San Lorenzo

My first field excursions were to be with Beto and his undergraduate students to San Lorenzo and San Pedro to search for endemic frog species and check out potential Toro habitat. Being the “rich” foreigners, Chris and I had to front all the money for the trip: 1.4 million pesos (~$600) for transportation, $500,000 for the mula in San Pedro (~ $250), plus purchasing all the food for 6 people ~ $300, just call me moneybags! Luckily, I have some funding for this trip, so I was able to use some of this money for these purchases.

We met at Beto’s lab before heading up the mountain. A team of six of us: Beto, Chris, Jose Luis (undergraduate student), Jefrey (undergraduate student), Daniela (undergraduate student and my field assistant for this summer), and myself hopped into a bright yellow and black Indiana jones land rover, that would take us up the mountain to San Lorenzo. Beto took the front, and the rest of us sat in the back on the two benches with all the luggage and food safely stowed around us. We had an easy drive to Minca, where the road is still paved, but once we passed Minca it was another 2-2.5 hours of bumping up and down on rocks, gravel, and mud. Needless to say, it is not a peaceful ride, and this is the best road in the Sierra Nevada. We stopped at El Dorado, the reserve I will be working at, to say hello to Elizabeth one of the managers. It was dark, cold, and raining when we got there. In the tropics the sun sets early (which I had so quickly forgotten), so by 6:20 pm the sun drifts away, giving rise to the moon, and stars if you have a clear night.

We arrived in San Lorenzo and were greeted by Pablo, the manager of the station. He is a jovial Colombian with a round belly, and loud voice. I liked him but could only pick up half of what he was saying. Chris and I stayed in the main house with Pablo, closest to the kitchen, which is usually where I like to be.  The first night we went on a quick hike, 30 – 45 minutes, down to a waterfall where we looked for frogs. We saw a handful of species including genuses: Megalopus and Atelopus, Ikacogi, and others. My favorite frog has to be the Ikacogi tayrona, a green glass frog, with a smile and really cool fingers. The individual  Jose Luis found took a liking to my face and eventually jumped onto it. Chevere! (Cool in coastal Colombian Spanish). I even spotted a small mammal up the waterfall, which made me happy since it was my first attempt at spotlighting (the method I will be using to find the Toro). We think it was an opossum, not as great as the Toro, but cool nonetheless. When feeling down about the enormity of trying to find the Toro, I try to remember I had my hands on frogs that are endemic and endangered. This is a feat in and of itself.

Ikakogi Tayrona- endemic to SNSM

Atelopus spp. (nahume I believe)

Geobatrachus walkeri

Atelopus nahume

Pretty fallic flowers

the views here do not disappoint 

Mammal Sighting!

San Lorenzo Station

San Lorenzo station

Two atelopus getting busy. The smaller males, latch onto the females back for up to 3 months.

The following day we went on a hike to one of Beto’s collection sites. Feeling prepared with 15 pounds of food and water, I was ready for the day (the Colombians on the other hand had little to no water and just sandwiches- I was freaking ready for Everest). We started at 2200 m and walked down to about 1400 m. It was one of the hardest hikes of my life. We walked through pasture, invasive pines (which were planted around the Sierra by a foundation that no longer exists), and down to a finca. At the finca we came across a lovely young couple, well the woman was lovely, we didn’t see the man again, and their cute puppy. We stayed and chatted with the woman, played with the puppy, and mystery cat (we later found out the cat had belonged to an indigenous family who had left the cat behind once they abandoned their homes).  After taking a break to take pictures and regain some strength, we walked down the last and most steep portion of the trailhead. We literally walked straight down a muddy mountain to get to the base where we reached a 30 m waterfall. It was pretty spectacular. I was shaking with hunger and anxiety from not knowing where the hell I was. But I challenged myself physically and mentally to push through, something I find myself doing constantly while walking through the Colombian jungles.

While we walked from the finca to the waterfall we were followed by a quiet “meow-ing”. The cat, now dubbed adventure cat, had followed us the entire way to the waterfall. The cat then somehow forged the river (I think Jefrey or Daniela may have brought it across) and followed us up to where we took pictures in front of the waterfall. See adventure cat below! I love adventure cat, and would love to keep him/her if I could.

After having a quick bite to eat, we heaved ourselves up the mountain toward the Finca where our gracious hostess had made us a big lunch: arroz, fries, and pastel de pescado (fish cake- I am not a big fan), which is popular in Colombia. Oh and don’t forget the agua con panela that is a staple in the Colombian diet (panela is basically a block of hardened molasses people dissolve in water/coffee etc. to sweeten their drinks, Colombians LOVE sugar). We had already eaten our lunches but ate as much of the second lunch as we could. I ended up giving my fish cakes to the puppy, he enjoyed it more than I would have anyway. We said our goodbye’s and made our way back up the top of the mountain. I felt much happier on the way up, I realize the first time at anything is usually the most difficult, it is the unknown that scares me, so once I knew where I was I felt better. After eight hours of hiking, at an altitude that I am not used to at all, we made it back in time for dinner with Pablo and a couple of face swaps.
Adventure cat spots the pup
Giving some love

Chris and his new bff

Flowers- SNSM is known for its unique array of flora as well as fauna (including bromeliads and orchids!)

Chevere! Don't remember the name of this one...

Selfie with adventure cat!!

Trying to eat lunch 2 and keep the kitty warm

Lots of selfies on our trip..Beto, me, Chris
Our lovely hostess 

Slightly dying

Jose Luis!

Los novios

The last day we slept in late (circa 8 am) because we were going to hike up to la cumbre (the top) of the mountain and look for the Toro. We started our hike at 4 pm, and made silly videos along the way about “finding ze Toro” and got to the mirador look out at around 6 pm. So we had a few hours to kill before we felt it was good Toro time. We ate our snacks, saltines covered in jelly, and took a bunch of pictures of the beautiful cloud forest and Pico Bolivar and Cristobal- the two highest peaks on the Sierra Nevada. We all started to get really cold once the sun set and the temperature began to drop. This mountain is an interesting place for many reasons, but it is quite difficult to adjust from 0 m asl and 95 degrees to 2500 m asl and 50 degrees in just a few hours or days. We did not find the Toro (we didn’t really put in much effort) and we made our way back down the mountain to get a little bit of rest before leaving early the next day. That night Chris and I decided to wake up at 3 am to look for the Toro around the station. Nothing. Although rumor has it a dead Toro was found outside of the San Lorenzo field station and a student buried it somewhere…

El Mirador

In the mirador lookout!

Our bedroom (the stale sheets smelled a little like rat pee, maybe it was roaches)

The cocina


This truck was bringing up the necessary billiards for who the hell knows

Not being helpful, and almost getting truck by the poower truck, literally spelled "poower"

While we stayed in San Lorenzo, I never showered, it was way too cold, and I am not about that cold wet hair. We ate big portions of rice (and I mean HUGE), with lots of stinky queso, and avocados and onions – my breathe literally smelled for 24 hours after the avocado onion mix. Jose Luis and Pablo were the main cooks, they always took care of dinner for us and they would always serve “Profe” first. The last night we watched a crackly TV version of batman (in Spanish) and drank Aguardiente “guaro” a rum that tastes like black licorice. Not a fan. I had 1 pequeno copa and called it a night, until 3 am that is, when we went and searched the Toro.

One of my meals from Lulo in Santa Marta :)


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