The Organization of Tropical Studies consists of several field stations where many classes take place and extensive research is conducted. Hundreds of people, including researchers, scientists, students, and tourists come and go from these field stations, busy with their projects and concerned about collecting enough data for their research. But we often forget to acknowledge the individuals that are essential to the function of these stations. Let me give you an idea of what is taken care of at and between these locations:
Driving: Specifically for OTS Courses, we have a comfortable tour bus and a jeep that drive us around to the various stations, while additionally letting us stop at grocery stores and shuttling instructors back and forth to the airport. In San Jose alone, the maneuvers this enormous tour bus on a dime. I hold my breath each time, and each time he nails it. In addition to helping with field work, our driver Carlos, who has accompanied us the entire time with a 4-wheel drive truck, has prevented several precarious situations. One example is on our last day at Cuericí. Cuericí is a biological station that is set back 5km down a mountain dirt road and only accessible only by 4-wheel drive. The morning we had to trek up the steep canyon back to the main road, it rained. The clay and dirt became thick and slippery. Did I mention it was narrow – only room for one vehicle – with blind curves? With at least 14 people in the truck, he told us to hang on and watch our heads as he expertly maneuvered up this crazy hill. We made it safe and sound, of course, and we couldn’t help but give him a round of applause as we emerged at the top.
Cleaning: I have seen mostly women doing the cleaning. There are classrooms, bathrooms, and cabin or rooms that get cleaned daily, with fresh linens provided. Especially at the larger stations, when there are a lot of people, however, the bathrooms can get rough between cleanings. Many of these stations have septic systems that do not perform well under the pressure of toilet paper, so it instead gets placed into trash bins. So not only does this cleaning staff have to scrub, sweep, and mop, but they have to remove some pretty intense trash. One woman in particular at Las Cruces, Naomi, saw us collecting moths for an experiment. We asked her if she knew where the moths like to hang out, and pointed us in that direction. Then, she even started collecting and bringing us moths! It was so great to have her help and enthusiasm about our sometimes ridiculous research.
Food: First of all, we get fed 3 times a day, with fantastic food, plus unlimited coffee and tea throughout the day and night. It is amazing. At Palo Verde, we had an amazing head cook named Romelio that, along with his other assistant cooks, prepared incredible food with care and love. Romelio was acutely aware of everyone’s dietary restrictions, and never failed to ensure that everyone was well fed. The staff at Cuericí was also smaller and relatively tolerable of our varied diets. La Selva and Las Cruces are a bit bigger, but the food is still fantastic. I felt like I got lost in the shuffle a bit at La Selva because they serve so many people, but at Las Cruces, I notice the cooks coming out to tell people with very specific dietary restrictions what contains dairy or gluten. The food has been quite good, and has often surprised me with creativity. A few dishes to note: fresh, local trout from the Cuericí trout farm literally 100 meters from the door, garlic basted fried yucca, tres leches cake (my favorite was Romelio’s – he makes it with rum), bean sprout lo mein, and of course all of the rice and beans you can manage to consume.
Directors/Guides: Most of the interactions with the directors/head guides have been during our orientation walks and introductory presentations. Every director is passionate and enthusiastic about the station and the work being done there. They are often researchers themselves. Don Carlos, who is the owner of the Cuericí biological station, has lived there for 30 years, has raised his family on that land, and knows the forest like the back of his hand. A soft-spoken man, he was enthusiastic about the projects being conducted around his station, and was happy to share his expertise in helping us located and identify focal species. Since we were the only group at Cuericí, we shared more intimate interactions with him, however, everyone who plays a more management role of these biological stations have been welcoming and excited about their station.
Our guides at La Selva were mind-blowingly knowledgeable about the local flora and fauna. It is obvious that they take pride in the field station and truly enjoy sharing their knowledge with people who visit. Kenneth, our guide, was so well-versed on the scientific names – I would be so intimidated taking a group of graduate students on a tour – but he fielded our questions like a professional. He also dropped so much knowledge on us. For example, there are many plants that live on other plants, called epiphytes. While walking through the forest, there are all these vines hanging off of trees. Well, Kenneth schooled us: they were not in fact vines, but roots growing from the epiphytes trying to get nutrients and moisture that they lack by not having roots in the soil. Wow.
All of these people play a critical role in creating not only functioning, but also ensure smooth-operating and pleasant field stations. We want to bring attention and highlight these incredible individuals who work so hard to keep these stations going. Yes, a lot of amazing science gets done at these various places, but nothing would be happening without this remarkable support system. For this, I believe I can speak for all of us to extend huge thank you to these incredible people who work so hard and bring so much love and joy to these stations.