Category Archives: Fieldwork

Papalomoyo: The Mark of the Bribrí

While I was in Peru I noticed a bite on my left forearm that wasn’t getting better. That would’ve been the last week of April. I wasn’t really too concerned about it; it wasn’t getting any better but it wasn’t getting any worse either. When I got back to Yorkín, 12 May, it quickly began to grow and look nasty and when I showed it to a friend she said I could rub the leaves of a tree on it and if it turned green it was papalomoyo. I’m not sure if it turned green or not, but the next day more people said it was definitely papalomoyo. In the two weeks that followed I tried various natural remedies suggested by members of the community. One friend suggested red fingernail polish, another put white latex from a succulent plant on it, and yet another also put a white latex substance from a tree on it. Although each of these treatments were derived from different sources, I figured it had something to do with sealing the wound and possibly smothering the microbes (protozoan parasites) which were eating away at the flesh. However, these people offered no insights into why the treatment would work. I also tried two different plants; pajilla and gavilina, which were suggested by two different friends. To round out the list I also tried putting garlic and later, lime, on the wound. It was also suggested by two people that I capture lightning and thunder in my hand and put it on the wound (which I did do, more than once). I never got around to the camphor cure that was suggested. None of these treatments seemed to have any impact on the steady worsening of the ulcer. Papalomoyo (papalotl= butterfly and moyotl= mosquito) is so common in Yorkín that the locals refer to the scar that is left over as the “mark of the Bribrí” or the “mark of Talamanca”. Several people have commented that now I am a Bribrí. The locals perceive papalomoyo as occurring through natural (as opposed to supernatural) causation. It is recognized that the ulcer is caused by parasites transmitted by the bite of a particular type of mosquito. However, at least one of the treatments, thunder and lightning, was seemingly oriented to the supernatural.WP_20160605_003

Although I had already looked up papalomoyo on Wikipedia, I next endeavored to find a scientific article through the UA library databases on papalomoyo and its treatment. The scientific name for papalomoyo, which it is known as locally here, is leishmaniasis. It is basically protozoan parasites eating away at the flesh, entering the bloodstream, and eventually damaging the spleen and liver. Various types of sand fleas and mosquitos act as the vector including female phlebotomine sandflies and in America and Costa Rica a mosquito known as Lutzomyia or “Aliblanco”. The visible symptoms of leishmaniasis are skin sores which erupt weeks to months after the person is bitten. The parasite enters the bloodstream, creating the need for systemic rather than local treatments to avoid long-term infection. In Costa Rica, incidence averages per one hundred thousand inhabitants according to Canton from 2005-2007 were: Turrialba 124.5; Guácimo 126.3; Matina 222.5; Talamanca (where I live) 1179.4; Osa 124.1; Coto Brus 159.7

From Wikipedia:

Cutaneous leishmaniasis is the most common form, which causes an open sore at the bite sites, which heals in a few months to a year and half, leaving an unpleasant-looking scar. Diffuse cutaneous leishmaniasis produces widespread skin lesions which resemble leprosy, and may not heal on its own.

  • Mucocutaneous leishmaniasis causes both skin and mucosal ulcers with damage primarily of the nose and mouth.
  • Visceral leishmaniasis or kala-azar (‘black fever’) is the most serious form, and is potentially fatal if untreated. Other consequences, which can occur a few months to years after infection, include fever, damage to the spleen and liver, and anemia.

Leishmaniasis is considered one of the classic causes of a markedly enlarged (and therefore palpable) spleen; the organ, which is not normally felt during examination of the abdomen, may even become larger than the liver in severe cases.

Leishmaniasis occurs in 88 tropical and subtropical countries. The settings in which leishmaniasis is found range from rainforests in Central and South America to deserts in western Asia and the Middle East. It affects as many as 12 million people worldwide, with 1.5–2.0 million new cases each year. The visceral form of leishmaniasis has an estimated incidence of 500,000 new cases. As of 2010, it caused about 52,000 deaths, down from 87,000 in 1990.

Marguerite Higgins, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, died in early 1966 from leishmaniasis contracted while on an assignment the previous year.

Magazine photographer Joel Sartore was diagnosed with the disease after a skin lesion failed to heal following a photo shoot in the Bolivian wilderness. Following intensive IV treatment similar to chemotherapy, his infection resolved.

While filming the latest series of Extreme Dreams in Peru, UK television presenter Ben Fogle caught the disease. He was left bedridden for three weeks on his return home. Fogle was treated at London’s Hospital for Tropical Diseases. 

Treatment usually consists of the administration of some kind of antiparasitic compound, including antimonials, which are considered the first line of treatment for all forms of leishmaniasis. These are usually effective in patients with one or multiple lesions but should be administered with care. Toxicity includes headaches, fainting, muscle and joint pain, EKG changes, and seizures. However, one study investigated the clinical response to treatment of cutaneous leishmaniasis with glucantime and found that fifteen patients (34.9%) were clinically unresponsive to glucantime 6 weeks after initiation of treatment while the remaining 28 patients (65.1%) responded to treatment. This is a pretty significant level of unresponsiveness to the glucantime treatment (lucky me) and suggests the need for research into new treatment regimens, perhaps combining antimonials with topical-plant based medicines (2011). Glucantime Efficacy in The Treatment of Zoonotic Cutaneous Leishmaniasis. Pourmohammadi, Motazedian, Handjani, Hatam, Habibi, and Sarkari (2011). Southeast Asian Journal Tropical Medicine Public Health 42(3):502-8

The next morning, I was helping my friend roof his new addition at his house with zuita palm when he mentioned that a doctor was going to be at the clinic in Yorkín that day and that I should go to have my papalomoyo looked at.WP_20160617_002 I figured maybe it was time to go to visit the doctor even though I was apprehensive about the cost, the ulcer being pretty ugly at this point. I walked down to the clinic and asked the doctor if he would see me. There was some discussion about whether he could or not with the woman who was doing the bookkeeping; the issue being me not having insurance in Costa Rica. After some haggling it was finally decided that they would see me and my name was put on the list. I finally got into the clinic at around two in the afternoon and first saw the nurse who weighed me, measured me, and took my blood pressure. After another half hour I got into see the doctor. He stated that it was actually two bites (this was confirmed by my nurse after looking at photos I had taken- again, lucky me); two infection sites that later converged into one ulcer. WP_20160611_001He prescribed injections of glucantime, 5mL at a time injected into the butt cheek once a day. He suggested not using any more natural remedies and seemed somewhat disdainful of the local treatments. He also diagnosed a fungal infection in the same arm and prescribed a topical ointment for it. He told me I could pick up my medications at the clinic in Bambu and that after my treatment was over they would bill me; at which time I could choose whether or not to pay as he admitted they are not very efficient in collecting money because usually all their services are for free. We’ll see about that.

A couple of days later I was able to get a boat ride down the river to Bambu. The man at the pharmacy window spoke a little English and actually told me to take two injections a day- one in each butt cheek and that it wasn’t really effective to inject any into the site of the wound as people in the community suggest- because the parasite is systemic, entering the bloodstream. He also alluded to the fact that it would be very painful. At first he didn’t want to give me the medication to take with me but said I would have to come to Bambu every day to receive my injections. I told them this was in no way possible, as I do not have a boat and there is no way I could spend five hours a day walking the round-trip from Yorkín to Bambu with the additional time waiting at the clinic. I also told him there is a registered nurse in the community who could administer the injections. After a lengthy discussion he finally agreed to give me my first round of injections to take with me but he would not give me anymore. Next I had to go see the nurse to receive the syringes and needles. I left the clinic with a large box of syringes, needles and medication; ate tamales prepared by local women most Fridays in Bambu, packed two for the road, bought some groceries (including Snickers) at the pulpería, and started the two hour walk home.

When I got back to Yorkín I asked a friend if he would be willing to give me my first round of injections that evening. He admitted that he had been drinking chicha and suggested I call either of two people who were both certified to give injections, one being a registered nurse. I of course chose the female of the two who was also the registered nurse (I was later told that Bribrí normally choose the oldest person, so I once again broke cultural norms). A couple phone calls later and she was asked if she could deliver the injections. I texted her and asked when I should come to her house. She replied “No, Greg, at your house.” Ok. The reason for this would become clear later. She showed up that evening around 4:30 and expertly prepared the two syringes; set them aside, and cleaned out the wound. I asked her if I should stand up and lean over the desk so she could have access to my two butt cheeks. “No Greg, on your bed. You will not want to move for a while.” “Really?” “Yes, it is very painful.” Great. Now, I already have a tremendous fear of needles and this statement put my stress factor over the top. So I grabbed my laptop and started playing the Dark Star medley from the Grateful Dead show at the Capitol Theater in 1970 hoping it would relax me. WP_20160620_003I pulled down my pants a little bit, my nurse asked me if I was ready, and told me to take a deep breath. The needle went in smoothly and she began injecting the 5mL into my upper left butt cheek. Surprisingly, it really wasn’t very painful. She had a gentle and deft touch. After a minute or two of relaxing she asked if I was ready for the second injection. She then told me to take another deep breath and injected the needle- this time when she began pushing the serum into my butt there was tremendous throbbing pain, it was all I could do to not flinch. It seemed forever before the needle was empty and she removed it gently from my butt cheek. She pulled my pants up and made a quick exit, saying that she would return at the same time tomorrow. It was probably two hours before I had the wherewithal to get up and walk to the kitchen for dinner which I ate standing up.

The next day everybody was interested in my injections and offered various opinions on treatments. It seems as if everybody has a different idea on treatment but there is limited consensus on dietary taboos which include beans, pork, beef, fat, sugar, and eggs. I consulted the literature on this and there is no information regarding these types of foods as contra-indicators for papalomoyo or its treatment; the literature did state however that a high-protein diet was important. I also asked the doctor about this and he said the diet had no bearing whatsoever on treatment efficacy (however, both my nurse and a different doctor would later suggest limiting fats and dairy). In reflection, it seems that the dietary taboos are all things which they already do not eat much of, except sugar, suggesting to me that their ideas on dietary restrictions stem from already existing food taboos. In the literature I also read that papalomoyo often heals on its own; to me this explains the various treatment ideas and the lack of consensus. People would put on the wound some kind of substance or adhere to a certain diet and the papalomoyo would eventually heal, the treatment could have had much, little, or no effect- as the papalomoyo can simply heal on its own. I also heard stories from people who said they received injections while using another type of treatment, either diet or plant-based. Invariably these people suggested that it was the natural remedy and not the injections that caused the wound to heal.

The next day my nurse returned to my house and suggested that she only administer one injection of 5mL for the day; I was more than happy to go along with her idea. I once again found the injection quite painful and was quite sore afterwards. The soreness last throughout the night and through the next day; my butt cheeks were still sore when I received the next injection.

On 6/14/2016 she made a paste of the glucantime and sulphur to put topically on the ulcer. I put the paste on after receiving my 7th injection (again, very painful). I have also been experiencing severe headache, muscle and joint pain; all side effects of the glucantime.

6/18/16

Yesterday’s treatment was brutal. I had been feeling feverish for about three days and the day before yesterday a really bad infection sprung up at the wound site. That night my nurse cleaned out the wound really well before I got my injection. She used a cotton swab with the cotton removed from one end and sterile gauze wrapped around it, meticulously picking at the dead and rotting flesh. WP_20160619_007Yesterday the infection was just as bad if not worse, and she spent a long time digging out the infection and rotting flesh. She then cut the tip off of a plantain and squeezed the juice from the peel into the wound; it burned like hell. She said the juice contains an antibiotic compound. She is proving to be much more than solely a nurse; she is really a curandera; attending to my illness experience holistically. After her work on the wound site I received my 10th injection in the butt, which is now very sensitive and sore- so each injection just gets more and more painful. It is Sunday, and I plan on seeing the doctor when he comes to Yorkín on Tuesday. If the infection is still bad, I assume I’ll have to go to Bambu to get antibiotics.

6/20/16

Well, last night I received my 12th injection. My curandera again cleaned out the wound and dribbled some of the antimonial medicine into it. WP_20160619_009She said it is looking better. Still looks horrible to me. Yesterday I pretty much spent the entire day sleeping or just laying around; I have had a nauseated stomach and do not feel like eating; still have somewhat of a fever. This morning, even though my stomach still wasn’t feeling well, I forced myself to walk down to Ida’s and have some breakfast.

Today (Tuesday, 6/21/16), I spent much of the morning waiting at the clinic with mostly women to see the doctor on his bi-weekly visit to Yorkín. It was a pleasant surprise that the doctor was able to speak English and he gave me a thorough checkup. I had lost 8 pounds since I first started receiving the injections two weeks ago, and this was concerning to him. In addition to more antimonial injections (20), he prescribed Tylenol for the pain, electrolytes for dehydration, and something for my stomach. He, echoing my nurse’s advice, suggested to keep the consumption of fats and dairy products to a minimum.

On Friday I caught a ride in a canoe down to Bambu and walked to the clinic where I received my medications (even though I was told last time that I couldn’t take them home). After consuming two tamales and purchasing two to take with me from the ladies who prepare them most Fridays in Bambu, I walked the two hours home. As the week went on, the injections got more painful as my behind was becoming more and more sensitive. On Sunday, my nurse had a bit of trouble getting the needle into my flesh, possibly the result of a bad needle – this was the 20th.

7/1/16

The last three injections have proved to be incredibly painful. I spent yesterday pretty much just laying around and not doing anything. I cannot even sit for very long to write, and it is even painful to lay in the hammock for very long reading, and the nausea continues. Last night my nurse said it looked as if the parasites at the wound site were dead. We talked a little bit about ending the injections. Earlier that day, one of the men in the community told me about how after his 20th injection he chose to quit getting any more, only to have the papalomoyo return and him having to receive 40 more injections before it was finally healed. I did not want to experience this type of scenario – when the injections are done, I want them to be done. We decided, because I need to leave the community to go to Panama for three days to renew my visa, that we would continue the injections through Sunday night (we actually decided to stop after Friday), and while I was away Monday through Friday I would apply the medication topically onto the ulcer twice a day. “This is the law Greg.” Okay, I would do anything she asked of me at this point, and seeing an end to, or even a brief respite from, the injections filled me with relief. Not only has she been cleaning my wound and expertly administering the injections every evening, she has also attended to my emotional health and other physical needs. Every night she brings me some sort of food – fresh-baked bread, cacao jelly, fried fish, coconuts. She also gave me a book used by the Adventists in the community, and often we discuss religious concepts. She came back to Yorkín after earning her nursing degree and working in San Jose to take care of her mother and revitalize the family finca. She takes care of three young boys on her own and performs all the farming duties; harvesting and hauling bananas and cacao, chopping brush, taking care of chickens, hauling wood for cooking, etc., etc. She came to my house every day to clean the wound, talk, lift my spirits, and give me my injections- she asked for nothing in return. As for my treatment, I do not know what I would have done without her.

It is now several days later; I am in Panama for three days. I came with stuff to clean my ulcer every day and antimonial medicine with syringes and needles to apply topically- and strict instructions to take care of it twice a day, “la ley Greg.” OK. It is now Thursday, the 7th– my last injection was Friday- finally, I am not nauseous and my butt is not sore. It was a fitting last injection. I had gone to a friend’s house for lunch and afterwards visited some other friends who were taking the day off and playing Dominoes. I sat down to play- soon the chicha (bLok in Bribrí, pronounced brlo) came out. After some drinks we began playing guitar, accompanied by more chicha. After what seemed like a short interval to me (chicha has a way of making the time fly) another friend showed up and said “Greg, are you getting your injection?” “Si” “Well you are late.” Oh fuck, I gathered my belongings and made a hasty retreat to my casita. I have no idea how I navigated the path with my bags and a guitar slung over my shoulder (chicha has a way of clouding the memory) and when I got to my place the nurse was waiting on the path for me. These next couple points I can neither deny nor confirm- due to the chicha; however, my curandera asked me upon my arrival “Don Gregorio, are you drunk?” “No” “Don Gregorio, la verdad.” “Si, estoy boracho.” I was not supposed to be drinking alcohol on my medication, oh well. I vaguely remember the injection hurting like crazy (this was number 26) and I was told that after the needle was removed I yelled loud enough to alert the entire community. The next day I was thrilled when she said there would be no more injections for now and we would re-evaluate after I got back from Panama.WP_20160707_001 Now, the ulcer looks better and I am somewhat hopeful that the injections are behind me. Tomorrow I make the long trip back to Yorkín and will see what she says- hopefully all that will be left is to see what kind of cool scar it will leave me with- “The mark of the Bribrí”.

End note: My curandera says it is looking healed; I only need to apply the antimonial topically for 3 days- then use cacao butter (which she made) to help prevent scarring. WP_20160711_003

Chachapoyas Warriors of the Clouds: A Visit to Two Burial Sites

The Chachapoyas, also called the Warriors of the Clouds, were Andean people living in the cloud forests of the Amazonas Region of present-day Peru. The Inkas conquered their civilization shortly before the arrival of the Spanish in Peru in the 16th century. Their incorporation into the Inka Empire was fraught with constant resistance to the Inka troops. The name Chachapoya is the name that was given to this culture by the Inka; the name that these people may have used to refer to themselves is not known. The meaning of the word Chachapoya may have been derived from sach’a-p-qullas, the equivalent “people who live in the woods” (sach’a = tree, p = of the, qulla = nation; in which Aymara is spoken). Some believe the word is a variant of the Quechua construction sach’a phuya (tree cloud).The Chachapoyas were devastated by the 18th century but remain as a strain within general indigenous ethnicity in modern Peru.WP_20160505_037

The Chachapoyas’ territory was located in the northern regions of the Andes. It encompassed the triangular region formed by the confluence of the rivers Marañón and Utcubamba in the zone of Bagua, up to the basin of the Abiseo River, where the ruins of Pajáten are located. This territory also included land to the south up to the Chuntayaku River, exceeding the limits of the current Amazonas Region towards the south. But the center of the Chachapoyas culture was the basin of the Utcubamba River. Due to the great size of the Marañón River and the surrounding mountainous terrain, the region was relatively isolated from the coast and other areas of Peru, although there is archaeological evidence of some interaction between the Chachapoyas and other cultures.WP_20160505_009

According to the analysis of Chachapoyas artifacts made by the Antisuyo expeditions of the Amazon Archaeology Institute, the Chachapoyas did not exhibit Amazon cultural tradition but one more closely resembling an Andean one. The anthropomorphous sarcophagi in the area resemble imitations of funeral bundles provided with wooden masks typical of the Horizonte Medio, a dominant culture on the coast and highlands, also known as the Tiahuanaco–Huari or Wari culture. The “mausoleums” may be modified forms of the chullpa or pucullo, elements of funeral architecture observed throughout the Andes, especially in the Tiahuanaco and Huari cultures.

WP_20160505_062Population expansion into the Amazonian Andes seems to have been driven by the desire to expand agrarian land, as evidenced by extensive terracing throughout the region. The agricultural environments of both the Andes and the coastal region, characterized by its extensive desert areas and limited soil suitable for farming, became insufficient for sustaining a population like the ancestral Peruvians, which had grown for 3000 years.

The conquest of the Chachapoyas by the Inkas took place, according to Garcilaso, during the government of Tupac Inka Yupanqui in the second half of the 15th century. He recounts that the warlike actions began in Pias, a community on a mountain on the edge of Chachapoyas territory likely to the southwest of Gran Pajáten. According to de la Vega, the Chachapoyas anticipated an Inka incursion and began preparations to withstand it at least two years earlier. The chronicle of Cieza also documents Chachapoya resistance. During the time of Huayna Capac’s regime, the Chachapoyas rebelled: “They had killed the Inka’s governors and captains and soldiers and many others were imprisoned, they had the intention to make them their slaves.” In response, Huayna Capac sent messengers to negotiate peace. But again, the Chachapoyas “punished the messengers and threatened them with death”. Huayna Capac then ordered an attack. He crossed the Marañón River over a bridge of wooden rafts. From here, Inka troops proceeded to Cajamarquilla with the intention of destroying “one of the principal towns” of the Chachapoyas. From Cajamarquilla, a delegation of women came to meet them, led by a matron who was a former concubine of Tupac Inka Yupanqui. They asked for mercy and forgiveness, which the Inka granted them. In memory of this event, the place where the negotiation had taken place was declared sacred. To assure the pacification of the Chachapoyas, the Inkas installed garrisons in the region. They also arranged the transfer of groups of villagers under the system of mitmac, or forced resettlement. The Inka presence in the territory of Chachapoyas left structures at Cochabamba in the outskirts of Utcubamba in the current Leimebamba District as well as other sites.WP_20160505_063

The architectural model of the Chachapoyas is characterized by circular stone constructions as well as raised platforms constructed on slopes. Their walls were sometimes decorated with symbolic figures. Some structures such as the monumental fortress of Kuelap and the ruins of Cerro Olán are prime examples of this architectural style. Chachapoyan constructions may date to the 9th or 10th century; this architectural tradition still thrived at the time of the arrival of the Spanish until the latter part of the 16th century. The Inkas introduced their own style after conquering the Chachapoyas, such as the ruins of Cochabamba in the district of Leimebamba. The presence of two funeral patterns is also typical of the Chachapoyas culture. One is represented by sarcophagi, placed vertically and located in caves that were excavated at the highest point of precipices. The other funeral pattern was groups of mausoleums constructed like tiny houses located in caves worked into cliffs.

Karajia
Karajia

Chachapoyan handmade ceramics did not reach the technological level of the Mochica or Nazca cultures. Their small pitchers are frequently decorated by cordoned motifs. As for textile art, clothes were generally colored in red. A monumental textile from the precincts of Pajáten had been painted with figures of birds. The Chachapoyas also used to paint their walls, as in San Antonio, in the province of Luya, reveals. These walls represent stages of a ritual dance of couples holding hands.WP_20160505_010

Although there is archaeological evidence that people began settling this geographical area as early as 200 AD or before, the Chachapoyas culture is thought to have developed around 750-800 AD. The major urban centers, such as Kuélap and Gran Pajáten, may have developed as defensive measures against the Huari, a Middle Horizon culture that covered much of the coast and highlands. In the fifteenth century, the Inka Empire expanded to incorporate the Chachapoyas region. Although fortifications such as the citadel at Kuélap may have been an adequate defense against the invading Inka, it is possible that by this time the Chachapoyas settlements had become decentralized and fragmented after the threat of Huari invasion had dissipated. The Chachapoyas were conquered by Inka ruler Tupac Inka Yupanqui around 1475 AD. The defeat of the Chachapoyas was fairly swift; however, smaller rebellions continued for many years. Using the mitmac system of ethnic dispersion, the Inka attempted to quell these rebellions by forcing large numbers of Chachapoya people to resettle in remote locations of the empire. When civil war broke out within the Inka Empire, the Chachapoyas were located on middle ground between the northern capital at Quito, ruled by the Inka Atahualpa, and the southern capital at Cuzco, ruled by Atahualpa’s brother Huáscar. Many of the Chachapoyas were conscripted into Huáscar’s army, and heavy casualties ensued. After Atahualpa’s eventual victory, many more of the Chachapoyas were executed or deported due to their former allegiance with Huáscar. It was due to the harsh treatment of the Chachapoyas during the years of subjugation that many of the Chachapoyas initially chose to side with the Spanish conquistadors when they arrived in Peru. Guaman, a local ruler from Cochabamba, pledged his allegiance to the conquistador Francisco Pizarro after the capture of Atahualpa in Cajamarca. The Spanish moved in and occupied Cochabamba, extorting from the local inhabitant whatever riches they could find.

WP_20160505_003During Inka Manco Cápac’s rebellion against the Spanish, his emissaries enlisted the help of a group of Chachapoyas. However, Guaman’s supporters remained loyal to the Spanish. By 1547, a large faction of Spanish soldiers arrived in the city of Chachapoyas, effectively ending the Chachapoyas’ independence. Residents were relocated to Spanish-style towns, often with members of several different ayllu occupying the same settlement. Disease, poverty, and attrition led to severe decreases in population; by some accounts the population of the Chachapoyas region decreased by 90% over the course of 200 years after the arrival of the Spanish.

With this historical background in mind, I visited two burial sites in the Chachapoyas area. The first stop was Caverna de Quiocta. This cave has a petroglyph on a wall near the entrance. Inside there are various piles of skulls and bones.

Caverna de Quiocta
Caverna de Quiocta

Further back, there are many stalagmites and stalactites. Among some of the bones there are also some remains of pottery. The people who existed within the Chachapoya cultural sphere believed in an afterlife, so goods were buried along with the remains.

Caverna de Quiocta
Caverna de Quiocta

The next stop was Carajía or Karijia, in the Utcubamba Valley where there are eleven Chachapoyan mummies in sarcophagi in three groups on the cliffside. These were constructed by the chilloos people who were a subgroup of the chachapoya. The largest group contains seven (originally eight) sarcophagi which stand up to 2.5 meters tall. There is also a group of three which have holes in them from looters, and another which sits alone and is smaller. The sarcophagi are constructed of clay, sticks and grasses, the larger group having exaggerated jawlines. An earthquake toppled one of the original eight in 1928.

Karajia
Karajia

They have been radiocarbon dated to the 15th century, coincident with the Inka conquest of the Chachapoyas in the 1470s. The sarcophagi are of a type particular to the Chachapoyas called purunmachus. The construction is painted white and overlaid with details of the body and adornment in yellow ochre and two red pigments, such as the feathered tunics and male genitalia visible on the Carajía purunmachus. Often the solid clay head will boast a second, smaller head atop it. Two of which also have human skulls on top of them. The purunmachus of Carajía are unique because of this. It is thought that the skulls were war trophies.

I fell in love with the Chachapoyas countryside and people and can’t wait to return to Peru; hopefully beginning a new research project in the future.WP_20160505_045

Note: Be sure to check out my earlier post on the Chachapoyas fortress of Kuelap

Dispatches From the Field #2

“Que tipo de carne es este?” “tepezcuintle.” I was sitting in the typical house on stilts made with hand hewn lumber somewhere in the Skuy River basin. We had walked for five hours, following the river, ascending and descending steep, muddy slopes. I’d come with one of the families from Yorkín and a Peace Corps volunteer to visit the husband’s parents. I had been told that this was a two hour walk, and I thought “easy, I’ll just bring one water bottle and two packets of Emergenc-C, one for the trip up and one for the trip back the next day.” I did not bring any food because I knew I would be offered food when I arrived at the family’s house in two hours. The trip turned out to be more than I expected in terms of length and elevation gain. I had sweat out so much fluid that, even though I was able to refill my Nalgene in the river and in the many feeder streams entering it (straight, no filter), I was not able to replace all the salts and minerals I was losing and by the end of the journey I was beginning to cramp up in my calves and thighs. I had already consumed my one Emergen-C and had run across no bananas on the way.WP_20150905_007 When we made it to the house, I went down to the stream to wash up and put on some clean clothes. Upon entering the house, I was offered a cup of coffee and a bowl with two pieces of fried dough and a portion of dark, smoky/salty dried meat. The meat was strong; and what would usually be too salty for my liking, but it was exactly what my body was craving and I tore into it ravenously. It was only after I was almost finished that I thought to ask what exactly it was that we were eating. From the descriptions of numerous people I was able to discern that they were talking about a large rodent-type creature, and indeed, according to Wikipedia,

Cuniculus paca is a large rodent found in tropical and sub-tropical America, from East-Central Mexico to Northern Argentina.imagesI3R1OPM0 Introduced to Cuba, Bahamas, Jamaica and Hispaniola. It is called paca in most of its range, but tepezcuintle in most of Mexico and Central America. “Tepezcuintle” is of Nahuatl origin, meaning mountain dog: tepetl = mountain; itzquintli = dog. The lowland paca is mostly nocturnal and solitary and does not vocalize very much. It lives in forested habitats near water, preferably smaller rivers, and digs simple burrows about six and a half feet below the surface, usually with more than one exit. The lowland paca is a good swimmer and usually heads for the water to escape danger. It also is an incredible climber and it searches for fruit in the trees. Its diet includes leaves, stems, roots, seeds, and fruit, especially avocados, mangos and zapotes.

After our meal, the matriarch took me into the kitchen and showed me the head of the creature which had been soaking in water to get it to begin to soften and break down so that it could be fed to the dogs. She grabbed the head with one hand pulling from the top set of teeth and the other pulling down on the bottom row, the jaws tore apart with a crack, revealing the skull and brains. The Peace Corps volunteer murmured in English, “I didn’t need to see that.” I commented in Spanish that the brains I had eaten in the past were delicious, and the matriarch commented that these were good too, but the dogs also needed to eat.

The matriarch and patriarch of this house were not from one of the indigenous groups in the area, but were rather from Chiriquí, in Panama. They had built the house by hand, hauling everything they needed on foot from where the canoes land in Yorkín. The lumber was hand hewn on-site. They lived there by themselves, with one indigenous ranch hand who lived in his own hut on the property. 25 years ago they started with six head of cattle and now had around 70. The land looked well cared for, not overgrazed, and the cattle all looked strong and healthy. There seemed to be some argument about whether or not the house was outside of La Amistad Park and whether or not it was in Panama. I took GPS coordinates so I will be able to confirm this later. After finishing my meal, I walked around the property a little bit and saw two pigs, a few goats, a couple horses, the cattle, fruit trees, and some unrecognizable vegetable plants spaced sporadically about the grounds. WP_20150906_001From the edge of a clearing at a high point on the property I could look down into the Skuy River basin; a small stream on my left cutting through the side of the hill and the Skuy River on the right side of the valley crashing down through the verdant emerald foliage. It was beautiful.

I slept that night on a foam pad in the living room with a sheet of fabric pulled over me and still in my clothing. It got pretty cold that night. I didn’t sleep much, the floor was cold and hard, and there was a baby murmuring off-and-on in the next room throughout the night. Having lived alone for most of my adult life, even small noises in the night bring me to alertness. In the morning I had more coffee, fried dough, and more smoked rodent, and later a drink made with fresh cow’s milk and plantain (I could’ve done without the plantain, the thought of fresh milk got me very excited, I had not had any since arriving in Yorkín, as there is no refrigeration, and no goats or cows in Yorkín). It began raining really hard so we delayed our return, everybody slightly worried about the rising stream crossings, but remaining stoic, as if talking about the rain would make it rain more. Indeed, soon it stopped raining and we headed down the mountain. For the return trip, I had thrown a few bananas in my day pack for trail food along the way. Even though my old football knees hurt like hell whenever I have to descend, the return trip was easier, only took us four hours, and I avoided cramping by munching on my bananas throughout the day. Along the way I saw a few toucans, an armadillo, and a big ass rodent. Later that evening, after a shower and a change of clothes, I went to the house of the family with whom I had made the journey, to have dinner. On their wall was a poster of anthropomorphic bears building snowmen. untitledI told the woman that when I was a child and there was a new batch of fresh snow that had just the right amount of moisture, we would also build snowmen. She looked at me like she had no idea why somebody would do such a thing and asked me the same. I told her because it was fun and got us out of our mother’s hair and outside of the house on a cold winter day. She again stated that this just didn’t make any sense; and why would people do such a thing

“The people for whom the term cultural relativism was invented have rejected it” Levi-Strauss.

 

Dispatches From the Field #1

The journey to the village of Yorkín begins at 6:30 in the morning when you catch the bus in Puerto Viejo, the rambunctious little beach town with an international flair where the smell of ganja flows freely through the air. This area of Costa Rica, the Talamancan coast, was originally settled by Caribbeans from the island nations and also from workers traveling north by boat after working on the Panama Canal. It wasn’t until much later that people from the rest of Costa Rica arrived to the area. However, both these groups were preceded by the indigenous populations who have some of the oldest mitochondrial DNA in the Americas. It is about an hour bus ride from Puerto Viejo to the municipal capital of the Talamancan Indigenous Reserve, appropriately named Bribrí. WP_20140731_001At the bus stop there is a small restaurant (closed on Sundays) a small tienda, and panaderia where you can get a cup of coffee, pastries, or a baguette. From Bribrí you take a rickety yellow school bus over a bumpy road to the little hamlet of Bambu, which has a smattering of small houses and an even smaller tienda. From Bambu, you walk down to the river where you are met by a member of the community of Yorkín who captains a motorized dugout canoe (the canoes have only had motors for about 10 years when Estibrawpa, the ecotourism project, had saved enough money to buy them, making the trip up the river much faster. Now it is only about 40 minutes).WP_20140731_003

From the riverbank it is about a 10 minute (often) muddy slog to the area of the village in which most of the ecotourism activities occur. I was thrilled when they showed me the casita in which I would be living; one bedroom with a bathroom and a veranda where I hung a hammock which was given to me by a man I had befriended on my previous visit, which was made by a friend of his out of nylon cord which seems indestructible in the jungle environment.WP_20150808_008

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I was told that for the first week I would be helping with a construction project, building a new office near the river. The leader of the job is a 70-year-old patriarch who climbs around the construction site like someone half his age. He told me he spent two years studying construction in school somewhere in the Talamancan area. It is amazing the work that they can do with only simple tools; hammers, nails, squares, hand saws, and a plumb bob. They use no scaffolding and climb around on three by fours like Romanian gymnasts. I spend my day much in the same way as I’ve spent on other construction sites; fetching tools, cutting boards to size, and basically guessing what needs to be done next. Like any worksite, conversations and banter occur constantly. It is during these times that I’m able to learn much about the community. For example, the job boss is 70 years old, has 10 children, and 30 grandchildren. He had his last child when he was about 48 years old. I find this fascinating in that if you consider most of the residents of Yorkín have around eight children, and the entire population of the village is between 200 and 250 persons, this man alone is responsible for a very large proportion of the entire community. I can’t wait to do a kinship diagram of his family.

Saturday I was given a day off and decided spend my day fishing in the Telire River which forms one of the boundaries of the village. I was able to catch two small fish, somewhat similar to trout, but I was looking for something bigger and returned them both to the river. After showing pictures on my phone to several members of the community I discovered the fish are named “Lissa” and are considered very good to eat. WP_20150808_003I have been befriended by a group of young kids who follow me everywhere and we are all going fishing together next week. I remember reading something by Malinowski (or was it Pritchard?) In which he said his first solid contacts in the community were the children, from whom he learned the language and some of the basics of the culture. I find myself having the same experience, the children are constantly teaching me words, laughing heartily at my pronunciation, and telling me about their families and their lives.WP_20150808_006

When there are tourists in the community I often help out in the kitchen and eat with the other workers. When there are no tourists in the community I’m usually invited over to somebody’s house for meals. The usual fare is black beans and rice, with local vegetables and fruits, accompanied at times by chicken raised in the village. I drink the water (from upstream in the Telire) straight from the tap (a 1” pvc pipe with an on/off valve), and my stomach and digestion is healthier than it’s been in perhaps years. For a couple of days, there was a tourist here from Germany who did not speak any Spanish but spoke English pretty well. Having no other English speakers in the community at the time, I helped translate for him. I see my work at the construction site and in the kitchen, as well as my time spent with the children and in peoples’ houses as the purest form of participant observation. I am a firm believer in this first step in the research process. By spending time with the community, learning their customs and language, I have been earning their trust and acceptance. After building trust, people will feel more comfortable discussing more formal topics with me in more formal interview–type settings. Only later will I even attempt to have somebody fill out a survey instrument.

With all of the international visitors, the young people here are exposed to people from many different cultures. I know one 23-year-old guide who speaks fluent Spanish, fluent Bribrí, is pretty darn good with English, and knows phrases in both French and German. Although it is very rare for Bribrí to leave their home areas and live elsewhere, a few of the young people in the village are showing interest in life in other places and are constantly asking me about life in the United States, they seem to be particularly interested in how much money a guide can make and how much things cost. It will be interesting to see how many of these young men and women end up leaving the village and visiting other places or beginning lives elsewhere.

So far in my limited experience, I find the members of Yorkín not shy, but some of the older people a little timid around Europeans. They are constantly making jokes (of which I am often the brunt of, one day on the construction site they called me “plumb bob” all day) but I was told by one member of the community that in the past they often had wars with their neighbors and fought off the Spanish invaders with their long-bows and arrows. I find myself quickly adapting to the rhythm of this lifestyle. There is no TV, I only hear music (either from a local radio station or one in Panama or downloaded onto people’s phones, which just like in the U.S. the children seem to master immediately and are better at using than the older people) while working in the kitchen. The sun goes down between around 6:30 and I go to bed soon afterwards and wake up soon after the sun comes up around 5 o’clock in the morning. WP_20140731_010My body still has not adjusted to the heat and humidity or the bugs. I work hard, play hard, and rest hard, all with members of the community – even when I’m resting in my hammock people stop by constantly to have conversations with me. I’m so busy that I do not have time to think much about the amenities I am missing or folks back home (sorry). I believe that if I continue to work hard and engage with the community I will continue to be accepted and people will feel more and more comfortable talking to me about even sensitive subjects.

Thursday, 8/20/15, 9:00 pm, Yorkín, Costa Rica

I am lying in my hammaka listening to a live recording of the Grateful Dead in Egypt, 1978, which I downloaded onto my computer before the trip. It is one of Bear’s recordings, sounding like it was recorded in a multimillion dollar studio yesterday when actually it was recorded on analog tape 40 years ago. The music is accompanied by the sound of crickets, cicadas, and a multitude of other insects adding their voices. I enjoy falling asleep in my hammaka where I can rock back and forth and catch any breezes that might be coming through. I move from the veranda into my room; leaving the door open and grabbing my machete and water bottle. I crawl underneath the mosquito netting and into my too short bed. Around 5:00 I wake up to the sound of a multitude of birds and roosters crowing. I lay in bed for a while listening to the symphony. I then rouse myself and walk to my shower which is a 1 inch PVC pipe with an on-off valve set above a broken tile and cement floor. The cold water is refreshing (it comes from the Telire River upstream, it is the same water I drink) and it feels good to have the evening sweat rinsed from my body. I use no soap, as good soap is a precious commodity around here.

I throw on a pair of long nylon pants, a pair of socks, a cutoff tank top, and my bug suit top made out of mosquito netting. I slip into my Chaco’s because it is not too muddy outside and walk to the kitchen area just down the trail for my Casita. I greet the kitchen ladies and two of the guides that are eating an early breakfast, getting ready to work with clients all day. I walk back to the kitchen area where the cooking is done over an open fire placed upon a contraption of wood and cement in which logs are fed into one end and metal pots boil away over an iron grate. I grab a plastic cup which sits next to the pot which contains the morning’s coffee and a ceramic mug and pour coffee for myself. One of the kitchen ladies hands me a bowl containing Gallo Pinto (which is fried leftover rice and beans), a hard-boiled egg, and some fried plantains. I reach into the cupboard/storage area for a small bottle of Lazano Tabasco sauce. I sit down next to the guides and shake on what seems to me an appropriate amount of Tabasco sauce, but everybody teases me for eating like a Mexican.

After breakfast, I return to my Casita and throw on my Carhartts and a long sleeved nylon shirt. I throw my bag which contains my passport, money, phone (which has no service, but which I use for other things), and field journal into my day pack along with my hammer, tape measure, zip square, and tennis shoes. I tie together the two rice bags filled with nails and sling them over my shoulder. I slip into my rubber boots, tucking my pants legs inside, and head down the trail to the construction site which lays next to the river. We are building an office for the local representative to the Costa Rican police which service the Talamancan reserve. I passed by the house of an older couple who are trying to start a little two table restaurant just up the hill from the river. The woman is very nice and often invites me in for coffee. She has the best coffee that I’ve had so far, no sugar and strong. Her husband and has a small farm (finca) not far from the village where he raises cacao and banana.WP_20150807_001

I arrive before anyone else and sit down on the edge of the river, watching the birds as they busily conduct their morning chores. From here I can see the river and the other bank which is Panama. I open my journal and begin to write. Soon the other workers will arrive and I will be busy for the next eight or nine hours. But for now I enjoy the tranquility and the privacy of this moment. I am not often alone here, and it feels good to sit and think, and take notes in my journal. “Listen to the river sing sweet songs to rock my soul.”

Saturday, 8/22/15, midday, somewhere above Shuab, Costa Rica.

I am sitting on an old stump, into which a simple bench has been carved, across from one of the older guides who works for Estibrawpa. The stump is worn smooth, with a lustrous polish, from being used for what seems like hundreds of years. We had just finished harvesting pejibaye (a small fruit which kind of looks like an apricot and tastes like a squash) and palmito (which is the heart of a palm tree). We had walked for over three hours to get to his small farm (finca) which lies on the steep mountainside in the hills above Shuab, a small community about two hours downriver from Yorkín. Upon arriving at the finca we searched in the high treetops for a good bunch of pejibaye. When we found a good bunch the guide chopped down the tree with just a few solid strokes of his machete. We had to scramble down a ravine to get to the fruits which we placed into a large rice bag. Next we stopped at a palm tree which had been knocked down by the falling pejibaye. The guide cut away the outer layers of the trunk and removed a 3 foot section of the heart. He gave the heart to me to carry back up the hill while he slung the bag of pejibaye over his shoulder. Reaching the crest of the hill we saw a banana tree with some yellow bananas on it. You don’t see yellow bananas around here very often, as the indigenous people prefer to eat them while they are still green. I pointed them out and my guide asked me if I would like one. “Si, mucho!” He grabbed five of them and I put them in my day pack. After a few minutes, we arrived at the stump/benches and each ate a banana while talking. He told me this finca was passed down to him from his grandfather and to him from his grandfather. So far, it seems that most of the fincas are passed down through the men and the houses are passed down through the women. I am not sure if this holds true in all families throughout the area.WP_20150822_004

Earlier, we had headed upstream from Shuab, crossing the Shuab River five times. We followed a barely discernible trail to his mother’s house. We kicked off our boots, climbed up the stairs, and his mother greeted me warmly and invited me to sit in this giant hand carved wooden rocking chair. I was immediately given coffee and some fried bread. We talked briefly and then descended the stairs, slipped into our boots and headed up an extremely steep muddy trail to the finca. As we were sitting on the benches enjoying our bananas, I reflected on how exhausted I was, how much fluids I’d lost due to sweat, and how far I still had to go to return to Yorkín. I drank about a half a quart of water and we headed down the trail. Upon returning to his mother’s house we dropped off a portion of the pejibayes. We then returned to Shuab, washing out our boots and socks at the final river crossing. We arrived at his house outside of Shuab and I was invited inside for a bowl of rice, beans, and (I think) beef neck. We talked for a while about his family and he showed me the animal guide he had received when he went to guiding school in Limon. He enjoyed hearing about animals that were common to both this tropical rain forest and Colorado and I was amazed at how many different types of animals are in the rainforest that I’d never heard of or seen. He then poured out a large portion of the pejibayes into a large aluminum bowl, and told me the rest were for Estibrawpa. He told me he would be returning to Yorkín later and asked if I wanted to walk with him or walk alone. I told him I would have no problem walking alone and offered to take the bag of pejibayes to Estibrawpa. It was a long hot walk back, but upon arriving I was greeted warmly by the ladies in the kitchen when I deposited the pejibayes and the palmito. I returned to my Casita and stood under the shower for about 10 minutes, bringing my body temperature down and refreshing my spirit. I then lay in my hammaka for a well-deserved rest. WP_20150822_008

I’d like to give a few words of thanks to everybody who has helped me get down here, the Maxwell Grant from the University of Alabama, and my friends and family who have offered support in this endeavor. Come visit! That is all for now, I will post again in a month or two.

 

 

 

 

Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance, Probably

When I began my career as a wilderness guide, for the first time in my life I encountered people who were constantly seeking the newest piece of gear, anything from a titanium drinking cup to a sleeping bag which had arms and legs. Being an unschooled vagabond living in my truck and prostituting my wilderness skills out to the highest bidders throughout Idaho, Montana, and Colorado, I made do with the simplest and minimalist accoutrements. I’ve always looked at my gear as sacred; I easily signed over the title of my 1994 Ford Explorer to my friend John, but you could only wrench my MSR backpacker stove out of my cold dead hands. While I was working as a logistics coordinator for the Trailhead Wilderness School, I was often called the “Road Worrier” due to the mental effort I put into packing for a trip. I have protected and cherished my gear throughout the years. For the next year I will be living in a small village without most modern day amenities. Tomorrow everything is going in storage, today I need to pack my gear for Costa Rica.WP_20150715_003

The journey to Yorkín, the Bribrí village in the Talamancan Mountains along the border with Panama where I would be working with a locally conceived ecotourism project called Estibrawpa and conducting my research, begins in Puerto Viejo, a surfer/alternative lifestyle/international small town on the coast which was first settled by black Caribbeans. You catch a bus early in the morning to the town of Bribrí, the main town in the Talamancan Indigenous Reserve. From there you take an old yellow school bus to Bambu, which is nothing but a small general store and a few houses. There you meet one of the Yorkín boat captains who pilots a dugout canoe with an outboard motor up the Yorkín River to the village. From there it is a half hour slog along muddy trails to the Estibrawpa headquarters. Obviously, you cannot simply arrive at your living quarters in a car or bus and unload your belongings. I knew from my experience of the previous summer that I would have to be able to carry all of my personal belongings on my person.

In order to be able to carry all of my belongings, I decided on a large backpack (a Kelty 75th anniversary hybrid 7000 in.³, which I had purchased eleven years prior as a 40th birthday present to myself) instead of a full size dry bag with shoulder straps. In addition, I would bring two daypacks which I could carry one in each hand, and a soft briefcase which I could sling over my shoulder. I had considered bringing the full size dry bag because of its ability to keep moisture away from some of my other gear. However, the dry bag does not have as much internal space and is not as comfortable to carry over long distances as the Kelty pack. After some deliberation, I concluded that I would rather have the Kelty pack and purchase 5 gallon buckets or something similar on my first excursion out of the village either to Bambu, Bribrí, or Puerto Viejo, depending on where I could procure something useful in keeping pests and moisture out of my food and belongings.

When I first began guiding, there was an older more experienced guide (he made his own clothing, something I was always impressed with) who told me, “Take care of your feet first, they are your most important tool.” I took this advice to heart, and own leather boots with vibram soles for travel over terrain, military style bunny boots for the winter, a solid pair of Chaco sandals with the hiking sole for on rafts or kayaks and crossing rivers, and a pair of mukluks for lounging around camp at night. For this trip I knew I would need a pair of what are known in western Colorado as irrigation boots. These are just-below-knee-high rubber boots with good tread, good for mucking livestock stalls and irrigating fields in Colorado or keeping your feet dry and offering (hopefully) protection from a variety of venomous plants, insects, amphibians and reptiles (Costa Rica is home to the fer-de-lance, a snake feared for its aggressiveness and deadly venom) while in the rain forest. On my previous visit to Yorkín, I purchased a pair of boots, and knee-high socks, from a hardware store outside of Puerto Viejo. As I was leaving the village after my stay, I gave those boots to Julio Morales, in whose wife’s house I resided during my visit and with whom I spent my days while he served as guide for the visitors to the village. While still in Tuscaloosa, I perused websites and finally decided on buying a pair of Servus boots from the Campmor catalogue. I knew these would be slightly different boots from those worn by the villagers (green not black for example) and I accepted the fact that these boots would set me apart, reinforcing the fact that I was an outsider, from somewhere else, and somewhat different. These boots would mark me; people would see my boots on the stair steps leading up to a house, and think, “Gregorio esta aqui.”WP_20150715_004

In addition to the boots I decided to also pack a pair of Chaco sandals and a pair of Skechers tennis shoes. The tennis shoes I would wear while traveling through airports and on buses, the Chaco’s can be worn around the house, and the boots would be my main footwear worn while walking around the village and assisting the guides of Estibrawpa while they led visitors throughout the village. While I was studying tracking with Tom Brown in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, he told me how his grandfather, an Apache shaman, had taught him that there were four sacred priorities: Shelter, water, fire, and food. He told me that the first and most important form of shelter is your clothing. Along with my footwear, I chose to bring two pairs of cotton socks, one pair of wool socks, and one pair of knee high socks. The knee-high socks are important to wear with the knee-high rubber boots to avoid chafing. I only owned one pair of knee high socks, so I decided I would simply buy two or three more pairs once I got to Puerto Viejo. For pants I chose to bring three pairs of nylon travel pants with the zip-off legs, a pair of shorts, and a lightweight pair of Carhart’s. I decided to bring the Carhart’s because it was quite likely that I would be lending a hand for various construction projects, and nothing is better than a pair of Carhart’s for construction work. I also brought three button up nylon shirts, one with long sleeves, as well as a T-shirt and two tank tops. I packed a pair of fleece bottoms, a fleece hoodie, and a flannel button-up; because I was going to be spending two months in the mountains of New Mexico before flying from Albuquerque to Costa Rica, I knew I would need some warm clothing. I also figured I would need some warm clothing if I ever chose to leave Costa Rica during my fieldwork to visit the United States, which most likely would be in one of the mountain states where it would be cold. I also packed a rain jacket and my U.S. Army rubber poncho, which can be used as a shelter, a bivouac bag, or simply as a poncho. To round out my clothing I brought a sun hat, a beanie, two bandanas, and my sarong.

In addition to my clothing, I had to decide which gear to bring and what could remain in storage. In keeping with the sacred priorities I brought only two cotton sheets to go along with my army poncho as shelter material. I knew that I would either be staying in my own little bungalow or with a family while in Yorkín. A roof over my head, a bed, and mosquito netting would be provided. So the next order of business would have to do with the procurement and storage of water. I packed one, 32 ounce Nalgene which were serve as my main water bottle. In addition to iodine tablets which I placed in my first aid kit, I also packed my Pur backpacker’s water filter. Even though while I was in Yorkín the previous summer I drank the water straight out of the taps with no ill effects, I could not be certain that everywhere I would be would have safe drinking water. In addition to my tools for water purification, I also brought my “water chicken.” a 2 gallon nylon bag with a pour spout, for water storage.

After feeling confident that I had safe drinking water storage and procurement taking care of, I next focused on fire. I decided to box up my MSR International Backpacker Stove (which can run off of pretty much any type of liquid fuel) along with six lighters and mail them to Puerto Viejo. On a trip to Baja California in January 2012, just a few months after 9/11, I had a backpacking stove removed for my luggage by TSA, and didn’t want to run that risk again. I decided to throw in several Bic lighters because you can’t take them on the plane and I’ve found the lighters throughout Latin America are not as dependable as a Bic.

Now that I had shelter, water, and fire taking care of, I could think about food. I would be purchasing food in Puerto Viejo and carrying it in my packs to Yorkín. I brought a small saucepan with a lid and handle for cooking, a Tupperware bowl with a lid, a thermal coffee cup, and a spoon. On my previous trip to Yorkín I noticed several good-sized trout swimming in the stream that forms the northern border of the village. At that moment I decided I would definitely bring my fishing gear along with me next time I came down. I packed my spin rod, an Ugly Stick pole that breaks down into four pieces and fits into my pack nicely, several lures, some swivels, and a little extra line.

Now that I had the four sacred priorities taking care of I could focus on personal items and first aid. I bought a single blade safety razor along with 50 extra blades for the trip. Along with three bars of Kirk’s Castile biodegradable soap and a toothbrush, this would make up my toiletries. For my first aid kit I packed a roll of athletic tape, Band-Aids, a large bottle of aspirin, a large quantity of bismuth, a nail clipper, baking soda (which has many uses- tooth cleanser, antacid, etc.) and a box of Emergen-C packets to use for oral rehydration. I also packed a bunch of AA and AAA batteries, my compass, GPS, sunglasses, and my Swiss Army knife. These items completed my gear inventory (I planned to buy a hammock and a machete in Puerto Viejo) and all I had left to think about were school supplies.

I decided to bring both my laptop and tablet, so I could have a backup in case one of them went down. These will mostly be used for typing up fieldnotes and data analysis. My plan was to leave the village once a month and get a room in Puerto Viejo where I could access Internet. I decided to bring my phone, even though I would be shutting my service off. I was unsure at the time whether or not the camera function, along with some other functions, would still work even though I turned my service off. I planned on mostly using the phone camera because in my opinion it takes pretty good pictures, but I also brought a very small basic digital camera as a backup. I packed two digital voice recorders along with four Rite-in-the-Rain field notebooks and several pencils. I packed a Costa Rica travel guide, a Costa Rica map, a rain forest plant identification book, and a small book written about the Bribrí who live in the Kokoldi indigenous reserve. Finally, I packed a good supply of various sizes of Ziploc baggies and a bunch of trashbags, which will be used to keep things dry. The very last thing I packed was a gift for Julio, who served as my guide and mentor on my last trip. Julio served as the main guide for Estibrawpa and only had one of those small book bags with the shoulder straps made of cord which are so popular on college campuses. I decided to bring him a good day pack that was larger and had padded shoulder straps.

Now that I had my gear ready, I was excited to get down to Yorkín. I only had a few loose ends to wrap up (IRB among others) before heading out. I cracked open a Tecate Light and squeezed in some lime. Like we say the first night in camp on a backpack trip “If we ain’t got it, we don’t need it.”