These boots are made for walking

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When I was an undergraduate, one of my professors asked me if I had ever traveled somewhere and come back totally changed by the experience. Being fairly well traveled, I naively thought that it had made me worldly and therefore changed from the person I was before I traveled. In many ways, those experiences had changed me in small increments. I never understood the magnitude of true, wholly self-aware change until I began to study blue-crowned manakins (L. coronata) in Ecuadorian lowland rainforest.

Conducting research in the rainforest is an indescribable experience; at once a trying and reaffirming place to pursue studies. I spent my days underneath vaulted canopy ceilings and enveloped in overwhelming biodiversity. Of course, I was also put through my paces and paid my dues in blood, sweat and ants (in places no ant should ever have to go). When I left my mud caked rubber boots behind- for someone else to use – any superfluous desires had been long left behind. There is no room for extras on a rainforest adventure.

Naturally, now that I am starting a PhD working in Costa Rica, deciding to embark on an OTS course was a no-brainer. I feel fortunate to be on “the” OTS course, Tropical Biology: An Ecological Approach.

The forests here in Costa Rica are as beautiful as the lowlands of Ecuador, but have a very different ambiance. There is a richness in the scenery and wildlife that is unique and captivating that I will do my best to explain the only way I know how. Using photographs.

The cloud forest of Monteverde was one of my favorite places to visit. I was enchanted by the fantastical imagery created by the thick mists of clouds rolling through the forest structure. The course was lucky enough to visit it in its natural state- rain- which was fortunate as one of the resident researchers informed us that over recent years the cloud forest has gone from 25 days without rain annually to approximately 100 days.

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This white-faced monkey was one of many that I have seen since the course has started. The cute bugger in this picture was seen at Palo Verde, which is an interesting juxtaposition between wetlands and dry forest. Palo Verde is an amazing contrast between a brittle appearing dormancy and the lushness of greenery below.

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Generally speaking, I find trees to be incredible representations of character. This is a strangulation fig, which starts off on another tree host and slowly envelops them as it grows. Despite the unsavory beginning, the layers remind me of well-worn wisdom in the faces of our elders.

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Last, but far from least, a favorite happenstance encounter (trust me, those are often the best). The strawberry blue jeans poison dart frog males are known to carry their offspring up to bromeliads. You can see in this picture a male with a tadpole on his back.

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My experiences on the tropical biology course have been an unique opportunity to experience other areas of tropical biology and the chance to dip a toe into other fields and play with other methods has been a blast. Along the way of visiting different research stations across Costa Rica I have picked up some neat friends and new skill sets. I know that when I put these rubber boots to retirement I will have some new inspiration to bring home in their place.

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