Thursday, July 26, 2018

Paraguayan Arribada

This summer I was afforded one of the most memorable trips I have had thus far, a trip to Paraguay. While this Earth Expedition trip was not my first choice originally,  things in life changed and so did my trip. It's funny, for the past 3 years in the Project Dragonfly Program, I had been planning on going to Guyana. However, a change in careers lead to a change in schedule which lead to a change in locations.  I could not have been more grateful though. I have always felt you end up on the Earth Expedition that is just right for you and this trip to Paraguay really showed me that.

It all began with the instructors for the course, Jamie and Joshua. They happened to have been my instructors for my first course and it was nice to see we were going to have the opportunity to reconnect for my last trip. Additionally, the readings for the course really aligned with the goals of the school that I am teaching at, so I felt a really strong connection.

The trip doesn't exist unless,
 there is a photo out of the plane window 
Leading up to the trip,  I have to say I was nervous! This was the first place that I had traveled to in which there was nearly no tourist information and I knew nobody personally that had been there. So I really had no idea what to expect, which gave me a little bit of butterflies in the stomach feeling.

The Arribada (Arrival)
First off, I was amazed that the trip to Paraguay was going to take the same amount of time as my flight to Kenya, the year before. After the nearly 24 hours of traveling, I finally arrived in Asuncion with a classmate, Lisa,  I met in the Sao Paulo airport. The trip through customs was no problem, however I was a little intrigued as I watched everyone just line up for customs and skip the visa line. I asked the immigration officer whether I needed to get a Visa and he verified that I needed to.  Apparently, Paraguay only requires Visas for citizens of countries that require Paraguayans to obtain a Visa to visit. I thought this was an interesting policy.

Portal del Sol 
Lisa and I arrived at our hotel, Portal del Sol. It was a cute hotel with a little courtyard and a pool and large trees in the center. It really reminded me of the Chocolate Hotel in Nicaragua. That evening, a group of about 8 of us walked to the mall. I was expecting to see a strip-mall or something. However, as we walked down the cobble stone streets to the Galleria, I was amazed. The mall was huge, beautiful and very new. Seeing this really changed my exceptions for what was coming next.

Instant coffee by the pool
Unlike my experiences in Central America
Paraguay does not have great coffee.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Four Hours in an Overlander

Once again, I woke up early and again I stayed in bed to try and better adjust to the time change and not wake the other 7 people in the tent up. When I finally got up, I took a much needed shower and it was incredible. I was so happy to be clean. Then I grabbed my journal and headed back to the patio to watch the sunrise and journal about my experiences thus far. However, instead I ended up chatting with Ian, another classmate, we discussed ideas around community based conservation and the role zoos can play in it. Working for the San Diego Zoo and knowing that we have projects in 80 countries currently, it makes me want to learn more about those project and I hope to eventually work in the department responsible for that work.

After another great meal, we all checked out and hopped in the overlander to make the 4 hour trek from Nairobi to Amboseli National Park. Yesterday they had mentioned that this would be our mode of transportation for the next couple days, but I had no idea what it was. This vehicle was pretty cool. It was a large bus, with the seats nearly 10 feet off the ground. So when we passed giraffes on the rode we were almost eye-level with them. As we drove, we saw a lot of livestock, mostly cows and my new favorite shoats (this is what the Kenyans call a herd of goats and sheep). We also saw a camel, giraffes, gazelles and baboons. It was crazy seeing the large animals right near towns and villages.

Tent buddies- Thanks Shasta for the picture.
Elephant destroyed bathroom- Thanks again Shasta
As we neared the camp, Shasta, our other instructor, mentioned that we would buddy up and we would each pitch our tents that we would stay in for the next two nights. She then mentioned she that she was unsure whether there would be restrooms near the camp as a herd of elephants had apparently assisted in a remodel and may have put the restrooms out of order. This put two thoughts in mind. First, "OMG I am going to be sleeping in a tent just yards away from where elephants had demolished a cinder block building". Secondly, "WOW, this is something the locals have to deal with their entire lives, this really puts this idea of coexistence into prospective." Where I live, the biggest worry people have as far as animal conflicts is coyotes stealing peoples pets, we combat this by bringing my dogs in at night and then they are safe. How do people protect themselves, their families their livestock and pets from these large animals in their backyards? This will be something I seek the answer to, if there is one, while I am here.

Savanna Ecology Twister

After lunch my group lead our discussion on savanna ecology and as we were all talking we were met by a giraffe in the background grazing away and the clouds cleared to give us an incredible view of Kilimanjaro, it was beautiful. I was in such awe it was hard to focus on our discussion. As soon as the discussion wrapped up we grabbed cameras to capture the  beauty around us. As I looked up a Kilimanjaro, I wondered what the habitats were like on the mountain and what animals may live there. I could see snow on the top and it was so perplexing to me to think of snow in Africa and I also began to wonder if the drought that we had been told about had any effect on the amount of snow present.

Leading discussions- Thanks Shasta, I have
no pictures of myself from the first couple days.

As the sun began to set we met Jackson from the ACC, Benson from the Amboseli Ecosystem Trust and Jackson a local game scout. These men talked to us about their roles in the conservation of the area. They explained how the Amboseli Ecosystem Trust works from a whole ecosystem standpoint which includes the local people because they have been part of this ecosystem from generations. However, wildlife can be dangerous and so they have a group of 350 game scouts who work to protect the wildlife, but also the people from the wildlife. They also explained that the national park is a dry season refuge and therefore it is critical habitat for animals, but 80% of the wildlife is found on the outside of the national park. So the different groups these men represent need to inspire the locals to want to continue to co- exist with the wildlife.

I was really inspired by the way these men and their conservation organizations wanted the communities to continue thrive in the same habitats as the wildlife and that they did not want to the local people excluded from the conservation efforts. With my experience, I feel so many conservation projects say they are community based, yet they exclude the community from the decisions of only include them in small ways. Another issue I have seen with many "community based conservation projects" is they often start by outsiders, but with this project it really seams to be started and run by locals. As the wee progresses I look forward to seeing more of the community driven projects in Kenya.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Thinking Back on the First Days in Kenya

My tent for the first 2 nights

Today was my first official day day with the class, after a great day yesterday seeing the Nairobi sights I can't wait to see what will be in store for the next 10 days. Despite last night being my first nights sleep in over 24 hours, I wake up early, around 3:45. I forced myself to stay in bed until 6 am and then I head out to the patio to watch the sunrise and listen to the birds. I ate breakfast with Cole, one of my classmate that I will be traveling with after the course. We met a few other classmates as well.

At 10AM, the class began by meeting Sepiatech, an elder at the African Conservation Center, ACC. For the next 10 days we will be working closely with projects associated  with the ACC so it was nice to hear about it first hand and really understand their role in the conservation efforts around Kenya. The mission of the ACC in to integrate knowledge, environment and livelihood to ensure the local people are thriving in areas where animals need conserving. The ACC creates synergy between science and the traditional ecological knowledge, TEK. This idea of truly involving the people really excited me for the course and to see how it is being implemented successfully. One of the most powerful changes using this new approach was the precipitation of the wildlife by the locals. Sepiatech, explained that previous to the ACC the locals felt that the animals belonged to the government and so they no longer felt a connected or obligated to protect them if and when there were human wildlife conflicts. However, with the new constitution and the work done by the ACC the wildlife now belongs to the local people. With this change people feel ownership and empowered to want to protect the wildlife from conflict. I thought this was such a novel concept  and a great way to ensure community buy- in. As the talk wrapped up, Dave, one of the instructor of the course, explained that the major theme of the next 10 days would be co- existence. I am excited to see how this unique and positive way of looking at conservation works.

After the talk, the class had a great lunch of sandwiches and French fries, the food thus far has been so good, I am pleasantly surprised.

As a class, we really jumped into the work, as the first class discussion was right after lunch. The first group to go was the participatory education group and they lead us through a discussion of question development. We were able to ask the same question using different words to get a stronger participatory answer. It was  really neat exercise and a really good way to see how the words we use can shape the answers we get.

Black Faced vervit mother and baby
After the discussion, we were released for the day. So a few of us grabbed our cameras and headed around the property to take pictures of the wildlife we saw. My favorites was the troop of black faced vervit monkeys that were climbing on the roof. There was even a mother carrying her baby around with her and upon further examination, I noticed the was missing half of her forearm. This injury didn't seem to slow her down and it made me realize the resilience of the animals.

Super cool  moth that looks like a hummingbird.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

You better Belize it

I have decided to resurrect my blog now that I am part of Miami University's Global Field Program getting my Master's in Biology. Over the the next 2.5 years I will be traveling to foreign countries with classmates and learning about inquiry driven education, environmental stewardship and gaining a better understanding of global issues.

This year I had the opportunity to go to  Belize. During the trip we visited the Belize Zoo, Tobacco Cay and Mayan archaeological sites, but I am going to start from the beginning.

The first day really began the day before since I was lucky enough to be taking a red eye across the country from San Diego to Atlanta then down to Belize. I was really excited to be going somewhere new. Over the past 4 years since the last entry, I have been traveling, but just back to places I was familiar with, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua and the US Virgin Islands. This was going to be the first new place and I was excited, but nervous and not sure what to expect. However, as I headed through customs I started seeing the yellow Earth Expedition tags on my classmates bags and we all started to connect and get to know the people we were going to spend the next 10 days with.

I had gotten in 3 hours before the class technically started so those of us who were there early had a long time waiting and chatting before we go on the bus and headed to the Belize Zoo. When we got to the zoo we met Jamal and he took us on a brief but very interesting tour of the zoo. We learned the history of all the animals in the zoo and that they were all natives and rescues.

Indy the Central American Tapir
Tayena, Greater One Horned Rhino
The first animal we saw was Indy the Central American tapir and he let us give in peanut treats. It was really neat to be so close to the rhinos closes relative. It was cool to their similarities up-close and differences. The main one that surprised me was the teeth they were very different than a rhinos and much sharper than I thought. I also found it interesting that tapirs face the same persecution for being feared. People that visit the Safari Park are always scared of rhinos and ask me if they will charge our truck or if it is okay that we are so close to them and for that reason we let guests feed and pet them to dispel some of those stereotypes. I learned that in Belize people feared tapirs, they thought these herbivores were ravenous beasts that would tear your skin off. The Belize Zoo has been doing guests interactions with these animals to allow the locals to gain appreciation and eliminate the fear of their national animal. This interaction really reminded of the important job zoos have to enlighten people of the natural wonders of animals from around the world, but more importantly instill some passion for animals found in your backyard.

We continued the tour and saw the spider monkey, a macaw the king vultures and then we saw Rocky. Rocky was incredible, he is a jaguar that was rescued from a trap. In Belize, jaguars that are posing a problem for farmers can be destroyed, but the zoo in looking to stop this by being a safe place for these cats. They do a lot of outreach to the local community and so now when community members have a problem with a jaguar they call the zoo. The zoo is able to humanely capture and rescue the jaguar, This is how they came to have Rocky. We were able to get right up next to him and see his shear power. The most incredible part about seeing him was his recall. Jamal called him and he came running. In fact every animal seemed to know and love Jamal.

After the tour, we got to meet Sharon, the woman who started the zoo. She is incredible, she has such passion and she truly has spent the past 30 years devoted to the animals of Belize and making them accessible and  to change their stereotypes. She has worked hard to show people that the animals aren't scary and to dispel the myths surrounding them.

After the talk, we went to the Tropical Education Center for a great dinner of jerk chicken and rice and beans. Then to the cabins for a much needed sleep, before the following days activity of hanging out with some manatees.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


So far since being here its been a lot of job training and beach time. On Friday, we went on an Island tour and which began at the University of the Virgin Islands. Geographic Consulting does some work in their green houses , but we also learned a little about the hydroponics, a system to grow plants using live fish, Tilapia, as the plants main source of  Nitrogen. Our second stop was for lunch at a local restaurant where I got to try a local favorite, Roti, I am not exactly sure how to describe it but it was like a giant pita/tortilla filled with curry, potatoes, ground chickpeas and chicken. Once we were all super full,  we hopped back into the car  and continued our tour. We then stopped at another beach that is also know for turtle nesting, but we got there we saw 3 juvenile spotted eagle rays just enjoying the shallow  Caribbean water. Our final spot on the tour was at the furthest eastern point in the US. It was beautiful. We were surrounded by water and had a great view of Buck's Island. At this point it was getting to be late, so we grabbed some groceries and then went home exhausted and ready for bed.

If you look closely, you can see a Spotted Eagle Ray

View of Buck Island from Point Utal
Point Utal, the most eastern point of the US

Point Utal
The next few days were spent on training in the morning and beach in the afternoon. I am amazed at how strong the sun is here because I don’t typically get sunburned, but even dousing myself in sunscreen I still find myself getting sun burned.

We have also spend some time walking through the town of Frederiksted, but its interesting the whole town is virtually closed, everything is boarded up. But rumor is it will become alive when the cruise ships pass by, so I will have to check it out then.

Then on Monday, we began our first turtle patrols. We did two night in a row of half nights just to get a feel for the beach and hopefully see a turtle. However after lots of walking and little sleep, not a single turtle decided to visit us. 

Thursday was our last day and night off as a group, so we went to Christiansted to listen a talk put on by the National Parks Services. It was interesting to learn what the NPS was doing for local school children by bringing them to the Island's beautiful national parks, particularly Buck's Island.

Christiansted, near the fort.

Well tomorrow marks the first night of real patrols, so hopefully a leatherback will decide to come nest!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

First Look

Plane from Puerto Rico to St. Croix
Hello from St. Croix! Boy, was it an adventure to get here. It took over 17 hours, with a 6 hour layover in Charlotte, North Carolina, followed by a delayed flight in San Juan, Puerto Rico. When I finally landed in St. Croix the sun had just set and I was met by my new bosses Jen and Liz as well as John the other new tech. We went straight to one of the local bars for some pizza and Cruzan rum. I was so excited to see that pizza was available. I think it will be fun place to go to this year.

St. Croix from the plane.
After we were substantially full of pizza, we headed to the house. I was surprised to see how large the house was. There was a room for me and the other girl, Molly and then the 3 boys will share the room on the other side of the house. Our kitchen is so long that the owner specifically told us no bowling!

Our neighborhood, if you look carefully you can see the baby horses.

By the time I got all settled in I was so tired, I just crashed. In the morning, John and I took the 10 minute walk down to the local beach. The beach has a bar and a surf shop right on the water and the water an amazing Caribbean blue. I can't wait to go diving and see what is there.

The closest beach to our house.
The local surf shop. 
Around noon, we were picked up and taken to the patrol beach, Sandy Point. Again the water was an amazing color. I was so surprise how soft the sand is. I am going to get in shape really quickly. The rest of the afternoon was spent just relaxing and getting to know the new area, Then in the late afternoon Molly and Justin arrived and shared stories from last turtle season, which only made me more excited to get started seeing turtles.

Don't worry, I still live near cows.
Then this morning we walked down to the local cafe, Polly's at the Pier, to get some iced coffee and use the internet. I have to say I am so happy to be here its so warm beautiful!!!

Polly's is full of art for sale and a view of the ocean.
Sorry, there are not a ton of pictures today but next post I will make sure I have a lot more.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Back to the Islands

So after about 15 years, I am heading back to the US Virgin Islands. Only this time I will be heading to St. Croix instead of St. John. Oh and I will be working with sea turtles! I have accepted a job as a sea turtle technician for Geographic Consulting. Up until this point, I have been working with the smallest sea turtle, the Olive Ridley, but now, I will be working with the largest, the Leatherback. The patrols are going to be similar to what I am use to, but about 3 times longer and the eggs are not moved to a hatchery because poaching is not a huge concern. Stay tuned for more as the adventure in St. Croix will begin in early March!

Photo taken on Sandy Point this past week of the first nesting turtle of the year.
Picture taken by by C. Lombard.