Finals, Tamales, and Polo Beach

Posted: April 22, 2014

We have been talking a lot about our new “normal” here at Tropical Island Biodiversity & Conservation Studies (“TIBS”).  It is amazing how quickly one can adapt to a new environment and feel so comfortable in situations that used to be so stressful.  I believe that adapting to the laid-back island lifestyle has really helped everyone at the station relax over finals week, especially with our study snacks and “Happy End of Finals” surprise.

Before we hit the books, our SAM (Student Affairs Manager) made sure we were properly fueled. On Monday morning everyone headed over to Solarte Uno – one of our neighboring Ngöbe communities – to learn how to make traditional tamales. Upon arrival, we were greeted by two women and put right to work.

For such a simple dish (corn mash with vegetables and cooked chicken), there are a lot of preparations. First, the 100 bijau leaves that we had collected over the weekend needed to be washed and cut in a specific way. These leaves are about ¾ of my height– a whopping 5’2″ – and it took four of us an hour and a half to wash and cut all of them. I can only imagine how long it would take these women to do the task by themselves! After all the tomatoes, onions, peppers, and cilantro were chopped and the corn had been thoroughly soaked, a group grounded the mixture using a hand-grinder to make the masa. The chicken took a while to cook, especially over an open fire, so we left for a review session then returned to help wrap the masa and chicken in bijau leaves to be cooked one last time. Although the finished product was not anything compared to what these women could do by themselves, it was one of the best tamales I have ever had and a lovely break from rice and beans.

Tuesday and Wednesday were final exams. No one was too crazy about finals. I guess tropical breezes and the smell of the Caribbean Sea doesn’t make college students like taking finals anymore than in the great white north of the United States (new normal #4, anything below 80°F is freezing). However, the staff at the station had a surprise for us after our last final on Wednesday; a family trip to the beach!

We all piled into two boats and headed to the Caribbean side of Isla Bastimentos to a local beach christened Polo Beach. It was by far my favorite beach I have gone to in Bocas del Toro. The weather was perfect, there was just enough sand on the beach to lie out a towel, and the intertidal zone was filled with the cutest cowfish. I think that my favorite part was that we were all together in a place we love having great time. Even though we spend every waking and sleeping hour with each other, the past few weeks we have been so busy with preparing for Directed Research (DR) and studying for exams that we have been too pooped out to simply go somewhere as a group and just hang out.  It was a much needed break and bonding time.

Now that classes are over we are beginning our DR projects. So far it has been a lot of long days in the field, but an exciting change of pace.  Everyone comes home with new stories to tell of their day out in the field. I cannot wait to learn more about the communities and ecotourism in Bocas del Toro and have more beach days with my SFS family.