We made it back to Atenas, and back to the now more familiar homestays and ¨tranquilo¨of this town after time in un ¨bosque lluvioso.¨ Our weekend trip marked our entry into the Science portion as we began to explore, observe and ask questions about the tropical ecosystem of the protected forest of La Reserva de San Ramon. To view some photos of time in La Reserva skip down to Steve´s entry.
We had quite an unique intro to the forest, and a true showing of the patience and care within the group over the weekend. Saturday we hiked through a steep trail and helped each other along the slippery climb. On Sunday morning, we worked together with the generous folk from the station, to bring Kaihla, who had tripped and cut her knee, back safely back across the river. Students helped with carrying her out along with the director and several station and volunteers.
Upon returning to the station, we organized the details to regroup with later, had a bite of lunch that was kindly prepared early for the group. Kaihla and I then traveled in a little 4×4 off-road ambulance driven by a team of the most hilarious EMT´s who kept us laughing along the way to the hospital in San Ramon for stitches. Students adjusted to the change in plans and returned to the field station and continued with their journal observations, making detailed drawings and trekking into the nearby part of the river for a soak. After lunch the group headed back down the muddy roads one truck load at a time, amusing themselves with with games and even some howler monkey sightings. The timing somehow worked out perfectly, just as the bus with the students showed up, Kaihla and I had completed the hospital visit. Back we headed to Atenas dropping students off at their homestays. Tomorrow we begin a more routine week of Spanish class in the morning and group activity in the afternoon. Tomorrow afternoon we are excited to welcome Sebastian, who will be flying in from the States to join up with our group.
To echo Steve´s sentiments, what a unique opportunity to be welcomed into the University of Costa Rica´s Reserva Biologica de San Ramon! This was an introduction to a tropical forest and the remote life of dedicated biologists, that is more ¨like the old days.¨ Many sites, which used to be remote research stations, have transformed a lot in the last 30 years with the tourist industry in Costa Rica, now offering manicured pathways and a more mediated connection with a forest. So being welcomed into a working research site as a high school group was a rare opportunity.
that´s some of the basic review from my point of view, (i hope we wil get some student entries soon to give another perspective!) and if you wish, read on for some more descriptive details of our time…
We left Atenas by bus and immediately began to experience the incredible shifting of micro-climates, zig zagged up and down the mountains, closing and opening the large bus windows to cool off or warm up. At one point the bus was engulfed in mist and we could barely see, and another point the view was clear and we could gaze far out across the rolling hills dotted with bare trees in full orange flowering blooms and fence posts sprouting green and yellow tufts of leaves. We met up with Juan Sanchez´s Cousin Sergio, a student of Natural Resource Management in San Ramon, and choose to buy more rubber boots after getting a better sense of what we are in for, and then continue on.
As we turned off the main road, the bus passes along the muddy carretera through the thick tunnel of trees with occasional openings for viveros (nurseries) that produce your ¨dentist´s office tropical greenery¨as some students comment. Then as the road gets muddier, we are met by the station director and pile in with our packs into two off-road camionetas (little trucks)…a luxury, the original researchers at this site, before the road, hiked in 5 hours. We held on tight to the truck wherever we could and bumped and slipped and slid until we arrived at the entrance with a sigh of relief.
After a nice warm lunch and settling in a bit to the dorm rooms we prepare for our first hike into the woods…it begins with a river crossing and we are armed with bamboo walking sticks to steady our way across the slippery rocks. We soon find out that staying dry may not be easy and water pours into our boots and beyond. The director Ronald gives us a briefing about what to watch out for, like snakes curled on the opposite side of a log as you step (luckily it is not snake season) and the multiple kinds of spiny trees, if you are about to fall, best to just let yourself fall than grab for the nearest tree and get a grip full of prickly spines. We dive up into two groups, one with a local biologist and and Juan´s cousin Sergio, and another with the director and off we go up and then down the steep single file looping trail, past bromeliads, heliconia, walking palms, tall ferns and epiphyte laden trees and the calls of hidden parrots.
In the evening set up a bat mist net and incandescent and black light to attract insects on a white sheet. We go back to check after dinner, and find one bat and the fair number of assorted large moths with various odd shapes, many mimicking the look of dried leaves or with bright white patches like eyes, and almost none of of them the same species. It is beginning to rain more, so there is less action then on more clear nights we are told. Same goes for the early morning bird mist net, we do end up capturing one small wren and take a stroll with the brave early morning risers to look for birds. We hear a lot, but have few sightings. But ¨asi es¨, this is how it is, life here in the forest is unpredictable, nothing is at our beck and call, there seems to be a patience and deep respect that comes with being a researcher in this field, and it was an amazing experience to get to participate in, if only for two days in this dream of these scientists. Ronald showed us pictures and shared with the group yesterday evening about how the station has grown from basically a little tent and small one room wooden structure in the woods with only a walking trail to the resource that is is now for scientists. He projects the next slide on the screen, a photo full of huge rocks and boulders, similar to those we were navigating along the river, he is describing how you just keep facing each obstacle, working together, until you overcome it, bit by bit, attend to what is needed. For over twenty years, as part of a team of researchers, Ronald has been studying the epidemiology of monkeys, comparing their DNA and the presence or absence of diseases that are similar to human diseases in populations of monkeys that live near cities and those in more remote areas.
It is hard to believe this is only our fourth night here… bueno, hasta luego….