July 16: Final Post from Puerto Rico -- Dancing in the Rain
Today's blogger: Kris Miyashiro
Everyone has now returned home and has had time to reflect on our adventure. And what an adventure it was! It is with mixed emotion that I write our final blog. When I read over everyone’s contributions there is definitely a common thread. A unique personal connection developed between each of the group members which created an extremely comfortable environment. Within this environment we were allowed to share, to learn, and to grow with no criticism and without any boundaries. The international flavor of our group provided an educational breeding ground. At supper each night there was a hum (besides the Coqui frogs) at each table as we discussed a variety of topics such as sustainability, the environment, culture, politics, religion, educational systems and we even shared a giggle or two. It is rare to receive this type of exposure within a short period of time. For that we consider ourselves truly blessed as we walked away with many new friends. For ten days we did nothing but take in our surroundings; the trees, the vegetation, the habitats of lizards, frogs and even insects and how they all relate to each other. I think I’m safe to say that each of us has taken away a new or renewed awareness of our surroundings and perhaps how we as individuals effect our environment on a daily basis. We definitely saw and learned how clear cutting in Puerto Rico has changed the environment. With Las Casas de la Selva practicing sustainable forestry and monitoring the vegetation and wildlife habitats, they can educate land owners on how to have an economically viable product without devastating their surroundings. Thank you to Earthwatch’s Las Casas de la Selva members for their wisdom and awe inspiring passion for what they do. We like to think we helped make a difference because this experience made a difference for us. Now it’s time to TAKE ACTION! The Alcoa and Community Fellowship members have decided to join together as a team to develop one unique PowerPoint presentation that will allow us to educate our co-workers and groups within our communities about what we learned from our experience and what Earthwatch is all about. In addition, we intend to brainstorm ideas that may assist in choosing a community project or tackle an environmental issue within our community. Nine heads are better than one! On behalf of the Alcoa and Community Fellowship members, I’d like to thank Alcoa for providing us with this unique opportunity. In addition, the merger of the Community Fellowship members into the program was an outstanding idea. They brought a host of ideas and a great deal of enthusiasm and wisdom with them. I’d like to leave everyone with a favorite quote of mine. “Life isn’t about how to survive the storm, but how to dance in the rain.” And oh, did we dance!!”
Today was the last day for the Puerto Rico Earthwatch team. We had a choice of two groups. One with Norman repairing damaged forest plots for his Anole (lizard) study and another with Patty to help her with her fungi study. Eight poeple went with Norman, and four of us, went with Patty while Ruslan stayed at Las Casas to complete a summary of his antology observation. I went with Patty. We took a beautiful path along the stream, going upstream. We did not have much luck finding the mushrooms, but we did not care, even when we got lost. The journey is what counts, not the amount of mushrooms. And what a beautiful journey it has been. Not so much for the studies, but with the people. I was afraid of being among strangers for 10 days, but our group blended beautifully. Everybody took care not only of themselves but of each other, reaching into the past and dusting our individual lives with a sense of forgotten community. We will all miss Las Casas and their masters, 3T
and Andres. But if we want to be back, we know the path now: upstream.
I must admit it wasn't easy to get back to work after having an amazing day off yesterday, it was even harder when we realized that a rainy and muddy day was ahead of us.
Actually, when I heard the news that the Earthwatch expedition would take place in the Puerto Rico's RAINforests, I immediately prepared my rain jacket, which I hadn't worn until today. Well, the weather changed, and today we all had our share of rain (and what a share!) It started early in the morning, stopped for a few hours and started again while we were in the field. At least it wasn’t a tropical storm or a hurricane, and luckily everyone was prepared and quickly put on their rain gear, including me. Eventually we were able to carry on our task of the day, which consisted in counting anoles (lizards) and helping Norman (Las Casas de la Selva's Herpetologist) repair research plots that had been destroyed by the rain. When we finished our work, we went back to the homestead and as soon as we arrived we got rid of our soaked and muddy clothes and a warm bath made everybody feel better and relaxed. Tomorrow is our last day in the field and I'm sure everyone will definitely miss this friendly environment.
With Megan, our herpetologist in training on the mend from a bruised knee cap, we took a break from identifying lizards and were led by Patty (View photo) into the forest to scour the hillsides for mushrooms. (View photo) And no, we aren’t making soup for supper tonight! Before research can be done to indicate whether climate change is affecting the growth of the fungi it is necessary to identify the species in the area. It was our job to collect as many fungi samples as we could and bring them back to the homestead for identification. Each group brought back many different samples but a MASSIVE discovery was made! We captured on film, the biggest mushroom ever identified on the island. (View photo) Once back home, we viewed our samples under the microscope (View photo) and raked through multiple fungi books in an effort to identify our treasure.
June 16: Old San Juan, Luquillo beach and Bio Bay, a fun day!
Today's blogger: Renata Novais
Today we enjoyed our recreational day. We went to Old San Juan, where there are two forts (El Moro and San Cristobal) many souvenir stores, a cemetery by the ocean and beautiful architecture. We had lunch in Old San Juan enjoying regional dishes such as the Mofondo. After that we went to Luquillo Beach which amazed everyone
with its warm waters and shining sun. After having a wonderful time at the ocean it was time for some adventure: we went to Fajardo, where the Carribean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean and a masterpiece of nature called bioluminescence takes place. We kayaked in doubles to the Bio Bay and learned about the importance of the mangrove and of the plankton to that ecosystem. From sea to forest we are gradually learning more about the importance of ecosystems and how they are all connected.
11 species of anoles (lizards) are native to Puerto Rico. Today the group ventured out with Norman and Megan, the site’s herpetologists, to find the 6 species that live in Las Casas de la Selva area. Between intermittent rain, we learned how to identify each species, its gender and track their habitat to better understand how replanted rainforest affect their environment, breeding, etc. The hardest part was navigating through sections of “razor grass” indigenous to this area.
Ouch! We also learned of a weather pattern in the Atlantic Ocean moving toward the Caribbean. It is too soon to know what direct affect it will have on Puerto Rico but it reminds us to always be ready for anything. Tonight, a bonfire and constant laugher as we try songs, dance and card games from each other’s native cultures.
Great day, as we finally were switched from botany to zoology (I am a
Professor in zoology). In the local secondary forest the frogs and lizards are
overabundant and the number and diversity of birds is limited. No one is sure how the forest looked when it was a primary forest, since this type is
lost in Puerto Rico. Our enthusiastic group assisted in research on
litter frogs and lizards to support the idea that the standard population
parameters are different between different forest stands and are related
to the slopes. In addition, we discovered a lot of tropical invertebrates
(which I loved most) like scorpions, pseudoscorpions, myriapods, diplopods
etc. The research will contribute to the development of sustainable
tropical forestry and restoration of primary forests considering the
biodiversity issues. And at the end of the day we went to a local town to
dance all the Latino dances, which was cool.
We made it! This is what we all keep repeating to ourselves. We left
on our first (and now we know, easiest) mission to count the Mahoe
trees on the West Bank. We got through with this part of the challenge
amazingly quickly, having counted over 300 trees in less than an hour,
but the toughest was yet to come.
From there we started to a trail
that took us about one hour on a strenuous path, mostly downhill, that
led us to a natural swimming hole. Getting there, all of the most
courageous of us jumped off a five-meter rock cliff and we all
delighted ourselves in the water and on the rocks under the sun.
Coming back was indeed the greatest challenge: a very steep hike up
the trail which took us about two hours to get back to our home base Las
Casa de la Selva. What motivated us was the excitement about the salsa
class we are having tonight ... and a shower. (View a video of the team hiking to the swimming hole.)
June 11th – Our first day in the field, counting Mahoe trees
We woke up early this morning to have breakfast while listening to
Norman give us our Earthwatch safety briefing. Twenty-two years ago
close to 3500 Mahoe trees were planted. Our adventure today was to
count the Mahoe trees on various plots. 3t, the lead scientist,
taught us how to recognize the trees we were supposed to flag and
count and quizzed us continuously until we got to the plots. It was
really difficult to know the difference at first, but I think we all
got the hang of it pretty quickly. We counted a mass total of 525
trees. What I found really interesting was
that most people take their
dog for a walk but we had a goat. A funny little fellow named after
an original Puerto Rican God named Yuyuki.
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June 10: Boots on the ground
Imagine a world where people from 7 countries come together for the same goal: SUSTAINABILITY! This is the life we discovered on our first day at Alcoa Earthwatch Expedition in Puerto Rico's Rainforest. We were anxious and enthusiastic about meeting the volunteers at Las Casas de la Selva expedition headquarters. It took us about one hour to arrive at the homestead, but I can assure you that never in our lifetimes one hour took us so much time! The forest and mountains are unlike anything we’ve ever seen! We were astonished!
Andres and Thrity, local residents, welcomed us. They explained the goal of project and led us on a tour of the grounds. Then, a delicious meal of Burritos for dinner! We loved it!
Finally, we did our best to fall asleep surrounded by the near deafening sounds of coqui frogs! That was just the first day but if we really want a sustainable world, it's up to us. That's what we’re about now! Learn about the project at www.eyeontheforest.com.
June 9: "It couldn't arrive soon enough ... and then it did!"
Submitting an application for something like this can be intimidating and exciting all rolled into one. Will our applications be successful? Counting down the days to the deadline when the team members were selected was like waiting for Christmas Day to arrive. It couldn’t arrive soon enough…and then it did. After furiously checking our email every day for a couple of months, the all-important email arrived. “Congratulations” was the first word in the email. We were one of the chosen few.
Let the expedition begin!
Where were we when we found out? Some of us were at work when we found out. To the dismay of some of our co-workers, they were the first to hear us scream and see us jump up and down. (My boss temporarily lost his hearing in one ear.) Some of us were in a meeting where jumping up and down wasn’t so appropriate but internally, that’s exactly what we did. Some of us were at home either just settling down for the night or just getting ready for work so our immediate family members were the first to share the exciting news with us. And, some of us were just arriving back into the country only to find out that we would be travelling abroad once again very soon.
Alcoa is the common denominator between all the team members and it is Alcoa who has drawn us together to share in this amazing experience. But that being said; we all have different lifestyles, come from different backgrounds and each of us has different interests. That is why it is so interesting to read about the backgrounds and expectations of each team member. Rita is looking forward to learning more about scientific experiments. As a social scientist, she’s looking at broadening her scientific background by
learning about the forest. Ruslan, with a background in sustainable development, can’t wait to explore the Caribbean basin because most of his experience is with Eastern/Southern Africa and Asia. He is an “insect man” and wants to meet with all his large and small “New World” friends. Samantha’s interest lies with learning about the reforestation initiative within the region along with teambuilding with other Alcoans/volunteers. Tiago believes this will be a life changing experience for him. What he learns from his interactions with the scientists and each team member will be used not only in helping the local community, but upon his return, he intends on sharing his experience with as many people as possible. Helgi is excited about meeting new people, learning about nature, research work and learning all she can about the amazing culture of Puerto Rico. Renata’s background in biology has definitely prepared her for the work ahead. Her goal is to successfully learn and
communicate in English with the help from her team members.
Mauro's comments were too priceless. Here is what he wrote: “Imagine, I’m going to Puerto Rico. I’m meeting new friends and I’m getting in touch with a totally different culture. Contributing to improve life quality and achieving a more sustainable world; what else could I want? THIS IS WONDERFUL! It feels like a dream.” I’m looking forward to the sights, the sounds and the smells of the forest. It will be a very rewarding experience working with a team of people from Brazil, Iceland, the United States, Russia and Canada and seeing things from a global perspective.
With June 10th quickly approaching it appears that excitement is colliding with nervousness for most. Some
can’t wait for the adventure to begin. Not everyone has had a chance to travel so, this fellowship brings forth a rare opportunity. Others have a few butterflies in their stomachs. Do I have all the gear I need? Have I prepared enough for the daily physical challenges? Will language be a barrier in learning and communicating with my team members? And others are conquering the last minute details as they arise without concern.
It will be very intriguing too see what we discover and how well we embrace the challenges that are ahead. Please follow our journey in future blogs. Editor's note: Our first blog post is a team post from the five Alcoa and three Community Fellowship team member’s blog submissions. (Mauro Salles, Samantha Stephens, Helgi Laxdal Helgason, Tiago Borges, Kris Miyashiro, and Ruslan Butovsky, Maria Rita Villela, Renata Novais). It's compiled by blog team captain Kris Miyashiro. Watch her profile video here.