Saturday, August 1, 2009

monkeys and lizards and haunted houses oh my!

I realized that I have yet to describe exactly where I'm staying. (Other than a house with no phone on a street with no name.) I'm not actually being as hardcore as it sounds. We have air conditioning in the room and 3 lovely meals every day. Every morning there are agoutis (large rodents -- they're actually quite cute. Think a cross between a guinea pig and a small deer.) that eat breakfast just outside the porch where we eat breakfast.

So on to the fun stuff. Yesterday we didn't go out in the morning because of the torrential downpour. Yours truly being the brilliant Harvard grad she is left her hiking boots out in the rain for almost the entire storm. Thank you; thank you very much. Thankfully I am also a shameless overpacker so out came my "man catching boots," rainboots with a somewhat art deco, camo feel. A tourist complimented me on them today as I was looking for lizards. Sidenote: now, not only are the lizards a tourist attraction but I am too. A couple of tourists passing by asked to take a picture of Kristen, Shane (another field assistant) and me. Other than looking like the Italian flag in our white, red and green t-shirts respectively, I have no idea why they would want a picture of us. Moral of this story: as anyone who's spent longer than 10 minutes in Harvard yard knows, tourists will take pictures of anything.

Back to the animals... I forgot to mention that on Tuesday Kris and I ran into a troop of capuchins. Those of you who read my emails last year will probably remember that despite being cute, most monkeys are actually evil. These ones thankfully did not throw any crap at us (figuratively or literally) but did yell at us. I've also seen 2 species of toucans, several swallows, agoutis, iguanas, black vultures, scarlet rumped tanagers, morpho butterflies (they have this beautiful iridescent blue color on the back of their wings. When they fly through the forest it's just this beautiful blue glint flitting through the trees. Sorry, that came out way too "I'm poetic" than I intended it to) and huge spiders.

Last night was pretty fun. Shane is interested in gecko population structure so we went out to catch geckos on the walls of the buildings around town. I might have mentioned in my last post that Gamboa used to the main site of canal operations. As canal traffic dropped, the town also shrunk, leaving a number of abandoned, somewhat creepy buildings. Last night a few of us went to find geckos in an abandoned school for customs workers. Between the front door that creaked as we pushed it through the cobwebs covering the doorway, the holes in the floorboards, the broken desks, the spiderwebs, the bats, the long hallways, the mazelike connections of rooms and Shane's beatboxed replica of every horror movie soundtrack, I was pretty sure I was going to die. Obviously I didn't but I am quite impressed with myself and the power of peer pressure that I managed to make it up to the third floor. Remind me never to do that again. On the upside, we got the geckos!

Night is actually the best time to see some herps and other animals. A few nights ago Anthony managed to hurt his hand pretty badly trying to catch a tamandua (a small arboreal anteater). He did so successfully but not without several huge scratches to his hand and a fair bit of blood loss. [Note: if any of you are ever in the position to catch an anteater, beware the front claws. Actually, don't try it. Leave the poor guy alone.] I did not attempt to catch any mammals last night, but we did get anoles. This kind of feels like cheating because they sleep on the tips of leaves and blades of grass. The idea is that the leaf will shake if anything attempts to get it from the ground. Evolution has not yet caught up with the herpetologists. The anoles were really adorable -- some of them didn't even wake up when we caught them; most of them went right back to sleep when we put them in the bag.

This morning was uneventful except for the bizarre tourists who took a picture of us. Other tourists have marveled at our appearance when we arrive at the observation tower. (Our mode of transportation: walk up a gigantic hill or a set of stairs that rival most ancient temples. Theirs: ride a gondola.) We didn't find anything but that won't stop us from looking. Hope you're all well. -Hannah

- tourists are bizarre and will take pictures of absolutely everything
- I went into a haunted house and came out alive
- anoles are much easier to catch when sleeping... and probably a little cuter too
- it rains in the tropics
- monkeys are still generally evil, but not every monkey is evil

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