Saturday, April 9, 2016

Week 9 and 10, Semana nueve y diez, (3/3/16-3/13/16), Monteverde CR

I'm putting week nine and ten together as this entry begins most of the way through week nine, on a Thursday.

The week after we came back from our Spring Break were crazy. We had so much to get done and almost no time to do it in. I had the bad fortune of getting sick the moment we got back to Monteverde. I had a fever Friday night and a bad sinus headache and sore throat for the next three days. The headache kinda went away except in the mornings but the sore throat stuck around for two weeks. It was not fun. In the slightest. In the time I was sick, I was supposed to be collecting data for my final project for my Tropical Ecology class. I did get all of my data collection sessions in, but it was a close thing. My saving grace was the fact that I didn't need to turn in my paper until several days after my final presentation on my project. The presentation got done, not early or anything but it was finished and, I believe, went well. I am pretty good at public presenting so generally I'm OK. We went out to get vegan ice cream afterwards, as we have three vegans in our group, and I got pistachio. It was a nice treat and we got to spend some out of class time with our professor, who is such a cool lady. Honestly, otherwise I just got a few grades back, not great ones but I'm not failing anything. We also went on a field trip to visit local businesses and see how they work with the sustainable model. It was interesting. I am always impressed by how hard the people of Monteverde work to keep their town healthy and pristine, even with a quarter of a million tourists visiting every year. Oh! We also spent one morning when the Institute internet was scheduled to be down in a local bakery, Jimenez, and had tea and pastries for breakfast. It was very appreciated. Honestly, being sick and swamped with work occupied so much of my time that this was my whole week. The only other thing was that when I was at the Institute Sunday night, I ran into the director. We chatted and she mentioned that starting the next morning, the Institute would be mist-netting birds up in the reserve for a week. It was something I had been looking forward to and so I asked her at what time it started; 5:30 AM was my answer. But that is a story for next time.

OK, so some other stuff did happen. I generally hole up at the edge of a balcony in front of the Institute and to the side of it is a Cecropia tree. Currently nesting in said tree are White Masked Tityras. They are a beautiful bird that sound like squeaky toys. It's great and I love to see them. They are sexually di-morphic and the male is the white one, the female is more brown. Also, one day my host families dog followed me to school. It's a twenty five minute walk and he just stayed with me. He was at the Institute with me all day too and then we walked home together.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Spring Break? Our adventure continues! (2/25-3/2) Junquillal and Santa Rosa, CR

Crossing the boarder was easier and faster the second time through. We did have to get our bags scanned but all in all it was easier than an airport. We continued through the dry forest, soon to learn how well deserved that name was, towards the coast. We had lunch at a house that doubled as headquarters for the small tourism agency that would provide us meals for the next three days as well as act as our guide on a snorkeling trip. Then took our bus the last few miles to Junquillal beach.

Junquillal is a protected area, all of Costa Rica's beaches are public but the area around Junquillal is part of a large, interconnected series of protected areas. The beach sits on the edge of tropical dry forest, which isn't another name for dessert, it means that though it does get several feet of rain per year it also goes long periods with little to no precipitation. We were there in the dry season and it looked like something I would find in my back yard in New England during the fall, with the addition of cacti. The trees are bare of leaves, the ground is dry and cracked and the only relief from the dry brown of the world are the occasional cacti. It is still stunningly beautiful though and hot like summer. I was convinced for half the trip that I had stepped into a world where the opposite seasons had conjoined and Winter and Summer had become one. It was quite a strange feeling.

I spent my first afternoon walking up and down the beach, careful to avoid stepping on large thorns from acacia trees that lined the beach. Seriously, nails would be more pleasant to have shoved into your feet, they at least lack the potential for being full of angry ants. I found tiny, beautiful shells, the delicate skeletons of sea urchins and very little trash, which made me really happy. On my way down to the other end of the beach, I was joined by our lone boy. We walked, bird watched and, much to my absolute delight, found evidence of large reptiles. We found a crocodile trail, which was concerning as we were both standing right by the water but I'm writing this with all my limbs so it didn't get me and that's all that matters. We found what I believe were turtle egg shells, really sad as it meant that poachers were digging them up and, my absolute favorite, turtle tracks and nests. There were no turtles, but we found two sets of tracks and two nests. I was thrilled and we rushed back to inform the others of our find. We also found a bunch of dead puffer fish and pulled one of the menacing looking spines off one so we could claim that we had found a giant dead shark head. They believed us for about five minutes too.

The next day was our snorkeling day. We visited a small fish farm first, it was interesting to see the set up and how the people running it were avoiding polluting the environment. Then we took a windy, bumpy, cold boat ride out to the little cove where we were going to be snorkeling. On our way we saw a sea turtle floating in the waves off our stern, swimming towards shore. The water was cold but I didn't care, there was too much to see to really allow me to concentrate on how I was shivering. We saw starfish in a myriad of colors, pitch black sea urchins, brightly colored fish and so very many nifty rocks. My favorite part was the speckled eel that swam slowly out from one crack in a rock and into another right underneath me. When I was one of the last people in the water and shivering so hard I could barely keep my snorkel in my mouth, I headed back to the boat to dry off in the sun. This turned out not to be my brightest idea as after lunch, which I spent walking up and down a scorchingly hot beach in the blinding sun, I got sun burned. I had put sunscreen on but it didn't seem to have mattered too much. I was not thrilled. That evening we went on a walk in the dry forest behind our camp site. We saw magpie jays, tiny owls, trogons, spider monkeys and lots of lion ants. It was lots of fun.

The next morning we packed up camp and headed out to Santa Rosa National Park where we would be spending almost all the rest of our trip. It is dry, hot and full of really cool insects, spiders, snakes, birds and other organisms. Our first night we went on a walk to a water hole in a dried up river bed. We didn't see any animals come to the hole but we did see cane toads, snapping turtles and giant water beetles. It was slick around the edge and I fell in, soaking my foot. On the walk there we saw a snake-worm thing that I really am not sure what it was, giant cockroaches, lots of little spiders and scorpions. Apparently scorpions will glow under violet light, it looks awesome. Our second day had us hiking around the park and looking at important historical sights. Santa Rosa was the sight of two vary famous battles and is a national monument as well as a national park. We looked at various seeds, different life zones and saw lots of beautiful birds. It was lovely, if a bit too hot for me. That night, the rarest night, we went on a very successful night hike. We saw tons of cockroaches and scorpions, psudoscorpions, a lizard asleep on a vine, three snakes (only one poisonous, a coral snake, the others were imitators...we think) and a tarantula. It was awesome.

The next day we headed out early, we had plans to see two renewable energy plants and needed to get there in time. We went first to a solar plant, it was nice but not nearly as interesting as the geothermal plant we visited next. The geothermal plant looked like something out of a science fiction movie or a little boys (or girls, I loved it) daydreams. It was full of tall buildings, brightly colored pipes, steam and flowing water. It was awesome and really well managed. The system is really environmentally friendly and a wonderful source of renewable energy.

After our two tours, we headed off to a hotel equipped with hot springs. They were hot, scorchingly hot and unaccountably hot. There was also a slide and a sauna. I had a good time, we all did and the facilities, rooms and food were excellent.

We stopped by a wind farm, full of slightly old turbines, and a source at the bottom of lake Arenal for a hydroelectric plant. Both were really interesting but we were wearing a bit thin by that point, having traveled so much the last week. We reached home that evening and were able to flop down and crash in our own beds that night. Even with the knowledge that we had Spanish class the next afternoon it still felt like a much needed break.