Dog Days

If you’ve been pining for my blog for any reason, I apologize! The lacuna has several causes. As I lay them out here, perhaps my beloved readers will see this update less as a complaint than as a snapshot into the middle age of our Bahía Drake stay.

Tired travelers and charismatic megafauna
We took a week-long trip to Las Tablas, Panamá, for Carnaval. Getting there and back again is another tale, but Carnaval itself was crazy and beautiful! And exhausting, with days spent getting cooked as we entertained kids at our B&B’s little pool. The action, though, really happens at night. And I do mean night. There’s no point in heading downtown before 11pm, since the parades really don’t start before midnight. We dragged in every night at 3am (our hosts found us a great babysitter), and then of course the kids were ready for the pool again by 7.


dropping the kids off at the pool

The parades are a competition between Calle Abajo and Calle Arriba, two streets that run through different sections of town, with festival princesses and queen swaying gracefully atop hypercomplex befeathered floats hauled around the plaza by tractors. We were rooting for Calle Abajo, of course, since our hosts Joachin and Maruca were dyed-in-the-wool Calle Abajo-ers.

float1 maruca

A float from Calle Abajo, March 3, Las Tablas, and our hosts Maruca and Joachin

But we came home to Bahía Drake exhausted, and since then we’ve been checking off tourist excursions, starting with a perfect day at La Sirena ranger station in Corcovado National Park. With the help of our guide, Neyer, our sightings were too numerous to list here, but my hands-down favorite was the bocaracá, or eyelash viper… no, wait, the three-toed sloth with baby was the best. But the 4 species of monkey! Ah, hell, anyway… La Sirena teems with animal life, probably because of the relative abundance of water there. I’m planning several other trips into the park and its surrounds in the coming weeks, including a multiday jaguar hunt (of the eyeball and lens kind, obviously).

eyelash sloth squirrelmonkey

eyelash viper, three-toed sloth and cub, and squirrel monkey

Fruit! A sweet spot for the weather-wimp
After a sweltering, melting day here in the tropics, we spoiled Californians require some recuperation. And we have developed some coping mechanisms for the heat. Thank the gods for for-reals air conditioners! Also, let me praise the 4-shower day. As well, the climate has driven me to dependence on batidos. Happily these blended fruit drinks come in many flavors… marañón (cashew apple), maracuyá (passionfruit), caramboya (starfruit), cas (sour guava), and my particular favorite guanabana (soursop). The kids have their own, much more run-of-the-mill favorites: fresa y banano and naranja y limón are standards. I buy or prepare several of these a day… so much for my light carb diet…

Actually, the local fruits highlight a locavore problem: guanabana is purchased by the local restaurateurs from whatever neighbor happens to have a tree bearing ripe fruit. And as I’m so partial to this fruit’s tangy white sweetness, I seem to have tapped out the local supply! I regularly check on all the trees I know  – including two outside Ines’ schoolroom, braving the scowls of the school’s cocinera, Jasmine – but none have fruit ready for the blender.

But speaking of the school, as much as we love it, and as grateful as we are for the community’s acceptance – Escuela Drake also presents its share of challenges.  There’s the schedule, of course: Ines from 7 to 10:40; Oscar from 7 to 12:10. Unless one or both classes is cancelled. Which we may only learn of when we arrive on campus in the morning. The half-day is one thing, and we were expecting it; but two different schedules, requiring separate hikes down through town to the school… let’s just say it puts a cramp in how much time one can schedule for working. And aside from frequent, partial, class cancellations, there’s the fact that Oscar’s 1st grade class has been combined with another grade…. 5th!

At a recent class meeting, every single parent (well, except me) expressed their anger and dismay at this arrangement. Teachers and administrators are doing their best, but I think they’re juggling classroom sizes to reach 26 kids per, at which point Escuela Drake is eligible for more teachers. Clearly – despite the oft-cited educational largesse of a Costa Rican government with no military to support – these communities are rolling a big rock up a steep hill. Many other nearby (even more rural) schools have it still harder, as one room affairs with a single teacher for a dozen kids spanning ages 6-12. But my own frustrations with the byzantine school schedule and structure seem insignificant, considering the struggles Bahia Drake parents face, trying to get their children even a rudimentary education. All the hand-wringing that goes on in my hometown back in California, about whether this or that school has the highest test scores and the like, just ebb to meaninglessness in comparison.

Whales, etc…
So I try to let the school stuff roll off my back. And, really, the dearth of jorobadas in the bay this season has me more panicked. I had a plan. I raised my own funds (with the help of many colleagues, friends, and my family… thank you, thank you, thank you). I made connections with local boat-owners, captains and guides. But the whales are very sparse this year, and not cooperative in any case; for all the mother-calf positions I’ve marked, I’ve not seen a single fluke! I will continue plugging away, though, and I’m planning on expanding my area to include the waters off Uvita, in Marino Ballena. More on the whales in an upcoming post.


my basic set of ‘transects’: Marenco>Caño>San Pedrillo

I’ve also branched out a bit, and am learning about the work of a local forest ecologist, Pablo Riba, who works with Proyecto Carey. Last week he invited me out to observe his field studies of how disturbance affects productivity of various rainforest trees, with nutmegs as his model organisms. It may be that I get to start a bit of work with him, using a tool I just acquired for my whale studies… a camera-equipped quadcopter unmanned aerial vehicle. This kind of instrument is opening up new vistas on the rainforest canopy, and I am looking forward to flying it in the forest and over the water.


Pablo, counting aborted nutmeg flowers

So, I doubt I have made a good case for the pouting title of this entry. Let’s just say we’re at the hump-day of the trip. Blush off the rose. Hard row yet to hoe. Et cetera. And though I was aware that Drake Bay’s whale migration is smaller than Maui’s ‘whale soup’, I’m still taken down a peg by the numbers I’m encountering. And even though there is plenty happening here in Drake to keep me occupied, I’m very keen to make sure there is richness and value in my work here… while making sure we’re not at each other’s throats here in the trip’s rough patch. But my new toy, the UAV, is consoling me. As is my bird photography learning curve. As are the people, place, and Life of the rainforest.

Picture 126 Picture 71 Picture 78 Picture 124

b.c. mot mot, golden-hooded tanager, bananaquit, common tody-flycatcher


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