Thursday, February 11, 2016

Semana cinco/week 5 (1/31-2/6) Monteverde CR and San Gerardo Research Station, Children's Eternal Rain Forest, CR

This week was what I would call packed. Lots of work and travel!

Lets start with work. I am currently writing two papers, working on a presentation, thinking about my topic for a final research project and prepping for two quizzes. Yeah. Oh, also reading lots of technical papers on conservation efforts, why they haven't worked, what went wrong and the pollinating of flowers by bats, bees, beetles and wind. Actually all very interesting, but long.

For our tropical ecology course this past week we had a class dedicated to the capture and identification of various macro-invertebrates (AKA bugs). We gathered them from the gardens around the Institute, examined them under a microscope and then identified them by looking at their physical features. It was great. I got to bring out my dead insect collection (which is a thing, people bring me dead insects like I'm some kind of weird cat owner. Oh well, it makes me happy and I told them to do it) and we looked at butterfly wings under a microscope. Little scales, like shingles all arranged perfectly. It was gorgeous. We also looked at spiders, a scorpion, a psudoscorpion, wasps, rolly pollys, beetles, weevles and mites. They are all so very cool under a microscope. I loved every second of that class.

My home-stay father's birthday was this past week. We had a party with his parents and my host-sister who was visiting with her daughter from the coast. Pizza was bought and eaten, I had salad, giant marshmallows with sweetened condensed milk and coconut were eaten (and they were good) also caramel cake was had. I talked with people in Spanish about snow in April and generally had a great night.

During our second Tropical Ecology class of the week, we went bird watching. We spotted birds and identified them by their traits. It was incredible fun. We saw Motmots, toucans, a Scrub Euphonia, Great Tailed Grackels (which are the bird I described as an annoying pigeon in an earlier entry), a Wilson's Warbler, Brown Jays, a Topical Kingbird, a Crested Guan and many more flashes of unidentifiable feathers. I love how much there is to see here. You could spend your whole life here studying everything and never even scratch the surface. Maybe that's best, a bit of mystery never hurt anything.

This weekend we went to the San Gerardo research station in the Children's Eternal Rainforest. We had to hike in and out and it was all down hill on the way there. That was fun to think about. It poured the entire walk in, our guide made the most of it and told us about the millipede we stumbled across (identifiable by it's legs), the flowers we found, the caterpillar we saw and the bat tents we (he) discovered along the side of the trail. It was all great but yes, very wet. When we reached the lodge it was just lunch time and we fell on the food like a swarm of ants. None was left to waste. Now, this is important, the lodge allowed no shoes inside as the floors were polished. We slid across them in our socks like little kids and it was amazing. But slippery. Which factors into my second stupid fall during this time. From the balcony on which our rooms were located, we could see out over the valley to Arenal National Park and to Volcan Arenal itself. At first we couldn't see much beside the volcanoes base, but as time passed the clouds lifted and we saw it in it's entirety. We were lucky, most times there are too many clouds to see it and we got an unimpeded look. Our guide gave us a lecture on the disappearance of amphibians around the world and gave us a chance to hypothesize as to what the cause of this is. He was a wonderful speaker and incredibly knowledgeable. He, and we, think that a fungus is to blame for many of the disappearances along with contributing factors like climate change, the ozone layer gap and potentially viruses. It was a wonderful talk, if a bit depressing. He then sent us off to dinner. After stuffing ourselves on the wonderful food, we went out on a night hike. We saw golden-groined tree frogs, a Rufus eyed stream frog, more than five sleeping morpho butterflies, stick insects, a really cool caterpillar that was imitating a stick and another caterpillar that had we touched its spines, we would have gotten a nasty rash. It was great and we used our flashlight to look for different cool things for our guide to tell us about. Which was how I ran into trouble. So the trail was on a ledge and, as I was looking upwards, I lost my balance and fell off this ledge. Into a five foot deep hole. I actually jumped-fell as I realized as I was going in that I couldn't control weather I fell or not but I could control how I landed. I was fine but I freaked people out. That was my first stupid fall of the trip.

We stayed at San Gerardo for two nights. The first night I woke up at two, pulled the covers off the empty bunk bed above me and went back to sleep, finally warm. I also took a shower each night. When it was cold. And the water was colder. Fun. Our second morning, we were given an assignment and told to go out into the woods and take some time to journal how we felt being there. I found a spot high on the banks of a stream where I sat for half an hour, wrote a poem and worked on my gift to the group. It was wonderful. I had never had the opportunity to hike alone and it is an experience I would recommend everyone try. Just tell people where you are going and when you expect to be back and go. I saw butterfly's, beautiful forest, a waterfall and more flowers and plants than I can possibly describe. I arrived back in time to 'help' our guide as he was catching butterflies to identify them. I caught a tiny brown one and, my personal favorite, the cappuccino butterfly. It was fun, I hadn't done that since I was a child and now having the resources to identify what I was seeing was wonderful. After lunch, we shared what we had found with the group. I preformed my poem, which is always fun, and it was well received. We had brought back flowers, fruits, leaves of every shape imaginable, a squirrel skull, a half rotted vine (mine) and seeds. We talked about all of them and then threw them over the balcony into the forest to return them. Well, we threw most things. More of that later.

We then had a talk from our guide on the Childrens Eternal Rainforest's, where we were, history. It started when a group of Swedish students, inspired by a scientist who was studying the Monteverde area, came and spoke to them. She mentioned that a hectare of land could be bought for the current equivalent of twenty five dollars and the rest is history. The fund raising campaign they held spread and eventually schools across the globe raised the equivalent of 2,000,000 USD. They sent this money to Monteverde and the land that makes up the Children's Eternal Rainforest was bought. So never think you are too small. If a group of elementary school children could create a national park think what you could do if inspired. Give it a try.

After another fabulous talk, we had a bit of time before dinner. I ran upstairs to fetch my water bottle when I spotted an Ojo de Buey. Ojo de Buey, or ox eye seeds, are beautiful black seeds that are the size of a small stone, perfect for a slingshot. They are in the bean family and are actually the fruit of the vine that morpho caterpillars feed on. Or, as I thought, drop kicking. I would like to remind you that I can slide ten feet on the floors I was standing on in my socks after a running start. So, in my brilliance, I decided that the best way to return it to the forest would be to drop it and kick it out into the beyond. I did so, I would like to add that I did hit it and it did go flying. Unfortunately, so did I. The momentum of my kick sent me backwards on the low friction floor and I landed with an almighty thud. Everyone heard it and once they heard my incredulous laugh, all dismissed it as 'Yeah, that was Meredith. She's fine.' They were right but still. One girl was watching and after ascertaining that I was all in one piece, she proceeded to laugh her head off. It was pretty funny. We watched a depressing film on the negative impact of ecotourism that evening before crashing.

The next day we hiked back to the entrance of the park. I wanted to try hiking alone again so I booked it up the, very steep, mountain. I was exhausted by the time I reached the top, and I was the first to arrive by more than twenty minutes so apparently I could have walked a bit slower and still have been alone the whole time. Hind sight is a thing. We drove past the voting taking place at the school on our way home. Voting is mandatory in Costa Rica. It's nice. Photos of the above adventures are included below.

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