Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers

If losing things in the field were an Olympic sport, I would definitely win the gold medal.


This has been the summer of all things lost. Pretty much everything has been dropped in the forest and left behind, at some point or another.

Exhibit A: Things I Have Lost


-Prescription Glasses (Luckily, I have two pair. Look Ma, I’m prepared!)


– 3 bandanas

– Compass

– Field Notebook

– 5 pencils

– 1 shirt

– Clipboard (Note: This happens when you hike around with your backpack unzipped. Don’t do this.)

Exhibit B: Things I Have Recovered


-GPS (Good thing it’s bright orange)

-Field Notebook

– 1 shirt

– Clipboard

**Great story alert! For a while, I was bringing my iPhone into the field every day because of the convenience provided by some handy clinometer and compass apps. One afternoon on my hike back from a field site, I reached down to feel my pocket and realized my phone was missing. With a sense of panic, I turned around and retraced my steps back to the tree plantation where I had spent most of the day looking for sloths and measuring trees. After several hours searching through tall brush and scouring areas of trampled grass to no avail, I returned back to the Soltis Center just before dark.

Over the next few days, I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to track down a ridiculously expensive piece of metal. Meanwhile, I sent a message to my phone using the Find My iPhone app – “Perdió teléfono. Por favor, llámeme xxxx-xxxx. Recompensa $$$”. I was relying on this message because without cell service I was unable to call the phone, and even if I did have reception the phone was on silent.


Four days from when I first lost the phone, I received a call from a Tico who believed he had my phone and wanted to know if a reward was truly being offered. He had found it on the road, in almost the exact spot where I had first realized I was missing my phone several days before. The man came to the Center and we swapped phone for cash and that became: the day I got my $600 iPhone returned for a $100 fee. Pretty darn lucky. 

While I would never be caught dead owning a camo-print piece of equipment or apparel, I did learn that it is helpful to have field gear in nauseating colors like hot pink or neon yellow. Having a bright orange GPS and an equally vibrant orange field notebook is probably the only reason I was able to locate them in the jungle. Despite the long list of things I have lost along the way, I have still managed to [somewhat] keep track of my mind. 

All’s well that ends well.


Comida, Comida! (Part 2)

The story of one non-foodie living in a country with an abundance of rice and beans

My field season is officially over on Wednesday 8-13-14, meaning my gastronomic tour of all-edible-Nicaraguan-things will soon reach its final stop: San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, for a decadent plate of (insert non-rice and beans food here). You probably think I despise rice and beans after my snarky comment, but I promise it’s quite the opposite. (Quirky side note: Snarky is a real word, but WordPress does not recognize its superb linguistic contribution. Get up to speed you free blogging tool you).

Okay, all quipping aside, I love rice and beans. Gallo pinto is one of my favorite dishes. I even bought a “Gallo Pinto: el plato típico nicaragüense cuyos ingredientes principales son arroz y frijoles” shirt on my first visit years ago. The simple mix is a fundamentally tasty base for any Nicaraguan dish. But if you mix it with chili sauce: BAM! Or add some soy sauce: KABLOWEE! How about throw in a dash of teriyaki sauce: KOWABUNGA! I admit, the kowabunga is pushing it a bit too far, but you get the point: gallo pinto is great alone or with a suite of condiments and additions, like mango, avocado, banana, and grilled chicken.

So why such high hopes for a delicious non-rice and beans meal? Two reasons. First, I have been eating rice and beans with every meal for 4-5 days a week since I arrived in late May. Not only has my dietary consistency been tough on the palate, it’s also been challenging for my body. I am not accustomed to eating what I’ll call mono-nutritious meals, meals chock full of certain vitamins, but lacking in other essential micronutrients and amino acids. Second, I am a North American. (You can insert your own snide comment about imperialism and obesity here). So not only does that mean I have about 200,000 times more options than the average rural Nicaraguan (I suggest reading Barry Schwartz’s “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less” or at least watching the TED talk inspired by his book), it means I am personally inclined to tire of mono-nutritious meals rather quickly. In other words, I was fantasizing about fresh veggies and Annie’s graham cracker bunnies by day 3. Moreover, my desire for more food variety narrowed my focus on myself, rather than appreciating the time and love put into each plate by my host mom and the pure resilience of my Nicaraguan friends who are currently struggling with some potentially pressing food security issues at this very moment, including low corn yields due to drought, rising prices of grains and beans, and decreasing access to small forest mammals for added protein in their meals.

My acknowledgement of dietary privilege does not reverse the reality of my North Americanism, which is why I am still going to eat decadently to celebrate my successful and eye-opening field season. This is also one of the reasons why I am buying food on a weekly basis, including veggies, spices, oatmeal-ish drinks, cookies, and on occasion fruit (mainly apples) and extra sweets. That, and the fact I can only carry so much food to the house so my maneuverability is limited. Here are a few examples of the meals I have come to expect and gobble down (especially after very long days) with my new Nicaraguan family.

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These meal typify my daily eating experiences: a plate of rice and beans with a side dish. Do you want milk with your coffee? Then Chico will hop over to the cow and get some. How about some added meat? Well, we had some chicken the other night and on one very rare occasion I had the chance to taste some meat from a Central American Agouti.

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So, yes, I ate this rodent. I ate jaguar food. (OK, that was hyperbolic!)


Comida, Comida!

The story of two foodies living abroad in a country with an abundance of rice and beans.

The Soltis Center  is mainly staffed by residents of the local community of San Juan de Penas Blancas, including several cooks who make authentic Costa Rican meals for the student and faculty residents. The great thing about this is that we eat like the Ticos. This also means that most meals look a bit like this:


But really, our favorite time of the day is breakfast time. Every morning we wake up to freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee that we sip (or gulp, depending on the morning) in rocking chairs overlooking the misty valley. Nothing compares to a mug of hot java on a brisk morning in the rainforest.


Yep. Coffee Time.

Once we’ve had about 18 cups of coffee, we make our way to the dining area and gorge ourselves on a fruit smorgasbord of papaya, watermelon, pineapple, and mangoes.

Breakfast time

Fruits of the Rainbow! Plus fried cheese and gallo pinto.

Gallo pinto, the national dish of Costa Rica, is also waiting for us each morning (above). While Ticos always begin their day with a hearty scoop of this rice and beans dish, we were only able to follow suit for around 5 weeks before realizing that rice and beans for 3 meals a day is a bit excessive.  Sometimes we substitute gallo pinto with the classic Bimbo bread (yes, that is the name) with  peanut butter, or scrambled eggs, but mostly the fruit. All of the fruits.

frutasMost days we eat our lunch time meals while working in the forest, sitting on a log near a stream or in the mud on a trail. Before heading into the field we run down stairs to the kitchen to grab our “vegetaria-NO” bags for lunch.  Lunch bags are stuffed into our packs, and make their way to the bottom, smashed among camera traps, densiometers, measuring tapes, and binoculars. The usual lunchtime foods include bread, sometimes with peanut butter, sometimes with jam, sometimes with both, plus a juice pack and chiky cookies. Watching adults drink from juice packs is an entertaining show.


“Vegetaria-NO” Lunch To-Go

When dinner time rolls around at 6pm each evening, the vegetarian option is the usual rice, beans, picadillo (mashed vegetables, including chayote, zucchini or carrots) and salad. On rare occasions we are surprised by alternative dishes, and these sometimes include lasagna stuffed with carrots, rotini with cream sauce, or chickpea and potato soup. On really special days we even get garlic bread!


We admit, picadillo for dinner is better than armadillo for dinner.


Rice and beans: It’s what’s for dinner.

When dinner is not enough to replenish our calorie deficit from 8+ hours of field work, we head back to our cabin and choose one of the myriad of snacks on our snack shelf. If anyone wants to know where all of the Pringles in Costa Rica have gone, take a look at our snack shelf; our guiltiest pleasure. Words from the wise: boxed white wine goes marvelously well with sour cream & onion Pringles.


If we aren’t supposed to have snacks, then why is there a snack shelf in our room?

¡Buen provecho from Kelsey and Margot in Costa Rica!