A long time coming

* A fair forewarning this first post is rather long and in depth and may be more or less for my own posterity. I will not be offended if you do not read it all and will try my hardest to be less specific in future posts.

So here I am, just about a week and a half in the Puerto Rican rain forest… I have spent 9 nights at the remote mountain research station, aptly named El Verde. From the very beginning of this trip, as with all my other overseas adventures, I had grand intentions to journal. I also had the idea that I should send periodic email updates to a select distribution of friends, family and acquaintances. Neither have been done of course. So when I learned maybe a week ago that one of my colleagues (Liza McFarland) was keeping a blog of her experiences, I was inspired with the natural and simple mesh of my two documentation intentions. While I am thinking of it, and I am sure she will not mind, here is the link to her blog …http://lizainelyunque.blogspot.com/ . Liza has of course been more diligent with her posts and even started on our first full day on the island, what a novel idea! Anyway her blog can be used to fill in the gaps and to portray a different angle to life on the States detached surrogate Caribbean state.  So with that preface I am going to attempt to sum up the last 10 days starting with my packing process…

In line with my other overseas travel experiences, I got serious about packing at about 9pm on Monday June 6th. The time, day, date is not significant but the fact the I was to leave Eau Claire, WI at 3am in the morning of Tuesday June 7th is notable. Packing in itself is not a terrible task but never the less is one of my least enjoyable tasks. But to make the task more daunting, a good portion of my necessities were still packed and pilled in boxes in my bedroom and basement from my recent move back from school in Menomonie, WI as well as my trip to Seattle, WA which I returned from just a week prior. I dislike unpacking almost as much as I hate packing. Thinking about it I suppose I just am not too fond of moving. Anyway I partially unpacked ( I use those loose words very loosely) and began the process of packing for a 3 month (possibly 7 month)  stay in a very unfamiliar setting. To make a 6 hour story short, in the end I had a maxium sized AirTran checked bag (kindly lent to me by my cousin T) packed to the max. I was hoping to meet the 50 pound limit but later learned it was exceeded by 19 pounds. In addition to my behemoth of cloth on wheels, I also toted my rather heavy camera backpack complete with the camera body, 5 lenses, a speedlight, my laptop, a collection of chargers, some chocolate, and my aluminum water bottle. I also had a small duffel filled with clothes and my 33 liter Osprey Talon backpack (ironically my only bag while in Europe for a month) which was filled with two raincoats and two pairs of hiking boots as well my favorite footwear ever… my chocos (which I currently am wearing).  Lastly I had in hand, my fancy expensive pillow complete with its custom pillowcase with a blown up image of my favorite 1975 VW burnt orange Westfalia camper van – Harv (which combined was a gift from my awesome lady friend – Joey Starkman on Valentines Day). All the aforementioned items were packed into my dads Camry and we departed at about 3:08am. Pretty good considering I wanted to leave by 3am for my 7am MPS flight out to ATL and didn’t finish packing until 3:06am (yes it was an all nighter). The plan was to sleep for just over an hour while my dad drove me to the cities. No sleep was had as we talked the whole way, and honestly I cant think of what we even talked about? Maybe exchanged Europe stories? Anyway I decided Micky D’s would be a good stop on the way there and suggested a few known easily accessible locations (Baldwin, Hudson…) but we didn’t decided to stop till we were about 15 min from the airport. ((Okay speaking of food and I know you are not a “real time” captive audience but it is 5:41pm here and I am elected to make the team dinner for the night so I am going to jet)( dinner was good – rotini with alfredo and spices and a mashed dish including the rest of my malanga, an onion, potatoes, a few cloves or garlic and some spices and milk all washed down with a cold Medalla )) McDonald’s was supposed to be just down the road but we never did find it and ended up getting lost in a village of buisness’s and corporate headquarter buildings. My dad wasnt necessarily hungery but we shared a common need while looking for that Mcdonald’s… we both really had to pee. So with no restaurant nor awake person in site, my dad parked the car and left it running at the gates of the “Delta North” headquarters while we ran up hill to urinate in a young white pine. We both got a fright when a car rolled down the road, but were re-leaved as it turned into the adjacent driveway. Fifteen minutes later at 5am my dad was dropping me off at terminal 2 – Humphery and 10 minutes after that I was sitting at gatel 11 with and hour and a half to spare. Iphone to the rescue! Soon I was Atlanta bound. The flight was full but the seat next to me was open so I had plenty of room for my camera bag, duffel bag and fancy pillow. After flying Sun Country the week before I felt spoiled when I was served cookies on the flight.  I arrived in ATL at 10am and a little less than an hour at gate E9 and I felt fully immersed in the Puerto Rican culture with a flurry of Spanish all around me.  After boarding the plane I found my window seat that I had requested at 7am was taken by a teenage native to the island.  The gentelman in the isle seat (also Puerto Rican) said they were all  a group. I said thats fine, where is the young mans seat? I and my two bags and large pillow ended up sitting across the isle in the middle seat between two of the young lads friends. It turned out I was in the middle of a large group of high school age boys interspersed with their parents who were all just returning back to the island from a basketball tournament in ATL. They made for a very active flight to say the least. I was entertained with the newest released level in Angry Birds -Rio on my Iphone. Once in San Juan I easily made it to our baggage carousal but had to wait for the bags to arrive. In the meantime I checked the email that Chris (my new boss man) had sent to confirm where to meet.

After getting my bag I hurried to the location knowing that I was the last of four to arrive to Puerto Rico (PR from now on) from the States. No one there looked like they had come from the rain forest to gather me, so I asked a young lady where the El Verde group may be and she pointed me outside. Boy was it warm and humid out there! I quickly spotted my group and snuck in behind them as they were all looking towards a different baggage claim. It was at this point that I met in person:

Chris Nytch: my young supervisor originally from Connecticut but on the island for the last year and a half.

Ed Whitehead: from NJ and a graduate of Rutgers in the Fall ’10.

Rachael Steward: from the Seattle area but a Spring ’11 graduate from Tufts in Boston.

Mark Baran: Another MB, confusing I know… from Long Island and a Spring ’11 graduate from Cornell

Liza McFarland: from south of Madison, WI but also a spring graduate from Tufts in Boston.

We got to the large white UPR (University of Puerto Rico) van and stuffed our junk inside. Before departing Chris pulled us all aside individually and talked finances and then had us sign our lives away on a few sheets of paper. While we were individually occupied with this task the group decided that the Marks needed nicknames – more to come on this. Soon we were on our way to the main campus of Puerto Rico to drop off the paperwork we all just signed. While Chris ran in to an obscure building to deliver the documents we got out to look at plants. While the group was occupied I ran with my camera to get some shots of a cool very central and historical looking university building. On the way back to the van I got excited as I saw my first couple of Anoles (small tropical  lizards I had while  growing up). Little did I know there would be many more to come- like hundreds a day, everyday.  Soon we were all gathered and en route to the grocery store. Along the way we named the van Francis and stopped at a roadside vendor of fruits and vegetables run by some Dominicans. I purchased 3 varieties of mango and half of a large tuber called malanga while Chris did all the translating. I should note it was raining while we were there (a common theme) and I took a photo of an anole perched on a hanging bag of fruit with my Iphone. After a $60 visit to the grocery store with a sack of potatoes and 5 pound bag of whole carrots we were finally on our way to the field station. Amazingly Francis made it up the winding roads and steep driveway, we came to the last small hill adjacent to one of the buildings and had to stop due to a soccer game. Francis didn’t have to power to make it the rest of the way from a stop so we backed down a way and got a running start.

As soon as we got out of the van we had many new faces to meet from all across the U.S. – GA,CA, CT, NY, WA… Chris showed us our individual baskets in the fridge and boxes in the pantry so we put all our food away and then were shown our living quarters.( https://sites.google.com/a/ites.upr.edu/el-verde-field-station/Home – photos to come but in the meantime check the website) I reside in the “man cave” and was delineated as having a bottom bunk but elected to switch signs and claimed a top bunk near the ceiling fans with a dresser right next to it acting a nightstand. There other two male volunteers (Ed and Mark) also live in the man cave (mc) as well as 9 other guys. Given that many bodies and the warmth humidity and vast amounts of rain you can guess how the mc smells. The mc have has a screened porch in front of it with the shared bathroom at the end. The bathroom has only one toilet, two showers one sink and another just outside of in the porch. I took myself a shower and turned in early (although the sun sets around 7 so it seemed late) By the time I finally laid down to bed I hadn’t slept for roughly 36 hours. Rest never felt so great. * If you read all through up to this point I really apologize and will try to be conscious of being more articulate in future posts.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Cooper on June 17, 2011 at 3:12 am

    Mark, sounds like an amazing opportunity! I enjoyed reading about your adventure so far and am looking forward to reading future posts. It’d be cool to hear an overview of why you’re there, what you’re doing and how you got into it.

    I mentioned to my uncle that you were there and he started telling me of the time he stayed down there for three weeks for a biology class. Apparently Ponce is a cool place? Anyway, take care and I look forward to reading more.

    I’ve signed up for email notifications of future posts 🙂

    Reply

    • Awesome, Thanks Cooper!

      Alejandro’s (the grad assistant I work with) family lives down in Ponce so hopefully I can make my way down there at some point this summer 🙂

      Reply

  2. Thanks for posting Mark…Look forward to reading about your adventures.

    Reply

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