The danger of being bored

About a week ago, I started to feel the weird sort of suffocation I start to feel after  too much daily repetition.  La Selva is an amazing beautiful place, but sometimes it gets weirdly monotonous.  It isn’t because the rain forest becomes somehow less amazing, or because I dislike anything specific about the place, but two months in which I haven’t left the station for more than a few hours at a time is a little too long.

I started to feel a little bored.

So a couple of other researchers and I went to San Jose for the night.  I felt like I needed one night of eating food that I got to pick from a menu, rather than having to eat whatever the kitchen ladies decided to make, one day where I was actually cold while I slept, and that didn’t make me sweaty just walking a few hundred meters.

Sabine and I took the bus to San Jose, where Diego was giving a talk at UCR.  And despite the fact the we didn’t get the bus schedule right, and made it to the city an hour an a half after we planned, and despite eating dinner at nine and not really having a place to stay until the awesome Jenny suggested a nearby hostel, and despite a really low-key evening, I had the best time ever. It was exactly what I needed.  I ate sushi at Moby DIck’s.  I saw people who were not station people (though I really do love all the station people, I promise)!

I slept well despite the snoring and bed shaking and other weird sleeping-in-the-hostel-dorm things that one comes to expect when you don’t make reservations in advance.  I really liked the hostel, Bekou, in San Pedro. Its near the university, plenty of bars, etc, but still quiet, clean, and welcoming.

I woke up in my usual way: bolting upright, with a sharp deep intake of breath, sure that something has happened.  Otherwise-why would I be awake?   They have a sort of mini-breakfast at the hostel in the morning, but we ventured down the road a bit to Spoon, a chain restaurant with decent breakfast food and a nice porch.

But that was when things started to get a bit weird.

I drank my first cappuccino since I left the states (it was really a latte, but they called it a cappuccino, so I’m going with that) and it was lovely. The weather was gorgeous, clear and bright. It was the kind of morning that made the whole trip worth it.

As we sat there peacefully on the porch, I felt the wind pick up, swaying the building.  Except then I remembered we were on the ground floor, not crossing the swaying bridge to get to the station, and typically, when you’re sitting on the ground floor, that floor is stationary.  I don’t know that I would’ve realized what was happening, even then, if Diego hadn’t said, “that’s an earthquake,” to which my first response (possibly in my head, but I at least thought it was out loud) was “No Way!”

I’d never felt an earthquake before. I even was joking around with someone earlier in the summer about how it was on my bucket list, I wanted to know what it felt like to have to earth move under my feet.  Well, Costa Rica is fortunately located in an area known as “The Ring of Fire.”  This ring is an area of the Pacific Ocean where a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur. Costa Rica has the honor of being located near the convergence of three tectonic plates: the Caribbean Plate (most of Central America is located on this one), the Nazca Plate, and the Cocos Plate all touch just to the west of the country.  When those three plates move, so does most of Costa Rica.  So I suppose, if I really wanted to feel an earthquake, I’m spending my time in the right place.

I know intellectually, that it can be different for each quake, there are upwelling(s) and crashes, shakey quakes and waves (plus far more scientific sounding names for all of those!) but I had no real idea of what it actually felt like to have the earth move beneath my feet.  I imagine this felt similar to how I’d feel if I was up high in a tall tree, and a giant was standing next to the tree and slowly, slowly, shaking it back and forth.  Not violently, but sure and certain. Like I could probably have held on for a while, but maybe not forever.

As I looked around us, I saw a few strange reactions in the people around us, though no one was panicking, just being odd.  One man, apparently remembering the doorways are supposed to be stronger foundation-speaking than other parts of the building, went to stand in the doorway from the porch to the restaurant.  Which might have seemed smart, except the entire wall and doorway was made of glass.  Not so awesome if it broke.  Most of the cars kept driving, but a few stopped randomly on the street.  After maybe 30 seconds, it stopped.  We shrugged, and ate the rest of our breakfast.  I later found out it was the strongest earthquakes to hit Costa Rica in twenty years. Luckily, few people were hurt, the epicenter was deep and not very close to an urban area, and while there were some buildings lost and a few landslides/bridges/roads collapsed, it could have been far worse than it was.  In fact, it was probably far less exciting here than was reported by the news outlets in the U.S.  So it was awe-inspiring more than scary and a major check box on my bucket list, though I’m not sure I ever want to do it again.

That about covers weird thing #1, moving on to weird thing #2

After the earthquake and a quick trip to the Automercado for necessities (they have pita chips!) we came back to the station, and it was so, so nice to be home.  Everyone was chatting about their earthquake experiences (thank goodness I was not by myself in the forest, no doubt I would’ve been freaked out by that) and generally being interesting people.

In the evening we went for dinner at La Selva Verde for Ping’s birthday and because it was Matt’s last night on the station. Everyone that’s still here went to dinner, about 16 of us, which was nice because the kitchen ladies got a night off.

The restaurant itself wasn’t so nice unfortunately.  I know other people have gone there an enjoyed the food and the ambiance, but it was such a strange mixture of trying-to-be-fine-dining and Costa Rican normal that it just felt a bit confusing.

For instance:  They gave us yummy salty focaccia bread and olive oil to dip it in.  But they didn’t give us bread plates, so you kind of had to shove the bread over and pour olive oil on the bigger plate.  Really, not a big deal, but doesn’t quite match with the fancy linen napkins and need for a reservation (there were lots of us, but we were the only people there).  After the salty focaccia, (long, long after) we got our drinks-mine was sadly lacking some of the more awesome umbrella and sword collaborations found on some of the other drinks, but it was good, and then salads and pizza (at the same time for each order, but nowhere near the same time for the whole table-see where I’m going with the weirdness?).  The food was good, but entirely lacking in salt.  For some reason, one of the orders came with a salt shaker and olive oil, but not the rest.  And halfway through their meal, the salt was taken away to be given to another table. They must’ve had only one shaker in the enormous place, but why?  If we’d all been using La Selva manners, there would’ve been no problem. I wouldn’t have even found any of this strange, let alone worth taking about, but there was candlelight, linen, and water goblets. The combination of bad table manners + candlelight felt off.

Then, not too long after dinner, four of us got sick.  Awesome.

The morning watching pretty uneventful, no earthquakes, no strange animals, nothing unusual, just really hot.

I went to my cabina before lunch, changed my shirt, checked my email, the usual. The I went to lunch, said goodbye to Matt and wished him happy travels, and went to grab a few things from my room . . .

and found it covered, top to bottom, with army ants.

Next time I start to get bored, I’m going to try to remember the past 24 hours.  Apparently, there are consequences for trying to mix things up a little.  If those consequences include a shaking earth, an upset stomach, and large pinching insects, I think I’d rather just get a new book on my kindle and wait for the boredom to pass.

Also, here is a video of a porcupine that I took last night:

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~ by Meghan on September 6, 2012.

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