It finally happened. What I’ve been prepared for every day except this one happened while we were tromping through the FUNDECOR area. We knew it was coming before it reached us and we knew we wouldn’t be able to get back to the bus in time. It snuck up on us fast and came down hard: The Rain.
A little over an hour before the downpour started the sun was blazing and the sweat was soaking into my shirt. It was so hot I even remember thinking about how nice rain would feel. We had gotten pretty far into the forest, having to navigate through mud puddles that came up just below where my rubber boots covered. Not wanting to get wet, we carefully navigated through the standing water while learning about the sustainable forest management implemented there. In the midst of one of his explanations, the forest engineer giving us the tour paused and said, “Do you hear that?” He turned to his partner who nodded in agreement and we all knew what it meant. Not long after we turned around, the first few drops fell. In a matter of minutes, the rain was falling at full force and my shirt was soaked through with water instead of sweat. Running through foliage and jumping over logs, I followed my TA and another student, Ryan, at the front of the line. After we covered a good distance and I was starting to feel like we would get back in good time, my TA stopped and asked if I recognized where we were. None of it looked familiar and there was an alarming lack of footprints so we definitely hadn’t been that way. Turning around, we ran until we found the fork in the path we must’ve made a wrong turn at. Back with the group, we sloshed through the mud until we got back to the bus, cheering and laughing. Despite the mud caked on my only work pants for the next two days and my fear my camera got wet, running through the rainforest during a downpour is the kind of experience that makes me happy things don’t always go as planned.
Our forest management tour cut short, we headed to our next stop—an agroforestry site. Agroforestry is harvesting products from forests without clearing any land. The forest we went to was absolutely beautiful. With rolling hills, a high canopy, and all sorts of colorful plants, living and working there would be a dream. At first, I had a hard time understanding how profitable that sort of system could possibly be, but when the owner started showing us how it worked and how he got funding through a PES system it made more sense. A lot of the crops he produced were high value crops like vanilla and cacao.
After parting ways with the FUNDECOR group, we set off for La Selva Biological Station. I wasn’t expecting much from it but it was definitely one of the most scenic places I’ve been to so far. The common areas like the cafeteria and gift shop are by the entrance and the living quarters we stayed in were further away, across a beautiful suspension bridge. There were paved walkways that go through pristine rainforest we walked on to get to our rooms. As a biological center, it wasn’t nearly as tourist-ish as the other places I’ve been—the people who live there are all scientists and researchers. Our professor explained that they used paved roads so that the scientists could ride bikes to get to their research sites quickly. We were told some of the people who live there have been studying the ecosystem there for 10 years, which I found amazing. On one hand, I think the experience of living at a place like that would be life changing, but I don’t think I could stay in one place studying one thing for that many years.
The rooms were pretty similar to the set up at EARTH. What I really loved was the view from my window. If you looked closely, you could see the suspension bridge going over the river. Also, I think it’s worth mentioning I was able to take my first hot shower in almost two weeks, something I appreciate much more now.
That night, we went on a night tour of the rainforest. It wasn’t as exciting as it sounded, mostly due to how slowly our tour guide went. There was also a bit of an ant problem—if we stopped walking long enough, red ants would find their way up our shoes and onto our pants. We did manage to see some cool wild life though. Most of what we looked at were red eyed tree frogs and huge crickets, but the most exciting thing was the snake my friend Suzy spotted. She was walking right behind me and I heard a little yelp from her. Turns out there was a snake hanging out of a hole with a bird half way in its mouth.
The next morning, we discussed one of our readings and had some time to do a little exploring before heading back to EARTH. When we got back, our free time was mostly spent doing laundry and getting ready for our three day stay at Tortuguero. It’s strange but going back to EARTH definitely feels like going back to a little home, even though I haven’t been there more than two weeks. It’s also strange to think about how little time I have left there, since we’ll be travelling to Corsicana, our homestays, Monteverde, and finally EARTH’s smaller campus, La Flor.
Tortuguero was by far my favorite stay so far—not surprising since it’s a resort and we had ample free time. Spending so much time with the eight other students on the trip, we’ve become such good friends. It was great being able to hang out with them, on the hammocks and by the pool. Don’t get me wrong, we had plenty of work to do. But doing work (that’s actually really fascinating) at a resort with a beautiful river on one side and the Caribbean ocean on the other isn’t the same as in a library cubicle. Our class discussions were either at the bar or by the pool. Even though they interrupted our swimming time, I was always excited to talk about the articles. Professor Skole is extremely knowledgeable and all the reading material was right up my alley.
We were also able to see a lot of the wild life and local culture at Tortuguero, a tiny tourist town that thrives off of ecotourism. To get to Tortuguero, you have to take a one and a half hour boat ride down a river that cuts through lush forest. Just getting to the lodge, we saw monkeys, iguanas, exotic birds, and—my favorite—sloths! Top on my list of things to see at Costa Rica was a sloth so after that, I was definitely a happy camper.
Also at Tortuguero, we had the chance to go on multiple tours—a botanical tour, a frog tour, and a visit to where the river meets the ocean. Everywhere we went on the little water bound peninsula was accessed by boat. Despite the sweltering heat, it always felt great to be on a boat.
Tortuguero ended with the same long boat ride it took to get there, followed by an even longer bus ride. For all the time I spent sitting, it wasn’t too bad. I talked to my friend, Ashley, practically the whole bus ride so it was enjoyable.
One thing my Professor said when we arrived at Tortuguero, after being greeted with damp towels to cool down and fruit smoothies, really stuck with me. “Good luck is the residue of hard work.” Being at the resort was amazing, and I definitely felt lucky to stay there, but things this good happen because you make an effort. And instead of taking it as patting myself on the back, I prefer to take it as advice for the future and think of what exciting things I can experience if I work even harder.
But until then, I’ll keep studying and enjoying my time in Costa Rica to the fullest!