I am taking four classes, Sustainable Development, Development and Social Change in Costa Rica, Tropical Ecology and Advanced Spanish. That last one is nerve wracking as one of our students is all but fluent and very outgoing so she speaks Spanish all the time to everyone. Which, to clarify, is intimidating. I try but I'm just not as inclined to speak to people as she is, in English or Spanish. But Mom, I'm doing pretty OK myself and learning a lot. Don't judge.
The first week was intensive Spanish week, which meant that we had Spanish class for three hours per day for four days. Lots of speaking, practicing verb conjugation and listening. It was much more fun that I had expected as I generally have had poor experiences in my Spanish classes. I feel more confidant in my speaking with each day that passes. I need to improve my vocab but I'm working on it. Sustainable Development has only had a few classes so far, mostly field trips. It genuinely fascinates me to think of how all things fit together and remember the ripple effect. Tropical Ecology has mostly been hiking and animal watching. I'm not at all objecting. The majority of the work I have to get done is coming from my Development and Social Change class. It is very based in economic theory at the moment and to say I don't have a clue about economics would not understate the truth. Now for the fun things!
I have gained something of a reputation in my group for loving insects. Whenever someone comes across some cool looking bug they will inevitably run and find me. I am thrilled by this. The other day during lunch one girl in my group came up to me to tell me that she had found a giant wasp. I was excited, expecting some long thin thing with lovely legs or antenna. What I got was a metallic blue with orange wings monster the size of my thumb. I kid you not. I had not brought my camera with me so I ran to get it. As I was coming back toward where we had seen the wasp something slammed into my side and then flew off. I turned to see my friend gaping at me and gesticulating wildly at the air behind me and to the now wasp-less ground. The monster wasp had flown right into me! As it turned out, I was very lucky that I didn't get stung. We had found a tarantula hawk wasp, whose sting is both extremely painful and can trigger a reaction similar to anaphylaxis. Oops. (I have attached a photo I pulled off of Google, as I don't have one of my own, to give a sense of scale.)
I feel that no tale of Monteverde is complete without a description of our morning and afternoon walks. Or hikes depending on the mood one is in while describing them. It takes about twenty five minutes for me to get from my host families house to MVI and the reverse. Going from my host families house I head down a very steep hill to a busy road and cross, avoiding cars, trucks, motorcycles and the dreaded AVT's. Honestly any horror stories you have heard about South and Central American driving are true. Then I walk along a row of restaurants, past a small market beyond a not so small hotel then past a giant luxury eyesore of a place down towards a dirt road. As I am heading this way a giant thicket of bamboo sits on my left. At sunset it is filled to bursting with the Costa Rican equivalent of seagulls. Loud, big and everywhere; they more resemble crows with their large bodies and pitch black feathers but annoy me enough that I have dubbed them seagulls. Then the wind picks up, and what wind, its enough to blow a person off their feet which can be an issue as what was before bamboo becomes a drop off that leads down into a valley that stretches all the way to the Gulf of Nicoya. And I know this because I can see all the way there. On this stretch of our walk I can see almost all of the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and on a good day, all the way out to the Pacific itself. As the sun sets at five thirty, we often are able to watch as it sinks below the horizon in a display of colors that put a toucans bill to shame. It is splendid. Then comes the dirt road, which is really not so bad except for the fact that as we are hear for the dry season, the trade winds are blowing and the rain is not falling so the majority of the dirt that should be on the roads ends up in our eyes, noses and lungs. Mostly in my eyes, especially if I'm wearing contacts. It is unpleasant. Along this stretch of dirt road are several art shops, selling local crafts, which I intend to bring home as gifts, a bat jungle with live bats which I will elaborate on in my next post, a chocolate shop that I need to visit, several cafes, an organic food shop and Bajo Del Tigre which is another reserve which again I will elaborate on in my next post. Then I walk up a short trail and arrive at the institute. If I don't feel like going to class that day (which has never happened) I can continue on a few feet and arrive at the cheese factory. That sells ice cream. That is very yummy. I have tried macadamia, chocolate and fig. I recommend them all. (Photos now included)
On our first day of Tropical Ecology, we took a walk in the forest to visit the Strangler Fig trees. These parasitic trees start life as tiny seeds that begin to grow rapidly into vines reaching for the ground once they have found a host. They quickly encase their victim in a web of twisting veins, strangling it just as the name suggests. They then proceed to grow huge, up and up and up they go, leaving a hole in the middle of their growing trunk where their host, now long decomposed, once existed. Looking up at these giants is an experience and a half, they are gorgeous to behold, but climbing up inside one is all but a religious experience. I have never felt so close to the Pacha Mama as I did sitting in the heart of a tree. They are also incredibly quick growers, just like everything here. There is a tree with a ten foot diameter trunk that is younger than my parents! (Meaning that it is under sixty years old! I couldn't believe it when I was first told.) (I have added a photo of me climbing inside the tree below as well as a photo of the outside of a different fig tree.)
The birds around MVI are fantastic. Some days I will glance out the window and spot a toucan or a green toucanete. (which is one of the strangest birds you will ever see fly and which I do not have a photo of, though I do of the toucan and it is below) We also see blue crowned motmots, a variety of finches in a myriad of colors, the weird black birds/stupid not-seagulls, woodpeckers, hummingbirds (which I also have a photo of below) and so very much more.