Saturday, January 16, 2016

1/16/16 seis/6 (aaaannnnd 1/09/15)

We got up at six to join our professors in bird watching. We saw toucans, hummingbirds, oriels, finches, vultures, parrots and so many flashes in the bushes we couldn't quite identify. It was fabulous. Breakfast was wonderful and afterwards we pulled on borrowed boots and went for a hike in the rain forest. Before I continue, I feel I need to share a bit of background. Where we were was a biological reserve in the rain-forest and, because it was a rain-forest it had in fact rained a good deal the night before. Also, I have small feet. Our group is made up of ten girls and one boy so most of us have small feet. The research station we were staying at did not have an infinite supply of boots so many of our borrowed boots, mine most certainly included, really didn't fit. Like, I had over two inches between my big toe and the end of the boot didn't fit. I could walk, but if one of my boots got stuck I would be walking in socks for the rest of the day.

The day was hot and humid, again rain-forest (photo below). Sun slanted on occasion through the canopy onto our faces, but was mostly blocked by the thick foliage. Butterfly's, including once a blue morpho, fluttered by along with tiny (or not so tiny) wasps, flying ants, gently falling leaves and in the distance birds argued back and forth over this, that and the other. It would have been utterly idealistic were it not for the fact that, one, bullet ants exist (which are the insect with the most painful sting, equivalent to being hit with a bullet, as the name implies) and that the path we were on was solid, or not so solid as the case was that day, mud. Brick brown, thick, ready so suck your boot off, slick on the plethora of bumps and hills, mud. I spent as much time looking at were I was going as I did on what was around me. Which still left plenty of opportunities for me to slip, though the only one of us to fall was our shortest member who luckily, due to being short, didn't have as far to go. I have a confession to make; I am very clumsy (torpe in Spanish). Generally it is contained to making weird sudden motions as I am generally on flat, high friction ground, but Costa Rica has apparently decided that if there is something to be tripped over, I need to find it and use it for its intended purpose. I also tend to be walking around with my head tipped back, not looking where I'm going as I stare about me in wonder, which may possibly be attributing to my clumsiness. Just a bit. We saw trees standing over two hundred feet tall, crossed over two suspended bridges from which we could look out over the canopy (and a river, as photographed and displayed below), saw nun-birds, heard and saw more toucans, stepped over leaf-cutter ant trails, sweated through our cloths and just generally had the time of our lives.

Lunch was at a slightly ritzy hostel at the end of our hike that was the more tourist accessible version of where we were staying (I preferred where we were honestly). It took us three hours to reach our lunch spot and an hour to drive back to our lodge. Think on that for a bit. That afternoon we had our first tropical ecology formal lesson. Kind of. We had an introduction to tropical fruit where we all presented our fruit to the class. We had avocado (yes, it's a fruit), watermelon, granadilla, maracuya, sapote (which was mine and reminded me why Wikipedia is not a valid source as I had accidentally researched the wrong fruit! Oops.), starfruit, guayaba, guanabana, mango, manzana de agua and manderin. We tried most of them, several couldn't be found in markets so we got unripe ones and just looked at them. It was lots of fun. (many of the fruits are pictured below, mostly eaten)

After dinner we packed up our things in anticipation of the drive to Monteverde that would take us the entirety of the next day. One of our professors took any of us who wanted to go on a night walk. We saw a few interesting insects and frogs but the highlight (or very low light as it turned out to have) was the phosphorescent grubs and fungi we encountered. You have no idea how dark the forest can be until you turn your flashlight off and realize that you barely even know up from down without your eyes. It is simultaneously humbling and terrifying. I recommend against doing it unless you have other people with you. Their presence supplies a comfort that allows you to fully appreciate the experience. The bio-luminescent grubs appeared like bluish firefly's close to the ground. We saw a few each only for a moment, leaving you to wonder whether you had imagined the sight or not. The glowing fungus was a bit more impressive. Letting off the barest amount of light, it glowed in patches on the back of a decaying leaf. No one is quite sure why the fungus glows as it seams to serve no real purpose. But it does and I am glad for it. When we were not scanning the ground for tiny faint lights, we were staring in awe at the sky. I have seen many beautiful views of the night sky but never before had I truly seen the Milky Way. But I did this night. It was awe-inspiring.

We headed back shortly after finding the fungus, ready to hit the hay or, in my case, brave the freezing showers. They weren't really that bad but there really wasn't any warm water. At all. I like to call them refreshing. Considering the heat and humidity of the place, it really was a lovely feeling after a long day.

Below is a picture of two vultures and a toucan in a dead tree. P-E-A-R-C-H-I-N-G. (No, I couldn't resist)

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