The Land of Imagination

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After our whirlwind at La Selva, everyone was looking forward to relaxing. We were promised a wood burning fire place with hot chocolate and warm, comfortable beds at Cuerici. And we weren’t disappointed! And not only were those amenities waiting for us, but there was also breathtaking views. Our van dropped us off at the top of a hill that wound down for an hour’s walk to the farm we were staying at. We walked past lush green hills and cute houses that looked like they were made for elves. I felt like we had fallen into a storybook. As we looked out across mountaintops, you could see blue sky and clouds blowing in and out of view. Enchanting.
Down at the farmhouse, we were led into rooms for the guys and girls, but for the first time we were all under the same roof, with only walls separating us. It added to the cozy feeling that permeated the atmosphere. We took a quick tour of the farm, and learned that for income, the owner and his family sold blackberries and raised rainbow trout in homemade fish canals that was very sustainable and had a low impact on the environment. We also saw the sheep horse, which was a huge white horse that looked like it had wool instead of normal horse hair. Apparently the horse had been born right before one of the coldest winters and ever since then it had produced really thick fur. It only added to the magic of Cuerici.
The next day, after falling asleep in comfortable beds with hot chocolate in our bellies, we got to explore the Paramo. The Paramo is a very interesting ecosystem. It is located near the highest point in Costa Rica and has no trees because strong winds prevail. So it is very exposed and cold, but beautiful. We went to “Cerro de Muerte” which means “Mountain of Death” because back before the trans-American highway passed through it, travelers would die trying to cross the peak as temperatures would drop near to freezing. But since we were bundled up, all we did was admire the view. We even got to see the tallest point in Costa Rica for a brief second, before the clouds rolled over again.
We then went on another hike close to the farm where we were staying. The owner, don Carlos, led us through the forest and explained how different species of oak and bamboo preferred different sections along the mountain. It was fascinating to see one species stop growing and another one begin, almost along a line. We would be scouting the Paramo and the forest for rare salamanders the next day. We were trying to model where you might expect this specific species of salamander to live, and in order to check the model we had to actually look for salamanders. So again, we weren’t here on vacation. We were here to do science!
I was part of the group that got sent to the forest. We weren’t supposed to find any salamanders, because no one had found them for years in that area, but we still had to look hard. We spent hours looking under rocks, moss, fallen trees, but we didn’t find a single one. But we did see tiny bright blue snails and beetles, and again, amazing views. So it wasn’t a complete loss. Back in our classroom, which was also heated by a wood burning fireplace, we used GIS to see if our models correctly predicted where the salamanders should be found. We found that the models were pretty good, but it still would have been better to have more known salamander locations. But that’s almost always the case. You can never have too much data!
The last day of our stay in Cuerici, some of us helped don Carlos catch some rainbow trout for our lunch. Forest and Dan held the net to scoop up the fish from the pond and told us it was harder than it looked. But I did not think it looked easy: you could tell the net was extremely heavy. They towed it to the end of the long, rectangular pond and pulled the net out. Don Carlos then began tossing the large fish out on the ground, and told us to kneel down, grab a fish and break its neck. It was a difficult business, as the fish were very slippery, but everyone that wanted to killed a fish. Then we rinsed and gutted them. Halfway through the gutting, a pair of quetzals were spotted, so don Carlos was left to finish up and take them off to be filleted and ready for lunch. That was the best lunch ever!
Like every place we have traveled to, we were sad to leave Cuerici. Our instructors, Dave and Rob, were awesome and we had really enjoyed getting to know don Carlos and Alberto, our hosts. We had learned a lot from them, including the difficulties of running a sustainable operation and conservation in general in Costa Rica. But they promised we could come back and visit one day, just like many of the previous students have. With a final hug, we climbed aboard the van and headed to out to our next adventure!

Here we are on our forest hike with Don Carlos, the owner of the farm where we were staying.

Here we are on our forest hike with Don Carlos, the owner of the farm where we were staying.

some of the group on their way to the farm. The views were fantastic!

some of the group on their way to the farm. The views were fantastic!

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