Friday, August 24, 2012

Final thoughts.

Now that I have been back in Canada for a couple of weeks, I have had a little time to reflect on my experience over the past three and a half months. To sum it all up our internship coordinator, Larissa, has given us the task of filling out the follow four questions/statements with the first answer that pops into our it goes.

Five things that I enjoyed about my internship experience are:
1. The people I met. Probably the most interesting people I have ever met.
2. Living simply

3. Being able to spend time with the community in San Francisco
4. Constant learning
Having a physically active job

Five things that bothered me during my internship experience are:
1. Homesickness – at first.
2. Lack of sleep
3. Bug bites
4. Being confined to one space for an extended period of time
Living and working in the same place - could be good and bad.

Five things I missed most about Canada/Toronto?
1. Family and friends
2. Hot water
3. The dry season – ie. not 200mm of rain every 3 days
4. Sushi
My cat (and now I sound like a crazy cat lady…)

Five things I will miss from my host country?
1. The people I met at the station
2. The abundant wildlife
3. The natural beauty, especially the mountains
4. The simplicity of life
Rice and beans...OH AND Lizano sauce

More reasons why I miss Costa Rica...

This is who we were greeted by on morning census walks

My new favourite thing. Why can't Toronto have an ocean?

This view.

And this view...

And this bird! Male resplendent quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Global Citizenship?

This blog assignment, which was to form an opinion on "global citizenship", made me think of the quote from the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall when Russell Brand’s character gets told about his tattoos, “that is Buddhist, that is Nordic, that is Hindu, that’s just gibberish. They are completely conflicting ideologies, and that does not make you a citizen of the world, it makes you full of shit!”. I’m not sure how much I agree with the statement, but when I saw that this blog was supposed to be about our opinion on global citizenship it is what popped into my head first.
This is a hard one…my opinion on global citizenship. Its quite tricky, to form a black and white opinion on something like this, but I guess I have to pick a “side” – at least sort of? For me, I don’t necessarily think it is a redeeming quality, as Larissa put it in her blog assignment, but not a load of hooey meant to make us (privileged North Americans) feel better either – well, maybe a little.
I think that the term "global citizenship", as it exists now, is probably a term used for those who are privileged enough to travel and experience different cultures. That being said, I think that as someone with that privilege (this sounds a bit like Spiderman) it is also our responsibility to not just think within our cultural boundaries.
Being away made me appreciate other cultures, and inspired me to learn more about them, but definitely didn’t make me feel like I was a part of another culture. I still felt like I had a lot more to learn, and no matter how long you stay somewhere, as long as you have plans of returning “home”, I don’t think you can ever fully understand the other culture. I do think that travelling and experiencing different cultures gives you different perspectives and makes you think about your own world differently, which is important. It can open your eyes to issues you never even thought about, and make you appreciate what you have even more. In that sense I think “global citizenship” is a valid notion, however I would not use the term “global citizen”. The connotation that it carries (that you are just a part of the globe like everyone else) makes sense, but the other connotation that you are just as much a part of the other cultures you visit, I think is a miss.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Pura Vida.

“Everyone thinks you need millions to do good things. Really it’s not like that, you just need a little”. This was what a manager at a bird sanctuary told me while visiting the refuge during my last week in Costa Rica.

Taken at the Macaw Sanctuary at El Manantial.
I think that his sentiment and outlook on life really represents a large part of the culture of the people of Costa Rica – not for everyone in the country, but definitely for more than a few people I encountered. To him, in order to run a bird sanctuary successfully – which in his terms, meant successful reintroductions into the wild for hurt or mistreated birds – there needed to be a balance between how much tourism they allowed into the sanctuary, and between education in the community on their work. This meant they needed to limit tourism in order for the birds to have as natural a habitat as possible, therefore there was less income for them. For him, it was more important for the birds to have an undisturbed habitat during their time at the sanctuary than to make lots of money from tours entering the site.  Although Costa Rica is big on eco and volun-tourism, I think that the fact that you don’t need a lot to do a lot, or to be happy, translates through many parts of the culture there. In my experience, some of the most happy people I met were the people that lived the most simply.
Compared to North America, this is obviously very different – I don’t think I need to state the differences (now that I am back home they are even more pronounced). The same idea also carries over into the “pura vida” phrase that you hear all over the country. At first I didn’t get why everyone said “pure life”, to everyone else. But from what I understand, it basically means that no matter where you are you will never be “poor”. You will always have access to food or shelter because the country is so rich with fruit and forests. Everything you need is right there, provided for you by the country. It is pure life.

The person who exemplified "pura vida" the most!

Here are a few more pictures from the beautiful landscapes we had the chance to see before and during our last week in the country.

View from the top of the dock at the station.

Waterfall that we rode to on horseback!

Montezuma scenery...

More Montezuma...can you tell I liked it there?

View from the ground in a cloud forest in Monteverde.

Saturday, July 7, 2012


Green turtles like the other four species of turtles nesting on Playa Norte are listed as endangered (with hawksbills and leatherbacks listed as critically endangered). The photo below, like the photo in the background of my blog title, shows a green turtle how we typically imagine them.

Taken from:

This is what the only green turtle found two nights ago on night patrol looked like. Because we can't use cameras on night patrol these pictures were taken yesterday morning. 

At first we were unsure of what happened. How did she get there? Why would someone poaching a turtle just leave her out on the beach without collecting her? But after speaking to some of the people who live by the beach where she was found, apparently she washed up yesterday evening around 5pm. 

Our station manager, Charlotte, reading the turtles tags.

There were holes made in her fins where they were bound,
the front ones attached with a rope to each of the back ones.

Some of the community members told us that they called MINAET (Ministry of Environment, Energy and Telecommunications) and the police to report it, but because it was already dead and washed up there is nothing they can do about it. Unfortunately, another washed up again yesterday evening. From what we have heard there may have been a boat caught offshore by the coast guard which abandoned the turtles and threw them overboard.

These have been the first records of a "DEC" - meaning deceased - turtle that we have had so far this year. Right now Sarah has been helping to put together posters to be put up in the community to help explain how horrible a death these turtles face when they are poached. Many community members think that killing turtles is wrong but until they actually see pictures do not realize the extent of what is actually happening to the turtles right in their backyards. So hopefully with these posters more awareness will be raised about what is happening on Playa Norte. Here are two out of seven posters that have been put together so far.

"How beautiful...
What are we doing with such a beautful animal?
Hunters are killing our future...
Do not give support to hunters.
Do not purchase turtle eggs or meat."

"Hunters are killing our future...
Do not give support to hunters.
Report them to this number..."

For a country that is so dependent on tourism and ecotourism I hope that these pictures help spread the word, even a little bit, about some of the not-so-pleasant realities here in Costa Rica.

For more information on green sea turtles visit:

Sunday, July 1, 2012


In honour of Canada day, I thought it was appropriate to post our latest blog assignment given to us by our internship program at York University which was to discuss our experiences when asked the question "where are you from" in the country each of us is visiting.

In Costa Rica there have been a few cases that I can think of when I've been asked that question, and I think my response almost always causes confusion - possibly more so for me rather than the person asking. 

The first instance that made me chuckle was when we had a group visiting the station from the U.S. When they arrived I was asked the question by one of the professors, "where are you originally from?". This one really threw me for a loop. "From Canada", I replied, a confused look still on my face. As I tried to look for any sort of comprehension of what I said, I realized he didn't mean to ask where I'm from, he meant where did you get the colour of your skin. It was then that I had to explain my story - the one I try to avoid because it sometimes seems unnecessary. My parents are from Jamaica and Trinidad. I spent some time in both countries as a child. I was born in Canada and have lived there for the past 14 years. As much as I identify with the Jamaican and Trinidadian populations, I definitely consider myself Canadian - especially with how diverse the Canadian population is. This is amplified even more being here with Shenique who is an international student from Jamaica. With her here I thought the distinction of where I was saying I was from should have been more clear - I guess not.

The next time my story had to be explained was visiting the village of San Francisco for the first time. As we passed through the small town our boss introduced us to many of the people in the community. Each time as she said I was from Canada, she gave the extra explanation of where my parents were from. As soon as that happened each person seemed have the "ah haaaa" or "okay I get it now" look on their faces. I have also found out that one of the ladies in town now refers to me as the "morena" one - which means the tanned one, I think. 

Either way, in my case, I think people have just been more curious about my skin colour rather than where I'm from. It has really made me think about what I identify myself as. Its especially difficult since both of my parents are mixed, and two of my grandparents are also mixed. With nine or more countries floating around in my recent background I usually have a hard time explaining to people "where I'm from". However, what I find cool about all of this is that regardless of the colour of my skin, explaining that I am from Canada really shows those I've met while travelling how diverse Canadians can be. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Lately it has been a bit harder to find time to write, as so many interesting things have been happening. Since I last wrote I was able to go mist netting as well as participate in the mammal monitoring program. Although I have done a lot of cool things since I last wrote, I think this topic is very important so I am going to try to touch on it.

The other night when one of our night patrols was out they came across hawksbill tracks. As they followed it up they realized that there was no turtle nesting, but no down tracks back to the ocean either. This is what we call a lifted turtle. This is one of the moments that really disheartens you here. Along with finding a dead turtle, or seeing poached nests, a lifted turtle is one of those things that stops and makes you think about the circumstances which have led to an endangered species still being killed.

People who poach come to the north beach, Playa Norte, because of the numbers of turtles that come to nest here -- or that used to come to nest here. They also choose to come here because the beach further down has more ecotourism operations that would make it more difficult to poach there. During the height of green turtle nesting season, which is from June to October, poachers from the local town of San Francisco as well as from out of town will come here to either take eggs and/or turtles -- for their meat or for their shells.

It is very difficult, however, to form a distinct opinion of the situation. On one hand, you have families that may need to feed extra relatives coming in from out of town for a couple of nights, who take eggs from a nest, but on the other hand you have people taking turtles such as the hawksbill the other night, for their meat and for their shells -- hawksbill shells are highly valued on the black market. Not that I am condoning poaching in any way, but despite our preconceived notions of how bad it is to poach, it is also important in these cases to remember how our actions may be perceived by the local community who have been relying on these turtles as a source of food and money for longer than we have been here.

These are the kinds of issues that I and I think other volunteers struggle with understanding, and I am not sure that we ever will. But for now I just hope that our actions here can have a lasting positive impression for the community and have a positive impact for the nesting turtles.

On a more positive note, here are some fun pictures from the past few weeks...

Nest digging competition, to practice
digging fake egg chambers to help
disguise nests.
The aftermath...
Bingo fundraiser at the local school.
Boat ride back from bingo.
Night patrol ninjas.
A special thanks to my colleague Mariya for some of the fantastic pictures! Check out her blog at

Monday, May 28, 2012

Interesting encounters.

So far my blog has been more of an introduction to what I am actually doing in Cano Palma, and a little bit less about the actual culture and issues that surround turtle conservation work here. However, so far there have been a few "interesting encounters" that have gone on in the past month that I wanted to touch on.

Spoiler alert: I apologize for lack of (relevant) pictures in this blog.

The first encounter was a week or two ago when we ran into a group of Ph.D. students from the US on the beach at night, with a turtle. This was rather strange for two reasons. First, the beach here, Playa Norte, is protected and therefore, the public cannot access it between 6pm and 5am. Second, in order to be on the beach during those hours one needs a permit from MINAET (the Costa Rican Ministry of the Environment, Energy and Telecommunications). After a bit of chatting it was clear that this group of Bison and Frog Ph.D. students were unaware that they did not have permits for being on the beach. However, from doing a bit of investigation ourselves, it was clear that they did not actually have permission or permits to be there.

The second encounter happened just last week when while "working" a leatherback turtle, the person in the house behind the beach where she was nesting came out with a small group to see the turtle. To be honest I can't really say how I feel about this. The beach is protected, but people seeing turtles nest is important to raise awareness about the importance of their conservation. However, after hearing stories of this particular individual feeding past volunteers turtle eggs...I don't know how to feel about the situation.

Finally, the last story I was not actually there for, but was told when the night patrol returned a couple of nights ago. While out on the beach our patrol team came across a family digging in the sand. Our team passed them at first but on the way back, when they finally approached them, the reaction was surprising. Lots of giggles, while they (pretended? - or didn't pretend) to build a sand turtle sculpture. This caused some suspicion -- were they poaching a nest? Trying to help hatchlings out of their nests? When our patrol team went out the next morning they looked for signs of a poached nest where the group had been the night before, but did not find anything. So although the family wasn't legally allowed to be out on the beach at that particular time, they weren't causing any direct harm.

What confuses me most about all of these things is where does one draw the boundary of telling people -- especially the local community -- what they can and can't do when it comes to something they have been doing for centuries.

Whether the people on the beach at night are families playing (or not?), curious locals (that occasionally poach?) and university groups (that don't have permits?) -- what are the boundaries?

To lighten it up here are some photos of some of our friends that hang out around base...please enjoy! 

Proboscis Bats that hang out under the dock. 
Howler Monkeys that like waking us up in the
White-faced Capuchin Monkey in
the tree outside our rooms.
Strawberry Poison Dart Frog who
hangs out by the washrooms.
Slaty-tailed Trogan outside the
Sarah's picture of a 
Slaty-tailed Trogan posing!
Juancho the Caiman who hangs out under
the dock.

Thanks to Sarah for taking some of these pictures with her wicked camera - check out her blog at: