Things I did between my last post and leaving Costa Rica

School’s back in session now so I don’t have a lot of free time to write detailed entries about my last days in Costa Rica.  But I wanted to finish off my blog so I’m going to make a quick list of the things we did during the last few days and post some pictures as well.  Pura Vida!

Tuesday, August 12

  • Did more trail maintenance
  • Went horseback riding along the beach at Osa 
  • Saw/went in a water fall
  • Did sea turtle patrol with Stella from 10 PM to Midnight

Wednesday, August 13

  • Hiked for an hour to get to the place we were working for the day
  • Planted saplings that were native to the area near the Osa nursery
  • Cut open coconuts and drank them

Thursday, August 14

  • Left Osa at 6:30 AM
  • The ride to Monteverde took all day, so we didn’t do too much this day

Friday, August 15

  • Started working in the UGA herbarium
  • Made Tres Leches with my host family

Saturday, August 16

  • Worked in the herbarium some more
  • Went on “La Bella Tica” organic coffee farm tour
  • Went to Bar Amigos to go dancing

Sunday, August 17

  • Went into town as a group
  • Did the Selvatura Park Skywalk bridges
  • Went to a serpetarium
  • Walked around and went shopping in Santa Elena

Monday, August 18

  • Worked in the herbarium some more
  • Went and got ice cream at the local heladeria
  • Packed my stuff to go home!

Tuesday, August 19

  • Drove to San Jose
  • Flew to Houston
  • Flew to Philadelphia!
  • Got dinner at 1 AM with my parents

THE END

Big blog update

Well I have a lot to write about in this post. BUT let me just start off by saying that there’s only 3 more days until I come home!  I AM SO EXCITED!  But over the past few days I have had some really amazing experiences here so let me write about them before I forget too much.

On the morning of August 8th (Friday) Jenna and I took a taxi with Cody to the San Jose airport at 7 AM.  Cody was returning home to Georgia that way, so we were able to take a private taxi ride with him instead of taking the public bus!  We got to San Jose at about 10 AM and then took a taxi to our hotel, Hotel Cacts.  Then Jenna and I went to KFC for lunch because at the time we thought it was a good idea.  We both got the “Big Box” combos which came with a TON OF FOOD.  It tasted good but I regretted it after.

We went back to our hotel and at about 1 PM, Susan and Erin (Nitro) showed up.  They are also Iaccoca Interns from Lehigh who spent the last 6 weeks at Los Cusingos, a bird sanctuary in Costa Rica.  We went out to lunch again with them, and then headed down the main street of San Jose to the Costa Rica Gold and Currency Museum.  In the museum we learned the history of Costa Rica’s currency, saw a modern art exhibit, and looked at many ancient gold artifacts from pre-Spanish times in Costa Rica.  After finishing at the museum, we walked around San Jose some more and then got dinner at a diner-type restaurant.  I don’t remember if I said this in my last post about San Jose, but in my opinion it is not a very nice city.  It’s very dull and dirty looking and it’s too busy for my taste.  Also, there are no plants or trees in site in San Jose, which is extremely different from every other place I have been in Costa Rica.

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After dinner we returned to our hotel and waited for Professor Morris to arrive in San Jose from the US.  He showed up around 9 PM and checked in with us.  Then around 10 or 11 PM the four of us headed out to go to Club Vertigo (or so we thought).  We had read about this club online when trying to find things to do in San Jose and according to the internet, it is the “best club in Central America”.  We were pretty pumped to check it out, but since none of us have phones with roaming data here in Costa Rica, we had trouble locating it.  We were lost, but we knew we were pretty sure we were close to it. So when I saw a group of people around our age walking past us dressed in clubbing clothes, I suggested we casually follow them.  We walked behind them and ended up in a long line to get into a building with music coming from it, which we assumed was Club Vertigo.  After waiting in line for about 45 mins, we finally got past the bouncers and into the club, but it was called Club El Techa, not Vertigo.  We were a bit confused about how we ended up in El Techa, and later we found out that the two clubs are in the same building so we somehow got into the line for the wrong club.  I was a bit bummed we missed out on the “best club in Central America”, but El Techa was fun too.  They were playing some Latin pop music that I didn’t like too much, but people were dancing like we do in America rather than doing the Latin partner dances.  And every once and a while they played some Kesha or Macklemore which was nice.  We got a lot of attention in the club because we were gringas.  It was a really fun night!

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We purposely stayed out pretty late that night because the next morning we had to catch an 8-hour pus to Puerto Jimenez and we all wanted to be tired so we could sleep on the bus.  We thought our Professor would be accompanying us, but that morning at breakfast he broke the news to us that he would be taking a 1-hour plane ride rather than the 8-hour bus so that he could spend more time in San Jose.  I was pretty mad!  We wasted an entire sitting on a cramped, hot bus while he got to take a plane ride there.  He better have paid for that out of his own pocket.  So on Saturday, August 9th, we spent the majority of the day suffering on the bus, then took a 45-minute taxi ride from Puerto Jimenez to Osa, and then chilled for the rest of the night.

At Osa we lived in a cabin with three bedrooms.  Each bedroom had two sets of bunk beds with mosquito nets .  There were also two bathrooms and a common area.  The showers were cold but it was so hot in Osa that the water felt good.  The only problem was that a few minutes after you dried off from the shower, you would be covered in sweat again.  The dining area was inside of a large pavillion, and this was also the only place that had wifi.  The grounds at Osa was a lot like UGA except it was much hotter and I saw a lot more wildlife there (toucans, howlers monkeys, squirrel monkeys, macaws, spider monkeys).

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The beach was a 15 min walk from where we were staying.  The path that lead to the beach went through a river, which meant that I had to be carrier over the water several times by different people because I didn’t have rain boots and I didn’t want to get my hiking boots wet.  The beach at Osa was a sea turtle protection zone, so the only people who were allowed on it were people staying at the Osa wildlife station.  We spent our first morning at Osa (August 10) doing beach cleanup.  We walked along the two-kilometer stretch of beach that Osa owns and picked up any trash that we saw.  It didn’t take as long as I think our professor anticipated it would, because we were done in about 2 hours.  He told us we were free for the rest of the day, but Osa is in an even more remote location than UGA, so the only thing we could really do was go for a hike.  We hiked about 45 mins to a lagoon, and then came back and went swimming in the river that lies between the Osa station and the beach.

The next morning our assignment at Osa was “trail maintenance”.  This meant taking a bunch of round-end shovels into the forest and hacking away at the trees and plants to try to make a new trail.  It was terrible, I felt like I was going to sweat to death.  I was pretty annoyed that we were using the wrong tools for the job, and I was upset that this was our “community service project”.  I didn’t feel like I was serving the community, I felt like I was free labor for Osa.  But anyway…  We were pretty tired for the rest of the day, but before dinner we decided to go down to the beach and see if we could go swimming.  There are signs posted that say you shouldn’t swim because of the rough waves, but there were a few tide pools that were big enough for us to swim in.  Jenna and Erin tried to go swimming in the waves, but after getting knocked over by a huge wave, they decided against it.

Mantequilla cookies

Yesterday Loandry and I made butter cookies from one of Gaudy’s recipes. We ate a lot of the cookie dough, but we made about 3 or 4 dozen cookies. I put some in a bag to make sure they didn’t all get eaten again and it’s a good thing I did because they were all gone this morning!

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La Fortuna

Because we finished our work so early, Cody gave us Friday and Monday off so that Jenna and I could take a longer trip somewhere. We were debating between going to a beach town or to the nearby town of La Fortuna. We decided on La Fortuna because we really wanted to see the large volcano that sits next to the town. Also the weather is much less hot in La Fortuna than it would be at the beach (but it’s hotter than Monteverde which is nice!).

On Friday morning, Jenna and I met at 7 am at UGA and got a taxi that took us into Santa Elena. Then, we got on a bus in Santa Elena with about 15 other people. After about 1.5 hours, the bus dropped us off at the shore of Lake Arenal. From there, we took a 30 min boat ride across the lake, and then took another bus to our hotel in La Fortuna. This mode of transportation, known around here as taxi-boat-taxi or jeep-boat-jeep is the fastest way to travel between Monteverde and La Fortuna. The two cities are separated by the lake, and the main highway winds around the lake, making a journey solely by car take much longer than the taxi-boat-taxi option. The boat ride was also really relaxing and scenic.

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The taxi dropped us off at our hostel, Arenal Hostel Resort, and we checked in at the desk.  It seemed more like a motel than a hostel, all the rooms opened up to a courtyard that was full of hammocks, a pool and a bar.  We got a private room rather than a dorm-style one, but when we arrived they said the room wasn’t ready yet and they told us to wait at the bar.  It took 3 hours!!! for them to have our room ready, which was really annoying.  Once we got in our room we put our stuff away and then went to explore La Fortuna.  It’s a pretty small town but very tourist-y.  Everything is centered around the Catholic Church and park in the middle of town.  Around the park were various shops and restaurants, but there wasn’t too much other than that.  We went to happy hour at the hostel bar that night (6-7 pm) and then went to the Lava Lounge restaurant for dinner.  We were going to go out again after dinner but we were both too tired.  We’re used to waking up at 6:30 and going to bed at 8:30 like our homestay families do.

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The next day we made waffles for breakfast in the hostel kitchen, and then headed to Baldi Hot Springs.  For just $30 per got to spend the entire day hanging out in more than 15 different hot spring pools of various temperatures.  The place also had four waterslides!  But these were the most extreme waterslides I’ve ever experienced.  They were really fast and steep and they threw you around a lot.  Jenna even ended up cutting her arm open on one of them.

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We hung out at the hot springs until 2:30, and then we got picked up by a taxi to go on a volcano hike.  You can’t actually hike up the volcano, but this hike took us to a spot 600 m from the base of the Arenal volcano to the site of an old lava flow.  It was so cool to be able to stand on top of the lava flow and look at the volcano so closely.

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After the volcano hike we went back to the hot springs until 9:00 when they took us back to our hostel.  We were planning on going to the La Fortuna discoteque that night because the bartender at the hostel told us that was the place to go on Saturday nights, but we both fell asleep early again!

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On Sunday we went on the Rainforest Chocolate tour.  They took us through a plantation of cacao trees and then showed us the process of making chocolate.  It was really interesting to see each step and participate in the process.  They also let us taste a lot of the chocolate, and although it was tasty, it made both my and Jenna’s stomachs hurt.  The chocolate was too rich!

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After the chocolate tour we went to the La Fortuna waterfall.  It was really beautiful and the water wasn’t too cold so I went in for a dip.  There wasn’t much else to do other than look at the falls though, so we didn’t stay too long.

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On Monday we had more waffles, chilled in our room until noon, and then got lunch.  At 2:00 we went to sit outside our hostel and wait for the taxi-boat-taxi to pick us up at 2:30.  At 3:00 they still hadn’t come, so we asked the guy in the hostel lobby to call the company for us.  And it turns out they forgot about us!  So we had to wait until 4:00 for them to come back and get us.  I was really annoyed that we spent so much of the day waiting around when we could have actually done something!  And they didn’t even offer us a discount for forgetting us.  Darn ticos……………

Last night I went to Jenna’s homestay families house to have pizza.  Jenna’s family has a little pizza restaurant for tourist groups. Now we’re finishing up our data analysis in the UGA lab.  We’re here for one more day and then we head to San Jose, and then OSA!  I can’t wait!

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(this is a picture of me with our favorite Costa Rican snack, CHURILITOS! They are addicting)

I’ve measured my last tree…

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So in case any of you readers of my blog may have forgotten, I’m in Costa Rica right now for an internship, not for just a fun vacation. I don’t write about it on here very often because it is not a very interesting job, but I decided to dedicate this post to it because we completed our fieldwork today and I am SO HAPPY TO BE DONE. There started off being three Lehigh interns here this summer: Me, Jenna, and Katie, but Katie left to fill in for someone at one of the other internship sites. So it’s just been Jenna and I working on our projects with Cody, a graduate student from UGA. We were given two different projects to work on during the course of our internship at UGA: the first and most important project was UGA’s Reforestation Project and the second less important one was Lehigh/UGA’s Permanent Plot Project. So I’ll describe what I know about these two projects now:

The Reforestation Project has been going on here at UGACR for a few years. The Monteverde area used to be all rainforest, but it has been deforested over the years and turned into fields and pastureland with sporadic areas of rainforest in-between. In an effort to reconnect these spaced-out rainforest areas so that wildlife can easily move through and as a way to sequester carbon emitted by students when they travel here, UGACR has begun a program for students staying at UGA to plant trees in the Monteverde/San Luis area. Most of the trees are planted along fences of farms in the area because they help protect the crops in the fields from the strong winds that blow here. Farmers allow UGACR to plant these trees on their lands and in return they get a free wind barrier for their crops. Some trees are just planted in a random fashion as well. Our job this summer was to go out to each site that these trees were planted at during the past year and measure each tree. The measurements we take consist of species (Lucas the tree expert tells us what species it is), height (using a meter stick), DBH (or diameter, using calipers), survival (1 = living, 0 = dead), and health (scale of 1-3, pretty arbitrary). We also mark each tree with a GPS point. We finished this project today and in total we measured about 1,500 trees in this manner.

Our secondary project, the Permanent Plot Project, was sprung on both us interns and Cody our second day here at UGA. Professor Morris (our advisor for this internship) took us to the plot and started giving us instructions for the project, but he never really told us what the point of it or who is in charge of it. We’ve tried emailing him several times to find out the answer to these questions, as well as to find out what to do with the data we’ve collected (we finished collecting data a few days ago) but he has either replied without answering our questions or not replied at all. As you can imagine, this is extremely frustrating. We spent about a week and a half working on this project and gathering data, yet we have no idea what the point of it is. I can describe what we measured though, so here it goes: The permanent plot is a one-hectare square plot located on UGACR’s campus. It is also located in a dense rainforest on the side of a very steep hill (so it’s VERY DIFFICULT to move around in). The land in this plot used to be cattle pastureland and coffee fields, so I’m guessing that the point of this project is to measure the natural regrowth of the rainforest, but like I said, I don’t know this for sure. The plot has been divided into 25 20×20 meter subplots. Each plot is marked by 4 PVC pipes in the corners, but because the forest is so dense, they are sometimes difficult to find. Part of our project was to GPS each of these corner poles so a map of the plot could be made. Also, in each subplot, a “center pole” was randomly placed somewhere in the middle of the plot by last year’s interns. Our job was to locate this center pole in each plot, and then measure every tree with a diameter greater than 2.5 cm and less than 10 cm within a 6 m radius around the center pole. We measured height, DBH, health, and species of these trees, much like the other project, but these trees were generally a lot taller (some as tall as 30 m!). The interns last year must have done the same kind of thing because we have their data sheet that shows these same measurements; however, when you compare last year’s data to this year’s, most of the trees seem to have gotten smaller in both height and DBH. We think last year’s interns must have used some inaccurate equipment, because they only measured height to the nearest 1/2 meter and their diameters seem way off. But again, because our Professor won’t answer any of our emails, we can’t be sure. We measured about 500 trees for this project.

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If you haven’t guessed already, taking measurements of 2,000 trees was pretty tedious and extremely boring. But after debating about it in my head for a while I’ve decided I don’t “hate” this internship and it isn’t the “most boring” thing I’ve ever done like I initially thought. Although the work was extremely repetitive and did not require any skill or education higher than an elementary school level, it could have been worse. We got to spend all our work time outside rather than sitting at a desk. We had to hike to a lot of our sites which were sometimes several miles away, but that meant I didn’t have to worry about exercising during my time here. And although we finished both projects much earlier than expected, most days we were done with our work by lunchtime or shortly after, which meant we had a lot of free time and weren’t stressed out. So although I didn’t really learn any new skills through this internship and I don’t feel like the work I did was very important, I still got something out of it. I will be able to put this experience on my resume and talk about it in interviews. I also got a free trip to Costa Rica out of it. And most importantly I feel like I actually did something this summer rather than just getting a job in my hometown like most people do.

Enough with the positives, I would just like to complain a bit about today because it was the WORST DAY EVER even though it was our last day in the field.

Checking things off the list!

This weekend Jenna and I accomplished a lot and we didn’t even leave the Monteverde area!  On Friday afternoon we were ready to leave UGA for the night when we heard a TA for one of the UGA abroad classes say that they were going to be having karaoke in the dining hall later that night.  Since we had nothing else to do, Jenna and I decided to stick around for it.  This meant we would have to skip dinner and walk back in the dark, but we figured it would be worth it.  The karaoke was really fun!  We sand Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys and one of UGA’s cooks sang us some Spanish tunes.  But the funniest part was when the two professors for the UGA class got up and sand “I Like Big Butts and I Cannot Lie”.  I wish my professors were like that!

On Saturday morning we met up at 7:30 to go into town by foot.  This meant a 4 mile hike up La Trocha with a 1000 ft elevation change along the way.   The worst part was the beginning because that was where most of the elevation change was.  It was definitely the steepest hike I’ve ever done in my life.  But we made it to the top, and then went to Stella’s Bakery to get celebration smoothies!  After recovering at Stella’s for a while, we did a bit of souvenir shopping, got lunch at Amigos, and went to the grocery store before taking a taxi back to our houses (we had already walked down La Trocha before).  We tried to find the Saturday morning farmer’s market while we were in town, but no one seemed to know where it was.

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Sunday afternoon my host brother Loandry took me and Jenna to the San Luis river to go swimming and to get pizza at Zelmi’s Pizza.  First we stopped at the Pulperia, the little store in town, to get some snacks.  Then we headed for the river.  We had to go over a few poorly built bridges to get to the river, but the swimming hole was so pretty! There was a waterfall right behind it and there was even a rope swing!  Unfortunately, the temperature rarely goes above 75 degrees here, so the water was pretty cold.  We swam for as long as we could, and then went back to the pizza place to eat lunch.

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After eating our pizza and churilitos, we walked back to my house to get Gaudy (my host mom) so she could teach us to milk a cow! Loandry went out into the field next to our house and brought a cow over to the milking station.  We put its head in between some wooden bars and tied its legs so it couldn’t kick us. Then Gaudy told us to grab an udder, squeeze, and pull down.  She and Loandry were so good at it!  Jenna and I got some milk to come out, but not nearly as much as them.  Loandry was even squirting us with the milk when we weren’t looking.  It was interesting to milk a cow, but I’m glad that I don’t have to do that all the time in order to get milk.

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After milking the cow, Loandry helped me make cookies from a recipe I brought from home.  This recipe was for “Chocolate Chip Bits”, a cookie my grandma always makes for my dad.  They’re pretty complicated cookies, but we managed to make them with only a few minor hiccups.  Loandry thought it would be fun to turn the electric mixer on outside of the bowl after we had already used it, so we all got covered with flying cookie dough.  And the oven that Gaudy has only went up to 250 degrees, so the cookies were a little under cooked. But I thought they tasted delicious and they reminded me of home. I’m having so much fun here but I can’t wait to go back!

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Edit: By the time I woke up the next morning, all the cookies were gone!  My family liked them THAT MUCH.  But I’m really dissapointed because I like them a lot too… :( I guess I’ll just have to make them again.