books or other books-Angels and Demons, The Shadow of the Wind, Lamb, Catch-22, Harry Potter 5, In the House of Spirits, and more-swimming in the sea, laying on the beach, walking to Pirate's Bay, walking around town, or napping. Most of us try to be outside as much as possible.
In cottage #5 (Whitney, Larken, Emily, Alex V. and me), we made a decadent dinner full of local flavors and fresh produce...mac n' cheese, canned baked beans and canned corn. Don't worry, we ate fresh fish a few nights. After gourging ourselves on very American food, we became very nostalgic for American ice cream, chocolate, and volcano cake; mostly ice cream. So we walked into town in search of ice cream, found none, but did find our British neighbors from the Coral Cay Observatory right in between cottages 5 and 2. They are a group of about 16 divers from England (and 1 from NYC) who have been in Charlotteville for times ranging from 10 weeks to 2 weeks and have been charting the reefs in the sea around the town.
Then, all of us, except Dr. Lehtinen, played the game 500 in the yard by our cottages, a few watched. It's a game involving a football, lots of scurrying to catch it, points awarded to who does, and violent tackling when the words 'dead or alive' are called out. I chose to watch rather than be elbowed in the nose. 3 of our good British friends-Naiome, Charlie and Josh-came to play and watch. After most people went to bed, Ben, Trip and I stayed and chatted with our British friends about school, movies, varrying accents across England, random things, and mostly ghost stories and scary movies. At one point, "manky dog" ran towards our group during one of Ben's ghost stories, scaring Charlie out of his whits. Hilarious.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Thursday May 28
As mentioned in last night’s entry, this morning started with the students’ first quiz. Everyone seemed a little tired after the quiz, so we took a little break before diving into any new lecture material.
Aaron’s birthday is today, so last night I made a cake for him as a surprise (which was definitely an endeavor) and during the break Dr. L and I carried over the cake with lit matches (used in place of candles because I couldn’t find any on the island) and sang him happy birthday with the class. The cake was a good pick-me-up after the quiz. Dr. L lectured for awhile on pollination and then we got a 2.5 hour break before returning to do a pollination experiment on the cottage grounds. Most people romped in the water for awhile (Larken was diligently finishing “Angels and Demons”), Alex B. and I tossed the football around, and a few others went down to a restaurant called “Banana Boat” to check email during the break.
Around 4:30 or so class was finished for the day and I drove a group of students into Roxoborough to use an ATM (the one here in Charlotteville has been broken for days and no one seems in any hurry to fix it). Some cards worked in the ATM, some didn’t but between Ben and myself, we managed to get TT dollars for everyone in exchange for US $. When we got back to the cottages people wanted to go out to celebrate Aaron’s birthday, so the whole class headed to a little white restaurant located on the beach where Jerome (the cook) told us he would be BBQing and would give us a nice deal on chicken and fish since we were students. SO GOOD! We all enjoyed it. We hung out for awhile after that and eventually broke into smaller groups. Alex V, Emily, Ben, Trip and myself hiked around the town up and down some steep streets getting a feel for the area. Chase hung back to call some people back home. Larken stayed back to finish “Angels and Demons” because she was dangerously close to being done and then everyone else (Whitney, Alex B, Tim and Aaron) lymed around the town.