Las Cruces was an island of conservation we found out. It is surrounded by farm and residential areas, but it creates a pocket of living space for toucans, agoutis, and my favorite: Mexican jumping vipers! Yay… But other than the venomous snakes, it was a great place to wrap up our 6 weeks in Costa Rica. Our first meal there we ate out on the patio, which had a gorgeous overlook and amazing sunset views. The food here was family style, which presented issues occasionally, as our “family” eats a lot and there wasn’t always enough food for everyone. But we slowly figured it out. And luckily there was usually plenty of rice and beans! Eat them while you can!
Our introductory hike to the area was like most of our other hikes, in that it rained part of the time. But we got to see the botanical gardens and learned there is a large collection of bromeliads here, one of the largest in the world. And there is bamboo everywhere! The cool thing is that we are staying in the actual garden, so every day we walk by many of the bromeliads from all over the tropics. The bad thing is there could be venomous snakes in the garden so we have to wear our rubber boots all the time.
We only had a day to get to know the forest before we were off and running with our independent project. I decided to work in streams, of course, but since there were no shrimp I had to switch to different stream invertebrates that were more like insects. This independent project was different because we had the choice of pairing up with someone else or working on our own. Dan and I were the only ones to work on our projects alone. Although it meant more work, I came on this course to make myself a better scientist and I figured that would only happen if I got lots and lots of practice. Also, because there were so many of us, I had to go out in the forest alone. And it was awesome!
I had the best day. I was so attuned to what was happening around me, mostly because I was worried I would step on a snake. And my time at the river was so peaceful. I developed my sampling methods the day before, so I was excited to go out and test them. I picked out the sites carefully the night before, planned my route, and followed it to a T and it worked! Those of you who know me know I love it when I am able to work my plan and it turns out great.
The most exciting site was my second stop. As I paused to pull out my notebook, I noticed something swimming in the water. At first I thought it was a small otter, as it was swimming against the current at lightning speed. But as it picked its way through the rapids, I saw it had the tail of a rat! Later, Victor told me it was probably a rare aquatic rat. Whatever it was, it was crazy cool! Of course I didn’t have my camera… I finished up my work at the site, but kept checking the spot where I had last seen the rat, hoping to catch another glimpse. On my way out of the river, I had to pass under several low lying branches that stretched over the water. I guess I got careless on one, because all of a sudden I felt a sharp stinging near my armpit. I worried it might be a bullet ant, whose stinging pain is legendary, so I whipped off my backpack and started pulling at my shirt in that area. But the sting wouldn’t stop. Finally I looked at the spot and saw a little poke in my skin. Since I also felt a stinging on my back near the same spot, I figured I had brushed up against a wasp nest and had been attacked. They make their nests on the underside of leaves and there’s usually a few of them per nest so I was lucky it was only twice.
As I walked to my last site, I wondered if I was allergic. I didn’t think so, but you never know. I kept checking for swelling or shortness of breath, but as I neared the next river I decided the shortness of breath I was experiencing was normal as I was out of shape and hiking. As the shock of being stung was fading, I looked at a clump and leaves and noticed it wasn’t actually leaves. It was a venomous snake! For some reason my immediate reaction was to run past it shrieking. When I had gone a good distance, I stopped and looked back. I could barely tell where the snake was, but once I found it again I saw it hadn’t moved. I went on, did my sampling, and when I walked past it was still there. Creepy, but then they are sit-and-wait predators.
So, maybe as you’re reading this you’re thinking- this sounds like a horrible day! Tons of painful and scary experiences! But it wasn’t. I was out there, on my own, in the field, doing science. And though I may have gotten a little banged up, it was fun! And I proved to myself that when the going gets tough, I got going. Also, my sack lunch was amazing and kept my spirits high: rice, beans, and eggs with tortillas. And chocolate cookies known as chickys. Heaven!
The next day Victor offered to come with me and watch for snakes, and though I was glad to have his company and extra set of eyes, it wasn’t the same. But it was probably a good thing he was there as my sites were really far away and if I had gotten hurt, there would have been no way to get help quickly. We walked for hours to a site, where it turns out there was no easy river access due to a combination of steep slopes and gnats that live by the water and infect you with flesh eating bacteria. So instead we turned around and walked the hour and a half back to the station. The following few days were a blur as I rushed to analyze the data and make an ignite talk. The ignite talk was fun, but tricky. We had to have 20 slides, with 15 seconds for each slide and they would advance automatically. We were all nervous about doing one, but as is becoming the theme, everyone pulled it together and did an amazing job.
Our last night in Las Cruces was spent as most of our nights are: working. But it wasn’t so bad because by now we were used to it. Everyone poured themselves something tall and strong and we set ourselves to working hard and getting everything turned in. Except for when we took a break to watch the tear-jerking slideshow I prepared of pictures throughout the trip. It was a whirlwind tour of Costa Rica, but my fellow participants made it a trip to remember. So although I learned a lot about myself and science, it wouldn’t have been possible without the incredible people on the course also. I wanted to sing this Girl Scout song around the campfire at Las Alturas, but I couldn’t get up the nerve so I think I’ll just put it here. It sums up how I felt at the end of the course:
It’s the human touch in this world that counts
The touch of your hand in mine
And it means far more to the fading heart
Than shelter, bread, or wine.
For shelter’s gone when the night is over
And bread lasts only a day
But the touch of your hand
And the sound of your voice
Will live in my soul always.
Can’t wait for the OTS 2014-3 reunion!