Tuesday, November 25, 2008


After midterm break ended, we returned to San Jose to pack for the most rustic two weeks of the semester. We would spend one week in the Monteverde cloud forest and one in Nicaragua, and because we had to hike in to the station in Monteverde, we had to pack all our belongings for the two weeks into one backpack. On the Monday after break ended, we set off for Monteverde. On the way, we stopped to visit one of the strangest ecosystems I have seen: mangroves. For a few hours, we hiked (trudged) in our rubber boots through the most disgusting-smelling, deep, and sticky mud I have ever seen. To make things worse, a common characteristic of mangrove tree species is pneumatophores, which are roots that grow up and out of the ground to get oxygen from the air. As we walked through these upward-pointing roots, they flung mud absolutely everywhere, with the end result that we left the mangrove completely drenched in mud that smelled like sewage. Of course, after this, we had to ride in the bus for a few more hours with a stop for lunch at a restaurant before we arrived in Monteverde. Ewwwww.

^Mangroves with pneumatophores... ewwwww.

After a terrifying (for me, anyway, as I am terrified of driving anywhere near cliffs) drive through the mountains to an altitude of 1200 m in north-central Costa Rica, we left our bus and hiked to the Monteverde station with our backpacks. The first half of the hike was on a road (impassable for the bus), and the other half was through the woods. It was steeply downhill the entire way, and after about an hour we arrived at San Geraldo station in El Bosque de los Niños. The station was rustic, with generator power for only about four hours each night and no hot water (and by this I mean FREEZING cold water to go along with the cold mountain temperatures). From our rooms we had a beautiful view of Arenal Volcano, and a few nights we even saw red lava glowing as it flowed down the volcano.

^View of Arenal Volano from the porch of the station.

^Hanging out on the porch outside our rooms at night :)

We had a pretty full week at Monteverde, which included a visit from two local biologists - one a bird specialist and the other an amphibian specialist. We spent one very early morning netting birds, which was really fun as we each got to learn how to hold, examine, and identify the birds we caught. We also went on a night hike with Mark Wainwright, the amphibian specialist. He's a pretty famous guy here, having written and illustrated about a zillion books and guides on the fauna of Costa Rica. We also had our second plant exam (ewww) and somehow found the time for some epic games of ultimate frisbee, charades, ping pong, and the like.

^One of the birds we caught in the mist nets.

^Cool herbivory we saw on the night hike - something ate part of the Heliconia leaf while it was young and still rolled up.

Towards the end of the week, we got some entertainment from the removal of a botfly from Jess's head (the fifth one she had). If you're not familiar with botflies, basically what happens is that a mosquito that has a botfly egg inside it bites you and inserts it under your skin. The egg then hatches and a larva grows under your skin - it turns into a bump that apparently gets pretty painful as the larva grows. If you leave it alone, it will eventually (after up to two months) crawl out on its own. Jess had her previous four botflies (three on her shoulder and one on her head) removed by a doctor while we were in San Jose, but as we were completely isolated in Monteverde, our professors elected to stick a small tub of Vaseline on top of the botfly to cut off its oxygen source, forcing it to crawl out. This worked pretty well, but getting the larva completely out was pretty disgusting (see photo).

^Botfly larva coming out of Jess's head... ewww.

Our last day in Monteverde was a rest day, and a bunch of us hiked out of the station to go to Selvatura, a local touristy place where we went ziplining through the forest and walked around on the canopy bridges. On the morning we left, we had to hike with our backpacks back out the way we had come - i.e., up the extremely steep hill we had mostly slid down on the way in. It took us about double the time, with everyone stopping periodically on the way to gasp for breath and gulp water. Despite the fact that we had all been convinced we would never make it back up the hill with all our stuff (we had half-jokingly discussed the possibility of throwing clothes, soap, books, etc into the road as we hiked), we eventually all made it back to the bus and were on the way to Nicaragua.

^Kiva ziplining through the Monteverde forest.

^Canopy bridges at Selvatura.


Emily! said...

Wow... it sounds like you are having more of an adventure than Survivor =) I am getting the creeps just reading about the botfly! Like something out of the Alien movies...

Emily said...

Oh, and your photos are amazing! =)