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I found myself becoming increasingly perturbed with a particular man at the gym. Despite his ritzy fitness getup, he was sluggish with the equipment and in the limited space of my community-center gym, he always seemed to be in the way. As closing time neared, it was just the two of us left. Feeling accomplished in my workout, I made to leave only to be followed by the putzy man.

To my quiet dismay, he stopped me in the hall; asking where I was from. Feeling hungry, tired, and angsty, I tired to move the conversation along. Yet,  after a bit of chatting, I learned that his wife had taught math at my middle school but went off on pregnancy leave just before I arrived. Soon we were exchanging phone numbers, and he was extending future dinner invitations.

As we parted ways, I found myself repleted with guilt.

After dinner and a shower, I had plans to meet a Korean fella from Facebook. He had agreed to buy a sweatshirt of mine (I am in the process of parting with all my things). Although I was tired out from my busy weekend, I had agreed to meet him at 10PM. While I was getting dressed and just a  few minutes before our agreed rendezvous, I got a message asking where I was. I sent a hurried response that I was on my way and headed out the door.  Arriving at Starbucks right at 10PM, I looked around for a man that matched the Facebook photos. With no luck, I sent a message only to learn that he was at a nearby bar but would be on his way.

Feeling perturbed that I would go through this inconvenience all for five bucks, and feeling out of place on the busy street with my wet hair, hoody and adjumma pants,  I took a seat and browsed Instagram. Not long after, I was confronted by a merrily buzzed younger Korean gentleman, asking if I was Mark. After exchanging pleasantries,  I handed him the bag with the sweatshirt and he handed me a small wad of cash, saying that he knew I had asked for $5 but he decided to give me $8.

As I walked back home through the busy streets, I could not help but think how funny it was that all these people were out for a social night and here I was headed to bed. As I waited at the crosswalk leading into my neighborhood, I heard a “Hello teacher”. I turned around to find one of my higher level grade 3 boys. I asked where he was headed, and he said that he was going to English academy. I was incredulous. “you mean academy finished at 10 or is just starting?” I asked. Class is from 10PM till midnight was the response. Now instead of finding the busy Tuesday night novel, I felt a bit of guilt.

These were small outrospectives  indeed but being that they dominated my entire evening, they brought to light a recent lapse in empathy. It was a stark reminder that life is tough as much for you if not moreso for someone else (especially here in Korea with its notoriously long work weeks for adults and rigorous study regiments for youth). Be kind, be considerate, smile.


Its the Little Things (II)

While my blogging tends to wane off, “Its the Little Things” has proven to be a manageable way to stay engaged with the site. If nothing else, it serves as a diary for me, chronically less than normal events. These events are so small that they rarely warrant a second thought, much less a blog post. I intend for this to be an ongoing project in which I update frequently (hopefully) with the little things that make life delightful and fresh.

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May Day

Back in 2013 I started the annual tradition of summiting the nearest mountain in the pre-dawn hours of my birth-day. The idea being that I wanted to watch the sun, rise over my new year of life.

I’m honestly not sure where the idea came from, but at the time I was living at a camp nestled on the southern slopes of Oahu, Hawaii’s – Waianae Mountain-range. I was in convenient proximity to a whole string of mountains, so… Why not?

I did not know it at the time, but the idea of watching the sun,rise over a new year, is totally Korean. In-fact thousands, nae. Probably millions of Koreans gather on all the various mountaintops across the peninsula to watch the sun, rise into the cold January sky on the first day of the new year. Coincidentally, this new years day is also a universal ‘birthday’ across Korea as each Korean ages one year regardless of their actual day of birth. Essentially any person born within the same calendar year  is the same age. Thus:  Age = Current Year – Birth Year + 1. Actual birthdays are acknowledged here but not necessarily celebrated outside of childhood.

Saturday night (April 30th 2016) found me at a local beach on Yeosu’s east coast. A friend is departing Korea, so a hoard of us gathered for camping and night-time revelry. I was unsure whether I would sleep prior to my early AM hike but setup a tent in what I anticipated to be a dark and quiet corner of the tent village. As the humid spring night wore on, the debauchery increased as the temperature played opposite. A bit after midnight I decided that a ‘nap’ may be in order.

With sunrise at 5:39AM, I had an alarm poised for 3:30. The cool-wet air paired with the babel of the campfire and infrequent firework explosions all played against my plans for a nap. In no time at all, I was packing up a sandy damp tent and making for my car (recently acquired). Heading into the night, I had little plan as to what mountain I would scale but figured any of the many peaks scattering Yeosu’s east coast would offer a spectacular sunrise over the water. Not wanting to bushwhack as I had the year prior, I decided on 마래산 (Maraesan Mtn.) – a peak that I am recently familiar with, having climbed it twice this month already. Twenty minutes of driving and I was able to get to a ‘trail-head’ (service road more like) and was soon trekking a steep paved incline with cameras and tripod in- hand.

Feeling the pressure of the imminent sun, I stopped for a few photos but did not dare to take the time to setup my tripod too many times. A bit after 5, I could hear the distant litany of Buddhist ritual. Visiting a Buddhist Temple last year, I had learned of the Jonggo (bell tower). Each Buddhist temple in Korea has one and they house a series of percussion instruments used for rousing the various creatures of the earth. Not moments after the resonating last note from the old bell; birds, and insects started their pre-dawn petitions.

Once upon the dark summit, I setup the GoPro on the tripod and pointed it east. Taking a seat in the lorn-Korean style gazebo, I tried to focus my mind on meaningful meditation.

Alas. The desire to document the awakening world proved overwhelming and I was soon snapping away photos on my camera and phone. The photo-shoot for-one was interrupted around 5:30 when I was joined by an early rising hiker. Embarrassed out of taking selfies, we joined our silent gazes toward the opposing mountains of Namhae-do now shroud in a gradient crown of pink to orange.

Just as Google had said, the sun’s fiery crimson face peeked around the dark mountains exactly at 5:39. I alternated between watching with fascination and snapping intermittent photos as the sun rose into the sky with visible speed and bravado. The hiker did not hang around long before heading down the opposite slope. I hung around soaking in the warm motility that only an early sun can provide after a chilly night.

The rest of my day was spent playing host to a friend that was visiting from out of town. I scooted her around to all my favorite sites before shuttling her and Hayangyi (my cats first car ride) to the bus terminal. Not long after, I headed to the other side of town for the inaugural jog with the newly minted Yeosu Running Club. Our seaside jaunt ended with a rare Korean style of chicken BBQ. After dinner I decided to swing into Starbucks to see if I could get that free tall-beverage. They were unapologetic in saying that I needed to register online (I had tried previously but my very functional Korean phone number was denied). One of the running club members took pity and was good enough to get me a coffee. Bless his heart. After scooting home (and apparently loosing my wallet somewhere along the way…) I decided that I didn’t have a full enough day, and took a dusky hike with the cat up the mountain behind my apartment. After talking to my parents for a bit, it ended up being a full 38 hours of wakefulness.

A name-day well spent. Wear Sunscreen.


The parting of the sea

If there is one thing that Korea doesn’t lack for, it is festivals. Each and every weekend, the peninsula is speckled with an array of festivals celebrating a myriad of things. As of late, a popular cause for celebration has been the flowers. Just the other weekend my city hosted Korea’s 3rd largest azalea festival while over near Busan there was one of the larger cherry blossom festivals. Upcoming festivals include, a strawberry festival, canola fest, and a handful of tulip festivals. Every single crop, product and even many historical events spur reason for celebration. Many of these festivals share nearly identical structures: trot music for the old generation, kpop performances for the young and all accompanied by large amounts of food and drink.

There are a few festivals that are particularly popular and even geared towards the foreign population. The biggest of which is the infamous Boryeong Mud Festival in mid-summer. Basically, think spring break in Florida but with all those beach-bodies covered in slippery mud. Alternately there is the winter-time Hwacheon Ice Fishing Festival complete with ice slides and elaborate snow sculptures. In the autumn you have the Andong Mask Festival  with cultural dance and comical shows, all set within a beautiful river valley. As I alluded, spring may have the highest density of festivals but one that particularly sticks out is the Jindo Sea Parting Festival.

Once a year and only in the spring, the tide is low enough to create the “miracle sea road” – a 2.8 km path connecting Jindo (Korea’s 3rd largest island) to a much lesser island off the southern coast. Unlike the other festivals this time of year, this one revolves around a legend:

It is said, that ages ago tigers were abundant on the island of Jindo.  As often happens in these legends, the predators became hungry and began terrorizing the local village, prompting the locals to flee to the nearby island of Modo. An elderly woman: Grandmother Ppong got left behind. She prayed to a Dragon King in this dire time of need. One day, the Dragon King appeared in her dream and told her that he would connect the two islands with a ‘rainbow bridge’. When Grandma Ppong arrived to the coast and began praying, the bridge appeared as promised. The sea road opened, and villagers from Modo walked across playing drums and gongs to scare the tigers. Upon meeting the villagers, Grandma Ppong confessed that seeing the sea road appear was her last wish, and shortly after, she passed away. Ever since, it has been a tradition to congregate on Jindo and celebrate Grandma Ppong’s will to reunite with her clan across the sea.

I didn’t know any of this two years ago but nevertheless found myself knee deep in dark icy water at 4AM on a cold, dark spring morning. As it turns out there are actually a few partings that all happen around the same time period. While this brutally early one fit our group itinerary, it wasn’t in fact a full parting. We shivering early birds were maybe only a third of the way across before air raid sirens accompanied by a seemingly impromptu firework display beckoned us back as the tide came in behind us. Despite the impatient waters, I did end up making it to the island via a new adjussi (older Korean man) friend and a chartered boat. The boat ride back was particularly memorable as it was ferrying one of the youngest professional singers of traditional Korean music (video forthcoming). This and a cool group of new friends made the weekend one of the most unforgettable of my first year in Korea.

So last Friday afternoon, when I was browsing upcoming events on Facebook, these warm memories returned – seeing that the festival would take place over the weekend. Being that I live in the same province and even on the same coast, I was tempted to make a repeat of the event. My temptation subsided when I saw that the group would be participating in the Saturday morning sunrise parting… Nevertheless I mentioned to a friend on the other side of the province that I was interested in going. She confided that she had never been, but ironically enough she had met one of the event leaders the night prior as he stopped through Mokpo en-route from Seoul to Jindo. Michael had invited her to tag along on the trip. Sol hadn’t given the invite much thought, but hearing my interest, decided to look into it.

Next thing I know, I am on the last bus to Mokpo. Around 10PM I rendezvous with Sol at the bus terminal and we are off in our hour long taxi ride down to the island. After navigating the foggy country roads, the driver dropped us off at a large hilltop pension that I immediately recognize as my accommodation from 2 years prior.  Michael comes out, and escorts us through the quiet complex (the bus loads of foreigners are just now departing from their respected corners of Korea). In his room, he introduces us to his catering crew from Busan. After plenty of fried chicken and mixed drinks, the Busan posse retired to their room. It was not long before we were joined by a USAF captain who had driven down for the event. Only the captain and I attempted any sleep, and it was maybe only 30 minutes later before we had to be up and at-em to join the buses rolling in near the seafront.

In our groggy state, we joined the hoards of Westerners in putting on our colorful thigh-high rubber boots. As we followed the procession to the sea, a firework display erupted in front of us! Soon enough, we arrived at the bottleneck of torch-bearing sea-parting-partiers. Live traditional music was entertaining so much so that I did not realize people had already started heading out into the sea. I hung back taking in the scene: a torch-lit snake of bodies illuminating against the pre-dawn twilight. The tide worked its way out, but the onslaught of torchbearers moved faster -thus giving the illusion of a  water-serpent gliding atop the depths.

I joined the ranks. The chill of the water stark against my thin rubber boots. I moved quickly, aiming to make it to the island this time around. I passed Westerners and locals alike – stopping to take ‘selfies’ or watch the old islanders dig for clams & and other salty treasures exposed by the abnormal tidal drop. I bypassed the film crews, out fishing for interviews and stopped only to snap a few hurried photos. My destination looked ominous – only a radio tower poked out of the cloud-shrouded island.

**** Air Raid Sirens ****

It was clear I would not be making it to the island this time around either. The waters came back with a vengeance, reclaiming the briefly exposed land-bridge. While heading back on an already submerged segment, I accidentally stepped off the path and filled one of my boots. The tide came back in so fast that water in my boots became a recurring event, to the point that I was saturated thigh-to-foot.

Once on dry land, I rejoined Michael and Sol and we sloshed back to Michael’s refreshment tent. After emptying my boots and gratefully polishing a tall cup’a Joe. Sol and I attempted a nap but were hindered by the recent dose of caffeine.

The rest of the day consisted of traditional Korean wrestling (Ssireum), a chance run-in with a local group of friends, followed by a double run-in with a friend from orientation, a paragliding show, a holi-hai color festival on the beach, new Turkish friends from Yeosu and finally an international party at the ‘Global Zone’. Said party featured both male and female Kpop troupes, a South African DJ, and both a funky group from Daejeon as well as a solid cover band. I ran into my new Turkish friend (Esat), after exchanging contact info, we joined in as the night devolved into a dance party. Unfortunately it was cut short by Michael’s intervention on some unruly Sri Lankans who couldn’t seem to respect the party going women.

It wasnt even noon before the buses had all departed the following morning. The festival went on, but felt a bit deflated without the ranks of ‘foreigners’. Nevertheless Sol and I enjoyed a series of cultural dances featuring Russians, Colombians and even a professional American Kpop dancer that I recognized for YouTube. After chatting and getting photos with her and her partner, it was time to say goodbye to the Busan crew and head back up to Mokpo with Michael.

In the end it was an impromptu weekend well spent. I had gone for the sea parting; although I was again disappointed, I came away with new friends and even a few new experiences which is saying something as the years draw out in the Land of Kimchee.




monday monday!

Lunes 27 de junio de 2011

It was tough getting up Monday morning after a fun weekend. The rain didn’t help either… We decided over breakfast that none of us really wanted to work in the field + we had some catching up to do on data entry. So we started on that and was on it for no more than a half hour before we were kicked out of the computer lab by the Columbia U posse who had the space reserved for lecture.

With no other choice we headed to the field despite an ominous sky and already wet conditions. Alejandro had run errands in town and met us out there a while later. He confessed that he had just gotten a new machete and jumped on the opportunity to use it when he found a large bamboo in the road. We didn’t think it took that long to run to the post office…  It wasn’t long before it was raining. And then it was lunch time. And then it was raining. I contributed to the lunch time discussion of dead actors due to substance abuse from under a palm frond (my favorite shelter from the rain). Soon we were back at it and after a short break, so was the rain. Liza and I ran into the same uncomfortable predicament. Our rain coats channeled water down our backs – down our shorts and subsequently cold water ran down the backs of our calves. Regardless we pressed on. It was maybe 2pm when the thunder, lightening and intense gusts of wind sent us packing for the station.

We cleaned up with the thrum of the generator in the background – the power had been knocked out. Alternately there was no internet so we could not do any data entry. Shucks! It wasnt hard at all for me to nap. Ed finally woke me to go grocery shopping. Despite being out of food I strongly considered not going. We decided on Walmart, and it felt just like home. Back at the station I made shell pasta with sausage and ground beef enhanced, mushroom and green pepper sauce with a side of green beans and Ed’s baguettes.

The “stream guys” who live just down the road from us had invited anyone that was interested down to their place for a BBQ. I would not have been tempted to go if it wasn’t that iguana was the main item on the menu. Never wanting to pass up something new and exotic, I was rather torn between heading down or getting some much needed rest. I decided I could not commit, but made Rachel promise to bring back part of the large lizard. I still have a skinned iguana leg in the fridge almost a week later…

By chance, I began reading an short mystery novel called Framed in Lace by Monica Ferris. It was not until a few pages in that I realized the plot was set on Lake Minnetonka – southwest of the Twin Cities. Despite the new read, it was a well deserved early bedtime…

epic island road trip!

Sabado 25 de junio de 2011 

Saturday was fairly lackadaisical… The highlights were taking my camera out into the forests and getting some nice shots before getting rained out. Then heading into town with Elanie (a student researcher)  & Elogance (a Columbia U student) in search of corrugate for making spider houses.  Although we were empty-handed corrugate wise, Elogance had armfuls of food including about 20 lbs of ribs for a potluck he decided we were having Sunday night.

Domingo 26 de junio de 2011

Sunday was an early morning with lots of plans in store for the day. Friday night I met Rich, who is a grad student living at the “stream house” which is another El Verde building located halfway down the mountain. Rich had less than a week left in PR but has a lot of things he wanted to do on the island before leaving, so a few of us decided to get in on his bucket list.  I got up at 7 to pack my stuff and eat my breakfast (buttered toast with jam and glass shards). Liza, Rachel, Rocio and I headed down the driveway to meet Rich. Once at the bottom he was not there so, trying to make the most of time we starting walking down the main road. 25 min later we were in a downpour and 35 min later we were out of El Yunque Nat. Forest. 20 yards from the stream house, a red Toyota Tacoma extended cab rolls up. We climb in realizing this was the nicest vehicle we had been in yet while in PR.

After driving considerably west of San Juan, we headed south on Hwy 10. Due to an electronic pass on the windshield we were able to speed through all the toll booths. After 1.5 hours cumulatively, we pulled off at a Texaco gas station and hiked up and then down a dirt path. As obscure and remote as the place was, there were people everywhere. We rounded a corner and came to a large cave mouth with a smaller – steeper cave entrance below it in the foreground. After taking some photos I went to get in line behind Liza to enter the steep slippery slope leading in to the larger cavern. Once I was close, I saw that a climbing rope was tied from a rock and the top and another 40 yards at the bottom. A man with a helmet and headlamp waited at the bottom. I soon realized he was a tour guide and I was amongst a tour group. There was light at the end of the cavern from a distant opening 3/4 up the rear wall. It seemed like I had just gotten in and snapped a few shots before my group was off again. Soon we were headed down into the more narrow cavern. The caves were the result of karst topography in west-central PR. Because limestone is “soft” it is easily worn away by water and in the case of the second cave, large stalactite type rock formations hung from the ceiling. Due to my photo taking I was again left in the dust (actually there is a more appropriate, wet term) and alternately in the dark.  Before long I was in the middle of a large cavern and walking through a puddle of mud. The cold mire spilled over my chacos – gross. After plenty of frightening stumbling around, I rounded a corner and headed for the light. As I got closer I could see the light was from a large hole in the side of a tall mountain (which I was inside) the hole was approximately’ h x 70′ w. The cave was appropriately named Cueva Ventana which translates – window cave.  And a window it was! it looked over a fertile river valley complete with ag. fields and bordered by  lush rolling hills. Spectacular sight!!! Swooping above our heads was a dance between winged mammals and feathered birds (bats and swallows). I learned Rich also had a run-in with the muck. I also learned the muck was much more than that, it was in fact guano :0 !!! We could not wash up at the Texaco station in which we were parked due to lack of running water. So we used our water bottles and did the best we could. While I was watering the lawn out back, I saw the biggest and prettiest skink I had ever seen – 40m!

Soon we were again headed south on Hwy 10 with even more of the most amazing landscape I had ever seen. Perfect steep rolling hills on either side of us, in rows – foreground, middle and background. They looked exactly how any child would depict a scenic panoramic view. From time to time we would pass strange rock formations and cave openings (similar to the one we were  just in) on the sides of the steep green gumdrops.

After coming to an abrupt dead-end on the Hwy, we back tracked and took a scenic detour (which is actually the only route – Hwy 10 is not finished yet) on a road that could rival any San Fran St. in steepness and curves. We skirted a beautiful river as scenic as could be – just calling to be kayaked. We passed people bathing and filling buckets from pvc pipes jutting straight out of the side of the sheer hill slope. We stopped at a vacant one up the road so that Rich and I could wash off the poo. I couldn’t help but put my mouth under the falling stream of water and have a taste. The water was pure and sweet and no doubt tasted better than the most expensive of expensive bottled water. I regretted not filling my water bottle as Rich had…

As we were speeding along back on the main drag headed for Ponce, we experienced a blow out on the front drivers side tire. Not wanting to get in the way, I ate my sack lunch and enjoyed the local topography as the spare was put on. For reasons unknown, every other car that sped past us was sure to honk. Soon we were on our way but dangerously low on fuel. We turned off on 123 and filled the tank. Alejandro is from the area and had recommended a place for lunch but we realized we were already too far south. We continued on and soon found ourselves in the non-touristy impoverished district of Ponce. Not knowing what we were looking for, we were all surprised when the buildings got rapidly nicer before suddenly opening up to the historic Ponce town center. We parked and headed through the Plaza Las Delicias in search of lunch. It wasnt long before learning that many restaurants are closed on Sunday. We stopped to talk to some locals sitting outside the consequential Policia station. They kindly pointed us towards Cafe Tomas. Having already eaten I settled on a cup of beef soup and an appetizer sampler. Everything was breaded, deep-fried and not overly impressive apart from the ping pong ball sized cheese balls which I had been eying up in the first place.

We wandered the grand streets that embraced the town square. With everything being closed and silent we decided to head back toward the center. Despite a onimous sky rolling in from the central mountains, we stopped for ice cream at a place across from the infamous black and red stripped fire house as per Alejandro’s recommendation. I was hoping for pistachio but settled on china which was not as exotic as I thought but instead plain ol orange. We lounged around the Lion’s Fountain before heading out.

We headed east along Hwy 52. I dozed off while squeezed in the middle seat. I was lulled to sleep by the roar of the wind coming in through all 4 rolled down windows as traveled at 65 mph. I jolted awake to the lurch of the trucks brake in time to see a police officer standing on the side of the Hwy and pointing at us as two cars pulled off the road on either side of us. Rich let off on the gas and pulled onto the shoulder while looking in the review mirror in amazement  and confusion as to what just happened. Without stopping, it was quickly concluded to keep going. 5 min later there were police lights behind us and we were pulled over the old-fashioned way. The officer walked up to the passenger side of the truck and in spanish asked for license and registration. He silently wrote a ticket and without saying another word was off. We all looked over Rich’s shoulder to see what this was all about. All the ticket said was $95 for going 75 in a 65. The amazing thing was, we were stuck directly behind a car going no more than 65. Bewildered we continued on to Hwy 53 eastbound.

The drive was beautiful as we hugged the coast. When the Hwy headed north we got onto 901 and continued on through small towns with crowded coastal bars. Eventually we headed inland and up hill. The view over the sheer drop on the side of the road was beautiful with valleys and hills and ocean. Nevertheless the ride was uncomfortable as we nearly hit multiple people, dogs and chickens.

Soon we were lost as seemingly normal roads turned into narrow almost one ways, turned into driveways. After a bit of backtracking, we pulled onto a dirt road that Rich was familiar with. Vehicles and people lined the narrow road which ran parallel to Charco Frio – our destination. Charco Frio is a section of the Fajardo River whose cold waters hail from the high altitudes of the El Yunque Nat. Forest.

Of everything going on, on our way in, one little suv was noteworthy. It looked like the result of MTV’s Pimp My Ride, the trunk was open with a pair of “barn door” doors swung open below the above hatch. The whole inside of the back trunk was fiberglassed with speakers and subwoofers at every hump and valley. Likewise the doors of the trunk all had speakers and subs as well. The sound coming out of that thing could rival a Rolling Stones concert. Soon the parked cars were less and less until we came to a locked chain link gate. Rich honked his horn and not 5 min later a skinny old man in rubber boots and a young man our age came down from a distant house. Rich and Rocio haggled with the old man (Mr. Basilo) for a while before we paid our $8 and he let us through.

It was 6pm. The trip from Ponce was to have taken 1.5 hours but  ended up being over 3. We had only an hour to enjoy our final (and main) destination before sunset. I got my suit on while Mr. Basilo worriedly gave Rocio warnings and instructions. He then led us through his property and left us at another gate on the back side. We were soon running down the muddy bamboo forest trail, eager to make up for lost time. On the way we passed a young local couple and a group of American college-age guys. Finally we descended on an abandoned crystal clear water hole with oval tennis ball sized stones leading out to deep blue waters. The location was called Las Tinajas and consists of two sections. I swam across and climbed a steep rock just to dive right back in to 11′ pool. I then followed Rachel on a land path upriver in search of the notorious upper section. After a lot of scrambling around on rocks, trees and roots, I caught up with Rachel who was at the summit of a large rock overlooking rushing falls that pooled into deep blue water 35′ below. As soon as I got there Rachel had jumped. My heart was pounding more for fear than from the strenuous journey up to this point. knowing this was no time for thought processes. I hurled myself forward yelling Geronimo! Boy what a rush! After climbing back out and up, I got to the top to see Rich sliding down a 25′ natural waterside. I gave it a shot, and despite its appearance it was smooth on the butt before launching you into the deep pool. After doing each natural attraction a few more times we decided to head back due to the impending darkness. We climbed back on the opposite side of the river. The trail ended with a 15′ drop into a 10′  stone walled ravine just below a waterfall. It wasn’t until after you had hit the water and made your way to the surface, that you were aware of the current that grabs you. After 10 yards of floating I was able to stand on some submerged rocks with Rich and watched as the rest of the group made the night time plunge. Once all had jumped I turned around to find that we were in the quiet pool we had started at initially. We climbed out and put on our clothes on to the chorus of eager coquis ardent after a days rest.

After carefully making it back to the Basilo property by the light of Rich’s head lamp, we were greeted by a group of barking dogs. A nice middle aged woman came out of the house, quieted the dogs and showed us to a hose where we could wash up. She then led us back to the truck before heading down the road and opening the gate for us. We waved as we headed home.

An hour later we were on the west side of the forested mountains back at the El Verde Field Station. We found the kitchens and front porch were buzzing with Columbia U students and all the other student researchers stationed here. In addition to Elogance’s large quantity of grilled ribs, there was also various salads and dishes of cooked and fried tasties. Needless to say, I went to bed well worn but well fed.

we’re doing it again!

Jueves 23 de junio de 2011

Thursday was yet another full day in the field. After getting back to the station, and sweaty to the max, it was decided that as per-usual a swimming session was in order. Seth, Rocio, Rachel, Mark and Ed ( just along for the ride)  and I loaded up into the back of Alejandro’s small Mazda truck. We headed up to our favorite (lower) location on Espiritu Santo. Once within sight of the bridge we saw that our old standard was a popular place for family and friends after a hard days work. We decided to head further up but after some discussion over time constraints, it was decided that we head back to the location near the bridge. The swimming hole had cleared out a bit but there were still about a dozen people there. After jumping off of some rocks into places were knew were deep; Rachel, Alejandro and I headed up river toward the crevas leading to “Narnia” – the enclosed area closest to the huge falls. Rachel and Alejandro decided to swim underwater and then climb up a chute leading into the stone walled torrent of water. I made the choice to again shimey between rocks and a jammed log. Once over the slippery rocks on the interior and into the water, we swam against the current heading up stream. As I was struggling to keep up, with slippery rock faces 2.5′ on either side of me, I spotted an 1″ shrimp clinging to the wall just above the water. I thought how jealous I was of him living so calmly in such a turbulent yet magical place. Once back to the calm swimming hole on the other side, we took turns using the mask and diving down 12′ to look for Mark’s lost glasses. The water was clear and we could see lots of shrimp. But not glasses. I did find a beaded rasta necklace though. Getting back to the truck, we found Ed out cold sprawled in the bed.

It was my night to cook dinner for our little group. I steamed rice with bits of carrot. In a wok I fried up bean spouts, onions, eggplant, mushrooms and a medley of other canned Asian veggies. In a frying pan I did up a collection of canned seafood; octopus, squid, sardines and mackerel as well as some eggplant and onions. In the middle of our meal we found ourselves suddenly in complete darkness. I quietly got up and turned on the external flash of my SLR. After strobbing a couple of rooms, causing mayhem and confusion, we were suddenly in the light again with the thrum of the generator off in the darkness.

As it turns out today was the holiday of Midsummer Eve or more commonly, Noche de San Juan (or Fiesta de San Juan). The holiday celebrates John The Baptist with festivities all over Europe and Latin America. Here the Puerto Ricans take this holiday to heart given that their capital city is San Juan. After work, the vast majority of the island gathers with family and friends on beaches. They stay there singing, eating, dancing and drinking until midnight when everyone gathers on the oceans edge and runs in backwards 7 times. The idea is that you are then cleansed of old ways and bad luck. So after dinner we quickly cleaned up and packed Francis and as well as Seth’s unfortunate little sedan. After a bit of circling around, both vehicles were at the entrance to a gated beachfront community. After some phone tag, we were inside and parked at  Christina’s (a student researcher here at  El Verde) mom’s second home in Luquillo. She and her boyfriend Agato greeted us at the door, and we were soon jamming to the Beatles and sipping Medalla. 11:00pm came soon enough and we were all headed for the ocean, passing quaint homes and communal pools and courts. Not 5 minutes later and we were among hundreds of locals partying at the balmy beach. At 11:50pm  we began lining the shoreline. Shirts and shoes off. At 11:59pm everyone was faced, back to the ocean and without watches, we waited for the first to head in. Like BestBuy on a very wet Black Friday, it was shenanigans as everyone ran backwards at full force till being tripped up by waves and on their backs just to jump up and do it again. I would yell to Ed as we ran out of the surf “WE’RE DOING IT AGAIN!” After hitting exposed sand we would again run backwards with as much force as we could muster. By the 5-6th time my voice and legs were tired “WE*exhale*ARE*DOING*exhale*exhale*IT*AGAINNnn!!”. After entering the water for what I figured was the 7th time, I fell back into the ocean a bit prematurely. I let the warm waves jostle me for a bit before joining the rest in a splash fest. At one point I fell back into the water, figuring I should error on the safe side not wanting any more back luck in PR.

Looking down along the beach I was reminded on New Years Eve in Times Square minus the winter clothes, big buildings, fireworks or confetti. Leaving the gated community, I was reminded me more of an accident scene with flashing lights and backed up traffic. It was hard to imagine that there was still another day left in the work week.

I jumped up into my top-bunk bed around 2am hoping 7am would not come too fast. It did…

Viernes 24 de junio de 2011

Our team headed to the field minus Alejandro (he had to graduate in Ponce) but with the addition of Chris (our boss). The censusing was slow due to steep slopes, large rocks and a high % of trees. Despite a nice day in the field, we headed back around noon in order to learn more about data entry. The leftover stir fry made for a great warm lunch. In line with a string of bad luck for Liza, (she fell on the wet rocks in the am) she dropped her full bowl  of hot ramen on her foot -yow.

Data entry was actually pretty fun despite the intense leg cramp. At 4pm it was still a nice day so I headed to my hammock for a bit a reading while resulted in a nap. I got up about an hour later and decided to climb up the weather tower on the hill behind the station. The tower is basically 6 stories of aluminum scaffolding with steps inside. At the top there is various data collecting equipment with a great panoramic view of the ocean 180 degrees and mountainous rain-forest on the opposite.   I think I forgot to mention, but Mark and I climbed up this tower the 2nd or 3rd day we were here.

For dinner Ed cooked an awesome medley of fresh veggies and chicken on the grill. At the same time a group of grad students staying at another El Verde building half way down the mountain came up and started grilling. Soon there was a happening party with helmets, hammers, coconuts, Medalla and the best sangria I ever had. This night was cemented in El Verde notoriety after the director of the station came up to chew out the group.  As it turns out there was an infamous “helmet party” last summer making this helmet party II. I watched safely from the porch and had great conversation with Bob (a grad student that sleeps in the bunk under me) and Cathy from Hawaii.