A new chapter…

On the 16th of November we packed all our belongings into a moving truck. After a tough day of hard work, and a quick wipe-down of the place – to give subsequent inhabitants a pleasant entry – we closed the door to our beloved Wageningen apartment behind us. It wasn’t easy to leave the apartment. It was also strange to leave Wageningen. I had lived there for thirteen years, Heike – my wife – a bit less, but still more than a decade. We studied in Wageningen. This is where we fell in love and spent ten years together. This is where earlier this year we got married and then became parents to our beautiful son Rafa. Wageningen was truly where we were at home. But the time had come. After studying and completing my PhD contract (I’ll do my best to defend my work on the 4th of December, a few days from now), it was time to start probing around for new opportunities. New adventures. I got a wonderful opportunity to further my own line of research in a group in Germany. This job would mean a great couple of years in a good group with lots of potential to collaborate with new people. It also meant we had to move about 750 kilometres away. To Freising, Germany.

And so we did…

On the early morning of November 17th we left the house of my parents-in-law, where we had spent the night after packing. It would take us about 9 hours to get there with the moving truck. Me and two in-laws would drive the truck with all our stuff. Heike, Rafa and her mother would go by a smaller vehicle, containing mostly plants and enclosures for my lizards. My brother and two friends, who had helped packing the truck, had asked me the day before whether the right hind tire needed more air… I said then that it was probably fine, as it was a rental truck and the rental guy probably knew about this stuff. However, after five hours or so on the road, I was driving the truck and I noticed it started to get more and more wobbly. We soon stopped for a quick sanitary break at a shabby German road side toilet and we all agreed there that it looked like the tire was flatter than before and that we should soon stop at a better stop where we could look at it. That stop was about 5 kilometres further, at Rasthof Wurzburg-Sud… When we stopped the car the tire was even flatter! Within 15 minutes of parking it, it stood on the rim. On the positive side; the tire could have blown up while driving 100 km/h on the highway. We were at least safe and sound on a parking lot with a restaurant.

The rental company had rented us a truck with an inaccessible spare tire (broken mechanism), with a tire that had 0 profile on it. Therefore, we spent the next 26 (TWENTY-SIX) hours waiting for someone that could get our wheel off, bring it to a tire shop, have the shop put a new tire on, and bring it back to the truck. This could have been done in two hours. Bear in mind, this shop was only 2 kilometres away. We waited 24 hours for the person… The fix was done in a little over an hour (and that’s because not the tire but the rim was broken, and this had to be replaced and taken from another shop, which was also a few kilometres away).

So, long story short. My wife and the baby had to sleep on the floor of our new empty apartment together with her mom, and I spent the night in a Best Western with her sister and her mothers partner… plus two hysterical cats, a bunch of geckos and tarantulas that had to be kept warm. Conclusion; Best Western had a good German breakfast.

A day later than planned we finally arrived in our new home. By now, I can safely say that we have settled into our new home. The new chapter can start!

 

 

We saw the birth of a hurricane!

The past few days just flew by.

Poof. Gone!

After our slightly disappointing encounter with Mahahual, we went further south, to Bacalar, and later Chetumal. In Chetumal we hopped on the ferry to San Pedro. Of course we had la Isla Bonita high on our list of things to do in Central America.

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Nope, just kidding. We only stamped our passports to enter Belize there and continued our ferry ride to Caye Caulker.

On Caye Caulker they all say go slow and now that it is slow season, they probably want you to go even slower. It is an interesting place. The white beaches are dotted with palm trees and simple shacks where various vendors sell their products. The population is about 1500, but I get the idea you only actively see about 50 or so people. About 25 of those are crazy Rastafarian folk that clearly smoked and drank themselves to Korsakoff syndrome. They speak to each other in riddles and to others in rhymes that make snoop dogg seem like nothing. On the day we arrived, we saw the beginning of what a day later turned into hurricane Michael, which hit Florida this week.

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In Caye Caulker, our main aim was to scuba the blue hole and the meso-american barrier reef. Spoiler alert. We didn’t. It being slow season, most of the diving companies were closed or only went for local dives. The only place that handled longer distance dive sites have us a pretty unfriendly vibe and overall poor impression. The type of people that dive to make big bucks with minimal input. I don’t support that sort of shit. I want my dives to be an experience from start to end and for me the company (business and people) is a part of that. Maybe we’re just spoiled shits and had excellent experience in various places before. So be it.

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We saved ourselves some money and went for a snorkeling trip instead. We hung out with a local kid named JR for a while and his uncle ran a snorkeling company. The next day we went out on the water and saw Loggerhead the Hawksbill sea turtles (sea turtles are awesome). Other than that we saw a bunch of fish and heaps of beautiful corals. Yay.

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After 4 days of going slow, we were pretty much standing still, so it took us some effort to drag our asses to the ferry terminal (well… terminal, more of a wooden mini pier, really). Off to Belize city!

Belize city, from what we hear everywhere is more or less the capital city of gang violence and shootings (don’t worry mom, we took the bus straight out). We took a dirt cheap old school bus-like vehicle to San Ignacio, which took us about 3 hours. Here we will live for a few days, and San Ignacio’s is a friendly town and the center of many adventure tours. Today we made a trip to the ATM cave, which surprisingly only took money instead of dispensing it. Totally worth it though. This cave is one of the most spectacular caves in the world apparently. I’m no expert and our guide was, so I’ll take his word for it. An awesome cave system full of shiny crystalline structures and Mayan artefacts, including human sacrifices. The cave is a strict no photo zone because some respectless piece of shit (or plenty of them actually) dropped cameras on human sacrifices, breaking skulls and bones. This sort of stuff makes me feel bad for being part of the ‘tourist’ category.  I wanted to respect these rules, so use Google for an impression of ATM cave. I was pretty overwhelmed by it all. Luis, our guide was also a cool guy with knowledge of botany and anthropology so talking to him about the country was very nice.

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This is probably the best thing about traveling in Belize. Apart from it being pretty, English is the main language, along with Creole, which is pretty much broken English (as the locals say). This gives us a pretty good chance for interactions with locals. We have tried in the past with all means available, but Arabic, Thai, Bahasa or Khmer aren’t exactly my strongest, so this is usually hard. Traveling Spanish speaking countries is easier, but still, we’re not fluent, but we get around. I think this is what makes Belize a great experience. The locals are such a great source of  insight into the country. And apart from some gang violence they are all so respectful when talking to and about each other.

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I can’t help but think. What beautiful people :).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t like cruise ships

After we left Playa del Carmen a few days ago, we spent two days in Tulum, a smallish town a bit off the coast, with nice beaches a short bike ride away. Tulum town itself is nothing too special, although we found quite some interesting looking local restaurants and taquerias off the main road, which itself is lined with tourist crap restaurants and souvenir shops.

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Tulum is mostly famous for a Maya ruin that looks out over sea. We beat most of the crowds by arriving there early in the morning. It’s a small, but nice site to stroll around for a few hours.

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In the afternoon, we took our bikes to Gran Cenote. Cenotes are deep freshwater pools that often connect to cave systems and the nice rock formations and crystal clear waters make for excellent swimming and snorkeling fun. The entry price of 10usd per person was a bit steep, but what can you do… It was beautiful, so I would recommend it.

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We wanted to get a bit closer to sea and away from the crowds. From the descriptions online, Mahahual seemed to be such a place. Laidback Carribbean vibes, they said. Perhaps that was some years ago. I knew that there was a Cruise ship dock in Mahahual, so i should have known better. We arrived in the early afternoon and our Airbnb cabin was interesting. It looked like a ramshackle hut from the outside, but inside the owners put in a lot of attention for small details that were cool. We then went out to sea to finally see some of the marine life that is supposed to be abundant here. Instead, we were met by heaps of American tourists cruising around on Segways. Moreover, except around some restaurants, where they removed it, the beaches were lined with red seaweed that smelled like rotten eggs.

Bummer.

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We were quite disappointed in the whole Mahahual experience, so we went to our cabin. Our cabin was nice, right? After the sun set, our cozy little cabin turned into a mosquito-infested swamp hut. Having both been through the Dengue fever experience before in Thailand and Cambodia, we generally respond to mosquitoes in the tropixtwith extreme paranoia. Our hell hut had a mosquito net, so we were safe! Wrong again. The little fuckers were smarter than us and managed to get in although we didn’t know how… 20 bites and 2 hours later they disappeared as quickly as they came, only to wake us up again the next morning.

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Thankfully, this allowed us to take the first bus out of town and now we find ourselves in Bacalar. A small town on the edge of a beautiful blue lagoon. We have our own hammocks, kitchen and small pier to get in the water. It’s a good reminder that wherever you are, awesome things are always close by. You just have to look 🙂

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Hasta luego.

 

Quintana Roo

Quintana Roo. What a great name for a province. It reminds me of the hopping kind of marsupial that has very little to do with the Yucatan peninsula, the actual destination of this trip…

We had another greatly delayed flight by United Airlines… (They had to replace tyres and brakes of our plane, a very comforting feeling). They seem to make a habit out of that as it happened to me both ways on my recent teip to the US.

All in all, it took us 24 hours to get here, but we have made it… (Drumroll please)

Playa del Carmen

We were too tired to continue onwards to other regions and it was pretty much midnight when we arrived in our room. Now, I’ve heard quite some stories about PDC and very few good ones. It must be the tourist season that makes things bad, because today, in the middle of hurricane season, it feels like a pretty agreeable place (though with brown seas and seaweed beaches).

Nevertheless we will take a bus to Tulum this afternoon. I hope we can spend some time in the biosphere reserve there and perhaps see some temples and cenotes.

Regardless of the hurricane season and terrible weather forecasts, the weather so far is pretty awesome! I was a bit worried about this in the past few days as the forecasts predicted rain, rain rain.

So far this tiny update on this trip. I’ll write more soon.

R

 

 

 

 

 

Crocodile Hunting in City Park

**** TL;DR: There are pictures all the way at the bottom 🙂 ****

It is crazy how time flies. It seems like just yesterday that I was in Italy for work, but here I am, four weeks later, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Again for work. I arrived here in the middle of the night two days ago, after my flight from Washington to New Orleans got delayed by five hours. I think it was because of bad weather, although I didn’t really get what all the fuss was about. Some rain? I’m not a weather man, and no pilot either, so I guess there were good reasons for it… The long travel made it very easy to fall asleep and have a good night’s rest. Thus far, the jetlag has been pretty mild, although I am feeling a bit out of tune today. Perhaps because I found out that my phone found Washington time good enough to display, so I was basically living one hour ahead until this morning at 7 (so not 8AM, dear alarm clock!).

I hate jetlags. I am just very bad with them and lately even feel like I get a jet lag when clocks move from summer to winter time. Terrible. Yesterday I tried my best to fill up my schedule as much as possible, as they say that having a regular schedule helps to prevent jetlags.

First, I walked around in the French Quarter a bit and this was quite deserted (perhaps because I started my walk not at 8AM, but actually at 7AM). Next, I had a nice unhealthy breakfast at the Ruby Slipper, which really seems as American as it gets. Then I took a bus through Magazine St (where I will return probably for dinner tonight, as this street looked super nice) on my way to the Audobon Zoo. I like to go to zoos in other countries, it gives you a great sense of what the people are like in that country. Americans are surprisingly American and I can already say that most of the stereotypes that I knew existed about Americans are true.

The zoo was small, but quite neat. A young kid told me that last week a jaguar chewed its way out of its cage and escaped and killed a few alpacas and a maned wolf? I’m not sure how much of the killing stories is true, but indeed, the alpacas and maned wolves seemed to be off display (as were the jaguars 😦 ). I liked the Louisiana Swamp part. Where I am from, we have a lot of swampy stuff, but aside from the occasional frog and invasive red-eared slider turtles, there’s very little excitement to be found. Indulging in the American style deep-fried lunch accompanied by a huge disgusting rootbeer on a porch overlooking some alligators swimming around outside, to me, feels like a little adventure.

I know that alligators are pretty common here, but the idea of it just feels unreal to me (seeing black and dwarf caymans last year in the Peruvian Amazon also was an unreal experience 🙂 ). To make it all a bit more real, I wanted to see them for real. You know, the ‘not in an enclosure’ type of real. I had seen some swamp tour adventures advertised all over the place yesterday, but after looking into that a bit more, the whole idea of going out on hoverboats with 20 other tourists in order to look at gators that are being fed on a daily basis also did not feel so real or cool to me.

Disappointed by the tour options, I ended up reading about City Park, where management was making efforts to get rid of the gators above 1,5m long. Being the enthousiastic field ecologist that I am, I decided I could just make my own swamp tour. I hopped onto a streetcar in Canal St, which dropped me off at City Park Ave. Although it was dry when I got on, it had started to drizzle somewhere halfway and by the time I was out, it was just a fucking downpour. Two other tourists must have had the same idea, but they came prepared and brought rain jackets. My rain jacket was still hanging on a chair in the hotel room. Of course. Having packed the damn thing for this trip made me feel even more stupid for not bringing it out.

As a Dutch guy, I am used to a bit of rain (although it has been bone dry for weeks on end this summer) and the temperatures were still a solid 25 degrees. Good enough for me. So brave (and just plain stupid), I just walk into the park. The downpour continues. Now, the City Park in NOLA is not your average park. Apparently people here don’t go to the park for a stroll or a picknick. This park has a big lake where you can rent a pedal boat, some bike paths and roads through it. It is also home to the NOLA art museum. Most of that stuff is south of the highway (where the park management removes gators as much as possible, probably because this is where still a few people visit the park?). So I take the tunnel under the highway to the North side of the park. Not a person in sight. The place is huge. I figured that this is where I should look for alligators, if I wanted to increase my odds of finding one.

At this point, I am already walking for at least an hour and the rain is so strong that I have taken my rain cover to protect the backpack holding my camera gear. I can barely see something as the rain is constantly wetting my glasses, blurring my vision. I walk past a dog park (wtf is that people? a playground for dogs? it’s a park for christ’s sake, it already is a playground for dogs…). The dog park clearly is the most popular thing in the whole park, as there are many cars parked outside of it. However, not any form of shelter in sight… I continue my journey. By now, my underwear is starting to get soaked as well. It was that bad. I pass a family of three that are fishing along the banks of one of the lakes. These dudes are hard core! Louisiana fishermen don’t give a fuck. I admire that sort of mentality. I see no sign of life in the lakes, so I walk on. A roundabout. I follow the road to the left. There’s supposed to be a botanical garden or forest thing here. It looks okay, but at this point I am fucking frustrated that I cannot use my camera and I just want to find a gator.

I cross a bridge.

Wait. Bridges cross water! I go back and carefully scan the water surface (which is mainly water hyacinth here). A lonely turtle. Fuck you turtle! The developing hate for turtles – which usually have a special place among the other reptiles in my heart – shows that the weather was taking its toll on me. I cross the road, the only water I had seen on this side of the park was coming from the sky, so I had to take this opportunity. I peak over the concrete wall. More water hyacinths. Some trash. Glass bottles, plastic bags on the right side. A young gator on the left side. Wait, what?!?! There it was, its tiny head breaking the water surface, gazing at the concrete base of the bridge. A beautiful little alligator. Probably about 90cm long. A small one, but nevertheless a wild one that is not kept behind a fence. I’m feeling all Steve Irwin here.

Luckily, I found the mighty river monster just before I exited the park. I looked like a drowned fucking cat. People were seriously laughing at me from their cars. Morons. I just found a gator motherfucker. I probably looked ridiculous…

Then, I made the first mistake of the day. Starbucks. Not that coffee was a bad idea. Coffee is always a good idea. That fucking airconditioning… Goddammit. Waiting for three minutes already gave me hypothermia. I use the free WiFi to google maps my way back to the hotel and I find out that I have to take bus 60 and 55, which I do. The bus seriously is a worse place than Starbucks. What is up with all these shabby-looking but insanely well-functioning air-con buses? Two bus rides turn me into a popsicle and I decide to get something to eat at Willie’s Chicken Place (this place is wrong in so many ways; they sell slush drinks in a dick-shaped bottle disguised as a chicken – the Willie’s COCK tail – and people actually buy them, a lot). The lady behind the counter asks me if I need hot sauce. Sure, I like hot sauce, thanks. Her colleague interrupts me to inform me she can give me a *Louisiana accent on* taste of the real hot juice if I know what she’s talking about *Louisiana accent off*…. I decide I really don’t have  a clue what she’s talking about. I want my hotel room and a hot shower.

It was a horrible day, but at least I saw a gator. I’m happy.

And guess what? I think it was dry about 30 mins after I got back to the hotel and it is sunny now…

Maybe I’ll walk to Magazine St for dinner. But this time I’ll pack a rain jacket

 

It all happened while I was on the plane!

So… Yeah. The first conference I attended this summer has ended. As you may remember from my previous posts here and here, I went to Italy last week.

Ten days, alone, which, for me, was very VERY exciting. After a scarring terrible experience a few years ago in Malaysia, I felt very bad about going solo again. I love travel. I was just afraid of being alone. What if I will have to sit out ten days, doing absolutely nothing?!

Yeah, that never happened…

One day I spent speeding through Rome (35 km walked), followed by a one day of traveling to Napels, then a full day exploring Pompei ancient city, then the conference started with a packed programme and by Friday, when the conference had ended, I was already pretty sure that I could 1) not visit Vesuvius and 2) would not make it to Capri. Instead, I visited Ercolano, another ancient city. Interesting, but not even close to Pompei when it comes to impressiveness.

I needed to get back to Rome on Saturday, as my flight back to the Netherlands would be from Rome Fiumicino airport. I stayed in the weirdest AirBnB with a guy that attempted to play trumpet or saxophone (it was that bad, I couldn’t recognize it) all night. He ended the evening with some relaxing music at maxed out volume. Why not.

I was very happy when I woke up on Sunday. Time to leave again… and the day started off exciting!

When I opened my phone that morning, I got an exciting message! My ‘baby brother’ and his girlfriend brought their first baby son into the world!

The little one was born when I was up in the air on the flight from Rome to Amsterdam. I got the call from my brother when I was waiting in line to order my meal at Burger King Schiphol (I usually only go to BK when I arrive on Schiphol). Probably my most memorable BK meal! I love that the baby boy waited until I flew back to the Netherlands before it arrived.

On Monday, I visited the fresh new family in the hospital. It is special to see new parents hold their first-born. They looked so proud. I loved it. Little Jake is a very cute baby!

I walked around a country

Disclaimer: I added only one picture as the internet is too slow to upload my files :-/…

As I mentioned in my previous post, I will be at a conference in Italy the coming week. I booked a few extra days before and after the conference, so I could relax a bit and check out the surroundings of Napoli, where the conference will take place.

Last Thursday I arrived in the early evening at Rome Fiumicino and I spent two nights in Rome, as I had never been there before. Friday was my Rome-in-a-day quick tour. Everybody told me this would be impossible.

They were all wrong.

I have seen all the major highlights of the city AND tossed in a few extras, such as getting lost in a big park for one and a half hour. I have to add that I did not do this the Chinese way, either. I do confess, this is not for everyone. I walked 32 km that day and I probably walk a bit faster than most. I did not use any public transport either.

Here’s the key; just find an optimal walking route. For me this was Quattro Venti street (where my appartment was) – St Peter – Castello Sant’ Angelo – Pantheon – Trevi Fountains – Spanish Stairs – Roman Forum – Colosseum – Palatino – Circus Maximus – Tiber Island – Botanical Garden (unfortunately this was closed upon arrival, but I had planned to spend at least an hour break there…). Because I had time left, I decided to walk around the Vatican.

Don’t do this! (Spoiler alert: there is absolutely nothing to see there and it is boring as fuck)

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Yeah, this is pretty much the highlight of the Vatican (OUTSIDE THE MUSEUMS!) – St. Peter’s

Because Rome is Rome, there is ample extra stuff to be seen on the way, too. There are also plenty of signs that tell you about the pretty buildings and history. I read them usually, but you can even skip them if you don’t give a damn. No, I did not see any museum and yes, that is a shame (unless you, again, don’t give a damn, but then I don’t see why you would go to Rome)! I will come back for that. Now I just wanted to see the Colosseum, St. Peter and the Pantheon. I read on the internet that this was too much to be desired. I strongly disagree there.

In any of these places you don’t really want to stay too long. The masses of tourists are not that cool and I usually avoid them a bit if I can. I did sit down at the Colosseum and Roman Forum (there was a nice beatboxing artist doing ‘his thing’).

I was back at the apartment around six (left around nine in the morning), where I cooked my own plate of Italian pasta :). Eating out alone still feels awkward as hell to me. Maybe one day I’ll get used to it? In New Orleans (soon) I will have to get used to it, because I need to try everything new. Italian food feels a bit closer to home and is also much more familiarized in the Netherlands than Cayun, Gumbo, Po Boys and Crawfish soup.

I am now writing this from my tiny TINY apartment in Napoli. Where I arrived yesterday evening.

Today I visited Pompei. More on that perhaps in a later post… It deserves more words than a sloppy paragraph.

Tomorrow, my conference starts :).

Side note: It is incredibly warm here. But my shower is nice and cold :D. After this writing, I’ll look for a supermarket that is open til late to get myself some breakfast and veg. And deodorant. Man, I keep sweating like a pig here and I have never smelled so bad. I even bought two new pairs of shorts today, as I feel like my current pair cannot possibly be worn any more in the coming days. As I brought only trousers, I needed a quick fix. It is that bad.

OKbye!

 

 

 

 

 

Italian espresso and posters

Next Thursday I’m leaving for a conference in Naples, Italy. Well, actually I’m visiting Rome first. Rome. A first. I feel like an idiot for never having been to Rome before. Before October last year I had never even been to Italy, even.

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I’ve seen some of the tourist stuff… Pisa – October 2017

Now, this summer, Italy will be the host country for the European Congress of Entomology (or something along those lines). And as mentioned before, it will be held in Naples. So I will be back for nine days.

When I hear Naples, I think of pizza and red and white checkered table cloths. I hope there’s Italian espresso too.

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This cookie thing was perfect. Hope they have them in the South as well, but then with the checkered table cloths.

Anyway. I have already been preparing a little bit for this conference, as I’ll be giving an oral presentation and also got a message that I have to present a poster presentation. I am not sure if this is normal, but hey, more attention for my work is always welcome. I’d rather find out that I cannot present my poster and complain about it, then show up without a poster, because “I already have an oral presentation slot”.

I think scientific posters are the most boring thing in the world, though. For some reason there are always 200 ugly ones (I’m not saying mine is pretty) and then one or two that really stand out because of their simplicity. On a conference last year I saw a poster that was entirely made in R Studio format. I appreciated that nerdiness and originality, but somehow the poster judges are always looking for something else. A big picture of a fluffy thing. No text. Few graphs.

Fuck! I cannot present my work with fluffy things, or without a bit of text and at least some graphs. Well I probably could explain it well enough, but why would I make a poster, then? There isn’t really something that easily summarizes my work on the little things that crawl around in ecosystems AND is eye-catching. When was the last time you thought “Hey, that’s an interesting looking soil microbiome”, “Those iridoid glycosides look fantastic in that light”, or “That cute L1 caterpillar seems to rather feed on the grass species than on the forbs in this plant community”? Exactly, it also only rarely happens to me, and I’m the one that studies these things, because I like them…

So yeah, I indeed minimized the text as much as possible and I tried to add some graphical abstract/ hypotheses. I hope it is enough.

And this is not even the worst part of poster presentations. The worst part is the general awkwardness that surrounds poster presentation sessions. Especially the first half an hour (I guess the people always need two glasses of wine first) is strange. People walk around with blank stares… No questions. Is my poster that clear (it isn’t!). Then again, I am also not really that interested in talking to presenters of most other posters… I am not really the type to claim every single person as soon as they walk by and read the title. Some (or even many poster-people) do this. Do others find this behaviour cool (I very much dislike it, to be honest)? I am more of a laidback poster presenter. I’m present, for sure, but I only present to people that seem truly interested. I tell myself that by investing time in poster-preying on every single person (even those that are not interested) I might miss out on the interested (and thus more interesting) people that might pass if you’re constantly busy explaining every little detail to everyone.

Luckily the poster sessions usually last no more than 1,5 hour…

I never thought I would become a fan of oral presentations, but it is happening. It only has positives. At least only interested people show up, people can actually hear you, you have a bit more space to present a few more graphs and/or graphics and as you’re often squished into a certain theme session, this also gives you a better opportunity to frame your work in a certain theme. And the best of all: fifteen minutes and you’re done!

And better yet; after my presentation I have three more days to explore Naples, Pompeï and Mt Vesuvius! I am really looking forward to that.

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Podarcis sp. (probably P. sicula), another reason to love Italy. Reptile nerds like me can have good fun up there.

 

 

 

 

Veggie plots and zucchinis

Vegetable season has begun!!

I have always been a gardening guy. When I was a young kid, I had my first veg garden. It was in our house’s tiny back yard, but hey, it still was a vegetable plot!! It may have been a north-facing plot sandwiched between a 3-metre hedge and a wall, but stuff grew on it. I probably harvested some green peas, a carrot and three potatoes, but it was worth it.

My first few jobs were gardening and nursery jobs. Even now, as an ecologist, I probably enjoy working with the plants in the greenhouse and in the field the most out of anything job-related.

For the past twelve years, though, I haven’t had a garden (granted, I created some pretty crazy indoor tropical jungles in my student rooms, with my tropical plant collection in combination with my reptiles and spiders, but I digress). So, when one of my colleagues, Jon, proposed to share a vegetable garden plot between us and two other colleagues, I was pretty happy.

The garden looked like shit. Everything was completely overgrown with weeds and there was a huge hole dug on one side of it (judging from the tractor tracks that ended right in the middle, I believe this hole swallowed a farmer once, tractor and all). It took Jon, Paul, Heike and me the better part of a Saturday to til the whole goddamn plot (about 150 square metres) and remove most of the root pieces of nasty brambles, Convolvulus sp., and a lot of Aegopodium podagraria. I hate that crap, although it’s supposed to taste good.

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Imagine this place. Minus the veg and fence. Minus the plots. Add weeds and messy looks. That was two months ago.

Anyhow, we sowed a bunch of things, mostly very old seeds that I wasn’t so sure about anymore.

That was April, let’s fast-forward to a few days ago. We harvested the first zucchinis!! 🙂 The first self-grown vegetable in many many years. Satisfaction levels went through the roof.

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We probably will die of zucchini poisoning this year- I hope I just made that up… what I mean to say is we have loads of them… 🙂 But they are good!

So yeah, most of those seeds were still viable (isn’t that amazing? 10 year old stuff still germinates just fine, I know it is true for many wild species, but I had expected artificial selection to lead to weak crap seeds. I guess I was wrong)

 

It took a bit of conquering weeds and then the Colorado beetles came in, but I think now we mastered the situation and I feel like we are in charge. For now.

I’ll update every now and then 🙂

 

 

Outdoor experiments

What a week! There are many exciting projects going on at the moment, within our group at the Institute. We just wrapped up the experimental phase of a large experiment about litter decomposition last week, which was led by a colleague of mine. It was a load of work, but could potentially lead to a very exciting story later on, so hopefully all our efforts will pay off. You’ll here it here someday!

Besides that, our whole group teamed up nicely earlier this week to kick our long-term field mesocosm experiment into a next phase. Lots of dirt scooping, block chopping and planting later, we now have a beautiful fresh new follow-up on this experiment. It always feels good to be able to use existing experiments to answer new questions and it is even better when you can do it as a team. The Netherlands has been blessed by some exceptional spring/summer weather these past few weeks and Monday and Tuesday were no exception.

mesocosms
That’s the team, after day 1 of the transition phase. Photo courtesy of Emilia (@e_hannula), the Yoga Lady on the right

After some tough brainstorming with my supervisors last week, we made some final choices concerning the figures for my third PhD data manuscript. This week I have made a lot of progress in writing up the actual manuscript. I expect that I can finish and hopefully submit this one quite soon! Three down, one to go! (I have a few analyzed datasets from previous experiments on the shelf already, so I might even finish a fourth one quite soon after)

Last, but not least, I applied the last treatment to my new field experiment last week, shortly after finishing the big decomposition experiment. It of course involves herbivory, plant communities and soil legacy effects, but I’ll save the details for a later moment! Next week, I will plant phytometer plant species in order to measure whether my treatments actually had an effect.

So, it seems like I will have an interesting field summer season, which I’m really looking forward to. As my field location is pretty neat to look at, it will be nice for this blog space, too!

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Another longer-term field experiment that we have currently up and running at our field site. Totally unrelated to this post, but hey, the field site looks pretty nice in the sun! My new experiment is actually behind me (the camera man) in this picture.