Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Last Adventure in the Caribbean

Well... hopefully not the last adventure, but the last adventure for a while...

I left Statia a week and a half ago with many well wishes. It was sad to leave Statia which has been my home for the past six months. The people are so friendly, the sun is warm, and the beach might be small, but it's still there! The pace was picking up in the Children's garden, the grass was growing that we had planted, playground equipment being put together, the plants were sprouting roots. All in all, the garden was taking off, and I knew that I was about to leave. So I asked Carlton to plant the mahogany trees where we talked about after I left because they didn't have enough roots to plant at the time. The new garden intern arrived two days before I left, ready to take my place. I only felt bad because I didn't have very much time to show her the tricks in the plumbing system. I actually enjoyed learning a bit about plumbing....

Anyway, when I left Statia, I went to St. Maarten for a pretty long layover on my way to Bonaire. Thankfully, I met up with some friends of mine and we went out to lunch in St. Maarten. It was wonderful to see them, and a nice way to ease my way out of Statia. Unfortunately, I couldn't check in my luggage yet, so I ended up towing this great big suitcase behind me on the way to lunch. But, there could be worse things in life. That evening, I headed to Bonaire to visit my friend, a previous intern with Stenapa, Emily. Emily is working for DCNA or Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance in Bonaire. I had a fantastic trip! Bonaire is off the coast of Venezuela and is well known for diving. The diving community makes up most of the tourists, or at least people that want to snorkel on the reef. The island of Bonaire is the result of volcanic activity, but also sits ontop of some coral reefs. That's why so many of the reefs are close to shore. It's one of the best places for shore diving. You can rent some equipment, load it into the back of the car, and go diving. You don't necessarily need to go diving with instructors because all of the sites are well marked. The diving was excellent! I went diving once and snorkeling a few times. It was just phenomenal! The reefs were in excellent shape, and I went to places that people recommended so I got all the really nice reefs. They were healthy and diverse without an inch untouched by coral. There were also schools and schools of fish.

Bonaire is much larger than Statia, but also drier. The vegetation is very dry and there are many cacti, aloe, and agave plants. It didn't rain the whole time that I was there. The sun was extremely hot, and all weekend, the group of us (RJ who previously worked for Stenapa, Ian, Jamie who works with DCNA, and Emily) plastered ourselves with sunscreen. Even then, we all got a lot of sun exposure and tanned despite our best efforts not to. On Saturday morning we rented scooters and toured the island. Then later on, we tried our hand at windsurfing. Ian and Emily decided they would teach me what to do and that I didn't need a lesson. It was a lot of fun, and I was very excited to try it. The experience was priceless. I had no idea how to turn the board, and kept trying to turn it like a snowboard, which landed me time after time in the shallow seagrass beds. Emily finally came over and told me to move the sail back and forth to turn. It helped a little bit...

The rest of the nights and days were filled with eating good food, biking around the island, fixing Emily's flat tires, drinking good beer, and snorkeling. They took me to visit the slave huts and salt flats. The slave huts being extremely tiny dwellings that supposedly housed a number of people at a time, which is impossible to imagine if you saw how small they were. The salt flats are amazing to see- very shallow pools of salt water that evaporate and leave huge piles of salt that they export. Some of the southern salt flats are home to flamingos. I don't think people are allowed to harvest salt in those areas any more.

Back to Buffalo...

I arrived in Buffalo late last Thursday night, and was overwhelmed by driving on the highway and the tons of snow. I don't know what I was thinking, but I was actually surprised that there were no leaves on the trees. I had completely forgotten what it was like to live in Buffalo during the winter-time. Serves me right too, because we were completely socked with snow from Friday till Saturday and received the largest snowfall all winter: 21 inches. Ugh! But it was beautiful, and very very white and I was glad to at least observe a little bit of snow while being back. I even helped my brother shovel out the driveway.

Currently, I'm consciously trying not to leave the keys in the car, like we did in Statia. Statia is an amazing place, where no one would steal your car because the whole island would know by mid-day...

So, that just about wraps up my adventures in the Caribbean.

Until the next adventure...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


A cross the street from the Stenapa office, there is a dive shop that is right on the harbor. One of the dive masters there also catches conch, which he does as a side job. He cleans them and throws the shells back into the ocean. Since no other animal uses them as a home, the shells pile up and start washing back ashore. I went across the street to take some pictures anyway, and then the dive masters told me that there are some eels that have started living in the shells. I went to take a look, they threw down some fish, and voila eels! You can see one of them in the picture on the right, it's got stripes on it and it's on the rock in the center of the picture. It's incredible how fast they move! I went to pick up a shell to take a better picture, and it curved right around the shell and started moving for my hand! In the picture on the left, you can clearly see it's head as it grabs onto the piece of fish that was dropped for it. These eels are the bain of the lobster fishermen's existence. They go for the bait in the traps, and if the fishermen aren't careful, they eels will bite when they put their hand into the traps (they'll also have no more bait if an eel makes it into the trap!)

Snorkel club round 2:

Snorkel club has started up again. The last group graduated after 9 weeks and they were expert snorkelers by the time they were finished! The Stenapa volunteers helped with the swim test yesterday, which was quite entertaining. First we had to see if they could swim about 500 yards because we'll go snorkeling for about 2 hours at a time. So the volunteers and I acted as "rocks" in the water where they could hang on us and rest before continuing to swim to the pier. It was a huge laugh! They were all very good swimmers. However, most of them had never snorkeled before, and after trying to get them to keep their face in the water while breathing out of a snorkel and holding them up while swimming, I was exhausted after yesterday's club.
I was officially on mask duty, helping to make sure everyone's mask was adjusted properly, and then helping to coax them into taking a giant stride off the pier. Once everyone was in the water, they rapidly got the hang of snorkeling and we even had trouble getting them out of the water! It was great! They were so enthusiastic and a lot of fun.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Botanical Survey

This week there are specialists from all over the world coming to Statia to do a botanical survey. They arrived on Monday night, and I was able to hike the trails with them on Tuesday. Although the group walks very slow, collecting every plant with a fruit or flower, they were a wealth of information about plants as well as field work gone horribly wrong. My favorite story was from Bill, when he was working in Tanzania. The helicopter came to airlift two people down, then came for another two, then came for another two. Bill opted to keep the tent and the food, which was a good thing because the helicopter broke leaving him and one other person stranded at the top of the mountain. They ran out of food and about 6 days later, the military came to rescue them!
We found other things on the trails than just the plants, as you can see by this bug up above. We actually thought that the bugs were fruit on the ground, until they started moving! We also managed to see this Lesser Antillean Iguana. The iguanas have been protected on Statia since 1994, and a lot of older people remmber eating them in soup. Unfortunately, a lot of younger people also remmber eating iguana soup... The iguana population numbers are pretty low because they've been hunted for quite a while. Hannah, the trails ranger had never seen an iguana in the Quill before and she was quite pleased to find them there in their natural habitat. The iguanas turn a grey color when they get older. This one isn't an adult yet, but isn't quite a juvenille either. Even though you can't see the tail, it's about twice the size of the iguana's body!

This afternoon I'm helping with the Junior Rangers club and we'll be walking with the botanists to learn more about the plants in the Quill. It is a wonderful opportunity for the kids because specialists don't come to Statia very often. However, I have a feeling that their usual rambunctious behavior will not be welcome among the botanists! We shall see....

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Children's Garden

Children's Garden

Work in the Children's Garden is full tilt right now. The new volunteers are very excited about making stone walls. The bulldozer came through and although the area is not complete, it is looking good so far. The bulldozer has already dug a cistern and 4 out of the 5 levels. On two of the levels, we removed all the stones, raked it level, and planted grass seed. The current stone wall is very impressive. Unfortunately, we still have quite a few more stone walls to make and we're running out of stones.

Carlton and I have taken a ton of cuttings and right now the shadehouse is at capacity! All of the cuttings are going to be put in the Children's Garden. In addition, we just ordered about 50 bags of potting soil and another hundred pots to take even more cuttings.

After about a week of no rain, it poured for the whole weekend and we ran out of water! Oddly enough, the holding tank that we use most of the water out of, does not collect any rainwater. We have to pump it from another cistern (that does collect rainwater) into the holding tank. I was standing by the side of the house last week when I heard gushing water, which immediately made me run outside because it's the only running water that we have. Due to a broken pipe, we lost half of the water in the holding tank. The water actually lasted us about a week, which was good. However, the weekend was so overcast that we had very little power from the solar panels (hard to imagine in a tropical country) and it went out frequently at night. The weather is back to normal now, which is a blessing. It has finally gotten a little bit cooler at night and in the mornings, which makes it nicer to work in.

The new volunteers are all very nice and they're settling in all right. I've been learning a few new cooking recipes as well as sayings. One of my favorite recipes I actually learned from Carlton (the garden ranger) which is plantain pancakes. Plantains are one of my favorite foods to eat here, along with all the tropical fruit in the garden (passionfruit is in season right now!)

Tonight is trivial pursuit night with SECAR which is the archeological group on the island. They want to see what life is like at the garden so we've invited them up for a match. We only have the genius edition of the game so I hope that the game moves at least a little bit. It should be fun regardless. All the volunteers think that Julia and I have an advantage because we're American and it's an American version, but little do they know I'm horrible at trivia!

Friday, January 11, 2008

The garden sans volunteers

Garden Maintenance

The garden has been a lot of work lately, and Carlton and I have been keeping it up while there haven't been any volunteers. Phase I is looking really good but the fruit garden is a mess. Corallita sprang up overnight and now there's actually a jungle of it in the fruit garden. We're hoping to clear it enough to put grass seed down and then hopefully do some planting of fruit trees. Over the break, Julia and I (the other intern) built these beautiful arches in the garden, and I must say the finished product looks great. The arches are going to be at the 3 entrances of the garden, and they will all have climbing plants growing up them. Most of these plants Carlton and I have started from seed, so it will be very nice to see them growing up the arches. Unfortunately, there's a shipping crisis at the moment and the fruit trees that we've ordered are lost somewhere possibly in Puerto Rico or maybe Saaba, no one knows for sure. In addition to that, no one wants to pay for the lost items. So, unfortunately, some of the major planting might happen after I leave.

The new volunteers have just arrived two days ago and they're settling in nicely. Everyone seems very friendly. There are only 4 of them this time, but they seem very enthusiastic about working in the garden, and for that, I'm very glad. One woman has been working in a nursery for the last two years, and she is very excited about the veggie patch.
Unfortunately, one of the volunteers has a scorpion problem near his tent and he's actually found 3 or 4 of them inside the tent although the tent has stayed closed. Although they won't kill you, they'll give you a really nasty bite and make your appendages swell up wherever bitten.

After completing 10 dives with the dive shop, I was able to dive with STENAPA. So far, I've done about 3 line cleans. The last line clean that I did was quite spectacular because there were lots of really cool fish. We saw jawfish, which looked like little eels coming out of the sand and whole schools of barracuda. The barracuda are apparently a delicious fish, but around here, they harbor ciguatera which makes you get a kind of fish poisoning. (It's actually a benthic dinoflagellate that accumulates up the food chain- that's for you bio nerds!) I'm hoping to do some more line cleans next week, because although it makes your arms very tired from scrubbing the line with a wire brush, you get to see everything at that dive site.

This picture on the left is of the Quill which is the dormant volcano on the island. This is the view from the other side of the island.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Merry Christmas! (a little late) and Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Christmas here was very quiet, which was nice. I went with the other intern and one staff member to my boss' house. She has two kids, one 3-year old (Leon) and one 9-month old (Chloe). So each would cry when one was receiving more attention than the other. The kids kept us busy all night between random games and feeding them, it was quite the time. We had a proper English Christmas, which means you take these long, skinny tubes that they call 'crackers' and pull on either end and a paper hat and a toy pop out. They were really funny and everyone was wearing these hats all through dinner. Leon informed me that I looked very funny in my hat and that he wanted it because it would fit his head better.

We also had boxing day off, which was really nice. Arturo and I went looking for blue beads down by the bay as a way to pass time. The island is pretty quiet right now because the med students have left for break and many of the locals have left to visit family elsewhere or just go on vacation. Wednesday night a lot of people were out around town because there was live music at the old Gin House. People were out dancing and having a great time. It was so much fun to watch the older women dance because they seemed to have such rhythm oozing out of their pores. I wondered what I would look like to others when I dance!

Last night Julia and I babysat for Nicole, which was great because we had free reign over the fridge. She and her husband were so glad to get out of the house that they stocked the fridge with beer, left a ton of veggies, and let us use their washer. It was a great Thursday night! They also had a ton of new movies that they had burned onto DVD as data files. I was absolutely amazed that there were 4 or 5 movies on one DVD. It's seems like anything goes in Statia, but in the States that would be very illegal to download those movies.

Plans are still up in the air for New Year's. I'm hoping to go to St. Kitts because they have a Carnival celebration, but may end up staying here instead. I wish you all a very safe, fun-filled New Years!

(And like my mother always says, drive safe because all the crazies are out on New Years!)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Visit from my Parents!

Visit from My Parents

My parents came to visit me last weekend and stayed for a couple of days in Statia. It was great to see them and show them around my little island! We hiked the Quill (the dormant volcano), ate breakfast at Intermezzo, went snorkeling, walked around time, limed by the pool (statia slang for chilling), and just generally caught up.

My Mom and I went for a ride on my scooter, while my Dad filmed it from the car behind! It was quite an adventure trying to avoid the huge pools of water leftover from the rain.

Since they've left the island, the week has gone by very quickly! It's amazing that they only left last Monday. The volunteers and one of the interns left on Friday leaving a very quiet Botanical Garden. The one benefit is: no daily headache trying to coordinate the usage of one truck for 8 people! It's amazing how quickly you get home at the end of the day without so many people staying to take showers, etc.

Next week hoepfully I'll be working with the new Marine Park intern. She'll be working with me in the garden 2 days a week and I'll be doing some work in the marine park including line cleans, replacing buoys, etc. I'm looking forward to it, because it will be a nice change of pace in the week.