Sunday, March 6, 2011

Independent Project! With pictures!

Hey everyone! Sorry I've been so out of touch lately- things are getting pretty intense down here. I just finished my first IP (Independent research Project), where I was studying the effects of ant-aggressiveness on the nest-destroying behavior of rufous-naped wrens.

What does that mean, exactly? Well basically, there are these trees in Costa Rica called acacia trees. They are often inhabited by ant colonies, which range from very aggressive Pseudomyrmex spinicola:

to very non-aggressive Crematogaster brevispinosa:

There is also a bird called the Rufous-naped wren that nests in these trees to get protection from the vicious ants. However, previous studies have shown that a lot of Rufous-naped wren eggs are destroyed by other Rufous-naped wrens. We decided to find out whether they are doing this to get a better nesting site by testing nest destruction between two different species of ants. Here's how.

IP Day 1

My IP started a day earlier than everyone else's it seemed. While everyone else spent their day typing up data sheets and lazing around, Chelsea, Liz, and I spent our day making 120 imitation wrens nests out of grass. It took us all day.

IP Day 2 & 3

On the second and third days, we woke up and went out into the field at 5:30 AM and didn't come back until 6 PM. What were we doing all day? Locating acacia trees and putting the wrens nests (complete with a quail egg and a clay egg) into them. Oh and did I mention that the ants attack you? Because they do.

And it hurts.

Somehow, all the pain of the ant stings (which must have been somewhere in the hundreds each day) made us extremely giddy, so when we weren't getting stung or putting nests up in trees, we were busy falling into fits of giggles. Exhibit A:

IP Day 4 & 5

Spent all day taking the nests down and checking for predation. We got predation in 40 of our 120 nests, which was a pretty good number. Most of them were wren-caused, which was even better.

The sad part is after all this work, our results weren't significant. Its true that we could make a statement based off that (wren nest destruction is not patterned) but still a little disappointing

So at the end of the day, we were pretending we felt like this:

when really, we felt like this:

Ah well. The joys of science.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cuerici and Apologies

I realize I haven't posted in a while, so this post is a quick gettin-people-up-to-speed thing.

I didn't have internet for a while! And the world did not collapse. While I was not checking facebook or writing to any of you guys, I was in the mountains of Costa Rica, looking at cool things:
The view from the peak of the mountain the Cuerici farm is located on.


Eh, who am I kidding- I just really like this picture and want to show off.

Cuerici was most of the things I expected it to NOT be- like cold, for instance, or a sustainable trout farm. I gutted my first fish!

I apologize for these terrible posts as of late- I promise that in 5 days time (once my independent project, or "IPs" as we call them, is completed) I will write a really interesting and thought provoking blog post.

Thursday, February 10, 2011



For our most recent free day (yesterday) we had the option of going to Boruca, a small town of indigenous people about 2 hours away from Las Cruces. I obviously lept to the opportunity. When we got there, we heard a talk about the activities of the indigenous Borucans, and learned about their mask-painting and weaving traditions.




We then hiked to a waterfall where we had the most scenic lunch/swim I have ever had.



Sorry this post is so short- I'm literally writing this in the 10 minutes I have before we leave for our next site, which is Cuerici. I won't have any internet there, so you won't hear from me for a little while. Until then!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Las Alturas

This past Saturday and Sunday, we left the Las Cruces Biological Station to trek up to the Las Alturas Biological Station. It is located in one of the biggest privately-owned reserves (apparently it's owned by some multi-billionaire software mogul who resides in Florida), which also contains a subsistence farm and a small town of less than 250 people total. All these are employees of either the farm or the reserve, but they live without electricity, and basically without contact with the outside world for a good majority of their lives. It was weird, but interesting.

At night on our first day there, we had a bonfire, complete with marshmallows and cookies, and told stories around the fire. It reminded me of camping when I was 10, but it was still fun.

I then fell asleep on the top bunk of a terrifying bunkbed, in a room that was not heated and therefore absolutely freezing cold. Ah, well. I needed my sleep because the next day we hiked for two hours up a mountain that changed about 600 feet in elevation in a very short distance (read: very steep and hard to climb, especially if you are out of shape, as I am). Was it worth it for this view?

The answer (which this picture does not do justice) is yes.

More pictures of all sorts of things on my flickr page!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Intro to Las Cruces

From left to right: Ashley, Ashur, Ellen, Tom, Carmen, and Anna.

The biological station I am at right now is called Las Cruces Biological Station, located relatively near the border of Panama. The most interesting thing about this location is that besides being located in an extensive wet forest, it also has its own private (and extremely extensive) botanical garden. They've been maintaining it for over 50 years, and it is just amazing. Every day I wake up and make my way to a dining hall by weaving through rows of bromeliads, palms, orchids, and succulents. Its going to be hard to re-accustom myself to regular life in America after this.

That's not to undermine the beauty of the wet forest, though. This past Monday (our first rest day), my friends and I hiked into the forest to a waterfall, where we all splashed around, bathed, danced, etc. I felt like I was on Survivor. The realization probably finally hit me when, mid-waterfall dance party, my friend Ashur grabbed me and started giggling, "WE'RE IN THE JUNGLE! WE'RE IN THE JUNGLE!"

Between the hiking, the soccer, the insects, and the plants- the jungle is looking pretty awesome.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Monday, January 31, 2011

Snake Sighting!


Don't worry, it's not a fer-de-lance. It was actually quite small, and even though my professor didn't know what kind it was, he knew it wasn't poisonous. No Lees were harmed in the making of this photograph.

In other news, I'm really loving my program. It is an incredible amount of work though- we usually have three 90 minute lectures a day, plus 3 hours of hiking in the morning. We also have to catch and identify 10 different insects before we leave the station next Friday. And we don't have weekends off- today was my first free day since the beginning of the program. My next free day is a week from Wednesday.

But despite the fact that it is a lot of work, the people that I'm here with are really great, and so far I like everyone in my group, which is great because we literally are always together.

Some of my new friends: Ellen, Justin, and Manny.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Before I forget

Here's a picture of my host family that I kept forgetting to post! I'll be staying with them again in March, and I miss them already :(

From left to right: my Tico padre Henry, Tica hermana Michelle, and Tica mama Evelyn.

The beginning of a semester

Just some things.

I'm fairly certain riding in a car like this (no seatbelts, 12 people crammed
into the back of a truck) is not at all legal in the states.

Baby pineapple.

This was right before the lecture where our professors told us
that we should definitely NOT climb trees.

Hanging out, hiking.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Manuel Antonio Adventure: The Sequel




DISCLAIMER: This post contains only the above photos because my internet is slow :(

If I thought last weekend's Manuel Antonio trip was an adventure, then I'm not really sure what this week's trip was.

Sam, Liz and I all arrived at 9:30 on Friday night, not knowing exactly where our hostel was. This would normally not have been a problem, except that it was raining.

And by raining I mean real rainforest downpour.

It took us half an hour for us to find our hostel, by which time we had already forded a small river that had formed and thoroughly soaked all the clothes we were wearing, as well as all the clothes we had brought with us. But when we checked in, we immediately dumped all our stuff and headed right out to walk in the rain- a walk which lead us to have to ford yet another small river.

The next day, after a hearty desayuno, we threw on our hiking gear and took the Manuel Antonio National Park by storm (ha). We hiked for about 4 hours and saw agouti, pelicans, spider monkeys, white-faced cappucins, beautiful butterflies, etc.

Our last day we spent completely at the beach. A beautiful end to a mini vacation.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Ultima dia de la clase de espanol!

Today is my last day of spanish class. I think I've learned a lot, and it was definitely a fun and worthwhile process.

Class photo! From left to right: Jerry, Carolin, me, Ilse, Liz, Jessica, and our FAVORITE PROFESSOR EVER- Carlos!

Liz and I graduated! We even got certificates! How fancy.

As my last weekend of "freedom" (so to speak) Sam Helman, Liz, and I are all heading down for a weekend of relaxation and sunbathing at Manuel Antonio! Then my program starts on Monday. So exciting!

Thursday, January 20, 2011



My thoughts on San Jose

I think San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica for those unaware, is the kind of place I would like to live, but not to visit. The thing is, I've spent time in the downtown area of San Jose for a total of about 2 days, and I already feel like I've seen all the major tourist attractions.


Some of the gold sculptures in the Museo de Oro, in downtown Jose, which
is coincidentally also where my host father works.

I think living near New York City for my entire cultural life has raised my expectations of every other city that I encounter. I expect them to be bursting with historical museums, art exhibits, concerts, and shopping districts. San Jose has all of these elements, but I would not describe the city as "bursting" with them.

The national post office for Costa Rica.

That's not to say that I haven't enjoyed what I've seen. The national theater is very beautifully decorated, and the gold sculptures in the Museo de Oro were quite interesting. The national post office is one of the most elegant buildings I've ever seen, although perhaps that is just because it stands in contrast with many of the other buildings in San Jose and the surrounding area.

But as Sam also observed when he visited, being here doesn't really create a desire to go sight-seeing or go to museums. It's much better to spend the day in La Sabana park, for example, which is a huge park at one end of the city that is literally the most pleasant place I have ever been. I think this is really what I'm trying to get at when I say that this would be a pretty great place to live, but not to visit. The biggest touristy thing that the city has going for it is that it is in Costa Rica, and therefore serves as a base camp for travel elsewhere in the country.

The one thing I will note that San Jose has that very few other cities have is a huge amount of urban parks, and even where there is no park there are usually a plethora of trees lining the streets. These trees are not the wimpy token New York City trees, but real trees that tower above buildings. It's incredibly refreshing on a hot day to stumble across an area of greenery among the metal buildings, beautifully landscaped and highlighting the biological diversity of this country. It's a country of a strange dichotomy, though, as I think the picture below demonstrates... they have so much biodiversity and natural land left to show off to the world, yet their government leaves their main city constantly in a seemingly worse-for-wear state.

Taken in La Sabana park, which is currently my favorite place in the city.

I dunno, just some thoughts. As usual, more photos on my flickr page... more posts about my exciting weekend soon!

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Manuel Antonio Adventure (A post of epic proportions)

This past Saturday is probably the closest thing I've had thus far that I can claim to be an adventure.

The participants: myself, Liz (fellow Brown student, OTS participant, and Spanish language attempter) and Mauricio (all-knowledgeable Costa Rican native, master of transportation, roommate of my friend Kyle).

The goal: To enjoy a day at Playa Manuel Antonio, a beach within reasonable distance of San Jose and touted by local Ticos as one of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica.

It started out fairly simple. Mauricio picked Liz and I up in San Pedro and we set out onto the San Jose - Caldera highway, whose construction was "started" in the 70's, but only completed last March (the Costa Rican government's Achilles heel seems to be all matters involving roads- building them, maintaining them, naming them, etc). The highway gave me a very interesting look at the Costa Rican landscape. I got to pass beautiful mountain vistas, the sparkling Pacific Ocean, and at one point, we even drove through a palm tree farm:

It felt like being in the midwest, except all the corn was replaced with palm trees. Strange.

We ended up getting to Manuel Antonio later than we had expected. We first did some investigating to figure out if we could walk to the quieter beaches over the rocks on the edge of the public beach.

When getting to the quieter beaches this way seemed to require being able to jump 20 feet over open water, we headed straight to the national forest for access... which apparently was closing in one hour. But our spirits could not be dampened!! We would make it to the beach or bust!

We started walking out along the trail. Theme of the day: Things take a lot longer than you would expect them to. Liz and I were entertained by Mauricio's constant exclaimations of "Oh my god, is this trail STILL going?"

BUT WE MADE IT TO THE BEACH! Who cares if we only got to swim for half an hour- in my mind, it was worth it. The view was gorgeous, and the water was clear and warm. A perfect half hour. Oh, and did I mention the monkeys?

They collected on the edge of the forest to scavenge for food (or be fed it by tourists). I gave them an empty cookie bag that was lying around so I could take a better picture, but I think they were a little mad when they realized they'd been duped. To give you a picture of how close they were, here's a picture of one of my monkey friends, right before he tried to raid my backpack:

After leaving the park unwillingly, we concluded our short visit to Manuel Antonio with cocktails while we watched the sunset. Delicioso.

I'd love to say that was the whole adventure, but that was only about half of it. On the return trip home, part of the highway was blocked off, and we had to resort to taking the serpentine old highway through the mountains.

The most interesting/terrifying part of the trip probably occurred when we realized we were almost out of gas, and there were no signs of civilization. Panic crept in slowly, with each of us thinking we would end up having to pull the car over and sleep on the side of the road for the night (ok, a little melodramatic, I know). But before we got a chance to resort to cannibalism, we found a gas station. Whew!

After all this adventure, we were exhausted and starving. Time for a sumptuous meal of the highest standards.

We went to Wendy's.

At the end of the day, though, I can only say positive things about the trip. Every part of it was a lot of fun, and I'm looking forward to a lot of similar adventures during the months I'll be in this country.