Today a stow-away ant bit me inside my pants, inspiring me to thrust and gallop across the main lawn, slapping my own ass in a frenzied, lunatic haka.  For Science.

I had visited, as I often do, the same leafcutter ant trails from my first big post.  (No matter how many monkeys and bats this country throws at me, I keep coming back to the ants.)  But this time I had an idea for an experiment that seems, in hindsight, an irresponsibly tedious exploit for a blogger—I really shouldn’t even be boring you with the details—but here we go.

Wait, no.  First, look at this:

What a goofball

This is a leafcutter soldier with its mandibles stuck in the seam of a split twig.  The soldier’s own weight has caused the stick to sag like a falling drawbridge, trapping his face forever.  Divinely, I intervened and gave him a second chance to toil all the way to the grave.  I sure earned my two scoops of raisins today.  Anyway, back to my exciting research:

As more than one person has pointed out to me, the experiment should have consisted of mortal combat between exotic pairings of ants and other living things besides leaves.  Anything but leaves.  So I obstructed each side of a fork in the ants’ trail with a different leaf, and I checked every so often to see which leaf disappeared first.  Let’s go to the re-play:

In this corner, a fern-like specimen!

I'm so sorry, you guys

I'm so sorry, you guys

…And in this corner, a not-fern-like specimen!

Strongest leaf in USSR

Most great fight leaf in USSR

Yes, this leaf had clearly been chewed already.  The whole affair was amateur hour.  Anyway, I’ll just let the pictures tell the story.   At 2:37 p.m. the race was on:



Fern - 3:12

Fern - 3:12


Not fern - 3:12

Not fern - 3:12


Fern - 5:09

Fern - 5:09


Not fern - 5:09

Not fern - 5:09


Fern - 7:32

Fern - 7:32


Not fern - 7:32

Not fern - 7:32

There you have it.  The ants chewed on both leaves a little, but apparently the obstacles didn’t warrant a major diversion of labor.  What does it mean?  I’ll let you decide, because I am so over the task of wringing significance from this particular caper.  Let’s rinse this taste out with monkeys.  I’m going to show and tell about monkeys.  Stay tuned.


As I might not have emphasized in any of my previous posts, I actually work here.  My first major project, the tourism brochure, is almost ready for print.  I’m pretty excited–this brochure constitutes the first entry in my professional portfolio.  I’m also pleased to report that I’ve gathered a stack of brochures from other local attractions and competing services, and that most of them suck, frankly, compared to mine.

It might look like it was a piece of cake, and indeed it might have been for many people with more experience in my field.  But those people charge thousands of dollars.  I don’t have as much experience, so I work slowly, and I work for free.  For now.  

About half of the photography is my original work, and certain images required hours of behind-the-scenes Photoshop work to make them pop.  And as anyone else could tell you, rarely does a complete vision of the finished project pin itself like a blueprint to the inside of your eyelids at the start.  You can brainstorm and sketch thumbnails all you want, but when you finally sit down at the computer, you’re just staring at a big white space surrounded by a boggling array of buttons, panels and menus.  And once you’ve conquered that white screen, and you’ve got enough text to fill the empty spaces, tweaking becomes an obsession.  I must have generated the equivalent of four different brochures before I was happy enough to show this to anyone.  Accordingly, the version that goes to print will likely look somewhat different from this:

UPDATE: When I posted this, the images suddenly looked terrible.  All bright-green and washed-out.  They were made in CMYK color scale, so they’re made to look good in print, and they will.  Use your imaginations.

L to R: inside flap, back panel, front panel

L to R: inside flap, back panel, front panel

The background photo here was taken from the UGA-Costa Rica website.  The only change I made was to reflect it so the buildings appear on the right side.  It is obvious that someone none-too-subtly enhanced the rainbow at some point.  It bothers me, but not enough to do anything about it right now.  Realistically, no-one will end up raging at our receptionist because we don’t really have rainbows that look as though they could support the weight of a human being.  Notice that I have downplayed the fact that this facility is associated with the University of Georgia.  That’s because people get confused easily.  From now on, I work at the “Ecolodge San Luis.”  Let’s take a look inside:




Some of you might recognize the kinkajou and the white-faced capuchin from my post Monkeys Before Breakfast.  Those two particular pictures were generously contributed by my buddy Carrie, one of the resident naturalists here.  That’s her with the butterfly on her nose.  Scratch my back and I’ll make you a star.  

You may also recognize the fig tree on the right from the same post.  That is in fact the same photo.  I magically and painstakingly extracted it from its home on the Camino Real and planted it on top of the mountain from which I shot the background image.  And no, you can’t just instruct Photoshop to move the tree and nothing else, not even the sky, from one image to another.  Photoshop not understand tree.  Photoshop not understand what is sky.  But one of my bosses really wanted that tree somewhere in the brochure, and I’m glad he insisted.  I think it looks quite nice. 

That’s about all I want to talk about work.



Saturday I rode almost three hours on the world’s worst roads, traveling possibly dozens of miles, in order to watch bulls crush and fling foolhardy drunks around a dirt ring, and to have a shot at becoming one of them, myself.  It was a magical evening.

Feel your bloodlust rise!GET SOME!

The main event is bull-riding, but crowds don’t turn out to see man conquer beast.  Quite the opposite.  The tougher riders last maybe 15 seconds on the bull, but once unburdened, the furious animal rips around the ring, imperiling the cheap lives of foolish, drunk young men.  Naturally, I was in on the action. Regrettably, my heroics weren’t captured on film, but let it be said that I harrassed the bulls with zest and positively deserved a horn up my ass.


With me is Sarah Wells, fellow intern and very good sport.  She was definitely the only gringa in the ring, and there’s a good chance that I was the only one of my kind, as well.  Sarah teaches computer literacy and English to the youth of San Luis.  We made new friends fast (I suspect she was instrumental) and we had a rowdy time running around, drinking and shrieking the traditional Guanacasteco rebel yell: “uí! uí! uí!”  And dodging bulls.  In brief, we were badasses for a day.


Sausage fest


No, wait—there was one other woman.  All afternoon everyone was buzzing about the lady bull-rider.  There was so much anticipation that it seems inevitable in hindsight that she would be flung onto her face with savage and hilarious abruptness.  I have no idea what her story was, but she was clearly not a professional and looked to be twice the age and weight of her male colleagues.  Witness now the entirety of her ignoble career in Costa Rican rodeo:  (Plus: a guy gets plowed over by the bull)

UPDATE: My videos keep getting taken down from the various video hosting sites, presumably because they depict violent and arguably unethical activities.  I don’t want my blog to get taken down for violating the terms of use or anything, so just contact me privately or hang out with me when I get back.  I might be a big story-teller for a while, and I’ve got way too many photos and videos to post.

There was also greased-pole climbing.  The fellow in the picture below spent most of the afternoon shimmying up and down the pole, throwing dirt on it to increase friction.


All afternoon, while people were meeting their maker at bull horns below, this guy was diligently flinging dirt in anticipation of the moment when he would soar to fame and the cash-prize equivalent of $55.

You earned it, dude

You earned it, dude

Outside the arena, there was a fair that improved on just about everything in American state fairs that enchants or horrifies us:

  • Instead of Grand Funk Railroad and Steppenwolf leftovers there was a rap concert.
  • I enjoyed legitimately tasty food without the guilt of complicity in a debauched arms race between deep-frying maniacs with the culinary ambitions of four-year-old boys.
  • Instead of buying reams of tickets to disguise the fact that I was being charged one left testicle for a cup of Bud Light, I paid reasonable sums of cash to choose from a robust array of beers and cocktails.
  • There were tons of beautiful women.
  • There were drunk cowboys on horseback everywhere, hitting shamelessly on these beautiful women.
Never abandon your childhood dreams

Never abandon your childhood dreams

This pin was another highlight:

I laughed at the pin, but this bull has killed two people in the ring.  He's seriously a Costa Rican celebrity

Sarah and I each bought a pin celebrating “El Malacrianza,” the most famous bull in Costa Rica.  Sure, we bought them for their ironic value and improbably low-fi production values (the photographer didn’t even bother to shoot over the barbed wire) but this bull has killed two people in the ring.  Respect.


Hur hur hur

Nick, if you’re out there, get to a bull ride.  And bring money; you’re gonna wanna consume around fourteen beers and half your weight in Costa Rican fair food.  That’s all for today.  Happy Mardi Gras.

Cockfighting should be legal and encouraged everywhere because it is awesome.  These pictures come to you from an undisclosed location in Puntarenas, Costa Rica.  Don’t miss the video links farther down.  




In my hood, people build free-standing structures for cockfighting, gambling and drinking in their back yards.  It would behoove y’all to recognize our gangsta.




This young buck is Ruben, and he is holding an “espuela.”  These are bound to the legs of the cocks and basted with lime juice. Depending on whom you ask, the lime juice either makes the wound more painful, or it lubricates and sterilizes the espuela for maximum pleasure.  I probably wouldn’t appreciate the difference in a blind stab-test, but I guess that’s why I’m just the guy with the camera.  The following picture bears graphic witness to the espuela’s lethality.  Be advised.



Ruben, good lad, gave me an informal guided tour that included a quaint Holocaust of dusty, dead roosters behind a shed.  I have no idea why I didn’t get a picture of that.  But I’ll tell you what I did get:

Cockfight Footage!  Just copy and paste in a new window or tab; I don’t want you all wandering off and getting lost.



The fights last up to 12 minutes, but bouts are sometimes decided by knockout.  Occasionally a cock has no fight in him and the match is aborted.  When a fighter goes down, the two are separated and the droopy cock is set on his feet by his owner.  If the fighter falls three times, the match is settled and the cock is probably headed for the pile out back.

As any boxing handler will tell you, it doesn’t do for every fight to end in death; it’s not really sustainable, and fighters are an investment of time and money.  But with a bunch of cocks shanking each other all afternoon, someone’s bound to get seriously hurt.  

Winners are hosed down with praise and fresh water and usually live to fight another day.  Behold the ecstasy of triumph:




Take a closer look at the weaponry:





Those last two pictures come courtesy of the lovely Sarah Wells, my neighbor and frequent co-conspirator.  Thank you, Sarah.

If anyone is wondering what to get me for Christmas…


Everybody and their three-year old daughter rides bikes like these everywhere, frequently while drunk.

Here’s a parakeet I saw.  They typically fly in groups; this bird was one of three.  I only had time to get one decent picture.  Cropped and magnified properly, it’s quite nice.


That’s all I’ve got for you from Cockfight Day.  But let me tell you why you love your lives today: because I’m in such high spirits that I’m going to get right to work on another post!  In the next episode, I travel to fabulous Liberia for raucous bull-riding and heroic beer-drinking.  Smile, America.

Internet has been restored to the good people of the San Luis Valley, and I can’t believe how big you all have gotten!  

I’d like to thank Thomas for acquainting me with Nannerpus:  

www.nannerpus.com.  I seriously watched him go about fifty or sixty times.  In turn, I want to introduce you all to someone to whom I grew very close during the communications blackout:



Naturepus can illustrate better than I the tedium of more than two weeks without Internet here. And yes, I attached string to his pinwheel tentacles and forced two other interns to make him dance while I filmed.  Naturepus began to fall apart after a few seconds of such treatment, but then, I think we all came a bit undone.

Also, I broke the screen of my laptop.


Profanity fails me

Profanity fails me

Fortunately I’m able to use a second monitor, but I’ve lost the freedom of mobility.  I’ve also been trying to arrange for a replacement screen, but after the professor’s coconut modem broke down I just had to be patient.  There are other things I’d rather be.

After breaking my computer I went into the wilderness to thrash and scream.  Slogging through a kilometer of river and getting smacked against rocks did the trick.  Here are three more pictures from the album titled “Sad Day” on my computer.




Oh, I have another picture from from “Bat Day.”  


L to R: Carrie, Leigh, Alan (Chino), Rachael, Me, Scott, Johan, Katy

L to R: Carrie, Leigh, Alan (Chino), Rachael, Me, Scott, Johan, Katy

Here I am with some staff members outside the bat house, staring into the sun.

I have to go work in the kitchen now, but I have a disheartening volume of fun experiences to publicly revisit.  So hang tight.


The Internet has been down in my village for a week, and there’s no telling when it’ll be back up. I’m in Santa Elena, in an Internet cafe, trying to contact the outside world for help. If anyone ever wants to send a care package, send it to this PO Box, care of Ecolodge San Luis: Apartado 108-5655 Santa Elena de Monteverde, Puntarenas, Costa Rica.
Be patient. I’ve got a bunch of good stuff.



This will very likely become an actual T-shirt, so if you think you'd buy one, say so in the comments.  I'll try to get some made that fit people who can already read.

This will very likely become an actual T-shirt, so if you think you'd buy one, say so in the comments. I'll try to get some made that fit people already know how to read.

This is my design of a T-shirt celebrating literacy, intended for distribution among the children of San Luis, and which the EcoLodge also plans to sell to guests and students.  They might also be available in black, which looks pretty darn cool, too.  Only one more person has to approve it before real people can start wearing real shirts bearing that image.  You saw it here first.

Everybody groovy is reading.