Volunteers and Visitors

A Day in the Life of Osa Conservation

Written by: Florencia Franzini (for once its’s actually me!)

Osa Conservation’s on the ground staff is made up of about 20 individuals managing about 6,500 acres of land on a regular basis. It’s hard to believe that so few can accomplish so much, thus today as I write this blog detailing my first ever encounter with the Osa Peninsula, I’m really here attempting to highlight the hard work of the staff on-site at the organization.

Let me just start by saying that it’s no wonder these guys work as hard as they do. My first site of this wild place was on a tiny 12 seat puddle-jumper, and this was the view I was greeted with:

“I, too, would probably work my rear-end off if I could continuously bask in the beauty of this place.”

“I, too, would probably work my rear-end off if I could continuously bask in the beauty of this place.”

Where to start? I suppose chronologically would make the most sense, but I’ll be highlighting some key personal experiences rather than the whole experience in order to make this a lot less painful in length to read. Plus I promised a day in the life, not a week in the life, and for good taste we can assume all these things happen over the course of one day, because in reality they do – these are the events as they are unfolding on the ground on any given day for Osa Conservation. These experiences are daily ritual for the men and women that live out here, and we must keep that in mind when we think about just how hard they truly work.

 

So, anyways, we start with the crack of dawn: At the crack of dawn I shuffled over to the Piro dining hall (so dubbed Rancho Piro) after taking a crazy awesome shower in this neat outdoor bathroom

Is this real life right now?

Is this real life right now? Yeah. It is. I showered in there. A LOT. Actually I refused to use the indoor shower because this one was so much cooler. I also left my soap out one night during a tropical storm and it got destroyed by the rain…but I digress.

I had breakfast prepared by this wonderful lady Emilia. Emilia was already in the kitchen trucking away  preparing breakfast when I arrived, and I pretty much swooned over the meal – birds nest; that’s toast with a hole and a cooked egg inside, not an actual birds nest! Oh, and did I mention that there was fresh cheese as an accompaniment?? Yeah…she makes the cheese herself , as in from scratch guys, and it was one of the best cheeses I have ever eaten. I don’t want to say her talents are wasted on us because I’m afraid she might realize it’s true, and actually leave the organization and then we will be forced to eat regular food and everyone will hold this against me from now to eternity. But yes. It was amazing, not to mention I had like 2 cups of coffee and I was pretty wired and incredibly antsy by the time I finished.

 

Emilia (pictured left), I need to implore her to teach me her culinary secrets. Emilia's daughter (pictured center) often comes to help in the kitchen because of the high volume of visitors on any given day.

Emilia (pictured left), I need to implore her to teach me her culinary secrets. Emilia’s daughter (pictured center) often comes to help in the kitchen because of the high volume of visitors on any given day.

Mornings on the Osa happen fast. I blame the coffee. Everyone starts to rise a little after 6, has breakfast, and then their day begins. On this morning we were fortunate enough to have Juan Carlos Cruz Diaz, Osa Conservation’s feline investigator, be our guide while he made his rounds on the trails. Juan Carlos manages an elaborate system of cat-camera traps to monitor these awesome predators presence in the Osa Peninsula. Juan Carlos showed us one of the trail that he takes to set up his camera project, how to change the batteries and chips on the cameras, and a bunch of other cool stuff you can do with them. I think he still owes us some photos…of us…walking by the camera traps…but…I won’t hold it against him yet, or like..pester him every day to see them…right? Right, Juan Carlos?? Juan Carlos…donde estan nuestras photos?!? Ehm. Asides from this incredible cat-camera project, Juan Carlos is also an amazing forest guide, a quick-handed lizard catcher as I promptly determined from his catching of many slinky lizards throughout our walk, and a photographer.He lectured us about hundreds of different things, and the guy actually took us feline tracking along a muddy trail known as “Sendero Caracol” (The Snail-Trail” in English).

Juan Carlos (pictured second on the right and pretty much the only guy in this photo) owes me (pictures alone on the furthest left being awkward as usual) owes me A LOT OF PHOTOS.

Juan Carlos (pictured second on the right, and pretty much the only guy in this photo) owes me (pictures alone on the furthest left being awkward as usual)  A LOT OF PHOTOS.

I don’t know if this is weird, but, I felt like some sort of primal hunter while we were following the tracks of a margay (a small arboreal feline predator in the Osa Peninsula, and throughout South America) – who, as I liked to pretend in my mind, was stalking an agouti who’s tracks we also saw along the way.

I can just hear this guy in my head, "I AM A MARGAY, HEAR ME ROAR!" Really a margay is like...the size of a house-cat.  But I have to give them props, because, they still are pretty bomb hunters.

I can just hear this cat in my head, “I AM A MARGAY – HEAR ME ROAR!” Really a margay is like…the size of a house-cat. But I have to give them props, because, they still are pretty bomb hunters.

In itself this sums up how hard this guys works: Juan Carlos is managing one intern to help him run a vastly interconnected web of camera-traps. He still take us out, guides us through the local trails, and not once did I catch him rolling his eyes wishing we would go back to DC and leave them all in peace (although if maybe he was secretly thinking it, I totally wouldn’t hold it against the guy).

Anyways, onward: After this wonderful experience in the jungle it was time to do a sea turtle release on the beach. Our Sea Turtle program manager, Manuel Sanchez runs a volunteer program basically single handed: from coordinating beach patrols, counting turtle nests, monitoring and recording all sorts of data, to triangulating nest positions on the beach – if it can be done, this guy’s probably doing it. And again – practically alone.

Manuel Sanchez gives us an amazing orientation of the sea turtle nursery he manages.

Manuel Sanchez gives us an amazing orientation of the sea turtle nursery he manages.

He has his amazing troupe of sea turtle volunteers to help crunch and record data but I don’t think I ever saw this human sleep. He was always out to trails, walking on the beach, walking, walking, did I say walking? or reading up on data in the lab at Piro. I think I saw him take a seat and eat like… once or twice on my entire visit…Props, sir. Anyways, Manuel waited for us in the hatchery and then explained all these neat tricks on how to maintain the hatchery, how temperature actually affects the gender of a sea turtle so they have to monitor nests very closely, and how to tell if a sea turtle nest was ready to hatch. It was pretty incredible. I studied Marine vertebrate Biology, and I think this guy would 100% put my knowledge of sea turtles to shame. Following, of course there was the actual release – go ahead and stare at the picture of this baby sea turtle and feel better about life for a while.

Seriously. How cute is this tiny thing?

Seriously. How cute is this tiny thing? It’s face is the size of large grain of sand…

So you’re beginning to think the day is over – what more is there possibly left to do? Hours of hiking, feline monitoring,  sea turtles trekking – what’s left? Well No. The day is not over. Things are always happening here. I wasn’t exaggerating. An entire encyclopedia could probably be written about what one single employee accomplishes in one day out here.

Alright, well , lets talk about R&R. Sure there’s some time for rest and relaxation (sort of). I guess this is a good time to introduce this guy called Jim Palmer. He’s this professor who started this really cool thing called “Creek Connections” to really get students involved in hands-on field work. Obviously the next best place to do field work is in an actual jungle, so he brought Creek Connections down to the Osa Peninsula in order to inspire local Costa Rica students to participate in more hands-on water monitoring programs. I would dare say that Jim’s goals outside of the realm of Creek Connections is to empower students and create citizen scientist out of everyone; he’s a mentor at heart.

This photo of Jim sums up the kind of guy he is: He's willing to let everyone else sit in the cab of a car while he rides around in the back. Also, I suspect this is what he wants.

This photo of Jim sums up the kind of guy he is: He’s willing to let everyone else sit in the cab of a car while he rides around in the back. Also, I suspect this is what he wants.

In any case, Jim chose to retire and continue mentoring by becoming Osa Conservation’s new Science and Education director. He is ,without any hesitation in my saying, a champion. He was always driving everyone everywhere, and never batting at an eye to a single experience. On one occasion (on the premise of relaxation and enjoyment as mentioned earlier) he drove us to a local beach known as Matapalo– it’s probably an hour drive from Piro Research Station.Well the beach was nice: I saw a hermit crab feast, some whales splashing in the horizon, some dogs, and finally after a nice relaxing hour or so Jim drove us back to Piro.

As promised, 100 hermit crabs feasting on a fish. I don't make stories up folks, promise.

As promised, 100 hermit crabs feasting on a fish. I don’t make stories up folks, promise.

Of course this story involves me, and if you know anything about me you will know I am probably one of the most hilariously (albeit annoyingly at times) absentminded human on the planet. As soon as we got back to Piro I realized I’d left my purse at Matapalo Beach. Well…that’s fine…except my permanent residency card I use to get back in the USA was in that bag…whoops; that’s the absentmindedness I was telling you about earlier!

Jim being the stand-up, hard-working human he is drove me back to Matapalo beach and…of course it started raining hard; tropical storm hard. This is the jungle after all, and Jim and I joked on more than one occasion about how a tree was probably going to fall down and block us from getting back to Piro on our return (you know, trying to keep things light in the midst of what could potentially become the best reason ever to stay another 2 weeks on the Osa Peninsula…I should have just thrown my purse at sea and done the job right…).

As we descend upon Matapalo beach and the hard rain continues, we joke about the Piro River outside of the station and  how it was probably going to be so full by the time we got back that we wouldn’t be able to cross it. The irony was that we got to the beach, I found my purse, and upon our return back to Piro… there was, of course, a tree in the middle of the road. For real. This is my life. I imposed my horrible, absentminded luck on a passing human who had nothing but the best intentions of helping me. I was pretty embarrassed at this point, but there was believe it or not, a silver lining: one of the coolest things I have ever seen with my two eyes happen. This dedicated staff members of Osa Conservation’s Land Stewardship team shows up (followed by the second cook, Annia, and her husband on a motorbike) and this OC guy….he preceded to dual wield his own machete and Jim Palmers extra machete, to chop this tree in the middle of the road! To quote Jim Palmer,  “he was like a chinese stir-fry master chef.”  It was probably one of the most hardcore things I’ve ever seen in my life…I’m not even exaggerating this by a bit: Machete dual-wielding; tree cut in 75 seconds. If this doesn’t show you how incredible this staff is, I don’t know, just turn back now, it’s only going to get sappier the longer I write and the more nostalgic I get.

This is the tree that fell down on our return. See how dark out it is?? That guy literally cut it the tree in half in 1.5 minutes with two machetes at once. I pale in comparison as a human.

This is the tree that fell down on our return. See how dark out it is?? That guy literally cut it the tree in half in 1.5 minutes with two machetes at once. I pale in comparison as a human.

When we clear this tree the cook comes down to us and says, “Oh yeah guys PS: the river is full. Jokes on you!” Alright, alright, I’m lying. Annia wasn’t even a little bit malevolent, she was more like, “Hey guys, the rivers full, but they’re waiting for you WITH A TRACTOR TO SHUTTLE YOU ACROSS THE RIVER.” Uh. What? Yeah, you heard right. Welcome to the Jungle.

As it turns out everyone was super worried about us so Hermes, the Sustainable Agriculture Project Manager, was waiting for us by the river with his tractor to shuttle us across. Like I said: Dedication. This man of the age of 60 should, theoretically, be enjoying dinner, hanging out with his co-workers, and relaxing (actually) after a long days work. Nope. Someone is always doing something. As it turns out I didn’t get to ride in a tractor…the river was so full that even his tractor wouldn’t have made it. Hermes wasted all his efforts on us and got stranded outside of Piro in the end due to my negligent absentmindedness.

 

The End.

I  could tell you how this story actually ends, but I think I will leave it up to your imagination. I’m here, I’m alive, I am not maimed of deformed in any way, I did not get swept away in any rivers, and today I have dedicated my time to writing about a day in the life of Osa Conservation. The point of all this was to really get across the amount of work everyone is doing at literally any given time down at the Osa. From waking up at 5 am to make breakfast and coffee, to scheduling an entire band of volunteers to help release sea turtles – every moment of every day is filled with activities. And even when you plan to relax and have some time off, you’re still ready to work at any given moment.

Also there are a good 20 other staff that I didn’t even get to mention, talk about, post pictures of, or anything. I promise on my next visit I will take 100 photos of you, make you take me around our property for hours, and most importantly harass you after losing my purse. I’m sorry to all of you, I really care about you all, miss you tremendously, and will one day write all about you; I promise.

Finally, I leave you then with two photos from the trip which include some shots of staff I did not get to mention but who have been truly amazing during my visit:

First I just want to point out Hermes since he did appear at night with a tractor but I didn't take a picture of him (pictured furthest right). From there, left to right in the back, we have: Max, Pilar, Manuel R. Jim Palmer, and Dennis. From the front, left to right, we have: Liliana, Larry, and Renee.

First I just want to point out Hermes since he did appear at night with a tractor to shuttle me across a river, but I didn’t take a picture of him at that second (pictured furthest right – green shirt). From there, right to left in the back we have: Max, Pilar, Manuel R. Jim Palmer, and Dennis. From the front, right  to left, we have: Liliana, Larry, and Renee.

Finally there's this photo. I only include it because lets face it, I need a good selfie, too...except I think Max was making fun of my sox, but I'm 100% sure he was just jealous. From right to left we have: Alfonzo, Larry, Renne, Max, Myself (Florencia) and Juan Carlos.

Finally there’s this photo. I only include it because lets face it, I need a good selfie, too…except… I think Max was making fun of my socks, but I’m 100% sure he was just jealous. From left to right we have: Alfonzo, Larry, Renee, Max, Myself (Florencia) and Juan Carlos.