Anecdotes from Past Field Trips ... If you have one, please do share it with us !
Anecdote # 1: My odyssey with the trip began in 1969 with a bus ride from Ithaca, New York on an frigid January evening. Our bus was loaded at 6 PM, and off we went towards the Catskills. On the bus we tried to doze, but several times we awoke, as we went slip-sliding on the icy roads towards Kennedy Airport on Long Island. With an estimated time of arrival of 12:00 PM, we were trying to arrive in time to get on the the cheap, red-eye special flight leaving at 1:00 AM that traveled to that priceless jewel of the Caribbean -- Puerto Rico. We arrived on time and after five hours in the air we arrived. Our bus, designed for small kindergardeners by Detroit engineer/sadists, was there at the airport waiting for us. Aaaah joy and bliss; warm, moist air and coconut palms gently swaying in the breeze on a graceful sweep of white sand beach overlooking a crystal clear Caribbean sea are only some of the glories of Puerto Rico
When we reached Mayaguez at 2:00 PM we had been without significant sleep for 32 hours. Bless them, the administration of the College of Agriculture at Mayaguez had a welcoming party ready and going for us upon our arrival. Drinks, music, speeches, snacks, beautiful girls, the works. Finally, after bumbling through the formalities, and almost falling asleep with a drink in our hands, off we stumbled to our sleeping arrangements.
The students were luckier than the faculty. The students were housed in a tall dormitory (Darlington) at $ 3.00 per night and well away from the student union, whereas the faculty and married students were housed in comparative luxury in the universityÕs student union. However, to our consternation, we faculty were informed that there was a party in the student union that night for the students of the college. After a brief and fitful rest we heard this appallingly loud music with a wonderful, pounding Latin American beat that sounded like an earthquake was rumbling up from the bowls of the earth. Staggering out onto the balcony of the union we found that the music was only about fifty feet from our rooms and consisted of a Puerto Rican dance band with loudspeakers that were at least one story high. The whole building shook when they commenced playing. Bongo drums and other instruments of torture were vigorously exercised. One's whole body quivered, trembled, shuddered, and shook with the alarming vibrations. Had I been younger and able I might have danced all night, as I love Latin American music. Nevertheless, I desperately needed sleep and rest. So, I and another professor packed a small bag and took a taxi to a downtown Mayaguez hotel where we had a nights sleep away from the party. Our unfortunate colleagues who stayed in the student union never slept a wink. To say the least, almost everyone was grumpy and decidedly unpleasant when we headed out the next day to learn all about tropical agriculture.
Anecdote # 2: The Republica Dominicana was close to Puerto Rico, and graduates of Cornell, who had important positions in agricultural universities there, offered to help us with the trip. The Pedro Henriquez Ureña University of Santo Domingo helped us with the trip. In fact the Dean of the agricultural college accompanied us on all of our travels in the Dominican Republic. The college provided the amario buses and an excellent, friendly bus driver. The Dominican Republic was definitely more typical of developing countries, and there was much more to see and do than in Puerto Rico relative to agricultural development. One of our stops on the trip was a trip to the beach on the North Coast, which became more than exciting. The entire group was given a free half-day on a beautiful beach. Before exiting the bus, I gave all the students a mini-lecture on the dangers of swimming in the ocean, as some of them had never been in the sea. Well, all my serious words of caution were ignored. Less than a minute after they had all charged into the water, screaming and laughing, a few began to emerge screaming in pain. One student looked like he had been hit by the mafia. He had dived head first into a coral reef and was bleeding copiously from numerous cuts and abrasions all over his body. Nevertheless, he lived. Two girls came out screeching in pain, as they had stepped on top of sea urchins and the sea urchin spines were buried in their feet. They spent the rest of their time at the beach with young Dominican boys who helped them remove the spines with lemon juice and suitable incantations.
Anecdote # 3: On to La Republica de Mexico. I made the first exploratory trip to Mexico in 1975 with Joe Saunders (then a professor in the Department of Entomology) and with the help of the CIMMYT Golden Boys. The CIMMYT Golden Boys were six Cornell graduate students that were doing their thesis research cooperatively in Mexico on mmm (maldito, miserable, maiz) in cooperation with CIMMYT. The students were Mario Ruben Contreras (a Honduran, a plant pathologist, and recently a Dean of the Escuela Agricola Panamericana - Zamorano), Samuel Cephas Muchena (a plant breeder from Zimbabwe), Mario Santos Rodriguez P. (a Colombian soil agronomist), Daniel L. Galt (a U. S. agricultural economist), Khalid Mohamad Nor (a statistician from Malaysia), and Frank B. Peairs (a U. S. entomologist). The program is described in the Cornell International Agriculture Mimeograph 59 entitled An Interdisciplinary Approach to International Agricultural Training: The Cornell-CIMMYT Graduate Student Team Report dated December 1977.
During the trip exploring the feasibility of moving the trip to Mexico notes were taken from CIMMYT headquarters to Poza Rica as follows: It was 340 km to Poza Rica (about 4 hours). From El Bataan the road goes by the pyramids of Teotihuacan. Corn, alfalfa, oats, ejidos, beans, weeds, barley, agave, cactus, dodder, and scroungy looking cows, dairy, horses, mules, burros, and goats were seen from the road. High altitude agriculture. A pulqueria might be an interesting stop. Descending into the town of Tulancingo crops began to change. Apple orchards, potatoes, plums, peaches, nectarines. Intercropping of maize was noted in an apple orchard. We began to descend into a foggy area where the trees were covered with epiphytes -- Bromiliads and such. Very steep slopes with crops and animals. Finally into an area with avocados near the town of Huachinango. The restaurant there had 8 peso soup, 25 peso steaks, and a beer or a sandwich for 5 pesos (rate of exchange 12 pesos.one US dollar). Down the road there was a nursery for ornamental plants; bananas, sugarcane, and tree ferns were seen, although there still are piny woods. As the pines disappeared we saw citrus trees, coffee, and then drove into fog and a heavy rain. We saw some slash and burn agriculture on the very steep slopes of the mountains. Papaya and lemon grass. Finally we found cassava. None of the Cornell grad students taking us on the trip even recognized cassava (yuca). Shameful! Before the town of Gilberto Camacho there was the Mexican Institute of Coffee. Lots of Zebu cattle. Pigeon peas, sesame, cassava, maize and squash. Elephant grass. Bamboo. Decent looking pastures. As we got closer to Poza Rica there were large cattle operations and large citrus plantings. We visited the Poza Rica experiment station where several Cornell grad students had experiments.
The evening we were in Poza Rica we drove into town to eat, and were caught in an tremendous rainstorm. The streets of Poza Rica became flooded, and we had to take off our shoes and roll up our pants in order to get to the restaurant -- which had several inches of water on the floor. We were told the shrimp were great, so we all ordered shrimp. One student did not think the order came fast enough and made the mistake of complaining in loud fashion to the waitress. Well, all of our orders came soon enough, but his never did. He was really steamed, but there was little he could do about it. Mexican waitresses do not like to take orders unless given with the proper amount of respect. The shrimp were delicious.
Anecdote # 4: Our first trip to Mexico began with the baggage of 13 people not arriving. Not a propitious way to start the day. As we walked out of customs in the airport, a student came to me almost immediately and said that his travelers checks had just been pickpocketed. Fast work and a high level of expertise that must make Mexican ladrones (thieves) proud. The morning of the day after we arrived we went to the Escuela Nacional de Agricultura in Chapingo, Mexico. Speakers included Efraim Hernandez X. and Antonio Turrent. Efraim Hernandez de X. gave an especially good talk with some important insights into the agriculture of the traditional farmers in Mexico. Traditional farmers or campesinos constitute the majority of farmers in Mexico, but are given little meaninful help by the government. Efraim (a Cornell graduate in Botany) probably knew as much the plants and agriculture of Latin America as anyone. Almost all Mexican Ing. Agronomos called him El Maestro as a term of respect. One of Efraim Hernandez de X. remarks was: poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States. The students really enjoyed interacting with him. The college gave us a much appreciated lunch.
Anecdote # 5: We left CIMMYT about 4:30 PM and drove to the magnificent Pyramids of Teotihuacan. Teotihuacan was the first great prehispanic city on the American continent, established some two hundred years before Christ. Its influence reached as far as the Yucatan peninsula and Guatemala. Gods of the Toltec people included Quetzacoatl and Tlaloc the rain god. As the legend goes, Quetzacoatl allowed himself to be tested by bravely casting himself into a fire. He survived it, but was transformed into The Plumed Serpent -- all flashing feathers and iridescent colors. At its peak, the city of Teotihuacan had a population of over 100,000 people and covered an area of about eight square miles, with temples, palaces, markets and apartment compounds. The streets and buildings were laid out on a grid plan to which even creek beds were channeled to conform to it. The large Calle de los Muertos (Avenue of the Dead) runs North and South past the immense Pyramid of the Sun and terminates at the foot of the smaller Pyramid of the Moon. Some of the buildings have colored murals, some depicting gods that the Aztecs later worshiped.
We had to pay a 100 peso bribe to the guards to get in, as the gates closed at five PM. Nevertheless, we were able to see the pyramids of the Sun and the Moon (some students climbed to the top of the pyramid of the Sun). Professor Dan Sisler (who is blind) also climbed to the top of the pyramid when he visited Teotihuacan with the class. It was getting dark, so we had a sandwich and sat down to see the impressive spectacle called Sol y Sonido. It is a show presented in the evening with different colored light shining on the pyramids and includes a broadcast giving the history of Teotihuacan plus information on the ancient traditions of the Indians that built the pyramids. However, it became extremely cold when the sun went down.
Anecdote # 6: Another year we had a most interesting visit to campesinos in the Puebla area. After considerable time on extremely bad roads covered with thick dust we stopped at the home of a farmer who had about one and one-half hectares of land. He was a cooperator in the Puebla project, and he answered questions and told us about his activities, problems, and crops in some detail. As we sat listening to him, I noticed a woven basket next to me containing beans. I selected 17 distinctly different beans out of the basket. Later examination of the beans showed that he grew three different species of beans; common beans, scarlet runner beans, and lima beans. We asked him why he grew so many different types of beans, and he responded that some years it was wet and some years were dry. He noted that some varieties could tolerate drought better than others and some could tolerate wet conditions. In some years insects pests caused serious problems and some varieties withstood insect damage better than others. Also, his wife liked the different types of beans for various dishes that she prepared. His remarks were a clear summary of the value of diversity.
Anecdote # 7: During most of the years we visited the Colegio we also visited the Teapa project managed by Steve Gliesmann and his Mexican colleagues Roberto Garcia Espinoza and Moises Amador Alarcon. They were excellent hosts. In addition to teaching at the Colegio, Steve had a project with the objective of understanding the traditional systems used in the area. He had an idealized module which we visited consisting of 14 hectares with raised beds (similar to chinampas - a form of raised beds) on which various crops were grown. In order to get to the site, we took a bus into a banana plantation next to a river. Then we were ferried in small groups in dugout canoes across the river. Next we had to walk several kilometers to the site of the modules. One year, as it had recently rained, the path was rather muddy and a girl who ignored our warnings about appropriate footwear did the trip in high healed shoes which became covered with mud. She finally discarded her shoes and went barefoot. After visiting the module area we spent some time walking through the village of the local traditional farmers.
Anecdote # 8: On to Costa Rica. After catching up on our sleep, exploring San José a bit, and stocking up on cash, we left in our bus for Turrialba. Our bus drivers in Costa Rica were all excellent, skilled, pleasant, professionals and made travel in Costa Rica much more pleasant than some of our previous experiences in Puerto Rica and Mexico. The trip from San José to Turrialba goes from an altitude of about 6,000 feet to about 600 feet above sea level. The road was paved but often had precipitous drop-offs, and one would end up in deep chasms if one went off the road. San José is in the Central Valley, some of the best agricultural land in Costa Rica, which is slowly being lost to roads, houses, factories, and other non-agricultural uses. There are still many coffee plantations and the poró (Erythrina spp.) trees used for shade with their scarlet blossoms make an attractive sight. On the way down the mountain the route went through the city of Cartago, once the capitol of Costa Rica under the Spanish, and by the remnants of a Spanish-built cathedral destroyed by an earthquake The scenery as one goes down towards Turrialba is spectacular and beautiful.
We often stopped at a sugar processing factory called a tapiche which still made sugar the old fashioned way. The final sugar product was a unrefined brown sugar product called panela which was pressed into round molds. The sugarcane was hand fed into a machines which crushed it, extracting the juice, and the entire process from crushing to the final product was easy to follow. This was a much more satisfactory way to see sugar processing than the huge, noisy, confusing sugar processing plants we had visited in Puerto Rico.
By mid-morning we arrived in Turrialba and CATIE where we distributed the group to their respective housing. CATIE (Centro de Agricultura Tropical de Investigación y Ensenañza) is a very wet tropical paradise, at least relative to its plant life. With about 100 inches of rain per year, and a warm to hot, tropical climate all year long, it has an exuberant tropical plant life. One of our first activities after arrival was to walk through the plant collections. CATIE has one of the best collections of coffee and cacao in the world. In addition it has collections of many tropical trees and shrubs, palms, fruits trees, nut trees, ornamentals, and examples of many of the major tropical crop plants such as yams (Dioscorea spp.), cassava, cover crops, etc. Rubber trees, macadamia nuts (CATIE introduced macadamia nuts in Costa Rica and they are now an important export crop), cola trees, mangos, zapotes, guava, pineapples, carambolas, custard apples and numerous ornamentals, are just a few of the plants one sees.
Anecdote # 9: According to the World Bank, in 1990 about one half of the population in developing countries lived in cities. The quality of life for the poor in cities can be miserable. In 1992 I traveled with the Cornell group to Honduras for several days. One visit was to a Save the Children project in the slums of Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Poverty indicators are an infant mortality rate of over 47 deaths/1,000 live births and unemployment of 15% with an estimated 20-40% unemployment. TegucigalpaÕs slums are on steep hillsides and most of the homes might be described as shacks.
I was part of a small group that visited a young woman who appeared to be about twenty-five to thirty years of age. She and her family lived in a hut with a dirt floor made of scrap lumber, cardboard, plastic, and pieces of flattened tin. The home had no chimney and smoke was coming out the door as she talked to us. There was no running water in the entire slum settlement. Water was brought in by trucks and sold by the bucket at a high price. As much as 25% of the income of those living in such slums may be spent on purchasing water. The young woman scratched constantly at what were probably insect bites. She had four children with her in the hut and all were significantly unwashed. The woman said she had lived in Tegucigalpa for several years. When asked where she originally came from, she said she had lived on a farm in the campo, (countryside), but because of successive severe droughts she and her family came close to starvation, so they moved to Tegucigalpa and this slum. When we asked how living was in Tegucigalpa, she said with some enthusiasm that it was much better than living in the campo. Here, if her children got sick, she could take them to a free medical clinic. There were no doctors or clinics in the campo. Also, there were schools here that her children could go to, so they could learn to read and write and get an education! There were no schools for her children when they lived on the farm. It was very obvious that she was pregnant, and we asked if she thought she might have more children. Her answer was - Pues, si Dios quiere. If God wills. The misery and suffering that this woman and her family endures is typical of the situation of displaced farm families that are flocking to large cities all over the developing world.
Anecdote # 10.
I was part of this adventure in 1980 when we visited Mexico. (I got a Ph.D. in Rural Sociology at Cornell in 1984) I really have enjoyed very much reading this web site, congratulations! I am wondering why in the anecdotes there is nothing about the BUS ACCIDENT we had during that trip to Mexico? The accident was an unforutunately one and for several years people were commenting about it. I have had a communication with Dr. Dave Thurston about my interest in participating in the reunion, it is a great idea. Best regards, Sergio Ruano, Guatemala.
Anecdote # 11.
I didn't realize the effect the trip to Costa Rica would have on me until a year later when I was asked to participate in a World Food Day Colloquium at Jefferson Community College in Watertown NY. As I prepared for my presentation I read about things like "rubber or rice" and had a frame of reference because I saw first hand the dilemma faced by developing nations as they decide whether to put their energy into agriculture for export or domestic consumption. I have subsequently developed a road show presentation where I help groups understand the issues involved in feeding 6 billion people(or is it 7 billion by now?).
My wife's clearest recollection is when I called to inform her that I had just been surfing in the Pacific Ocean. She informed me that it had been -20 farehneit for the last 3 days in the Adirondacks. She's planning to come with me to the reunion. It's in January isn't it?
Jim Briggs - Cooperative Extension Agent
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