Friday, 23 November 2007

More mysteries solved

The mysterious spot on my photos? No matter how much I cleaned my lens, it was still there. A huge deep breath and a lifted internal mirror later, I wiped a speck off my sensor. To those of you who don't know much about digital cameras: destroying the sensor, which is far too easy to do, would make the camera body useless, and probably cost me as much to fix as it would cost to buy a new one. Which is horrendous, but I digress. Did you know that digress can mean two things? It can mean to stop a tangent, or to start one. Um... the coast has been OK? Guayaquil's rather like Vancouver? I'm at a loss for things to say. Emily is dying less, though I've got a great shot of her walking back to the hostel carrying her IV bag aloft. Which I carried most of the way, but hey, that wouldn't have photographed as well. More to come when the net cafe isn't closing in 12 minutes and I've got pics, or am feeling more eloquent, or something.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

deadtreeware, felled trees, convention says threes

(This was originally a reply to Sunshine's comment, but it got out of hand, so here you go.) Books have been great, especially at those times when there's not much else to do but swat mosquitoes (ie. when it's raining hard in the jungle). Thankfully my slightly literature-centric attitude has paid off well in such matters: I've read, for the first time, On the Road, The Maltese Falcon, A Confederacy of Dunces, The Catcher in the Rye, and a bunch of others that I've been meaning to read once a copy landed in my lap. Sam Spade, Sal Paradise, Holden Caulfield, and especially Ignatius Reilly mixing it up in jumbled, bumpy bus ride thoughts is an interesting way to spark creativity, and I'm hoping I'm hitting a manic phase. I've got a bunch of random geek ideas down, an short story outline with some character notes and a couple of bits of dialogue, a music video idea that I think I can swing (Matt, if you're reading this, I'm gonna be picking your brain when I get back), and lots of other random stuff, which is good. We're done volounteering in the Amazon. The work wasn't rewarding, there was very little of it (5h a day if it didn't rain, uncommon), and it didn't really feel like we were making a difference. As Em pointed out, we cut down more plants than we planted; I've hacked enough trees down with a machete. At least we moved a nursery... but that's done. Really, it felt like we were paying to be ecotourists that cleared land from time to time but mostly sat around waiting to work. Oh, and exciting news! Eliza, who went to volounteer with turtles in Osa, partly because of me (yay, I did good!) has solved the dead bug bits mystery! She said: "I also stayed in the cabin with the scattered bug bits, the culprit is a foot long gecko that can periodically be seen hanging around in the rafters. It still owned the bed when I was there, apparently if you sleep there with a mosquito net it still rains bug bits down on you when eating on top of the net." We're on the coast now, and couldn't rent bikes today. So... soon we go down the Sun Road, slowly, to Guyaquil, the biggest city in Ecuador, before I go back to Quito and Em goes to the Galapagos (for which I'm jealous, but I don't have the money and I haven't really researched how bad tourist damage to the area is). Love ya and miss ya! -Dan

Friday, 9 November 2007

La Selva

The Amazon is less Amazonian than expected. Vaguely the middle of the jungle, amidst verdant hills with streams that finger their sides, tickling down, Tsuraku is vibrant, but not that different from any other forests I've been in in the last couple of months, save in Osa, which astounded me far more regularly. The people are welcoming and friendly, though prone to looking in our window at 7am when we're hoping to get up and get changed, and the children are particularly full of smiles. Today, we moved hundreds of plants - a bit of a relief, the work so far has to a large degree felt like make-work - and one boy of eight or so, Christian, always ran and walked beside me as I hustled the wheelbarrow along, grinning and holding a bag of plants. Work seems to be for only five hours a day, six if there's actually much to do. The food is quite good, though I suspect I have an ulcer. The unrelenting heartburn, present even when I sleep, is my only clue though, and I hope I'm misinterpreting. An upshot of all the free time is that I finally read Kerouac's On the Road. I devoured it in four hours straight, in all its photocopied and strung together glory, and I think there couldn't be a better way to read it. Ironic, though, that there was an eensy bit of escapism to North America from the Amazon, but my head needed it in every sense. For now, I'm out in Puyo for the weekend... and I got into the travel writing boot camp. If I can crank out workable print at the end then I might get my expenses paid to travel, which would be tremendous in many many ways!

Monday, 5 November 2007

M n I

Em broke up with me this morning. Huzzah. Lesson learned for me: act on thoughts, not emotions. [Edited for brevity and because some details are worse than all details are worse than no details.]

Sunday, 4 November 2007

At long last... PHOTOS!

Finally, some shots for y'all. I haven't got the small point-and-shoot here. My SLR has got a fixed 50mm on it (translation: it shoots pics that look "normal", but they can't be wide angles nor can they zoom in at all) and the point-and-shoot has a 7x optical zoom with vibration reduction (fancy little bugger, I can't even buy an SLR lens with its range for what it cost). The short version, which those of you into photography will already have guessed, is that almost all of the nature shots - which invariably require a zoom - aren't going to be in this post. Worse still, the card that I've been dumping photos onto... um... seems to not have the directory for the point and shoot. Where I thought I'd left a gig of photos last week. Which'd be essentially all of our nature shots, including endangered species left, right, and centre of shot. So... fingers crossed. Also, caveat: no photoshop, so no colour correcting, cropping, or even rotating, which in some of these is clearly pretty neccessary. Now that I've shared that oh-shit-I-hope-everything's-ok moment, some actual photos! Cookies
Cookies, sometimes called Meg, very kindly offered to help me pack before I left. She was perhaps not expecting quite how frantic it'd be, the night before the Seattle debacle. This is her angry face; she actually cannot avoid smiling, I think it's some facial stucture problem. To be fair, though she's not bad looking in this photo, she's much prettier when it's not 4am and she's not exhausted. And angry.

Puerto Jiminez's beach

Puerto Jiminez's beach
Puerto Jiminez is a small town in the Osa Peninsula, close to Carate where Em and I were volounteering. It's interesting in its own way, and this is the beach there, replete with small boat in the water. From there, we took a harrowing and painful two hour ride in the back of a collectivo, which is a pickup truck with metal bars and a tarp forming a canopy in the back.

The first night at Carate

The first night at Carate
Our first night in Jungle Camp, Carate (also known as "el casa de Benito"), we hit the beach near sunset. The clouds on the coast here amaze me every time I see them.

Skinks like this were everywhere. I honestly believe that these are probably the largest fauna species by biomass in the area, giant tapirs (that we saw tracks of!) nonwithstanding.

scarlet macaw
Scarlet macaws are a beautifully coloured parrot. They're quite common on the coast, though they had some population problems in the past and may or may not be *quite* as well-represented as would be good right now. They're very loud, and normally fly in twos or threes, squawking madly, sounding vaguely "macaaaw"ish. The birds there are amazing, they're incredibly plentiful and interesting.

a bug
When we were in Carate, we volounteered. It was pretty fun; I worked 13 days in a row. It was very hard work, we'd walk the beach for seven to ten hours a night, tagging and measuring turtles ("tortugas"), moving nests that were going to get washed away, measuring tracks, triangulating nest positions, releasing hatchlings ("tortugitas") and so forth. The nearby Corcovado national forest was voted most biointense place on earth by National Geographic, and when or if I get photos off of the little camera I'll put a whole lot from it up, including a video of a very endangered anteater lumbering towards me. In the jungle we were in, a kilometer or so from the national park, the wildlife was almost as absurd, and so were the insects. We got moved from a bunkhouse that had a scorpion in it to a bunkhouse with roughly a circular meter of insect wings and legs and other parts on one of the beds. The pile even included a dead but whole stick insect. We never became certain what kind of creature made the disc-o-death, but this guy, whose limbless body was roughly the same length as my palm, was waiting to greet us when we arrived.

We saw monkeys pretty much every day, though how many and which kinds varied from day to day. The day we moved bunks, this guy hung out in the trees around us for quite some time. He's a titi, or red-backed squirrel monkey. There were also howlers, spider monkeys, and capuchins, and of course loads of other mammals. The second bunkhouse had a field behind it, in fact, which was a favoured crossing spot for a squad (family? drove? murder?) of coatis. Of course, coatis are one of the species that predates turtle eggs, but one can't really argue.

blue morpheus
We had heard of a nearby triple waterfall, and decided, with a fellow volounteer, to head up to them. On the path before it met the stream we saw several butterflies, including this blue morpheus, which has absolutely beautiful blue irridescent wings - on the top halves. On the bottom, it looks like a leaf. Still gorgeous, and huge - palm-sized.

blue morpheus wing
A blue morpho got unlucky a few days earlier, it seems, and I saw this on the forest floor. It gives you a rough idea of what the tops look like, and I rather like the aesthetic of it, too.

This huge dragonfly (noticing a pattern for the insects, yet?) had crystal-clear wings with black and white on the tips, and the four wings made a mesmerizing and beautiful pattern when it flew.

We finally reached the stream, which was actualy quite lovely. The path was at times slightly treacherous, but what can you do?

Our friend and fellow volounteer Bex and Em, underneath the waterfall. Hopefully the small camera's pics are intact, since zoomed out it actually shows how high the waterfall was.

After the waterfall, since we'd heard there were three, we kept climbing. Em and Bex turned back after a little bit, but I pushed forward. After more than half an hour of climbing very treacherous paths, I came across another set of waterfalls which were quite nice but which I couldn't *quite* get to. I turned back, and on the way saw this guy, who just hung out for a while. Alas, I somehow forgot to put my lens cap back on in my rush to get back for daytime hatchery duty - come to think of it I probably had equipment cleaning duty, too. Shortly after this I was trying to get to the bottom of the triple-waterfall and almost died a couple of times. See, when about 15m above rocks on an almost-vertical face, one would've done well to remember that rainforest rock here is not like BC rock. It crumbles in your hand. When it crumbles in one's hand and one starts to fall and grabs a tree, one would do well to know that trees deeply rooted in it will deroot as it crumbles in their roots. When one frantically scrambles, trying not to fall or start sliding, but everything one is grabbing and stepping upon, earth or flora, is crumbling, one would do well to get lucky and grab a plant that somehow manages to cling to the surface better than the very sparse trees. Well, I got the last one right.

This is an orb-web spider. Its body is roughly the size of my thumb, with legs - surprise! - it was roughly the size of my palm, fingers excluded. I got more and better quality shots with the point-and-shoot and its lovely zoom, but I doubt the bokeh will be as pretty.

Back at camp, the sky was of course beautiful. And at times, I can't resist taking pretty pictures. You should see this at full rez, not the flikr-max of 1024x683. Lots of days while on hatchery duty there'd be no hatchlings, so I'd just hang out and read and play the harmonica and beatbox and watch the wildlife and the sky. Can't say I was often sad about hatchery duty, to be honest. At night, there was often phosphorescent nautiluca plankton, and throwing sand and watching glowing waves come in was beautiful too, though impossible to take a picture of, sadly. In our last couple of days volounteering, Em and I switched camps to one 100m from Corcovado. There was a kid there, Kevin, who couldn't help but be afraid of everything. Of course it was he and a research coordinator that saw a coral snake, not Em and I. They saw it from barely a meter away, too, which blows my mind. For those of you not in the know... coral snakes: very poisonous. Also, pretty.

We went on a hike into Corcovado, of course. We were going to do an overnight stay, but despite a full-day trip into Puerto Jiminez - in which I forgot my rain coat, no less, and it poured - and being sworn to that we'd only need to register a day ahead to get a camping spot, they were all out. We ended up doing a short three-hour hike, instead, which was still great. And Emily stepped on a snake. Completely obliviously, too. After she was a safe distance away from it, I pointed it out to her, and she missed a lot of interesting scenery afterwards because she was too busy looking at the ground for more. This plant was hanging in the center of the path about 1.25m above the forest floor by a very thin vine. It attached to something high enough up that it was obscured by other plants. I have absolutely no idea what it is, but it intruigued me. I might use the upper-right thing in some art later. Mmm, bokeh. Anyways, if anyone has a clue what this dangling thing was, please let me know.

This tree looked like a throne, and I liked it.

There were parts of an old engine next to the path at one point. I found it rather beautiful.

rocky beach
The path crossed the beach a few times, and at one point the beach was strewn with some stones that were surprisingly different from each other. Later Emily and I sat down and ate on a log. While we were eating, a coconut fell from a tree and with a threating thump it crushed into the sand in front of us. It was half-buried, and coconuts aren't what I used to think them to be. Brown and furry and kinda big? That's dried after removing most of the outside. Yeah. They weigh a good 5kg when they're small. And until then, I'd thought that most of the dangers would come from my own stupidity, or maybe the wildlife. No, no. One mustn't discount palm trees.

Oh, yeah, and I might've taken more pictures of rocks. Don't worry, I won't subject you to any more of them. I like this one because it was taken with top surfaces of the rocks in a plane, but because of their sizes and shapes it looks like the camera is angled, top-close bottom-far. After the hike was done, we booked it back to camp, grabbed our packs, hiked quickly to the collectivo, and started on our way to San Jose, from where we'd go to Bocas Del Toro and then Tamarindo, both touristy places that have their merits, but neither of which is Monteverde, Montezuma, or Mal Pais, all of which would've been amazing... if roads hadn't been washed out. Though in Bocas Emily got a random chocolate-frosted cupcake from a stranger on her birthday while sitting on a patio over the Carribean, and in Tamarindo I got much better at surfing. And I got an ear infection, but meh.

emily in the San Jose Metropolitan Musem of Art
Emily and I went to some museums in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. While I wasn't a huge fan of the city, the museums weren't half bad. This is Em against the wall in the metropolitan museum of art, if I recall the name correctly.

A Hector Burke painting.
Hector Burke is a Costa Rican artist. This one is not once of his subtler paintings. Most of his work really is, it's abstract and textured and one only gets it when one steps back and relaxes for a moment. I like those. I also like this, though, which kind of hits you right upside the head.

Note: at this point I ran out of Flikr space. The rest have been downsampled and compressed in MSPaint, of all things. Please forgive me. Also, thanks Chris, I really appreciate the space... and they're still uploading.

staff head
A staff head in a Quito museum.

funerary grinding table
A grinding table. These were common funerary offerings, and very often exquisitely ornate. Carved from solid volcanic stone, too.

musical instruments
The variety of muscial instruments was impressive.

gold figure
The Incan gold techniques were actually around before the Incan conquests, but alas I don't recall from which period this came from. This one was made using lost wax.

Butterfly. There's lots. Um, I'm tired and these are getting shorter.

owl's eye butterfly
Owl-eye butterfly, I believe.

Three, three, three times the butterfly.

Some signs amuse me. Security area dancefloor... in the plants! Warning, there is no way you're looking at a madman's secret lab.

The view from our hallway in Tamarindo.

A reasonably typical San Jose street.

A flower then a butterfly. Somewhere in Costa Rica.

In our last days in Costa Rica, unable to get to many places due to washed out roads, Em and I went on a day tour thing. On the river, we saw this cayman, just hanging out, and very, very slowly moving.

"What? Why do you want to take a picture of me? We're on a boat, not... I don't know, bungee jumping." <-not an actual Em quote.

One of many, many spires on the Basilica del Voto Nacional in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Then another.

virgin angel
This is "A virgin angel, standing on the earth, stomping on a snake." Give or take. Visible from many high points in Quito, made of over a hundred pieces of treated aluminum, and very very very tall. Very tall.

night view of Quito
From near the foot of the virgin angel. The view is actually astounding, this doesn't do it justice.

Taken from the cobblestoned central plaza in Quito, where huge trading markets used to take place.

A building in Quito's Old Town.

Doorways distract me. I like this one.

Oh no! Pop art has been imprisoned! Tomato soup won't taste as good behind bars! Part of a Warhol showing, though closed, that can is over a story tall. Note the railing; the gallery has quite high ceilings. The internet cafe's closing: outside pics at

Some of the churches here are smothered in gold. One has over 100 tonnes of gold. Subtle. I liked this column, but it needs some 'shopping.

Flode, a wicked guy whose real name I won't give up here, is a Norwegian guy I met in language school. Rad person. Wish I had a better shot of him.

art and handstands
Flode did the hippo (his signature animal) and the FMS, which is his crew name, which means From My Soul, among other things. The thing to the right, near his can, was done by me. We had a quarter can of dark green left when we were done, everything else was as dry as can be imagined.

checking it out
Flode & graf in Parque La Carolina, Quito.

these were new cans
Flode & graf in Parque La Carolina, Quito. The reference? "These are new shoes." "That way to the beach." "I like my haircut."

dmal's piece
For my first piece this big outside, I'm pretty happy with it. It's loosely based off of a geometric pattern that's common in bricks and on a fertility charm carved by an indigenous Ecuadorian hundreds of years ago. The bricks, when layed out, go on and on and on, breeding into eternity, and he was carved in stone. I could ramble more, but...