Costa Rica: Jan Term 2014

March 13, 2014  •  1 Comment

Disclaimer: This post is merely a taste of the wonder and variety of which the month of January consisted. There are endless inside jokes, random stories, and great moments that you'll have to ask me about in person.

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In case you were unaware, I spent the month of January in Costa Rica as part of a Whitworth class, Latin American Field Ecology. There were nine of us in the class taught (might I say, fearlessly led?) by Dr. Grant Casady. We spent the fall semester working in groups of three to prepare for January. Each group did research in order to propose and design a research project in that group's chosen location. Mike, Colby, and I picked Tárcoles, and ended up choosing bivalves (e.g. clams and mussels) as the subject of our research. 

We all trickled into Whitworth's Costa Rica Center (CRC) during the first few days of January. There was also a group of freshman there doing the same Biblical Theme of Shalom class that I did my freshman year, and a group of Health Science majors doing a cool program that included full-time home-stays, internships, and learning medical Spanish.

Week One: QERC

We left the CRC on Sunday, 05 January, and headed to the Quetzal Education Research Center in San Gerardo de Dota. This spot is not easy to get to, and our van was filled primarily with very distressed passengers, and Ingrid was riding shotgun making jokes with our driver about how worried everyone was. We stopped at a gas station on the way there, but didn't get gas, and then when we finally got to QERC, the driver was suddenly very concerned that he didn't have enough gas to get back. Apparently the company that contracted him didn't communicate very well with him, but we still don't understand why he didn't get gas at the gas station.

This is a research and education (woah!) site owned by Southern Nazarene University. They do their own research, host researchers like us, and have students from SNU (and evidently other Nazarene universities, like NNU!) come down for full semesters of classes, cultural experiences, and research. We were there to research the nesting habits of the Quetzal, which is an endangered bird that lives in the area, and is apparently fairly sneaky, as there is a debate about whether or not they migrate. The research was led by Andriana, Graham, and Ingrid and it involved a whole lot of hiking at more than 6,000 feet of elevation and not much Quetzal-seeing. Unfortunately the Quetzals weren't in the area, and Mike and Colby were the only ones from our group who got to see one. 

This was the week during which the card games began. Any moment of free time (or time that could be made free by procrastinating a bit) was considered time to play cards by most everyone. There was Cribbage, Spades, and even some War on particularly dismal nights.

I managed to stay away from the cards almost entirely, until I got roped into a game called...well I don't remember what it was called, and it was probably a made-up name anyways, because the game consisted primarily of Gentry (one of the Querquians) making up rules, or so it felt.

One night all the guys except Colby went on a night hike. A man hike. A MIKE. It wasn't terribly eventful, except for one poignant moment. We were close to midway along the hike, and Grant said we should turn off our lights and just listen. It is amazing to be surrounded by nature in that way--crickets, frogs, maybe a bird, stars, darkness, and...oh, footsteps. Moving quickly? Toward us? *Why isn't Grant saying anything? Can we turn on our lights? Man he is brave...!!!!!* FINALLY Grant says "Alright, I guess we'll keep going." The rest of us couldn't have turned our lights on faster. We didn't get eaten, but we were moderately distressed. We asked Grant if he had heard it. "Heard what?...I was just enjoying the silence." The moral of the story is that it's never a good idea to trust someone with less than impeccable hearing with your life in the dark.

The food this week was the best of the trip, thanks to the cook, Nancy, who just recently had a baby!

Friday was our last day at QERC, and my birthday, so Graham, Seth, and I decided to wake up way too early and head to the waterfalls one last time. This was also our way of giving the Quetzals one last shot at getting to see us. Unfortunately they didn't take the bait. We then headed back to the CRC to unpack, eat dinner (with amazing chocolate birthday cake with caramel frosting, prepared by Mario, the cook), and go to bed, since we had to leave at 5 a.m. on Saturday to go rafting.

Saturday. Oh, Saturday. Long story short, we drove for about 10 hours for 3 hours of rafting. Yes, that's like driving from Seattle to Spokane, rafting the Spokane River, and driving back, all in one day. Worth it? We voted yes. 


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Week Two: Tárcoles

Tárcoles, the week without boats. Tárcoles is a town of artisanal anglers that have formed a co-operative in order both to combat unsustainable practices within the community and to leverage the Costa Rican government to implement a Responsible Fishing Area within which commercial fishing techniques are prohibited. There is a lot more to it, and if you're interested, perhaps you'll read our paper, or at least the intro! 

We arrived in Tárcoles on Monday shortly after noon. The plan was to get a tour of the co-op, go to our home-stay houses for lunch, and then meet up at the co-op "headquarters" to hear from David and Jeanette, who are the husband and wife that coordinate most of what goes on within CoopeTárcoles. We dropped off our bags, and headed toward the beach where all of the boats and co-op buildings are. Since I had been to Tárcoles before, I had a general idea of what the tour would be like. I assumed we were going to the shed where they untangle and bait the hookswe kept walking. I assumed we were going to look at the boats—we kept walking. And then we were beckoned into two boats. "Wait, what? I guess we're going out in the boats!" And then for the next couple hours we put out the nets, did some hand line fishing, and went to a beach called Limoncito. We ate ceviche on the beach, and most of the group swam. It was somewhat frustrating, because most of us didn't have swimsuits, sunscreen, or cameras, since we weren't expecting to go out on the boats, but it was a great time, and actually helped establish the theme for the week: You don't know what you think you know.

Throughout the week, we never could figure out the boat situation. On the first day, we had boats unexpectedly, and then when we wished we had boats, we didn't.

We had a ton of fun during the week: we went on a crocodile tour, played frisbee in the ocean, sang karaoke at one of the local bars, and got stranded on a beach on the wrong side of a crocodile-inhabited river.

It was great to just walk on the beach at night, or hang out and watch the macaws fight in the almond trees.

Throughout the week I served as the secondary translator (Ingrid was first), so it was a good way to get my Spanish warmed up for Argentina! Although I definitely did some substantial paraphrasing: Guide talks for 2 minutes..."

He said these are the hooks."



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Week Three: Bijagual

Our last week of research was spent at the Bijagual Ecological Reserve over on the Caribbean side of the continental divide. This is a research station operated by an awesome man named Paul. We were there to do research on leafcutter ants that Alyssa, Sacha, and Seth had designed. We were looking at their leaf harvesting preferences to see if there was a significant difference in their habits between different forest types. Leafcutters are very cool, because they don't eat the leaves that they harvest. Instead, they take them into their nests in order to culture a fungus on which they feed.

This week was filled nature. Often of the more dangerous variety. On our first night in the dorm building, we Menfolk slew a fearsome beast of a wolf spider.  

Since the leafcutters are most active at night, we got to go out into the jungle in the dark with headlamps, flashlights, and not enough batteries. The biodiversity in this area is mindblowing. There are so many varieties of every type of animal, and they are all so unique. On our first night out, Alyssa, Andriana, Grant and I encountered a fer-de-lance, which is a very venomous pit viper. The one we saw was crossing the trail in the rain and was roughly 3 feet long.

This week, I finally gave in and learned how to play Spades. It is really fun! We should play sometime. In our downtime during the day, we played cards, drank coffee (or mochas. Mike made many mochas.), and worked on our field notebooks and journals. The rain was constant. Alright, not quite constant, but it was sure trying! It was usually raining, and every once in a while it RAINED. The amount of water falling on the tin roof of the comedor (or our heads, when we were out chasing ants) was truly impressive.


Speaking of dangerous animals. Poison dart frogs live in Costa Rica. It turns out that at least with most of them, you can touch them without issues. The problem comes when you ingest them, or have an open wound (hence the darts). On one of our last days, Graham's group found a fun little blue jeans frog while out collecting data. Graham held it and got a picture with it. Seth held it and got a picture with it.


They washed their hands in a nearby stream, and when Seth stood up, he didn't feel so hot. Unfortunately he had a cut on his hand, so the toxin from the frog ended up in his bloodstream and made him pretty sick. We ended up drugging him up on Benadryl, making him take a shower, and letting him space out on the couch for the rest of the day, and by the next day he felt pretty well. 

On our last day of research, Mike found a coral snake, and I got a terrible picture of it! We found a glasswing butterfly, too, which has always been an animal that I really wanted to see. I never thought I would actually see one in the wild, and I didn't even know they lived in Costa Rica, but I got to see it!

After we collected all the necessary data, we took a break and went down to the local waterfall. It was so fun to relax and explore with everyone, and on my own. I ended up staying behind to take some more pictures, and it was so worth it. I found some incredibly tiny frogs, and got to watch toucans fly over the river.










That night, I went into the bathroom (like an outhouse attached to the building), turned around to close the door, and was surprised to find a 2 to 3 foot long snake hanging out on the door frame. I called to Mike, informing him that we had a potential code 7 in the bathroom (after the spider incident, we had established a number ranking for dangerous situations, so that we could decide whether to run for the hills, or actually try to help). The snake ended up hiding between the inner and outer walls of the bathroom, which was very unnerving. After showing Paul pictures, and describing the snake, he informed us that it wasn't a fer-de-lance, but some kind of arboreal boa constrictor. That was a relief--at least it wouldn't kill us in our sleep.

For your own benefit, I have elected to not include any spider pictures here, but they exist, and they are in the gallery from this trip. As much as I dislike spiders, they are impressive animals. Especially the ones at Bijagual. They are huge, colorful, and fast workers.



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We returned to the CRC, unpacked, did laundry, and all that jazz, and we even got to go ziplining! The actual act of ziplining was great, but the "Canopy Tour" seemed a bit lackluster to all of us, since we had just come from a week of true jungle adventure. Most everyone left Costa Rica on the same day, but Graham, Seth, and I stayed a few extra days (they stayed even longer than I did). The main thing that we hadn't yet gotten to do in Costa Rica was to see the Caribbean. We talked to Lindy (the CRC director), the graduate assistants, and various others about the idea of heading east, and the general consensus was "you need more than a day" (we only had one full day free). So, being reasonable adults, we decided to do it! After much planning and scouring the internet for bus schedules, we created an itinerary. We rode on the bus that was taking the rest of the group to the airport, got off in Heredia, took the bus to San Jose, and at that point threw our "itinerary" out of the metaphorical window. Apparently the internet doesn't know much about Costa Rican buses. The important thing to note, however, is that we remained persistent, as we were bent on seeing that body of water. We ended up more or less ahead or behind schedule, in Jaco, and, eventually, in Puerto Viejo. We had done it! We were Whitworth Pirates in the Caribbean at last. We snorkeled, ate a disappointingly small lunch, and then headed back to San Jose. We almost got turned down by the bus driver because we were wet, but we did a quick-change into dry clothes, and he was content. On that bus ride I discovered that in Costa Rica it is completely permissible to drink alcohol as a passenger in a bus. Who knew?

The next day, we went on a hike up the road above the CRC, went to visit the capuchin monkeys that a lady has rescued and keeps in a large enclosure in the jungle (Feijao, one of the campus dogs, came with us, and ended up trying to attack the monkeys. Screaming capuchin is a terrifying sound, especially when the monkeys are above you and have their teeth bared.), and then went back to campus. Seth and Graham came along and slept in the minivan while Dinorah drove me to the airport, and they sent me off to Argentina!

Thanks for reading! Good talk. Let's do it again sometime.
Feel free to leave comments, just because, or if you've got a question.


What an adventure! Engaging. (I read it in one sitting).

I enjoyed your photos and comments.
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