Sunday, October 9, 2016

So Green.

I have been meaning to write an entry about my Earth Expeditions trip to Baja California, Mexico in July but have managed to procrastinate writing about one of my best life/travel experience for THREE MONTHS! I know, I be lazy. I also blame less than favourable internet connection speed and longevity and having to actually blog for work; basically typical master procrastinator excuses.
I learned a lot from my experience on the Australia EE in 2014; from learning about Great Barrier Reef ecology to the clouded rainforest of Paluma Range National Park, and being exposed for the first time to community-based conservation and inquiry-based learning. I think my favourite part of the trip was learning about and from the Nywaigi people of Australia at Mungalla Station. This picture is of the wetland restoration project the Cassady family has done at Mungalla Station.
Earlier this year, I got accepted and enrolled myself into a Masters program with Miami University called the Global Field Program (GFP), a program very suitable (but not limited) for educators of all fields (schools, museums, zoos, aquaria, and etc.) interested in conservation and inquiry-based learning. The major attraction of the GFP is its summer Earth Expeditions (EE); a way to travel and earn credits for your graduate studies, for personal development for potential career advancement, or personal development for simply your own personal development.

Not wanting to commit fully to pursuing a Masters degree previously, I enrolled into the Australia EE in 2014 as a standalone class just for the seven graduate credits after reading about EE courses sent to the University of Hawaii at Hilo Marine Science Department's listserv (which I still check once in awhile for any career or graduate studies opportunities). Needless to say, I had a wonderful time and somewhat enjoyed the lessons then. (Evidence of me enjoying my Australia EE trip: 1, 2, and 3.)

Since leaving my job at a milk packing facility in the end of 2014 and starting my amazing job in Pulau Langkawi, why not do graduate school while working? The GFP is very compatible to my current job in education and outreach and conservation science. So I gave it a go.

My first GFP class is a summer EE to Baja California. Initially, I was slightly disappointed in being placed into this EE. Because even though learning and experiencing the pelagic ecosystem of the Sea of Cortez would be amazing, I was not too keen to learn about the desert of Baja California. Why should I learn about the desert when I live and work in a tropical rainforest?! Even the text I had to read about the desert flora of Baja California is a boring and dry read. (Pun intended; I will show myself out.)

It was not until the long (but fun) drive (it turned out to be a roadtrip) into the desert on our way to Rancho San Gregorio did I realise how alive the desert of Baja California can be. I was seeing GREEN along Highway 1, a sight I would never have expected in a desert, even after reading about it.

I expected the desert to be more like this. Photo credit.
Instead, I got views of lushness like this. Photo taken close to Catavina Town.
And this. Just look at how green the valley is! There are even visible green patches on the hill. Shameless selfie taken on a hike to view Cochimi cave paintings.
I am also glad to have classmates who know a lot about desert flora, pointing out the different types of plants we come across. I especially enjoyed learning about the desert from Rafael Villavicencio, the "chief" of Rancho San Gregorio. (Rafael is a computer guy turned traditional healer. He reminds me very much of Dr. Ghani, medical doctor practicing traditional Malay medicine in Langkawi.) Life is tough in the desert of Baja California but it provides for the survival of many generations of people and animals. It provides enough.

Rafael conducting an ethnobotany walk for the class. In this picture, I think Rafael was explaining about the palo verde tree, which is a source of food for horses and branches can be used to make tea.
Rafael explaining how the Villavicencio family has farmed in the desert for a long time. Behind him is a grape vine he or one of his relatives planted. The family has also planted date palm trees!
Fruits of the nopal (Opuntia cactus), also known as the "prickly pear". This is just one of the few examples of the sustenance provided by the desert. This fruit is surprisingly juicy, an apt snack after a walk in a 48 degrees Celsius desert with little to no clouds. The other parts of the nopal can also be eaten. We had a nopal salad on a couple of meals. Guys, I ate CACTUS.
I am still in awe of how alive a desert can look.

Another surprisingly place to have green is on a mostly barren volcanic island about 800km away from Rancho San Gregorio in the Sea of Cortez. The class got to check out the cutest mangrove forest ever here. The craziest part of it all is that there is no freshwater visible on the island, with little rainfall too, and then BOOM! (insert "Surprise mutha..." Dexter meme) A thriving mangrove forest relying on saltwater.

See how cute these stunted mangroves look? It looks like a species of Rhizophora. I think the mangroves here are short because a lot of their energy are being used to desalinate the saltwater for freshwater for survival instead of growth in height. If this is true, what an amazing adaptability!
My Baja EE definitely reminded me that nature, or life, will find a way to survive and then thrive in the future. It is an inspiration to me as I continue being involved in conservation work in Malaysia.

This is just one of the few entries I am going to be writing about this EE. I am not sure when the next entry will be, but stay tuned? There are plenty yet to be shared. 


  1. I agree... so much life in the desert... not what I was expecting either.

    1. And what great classmates I had, making everything livelier in the desert!

  2. Some nice pictures there Jon! Beautiful landscapes. :)

    1. Hi, Dan! I did not realise you left a comment to my entry! How are you doing? I miss you.

      Thanks! Baja California really exceeded my expectations in terms of beauty.