Curry and Spice

Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

Travel: Work, work, work

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2011 at 6:57 am

After arriving back from camping, we settled back into a slightly different routine.  The last part of the semester is focused on directed research, but we keep taking classes alongside it.  Our first week back after camping was even more than slightly unusual due to the fact that two of our professors and one of our pangueros was in LA, presenting at a conference.  As a result, we had a number of classes for Principles of Resource Management, including a very interesting class that focused on marine mammal captivity.  The more we talk about this issue, the more conflicted I feel.  On the one hand, I think it is incredibly valuable to have animals in order to conduct research.  On the other hand, the current means of captivity are terrible.  The tanks are much too small for the animals they hold, and they greatly disrupt the patterns these animals have been following for thousands of years.  Thinking about this has taken up a lot of our semester, particularly after watching “The Cove”.

After class in the morning, we had time off for the first time since we’ve been here.  I was working frantically on my directed research – comparing the 81 whales we photographed this season to over 300 other whales that have been photographed in the past ten years.  While this was exhausting, and in some ways tedious, it was also interesting, and I ended up enjoying it.  The week gradually progressed until the weekend, when two of the others and I had Sunday dinner.  While we were more than the usual amount of frantic trying to prepare dinner, we also had an awesome time.  It’s been so long since I’ve really been able to cook, and it’s a real treat.  I am looking forward to heading back home and cooking again!

This week has been very busy.  We had a letter to the editor due, a climate change presentation (which was very tense and frustrating due to a significant language barrier), and on Saturday, a presentation and ten page paper due on an environmental issue.  We’ve also all been continuing to work on DR.  It was very challenging trying to figure out how to budget our time to successfully manage all of our work.  Nonetheless, we all managed.  Our presentations went very well, and it’s a tremendous relief to be done with classwork.  We have our finals for class this week.

In between the chaos last week, we did some really interesting things, including visiting the Center for Beneficial Insects in Constitucion.  As part of the government’s attempt to reduce the dependence on pesticides, they have funded a project that breeds insects.  These insects (particularly lacewings and parasitic wasps) are used to control other pests on crops.  The center breeds them and then sells them to farmers within the region.  There is a remarkable amount of agriculture in the area, and a number of organic farmers rely on these insects in order to avoid using pesticides.  Visiting the center was very interesting, because, coming from the USA, you expect a certain level of quality in the actual building, particularly knowing that it’s funded by the government.  In spite of being here for almost three months, my expectations still lead me astray.  The building was still very rustic – the manager said the operation had been there since the 1970s, and it was clear that the building had been there as long.  While so many buildings get face-lifts in the US, here, there simply isn’t the money, even for things funded by the government.

The rest of the week was devoted to DR.  Due to bad weather, we didn’t end up going out as planned on Thursday, but did head out on Friday to monitor the sea lion colony one last time.  It was really sad to think about the fact that it was probably our last panga ride, our last try to see dolphins and whales, and our last time seeing the sea lions.  None of this occupied us for too long, however, because we were hiking, and then frantically counting the sea lions.  We were hoping to get there when the tide was lower, but as we got there, it was clear that it was quite high, and getting higher.  In order to be able to leave that side of Isla Mag, we counted hurriedly and set off to hike back across the island.

On Saturday, we all gave our presentations for our ECO class.  My friend and I chose to study the Pebble Limited Partnership mine in Alaska, and found some very depressing things.  While the mine hasn’t yet been built, the company is starting the NEPA process this summer, and is very committed to making the project work in spite of the blatant social, economic, and geologic issues surrounding the mine.  Our presentation and paper turned out very well, and it was a huge relief to finally finish our class work.

This week, we head into the final stretch for DR – Results and Discussion are due today.  We are also taking finals at the end of the week, and present on our DR next week.  It’s going to be a busy week and a half, but I am excited to tackle all of it and go home!

Travel: Directed Research, Los Cabos, and Pinatas

In Uncategorized on April 13, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Sadly, after my last post, my computer died.  The computer no longer recognizes the hard drive, which has made my life very interesting.  I haven’t not had that laptop in three years, and in spite of its flaws, I am still very attached to it, in part because it’s a major part of my independence.  In spite of this, things have been going reasonably well.

The week after spring break was major work time.  While we’d had our midterms before we left for spring break, we hadn’t turned in any portion of our directed research project.  Our literature review, introduction, and methods were all due the Thursday after we returned from spring break.  Additionally, we had another assignment for our social science class.  It was certainly a frantic work week, but everything was turned in just fine.  It’s now stressful thinking about the next portion (which is due in a week and a half), which involves all of our data analysis.  Needless to say,I haven’t started this yet, much to my own anxiety.

It was a tremendous relief to finish a major assignment, because we then headed out on our last camping trip.  While I was very reluctant to go camping in the first place, I had a lot of fun.  It’s been hard transitioning to camping here because it’s so different from what I do at home.  At home, we drive to a site, backpack in, wander around, and backpack out.  The dirt is hard, there’s fresh running water to pump, and there’s never a campfire.  Here, everything is sandy (including every inch of your person), the tents try to blow away because there’s nothing to stake them into, and I’ve only seen fresh running water twice.  There’s ocean up the wazoo, but there is certainly never water to pump, and you have to resign yourself to the lukewarm water from the jugs.  Additionally, people have repeatedly gotten sick after camping, and I was worried that I would be next.

Those things aside, we headed out early on Monday morning to drive to La Paz, the capital of the state.  Going to La Paz is always something of a relief, because while it’s clearly a Mexican city, there’s so much to do and it’s so clean.  La Paz is also the central hub in the state for NGOs, including WWF, Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, and a number of others.  We talked with a representative of the WWF about Cabo Pulmo National Park and the affiliated NGO, ACCP (Friends for the Conservation of Cabo Pulmo).  Cabo Pulmo is a recently created and beautiful national park.  It is at risk, however, because of the threat of a new, 30,000-room resort town that is projected to be built near it.  The resort has proposed to build a de-salinization plant to provide its own water (which according to my professors, is highly unlikely that it will actually be used), which threatens the coral reef at Cabo Pulmo (the northernmost coral reef).  Coral is extremely sensitive to changes in the environment, and the ability to sustain a change in salinity is unknown.  After this very interesting talk, we walked around La Paz for a little while before heading to our camp for the night.  We stopped at Balandra Bay, which is the site of a conservation success story.  It was another area that was slated for development – because of community organization, however, it has been designated as a protected area which cannot be built upon.

Our campsite was a little further south, at Teocolote Beach.  We set up camp as the sun was setting, which was incredible.  It was possibly the most beautiful sunset I’ve seen here, and I’ve seen some incredibly sunsets since coming to Mexico.  We ate our dinner quickly and set up a game of Apples to Apples (my favorite!) before turning in to sleep.  We all slept poorly, so having an alarm go off early in the morning was almost a relief.  We ate a quick breakfast before packing up and getting on pangas to travel around Isla Espiritu Santo, which is part of the biosphere reserve in La Paz.  It was too bad that my camera was not working, as there were some of the most beautiful features I’ve ever seen.  The rock cliffs jutted straight out of the water, and the sandstone was the most amazing mixture of white, orange and red.  It formed amazing cliffs that looked like cathedrals, masks, and so many other objects – it was truly amazing.

After touring around the island, we stopped to see another sea lion colony.  As we headed towards the sea lions, we saw a group of twenty or more dolphins.  We all wanted to get in the water, but our boat-driver encouraged us to stay in and watch – and we saw something incredible: the dolphins began playing in the water!  They leapt ten to twenty feet in the air, just like they were at SeaWorld.  I’ve never seen anything like it, and I doubt I ever will again.  After watching “The Cove” (one of the most heartbreaking and informative movies I’ve ever seen), it was such a pleasure to watch these incredible animals do something like that for their own sense of joy.

After our tour, we headed further south to Cabo Pulmo National Park, where we camped for two days.  The first day, we snorkeled out so that we could do a reef fish abundance analysis.  After snorkeling at Loreto, the fish at Cabo Pulmo seemed twenty times better – there were so many, and so many different species.  Unfortunately, I got extremely sunburned that day walking around without my wetsuit on, which put a damper on the rest of the trip for me personally.  Nonetheless, we talked to some very interesting people at Cabo Pulmo, including the community members who had pushed to start the National Park, as well as managers of the park.

The next morning, we packed up yet again and headed to the headquarters of Cabo Pulmo National Park.  We were supposed to snorkel around the reef some more, go whale watching, and swim with jacks (a large, commercially important species of fish).  Because I was so sunburned, I couldn’t put either my bathing suit top or my wetsuit on, and as a result, I ended up waiting in the boat a while, but I was still able to see some really cool fish from the boat, and we saw a mother humpback whale and her baby, which was incredible.  Once we were done in the boats, we ate a quick lunch before heading still further south to Baja BioSana, a permaculture site on the outskirts of the Sierra de la Laguna mountains.  Vero gave us an interesting lecture about the importance of the Sierra de la Laguna mountains (which provide 70% of the state’s water), and we had a very interesting experience at the permaculture site.  The people were extremely friendly and the food was very good – it was frustrating, however, because for all of their rhetoric about being completely sustainable, I could definitely see ways in which they were unsustainable.  They are certainly more sustainable than most people, so it seemed wrong to be critical, but there was some hypocrisy in what they said and what was served to me as food.  Nonetheless, it was an incredibly interesting experience.

Oddly, we then headed to Cabo San Lucas for lunch.  We also stopped at a dolphin aquarium, which was heartbreaking.  There were twelve dolphins kept in an enclosure smaller than a 25 meter pool.  We were there to find out more about the treatment of the dolphins, and all we found out was that the people there seem to be adept at blocking our access to information.  It was so sad to see the dolphins, and angering to see the people there who thought nothing of the fact that dolphins swim tens of miles a day, live communally, and don’t live in a chlorine pool.  Cabo itself was so overwhelming – none of us have seen that many people in two months, and it was amazing to see the number of people.  Cabo itself is also very unappealing to me, so I was glad when we left.

We drove to Todos Santos to spend our last night down south – we stayed with the cousin of our professor’s wife.  While we were there, we got to play with their dogs, and we got to see a mother humpback whale and her baby breach – again, and again.  It was so cool, and so much fun to see somethign like that after seeing the dolphins in captivity.  We had another good meal and headed to bed on the early side.  While others were watching a movie, one of my friends and I and two of our pangueros played endless games of cards, and practiced our Spanish and English respectively.  It was a lot of fun (possibly the most fun I had the entire trip).

After a long time away, it was a relief to finally drive back to PSC.  We had a long day in the car, but it was very nice to finally be back.  We have been back in the full swing of school, preparing to wind up for the semester (I’m only here for three more weeks!  It’s crazy!).  We have been working on our research projects, our lab reports, and other assignments.  Today we had a fun break – making pinatas with our Spanish teacher!  In between all of our work, we’ve also gone turtle monitoring (we caught and tagged seven, including one of the largest our pangueros have every seen), which was really cool (and tiring) as always.  The next two days are going to full of work, as they’re both DR days – we’ll go whale monitoring and dolphin monitoring, then come back and work until we go to sleep – this will probably be the pattern for the next week and a half until everything is due!