For the People or for the Power?

After 4 weeks of defiant protest on the streets of Chile, the voice of the people finally seems to have reached politicians. On Sunday, President Piñera made a speech to the nation, celebrating Chile and promising a new constitution written with the input and consent of the people. This breakthrough did not come without significant struggle however, and the last month has seen Chile balancing on the edge of its own history, barely 30 years since the brutal dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.

Protests in Chile, 1974

For 20 years, Chile shrivelled under one of the most brutal and repressive dictatorships seen in Latin America; the exact number of people abducted, imprisoned or killed, remains unknown during this time. It was an era of fear and violence, as many were taken from the beds at night, disappearing into the unknown, as ‘order’ was enforced by the military. Nubia Becker, a survivor, remembers Villa Grimaldi where he was imprisoned by Pinochet’s army as “a terrible place…a that place that really meant horror. Day and night you could hear the screams of the tortured. Such painful memories have been pushed far back into Chile’s history, but the past 4 weeks have unearthed an anger and a violence in Chile strongly reminiscent of those dark years.

From anger at metro fares and non-existent pensions, to the extortionate price of water – a basic human commodity, Chile is a nation boiling with resentment for the social injustices they suffer through every day, which many believe stem from an outdated constitution and the system of Neo-liberalism born from the Pinochet era. was only a matter of time before it spilled over and the people called out “Ya basta!”, enough is enough.

Violence has escalated on the streets of Santiago in recent weeks

With the escalating violence on the streets that showed no sign of stopping, Chile was becoming increasingly damaged both on a ground level and an international one. Tourism was seen to drop by 40%, house rent fell by 10% in the wealthier areas of the city, and the peso has been steadily falling in the global market since the end of October.

President Piñera was faced with two options; “Por la razon o la fuerza” – “By force or by reason”. This is the motto of Chile. In the past, political leaders have always chosen la fuerza, and the last 4 weeks are certainly a testimony to this; over 15,000 people have been injured, 24 killed, and more than 7,000 injured since protests began. The misty hue of tear gas catches your throat on the morning commute to work, the same gas used to ‘restore the peace’ under Pinochet. Yet even more worrying is the story of the boy who reportedly ‘killed himself’ in a police cell after being arrested at a public protest, and the memories of similar stories from an era that many thought long gone have come rushing back. Walking the streets of Santiago, one feels the tenseness in the air; a nation holding its breath to see what happens next, to see which side the country will fall.

Protests in Plaza Italia, Santiago

Last Tuesday when President Piñera appeared half an hour late to address the nation, it was not a classic display of Chilean tardiness, but rather a moment of stalling as a plan went wrong. The President had prepared a speech in which he would authorise military control of the country, exactly as it was under Pinochet. The Chilean army were ready to agree to this, yet demanded political immunity from international bodies such as the UN, Amnesty International, and other Human Rights associations who have already been calling out on the brutality and violence of the army; Barbara Sepulveda Hales of the feminist network of lawyers and her team have taken matters into their own hand, going to police stations to check on detainees where sexual violence is a big problem; women being stripped in front of others, and raped too.

These are dark echoes of time that many would prefer to forget. It is clear that the violent years of the Pinochet era still smother Chile. It took nothing more than a scratch to open the reeking wound left by the dictator, and for a moment it seemed that Chile would return to that bleak past it fought so hard to leave behind.

Yet Piñera stalled. Unable to guarantee protection for the army, the plan fell through. The question was, would they go ahead and declare military control regardless? All week the city of Santiago lay tense and coiled, ready to strike out and defend itself; demonstrations continued in Plaza Italia, the hub of the protests – just as it had been in 1974. Nobody could say which way the President would turn.

On Sunday evening, President Piñera once again addressed the nation with an entirely different tone to that of his previous speeches. He acknowledged the violence of the armed forces, going as far as to say that “abuses and crimes were committed, and the rights of all were not respected”. Chile is a changing nation on the brink of a brand new era; Piñera and his government have agreed to a public referendum to determine whether or not the people want a new constitution.

In his speech, Piñera told the nation that a new Chile would be born, asking for patience as the government addressed some of the issues raised by the protestors. With a little time, a lot of careful politics, and good communication with the people, a well-written constitution could be the start of a new era for Chile, a country which has worked so hard to shake off the shadows of its past and establish itself both in Latin America and world.

From Jungle to Snow

Dear readers,
It’s been a while! A lot has happened since I left the jungle; I moved from 30 degrees climate to 10 degrees, climbed a snow-capped volcano, started a new job, and got caught in a few protests…so I hope you’ve got your cup of tea ready and have settled in for the long read.

I flew from Costa Rica to Santiago, Chile where my Dad was waiting for me with a suitcase full of delightfully non-mouldy clothes and a stash of teabags which would have seen any Brit through the war. I arrived at 5am (3am Costa Rica time), running on about 2 hours sleep in the past 24 hours of travelling. After unpacking enough to locate my pyjamas and having a good long shower – although not too hot as I couldn’t quite grasp the fact that a hot shower was once again an option -we went for lunch with my co-ordinator/mentor for this next internship before I crashed at about 3pm. I woke up at 6:30 after what was supposed to be a short nap, found some dinner, and went back to bed for another 10 hours!

On Monday, my Dad and I flew south to Puerto Varas, a small town in the Chilean Lakes at the top of Patagonia. Whereas in Santiago it had been an acceptable 24 degrees or so, here it was 10, and I was freezing! We quickly located the nearest café which served hot chocolate , Cafe Cassis – an excellent spot breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacking for vegans and non-vegans alike. As I has a week between the end of my Costa Rica internship and the start of the Santiago one, I had managed to entice my Dad out for a week of adventure in the Chilean Lakes, with the added bonus of a suitcase full of clothes and a nice hotel for a week for me (and his great company of course!).

Puerto Varas is located on the shore of the largest lake in Chile. When it’s not raining, which is a bit rare, there is a stunning view of the 4 volcanoes that surround the lake, one of which we climbed. Volcan Osorno is the tallest of the 4 volcanoes, and we were lucky that it was a perfectly clear day when we went up. Our guide drove us to the start of the summit where to snow line was, and we then walked a fair distance to the ‘Red Crater’. From jungle humidity to fresh crisp snow in under 5 days, I spent the whole time giggling at the absurdity of it – I really couldn’t believe I was stood in snow! The view from the volcano was stunning, and out guide was so lovely, chatty and knowledgeable. Unfortunately, that was the day with the best weather and the rest of the week it was pretty wet, so much so that our kayaking trip was cancelled as the river was too high and dangerous to go out on. Instead Dad and I went and slumped in a Spa – not a bad exchange really. Overall, it was a fun week fuelled by copious amounts of hot chocolate and tea, and we had a lot of fun facing the elements and seeing glorious crystal-blue rivers, snow-capped mountains and some furry llamas. If I’m honest, the week passed in a bit of a blur of excitement and exhaustion, and I didn’t feel like I’d completely recovered from jungle/jet lag when we came back to Santiago!

Glacial Rivers from the Andes Mountains

Dad and I went for brunch on Sunday morning before he flew home, leaving me to settle in to the city that is to be home for the next 3 months. After noting how many lovely little cafés there are on every street corner and climbing up San Cristobal hill in the glorious sunshine, I was in love with the city after just one day. I’ve said it before – nature and sunshine are all I need, but the added bonus of delicious brunches and a never-ending supply of avocado certainly don’t hurt!

The internship I’m doing here is with a large company called Magma Partners. They are a startup investment company, investing in predominantly tech companies across Latin America. My role is again in social media, helping to run LatAm List and hopefully Magma Media too, writing articles about startup news from other sources, sometimes in Spanish. This will be great for my language and I hope to become fully immersed in Spanish here, even if the Chileans have some interesting idioms and phrases! So far, I am really enjoying the work. I am certainly learning a lot about business and entrepreneurship, which may well be useful one day…

Aside from work, I am settling into Santiago the best way I know how: Brunch and boxing! There are two other girls here with the same internship organisation as I am, one of whom works in my office, and we are getting to know each other over some great brunch spreads. There are so many amazing little places with excellent vegetarian and vegan options here that I had to make a list to ensure I would try them all! I also found a great boxing gym, my favourite sport alongside running, and have been going as much as possible. I’m not promising anything, but they may be having a competition with another local gym in January, so watch this space……… I’ve also been making an effort to talk to other people in our accommodation, most of whom are Chilean students. With all the political unrest here at the moment, it is incredibly interesting to talk to people about what they think, especially as it was the student body who started the protests and are very much at the forefront of the conflict. While nearly everyone seems to be agreement with the motives, the increased violence (from all parties) is not widely supported, and people are beginning to tire of the disruption caused; with businesses closing early to avoid the chaos of the protests people can’t buy what they need, and the commute to work is more difficult without the smooth running of the metro.

So far, I have mostly been unaffected as we live and work in a part of the city away from the main centre near Plaza Italia. However, a few days last week the protest spread to our district, with people gathering outside the large shopping centre and marching. The police were out in force, and so was the tear gas. On one particular day, the protesters spread from their march into the surrounding streets, coming down ours too with their drums and whistles, pulling down bins, traffic lights and benches and setting fire to them. While it certainly wasn’t as severe as the protests in downtown Santiago, it perhaps had more of an effect in this strongly middle-class area of the city. Talking to people at work and in our accommodation, I am fascinated to see what happens next. Chile is truly making history as it calls for a reformation of its Constitution – a re-writing of the foundations of this country. If you haven’t yet read the article I wrote for our University magazine, HerCampus Exeter, check it out.

Perhaps the strangest thing about being here is that it’s 30 degrees and yet everywhere people are telling me that Christmas is approaching. There is a giant Christmas tree in the shopping centre, and my Instagram feed is full of people going to Christmas markets! Honestly, I couldn’t feel less festive. But I’m not really complaining – this sunshine is wonderful. Perhaps the only downfall is that Santiago is really lacking in monkeys and turtles, although I do see Mealy Parrots quite regularly, so I guess that will have to do!

Hasta pronto,
Katie xxx

Moroccan Chickpea and Aubergine Salad

I LOVE aubergines. They are such a great vegetable to cook with as they soak up all the flavours, becoming crispy and delicious. Aubergines appear frequently in Middle-Eastern cuisine, which is no wonder considering how well they go with the delicate, fragrant spices of this region.

Continue reading “Moroccan Chickpea and Aubergine Salad”

Mouldier, Muddier, and Mad for the Jungle

9 hours spent sat in airports, 7 hours sat on 3 aeroplanes, and 2 hours on a bus in the past 2 days while I have been travelling from the Costa Rica to Santiago, Chile, have given me plenty of time to consider the last 8 weeks of my life in the jungle. When I first decided to do this little stint running around the rain-forest in the name of Science and Conservation, many of my friends and family were a bit incredulous – 2 months living in a fairly basic jungle camp, without many of the comforts of ‘normal’ life that we have come to know and rely on. The ease with which I left all this behind surprised me only a little. In fact, it was a welcome relief to disconnect (quite literally – there was only 3G in one corner of camp) from Western society and the racing pace of life that dominates our lives. I arrived in the jungle without any clear idea of what to expect, other than a few #costarica Instagram searches and the vaguest of briefings from the Frontier offices in London via my pre-departure emails. It’s safe to say that these past 2 months have exceeded anything I could have imagined.

Views over Laguna Vista

From my first day on camp I have been as close to nature as anyone could ever dream of being. Barely 12 hours after arriving, I was escorting baby turtles down to the sea after waking up to the raucous sound of Howler Monkeys and Toucans above camp at dawn. I have scaled the slopes of Carate in the dark, humid night to count the calls of the birds in the dawn chorus as the sun crept into the sky in glorious hues of firey orange. Now an expert on the songs of the Riverside Wren, Black-hooded Antshrike, Blue-capped Manakin, Macaw and Toucan, to name just a few, I can firmly say that every sweaty 4am trek was worth those stunning sunrises.

For someone who’s core beliefs are firmly rooted in the awesome beauty of God’s creation, the sense of calm and quiet affirmation I have found in these moments, soaking in the greatest gift ever given to us, is like no other. I spent my last morning perched on a steadily decaying log, looking out over Carate and watching the sun climb into the day, filled with a sense of inner peace that can only exist in a place so pure and precious as it was created. Sharing these moments with some of the kindest and open-hearted people I have met made each moment more special, and these friendships founded in a place where people are unapologetically themselves, unhindered by the pressures and politics of real life, are some of the purest and most joyful that I have known.

The day before I left, Nadia turned to me and asked for the highs and lows of my time at Camp Osita. I can honestly say that there were no real low points; I of course had a few moments here or there when I was suddenly hit by an aching for a hug, missed my friends and family, or was just so exhausted that I wasn’t sure I’d make it to the end of the beach or to the top of the trail. But these moments were fleeting and my adventurous heart never once wished to actually be at home. I was constantly reminded that my closest friends are also out there currently living their unique adventures in various corners of the globe on our collective Years Abroad, and it made me proud, both of what we had achieved and because we had been brave enough to take that first step in the unknown.

It was a common theme on camp that people had run away to the jungle to run away from life in some form or another. I understand completely – the pure isolation together with the serenity of this life really is the best way to ‘find yourself’, away from the confusing demands of society and its rules. I found myself pondering this concept and also my own reasons for choosing the jungle to spend the first 2 months of my Year Abroad. In a world that has so much to offer, so much to discover and delight in, why are we always running away from life? I boarded that plane back in September with the thrill of running into the adventure; the thrill of the unknown and the undiscovered, the prospect of what I would see, who I would meet, and what I would learn both about the world and about myself. Why do we fear living, when it is the greatest gift ever given to us? When life is the most fleeting and precious thing on this earth? Instead of constantly running blindly forwards away from our pasts, or always looking backwards scared of the future and feeling nostalgic, we should be taking in the now. In my relatively short life so far, I think it’s fair to say that I’ve had more than my share of tough shit to deal with. My foundations have been shaken and my sense of self has been tested, and I have come out the other end so much more peaceful and rooted than ever before. Every day is precious; it is a gift that so many are denied.

Your ‘family’ are the people you take with you, the people you find, the people you share those moments with that you will fall asleep remembering. Your family are who you carry with you to the other side of the world. Most importantly, I find myself sitting in a completely foreign country, surrounded by hundreds of strangers also stuck in the strange limbo of ‘in transit’, and I know that I am not alone, that I am never alone. Both the people who are with me in heart, and the King that walks beside me and before me every step of the way give me strength, peace, and bountiful joy.

In the past 2 months I have seen with my own eyes what I honestly thought was just special effects. The mist really does rise from the rain-forest, the air really is thick with the buzz of animal life, pumas do exist and I (probably) saw one. I watched a Green turtle lay her nest in the sand, all 70 eggs brimming with perfect, porcelain life. I saw 115 Olive Ridley hatchlings make their way to the sea, racing from their nest to the water with what can only be described as a fearless thirst for life. I have seen birds I didn’t know existed, insects with all the colours of the rainbow, pink fungi, trees bigger than all buildings in my village, monkeys everywhere – literally, everywhere, heard the extravagant songs of Humpback whales, and watched the Lord paint the morning in colours I couldn’t have imagined. I braved my fears and touched a snake, and I swam in the sea among the jelly fish. I shared my nights with turtles, sand, rain and a mouldy mattress. I shared my bathroom with a lot of worms and one indignant toad. I shared my table with the greatest collection of random misfits I could have asked for, not to mention probably an uncountable amount of termites and ants, and I loved every single minute.

Mi familia costaricense

Costa Rica, you will forever have a piece of my heart, and in return you have given me a strength of heart too. I am leaving this place with such peace and love, eager for what awaits me next and thankful for everything I have been given. I have learnt that I only really need a few things in life to keep my heart full;
1) Good people around me to love and call my family
2) Legs that can carry me where I want to go
3) The simple and astounding beauty of this earth – from sunrise to sunset, I will never cease to be utterly in awe of the gift I have been given by life in this precious paradise.

My favourite sunrise

Wherever you are right now, go and find a window and look out at the life around you. From a city brimming with the business of the working day, to a cloudy country view, I think you’ll agree that life is pretty amazing. I think you’ll agree that our earth is something worth fighting for and protecting. I think you’ll agree that sometimes, we all just need to go and hug a tree.

Now, I hope you’ll excuse me to I go and watch some Our Planet, because the jungle-withdrawal is hitting me hard.


Katie xx

The King of the Reptiles

Dearest readers,

It is almost time for me to leave beautiful Carate! But before that, here is a little snippet into my near death experience of a few weeks ago…..

As I have mentioned, Turtle conservation is a huge part of what we do here. At the moment it is peak season for nest laying, and so our night patrols on the beach are more important than ever. In turn with Planet Conservation, another organisation who helps us patrol Carate Beach, we walk the length of the beach during the night in order to catch mother turtles laying their nests. The majority of turtles come up on the incoming tide, so we start our patrol at around 2 hours before high tide. It is not always likely that you will see a turtle actually on the beach, but failing that there is sure to be easily distinguishable tracks from where a turtle has come up and lain her nest. When we find a nest, we either relocate it to a more suitable position higher up the beach, or simply tag it and record the date, time and location in our book. We also normally put a protective cage over it to help prevent predation from dogs and other mammals.
Last Sunday evening, I went on my first ‘Nurtle’ Patrol. I was quite excited, as those who had already done it had seen some mother turtles actually laying their nests. Also, the high tide time meant that we would probably be on the beach for sunrise, which was sure to be stunning.
At 2am, we dragged ourselves out of bed and down to the beach. Turtles are highly sensitive to light, so we always patrol the beach in darkness without using our torches, so as not to confuse the turtles. On a clear night, this isn’t so difficult, especially once your eyes have adjusted. On Sunday however, it was not fully clear, and while I could vaguely make out the shape of Matt in front of me, I still stumbled over just about every single log on the beach, and numerous bamboo cages, impaling myself on one and managing to rip my leggings. Off to a good start…
We started at sector 26, the top of the beach, and walked the whole way down. The tide was so high due to a new moon, that we were literally in the shrubbery, occasionally having to make a mad dash to avoid an incoming wave. Despite there having been more than 100 new nests recorded on the beach last week, we didn’t see a single track on the beach. Perhaps it was the high tide, which may have swept away any hint of a turtle track, or perhaps it just wasn’t our lucky day.
We paused for a quick break at the bottom of the beach – it’s 2.6km long – and then started to walk back up at 3:30, the exact time for high tide. One thing I noticed is that the beach smells very different at night. With the absence of clear vision, the sound of the crashing was waves was amplified tenfold – an awesome shudder of sheer force and power thundering onto the beach only metres away.

At one point, the river comes down onto the beach to get to the sea, and the combination of the lower sand level and the higher tide meant that we were faced with a channel of water easily as high as our knees. Instead of wading through in our walking boots, we went round onto the road, taking the path through the trees. Matt, in front of me, suddenly stopped in his tracks, and I almost went crashing into him. Barely 20cm from his foot was a Fer de Lance, the deadliest snake in all of Costa Rica, and possibly Central America too. We stood stock still for a frozen minute, then carefully all retreated backwards, inching away from this metre-long King of the Reptiles with fangs at least an inch in size. Matt, being the snake fanatic that he is, grabbed his stick and began to try and get a bit closer again. We had caught the snake unawares, but now it began to coil it’s upper body in a sinister ‘s’ as it sensed danger and prepared to strike. I was already a long, long way back from this beast – snakes, after jellyfish, are perhaps my least favourite in the animal kingdom. Perhaps its the chasm-black eyes or the gentle, flickering tongue; they are just downright creepy.
While Mateo snapped a quick photo and Matt danced with death, I marvelled at how quickly this could turn into a horror story. If one of us was bitten, we would have 7-8 hours to get the antidote, and even then there would probably be significant long-term damage, presuming that we even got the antidote – Carate is separated from the nearest town by a long and bumpy road, which takes two hours to drive. Then there would be the problem of getting to a hospital, which would be done by plane…..I could go on, but I think it’s fairly obvious that we would be in a bit of a situation.

The Fer de Lance, unimpressed with the poking stick, soon slithered back into the damp hole of death it had crawled from, and we were on our way, Matt cheerfully saying that was only the second closest he had been to death. After reaching the end of the beach and seeing not even the slightest inkling of a turtle track, we decided to call it a day and go back to camp before anyone else felt the cool breath of death at their shoulder.

While we may not have seen a turtle, we did at least see the coolest snake in all of Carate. Creepy, yes, but pretty cool too.

Keep safe,

Katie xx

Pumas in the night…

Hello dear readers!

How are you all? I hope you are enjoying the changing seasons, tucked up in the cosy warmth with fluffy socks and Chia spiced tea…

There’s a fair amount to catch you all up on about life in the wild. Last week was a fun one – with both the boys gone on a visa run, it was an all-girl camp. It was a nice change, and just nice to have Charlotte and Emily back (they also were on a Visa run). The rainy season announced itself on the 2nd October and not a day later. For almost 3 days straight it rained pretty much all day, and we found ourselves unable to go on a few surveys as Birds and Primates are impossible to do in the rain. It was actually quite fun to curl up with a book for the afternoon, and I even found myself needing to put on a jumper on a few occasions as apparently 24 degrees is now too chilly for me…The rain began to ease off again at the weekend, and it has barely rained since. I’m not sure whether to be happy about having sunshine, or concerned about the clear negative impact of global warming in such a place as this where the rainy season is an absolute essential.

At the weekend, Nadia and I went into town to do a Chocolate Tour, which was really interesting and made even better by the glorious selection of fruit, chocolate, and pampering we were treated to. We were picked up from town and driven the short way to the Chocolate farm just outside Puerto Jimenez. It was a small family farm of about 20 hectares, but with over 200 cocoa trees, and many other plants and animals besides. We were first introduced to the numerous geese, ducks, chickens and even a turkey, while enjoying an orange picked straight from the tree above us. From there, we walked around the farm with our guide explaining to us the process of producing chocolate from bean to bar, and we also enjoyed coconut water from a fresh coconut and drunk with a bamboo straw sculpted from the plant next to the coconut tree.

Once ripe, the cocoa pods are split open and the beans are dried in the sun for upwards of 3 months. They are then ground down multiple times to make a fine paste – cocoa butter. We were able to try the cocoa at each stage, and I have to say it was most delicious was the cocoa butter. From this, our guide made us a face mask, mixing the paste with coconut oil before smearing it on our faces. After 5 weeks of camp’s somewhat sparse washing facilities, we felt like we were in the best spa in all of Costa Rica!

After washing off our face masks we were treated some fruit – banana, fresh orange and papaya – along with the chocolate we had just made. After many, many long days without tasting the smooth decadence of dark chocolate (my absolute weakness), I was not about to pass up the opportunity to stock up on a few sweet supplies, and so bought a little bar of handmade chocolate which they made on the farm themselves. It was truly a delightful morning, and I even managed to get that compulsory ‘Gap Yah’ shot of me drinking coconut water straight from the shell with a bamboo straw! Year Abroad completed.

I took the opportunity to have ALL my clothes washed in town in an effort to stave off the ever encroaching mould for the next few weeks. I have to admit, I found myself actually missing camp a bit over the weekend, and so was quite happy to jump back on the Colectivo and enjoy the bumpy ride to camp, especially when smelling like I had just walked out of a laundromatte.

Since Monday, we have been busy on surveys again as usual. With the addition of 3 more camp members – 2 volunteers and 1 new ARO (Assistant Research Officer) – we have been able to do more surveys again. On Thursday we made the long trek up to Leona trail for a bird survey, which is an hour and a half walk either way, and that’s before the trail even starts! We combined it with a Primate survey for a double hit (and to save having to walk the trek again next week!). In order to make it there for sunrise we had to leave at 3:30, and so walked the whole way in the dark. Luckily, we saw no snakes this time. In fact, we saw a Paca, which is apparently very rare to see, and also pretty cute! By the end of the day, having been up before the sun, I was knackered and was ready to get into bed at 7:30, but I held off to the more reasonable hour of…8 pm.

Other camp excitements include: The Night the Chickens Almost Died and Cooking with Coco. One night, we were all awoken by the raucous shrieks of the chickens. Having lived with chickens for 7 year or so, I unfortunately know what a dying chicken sounds like. Something about distressed animals really gets my heart rate going, and I couldn’t just stay in bed listening to them. Cautiously I poked my head out of the cabin and shone my beam of a headtorch towards the coop, very aware that you don’t really get foxes in Costa Rica and that there had been a few sightings of a Puma around Carate lately. Something definitely disappeared into the bushes when I shone my torch over, and our camp dog was soon barking too, but I couldn’t tell you what it was. With all the noise they made, I’m quite surprised we still had 4 chickens the following morning!

Cooking with Coco was a degree less stressful. Coco is a good friend of all of us at camp, and he frequently comes over to see us, sometimes cooking for us too as he works in the kitchen at one of the lodges. With a lot of people in town for the weekend, I took the opportunity to invite myself for a cooking session on Saturday. We were treated to a delicious Thai-style salad, a delicate Okra dish with onion and lots of spices, and even handmade spring rolls. I was over the moon at seeing actual salad leaves if I’m honest – for a girl who truly embraces the rabbit diet, I really miss lettuce here! Coco himself is one of the most fun-loving, relaxed, and truly good people I have ever met, and so it was a lovely evening, and a great way to spend my second last weekend in Costa Rica.

Today marks only 2 more weeks left on camp for me, and I know I will be sorry to leave such a beautiful and remarkable place. I’m really looking forward to my next adventures in Chile, and especially the little holiday with my Dad in the Chilean lake district (not least because he is bringing a suitcase full of clean and mould-free clothes). However, not waking up to the sound of the monkeys, or spending the whole morning on a sunny beach with Macaws flying overhead, will certainly be downside. I’m planning on throwing myself into every survey possible over these next two weeks, and I am also determined to go on all the trails we do at camp – I only have 2 more to do!

Hasta pronto amigos,
Katie xx

Tan lines and Baby Turtles

This past week has gone by in such a blur – I’ve now been here for a whole month, can you believe it?

Last weekend a group of us were in town to do a whale watching tour. We almost didn’t make it as there was an almighty rain storm on Friday night and both the morning and afternoon buses were cancelled. We managed to commandeer a 4×4 driver, and made it into town at about 7pm. The tour started at 7:30 on Sunday morning, and so we all walked down to the harbour to get on the little boat. We went out into the Gulfe Dulce, so called because of it’s fresh water, which attracts many marine species for feeding and raising their young.

September is prime season for Humpback whales, and we were lucky enough to see two mothers with their young, as well as hearing the males under the water singing their ‘mating songs’. Humpback whales from different regions each have their own song to attract a mate, and the longer and more complicated the song, the more impressive it is. The songs that the males sing in the Gulf is especially long, which they think is because the acoustics of the Gulf as so perfect and the song bounces of the coastline. After we had chased the whales around a bit, we went closer to the shore line to see if we could find the dolphins that live in the Gulf. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find them in their usual feeding spot, but we went snorkelling over the reef and saw some amazing fish and even a Hawksbill turtle too! Our tour guide then produced some delicious pineapple and watermelon, much to my delight, and we began to make our way back to Puerto Jimenez on the other side of the gulf.

Charlotte and I returned to a quiet camp on Monday on the morning collectivo, and jumped straight in to doing surveys again, as this week there were only 3 volunteers (a new one who arrived on Tuesday) and 3 leaders. I had a great time on a Primates trail on Wednesday as we saw loads of Toucans and a troop of Spider monkeys too, with 3 juveniles being carried by their mothers. I managed to get some decent pictures, which I was really happy about. It’s been lovely the past few days after a wet start to the week, with the sun has been shining all morning and well into the afternoon. It’s almost been too good – I’m still anxiously awaiting the start of the wet season….

A Toucan in the jungle canopy

That said, we did a huge beach clean with a lot of people from the local community on Friday morning, and it was so hot on the sand that we couldn’t take our shoes off. I also achieved some serious tan lines – the watch tan situation is becoming ever more pronounced. People from 3 different conservation groups, including ourselves, were on the beach, along with people from Carate and even some student from the University in San Jose. The beach clean started at around 7am, and we weren’t finished until 11. The local Firemen went along the beach with us, keeping us well stocked with water and emptying our bags of the plastic we were picking up. When we reached the end of the beach we were all ferried back to the local school, which is just along from our camp, where we were fed tomales and fruit. The tomales were interesting – they are made with maiz flour and potato, and filled with rice and veg or meat. They have quite a strange texture from the maiz flour, and I’m not sure I’d rush to eat another! But I did eat my bodyweight in Watermelon, so it was just fine. After that, we then all had to pose for some photos with everyone who had been involved in the clean, many of whom had also made some posters about ocean plastic and keeping the beaches clean. Apparently, there was about 70 of us on the beaches helping to clean them up, and between us we covered almost 9k of beach! It was a long and hot morning, but also a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, the beach will definitely be covered in plastic again within a few days. The amount of water bottles, plastic cutlery, toothbrushes, and random bits and pieces is just shocking – and that’s only one stretch of beach in one corner of the world. I fear to think how much plastic is actually in the ocean.

The other highlight of this week was stumbling across a Turtle nest just as the baby turtles were coming out! It can take up to 3 days once the turtles have hatched for them to make their way to the surface of the sand as the nests are usually about 30-40cm deep, sometimes more. To see hatchlings coming out of the nest is very rare, so we were lucky to arrive at that moment. We sat and watched all the turtles emerge, making sure they all made it safely to the ocean by chasing a few birds and crabs away. I counted 115 baby Olive Ridley turtles in total – a big nest. If you haven’t seen the time lapse on Instagram, it’s on either @tinytinch98 or also the Frontier page @frontiercostarica.

This next week is going to be EVEN QUIETER on camp, as Charlotte, the other volunteer who arrived with me, has left this weekend. Our turtle man has also left this week for a visa run/holiday, so there will be a lot of turtle work to fill in for! Let’s hope for good weather and sunny mornings on the beach, as spending 3 hours or more excavating nests in the rain is not really all that joyous…

My family tells me it’s getting colder in England, so her are some of my 34 degree besos,

Katie xx

Jungle Banana Bread

This is a recipe I adapted from a friend of mine in Exeter. It works so well and is very easy to make. It is also completely gluten free and can be vegan if omitting the egg – perfect for me and my dietary requirements!

Last weekend it was the birthday of one of the volunteers, so we wanted to make her a cake. Baking ingredients and also oven facilities are pretty limited here in the Costa Rican jungle, so we needed something simple that we could make from what we had. With an abundance of oats and some over ripe bananas, this recipe popped into my head. Using a very large pan with some pots in to create a shelf, we were able to fashion a jungle oven, which I have to say was pretty impressive and effective.

This recipe worked a treat because it is so simple and easy. It’s really just a matter of throwing everything in a bowl and mixing. It is also so versatile as you can change it up by adding in extra nuts, dark chocolate, or anything you fancy! At home, I would have banana bread with yoghurt, berries, and some nut butter if there was any going. Obviously that wasn’t quite the case in the Jungle, but it was delicious by itself or with a little extra drizzle of honey. I hope you love this recipe as much as I do, it’s a sure crowd-pleaser, and everyone will be back asking for more.

Ingredients:

  • 4 bananas
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 3 cups oats
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • [Optional] 100g chopped walnuts and/or dark chocolate


Method:
1) Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees.
2) Peel the bananas and place them in a blender with the egg, oil and honey. (If not using an egg, add 100ml of almond milk.) Blend until a smooth consistency.
3) Put the oats, baking powder, cinnamon and pinch of salt into a large bowl. Add in the banana mixture and stir well.
4) Roughly chop the nuts and dark chocolate, and add this to the bowl as well. Once mixed, pour into a greased tin.
5) Bake for about 30-45 minutes

Save the Turtles!

Hello all,
I think it’s time I filled you all in on exactly what I’m doing out here in the Jungle!
Frontier is a government conservation group that operates in various places of the world, such as Madagascar and Costa Rica, working with the local community to do important research into the environment and the animals that live there. In Costa Rica, our work focuses on 5 main animal groups; Turtles, Primates, Birds, Macaws and Amphibians + Reptiles. The Turtle conservation work is a huge part of what we do out here, and there are 2 other Turtle groups that operate on Carate alongside us. We also have the largest population of Scarlet Macaws in Costa Rica, so this is an important part of the research too.

Carate has the largest population of ACOSA Scarlet Macaws in Costa Rica

Each week, a schedule of trails is randomly selected for each animal group. There are 3 or 4 each day, plus Turtles which happens every morning on the beach. The trails involve walking along a particular trail through the jungle, looking out for whichever animal we are recording. For instance, Primates of Shady last week involved trying to spot the 4 types of Monkeys native to Costa Rica while hurtling at high speed down a very steep slope…(if you haven’t read that one, you really should). As I said, Turtles happens every morning, and this involves excavating the nests that should have hatched by now in order to count the number of empty eggs/predated eggs/etc. Together with the other Turtle groups, we work to cover and count the nests laid by mother turtles at night, in the hope that we can reduce the number of nest that are predated by dogs, etc, or perhaps poached – a serious problem in many countries and especially here, where Turtle eggs are sent to the Western world to exotic pet shops, or eaten as a delicacy.

The data we collect on each trail involves things like species type, number, activity (e.g. foraging or travelling), weather, distance from trail, and more. This is all recorded into the data log and sent to London HQ. Last week, the Research Officers were writing their quarterly reports, which is an analysis of the data collected from the past few months , noting trends and general animal activity.
Some of the trails are right next to Camp, and the furthest one away is a solid hour and a half trek. The trails themselves are 1km, and it depends on the animal as to how far you walk. For instance, birds only happens in one place along the trail, where we walk to that point and sit for 20 minutes or so, ready to count the birds that we hear in the dawn chorus.

Capuchin Monkeys are native to Costa Rica

I signed up for the Media and Conservation Internship here, so as well as helping out on the trails and with general camp life, I am getting involved in running the social media pages such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, as well organising and sometimes writing the 2 weekly blogs that are sent to London HQ to put on their general Frontier Blog. Last week I was also editing and translating the monthly newsletter that circulates in the local community, updating people on the work of Frontier here. As part of all this, I’ve had my camera out a lot to get some pictures for the social media, but unfortunately I’m finding that my lense is not always powerful enough to see into the trees!

A Green Iguana – we get both types, but these guys are much cooler!

In between trails, we have some spare time most days to do as we wish. This mostly involves reading and napping for me, and I’ve already read 5 books in 2 weeks! After introducing Banagrams and Bohnanza to some of the other volunteers, there has been a LOT of game-playing too. Yesterday evening we went and played volleyball on the beach, which was so much fun, made that little bit more special by the stunning setting sun behind us. Although the days seem long, the weeks are passing so quickly. We get up with the sun at about 4 or 5, depending what you’re doing, and by about 8 pm everyone is ready for bed! Normal life may take a little adjusting too when I return to civilisation, but for now, I’m enjoying life and looking forward to the next 5 weeks. One slight unforeseen issue is that I didn’t realise that seem to have come to Costa Rica in the most rainy months – last year September and October were the wettest months. For now, the weather is holding, and we’ve had sun just about every morning this week. It clouds over around midday, but so far the rain is holding.

This weekend I’m heading into Puerto Jimenez will 5 other volunteers for a Whale Watching Tour, which promises to be a great day as it is currently mating season for Humpback Whales, so there are lots about. After 3 weeks in the Jungle, I’m also secretly looking forward to a little luxury in the form of air conditioning and a proper bed – even if it’s just for 2 nights! Next week is going to be a lot quieter on camp, as 4 of the volunteers are leaving on Monday, so it will just be 2 volunteers and 4 leaders – which means a LOT more work for us to make sure all the surveys are covered!

Stay tuned for more adventures!
Hasta pronto,
Katie xx

Perils, Primates, and Purple Caecilians

Dear readers, you’re in for such a treat with this one…

It’s been a two weeks now since I arrived at Camp Osita, and I’m still getting to know the various trails we use for our surveys. Having never before been up ‘Shady’, I was keen to give it a go with the other girls for a Primates trail, especially as they’d already had a slightly dramatic ascent the other day, and everyone knows I love a good challenge. It is a very steep climb up to the ridge that overlooks Carate Beach, but we were confident we could scale it without incident this time.
Within a few minutes of starting the survey we saw a group of Capuchins and Howler monkeys foraging together. We scaled the climb with relative ease and made it to the top of the ridge were we came across a group of Spider monkeys. It was from here that things started to go downhill…literally.

Gemma, Loren and Brogan chuffed to have made it up the trail


The other leaders had advised that the best way to descend would be at the end of the route, coming out at the football pitch just beyond one of the lodges. It seemed relatively simple when they had described it, yet the Leader with us was unsure exactly where the trail ended (they shall remain nameless as for reasons that will become clear…!). The path we were on seemed to simply disappear into the jungle, so we agreed that this was probably the end of the trail. Having just passed the stairs that led to lodge, we figured this was were we were supposed to descend, and so we began the most perilous (and hilarious) incident of my time here so far.

A serious gradient…


To start with, it wasn’t too bad. There were enough sturdy trees and branches to hold in as we edged our way down the steep ridge – I’m talking more than a 15% gradient, honestly. The Spider monkeys above us were having a great time laughing at our ineptness at jungle travel – who was the more evolved species now?! And then the real fun started…Just as we were being told how last time our leader was on this trail she had ended up sliding down the entire slope, ripping her shorts in the process, she slipped herself, travelling a few yards down the slope at an alarming rate. Charlotte’s water bottle then jumped out of her hands, bouncing several meters into the chasm below, and we knew there was no going back now.
Inch by inch, we made our way down as the trees became looser and the leaves became slippery and lethal. What looked like a fairly secure place to step would suddenly give way, and in a tumble of leaves, branches and loose stones, I suddenly found myself flying down the slope like I was on a waterslide. Having coming to a shaky stop a good way below everyone else, Gemma decided to join in, perhaps out of sympathy for my dying dignity. She slipped, she slid, and she didn’t stop until she collided with a large upturned tree, becoming wedged between ground and tree, with the help of Loren managing to grab her bag as she slid and also Gemma unfortunately jarring her shoulder and arm in the tree. There was a moment of complete silence, anxiously waiting for Gemma to move…Slowly, she came to life, and no-one knew to laugh or cry. Really, you had to laugh, otherwise I think we all would have given up at that point and just have staked it out until rescue came.


Cautiously, we continued our descent. As we went further down the slope, the jungle became denser and darker – the perfect habitat for snakes. There were piles of damp leaves, clusters of mushrooms, and many mouldy tree stumps and branches which cast shadows across the jungle floor, so that we couldn’t know what lurked beneath. Just as this thought crossed my mind, something slithered into the leaves right in front of my path, glistening and fat – a Purple Caecilian. I stopped, not sure where to step next. This was turning out to be just the most delightful morning.
Having manoeuvred around the snake zone, the ground eventually began to flatten out. We thought we might (literally) be out of the woods, but not before Brogan managed to become stuck in a tree root for a good 5 minutes. Stumbling on, the sun suddenly broke through the canopy, and we once again heard the reassuring crash of the waves – civilisation was near! Eyes bleary from the sudden return to daylight, we stumbled out onto the road, ensure whether or not what had just happened was real. Covered in mud from head to toe, we staggered back to camp, dazed, relieved, and ready for a shower and a LOT of coffee.
I’m pleased to say that Gemma’s arm remains attached to her body, and the rest of us are none the worse off after having thoroughly washed all the mud that worked its way into our wellies and shorts during our unexpected mudslide adventures. It was certainly a character-building experience, but not one I think I’ll choose to repeat. The only way I will be venturing up Shady again is if someone comes with us who either has a zip-wire in their bag, a tobogan, or a clear idea of how to get down without breaking a neck, leg, or arm!

In great need of a shower…


Besos,
Katie.