The drive through the mountains was spectacular, though I'm now sure that in Costa Rica, driving is only suited for those willing to stare down a dump truck that has decided to overtake the other cars in its lane, and is flying around the mountain curves, straight toward your bus. Eep. But! the steep, nearly vertical mountains are a thrill in their own right. There was not a bare rock face to be seen, and I swear, I saw trees growing horizontally out of the hillsides. The only space where vegetation had not conquered the mountain, was where mist-spilling waterfalls narrowly plunged down toward the valley floor, vainly attempting to speed along the low, muddy river at the bottom.
|a Crested Guan through the scope|
|My classmate Naomi before the 15-person-limit suspension bridge.|
Our days typically consisted of various hikes on La Selva's trails, lessons from our professors on the plants (especially palms--check out the handy guide that Professor Shumway put together if you're interested in rainforest plants, and for better quality images than I could take: Rainforest Plants), meal times, and nighttime lectures and presentations on our 'expert topics' from my fellow classmates. We began our days promptly at 5:30 a.m., partly because breakfast ran strictly from 6-7, but more so because this was when the howler monkeys became active. What a holy racket! It is hard to describe the sound of the howler troupe's calls, but I wrote down in my journal that the best comparison was "a pack of dogs barking at each other inside a running vacuum cleaner." They hung out in the trees around the river station, and were a regular sight at dawn and dusk, climbing the canopy trees and hanging by their prehensile tails. Some of the females had babies clinging to their backs! We were able to see other monkeys deeper in the forest, such as spider monkeys and white-faced capuchins.
|Cole and me in front of a Ceiba Tree, photo by Molly Horan|
I had studied this conspicuous poison dart frog in depth during the semester, and it was one of my major goals of the trip to see one in person. They are called Oophaga pumilio (oophaga means 'egg eater', pumilio relates to the toxin in their skin) for the unique characteristic that the mother frog feeds her tadpoles unfertilized eggs. This species exhibits a lot of 'strange' behavior for frogs, particularly because frogs don't usually care for their young at all. Oophaga of both sexes input a huge amount of parental care. They are wicked cool frogs. They look like they are wearing tiny pants. Ask me about them any time. I will go on and on. Anyways, for the first few days, I would hear someone from the class up the trail a little ways exclaim that they thought they spotted one, but by the time I ran to see, it had disappeared into the leaf litter. Although I had been assured that since the frog is common at La Selva, and since it is bright blue and bright orange against a background of dull brown leaves, I would most certainly see it, I did not realize how tough it would be. But, we should not forget: these frogs are about the size of a bottle cap. Teeny tiny. Extra adorable and super cool. Highly toxic.
|Oophaga pumilio or the Blue-jeans Frog, photo by Patty Kaishan|
|Peccary on the run!|
When we left La Selva, we headed to the Volcan Poas National Park to see a caldera and explore the cloud forest. It was bittersweet yet stunning views as rainforest gave way to coffee plantations and cattle pasture, but the trip to the volcano was a great drive. The volcano itself, was frankly, a miss. The cloud forest played us a little trick, and totally whited-out the view of the caldera. We had a few moments where we thought the sun would break through, but to no avail. We did have a fun romp through the cloud forest on the park's trails though, despite the cold and slippery weather.
|Yours truly, en route from Belize to Costa Rica, wishing you well.|
We returned that afternoon to San José, where we were free to explore until the class had its final dinner, which ended up being a great time at a superb Peruvian restaurant called Machu Picchu. When we see each other again, and you are in the mood for a brief but funny story, ask me about the local character that Cole, Patty and I met that afternoon.
I hope you are well, and having excellent adventures yourself. As was said many times in Costa Rica, Pura Vida! Full life!