Friday, August 27, 2010

Al Pastor

Yummy tacos al pastor is one of our favorite food in Mexico, you can get them anywhere, but DF supposedly has the best. Its quite different from the al pastor we have in the US - the pork is stacked on a large skewer and roasted along with a pineapple. Each taco has some of the pork, pineapple, diced onions and cilantro. Salsa and limes are always on the table. An order of 5 tacos (a big meal for me) is about $30 pesos or $2.50. If it wasn't for my waistline, I'd never cook at all!

Must have freshly made tortillas.

Awesome plate of tacos, ready to go!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

(a very late) el Cielo recap

For this trip we traveled to the El Cielo Biosphere reserve in Tamaulipas. This is one of the northern-most areas of tropical cloud forest in North America and we were less than 100 miles from the Texas border. As you can see here, the area is covered with limestone outcrops and lots of caves.

We were fortunate to meet with the staff of CIE, the interpretative center there. There staff was really helpful and two of them even came with us to the field.

They had an amazing facility with green roof, water recycling,etc.

We did a lot of collecting in the caves.

This one was full of pottery shards.

And salamanders!

Here is a closer picture

We also find salamanders in Bromeliads - usually we cut them down with a saw, but here is SR climbing a tree

The first day in the field we walked up to the small village of San Jose from a town called Alta Cimas - about 1.5 hours above CIE. The town is on a 4x4 road, but there is no electricity.

We were hungry and thirsty - Luckily there was a small store that had drinks - not cold. The owner said she could cook for us, but she was apologetic - she didn't have any cheese or meat - only eggs, beans, and chorizo. I wished my Dad and Brother were there - eggs and chorizo is their favorite meal!

Food never tasted so good. The ladies were making tortillas on a griddle over a wood stove. They were the best corn tortillas I've ever had!

In front of the campanilla (bell tower) rock in San Jose.

Once we were back at CIE, we got to play with Cie  the baby jaguar. He had been rescued and was currently living at the center. Although he was just 3 months old, he was definitely not a pet. He tore off a piece of SR's camera and bit Jorge and SR hard enough to draw blood.
But he was adorable!!

The second site we visited was a private reserve administered by UT Brownsville. Thankfully we got a ride in a 4x4 up the hill - I was not looking forward to backpacking - it was HOT and very steep.

We got to visit many nice caves there.

All of the caves had large chambers to walk around, but a few had small openings.

The facility had several rustic cabins - most folks slept in bunk beds here. TD, SR, and I decided to pitch our tents outside hoping it would be cooler. It rained really hard so yes, it was.

All in all it was an awesome trip - and very successful in terms of salamanders - we found all 3 (possibly 4) species we were looking for. We spent the last night and day looking at some (unsuccessful) sites near Ciudad del Maiz - where we had the best food so far of the trip - barbacoa tostadas. We all just kept ordering more - they were so good! We also had tiny Enchiladas Potosinos - a red corn tortilla filled with chorizo, potatoes and carrots - but no enchilada sauce, just lettuce, tomato, cheese and sour cream. Mmm! Cuidad del Maiz was a winner, though its also where I picked up chiggers, 3 ticks and a bad case of poison ivy.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Estou no Brazil!

or I am in Brazil! for you non-Portuguese speakers.

I had a pretty easy flight from DF - though it was made much longer by the fact that I had to transfer in Miami - including going through US customs and immigration. Despite warnings to the contrary, American served us 2 meals - though no free booze - and I had an individual movie screen. I got to watch Please Give which I had been wanting to see for a while.

Before leaving, I was quite concerned because I had never received a confirmation or any information regarding the airport transfer I was supposed to have (the conference is 3+ hours from Sao Paulo). Emails to the tour company had bounced for days, etc. Thankfully there was a former labmate on my flight so we stuck together. He ended up braving a public bus, and shortly after he left I found the tour company. So thankfully I won't be stuck in the GRU airport for a week.
Campos do Jordão City Gate{from Wikipedia}

I'll be in Campos do Jordão until the 27th. I'm staying at an interesting looking Japanese/Brazilian hotel - Hotel Matsubara. The conference has an opening reception tonight and talks start tomorrow. Super!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Tequila tasting!

We had a little impromptu tequila tasting the night before SR headed back to the field.

The verdict? Everything is better with squirt!

Now, off to Brazil for a week before heading back to Austin for a couple of days...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Chicken Enchiladas Verde

My first attempt at cooking last Saturday went well - I was even able to do all of the grocery shopping on my own. Thankfully Sean has a nice kitchen with a good stove. I served these enchiladas with sour cream, refried beans and fresh avocado.

3 boneless chicken breasts
2 lbs fresh tomatillos,rough chopped
1 white onion, diced
diced jalapenos to taste (I use 2)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch cilantro, rough chopped
2 c chicken stock/boullion
12-15 corn tortillas

This recipe makes a 13x9 pan, which provides about 8 servings. Preheat oven to 350.

Briefly saute onion and jalapeno in hot oil until soft. After a few minutes, add tomatillos, garlic, broth and chicken to the pan. Poach chicken breast in liquid until done (about 15 minutes).
When chicken is thoroughly cooked, remove from pan and set aside. Add cilantro to simmering sauce and shred chicken with fingers or a fork. I added a bit of extra queso fresco to the filling.
If you want really nice looking enchiladas, puree the sauce in a blender, otherwise you are ready to assemble. Spread a cup of sauce in the bottom of a baking dish. Next fill a tortilla with a few spoonfulls of chicken, wrap, and lay seam side down in the baking dish, repeat until your dish is full. Top with verde sauce - spread evenly to cover enchiladas and bake for 15-20 minutes or until thoroughly hot.

If you don't have very fresh tortillas like these, prevent cracking by wrapping them in foil and warming in the oven. If they are really dry - add a few sprinkles of water, or make stacked enchiladas instead!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Getting settled

Even though we've been in Mexico for almost 3 weeks, we have spent almost the entire time in the field. But once we were back from the Chimalapas, it was time to get settled. Our room was completely empty when we arrived, so we are starting from scratch. Our room has a large closet with built in shelves, and the windows look onto a courtyard, so its pretty quiet.

After shopping around this weekend, we found curtains and a very comfortable queen mattress at walmart, 100% cotton sheets (hard to find!), a comforter, and an action packer to store field gear. We still need to get a bed frame - we'd like a simple wooden one - and a couple of nightstands, possibly a rug, and we will be good to go!

Living room - the place gets nice light and SR has a green thumb!

Thankfully the rest of the apartment is nicely furnished - a lot of it extra furniture from TD's advisor. SR had to start completely from scratch, including buying a fridge, so we are really lucky to be able to move into his place and eventually take over his lease.

A couple of the many field things strewn about the house. SR leaves again for the field on Tuesday.

While we are here, I am very excited about collecting different arts and crafts - and possibly scheming how to get some larger pieces of furniture back to the US. After many regrets about things that I missed out on purchasing while traveling, my policy is to buy something on the spot if I like it. Don't wait to see if there's a better one - there won't be! Thankfully my 5 other traveling companions were happy to stop and let me dash across the trans-isthmus highway for this little guy. He is actually a piggy bank.

The guys left early this morning to go visit the immigration office and try to get TD's visa sorted. Don't think that will be easy!! SR is very sweet to go with TD. I stayed at home and now I'm off to visit a furniture store to see about a bed frame.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

About that one time I got stung by a bee in the eye

On the first night in the field, while out hiking, we managed to awake a slumbering bee, which became enraged by our headlamps, which then stung me in the eye. It hurt like the dickens, and then it started raining torrentially. Seriously, hardest rain/thunder/lightening I've ever been out in. The picture above was taken on day 2, which was worse than day 1. I also have a raging case of poison oak/ivy from our last trip (below). It has since spread to cover my entire kneecap, but at least its now on its way out (I hope). 

Our latest trip was to the Chimalapas, one of the two least populated and most remote regions in all of Mexico. It is the mountain range to the east of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which divides North America and Central America. So its an interesting region biologically and we were on the hunt of a potentially very unique salamander (maybe new genus) that a student had collected several years ago. The specimens were preserved poorly with no way to properly analyse them, hence the reason for the trip. 

We drove about 14 hours from DF and stayed in a village called Forteleza, just across the Veracruz border into Oaxaca. The people were very friendly (this is apparently not usually the case in Oaxaca) and let us stay in their salon (community meeting room), use the outhouse, bathe in the river, etc. We also hired a local guide, Lorenzo - here with his two kids- for the 4 days we were in the field.
It was hot, humid, buggy (tiny black flies were the worst), extremely rainy, with very rough terrain much of it very disturbed. And with 6 people looking night and day for 4 days we only found 2 salamanders, neither of them the one we were looking for. But we had a very fun trip and got to see a place that few people go to with very nice people, and we found some very unique animals, just not what we were after. TD was able to collect several specimens for his projects here, so it was a success for him. Here are some more highlights.
We didn't climb up this one - but it was STEEP!

Lots of interest in what we were doing...

The community in Forteleza was established in 1984 when the road was opened, before that it was just rain forest. Most people raise cows, chickens, pigs, and have gardens. Also lots of hunting in the forest.
We worked very hard to find this salamander!

Now that we are done with the field for a while, we'll be getting settled here, and then I leave on Saturday for a week in Brazil and a month in the US.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Exito rotundo!

We just got back from Rancho El Cielo and had a wonderful time. Great company, great food, and we got almost all of the salamanders in all of the sites, which was great. A lot of the work was in Karstic caves, which was very cool.

We just got back to DF at midnight in a torrential rainstorm, so I'm looking forward to shower and sleep. I'll post more pictures of our trip soon, including  this little guy that we got to play with.