Despedida (farewell party)

kids *& party horizontalTonight we had our despedida or farewell party. All the families attended in one fashion or another and there were many kids playing around the ground of the school. It was potluck and there was plenty of food for all. Joe, Naty and Joey (in that order, gave thank you speeches on behalf of all of us. They were very well received. Pedasí has well earned its reputation as having very
friendly people. All are back in their homestays at this point. 4-happy-students-2Tomorrow, starting at 8 am, they have individual oral finals in Spanish, and we have synthesis questions and activities for them both in the morning asleepand afternoon. All seem well, and while many are thinking about getting home, most are also going to miss Pedasí and other places in Panama we’ve been. I’ve already heard some vow to return.

See  more despedida photos in the Photos ’15 section of the website.


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Entering final days in Pedasí

old man and chicken

-photo buy Joe Hille

naomi in dress for blogA

Naomi in traditional Pollera dress

We’re now in the final few days of the course.  The final day of classes was today, and they’ll have an oral final evaluation on Monday. Today, as every day, for classes,  their was a rotation of groups among three teachers, one focusing on grammar, and annother focused on making and/or talking about tangible reflections of the culture (e.g. traditional baskets for making maize, traditional hair ornaments as seen on Naomi, etc.). The final teacher guided each group  on a 10-day scavenger hunt concerning local culture. They would need to find things or gather information from locals.

Students have a rare (unique?) free day tomorrow.  In the late afternoon on Sunday, were having a farewell party with our host families.

Monday, morning, we’re back to work with oral  evaluation with their teachers and individual written  reflections and synthesis of science, environment, agriculture, culture, and social equity.


class at Buena Vida

Class at Buena Vida Language School

On Monday afternoon, we’ll divide into three groups to synthesize the above for each major site we visited—ITEC and its surroundings, Cerro Punta and Pedasí.  Each group will present and discuss their findings and possible recommendations with all.

See Photos ’15 for new photos of Pedasí. Also Joe Hille has new a album of his photos since we’ve been in Pedasí. It can be found under his name in Student Photos or by clicking Joe Hille III

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Back from Achotines

el faro ccliff and wavesHello World! This is Emma, Rayna and Naty and we’re here to give you the best blog post ever!

Tuesday afternoon, nine of us left Pedasí to stay at Achotines Research Facility, where tuna are studied in detail. Did you know that not much is known about tuna? Isn’t that crazy? Well, now we know, and now you know, too. We observed the feeding of the tuna in captivity, and learned about how the staff at Achotines works with the fish.

We also walked through the tropical dry forest surrounding their facilities. We saw howler monkeys, cacti, and, at nighttime, we took a walk to the Pacific Ocean. Did you know that we (all three of us!) have never seen the Pacific Ocean before this trip? Crazy, right?

ant acaciaWe saw a small tree species (Bull Horn Acacias) loaded with ants. The ants protect the tree from herbivores, and the Acacia houses the ants in the thorns. The Acacia provides food for the ants with little protein rich nobs at the end of new leaves, and provides nectar to the ants in nectaries at leaf bases. The ants also clear the ground around the trees, and that reduces competition for the tree! Crazy, right? We also discovered, that at night, if you look around with your headlamp on, spiders look like diamonds in the grass. I (Emma) was very excited to find my arachnid friends in the forest. Spiders are so cool, right?

4 brothersWe spent twenty-four hours at Achotines, and when we got back to Pedasí at exactly 1:42 the next day, we had classes beginning at 2:00. The other half of the group left for Achotines when we arrived back at school. This morning, while half of our friends were hangin’ out with the tuna and gettin’ fishy, we went Azuero Earth Project, an organization that works to better our natural world!

really cool fish larvaeWe helped cultivate the earth near the organization’s headquarters, and we learned about the process of creating mulch. Did you know that there is no Spanish word for “mulch”? Crazy, right? The entire experience was very enriching. We also got to have an amazing lunch after, with freshly picked basil and tomatoes, (courtesy of Emma and Naomi), and the rest of the meal was made with all natural ingredients. Crazy, right?

tree and achotines baySince we are coming home in less than a week, we want to say thanks for keeping up with us, and while we’re sad to leave, we’re totally excited to come home and get cell phone service! And see all of your beautiful faces, of course. The memory of a snowless world will keep us company during this cold winter.

This is Emma, Rayna, and Naty signing out.
xoxo, Gossip Girl


Achotines addendum: Both groups had a similar itinerary. First, there was a brief afternoon orientation to the field station (don’t scare the tuna, don’t let the dogs go on long walks with you, and enjoy the resources of the station site). We had free time in afternoon to avoid too much activity in the heat of early-mid afternoon At 5 pm we walked to, and then cliff-side along, the ocean to “el faro” (mini lighthouse). We discussed some some dry forest basics along the way. After dinner both groups went on a night hike through part of the forest and then to another ocean side site that has both beach and rocky shore. The light of the full moon caused us to pause both nights for a while as the surf pounded against the rocks. We got off to early (6:30 am) start the following day to be in the forest when as that’s when it is coolest and the animal life at it’s most active. After some discussion and journaling time, we returned in time for an 8:30 breakfast. Tuna feeding was at 10:30 am. The second group also got a tour of the lab facilities where we saw larval tuna, tuna eggs and rotifers that are reared to feed the larva tuna.

See Achotines photos at Photos 2015



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Settling in at Pedasí

Gazebo game 3-march-200215Today was a fairly low-key day. Spanish classes ran from 8 am to noon. After lunch and a siesta we meet in the Gazebo in the park at 3 pm and played a game, led by Sophie & Jacob, that essentially was a single elimination tournament for pretend arm-wrestling between individuals selected randomly. Winners were determined by vote (no actual arm wrestling involved). I lost in Gazebo game 3-march-200315the first round to Madeleine. The finals were between Olivia and Awa who were supposed to arm wrestle for real. I’m not sure whom the winner ended up being, but it didn’t matter. Batidos (milkshakes or smoothies) for all. Afterwards some sent to the beach and others got together and did other activities.

Gazebo game 3-march-200415

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Ísla Iguana

birds-and-boatsAs today was Sunday students spent the morning with their homestay families. We ate lunch together at the school, and then headed out to catch boats for Ísla Iguana. We had four boats for our group, and it took about 25 minutes. The island is delightful, and it is characterized by a large breeding population of Frigate Birds, ctenosuars (a smaller dark brown iguana relative), clear water, corals and hermit crabs in great abundance. We headed back at a little before 5 pm. Click on on Isla Iguana GPS tracks to see our route and  Photos ’15 tab to see some photos of our afternoon.

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Hello from Josh, Jacob, and Lena!

bright colors

We are sitting at La Pandería in Pedasí snacking on some pastries. It’s a short walk from all of our houses and the Buena Vida Language School, at which we attend classes (completely in Spanish) from 8-12 during the week. The town is painted with bright colors: bright red, bright orange, bright yellow, bright blue, bright teal, bright green, bright pink and dark maroon!

Yesterday we walked to the beach. It was a much longer journey than originally expected, but was worth the trek. The sand was dark and the water was warm. We played several water and beach games: water-related movie charades in the water, porpoise attack, synchronized swimming dance routine, beach rugby-football, and frisbee.

yoga-for-blogThis morning, we woke up very early in order to arrive at the beach by 6:45. We were there to help the local scout troop pick up litter. Before we began cleaning, a few of us participated in a morning yoga class on the beach during sunrise, while others from our group tossed a frisbee with the scouts. After the cleanup, we had a while to enjoy the ocean, then went to school for a couple hours of class. (Beach cleanup photos)

beach cleanup for web25Each weekday, we have three unique classes: culture class with Mitzy, grammar with Dania, and Pedasí dynamics with Loreto. Today in grammar class, we discussed our home stay families and played a game including nouns, verbs, articles, and prepositions. In culture class, we met a local professional motetes maker and he taught us how to weave these baskets. They are made from white wood and are used by men to carry maize.

We met our host families two nights ago. We all have families:

I (Lena) have three host-sibilings: Cristofer (7 years old), Katherine (10 years old), and Marbin (18 years old).  My host-mother is named Marilin and my host-father is named Rigoberto and works at a farm.  Each night, I play “la papa caliente” (hot potato) and “las sillas musicales” (musical chairs) with my younger host-siblings.  Yesterday, we played with plastic dinosaurs and Cristofer and Katherine explained the various injuries the dinosaurs had, including fractured toe, amputated arm, broken tail, etc.  My host parents are very kind but speak very fast!

I (Josh) live just two doors down the street from Lena. My host-brother is named Kevin J02j&Jseqn}and is 10 years old. My host mother is Felicita and my host father is Edwin. Edwin is a construction worker and is currently working on a project on the beach. Felicita is a cook and we live in her restaurant. The whole front patio has about ten dining tables, and during meals that is where we eat. The first night she offered me fish and I gladly accepted. Little did I know that she would be serving me a full fish. Eyes included. Nevertheless, it was delicious. Last night Kevin and I watched Jurassic Park with spanish subtitles.

I (Jacob) have two parents and one brother in Panama. My host father works at a gas J01j&Jseqn}station across town, and my mother is an assistant, but I don’t know for whom. My brother is 14 and is on vacation until Monday. My first night went like this: “this is your room”, “what should I do”, “watch TV”, “here is a bean”, “should I peel more”, “If you want”. I peeled the beans. Seriously though, my parents are cool. I brought Josh and Lena home for a quick visit and my mom hugged and kissed them. I shower daily and am keeping my hygiene on point.

Overall, we have all been having a really good experience here in Pedasí and look forward to the last 10 days in Panama!

Que Cool,

Lena, Jacob, and Josh

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Links to photos & student work

• Link to course Cerro Punta photos
• Link to new set of Joe Hille course photos: Joe Hille 2 and Cerro Punta Fútbol
• Link to sequence of playing cards with Laura
• Link to Josh Glass video of ITEC projects: student projects at ITEC

Student post to follow later on our day

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Cerro Punta to Pedasí

Having spent the past two weeks at ITEC and the Cloud Forest in Cerro Punta, where most first-morningof our time was spent with each other as a group and removed from the outside world, living with our brand new host families has come as a welcome change as well as a great shock.

The Cloud Forest was refreshingly cool, brisk enough that we were all regularly wearing sweaters. Our cabins, high in the mountains, took quite a hike, or bumpy truck ride to reach, but were well worth the struggle. All of the cabins were remote and beautiful,

Cerro Punta

Cerro Punta

and each was unique in its attributes. While there, we did some journaling for science and Spanish. We also ventured on a few hikes in the cloud forest, and invented some adventurous new dishes for our unending appetites. On the first day we even saw five Quetzals; a beautiful bird that many visit Cerro Punta to see, though few are lucky enough to encounter.

Pedasi 102

Learning how to weave baskets traditionally used to harvest corn. This man is the only one left in town that makes them. (Pedasí)

Not to say that we have been in complete seclusion from the rest of the world! We spent some time in the town of Guadalupe, where we interviewed locals for our agriculture projects and explored the local stores and cafes. We also befriended the two granddaughters of our incredible cook, Señora Ramira, seven-year old Natali and ten-year old Laura.

At the end of our stay in Cerro Punta, we loaded up a (air conditioned!) bus and began our nine-hour ride to Pedasí. We left before nine in the morning and got here around six in the evening. Once we had reached Pedasí, we met our host families and walked, bags in hand, to our home for the next ten days. The extreme heat was a great shock compared to the cool cloud forest (The sweater I (Liver) bought will not be touched until we return to Boston).


Walking in Pedasí

It is hard for any of us to say much about our host families yet because it has only been one night, but no one has any horror stories beyond a bat, some geckos, and an early wake-up call from some mouthy roosters. Our first day at the Buena Vista Language School passed rapidly, and tomorrow, we reconvene at school at 6:30 in the morning to clean up a nearby beach with the local scout troop.

Until next time J,

Roshni, y Liver

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First meeting a member of their host family

• Photos of students first meeting a family member: Students & host family member
• Link to ITEC photos you might not have seen: Projects & Soropta Canal

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On the Road to Pedasí

We’re in the bus a little north of Chitré. We can a little bit of an internet connection using a smart phone as a “hotspot.” There is plenty of things to tell about Cerro Punta (but that will have what until later); we enjoyed our  stay there, and students are also excited, and probably a little nervous, about going to their homestays in Pedasí.

Before you hear from us again, check out Josh Glass’ video on ITEC projects. Click on the “Videos” tab on the upper right corner of the website and you’ll find it. When I reorganized the photos a bit (and more will be coming from Cerro Punta), and I realized that there was a album from ITEC that included our afternoon trip to the Soropta Canal and more that I had yet to make public. There’s some nice photos in it (and many are student photos) so I suggest that you check those out if you haven’t already. Click on Projects & Soropta Canal to see the photos.


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Cerro Punta – Getting into the community

It’s been a long rich day. We have to get up early tomorrow, so I’ll just show some parts of the day in photos.


Movie night

Jurassic Park

Interviews in town

Interviews in Town

Playing cards with Laura

Playing cards with Laura

Dean making loam

Dean making loam

Natalie & Kasey

Natalie & Kasey

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Subir, Subir, Subir

Group about to head out for the Millennial Trail

Group about to head out for the Millennial Trail

Greetings from the cabin 6 squad! We are all currently in Cerro Punta, about 7,000 feet above sea level. To get here we took a bus from Almirante, Bocas del Toro. En route, we popped a tire, and spent some time at a hydroelectric dam where we sampled some local cuisine: queso blanco and a paste made from tamarinds. They were all wrapped in banana leaves, and went great together. After we were back on the road for a while, we stopped at the Elfin forest (6,000 feet), whose winds made our hair fly backwards. When we arrived at the base of the mountain, we loaded into a massive tractor, which took us on an incredibly bumpy ride to the cabins near the top.

These cabins are awesome! They are solar powered, so if we conserve our energy use we have “lento” Wi-Fi and power throughout the day. We also have constant hot water, a major luxury after the 3-minute freezing military showers at ITEC. Brr! Outside every cabin is a hummingbird feeder. They are plentiful here, and are very beautiful; you can even see them mock-fight each other for access. At night, bats take the place of hummingbirds and sip the sugar-water we fill the feeders with. More night creatures to be spotted are kinkajous and cacomistles, which are monkey and lemur-like animals.

So far we have done a lot of hiking. The first day we hiked 2 different trails, each to different cascades. The forest is magnificent, and surprisingly cold: about 50 to 70 degrees. This is too cold for most insects, thank goodness. There are humungous trees, some dating to over 1,000 years old. Tarzan-worthy vines hang from them, as do other epiphytes, and there is so much life that it is hard to see very far in front of oneself on any of the trails. The day after (today) we hiked the “Millennial Trail,” the toughest one at Los Quetzales. It was 40 minutes of “subir, subir, subir” (in the words of our hilarious guide, Abel, which means “up, up, up”). He was not, for once, joking. The trail was slippery and challenging, but it was a ton of fun and very much worth it when we saw the view at the top: Cerro Punta, the small town, situated in a valley surrounded by mountains covered in farmland. We really can’t describe how amazing it is here, but we hope some of our pictures can do it justice.

Tomorrow we plan on doing group projects in town, and working with some local farms. Adios, y hasta luego!

( Cabin 6 (Dean, Cora, Molly, Joey, and Steve)

Note: there were some photos uploaded earlier. Click on Photos ’15 tab

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Living in the cloud forest

We’re all doing fine, but we are busy. We had two hikes today, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. We split the group in two each time. Abel, an animated and very knowledgeable, guide whom we’ve worked with 8 years was with one group, and Dr. Peter Lahanas was with the other. In the afternoon, we also had a field exercise in making observations, asking questions and developing ideas into studies.

Tomorrow, a majority of the group will go on a long 3 and ½ or 4 hour hike on the “Millennial Trail,” and we will likely get to an altitude of about 8,000 feet. (The upper two cabins we’re staying in are at about 7200 feet.) Those who don’t go on the hike will follow a substantial initiative of their own choosing. We will share all our experiences later in the day. Were staying in three separate cabins, one is a sort of base camp where we have lunch and dinner and the other two are a 15 minute walk up further into the cloud forest. Collectively, we saw 5 Quetzals today, four females and one male. It’s a spectacular bird that this area is famous for and it’s often hard to find. It’s also the namesake of the lodge that owns the cabins in which we are staying.

Sorry, no photos today or yesterday. We just don’t have the bandwidth to upload them. We’ll be staying in the cabins through Tuesday night. We will be doing some activities with the local farm community during the day on Tuesday and Wednesday. As the farms are around the small town of Guadalupe, I’ll try to find some time to get to a location where I can upload some photos. Students have been so involved with their surroundings, whether it be in the forest or the cabins, that I’ve been hard pressed to get new student blog entry. I expect, you’ll get one tomorrow.



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Final day at ITEC & travel day tomorrow

While some students were apprehensive (and excited) about being in rainforest field station with no a generator for electricity (for part of the day) and no hot water, I think all really enjoyed being there. And, as we said, at the parent meeting, its a good site to start. We’re all together, students and leaders get to know each other and its a good environment for the group to bond and form an identity. Despite the somewhat compressed time, I was very pleased with the student projects. They were doing final edits today on there reports  and I hope to share many of them at this website. There is another way you’ll get to chance to see the student projects, but I’ll leave that a mystery for now.

I’m in Panama City now, and away from the group as I’m putting my son Joey on a plane for Boston tomorrow, to go back to school. I’ll rejoin the group by dinner tomorrow by flying to David, the nearest airport to Cerro Punta, and getting transpiration up to where we’re staying.  The journey for the group tomorrow is very interesting in that, after a 45 minute boat ride, the group will get on a bus in steamy Almirante, and over the course of 2 hours, or so, climb steadily to the continental divide. They will transition from a steamy lowland rainforest regime to a much cooler climate at the height of the divide that is 3,ooo to 4,000 feet (estimate). At the other side of the divide, the area is in dry season, and as they descend to Pacific plain it will get hotter, dryer and very brown compare to area around  ITEC. In contrast to the Caribbean drainage, the land is dotted with with farms and ranches and most of the land is cleared. After shopping in David for food for breakfast an snacks, the group will get back in the bus and climb to the area of Cerro Punta and to one of the farthest towns in the area, Guadalupe. The town itself is over 6,000 feet, but we’ll be staying at an even higher altitude—between 6,500 to 7,000 feet. It can be quite cool there and it is often precipitating there, although often its a form of mist and not heavy rain. I’ll let the students describe there accommodations at a later point; they won’t be disappointed.

For program there, we start with orientation, comparative forest ecology, science and natural history. Dr. Peter Lahanas is with us for these first two days. There will also be time set aside for individual student initiatives. The last two full days will focus more on agriculture, land use, history and labor, but we will integrate all elements each day during our time at in the town of Guadalupe.

Internet has not been available at all in the past during our stay in the cabins. There may be a gap in ur updates. I’ll try to have more photos in future updates. Thank for your support.


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Project writeup and presentation

Joey, Olivia & Emma working on research paper

Joey, Olivia & Emma working on research paper

Today students made a strong push to finish the bulk of the data analysis and writeup. We had presentations at 4 pm. They are having a check for both science and language journals before we move on to the the next site of Cerro Punta. You’ll see some more on the projects   at a future point. Chessie First is leading a unit on agriculture, food system, sustainability & equity. It’s a thread that runs through the course and students are doing some small group work in the last 3 days at ITEC.

blog 2

Rosni & Cora looking at a map of Panama looking to find our route to Cerro Punta and later to Pedasí.

On Saturday, we’ll be moving on to the next site. We’ll be taking boats for a 45 minute ride to the mainland proof Almirante, where we’ll have a bus pick us up for a the 4.5 -5 hour drive to the tiny town of Guadalupe in the area known as Cerro Punta (“pointed mountain”). The group will be stopping in the small city of David (accent on the last syllable) to get groceries and supplies for stay in the cabins of Los Quetzales lodge.

I’ll be going to Panama City tomorrow to drop of my son Joey for plane to Boston Saturday morning. I’ll fly to David and meet the group by suppertime on Saturday. It’s been a great experience for Joey, I’m sorry to see him go, I’ll miss him. The group has been very welcoming of him, which I appreciate very much.




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Projects & perspiration

blog photo 1¡Hola padres y madres!

Sophie and Dean here, coming at you live from the ITEC palace. We haven’t seen any of the other blog posts yet, but assure you that this one will be the funniest.

Today we continued to work on our independent projects, which incited joy for some and panic for others. I (Sophie) just returned from my night walk to study my friends (the leaf-cutter ants). My partner (Joe Hille) and I are studying the effects of changing the options that the ants have when they are selecting which leaves to bring back to the colony. First, we give the ants the option to pick up a leaf collected from another ant trail. After that, we give them the option to pick up a leaf from their own path. This is important because ants are blind, and work almost completely by following scent trails along the path. After many hours of watching ants, we’ve proved that the ants are in fact quicker to pick up leaves from their own path. There are more ant facts I could list off, but I’ve decided to spare you. Not being much of a bug person, I wasn’t very excited to be doing this project, but I’ve learned that ants are in fact my friends.

Today in my (Dean’s) corner of the world, Cora, Roshni and I were busy working out in the reef with a small starfish known as the brittle star. We were trying to determine if the color of the sponge that the brittle stars live on correlates with the color of the stars themselves. From the data we collected we found that there was no correlation between the color of the sponge and the color of the brittle stars. We had gone into the study believing the opposite of what we found out in the reef, a prime example of science in action (woah).

blog photo 2In other news, there was a group workout that was utterly laughable. Dean took part and Sophie watched and laughed. After hyping up this workout for several days, Naomi gathered the group in the 90-degree heat of the day and commenced the workout. She was very proud of it. They were outside for 20 minutes tops before throwing in the towel. All that the workout achieved was causing lots of perspiration, not necessarily any physical improvement.

That’s all for now from down in the land of Panama. See ya’ll next week for the next installment of Dean and Sophie on air!

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Biology, Beaches and Bananas

Feb. 17, 2015
Day 7 in Panama
Day 5 in ITEC

Madeleine Killough frofToday was the hottest day so far, well into the 90s with no rain (finally). In the morning we went our separate ways and worked on our projects. Some of us went to the reef while others stayed closer to ITEC and ventured into the rainforest or worked in the lab. Before lunch, we had an intense game of Crazy Gin. Afterwards, we had some chill time. People took advantage of the weather and went outside to tan and play Frisbee.

We regrouped after relaxing to go to the Soropta Canal. Sadly, this entire area may soon be taken over by large companies hoping to profit from building a luxurious resort. Luckily, our guru Pete has a plan to save the land. He found a new morphotype of the poison dart frog and he aims to preserve the land as well as the frogs by taking the case to court.

Our favorite part of the day was when after going down the canal, we got off the boats and went to a secluded beach. The waves were very strong, and we had to be careful as we waded into the warm water. The sand was dark because it came from volcanic rock, and soropta beach for blogsome people went into the water and used the sand as an exfoliant.

After a delicious dinner, we talked about the evolution of Bocas del Toro and the banana industry. We discovered the truth about tourism, the environment and the banana industry. We explored the positives and negatives of tourism and its effects on the Panamanian culture and economy. We ended the day with a little bit of Bruno Mars funky funk.

Rayna & Konstantina






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List of Projects at ITEC

Today was a major workday for getting the projects started in earnest. There are a wide variety of projects, and they take advantage of several major ecosystems nearby. While there might be some slight adjustments, below is a very quick, simplified, summary of projects

Poison Dart Frogs:
Kasey, Madeleine & Naomi
• Location of perches of males and females

 Mangroves: Jacob & Lena
• Differential salt excretion by mangroves growing in different salinity environments

 Leafcutter Ants: Joe & Sophie
• Do ants show different leaf preferences on different trails?

 Tank Communities: Emma, Joey & Olivia
• What are the differences in communities of invertebrates living in pools of water in      bromeliads and 2 species of Heliconia

Sea Pearls: Molly & Rayna
• Distribution of Sea pearls in fore, mid and back reefs
• Within a zone is the distribution, clumped, random or evenly distributed?

Brittle Stars & Sponges: Cora, Dean & Roshni
• Is there a correlation between the colors of brittle stars and the colors of associated sponges

Feather Duster Worms: Konstantina & Naty
• Are there differences in defensive reactions in two species of feather duster worms?

Photography & Video: Josh
• Capturing events using time lapse, GoPro underwater, macro and documentary videography

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Sea Pearls, Poison Dart Frogs and more

Molly’s day: In the reefy morning, it was impossible to collect any data because the water was so murky. Lucky for us it cleared up in the afternoon, and all the reef project-doers were able to gather some data. There were also a few sunburns and a sea urchin attack (casual).

The clear water in the afternoon helped Rayna and me locate sea pearls on the sea floor. They are a large, single-celled organism, and just look like small, glass balls (try finding a big marble when you can’t even see the ground). We are searching along the reef for ‘groups’, or trying to find sea pearls that are near each other.

In order to determine whether or not the pearls are in groups, first we need to find one. Once we find one, we treat that as the center of the group. We examine the immediate area around the pearl (a square meter, to be exact), and if there are any other pearls in that space, it means that there is a group of sea pearls (!). So far, there have been 17 sightings of sea pearls.

Kasey’s day: This morning, we were to begin the first day of our data gathering. After some confusion, I settled into a group with Naomi and Madeleine, and we went to the rainforest to look for poison dart frogs. Equipped with our cell phones, a measuring instrument, water, bug spray and wellies, we began our expedition.

Our project is focused on the sex and size of the frogs in comparison to the location in which we found them. They are small, their backs are green with black spots, and their bellies are yellow. They are around 20mm long, and are great at avoiding humans. Pete, our resident herpetologist, had given us lots of background information and sparked our interest in the frogs.

Collecting data proved to be a big adventure. So far, we have chased and held 20 frogs long enough to measure them. It felt very strange to cup my hands around a frog and feel it still jumping around on my palms. The rainforest itself was shady but buggy. We spent about 4 hours total hiking and jumping after frogs. Along the way, we saw a snake, got a little lost, and trudged through a swamp. Tomorrow we will head out again in hopes of getting a larger sample of data. Wish us luck.

<3 Molly and Kasey

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CSW Cavemen

cave for webToday we went to a limestone cave on Isla Colón.  After a long walk to get there, decked out in our headlamps and trail gear, we were greeted by a narrow entrance into the rainforest, complete with a flooded trail to the cave.  The cave itself was made entirely of ancient coral, churned up by geological activity over the years.  Calcium carbonate dissolved by acidic rain creates stalagmites and stalactites, and carves the cave out of the coral.

cave for web group 1Getting into the cave was a very tight squeeze.  We crawled through natural tunnels on our hands and knees, while being hugged by the cave walls around us.  Right after crawling through the mud on the cave floor, we discovered that it wasn’t actually mud: it was entirely bat guano!  At the first chamber of the cave, we were introduced to a smattering of Orange Nectar Bats (Lonchophylla robusta).  As we entered the next chamber, our line of sight was literally clouded by flying bats.  They would often brush our shoulders as they flew by.  There were four kinds in total: the Orange Nectar Bats, Greater Sac-Winged Bats (Saccopteryx bilineata), Seba’s short-tailed Bats (Carollia perspicillata), and Vampire Bats (Desmodum rotundum).  We also saw cave crabs, a spiny rat, cave crickets, and a whip scorpion.  Even the most scared of our group were able to overcome their fears and appreciate the untampered natural beauty of the cave and its residents.

–Naomi and Joey :)

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Hoy nosotros…

steve uplaod to blog Itec day -2'15027Hoy nosotros… Just kidding. Although this is only our second day at the ITEC research station, we have already seen so much! After some shockingly cold showers and a delicious breakfast this morning, we split up into two groups to explore some of the different ecosystems in the area.

Our group ventured into the rainforest first, finding some huge spiders, poison dart frogs, and stick bugs among other insects. Pete (our guru), talked to us about the clay in the soil, age of the forest, and warned us about the leaves with foot-long spikes attached to them. We found some fruit that many locals use to dye their skin and clothes, and brought some back to try for ourselves. When we entered a clearing, we found a 50-foot root hanging from a tree. After testing it, we found we could swing from a nearby hill, ending the morning on a fun note.

josh uplaod to blog Itec day -2'15025

Photo by Josh

After lunch and a short siesta, our group boarded a 15-person boat with our snorkeling gear and headed for a small coral reef and mangrove forest nearby. The water was much warmer than we were used to, but the poisonous, spiky sea urchins (Diadema antillarum) kept us on our toes. Throughout the afternoon we saw starfish, puffer fish, and Featherduster worms, as well as many different types of coral. Yesterday’s rainstorm made the water a little murky, but the reef was still beautiful.

roshni uplaod to blog Itec day -2'15026

photo by Roshni

After both groups returned, we had a little down time where we debriefed our experiences, ate dinner and played cards. In the next few days, we will be starting our experiments in one of these ecosystems. We are super excited to explore more of the nature around us, even if it means braving the bugs and the 95% humidity. Stay tuned for more posts from the rainforest in the coming week!
– Madeleine and Joe H.

(There are new photos in Photo Albums)

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ITEC Day 1

ITEC-day-1011-palne--lighterWe were up before 4 am to catch a 6:30 air Panama flight to Bocas del Toro. It was raining somewhat when we got there. After spending a half hour in town the rain had abated somewhat and we took off for the other side of the island and you can see our route by clicking on “boat ride to ITEC“. The rain picked up a bit on our way to the station, and we were in various degrees of wetness by the time we got to Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation (ITEC). The station itself, is about a 200 yards walk from boat dock.

ITEC-day-1005-2nd-verAfter a change of clothes, an early lunch, orientation to the station and a siesta we were in
pretty good collective mood. A large group of students went for a short walk with Dr. Peter Lahanas, the director of ITEC. We got a great look at a three-toed sloth and had a little discourse on its life history, evolution it’s relationship to other forms of life.

Sloth-day-1-ITECPlease note that there are some photos of our day today in “Photos ’15” tab. We’ll be here long enough to settle into a rhythm, you will see more photos, including more student photos as well a  student blog entries. Tomorrow, the group is separating into two different activities. In the morning, one group, weather permitting (no not snow), will go snorkeling at the coral reef, and the other will walk in the rainforest with “Pete.” In the afternoon we plan on switching the groups. We will debrief and discuss what we discover.


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Casco Viejo & Panama Canal

We had a full day today. We went to visit the Miraflores Locks today and watched a couple of ships go from the Pacific Ocean, raising them 1/2 the way up to the 85 feet above sea level of Lake Gatún, the big freshwater lake in the middle of the canal. There is a museum there that explains the process moving ships through the canal as well as describing the history of the canal. In the afternoon we had a fun and well-thought scavenger hunt that was organized by Casco Antiguo Language School whom with we partnered. We split up into two groups for dinner. We’ll be leaving very early tomorrow on Air Panama for Bocas del Toro (mouths of the Bull). I’m having a little trouble with the photo gallery that I’m using for the site, so right now I’m just going to add a number of photos directly into the blog below. I’m hoping to get the photo gallery issue resolved soon, but we’ll have limited internet at ITEC, so it may be difficult. In any case enjoy Josh Glass’s photos below:

Josh Panama-day-2001 Josh Panama-day-2008 Josh Panama-day-2007 Josh Panama-day-2006 Josh Panama-day-2005 Josh Panama-day-2004 Josh Panama-day-2003 Josh Panama-day-2002









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First night in Panama

After settling into the Magnolia Inn we went out to eat at Purdue Pizza. too too much to right now. We’re all going to sleep soon to get ready for a full day tomorrow.

Purdue Pizza 1

Purdue Pizza 1


Purdue Pizza 2












Joe & Roshni

After eating our dinner dusk was falling the night was cooling off and we took a leisurely stroll back to our hotel.

At the main plaza of Casco Viejo

At the main plaza of Casco Viejo

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Were In Panama City

We arrived safely and have settled in somewhat to the Magnolia Inn. We’re going out to eat.  It’s 86º F.  We’ll have a another post later with some photos.

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Note on 2013 blogs

The 2013 blog is up to give flavor for the course. The last things to happen in the course appear closest to the top. If you want to follow the course front he beginning, you will need to first scroll down and then work your back up. Note, also, that, as the photo albums are using a new interface, the links to photo albums no longer work. There are photos of the the 2013 course under the “Photos” tab.

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Emberá Drua

Embera002 We visited an Emberá community in Chagres National Park. In total it took about 2 hours to get there by bus and boat. The boatman displayed considerable skill in getting us up the river. The weather was great all day and about about 80°. Embera001WE stopped first at the mouth of a small tributary, and we walked about 15 minutes along the creek to cascade where many swam. Cascade-near-Embra-Drua We then went about 20 minutes farther to the village. The villagers were very welcoming of us, and we heard of their history and some of their culture. The played music for us, and also danced. Many students got tattoos (they last about 7-10 days). After a very pleasant couple of hours we headed back down the river, and then back on the bus to our lodge in Gamboa. It was another full day. We are about to have supper, and, after a final wrap up we’ll get packed and ready for our 7:30 am flight back home: flight #960 form Panama City to Miami and flight #1828 from Miami to Boston, arriving in Boston at 6:45.Embera003

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All Together Now

Reunion in Gamboa

Reunion in Gamboa

This afternoon at about 4 pm both groups arrived at the Soberania Lodge in Gamboa within 10 minutes of each other. The Pedasí group traveled from La Enea (~ 5 hour bus ride with stops). The other group had a full day in the Canal area. First we went to Pipeline Road In Soberania National Park, then we boarded boats and saw wildlife along the islands and shoreline of Lake Gatún.

On Lake Gatún

On Lake Gatún

After a nice picnic lunch on an island in lake Gatún, we went to the Miraflores Locks and we watched a large ship go through. We’ll update with a little more later. You can follow our track today by clicking on Lake Gatún & Miraflores Locks. The point farthest north is Pipeline Road. The uppermost left tracks are on Lake Gatún. The Miraflores Locks are near the lower right portion of the tracks. Chessie did a group errand and the lowest right tracks reflect that errand.

Panama Canal

Panama Canal

Tomorrow we’ll all go together to a Emberá community (Emberá Drua). It is upstream on the Chagres River in Chagres National Park. It will take about an hour to get to the point by bus, where we will then get into large dugout boats that will then travel about 45 minutes upstream to the community.




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We’re at Gamboa (at the junction of the Lake Gatún and the Rio Chagres)

We arrived safely in Gamboa. Things went smoothly in our boat ride from ITEC to Boca del Drago, then by a bus to the town of Bocas del Toro—and then we arrived at the airport. Our flight was delayed by 2 hours and 45 minutes. Air Panama flew two 5:15  flights to Panama City, but they had only one plane to do it. We were the 2nd flight and had to wait until that plane had gone and come back from Panama City.

While we’re all a bit tired, all is well. We will get up a little later tomorrow than we had originally planned. After a little birding while eating our 8:00 am breakfast in the open diningroom, we will take a short bus ride to Pipeline Road in Soberania Natinal. This is a world famous birding site and it is chance for us to see a tropical lowland moist forest. The moist forest has a slightly more pronounced dry season than than the  tropical wet moist forest (= lowland rainforest). We will some trees bare of leaves and some of these are full of blooms. After this we will take a boat ride out into Lake Gatun, which is a very large manmade lake that is part of the Panama Canal. The lake and the watershed that keeps it full  are integral to the functioning of the Canal and it’s locks system. We plan a picnic lunch on an island on lake Gatún, before heading back by boat to our bus, which will then take us to the Miraflores Locks and the Canal Museum. Another full day! We will see if we can keep the afternoon short, so we can arrive back the Soberania  Lodge to time with the arrival of the other group.

We’re excited to getting all back together again and we will post again tomorrow.



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Atenas group in Gamboa, Pedasí group bidding farewell to La Enea

We’ve just heard from Steve via telephone that their journey from ITEC to Gamboa went well, and the group is now safely tucked in at Soberanía Lodge. We’ll be joining them tomorrow to spend our last two nights in Panama all together! A post from Steve soon to come.

Our last day in La Enea began with a demonstration of traditional drum carving and playing. A few of us gave drumming a try and had fun making music together. Next, we had the privilege of watching one of three existing professional mask artists in Panama create a clay mold for a diablico mask. After the mold is fired, the surface of the mask is created using papier-mâché. It is then painted with vibrant colors and wooden teeth are inserted to complete the character.

Next, we had a picnic lunch under the shade of an enormous Bongo tree. We then visited a house that is about 125 years old. Afterward, the students had the opportunity to swim and hang out at the beautiful beach near Bonnie’s house. We finished the evening with a despedida party with our host families, complete with merengue music, barbecue, and heartfelt farewell speeches.

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La Enea

We arrived in La Enea, a small town on the Azuero Penninsula, to a lovely welcoming including a whole bunch a excited local children, our new host moms, and the mayor of La Enea, who is one of the homestay dads. Bonnie Birker, our homestay and activities coordinator, was a peace corps volunteer years ago in this small town and has now returned to live here. She has nurtured deep connections with the community which help ease the transition for us and allow very unique opportunities to learn about the richess of the cultural traditions of this region.

DSCN0304Students went off to have dinner with their families and then we gathered again to see a demonstration of traditional dances in Guararé. What a treat! A couple of us were even brave enough to learn some of the steps.

This morning the little school bus, driven by Liam’s host mom, picked up each of us from our families. After feeling quite sad about leaving their homestays in Pedasí, the group has felt welcomed in by our new hosts. The bus ride was filled with happy chatter about the new families, including stories of drawing with young host siblings, chatting with new teen sisters, and meeting the iguanas and parrots in the backyard.

We began the day with a tour of Guararé, the neighboring larger town. We walked by the local elementary school, spent time learning about the local library and their efforts to ensure that students in the area have access to books and internet, and saw examples and photos of the traditional polleras – the dresses worn by the “reinas” at the yearly festival. Then we saw a trapiche, the traditional method of drawing out the sweet juices of sugar cane. Lunch was at the home of Rosy, who served us a delicious meal of roasted chicken and fresh herbs, banana cooked to perfection with a hint a vanilla, and rice with fresh, finely chopped vegetables. Our time at Rosy’s included naptime – kids piled on couches and mattresses and any surface they could to catch a very needed siesta (seems like all the moving around is catching up with us.) Afterwards, we were fortified with super sweet and delicious traditional candy that some of us helped prepare called “cocada” – grated coconut with sugar cane honey and condensed milk that is cooked for over an hour and frangranced with vanilla, lemon peel and star anise.

After dessert, we headed to see the final steps of the process of boiling the sugar cane juice into miel  back at the trapiche. They pour the juice into a huge metal bowl which has been built into a cob oven and boil it down for hours – very similar to making maple syrup.

Then it was time to try on the traditional polleras ourselves!

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Dangerous Waters (Ari – ITEC)

Today we worked mostly on our projects. These projects consist of hours of field research on  a science topic of our choice and a full lab report. A group of us also went snorkeling today at a reef we had never before visited. We floated over schools of yellow-blue fish, brain coral, and sea sponges. Of all the snorkeling trips we have been on thus far, we may have seen the greatest variety of species at this one. We encountered quite a few scary sea organisms, including baby barracudas swimming near the mangroves and a sting ray which swam right underneath Ari’s feet.  Plus, Nick spotted a lionfish, which he promptly tried to kill. For your information, lionfish are a poisonous and invasive species. Nick bravely went twenty feet under with a spear in his hand. He hit the fish with perfect aim, like a pro hunter and brought his kill with him all the way back to ITEC. There we proceeded to dissect the lionfish (okay, so only a few of us did that). Now we are at a restaurant celebrating Sarah’s birthday, which she says was “lovely,” especially after the cake.

Ari Radcliffe-Greene

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Beachfront Birthday

Sarah's Birthday at Yarisnori

Sarah’s Birthday at Yarisnori


Lydia & Jenn & high impact beach near Soropta Canal

We’re all at Yarisnori restaurant to celebrate Sarah’s birthday. Our bare feet on the sand floor, the setting sun, the gentle ocean breezes, with the ocean 75 feet away are a stark contrast to what we are hearing about the weather back at home. The mood in the group is high. Having us all in one place has strengthened group bonds. While all have become accustomed to cold showers,, electricity for 6 hours a day, no Internet and tight quarters, they will be happy to get to a warm bed and warm showers and the familiarity of home.

Yesterday we took a boat ride up the Soropta Canal— a vestige from an earlier era in banana transportation. There was much wildlife to see and we took time to get out of the boat to visit the nearby high impact beach which is an important turtle nesting site. All the projects are preceding well. One of our last vestiges of civilization disappeared when the projector bulb burned out. No more movie night or powerpoint presentations. The students will complete their write-ups tomorrow and they will present on Sunday morning. We”ll be leaving for Panama City via Air Panama on Sunday afternoon. We may not be able to update you until Sunday evening. I’m running out of battery. I did upload some photos in the Photo Album section: ITEC March 8,  Ari Radcliffe’s photos under student albums, and some of Nick’s Photos.

Talking with Alicai and Enrique

Talking with Alicai and Enrique

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Pedasi group has arrived in La Enea

I talked with Amber and she told me that the group had spent the morning at Isla Iguana (a little piece of paradise) and that they had arrived in La Enea and that all students were in their new homestays. They will all get back together later this evening for a dance demonstration.  They will have a chance sometime soon to update you further.


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Pedasí Highlights

Our week in Pedasí is quickly coming to a close. We’ve been enjoying our stay in this warm, welcoming town, and have kept quite busy discovering all that Pedasí has to offer! Below are some highlights of our week so far.

Daily Spanish classes have been going well. In addition to cultural lessons and lots of conversation practice, classes have included mini-excursions to spots around town, giving the students added opportunities to practice their Spanish and get to know Pedasí.

On Saturday, we participated in a cleanup of one of the local beaches. Our students collaborated with a co-ed local troop of Scouts, along with other local volunteers, to collect trash and sort out recycled materials. After the cleanup, our students and the Scouts got some time to hang out on the beach and enjoy a cookout together.

With the Scouts

With the Scouts

The next day, we walked down to Playa el Toro together. We arrived at low tide, so students were able to explore the rocky coast, peek into tide pools, collect shells, and take a dip in the waves.

Yesterday, we visited the Azuero Earth Project, a local non-profit that started up in Pedasí three years ago. We learned about AEP’s efforts, then spent a few hours working in their organic vegetable garden alongside volunteers from Panama and abroad. Together, we emptied a large garden bed that was full of rocks and a fungus that had been killing the plants. We then mixed new soil and completely refilled the garden bed. We also deconstructed a compost structure and rebuilt it in a shadier spot. AEP tells us our work was a huge help – without our efforts, it would have taken one of their volunteers a week and a half to complete this amount of work. Afterward, we celebrated with loud music, watermelon, chocolate cake, and delicious Panamanian popsicles made of fresh guayabana and cashew fruit.

Everyone before getting to work at AEP

Everyone before getting to work at AEP

Working hard at AEP

Working hard at AEP

We had to cancel our trip to Isla Iguana due to strong winds and choppy waves (weather which is common here in February, but usually subsides by March.) The past couple days have been calm and sunny, however, so we’re hoping to reschedule that adventure for Friday morning – we’d get to spend our last day of Spanish classes sitting in the gorgeous white sands of the isla, surrounded by palm trees, iguanas, and colorful crabs.

Students have enjoyed getting to know the town, playing basketball and soccer with local teens, and getting the life stories of visitors and expats from different countries. One day after class, students divided into teams to complete a scavenger hunt that had them talking to locals, investigating the history of the area, and taking fun pictures around town.

Learning about Pedasí's history at the library

Learning about Pedasí’s history at the library

Jasper receives a makeover in the town plaza - a team effort.

Jasper receives a makeover in the town plaza – a team effort.

We three profesoras have been staying with María Félix, an octogenarian born and raised in Pedasí, who lives around the corner from the school. The other day, she came home with two tiny parrot chicks. She is determined to raise them well: she painted a cage for them, feeds them by hand many times a day, and is excited to teach them how to talk once they are old enough.

Yesterday, our group ventured out to Achotines tuna lab, where we toured the grounds, saw huge yellowfin tuna swimming in tanks, and learned from expert tuna biologists. Afterward, we enjoyed a dip in the ocean at the pristine Playa Venao before embarking on a hike through an area of dry forest, guided by Jairo from Azuero Earth Project, who brought along four local Pedasí High School students who volunteer with AEP. At the end of the long day, we gobbled up delicious paella and hamburgers at Eco Venao resort.

LIam makes at new friend at Playa Venao

LIam makes at new friend at Playa Venao

Tonight, we’ll be having our fiesta de despedida with our Spanish teachers and host families. Rumor has it even the Mayor of Pedasí will be in attendance, as his girlfriend has generously offered to host our party in her home!

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Backyard Orchestra (Patrick – Pedasí)

I’m sitting in the rocking chair out back as I write. I spend a good deal of my time here. There’s a small table for eating breakfast and dinner and a small buzzing fluorescent to read by in the evening.

There’s something peaceful about dirt floors. Rocks, straw and old ceramic tiles gather and crack and slowly start to blend into soil.

There’s also something strangely peaceful about the racket of animals: cocks yodeling, dogs barking, cicadas, insects humming, and the chorus of peeping chicks that converges into a constant shimmer. The noises rise and fall throughout the day. For instance, right now everything’s died down except for the crickets and the month-old puppy murmuring about a dream asleep on my lap.

In the morning the chickens will be in full crescendo supplementing the perk from a rich cup of coffee just boiled up on the stove.

On my first evening, my father led me into the backyard and through the chicken wire fence. He snapped two fruits off a tree and handed me one. Then he pointed to the back corner where I suddenly noticed a small deer. He’d found it when it was the size of a notebook abandoned by its mother in the mountains of Chiriquí. He named it Bambi.

I’d never pet a deer before.

Bambi stares at me every meal. He’s learned to act like a dog licking the tops of the pups’ heads. The only animal that doesn’t make a sound.

2010-04-10 03.36.01

— Patrick Miller-Gamble

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ITEC projects and Student Photo Albums

Gray Vine Snake

Gray Vine Snake

Julia and Andre have some albums up for some of their photos during the course. Check them out buy clicking on the links above.

Student projects have begun. Lydia is working with Leaf-Cutter Ants and the defoliation of Pete’s Yucca bushes. Jason is working on how quickly and under what conditions termites rebuild their tunnel trails. Alex, Jenn and Julia are working with Poison Dart frogs and their homing ability. Andre is working with Golden Orb Spider size and probability of them having missing limbs. Emma and Ethan are looking at web angle and body positions of these same spiders. Ari is looking at the rejuvenation time and variables in the Sleeping Grass or Sensitive Mimosa.

Female Golden Orb Spider

Female Golden Orb Spider

Tai is like at site fidelity in a brilliant blues stink bug. Meike and Sarah are doing interviews of people who live in the Boca del Drago area (which includes ITEC) about food and food systems.

I have a new phone #:
(The old phone met a salty finish.)


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The Halfway Point at ITEC



Over at ITEC, the Atenas group is halfway through their time at ITEC. Our time here has been marked by unseasonal daily downpours, making trips to investigate the reef difficult until today. Despite the weather, we’re enjoying our time. Yesterday students  began to delve into their independent research projects–focusing on topics from the angles of spider webs to interviews about local food systems in Bocas.We’re expecting rich presentations this coming Sunday! Through student’s investigations and with the guidance of Pete and Enrique from ITEC, we’re quickly coming to know the cave, reef, Group-at-ITECmangrove, and tropical wet forest ecosysems that surround us.  We look forward to to four more days of immersion in these environments–as well as a bit more sun!

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Culinary Homeschool (Jasper – Pedasí)

My host family has got this extensive garden where they grow all sorts of fruits and vegetables; bananas, coconuts, papayas, potatoes, and every morning they present me with a plate of fresh fruit for breakfast. My host mother is one of the best cooks I’ve ever met, and she has been teaching me how to prepare typical Panamanian dishes. The fried plantains are particularly delicious – they’re like French fries but sweeter, and with a little bit of the local hot sauce drizzled on them, they’re just fantastic.

— Jasper Sims

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Welcome to our new son! (Alex – Pedasí)

The homestays thus far have been unbelievable, but the contrast of
different people’s experiences with such is very notable. Since my
host parents do not have children, I knew from the start that my
experience would be different from the average. Upon my arrival, my
host parents took me outside and told me that today was their
anniversary (in a very serious manner.) I responded by saying
congratulations, but then they explained that it was not their
anniversary of marriage, rather the birthday of their new, first
child. Since then I think I have had slight PTSD, but my host parents
are unbelievably kind, considerate and generous.

Everyone’s Spanish has become exponentially better in the short time
we’ve been here, and it has been a great experience for all to say the

— Alex Brown-Whalen

2010-04-09 22.29.06

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ITEC — Into the Forest and the Sea

At Starfish Beach

At Starfish Beach

Our journey Saturday from Cerro Punta down the Pacific slope to David, back up the Pacific slope along a lower pass (~4,000’) down to the Atlantic slope to Almirante all went smoothly. At the actual continental divide we could see windswept elfin forest. The Pacific side of the divide has a significant dry season, and as consequence, it is easier land in which to settle. At lower and mid elevations land it is mostly cleared for pastures, agricultural land or houses. The land in the Atlantic drainage has considerably more intact forest. When we reached In Almirante we had to wait half an hour so for our water taxi to arrive and then we were then whisked away to for the half hour ride to the ITEC dock. After an hour or so, students were settled into their new quarter. Electricity is by generator only and it is on for an hour in the morning, and for the evening hours until about 11 pm. While this is rustic compared to what they have had to this point, overall, they seem to be adapting well. It certainly has the feel of remote tropical field station and there is some charm to that.

Click on “ITEC day 1” to see some photos. To follow the track we took Saturday to get to ITEC paste the following link into your browser:

Yesterday morning, led by Pete Lahanas, the director of ITEC, we hiked in the rainforest by the field station. We learned much about basic of rainforest structure, as well as about many specific creatures or plants. We saw poison dart frogs, leafcutter ants, big trees, a turtle, a non-venomous snake, lianas, etc. The students then came back and were asked to write in their journals, both reflections, as wells as observations and questions.  In the afternoon we went by boat to nearby Starfish Beach to get acclimated to our snorkeling gear. Because of a heavy rain and wind the first night were here the water was pretty murky and we didn’t get to the reef.

Today, most of the group went to “La Gruta,” a cave with creek running through it in the middle of the island. They saw whip scorpions 2 species of fruit eat bats, a species of nectar feeding bats and Vampire Bats.  They also took a walk with Pete Lahanas in the forest outside the cave. We are currently eating lunch at Yarisnori Restaurant, the nearest Internet spot. The wind and rain is dying down and we expect to get out to the reef this afternoon.  We will seek a sheltered spot, and while the water won’t be optimally clear, we expect to be able to see most of the reef life.

Soon, they will be asked to move from observations and question about either the forest or the reef (or some other sub-ecosystems) to set-up small studies to try to answer specific questions.

My phone got salt water damage this morning, and is not longer functional. I expect to get a new on e tomorrow. You can reach Nick at 011-507-6601-4954 and Chessie at 011-507-6834-9825.



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Our Pedasí hosts

This gallery contains 9 photos.

What a pleasure to be welcomed into the homes of our families here in Pedasí! Here are some first impressions: Jamie: After nervously awaiting the arrival of my homestay family, they welcomed me with open arms. I’ve been able to … Continue reading

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Arrived in ITEC! (Atenas group)

The “Atenas” group has made it to ITEC! They took a bus from the Cerro Punta highlands to the port town of Almirante. From there they boarded boat taxis which took them to Isla Colón in the archipelago of Bocas del Toro. After traveling through a tunnel of mangroves, they arrived at the dock near the field station. I just spoke with Steve as they were unloading luggage and pushing it up the hill in wheelbarrows to their bunk bed home for the next 8 nights!

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Some photos from ITEC (Pedasi group)

Click the ITEC Grupo 1 for a few earlier photos from the Pedasi track.

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This our last night. All reported that the mini homestays went very well. In the afternoon,

Cabin 9

Cabin 9

both farm practices and issues surrounding hydroelectric projects were discussed with Ana, Luis and others. After that students had free time: some rode some horses, some walked up to Finca Dracula (the orchid place), and some walked about town or relaxed. I finally have had a chance to upload some photos. See them by clicking Cerro Punta Photos.  Also see Tai and Andre’s video blog entry.

I took the afternoon time the time to go settle our bills, and, with the help of Ramira who was our cook while we were up in the cabins, I bought 8 days of produce for about 20 people. It was about $50 total. This will give us higher quality produce at a much lower price than can be found on the lowland island where ITEC resides.  Virtually all the food on the island is brought in from the mainland. By buying produce here, in the city of David and in Bocas del Toro we are able to compare prices and quality and it will help us in tracking the produce from their growth in Cerro Punta (part of an area where almost all produce in Panama is grown) to the different endpoints. What is the cost in transport? Who gets the money? This all part of a larger view we are taking of agriculture, economics and social justice.

This could be a carnival ride

Could be a carnvall ride

We are on to ITEC tomorrow. Leaving 8:15 or so, we will travel by bus to the port of Almirante where will take a couple of boats for the ~40-minute ride to ITEC. You can see our land route by going to Google maps and putting in Guadalupe (or Cerro Punta), Panama as a starting point and Almirante, Panama as the end point. The very circuitous route reflects the rugged terrain and the almost total lack of development on the Atlantic slope.

Alas, the ITEC field station has no internet. (The phones will work.) We can have very slow internet if we coordinate an 8-minute walk and a 15 minute boat ride. To get better internet, we have to travel to the main town of Bocas del Toro, which is more of an ordeal. Having such limited internet has been almost painful for me, as I like to upload photos and keep you all abreast of what we are doing. We’ll do the best we can as fae as keeping you updated.



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Viajando a Azuero

Last night, the Pedasí group spent their first night with their homestay families!

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This morning the patio of Buena Vida Language School filled with lively voices of students excitedly sharing about their first moments with the families, delicious meals, basketball near the park, and a good night’s sleep. Yesterday, after spending a night in the dorms of Los Quetzales we piled back into the “Comanche” bus with our driver Elvis and his co-captain.

Elvis drove us down from the cool hills of the quiet agricultural valley of Guadalupe, through Cerro Punta, and then Volcán, past fields and farmstands of onions, potatoes, strawberries, lettuce, cabbage and carrots, and down to the warmer terrain where we turned onto the Pan-American Highway and began to see stands now filled with papaya, pineapple, watermelons and other hotter climate crops. 

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We stopped for lunch in Santiago and munched on candied tamarind. We continued our journey past sugarcane and rice fields, and then corn and cattle pastures as we turned south into the Azuero peninsula. The bus weaved through the vibrant markets and small tiendas in Las Tablas, and at last we arrived in Pedasí. We happily unloaded from the bus, said our thanks to our trusty bus driver, and filled the patio of the school with our luggage. Ingrid, who runs Buena Vida Language School, gave us a brief orientation, and helped everyone locate their homestay and other key landmarks on their copy of a Pedasí town map. 

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Soon the families began to arrive to pick up their new “hijos” or “hijas” for the next seven nights!


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Los Leones, Los Tigres, y LOS PERROS, ¡Caramba! (Atenas – Jenn Baatz)

Si tiene alergia a los perros, no venga a Costa Rica. En Costa Rica hay muchos perros por todos lados. Me gustan los dos perritos en mi familia anfitriona, pero hay un otro perro y creo que él quiere matarme. Todos los perros aquí son adorables.

2010-04-02 02.50.08Costa Rica es perfecto para mí porque me gustan mucho los perros pequeños. Yo podría contar los perros grandes en un mano. Podría usar otra mano para contar los gatos en Costa Rica.

-Jenn Baatz

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Pura Vida (Atenas- Emma Rose)

While cooking pollo y verduras a friend of mine from csw turned to me and began a story with “mi mama.” Laughter of fluent Spanish speakers and even some csw students inflated the room, because while “mamá” means mom, “mama” means boob. Essentially my friend had started his story by saying “my boob…” after another friend explained this to him, one of our professors jumped in with an explanation of why the two words resembled each other and what connection they had culturally.

Students deciding to come to Costa Rica expected language immersion however the immersion is culture deep. Accompanied by Spanish class, our home stays and outside interactions guide us towards alignment with the culture of Atenas.
Our professors include traditional cooking, singing and dancing in our lessons plans. Understanding the culture parallels understanding the language; if someone asks us the dance and we not only understand but perfectly respond that we would love to but then only know how to fist pump, how fluent really are we?
The home stay and abroad program enriches our classroom education with cultural significance and slang phrases. We learned the idea of pura vida (pure life) used to say hello, goodbye, and when you can’t understand your host grandpa, and have begun to understand not only the language but the connections between the words.
I was excited for a language immersion program but have been pleasantly surprised to work towards fluency in all sects of Atenas life.2010-03-27 22.04.43

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The cloud forest and farms (Atenas)

Group before heading out to homestaysIt’s been a bit of a whirlwind with both groups intersecting, and there has been a rich, albeit brief exchange between the two groups. The Atenas group settled in for 2 days and stayed in  fantastic cabins in the forest. We did hikes both days, started to delve deeper into forest ecology and gave room for some personal time to reflect and write in their journal. After dinner the last two evenings of our stay in the cabins, we had discussions that weaved the history of Panama, economics, agriculture, conservations issues, and ecology. Cabin the forestThree Panamanians of different backgounds joined us and the discussion was rich dynamic. These discussions helped to provide a greater context for the agriculture piece they did today.

In the morning, after packing up and getting down from the cabins, they meet up with sister and brother Ana and Luis Sanchez who lead two locally-based NGO groups here in Guadalupe, AMIPILA (Amigos del Parque Internacional la Amistad) and FUNDICCEP (Fundacion para el desarrollo integral comunitario y conservacion de los ecosistemas de Panama). The millennium trailWe worked side by side with them and others in their experimental and demonstration fields.

After a hearty and healthy lunch consisting of freshly picked produce, prepared with much help form our students, we learned more about their organization and the challenges that farmers face in the region as well as the impact that farming has on the environment.Andre in the Fields

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At 4 pm most students set off for 1 night homestay. Those that remained went to Finca Dracula which is botanical garden and greenhouse area, largely dedicated to growing orchids. We will all meet again tomorrow at noon for further programming and, a little, free time.




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Pedasí group is in Pedasí

The Pedasí group left about 8:20 this morning and arrived with time to spare before entering their homestays. Last night they gave presentations of their independent initiatives and had a farewell dinner in a local restaurant. I’m sure you’ll get update from them directly in the near future.

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Farming and Feasting in Guadalupe

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  The group (Atenas track) that just arrived from Costa Rica continues to settle into the cloud forest and went on their first excursions through forest trails. Their evening ended with a lively discussion spurred by Abel, our fabulous guide … Continue reading

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Convergence in the cloud forest

Both groups are now tucked into the cabins in the cloud forest of Los Quetzales. The group from Atenas managed to wrest themselves out of bed by 5 am, and journey by bus along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and into the mountains of Panama. After some trying experiences with crossing the border (mostly due to power outage across the country), they were welcomed by the Pedasi group, and both groups gathered to celebrate Julia’s birthday. While the Atenas group settles in to their cabins and begins to explore the area, the Pedasi group begins their foray into sustainable agriculture with local families and environmental organizations.

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Paradise in the Cloud Forest – Jamie and Maddy

kinkajou at our cabin!

kinkajou at our cabin!

Upon arriving back at our cabins after dinner, we discovered there were some friendly visitors in our kitchen. We found a kinkajou stealing our bananas after a door was left open…we won’t be making that mistake again. We had fun feeding them fawning over how adorable they were.
After that we had cozy evening and enjoyed settling in. We were pleasantly surprised that we could step out of the showers and say “Wow, that was too hot!” (slightly different than the military showers back at ITEC).

This morning we awoke to a chilly cabin and quickly realized we didn’t pack enough pants. We then split into two groups for a morning hike (one went on a more challenging trail while the other took a more leisurely path and journaled). After an exhausting morning full of adventure, we enjoyed a delicious meal and were introduced to our individual projects. We were given the freedom to further explore observations or thing we found interesting in the forest. The projects currently range from observing hummingbirds to drawing fungi.

As day turns into night, we are now getting ready for another delicious meal and we are excited to meet up with the Costa Rica group tomorrow (even if only for a day).

Jamie and Maddy

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Crocodiles in Carara–Julia

Feb. 17

Sunday was the day we took our trip to the National Park of Carrara. Carrara is about an hour drive away from where we are staying in Atenas and on the way we stopped to refresh with some nice fruit juice and a bathroom break next to a beautiful bridge over a river. We walked across the bridge and looked down to discover the river was filled with crocodiles. Crocodiles (for our readers who are not familiar with them) look much like logs and because they can float in the water almost completely submersed and still, they seem to appear out of nowhere, more and more than you originally thought, and then even more. We began to make our way across the bridge, leaning against the wind that attempted to blow us into the water far below, when suddenly an especially strong gust blew past and suddenly we saw that Awa’s pink baseball cap had been swept off her head and had fallen into the water. As we stood there (personally terrified and shaking) suddenly out of nowhere a giant head appeared in the water and after a few seconds of investigation, a gigantic crocodile ate Awa’s hat in one terrifiyingly large and sudden gulp. I cannot speak for everyone, but I’m sure I was not alone in thinking if a baseball hat was eaten that fast a person, (presumably much tastier) wouldn’t last long if the wind happened to get stronger.

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Dear readers

Hello dear readers–apologies for the delays in entries! You might notice that we’ll be backtracking for a little while until we get caught up. Soon we’ll be off to Panama, where internet may be intermittent. Thanks for your patience! 

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Vamos a Bailar….–Meike

Every year Atenas hosts “La Fiesta Sabana Larga”– a three-day festival about fifteen minutes from the Center of Atenas. The fiesta holds dancing, food, souvenirs and most importantly bull fights and horse shows. People from all over Costa Rica come to Sabana Larga to participate.

After spending all day Sunday in “El Parque Nacional de Carara,”some of us had just enough energy left to go to the Fiesta that night.

Watching the bull ridings was absolutely terrifying. Locked in the ring, five guys attempted to taunt the bull by running as close to the bull as they could without being attacked. When the bull did chase after them they had to escape through tiny holes in the fence. Outside was a dance floor and a DJ. One of the reasons for going to the fiesta that night was to practice our salsa and merengue dancing which we learned in our dance class at school last week. After watching an empty dance floor for a while we decided it was time to start “el baile.” For sure, we thought, everyone will come join us if we start dancing. This was sadly very untrue, since while we jammed to “Gangamstyle” and Spanish pop music everyone else at the Fiesta seemed to silently judge us for making fools of ourselves. Although it was disappointing, we still had a blast.

We have now spent one week in Atenas! It has been absolutely phenomenal. We are all getting more comfortable conversing in Spanish. I think we will all be sad to leave our host families and Spanish teachers on Sunday but we’re excited to begin new adventures in Panama. Hasta luego!


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Up in the Cloud Forest

Arrival in the forest!

Arrival in the forest!

In Davíd, fresh out of ITEC

In Davíd, fresh out of ITEC

We made our way up into the forest and are safely nestled into our cabins. To our surprise, our cabins are equipped with both electricity and wifi, but we are determined to not let these distract us from being present in this beautiful environment.

We ate a delicious dinner together prepared by our wonderful cook, Señora Ramira, and are now resting up in preparation for hiking and exploring tomorrow.

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We’ve Arrived in Cerro Punta


From ITEC to Almirante

We left ITEC at about 8 this morning. We took two boats to the port of Almirante, and then boarded a bus for Cerro Punta. After following the coast for a while we cut over to cross over the continental divide. At about 3,000 feet in altitude we came to the divide and started the descent to the much drier Pacific side. We meet Amber in David (who came over to prepare some of the programming and homestays), In David  (accent on the 2nd syllable) we did some mad grocery shopping. We then ascended back up the continental divide along a different road to Cerro Punta. Cut and paste the following link to see a track of journey today (I started the GPS while we were out in the boats).

We are in the hotel right in the small town of Guadalupe, and shortly we will be ascended further to the remote Cabins owned by Los Quetzales. Our final altitude will be between 6,500 feet to 7,000 feet depending on the cabin. The 3 cabins we are staying in have no electricity or internet, but they do have hot showers and they are cozy, clean and comfortable. We will have a fire in a wood stove to keep us warm tonight—there’s a big difference in temperature between ITEC and here.

So… very soon we will be without internet, and further updates will have to wait. All is well.


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We have no Internet at the Field station. We learned of Karl Fisher’s passing in the morning, and after lunch we circled up and told the students of Kar’ls death. We had a long moment of silence interrupted only by the deep throaty calls of Oropendulas, the sharp clicks from male Yellow-Collared Manakins as well as the gentle breeze which created a quiet rustle through the nearby forest. We followed this by open time for any one one to share thoughts. It is a fitting place for reflection about Karl. I believe it is easier environment for us in this spot than it is for you all back at CSW. We continue to work and explore the forest and reef, but in the back of our mind we are thinking of Karl and his, and our, greater community.


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Jamie at Drago Beach

Jamie at Drago Beach

I will give you a very brief overview of student projects: Liam, Jasper and Alex are looking at the Golden Orb spider. Often, nearby the large females are much smaller males as well as


another small species of  “clepto”-parasitic spiders. They are looking to patterns in these relationships of the these spiders. Jamie and Caroline are investigating Feather-duster worms abundance in different parts of the reefs as well as trying to see if there are patterns in basic behavior. Patrick is working with Leafcutter ants. He is seeing if the minima caste ants are more common in riding and guarding leaves when ants are closer to the nest than when they are far from the nest. Hannah is examining poison dart frogs to see if males and females perch in different places. Gio and Eli assisted Hannah in web21004data collection and they are also looking at the prevalence of Lionfish in different areas we have snorkeled.. Liofish are an introduced invasive species. Maddy is studying the density of Mangrove Tree Oysters in areas of different salinity and shelter. There all working very hard to get their sample collection completed, data analyzed, and write-ups completed.  We have some downtime too.








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Hola Familias!

We’ve been having some busy days here at Itec. The weather has been great everyday, except today where it has been raining all day. It’s a nice refreshing rain though. Everyone has been working on their science projects for the past few days, and ending after tomorrow. Everyone has great projects and enjoyed exploring the island.

Surprisingly enough, everyone seems to enjoy the cabin-like Itec. We only have power from 6:30-7:30 am and 6:30-11 pm and we have to have military like showers. We’ve adjusted well but can’t wait for the cloud forest.

Hope you all are doing well and have fun in the snow!


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Festival de Colores –Awa

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Atenas…. Atenas…. Such a delightful and vibrant town…. It is hard to believe that tomorrow will mark our first week here. What a pleasant and incredible experience it has been so far. I bathe in the sweet and delicate scents … Continue reading

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Reaching out with love

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Today we are gathering again at our lovely Spanish school at Isabel’s House – such a grounding and welcoming place. The teachers are so warm and full of delight. This afternoon we have art and music classes. We will be … Continue reading

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A Yarisnori Ending

Maddy's Birthday at Yarisnori Restaurant

Maddy’s Birthday at Yarisnori Restaurant

This night was a truly amazing way to end a fantastic afternoon in downtown Bocas del Toro.  We are at Yarisnori Restaurant right behind the waves breaking over the coral reefs we snorkeled a few days ago.  The sound of the ocean is becoming engraved in my head.  We celebrated Maddy’s 16th birthday with a beautiful cake and had lots of fun singing to her! I had a lot of fun waking up and working on my Lion Fish project with Gio and Nick and loved soaking up as much sun as I could (yes with sunscreen mom).  It was great

Pete's reef

Pete’s reef

walking around town this afternoon and exploring the many little shops and restaurants Bocas has to offer while eating some small treats from local venders.  I can only imagine how cold it is in the Boston area and am sending lots of sunshine and love to everyone.  My heart goes out to the family and friends of Karl Fisher.  Buenas noches de Panamá.

–Eli Scribner-Moore

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Conquering Atenas, One Awkward Moment at a Time – Ethan

After spending a few days on this trip now and having settled in with my host family and living in a new culture, I have been struck by a realization: sending students on this study abroad trip is not to … Continue reading

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“Run first, ask questions later!”–Sarah

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Bienvenidos! This is Sarah writing after finishing our (very tiring, but very fun) 6th day in Atenas, Costa Rica. In general, homestays are all going well. We’ve all definitely had our fair share of awkward moments but are learning that … Continue reading

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Day 3 at ITEC (Pedasí)


Eli Journaling at ITEC

Eli Journaling at ITEC

We still have very limited internet, and uploading photos can be lengthy  Yesterday afternoon, after lunch, the students had Spanish with Izzy. After a short break went out into the area around the ITEC field station, including the forest, to some journaling. They were asked to observe, formulate questions, and reflect on their surroundings. After supper, we had some time for all i the group to reflect briefly on their day.

Alex and group snorkeling ot Pete's reef

Alex and group snorkeling ot Pete’s reef

Following that, Nick gave presentation on reef formation as well as selected geological and political history of  Panama.

There are two primary groups out this morning: one is taking a closer look at Pete’s reef, and another group went on walk to the caves that many visited yesterday. This afternoon we will be working with students to formulate projects.

CSW group, 2013, Agouti Cave

Group at Agouti Cave


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Days 1 and 2 at ITEC (Pedasi)

water taxi to ItecThe travel from Panama City went very smoothly (which is not always the case in Central America). The Air Panama flight left on time and arrived slightly early. We moved quickly from the airport in Bocas del Toro to waiting water taxis for about a 1/2 hour ride to the field station dock. We were settled in well before dark.

snorkeling 2For the morning of day (Day 1) we become accustomed to snorkeling in the calm waters and sandy beaches of Starfish Beach. We also saw large stands of soft coral. We then went by boat to “Pete’s Reef.” This is a hard coral patch and fringing reef area adjacent to mangroves and it is very close to the field station. We returned for lunch to the field station. After lunch we compiled a list of the reef creatures we


had seen and had a discussion of  some of them.  Soon after we did an orientation hike into the rainforest behind the station; then we had supper. Discussion after supper and then Spanish wiht Izzy! A pretty full day.


Day 2: The group split into 2 groups: One group went to another part of the island by

In the cave

boat and foot to cave. (The whole island is an uplifted reef and thus completed made of calcium carbonate rich rock.)

There were many things to see on the way, and all that went enjoyed the bats, crickets and whip scorpions, and as well as the rock formations.The other group went snorkeling off of Lime point. This is a higher impact reef, in that there is significantly more wave action than at Pete’s reef. Both groups meet for lunch at the beachside Yarisnori Restaurant, which was delightful. The students got a little R&R and swim time by the restaurant and have returned to field station to start on project ideas and to work with Izzy on Spanish. Yarisnori is our best internet option for now, and I will be getting into a boat soon to join them.

All seem happy and engaged. Thank you to Caroline for the previous blog entry. We”ll keep you updated as feasible


For somme Photos of this time click the following link:

Click on the link below to see where we have been this morning:

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Updates and Information!

Hola a padres y amigos,

We all finally have contact! If you want to contact teachers while in Panama, Steve’s number is 6437-5365; Izzy is at 6400.4368, and Nick is at 6601.4954. To make calls to Panama from the US, just add 011.507 to the beginning of any number.

In Costa Rica, you can get in touch Amber at 8891.1638, Chesapeake at 8432.4315, and Awa at 8432.4553.TO call from the US, add 011.506 before dialing the local number.  We’ll be getting new numbers when we get to Panama, but feel free to call us here for now!

Here in Costa Rica, we just received word from the folks in Panama that they have landed at ITEC safely (and well before sundown). However, it seems they won’t have internet access for the next couple of days as they get settled in.  If anything comes up, we’ll be in contact by phone and can post it here on the blog and email if need be.

In other news, we spend the afternoon exploring the local conventional coffee processing plant, El Beneficio Coopeatenas, and a coffee plant nursery. We’re looking forward to spending our weekend taking a hike to a national park, and participating in the La Fiesta de Sabana Larga-a local weekend-long festival that includes parades, dancing, food, and games.

Stay tuned for photos and comments!

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Around the Canal Zone

Hello parents and other folks stuck in the cold!

Looking at Monkeys on Lake Gatún

Looking at Monkeys on Lake Gatún

Hope your valentines day went well, ours did! We traveled by boat on the canal and saw it in action with oil tankers and other giant ships. We also saw animals in the forest, like these cute little monkeys and sloths. We ate lunch on this beautiful island and ate wonderful Panamanian food supplied by our tour guides. Then we went to the forest and observed leaf cutter ants and parrots. For dinner we ate good old pizza and ice cream and walked around the city. It’s so pretty here in the old part of the city. Izzy brought us hershey kisses for valentines day, which was very nice. This morning we had the morning off, so some of us went out for breakfast, and others like myself took the time to sleep in (my parents will not be surprised). We skyped the Costa Rica group and then we toured the city in our own groups. We just came back from lunch and will be heading to the canal locks and museum in a few minutes. Then we will be flying to Bocas. A 45 minute plane ride sounds nice compared to our 5 hour ones before!

Hope all is well back home and enjoy the snow predicted for the weekend (we sure don’t miss it)


P.S. (from Steve) Our internet will be limited inhte next few days. We’ll do the best we can.)


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Buenos días! (Atenas)

Our second full day is off to a great start.
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We began the morning with students in their Spanish classes saying hello via a Skype call to the group in Panama City! The group in Panama was getting ready to see the canal and then fly via PanamaAir this afternoon to Bocas del Toro and the new ITEC field station.

Here in Atenas the students are learning Spanish songs as they sit in the shade of a large tree in Isabel’s garden. Later we will go on our tour of a conventional coffee farm, Coopeatenas. Students seem to be getting more comfortable in their homestays. More soon…

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Lake Gatún and more

Hi all,

We had a good day, and we saw many monkeys, big ships and birds. The group is having a pizza dinner in the “Casco Antiguo”— the oldest section of Panama. I’l post some photos and more description but it may not be until late (10 or 11?). All seem to be doing well. I’ll also be posting more phone contact numbers.


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First day of Spanish Classes! (Atenas)

This morning we all converged at La Casa de Isabel — our Spanish School!
Here’s most of our group just after they arrived after their first night with their homestay families.

Seems like most got a good sleep last night and all are well fed! Enjoying the sounds, tastes and sights in “el mejor clima del mundo”!!

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We’re all settled in at the Magonlia Inn (Pedasi)

It’s been a long travel day, but all went fairly smoothly. We’re scheduled to have an early breakfast and then leave at 8:00 am for a tour of lake Gatún in the morning. Lake Gatún is the large manmade lake( 164 square miles)  that is integrated into the canal, and as it’s water’s are at higher level (85 feef above sea level) it powers the the raising and lowering of boats through the locks. Because of the huge watershed needed to protect a constant  water supply to the lake, there is a very large area of protected land and national parks around it. This is one of the reasons that this is a a great conservation and major destination for birders. After a picnic lunch we’ll see some of this lowland rainforest in this area along “Pipeline Road,” a well know birding destination. We’ll try to slow down a little in the evening to let students rest up a bit, and we should be able to post some photos. You can reach me on a cell phone by calling 011-507-6437-5365. We expect to get  more phones activated tomorrow. Students are welcome to use the phone to call home, and several of them have done so earlier tonight. The uploaded visuals tomorrow should be great!



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Were in Dallas-Fort Worth Airport (Pedasí track)

All is well. We’re waiting to board out flight to Panama City. It leaves at 3:30 pm CST. The time in Panama is the same as in Massachusetts. We are scheduled to arrive at 9:00. We will publish Panama cell phone numbers as soon as they get activated. I hope I will have 6437 5365 up by 10:00 pm. You call it by dialing 011-507- (the number).

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On to Miami…

Neotropics course 2013 is in transit! The Atenas group will soon be boarding our flight to Miami.
Looking forward to being in touch when we arrive in Atenas late afternoon.
Here is one of the phones will have during our time in Costa Rica: 011 506 88-91-16-38.
Will post more soon!LoganGroupA

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Were in the San José airport

Tres Cascades trail in Los Quetzales

Hi we’re in the San Jose airport. We through security and waiting at the gate. The flight is on time and we should be boarding in about 1/2 hour. See Itinerary below.
Lv San Jose, CR, USAir #1706, 3:35pm Ar Charlotte, NC 8:38pm (1 hr. time change)
Go through Customs in Charlotte
Lv Charlotte USAir #1538 10:10pm, Ar Boston March 10th 12:16am

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Expectations for students for Thursday and Friday

We do not expect students to go to school on Thursday. We encourage them to sleep in and to try to get some rest. Students may come in during the afternoon if they wish, but we ask that they be mindful that other students are in classes. We will reconvene A-block in Bio 1 on Friday, and we expect all to be there for the course of the day. There are a variety of course-end loose ends to tie up. We will plan, coordinated with the students, a productive but light and varied day. My cell phone (508-308-6900) will be active once we are in Charlotte.

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Last full day in Panama

2011 Off-campus group in Cerro Punta, Panama

All is well and we’ll be on our way home tomorrow. It’s been a long time since we’ve had any extended access to internet. When I glance through the topics of the long list of unread emails, I realize it’s been as much as luxury as liability to not have email access for our time at Boca del Drago and at Cerro Punta. Nevertheless, I was sad to not be able to give daily updates and photos to those interested.

It’s been a very rich experiance for all of us as students have interwoven investigative science, natural history, ecology, animal behavior, culture, climate change, land use, economics, Spanish language, and group living. We’ve been supported along the way by many persons. Dr. Peter Lahanas was with us every day at ITEC and he had many ongoing discussions with students. Carlos Fonseca, who lives in nearby Volcán joined us full time in Cerro Punta. While Carlos has great knowledge of the local flora and fauna, and he facilitated our visits with local farmers, he also plays the guitar and sings very well. He was spot on with his slightly over the top rendition of “El Guerrero” (The Warrior) dedicated to Juan at his half birthday party. Other guides, farmers, biologists have been very helpful as well.

It’s too much at this point to try and recap all we did. We can say that, overall,  the student projects at ITEC were the best we’ve ever seen. They pushed through statistics and full writeups. Students took advantage of opportunities to stretch and try new things. They were tired at times, but it was they that were doing the pushing, either to finish something well or try to squeeze in a new experience. There is much more that could be said about ITEC but time does not permit it now.

At Cerro Punta (Los Quetzales) we tried to relax the schedule a bit, and still students worked hard on individual initiatives such as mapping out puma tracks, photographing humming birds, writing, poetry, camouflage in the cloud forest, photographing up in the canopy with using a ground based rope system, writing a song, dress designs inspired by cloud forest flora, learning to cook, birding and bird lists, drawing epiphytes, photographing orchids, dance, and specific survival techniques for the cloud forest.

We also took daily hikes, visited local farms, examined land use practices, compared the forests that we have seen in Costa Rica and Panama, and discussed climate change. It’s been a busy but rewarding month. There will be more time later for some final comments about the course. It’s time to finish up some course loose ends and to pack for our long travel day.

Breakfast will be ready at 6 am. We hope to be off to David tomorrow for a  10:30 flight to San San Jose, Costa Rica. There we will have to clear customs and then recheck our bags for US Airways flight thorough Charlotte, NC to Boston. See “Itineraries” for details. As we are now digitally connected to the world, we should be able to give you some brief updates (probably through email). I expect to see some of you in Boston.

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The Cloud Forest

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a chance to blog, I have a very short time to do so now. I am pleased to see the the student entries, see and Read them to get more flavor of our stay with ITEC at Boca del Drago. Everyone is settled into four cabins set deep in the forest. We seperated into 3 groups and took orientation hikes in the forest. The food is great. We all eat in one cabin, where a cook, with some student help, cooks us locally grown food. At night we settle back into our cabins where woodstoves take the chill out of the air. Students are working together to make this last site a satisfying finish to the course. We are tieing many threads together here while leaving time for contemplation and individual initiatives. Thats all I have time for right now. I hope to give you nanother update in a day or two.

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Los Quetzales

We made it to Cerro Punta. As I type, half of the group is being transported up the mountainside to their cabins and the rest of us will soon follow. Our journey here went pretty smoothly, despite a little boat motor troubles and being caught in a bit of a rainstorm on the water. It’s time for my group to head on up and eat a delicious dinner of locally grown foods! We may be able to write again in a day or two. Hasta Luego!

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Last day in ITEC

Hello! Check out the new entries on the student blog.
Today is our last full day at ITEC. Tonight we have the group science project presentations. Tomorrow we leave around 7am to take the boats from Isla Colon to Almirante. From there we load our gear onto a bus and drive to David. We will buy breakfast food to bring up to the cabins and then head the rest of the way climbing up the winding roads in to the cloud forests of Los Quetzales in Cerro Punta.
Our cell phones should work there — though reception can be a little spotty. We will have limited access to internet.

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Contact numbers and Student blog

Here are our cell phone numbers if you need to call:

Dial: 011-507 and then…
Steve: 64295365
Juan: 69293353
Amber: 69293354

Check out some new student blog entries:
Student blog

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ITEC adventures

Hello again!
All is going well. I am in town for the part of the day with the several students who are conducting interviews for their project about the use of plant-based/home remedies and modern medicine. Yesterday morning it was raining hard, so we tucked into the cover of the ITEC lab and library to do background research for the science projects, further develop our experimental methods, and gather and prepare supplies.
We’ve been modifying the projects as needed due to the weather. The rain let up a bit in the afternoon so some of the coral reef based groups headed out to see if they could start to gather data. Jesse and Jeff dove in and took some underwater movies of different quadrants of coral, with an occasional moment of high wave action that rocks and sweeps the brave cameraman! These two along with Sarah, MJ, Niko, and Tilly who are eager to study sea urchin distribution, and took the boat with Enrique and Juan to another coral reef area “Pete’s reef” near a river outlet by the mangroves. The group made a valiant effort to run their transects and collect data, but the run-off from the river made the area too turbid and close encounters with the spiny urchins a little bit too close for comfort. So, today they will investigate looking into the movement patterns of another echinoderm, perhaps the cushion star or another species of sea urchin which hides in little nooks in the rocky intertidal areas.

The group studying leaf cutter ants, Kate, Peter and Briana found some great colony mounds to study and completed a little preliminary experiment. We are crossing our fingers that the rain will let up tonight so there will be enough ant activity to observe.
The gecko group, Alex, Will, Aundre and Amelia set up their sugar experiment after much pounding of nails to secure plastic cups full of different concentrations sugar on the station walls and they will continue to observe these four sites in the following evenings. Amelia and Steve are also jumping into wilds of micro-photography, creating some amazing pictures of pollen grains and discovering special nectaries on the Noni fruit that attract pollinators. (photos to come soon we hope!)

Despite the rain a brave group trekked out last night for two hour night hike along the coast and back into some primary forest, bringing back stories of red-eyed tree frogs and caymans among other cool night creatures. Another group of us stayed a bit more dry (the roof was leaking in some spots) inside the classroom and watched a documentary”Se quema el cielo” about protecting and managing fires in the Guanacaste Conservation Area. In the next couple of days we will continue with the group projects, visit nearby caves, and take a trip along the canal that runs all the way to the Changuinola River from the Serrapta Pennisula. You can see the canal cut if you zoom in on this google satellite map
Check out some new student blog entries:
Student blog

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Settling in to ITEC

We’ve arrived! In the last couple days we have been settling into the ITEC field station, and becoming oriented to the area by hiking through primary lowland rainforest, snorkeling in a cove with coral reef and mangrove, and we will soon begin developing the group science projects. Everyone is doing quite well and adjusting to the muggier climate, the bugs and the new bunk accommodations fully equipped with mosquito nets, stream water pipped into the showers, and a filtration system for our drinking water.

Travel to Bocas del Drago went fairly smoothly, just a bit of a delay at the Panamanian border. After a flurry of making another set of photocopies of our passports (first time we have been asked to leave these with the border office) and then another hour and a half of waiting for the woman who issues bus insurance to return from her lunch, we were very relieved to be out of the intense pounding sun by the border town surrounded by banana plantations. We continued on for another hour in the bus (after about the 6 hour ride to get to the border) and finally met up with Pete Lahanas, who directs ITEC, and loaded into the boats in Almirante to across over to Isla Colon. The water was choppy and with all the baggage so our crossing was quite slow (we even had to have another small boat come take some of the gear.) It’s great to see Pete, Enrique and Enrique Sr. again as they navigate the boats past the mangrove covered islands. We arrived just before dinner time at Bocas Del Drago, and were soon setting ourselves up in beach cabins bunk rooms.

The next day we had a wonderful orientation to the “forbidden forest” a bit of lowland primary forest where we walked beneath the canopies of trees that were about 5-6 students in circumference and passed by plants that are able to survive in the low light of the forest floor and evolved in the jurassic period with sharp silica in their leaves to ward off herbivory by dinosaurs. We also encountered many poison dart frogs, rain frogs, borrowing fish in a temporary stream, newly forming ant colonies, wasp nests, morpho butterflies, helicopter damselflies, and a vine snake that has a laterally compressed body shape which allows it to stretch across from tree to tree.
In the evening the students rotated through three science stations to deepen our understanding of the scientific process, like developing a null hypothesis, looking for correlations of statistical significance and testing out a population estimate equation.

Our access to email is very limited we must travel into town since in is not available at the station.
In case you need to reach us, you can call Pete: 011-507-6853-2134.
We are still in the process of getting the course cell phones set up and we will soon post those.

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La Despedida y Vamos a Panama

I (Steve) added some photos at the last minute: despedida

I am sitting on the porch of Isabel’s house after a delightful evening with our Spanish teachers and our families. We had a festive graduation ceremony to mark the completion of 32 hours of Spanish classes. The students gave wonderful presentations to demonstrate what they learned using poetry, theatre, and puppetry. Will and Sarah spoke eloquently on behalf of all the students to thank the families for opening up their homes and hearts.  Each student gave a hand written and decorated card and flowers to their families and to their teachers.  Isabel’s backyard came alive with the sounds of children’s laughter and live marimba music, the smells of huge pots of arroz con pollo and grass under running feet,  the colors of haikus  hanging on the clothes line and the whirling shirts of dancing people and swinging hammocks.

Tomorrow we will meet in the central park at 5:30am to load up the bus and head to Panama.  Our journey will take us through Braulio Carrillo National Park and then down along the coast through agricultural lands with many Banana and Palm oil plantations, on the way to the the border. It will get much greener as we near the coast. Most of this lowland rainforest.  We will arrive at Almirante around 3 or 4 in the afternoon where we will meet up with Pete Lahanas and take 45min boat ride to Isla Colon.

We have to go. we will do our best to keep you informed.

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Last day in Atenas

Click for Photos of UTN and more: UTN (Unversidad Tecnica Nacional)
This is our last day in Atenas. I’m going to the airport shortly to pick up Carra Cheslin. We’re excited to have Carra join us as a teaching intern and group leader. She’s made arrangements with her professors at Connecticut College, so that she can part of the course.

Juan and Amber are making many arrangements for our final day, including the “despidida.” or farewell and thank you party. Our visit to UTN went very well. The person who gave us a lecture on waste management and recycling was a homestay father of one of our students in 2009. He spoke slowly and clearly, and he good visuals. He was a good speaker and engager. After the lecture we toured UTN’s animal husbandry projects. We saw goats, sheep, cows, crocodiles, iguanas, composting, and biogas generation. It was great. Students will regroup for final classes, graduation, and then the despidida. It’s looking like our Internet capabilities will be very limited in Panama. Wireless Internet has not matured as promoted by companies in Panama. While there is an outside chance we might have some limited Internet. we likely will have to go into town (an hour away) to use the internet or upload photos. We are looking at various strategies for posting, but it will much more limited. Nonetheless, students will be able to call home. We will have cell phones that students can use with a prepaid phone card. I will post more about communication, including phone numbers on separate page that you can access on the website header.

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More than a trip

I can’t believe it is almost time for us to leave Atenas (and Costa Rica) and embark into our new adventure; Bocas del Toro, Panama. Before we leave, I would like to share some of my thoughts about our time here, in my hometown and home country. I have to say that this has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my professional career.  Although past courses, either in Costa Rica – Panama or Belize – Guatemala, were academically rich and intense, this one has been special. Perhaps it is because the students have worked hard every day (including weekends) or that they are extremely interested in the culture and all the learning experiences that they are exposed to every day. I really enjoy sharing my culture and language with all of them.

It has been an amazing experience for all of us here in Costa Rica. This is the ultimate “integrated studies” course any student at CSW can take. Today, the students completed a social science exercise in which they had to interview their host family about recycling in Atenas. Obviously, that interview was conducted in Spanish! What a treat. Tomorrow the students will have the opportunity to learn more about waste management in the country and particularly in Atenas when we visit the Universidad Tecnica Nacional (National Technical University). Salud!

I would love to write more about this amazing experience, but there is a lot more to be planned still. Panama here we (almost) go.

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Last Days in Atenas & Panama

We are nearing the end of our time in Atenas. Yesterday we had Spanish classes in the morning, and in the afternoon, three groups of students collected continued initiatives to find out more about recycling in Atenas. One group polished and translated a survey to be asked of the homestay mothers, another interviewed some key persons in town, and the final group made observations in the central park. In the evening most students headed to the MuliPlaza Mall, where we watched “Temple de Acero” (True Grit) or “127 horas.” Some stayed with Amber for the final day of the Fiestas. Alex played played soccer in the field by Sabana Larga. Our final day in Atenas is tomorrow. In the morning we will go the Universidad Tecnica Nacional. We will have a tour of some the animal husbandry projects and then a lecture on waste management.  In the afternoon, after our final classes, we will have a “graduation” from Isabel’s Language School followed by a small celebration with some of the host families. We will leave very early the next morning (~6 am) for our bus ride to Panama. We will enter Panama on the Caribbean side. More tomorrow on our Thursday travel day and anticipated communication possibilities at ITEC.

We are starting to prepare students for Panama. As in Santa Rosa, we will be in dorm rooms on very small “campus.” Having the group living together again will have it’s benefits and challenges, and we will be working with the students to make the transition. The site is striking. We are immediately adjacent to the ocean, and there are coral reefs immediately offshore. We are in a lowland rainforest area, and areas of forest are interspersed with settled areas.  This part of Panama is poorer than what the students have seen so far. Many people raise cattle, chickens, geese, and have fruit trees and small gardens. We are staying in Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation facilities. This is a pretty basic, old-fashioned, field station. There is no air conditioning or hot water. We will need mosquito nets at nights, and it may be hot and muggy for sleeping. Electricity is by generator. There are small sand flies in the area. While they are not disease vectors, nor is their bite very painful, cumulatively they can be irritating. We will take measures to reduce bites and discomfort for those sensitive.

We will have breakfast and lunches at ITEC and suppers at nearby Yarisnori’s Restaurant. Both Yarisnori and ITEC have excellent health standards. When we go into town (only 8 miles but about and hour away) have health standards are less consistent and we will be advising the students on how to stay healthy. Overall, In terms of health concerns, there have been few so far but we are bound to have some before the course ends. Juan, Amber and I have been to this site multiple times. In addition, Carra Cheslin, a student in our ’07 couse, will be with us.  We will do our best foresee and manage health and safety concerns.

We will be joined in Panama by Dr. Peter Lahanas. “Pete” is the director of ITEC. His specialty is herpetology and animal behavior. He has produced leading research on the variance of color morphs in Dendrobatus pumilo (a species of Poison Dart Frog) on different islands in the archipelago of Bocas del Toro. All-in-all it’s an exciting, varied and rich site. I point some of the challenges of the site so that you and the students are prepared. It should be an exciting and fulfilling adventure.

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Fiestas in Sabana Larga & Poas visit

On Saturday evening we went to the “Fiestas de Sabana Larga,” Click on Fiestas to see photos. This a four day event. There was abundant food, dancing, and mingling with locals. We went on the first day that they had rodeo events. The bull riding was similar to US rodeos, but there were aspects you would not find in a US rodeo. One of these is where locals collectively “dare” smaller bulls by running through the ring. Those putting themselves in most apparent danger get positive feedback from the crowd. Our students did not participate! All the students enjoyed one aspect of the Fiesta or another and many danced. Towards the end of the evening a number of students had a good time going into floating spheres. Click on Spheres to see more photos. On Saturday we went to Poas Volcano. This is in a national park. It was cool and misty when we arrived and too cloudy to see the crater. After a taking an excursion on a side trail, however, we returned and we could see the bottom of the caldera and it was impressive. The forests we have seen (Santa Rosa, Volcán Rincón de la Vieja, Rio Grande Watershed, and Poas) serve to remind students that forest ecosystems of the tropics are not all lowland rainforests. There are clear reasons why they are different and in Panama we will start to articulate in more detail the factors that influence ecosystem structure and species diversity. Click on Poas to see photos of our visit to the Volcano.

Volcán Poas, 2011 CSW offcampus course, Feb. 20

We arrived back in Atenas, and students had the rest of the day free. We have Spanish classes this morning, and we will try to wrap up the data gathering phase social science initiatives on recycling this afternoon. We plan to go the large mall “MultiPlaza” this evening to take a little break, and students can pick up sundries they need them.

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Free Day – San Jose, Carara Ntl. Park, and homestay families

First some photos. Click the images below to see more photos from a “nice afternoon” and  “Futball Cinco”.

Nice afternoon, February 18

Futball Cinco, February 17

Yesterday lunch through the afternoon was very relaxed and pleasant. As Juan said “we arrived promptly on US time, but left on Tico time.” I didn’t mention dancing lessons yesterday, adding to the frisbee, soccer, cooking, eating, pinata, relaxing, and birdwatching.

Today we went in various directions. I ended up going with Juan and seven students went to San José. We walked around the city a bit, made some purchases at the artisans market, and had a snack before heading on back to Atenas. Amber went with Will and Amelia to a full day of birding at Carara National Park, a little more than an hour away. Some students went to public swimming pools or soccer matches with their host families. Tonight we are all going to the “Fiestas de Sabana Larga.” Sabana Larga is outer neighborhood of Atenas and the hold an annual festival that includes a “Tope” (or parade which includes horses). There is bull riding and other rodeo events, dancing, food, and small amusement rides. Juan, Amber and I will be there to help them navigate this event. Students are settling into the rhythm of the town, and they all seem to be enjoying themselves.

Tomorrow we are off at 8:00 am to see Volcán Poas. Poas is a mildly active volcano, and, if it is clear, we will see a small hot lake at the bottom of the crater. The visit will shift us over a little into the science and natural history mode. The forest and ecosystem there will most resemble our last site of the course–Los Quetzales. The area is moist and frequently covered with clouds, and the forest is dwarfed somewhat from the altitude and higher winds. We have switched things around a bit in the itinerary as this was the only day we could arrange transport to the volcano. We should be back early in the afternoon.

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February 18 quick update

I am at an internet cafe and I don’t have a way to upload any photos. Yesterday after Spanish classes in the morning, we regathered at 3 pm to further develop the mini-social sciene project we began earlier in the week. We broke up into 4 groups and each discussed what we had learned and what we could or should do next to learn more. We came back together and had a larger discussion and move into thetopic of study design and methodology. Some things that came up were sample size, who is asking?, discrete categories vs more open ended questions, thesis, leading questions, etc. The students are developing some follow-up small scale studies.

In the evening we play soccer at “Futball Cinco.” Basically, this is indoor small field soccer in an open air but covered area. The majority of students played, and were joined by some homestay brothers and sisters. The atmosphere was light and we all had fun. I will be posted photos of this in the near future.

Today the 4 language classes, with their teachers, went to “La Feria de Agricoltura,” which is basically a farmers market. After buying fruits and vegetables, we took a public bus to a location about 3 miles out of town. This was thoroughly pleasant small country ranch. There was a small stream, big trees, wide expanses of grass and a covered cooking area. (Photos will be posted another time.) We cut fruits and vegetables, played frisbee and soccer, hung out, and some learned a little Costa Rican cooking. We also took some time from relaxing to continue to discuss the social science project regarding recycling in Atenas. We also made plans for tomorrow. Our altered schedule, calls for a free day tomorrow. Students can spend time as they wish, are encouraged to spend time with thier families or go with 3 faculty sponsored activities go San Jose with Juan,  to Carrara National Park with Amber, or go to Zoo Aves” Steve. The Cafe is closing. I have to go. Please excuse typos. Oh…. the group celebrated my birthday today pictures more to follow. Thnak you. I enjoyed spending time with teenagers and watching them whack the Pinata. (Some photos will follow)

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“En armonía con su salud y la Naturaleza”

Click for photos of San Isidro coffee farm: San Isidro coffee farm

See a video of our visit

En armonía con su salud y la Naturaleza”

Yesterday we had a special treat. As part of our focus on land use and agriculture, we visited an organic coffee farm about 15 minutes by bus from the center of Atenas. The title above is the motto printed on the coffee bean bags “In harmony with your health and with nature.” The Spanish school director, spoke with several host families last night who shared with her how the students returned afterwards with opened eyes and full of stories from the tour.

Raking the coffee for drying-Andre, Peter, Jesse, & Alex

This organic coffee farm is cared for by an association of eight families. I say “cared for” versus run or managed or owned because the approach the families use is one of tending to their own health and well-being along with the land.

About 16 years ago, this group of families made a conscious choice to separate from being part of a larger conventional coffee plantation and distinguish their coffee farm by using organic practices. While the yield of coffee is about 50% less, compared to conventional intensive practices, they balance this with being able to charge a bit more for the beans and receive the benefit of supporting their own communities’ health and long-term viability of their land.

Gabriel, our guide and an eloquent, humble and vibrantly enthusiastic farmer welcomed us to learn about how they have incorporated more and more permaculture practices through the years– designing their farm and home by modeling the relationships found in natural ecologies. Gabriel’s father one of the key people who started the farm, shared how he has noticed feeling significantly better after being quite ill when he was working on the conventional farm.

The majority of coffee growers become caught in a cycle of high inputs, adding synthetic fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides and a lot of water. Gabriel explained the perpetuating cycle something like this:

The desire make a fast profit, pushes farmers to have crops produce as much as possible. So a sun tolerant coffee plant is developed and farmers add fertilizer to increase the yield. This then encourages more growth of other weedy plants, which are seen as robbing water and nutrients from the coffee bushes. So herbicides are applied. Now, the insects, which were munching on some of the other nearby plants, must concentrate on the coffee plants, so pesticides are added. The ground around the plants is now barren. So when the tropical rains come, the water washes down the dry hillsides leaching out more nutrients and carrying with it these additives as well as soil into the rivers. So the farmers may need to add more irrigation and more fertilizer. And on top of this the exposure to the chemicals affects the daily health of people who work on the farms and rely on the water for living. Phew!

Gabriel shared how the key to permaculture farming is in the details. On the farm everything has a place and purpose. Over 100 different trees species, many of which produce edible crops like platano, banana, papaya, guayaba, poro, and vanilla help create a dappled shade over the coffee bushes. These crops are used to feed the families and the families work to manage the canopy to make sure just the right amount of light comes through for optimal coffee harvest. Gabriel and the other farmers worked with the topography of the land by digging little holding areas for the water with rocks and a type of plant called caño to allow the water to seep into the ground instead of running off the steep slopes. Leaves are allowed to fall from the plants and decompose naturally on the ground – this leaf cover creates a kind of mulch that maintains the moisture and keeps down the growth of too many weeds, although some smaller green plants are allowed to grow and their roots help maintain the soil. Dehydrated chicken waste fertilizer from a nearby farm is added at the base of the coffee bushes to bring in extra nutrients. All the coffee bean shells removed during processing are composted and then added back to the land. These are just some of the details we saw.

The way the coffee is processed is also unique. The family association purchased special machinery developed in Colombia which removes the coating and sticky pulp of the fresh coffee fruits using a less than 1% of the water used in a conventional processor. Check out the video to see it in action!

I am inspired by the depth of purpose that Gabriel, his father and the other families bring to their livelihood. The farm meets the highest international organic standards and beyond. Being an organic farmer in Costa Rica these days is not easy. The farmers must take on the financial risk and extra work of converting the farm to meet the organic standards and pay for the certification — the Costa Rican government does not support this financially. Despite the image of Costa Rica as supporting good environmental practices, in the last several years the numbers of organic farms has declined. The higher price that organic coffee gets on the market is not enough of an incentive. It takes farmers who see themselves participating in a bigger ecological picture and commitment to overall well-being. And as Gabriel encouraged, it takes consumers who care and actively choose to support people and food streams that encourage biodiversity and health along the whole web of interconnections.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and left with the delightful taste of freshly brewed coffee and cookies, several bags of organic beans to bring home and a new perspective. Thank you, Juan, for organizing such a great opportunity!

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Spanish & dance classes & local forest visit

Click her for photos of dance class and Rio Grande watershed: Dance/Watershed

Click for a short (2 min) dance clip: Dance class 2-15

Internet has been unavailable in the evenings, so we are largely confined to morning posts. Yesterday morning Spanish classes started at 8:00 am. At 11:oo there were dance classes and just plain dancing. After returning to their homestays for lunch, we regathered at the Park for a 10 minute ride outside of town to an area of mature forest along side a small river–the Rio Grande. Atenas has a significant dry season, but it is not as pronounced as Santa Rosa. As a higher altitude site, it is also cooler. After some significant discussion of the concept of watersheds, we set out on a trail, doing field natural history as we walked along. We then broke into smaller groups, and students we are asked to make journal entries containing their observations, impressions and questions. In each group we also did some site comparison between this sit and Santa Rosa.

We gathered back together as a large group and brought together ideas from each group into a larger discussion. Beyond site comparison, we also touched began a discussion of pollination ecology and seed dispersal. As this site was a small fragment of forest as compared we also talked about park design with respect to size, range of habitats within the park, and target species for protection. We’ll build on these topics as the course progresses.

Some of the things we experinced included tasting a forest  fruit–guapinol (not a big hit among all(see some photos) ), a Buteo sp. hawk, a fox, a huge leaf cutter ant colony, balsa wood with “fairy disk” seeds, and termite nests.

We returned at about 4:30.  Most students remained in the park for a while before returning to their homestay families for the evening. While there is some anticipated period of adjustment, the homestays are working out well. Some students report some problems sleeping because of the noise of barking dogs, roosters etc., but that seems to be getting better as well.

(Note: See posted photos of Jeff and his host sister with their birthday cake. )

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Day 2 in Atenas

Click to see photos of day 2 in Atenas

We arrived at Isabel’s Language School at 8:00 am. The group was divided into 4 classes. After some orientation in the school, students took a tour of the town and learned some of the most important places such as the central park, the large church on the plaza, the bank, central park. They returned and began their classes in earnest. At noon classes ended and students returned to their homestays for lunch. We regrouped in the central paza at 2:30 pm. We had a group checkin as to how things were going. We then broke into 4 groups that were assigned four tasks to do in all Spanish in one hour. They are summarized below:

1) Find the cheapest, as well as the best, internet Café.

2.) Find out where to buy phone cards that would serve in making international cards.

3.) Find and buy an exotic fruit unfamiliar to them and learn something from vendor about it.

4.) Each group was given a glass or plastic bottle. We requested that they ask 6 people (3 males, 3 females, 2 young, 2 middle aged, 2 older) about where they could recycle the bottle. They were instructed to ask followup questions.

We then got back together to discuss the results. We had interesting findings and questions about recycling, and we plan to follow up and develop a more sophisticated survey in the near future.

At about 5:30 we ended the activity and students returned to their homestays. Today we have dance classes at 11:00 am, and in the afternoon we will be visiting the Rio Grande watershed near Atenas.

Internet has been a bit a spotty for me. We’re busy during the day, I don’t have internet in my homestay, and the internet cafés in town close at 6:00 pm. We will do our best to keep you updated. We are working (I think succesfully) to make calling home easier and cheaper. More on this later. I have to go. We hope to post later today.Please excuse typos/grammar as many posts are done quickly with little editing.

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Homestay Entry

Brother & Sister 17 & 7 today (Feb 13)

Here are some photos of students meeting their homestay parents and entering into their homestays (Homestay Day1). We’re in classes now everyone is fine.

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Arrival in Atenas and Reflections on Santa Rosa

We’ve arrived in Atenas! Each student spent the first evening with his or her host family. It feels a little strange to be spread out now after 4 days dormitory bunk style living!

Meeting up with the families at the drop-off locations went smoothly thanks to the hard work of Juan and the Spanish School director, Isabel, who have been working tirelessly to match students with their homestays and prepare for classes. We waved goodbye to each student last night and this morning reunited for the first day of Spanish classes. The students arrived smiling broadly and brimming with stories.

We enjoyed our time in Santa Rosa. Fifteen years ago, when I was a student on the Tropical Ecology and Spanish course, we stayed in the same research station dorms. The nearby landscape has transformed considerably since then. I remember being able to look from the bunk rooms across the dry, mostly open area to the cafeteria. Now the view is blocked by the thick tangle of trees, shrubs and vines. Little winding pathways connect the buildings. This different view is part of the effect of a grand reforestation project to bring back the dry forests to Santa Rosa.

About 400 years ago, the pacific dry forest, which was once quite expansive and stretched down from Mexico, was almost completely converted into pastureland for cattle. The ranchers introduced a hearty grass from Africa that took well to the extreme conditions, producing a savanna-like landscape with the arching Guanacaste tree, one of the few trees left standing. However, about forty years ago, at the dawning of the conservation movement in Costa Rica, a track of land in Santa Rosa became the very first national park in the country.  Over the years, the government continued to buy more land creating a unique corridor of protected land. This “Area de Conservacion Guanacaste” now encompasses four distinct bioregions and stretches from out in the Pacific ocean marine area, across the regenerating flat dry forest, up the over the volcanic ridges and cloud forest and down to the mountain slopes of the Caribbean side. I find it quite exciting to be able to personally see the changes in the landscape from this dedication to conservation and reforestation.

The rainstorm that passed through while we were in Santa Rosa points to greater global patterns of environmental change. We are officially in the dry season here. So the rainfall comes as a surprise. A researcher from the national park who spoke with the group also mentioned new trends of multiple days without clouds in the cloud forest. These are telling events to the biologists who have studied this landscape, and to them quite worrisome, since it disrupts some key life cycles of plants and animals. Too much rain too soon may cause some animals like frogs, which we saw out on the trails, to lay eggs to soon, or for seeds to sprout before there is enough moisture to support their full growth. What will it be like in another fifteen years? What new plants and animal communities will begin to flourish again and which ones will need to shift to other areas, as the new growth of trees shade the grassland. The land here is a portrait of the changing trends of human values.

And to close, let’s thank the inventors of paired back wheels on a bus! While we had a bit of a scare when one of the tires blew, all worked out fine and we made it on time. The bus driver José, navigated us from one tire repair shop which was closed because it was a Sunday to another only a few kilometers further up the road. Luckily the shop owners here lived out in back and a young mechanic in flip-flops hammered and hoisted with an almost effortless quality until we had a replacement wheel.

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Our last afternoon & evening in Santa Rosa

Feb 12 (Click for photos)
At about about 5:00 pm we went loaded up our picnic supper and traveled to the top of a steep hill adjacent to “La Casona.” There is a monument at the top of this strategically important hill that commemorates those who died in the Battle of Santa Rosa. We ate supper as the sun set and the view and ambience were spectacular.  Juan remarked that it was like sitting on top one of the temples in Tikal in Guatemala that overlooks the expanding jungle, and I agreed. (We had been there with a 2005 CSW course.) After the sun had set, we returned to La Casona, before setting back to the field station for a long night hike, meandering through roads and back trails. We saw nightjars, many insects, scorpions, and frogs. The prize of the night was a beautiful boa. They are not dangerous but need to be treated with respect. We returned at about 8:00 and the students set in packing and just enjoying the last night at the station.

When we returned the internet had gone down! We were unable to email or post. In Atenas communication by phone and internet will be both better and more predictable. The students are doing well.  Some had to rest a little after our long day at Volcán Rincón de la Vieja, but all were positive about the coming day. This day was not so physically demanding, and the students were very productive. Almost everyone is a little nervous about heading into their homestay, and that is normal. Realize that we are on central time so the posts may be a little late for some of you. We’re looking forward to the next stage. More to come soon.

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Rain in the Dry Season

In the dry season any rain is welcome. It refreshes the whole ecosystem. Many of the plant and animals living in this area have to endure the tight bottleneck of very little rain for several months. Rain is plentiful the rest of the year. Today, it drizzled very lightly during the morning field exercises making the whole morning very comfortable to work in. After lunch and a lecture, at about 3:00, it started to rain steadily given the vegetation a real soaking. This kept the afternoon cool (in low 80’s). While the rain gives a welcome respite from the heat, we hope it doesn’t cut into our planned sunset picnic supper.

As for the day for our group… we had breakfast at 7:15 and students moved through 3 stations in hands on learning of some field equipment. Some of the equipment Students learned to use include sling pyschrometers (dew point and humidity), clinometers (for slopes and heights), and densiometers (canopy cover). They also explored different protocols for gathering samples of populations. After a brief break, we broke into 3 groups that all looked at the tight mutualistic co-evolutionary relationship between Bullhorn Acacias and Pseudomyrnex ants. See Will’s capstone blog for more details. In this exercise we moved from observations and questions to the  process and design of small experiments to try to answer a question or test a hypothesis. I was very pleased with the relaxed good energy, good insight, and effort.

We then had lunch and a brief break before having a lecture from one of the leaders of ACG (Area de Conservacion de Guanacaste). This is a large connected series of parks that connect large tracts of marine, dry forest, cloud forest and rainforest ecosystems. The protected area of dry forest is the largest in the New World. The lecture was in Spanish. The lecturer spoke slowly and clearly and he had good a current visuals. He moved to English only to reinforce more complicated points. He clearly outlined the growth of the park since its inception in 1966. The first piece had been a huge cattle ranch, and the site preserved initially because it’s historical importance as the site of a the battle of Santa Rosa.

I have to run off now. I know you really want to hear about your kids and see some visuals. I will have time tonight to post

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Update from Volcán Rincón de la Vieja

Hello this will be necessity a short entry.  We had a full day in our excursion to Volcán Rincón de la Vieja, and we didn’t return until 5:45 for an immediate supper. The generator at the station failed immediately at the end of a post supper orientation on the upcoming homestays in Atenas.

Briefly about the excursion today: The site offered a greener, more foliated forest, cooler and windier conditions, many strangler figs, a wild boar sighting (and smelling), toucanets, a climb up the middle of a strangler fig, fumaroles, boiling mudpots and more. The reason why the course offers athletic credit became obvious to all. While we came home tired, everyone stood up well. We’ve modified the schedule slightly tomorrow, to ease up a little before our trip to Atenas the next day. Nevertheless we will have some field exercises in the morning, and a lecture/discussion from a major researcher here in the late afternoon we will have a picnic supper at place in the with a spectacular sunset. This will be followed immediately by a much anticipated night hike lead by Johann, a Park employee whom the students enjoyed for our orientation walk on Thursday morning. This will supplant the initially planned trip to Playa (beach) Naranjo, but the logistics and current road conditions make this unfeasible.

There is plenty to say and show you, but it’s past time to turn out the lights and go to bed. More will follow tomorrow.


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