Sunday, January 20, 2008

Boas, beaches, and banditos... Oh my!

I ushered in the new year with a trip to the Cayos Cochinos islands in Honduras to help some friends of mine in a study on boa constrictors. I knew there would be some good adventures, but I had no idea that a whole week of these adventures would be done in one pair of socks...

All four of us flew in from different states -- Chad from Missouri, Phil from Florida, Leslie from Georgia, and me from California-- and spent the night in La Ceiba before heading out to the island. Here are some pix of us at the Expatriates Bar.

We ended up staying an extra day in La Ceiba, however, because our baggage had not arrived on the planes with us! The airline assured us that they had loaded up dozens of bags onto a truck and were transporting them from San Pedro Sula to La Ceiba. So, we left Phil behind to get the bags, while Chad and Leslie and I went out to the island.

Here's what the island looks like from the boat:

We arrived at Cayo Menor the morning of December 28. There is a beautiful little research station on the beach, as well as a nice hilltop restaurant with great views of the mainland.

After breakfast it was time to get started! Chad started gathering up every snake bag he could find at the research station, as though we were going to catch a dozen snakes. How many boas would we find before lunch? I aimed high because I'd been told the boas were common on the island-- 3!! Chad just grinned and kept gathering snake bags. Then we set out on the first big hike up the center of the island, and I soon saw the source of grin-- boas were everywhere!

The pink boa constrictor of Cayos Cochinos is much smaller in size than boas on the mainland. Chad and other researchers are trying to determine why this is, and what consequences it has for the ecology of the snakes. The goal on this particular trip was to measure the total body water of the snakes (in the rainy season) to compare to the value in the dry season (they had already collected these data the previous summer), using stable isotopes. Time to get out those deuterium samples! Er- they are in the luggage, which hasn't arrived yet. We'd better wait for Phil's arrival with our bags the next day.

Phil did indeed arrive the next day, but we grew suspicious when we saw him wearing a La Ceiba tourist shirt. The truck the airline has hired to deliver our luggage had been hijacked by banditos! Of course, the island we were on has no stores. As the reality that we would be spending a week on the island with 1) no clothes but what we had on our backs (except Phil with his new gay shirt), 2) no research equipment to do the body water study, and 3) no toothpaste, soap, sunblock... well, you get the idea. We were four stinky kids.

So what did we do? We alternated between pouting, boa hunting, and iguana catching. Considering the circumstances, we had a really great time. Our discomfort was somewhat ameliorated by Leslie lending us some toothpaste, etc. (she had packed her stuff into a carry-on and escaped the banditos!), but especially by the Flor de Cana rum we talked one of the staff members into getting us from another island.

Here are some more photos:

Weird cocoon (about 5 inches long!):

Anoles mating:


Vine snake:

Lessons learned on this trip:
1. Carry on if you can!
2. Get travel insurance! (We still haven't been reimbursed by the airline, and will likely only get a small fraction of the value we lost)
3. Six-day-old socks aren't nearly as offensive when used properly, with Flor de Cana.


Laini Taylor said...

The pictures are awesome -- what on earth is that weird cocoon thing? Do you know? And the boas are so cute! Did you cuddle with them? ha ha. Welcome to blogland, sister. Have fun!

Lori's Lens said...

Hey Miss Emily,

Sounds like an adventure was had.

Cool photos...glad you had such a great time with, uh, snakes and, Rum? :)


Anonymous said...

OMG! i've been stranded in la ceiba waiting to depart to a small island off the coast with no running water....don't recall pink boa constrictors though.

i *love* the characteristic chad expression in the photos! :-0

glad you're i need to post. here's to WHOOPING soon!
da rev

Jim Di Bartolo said...

Hey Doc! That early pic of with the palm trees looks fake it's so perfect! ZOWIE what a beautiful place!

So glad you made it home safe. Next time we see some bandits I'll hold them for you and you can punch them in the bojangles! ;)

yer bruva

Moreninha76 said...

Really nice photos, is that a boa constrictor snake?

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