Karenesque

The Karen Files

Costa Rica – Part III – The Ending: Monte Verde & Manuel Antonio

And now for the final installment of my Costa Rica adventure!

If you haven’t read part II, you can do so here.

June 3

Today was a very long bus ride to Monte Verde, but at least it was enjoyable. For a good portion of the drive we were going up a mountain, and the scenery was beautiful.

Costa Rica bus view - Monte Verde
There were some parts of the drive where there was nothing but a sheer drop when you looked outside the window. There was no fence or anything blocking the road from the edge of the mountain. One wrong move by the bus driver would have had us plummeting down to our dooms! Very scary, but we had fun.

Costa Rica - on the bus

Steve having fun on the bus

Monte Verde is a reserve (protected area) that contains the cloud forest which we would be visiting later. The reserve was started by some Quakers from Alabama. It has over 400 species of birds, 100 species of mammals, and 120 species of reptiles and amphibians. This cloud forest will be the wettest site we’ll visit – it rains pretty much every day. Cloud forests are generally 4500-6000 feet up (which is why we were doing the mountain driving), and precipitation is generally above 120-160 inches a year.

Monte Verde Cloud Forest

When we arrived and checked into our rooms, it seemed like heaven compared to Pale Verde! There were no bugs and we had our own bathroom with actual hot water (I had to take freezing cold showers in Pale Verde and lukewarm ones in La Selva).

After we checked in and had lunch (a pasta buffet that was delicious), a group of us went horseback riding through the cloud forest.

The horseback trip was so enjoyable and beautiful. At one stretch there was an outlook, but all we could see was white because we were in a cloud at the time.

We saw white-faced monkeys who came extremely close, entertaining us by doing their little acrobatics and trying to jump on our horses. At one point a monkey stole Damon’s hat, and he never did get it back!

It rained while we were out there on our horses. I ended up being completely soaked! It was a cold rain because the elevation at Monte Verde makes it a bit chillier. We were all a little uncomfortable, but it was still worth it.

I need to end this entry now because I am falling asleep while writing this. I’m also feeling a bit sick tonight but don’t know if it is allergies or a cold coming – either way I’m going to bed. I feel a low-grade temperature as well… Yikes! Anyway, more tomorrow!

June 4  

Today we were going to hike through the Monte Verde National Reserve and Cloud Forest, a 10,500-hectare Costa Rican sanctuary where plants and wildlife are given absolute protection.

Before we went into the forest, we stopped at the hummingbird gallery/garden, which was terrific. It was smaller than I expected it to be but it was definitely neat to see so many hummingbirds all in one spot, especially thinking that before I’d been to Costa Rica, I’d only seen one hummingbird in my life. They were all eating and surrounding plants like the “hot lips” plant (a common plant in the cloud forest which feeds hummingbirds and butterflies) and is a member of the rubiaceae family (which includes coffee).

Hummingbirds

 

"Hot Lips" plant

“Hot Lips” plant

The trail we took ended on the continental divide at “La Ventana”. There is a high humidity and almost continuous cloud cover in these tropical mountains that form the “cloud forests”. This accounts for the lush mosses, ferns, lichens, orchids, etc. that are found here. The humidity and thickness of growth becomes greater as you approach the continental divide.

It was really a beautiful forest. It was misty and almost dreamlike. I was still not feeling well, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying my time when I was there.

Path in the forest

We had a great sighting right at the beginning of our journey. We saw came upon a male and female resplendent quetzal, which are said to be among the most beautiful birds in the world. They definitely were pretty, though I don’t know if I’d say that they were the most beautiful. Before I could say that I would need to see every single bird that there is, and that would just take way too long.

Note from present: I didn’t get a picture, but here is one I found through Google:

resplendent quetzal

Picture found at the following site: http://guatemalatravel.guide/the-resplendent-quetzal/

Resplendent quetzals are frugivores (fruit eaters) which mainly feed on fruits from trees in the avocado family. When quetzals eat, they regurgitate intact seed from the fruit, at times quite far from the tree. Fruit trees often depend on them as a vital part of their reproduction.

We also heard (but did not see) bellbirds, which have a very unique bell-like song.

There are so many species of tree ferns in cloud forest environments. The cyatheaceae family has 14 species which are found in Monte Verde, and can reach heights of 10-12 meters and can live up to 150 years. While walking around, Professor L pointed out a strangler fern surrounding a tree. He explained that it likely started when a fig seedling growing on the trees crown (possibly dropped by a quetzal?) began to send roots down the trunk, eventually surrounding the entire trunk. This ultimately kills the tree.

There were a lot of epiphytes in Monte Verde, and the leaf cutter ants made another appearance, though leaf cutters are not as prominent here as they are in other sites.

Monte Verdes “dry” season is during the months of December through March, though it is not exactly “dry”. Little direct rain falls during these months, but when warm, moisture-laden trade winds reach the Atlantic slope, they rise and cool, depositing moisture on all surfaces. This produces an almost constant drip from canopy to the ground, keeping streams flowing even when there is no rain.

The problem with deforestation here is that when the forest is removed, so are the condensing surfaces. The mist would be blown west where it vaporizes in the hot, dry air, causing the water flow to the lowlands to greatly decrease.

After all that, we went back to the hotel and then took a cab into town so we could check out the shops. The shops seemed pretty touristy so I decided not to buy anything. I figure I’ll save all of my souvenir shopping for San Jose. They had nice stuff there, and that way I wouldn’t have to carry everything around the rest of the trip.

Now… how to describe my two days here at Monte Verde? I was not able to absorb it as well as La Selva because we were only here for two days. Also, I was still sick, and we didn’t have the opportunity to wander around in the forest by ourselves.

Monte Verde was a worthwhile place to see though, it is very beautiful. It was a very welcome change of scenery – especially since we were just coming out of hell (better known as Pale Verde).

I really wish that I had been feeling a little better for this city because I definitely don’t feel that I took that much away from this experience, or at least not as much as I could have.

Tonight is my last night here in Monte Verde. Next we will be moving on to the beaches of Manuel Antonio. Once again, it’s exciting and sad at the same time.

We’ll see how it goes tomorrow!

 

MANUEL ANTONIO

6/5/03

What a long day.

The bus ride into Manuel Antonio ended up taking around 8 hours.

The ride down the mountain was just awful. It was bumpy and scary (I tried not to keep thinking about the fact that we might fall off the mountain) and I was uncomfortable the whole way down. But, we made it!

scenery from bus in Costa Rica

We stopped at a gator bridge, which is a bridge overlooking a river that is known to be highly populated with gators. I did see a lot of them down there!

Costa Rica river

After that we stopped for lunch at this nice little place on the shore called Steve and Lisa’s. The service was extremely slow but the food was good and the view was even better. The water here is a gorgeous blue. I can’t wait to go swimming in it.

Manuel Antonio Beach

When we finally got to Manuel Antonio, I was very pleasantly surprised. It was so much nicer than I expected! We got our rooms after lunch. The two Nicoles and I got a room right next to the bar – and I mean on one side of the wall (the inside of our room) there is my bed, and on the other side of the wall (the outside of our room) there is the bar. This could be seen as a not-so-good thing if any of us want to ever go to bed before the bar closes!

After settling ourselves in, a bunch of us decided to go for a walk on the beach. It was dark by then, which was fine by me, because I love the way the beach and ocean look at night.

We all took off our sandals and walked along the edge of the water. I was in SHOCK over how warm the water was. I had expected it to be freezing! After all, this is the Pacific Ocean, which tends to be colder, but there wasn’t even the tiniest bit of cold! Not one iota of uncomfortableness!

We walked along the beach for a little while and then we walked along the strip next to the beach to check out the shops. They had some nice things, like these beautiful bongo drums which I really wanted, but I couldn’t see how I would get them back to the states on the plane as they were much too big.

It started raining (of course) and we headed back for dinner, pointing out a few prostitutes to the guys on the way. Apparently, prostitution is legal here in Costa Rica. The prostitutes are all licensed and tested and all that jazz. It helps to cut down on the crime.

At dinner that night I sat with the professors and we had some good conversations. We ended up talking about the differences between the college students of their time and my time. It was an interesting topic. Dr. L was making the observation that my generation doesn’t seem to care as much as the generation of the 60’s and 70’s. At first, I disagreed, but then after thinking about it for a little while, it’s probably true. It’s very rare that you see a group of young people nowadays fighting for something they truly believe in. It happens, but not like it did in the 60’s when colleges staged walkouts and protests that actually happened, or took over the offices of the president in their school when things got really bad. Nowadays, you may sometimes hear about those kinds of protests, but it seems so rare and much more low-key. In my experience while in college, politics or other world issues was not what motivates the young people – it’s money and professions that do the motivating. I’m definitely not saying that this applies to everybody that I know, but it does seem to apply to a majority of them.

6/6/03 

Today we went on a group hike through the tropical forests of Monte Verde. I admit that I was pleasantly surprised with the hike – it was not quite as beautiful as La Selva, but it did remind me a lot of it!

Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

It was a nice walk but unfortunately because it was such a touristy area there was a noticeable amount of pollution (aka litter) and tree graffiti. I wish people would just clean up after themselves and leave the poor trees alone! No one cares if Jimmy loves Suzy or if Justin was here! We can SEE that you were here by your cigarette butts on the ground!

Besides that it was fun and we learned a lot. Manuel Antonio (a beach rainforest) is at sea level on the Pacific coast. The Manuel Antonio national park is one of the smallest parks in the national park system, and is a huge tourist attraction.

Beach rainforest

The islands that are seen from the shore are popular for migratory shore birds.

There are four main plants/trees that keep the beach tropical forest ecosystem held together: Mangroves, coconut trees, the “little apple” or manzanillo tree, and the wild almond.

Mangroves are very salt resistant, as they must be in order to live in this area. Some of the plants, in order to deal with ocean water, don’t allow salt into their roots at all – others let it in, but excrete it at the tips of their leaves. Salt water actually has a lot of nutrients if you find a way to get past the saltiness!

Mangrove seeds fall into the water and can float for months before they find a place to root, ensuring that their genes get spread out far – this is what the mangrove seed looks like:

Mangrove seed drawing

The “little apple” is the most toxic tree in the area; it’s sap is quite poisonous and if it gets in your eyes it could easily blind you. Touching the tree would cause a rash/reaction worse than poison ivy. The little green “apples” that grow on it look a bit like wild almonds, but you don’t want to get the two confused!

Manzanillo tree Costa Rica

Eucalyptus trees are also seen in this area, but they are a non-native (introduced) species.

White face and squirrel monkeys are common here, as are “mouthless crabs”, which are purple and yellow land crabs.

mouthless land crabs - Costa Rica

We walked along the beach and went swimming for a short while, but a few of us (myself included) had to hurry back so we could walk into town and get some money out. I did, however, get some nice pictures that day:

Beach rainforest - Manuel Antonio (1)

Beach rainforest - Manuel Antonio (2)

Beach rainforest - Manuel Antonio (3)

Beach rainforest - Manuel Antonio (4)

Beach rainforest - Manuel Antonio (5)

Beach rainforest - Manuel Antonio Lizard

Ben, Kristy, Brady, and I left the beach and walked into town while everyone else continued to swim. I felt bad for Ben during this trip, it seemed like Kristy and Brady kept trying to lose him. I didn’t really like the idea of Ben being lost in a strange city in another country, so I kept trying to find him. Actually, it’s possible that maybe they were trying to lose me too! But, we eventually all made it back together (after some decent shopping).

Hmmm… Well, since I have nothing else to write about now and it’s still early, I think I’ll write a bit about what my thoughts are of everyone who is on this trip. I’ll give you their descriptions from my point of view, so if I ever decide to write a book or a story about this trip, I’ll have a good reference.

Lets see… I’ll start with one of my favorite persons on the trip.

H – H is just an all around great guy, possibly one of the nicest people that I’ve ever met. He’s always willing to do something nice for you. I have never seen him angry or do anything remotely mean to anyone. He loves yoga with a passion, and is always trying to get Nicole (a yoga instructor) to practice it with him. He is such a free spirit, and probably is the person who is most perfectly suited for this trip. He’s always looking, smelling, tasting, and otherwise examining everything. He isn’t (or doesn’t seem to be) afraid of anything, and he seems to really enjoy being in the forest by himself. He is extremely friendly, and I think everyone on the trip likes him. He’s also got a cool name (single letter names are a tradition for his family), and apparently he is a Quaker! That’s enough for H.

Blond Nicole – I’d have to say that she is my other favorite person on the trip. She’s sweet, and I think pretty much everyone on the trip likes her because she is so cute and adorable. She kind of reminds me of a little chipmunk! She is also very health conscious. She knows everything you ever wanted to know about nutrition. She had an eating disorder at one time, which is why she now knows so much about how and what she should eat.

Yoga Nicole – this Nicole is the yoga instructor. She’s nice most of the time, but she can be mean if you do something that bothers her, and she doesn’t really care what anyone thinks about her. She and the other Nicole became very fast friends because they seemed to have a lot in common. She also became fast friends with H, possibly because of the yoga thing. I like her because she’s a very strong and independent person, but I felt bad for the people on the trip she didn’t like (Jeff mainly) because she made it pretty well known. She also seems a little spoiled. It wasn’t uncommon for her to pout if she doesn’t get her way.

Ellie – She seems like a nice girl on the inside, but she is kind of loud and obnoxious and very “me-me-me”. She doesn’t think of others as much as she thinks of herself. A lot of the people on the trip don’t seem to like her very much because of those qualities. At least one of the guys didn’t like her because he thought she was flirting and making him think there was a chance when there was not. It’s not that I think she means to act like that, but when you are raised as an only child you almost can’t help but be spoiled. Also, her father is a rabbi. I don’t know what that has to do with anything; I just thought that was cool.

Jamie – She was someone I didn’t really get to know all that well… She is best friends with Ellie and she is the second biggest drinker on the trip. She seemed kind of unhappy at times, but she was pretty fun. I think she had a thing for Damon. She also is kind of a tomboy – she was better than the boys at soccer, and she will usually be up for pretty much anything!

Ben – Ben. What can you say about him? He’s definitely an odd character. He can be pretty annoying at times because he’ll ask some questions over and over again, yet he has a photographic memory about other things. He is also constantly cracking corny jokes. He says he was an alcoholic at one time, and now he’s recovering. When people are looking for somewhere to drink and party, he’s looking for an AA meeting, which is admirable. He does sometimes get into these moods that really irritate me because he gets cranky and rude. I’m don’t think people don’t like him on this trip, it’s more like he’s a joke. I do feel bad for him, but at times I think he does these things knowing what kind of reaction he’s going to get. I think he’s enjoying this trip less than anyone else. He seems pretty homesick, and I think he’ll be happiest when we leave.

Jamie Lee – Hmm, I’m not sure how I feel about this Jamie. She’s got beautiful hair; she’s in graduate school for substance abuse (the latter made me think she was a more intellectual type, but I’m not so sure anymore). She kind of gives off the impression that she thinks she’s better than everyone else. Maybe she’s not really like that, but that’s the impression I got. She is very easily excited, and any kind of animal sighting sends her into raptures of delight – especially puppies and sloths. I guess it is endearing, but it can also be a bit annoying!

Kristy – she is young, and her attitude shows it. Fresh into college, she came to Costa Rica more interested in the bar scene and getting a tan than anything else. She’s always looking to drink and party, and she has a thing for H which is cute. She is best friends with Brady, they came on the trip together.

Brady – She is a lot like Kristy, except she is more athletic and Kristy is more girly. I found out that she has an eating disorder, which worries me about her… I hope she’ll be able to get through it. Nicole is going to talk to her about it, since she has been through it once herself. Brady also repeatedly gets drunk to the point of being sick, which I don’t understand. Why would you willingly put yourself through that? She didn’t really seem to care as much for this trip as an educational experience as she does that it is a tanning/partying/drinking experience. These two girls (Brady and Kristy) were never very nice to me, right from the beginning. I overheard them talking rudely about me early on (I’m not sure what I did to deserve it) so this may be part of my reason for the harsher descriptions of them. Kristy and Brady were the ones I had to room with at the beginning of the trip.

Damon – Damon is a character. Honestly, at first I didn’t like him very much. He seemed to always be trying to get with girls and compete with Jeff. But after we went on our hike together in La Selva I thought better of him. He acts different by himself than when he’s with the others. He was very sweet, but not in a “I’m hitting on you” kind of way. He was very excited about seeing all the things we saw (the ant eater and that giant killer bee thing that scared us) and I think he enjoyed the nature part of this trip more than he shows when he’s around Jeff or the others.

Jeff – Jeff pissed me off a lot in the beginning. He’s an arrogant, spoiled little rich kid. He was constantly in competition with Damon (usually he loses) and he was always trying to get with the girls. He’s mean too – but after listening/talking with him a few times, I realize he’s not as bad as he makes himself out to be. At least he feels bad about doing the things he does, but that doesn’t excuse everything!

6/7/03 

Today we had a free day. The two Nicoles went out to take surfing lessons, which I would really have liked to do except for the fact that I am a bit short on cash. But I guess you can learn to surf at any beach, right? I also could also have gone deep sea fishing, which would have been really cool, but that was way too expensive.

Instead, I spent the day at the beach and searching for souvenirs for my family.

The water on the ocean today was beautiful. My roommates met up with me at the beach and we all relaxed for a while and then went swimming (I was a little nervous about the water because I kept being warned about how strong the undertow was and how easy it would be to drown. Luckily, I didn’t drown – I’m still alive and kicking!)

Costa Rica trip - part of the group

Some of the group on the beach

The undertow didn’t seem that bad to me, though Kristy was freaking out a little when people went out too deep. She was afraid that the undertow would sweep us all out to sea. She told us that it almost happened to her earlier that morning.

By mid-afternoon (around 2) we’d had enough. Despite my SPF 50+ sunscreen, I was starting to burn! We all had lunch at an interesting restaurant by the water. It had a great beachy atmosphere. Instead of pictures, they hung surfboards on the walls.

I ate with the Nicoles and Ben; the professors, Kristy and Brady sat at a table next to ours. It was one huge lunch party, it was! The food and conversation were good, though Ben was being a bit cranky and irritating.

After lunch, I went shopping on the strip next to the beach. The stuff didn’t really interest me that much, but I did buy a sarong because I’ve always wanted one, and it was much cheaper here than I could have gotten anywhere else. So now I am the proud owner of a beach sarong!

When it was dinnertime, the whole group went out to eat at the same restaurant that we went to for lunch (paid for in full by our lovely professors, how nice!) It was hilarious to see how crazy our waiter was going. It was quite obvious that they don’t usually get this many people at the same time. He was talking a mile a minute, and zipping back and forth between tables like a bumblebee in a field full of nectar-less flowers.

The food was delicious, and afterwards, those of us who felt like going clubbing went out. That was fun, the dance floor was a bit tiny but H found a way around that. He was a dance MACHINE!

While H was tearing up the dance floor (and Jeff was trying to score) the rest of us found a table to sit down and chat. That’s when Kristy started to complain that her feet were BURNING and that she had to go home. H ended up walking her and Brady home, and the rest of us stayed to take his place on the dance floor.

Later that night the Nicoles, Jeff and I got into a conversation about why he can be such an ass sometimes. It turns out that he was really hurt by a girl recently, and by being an ass to other girls it made him feel a little bit better about it, though he admitted he only felt better for a little while before he started to feel really guilty. He said he couldn’t help being a jerk. He would say things and then regret that he said it after it was said, but there was nothing he could do to take it back. I guess he doesn’t know how to apologize! I guess I keep realizing more and more that Jeff isn’t really all that bad of a guy. Maybe I shouldn’t always be so quick to judge people.

We stayed at the club until it closed, around 2:30. Somehow, blond Nicole lost her shoe on the dance floor, and even though we waited until everyone was gone, it was nowhere to be seen. So she walked home half shoe-less. Haha, that’s actually really funny thinking about it again now.

Well, that is pretty much it. We went home, and everyone went to bed. Tomorrow I think I’m going to try to even out my tan on the beach. We were granted an extra hour before we had to head back to San Jose again, so we don’t have to leave until 9:am. That’s late for us!

OK, it’s bedtime now.

6/8/03 

Well, after a long bus ride, we’re back in good ol’ San Jose. The two Nicoles went straight to bed (they aren’t feeling very well – I think they caught what I had) and I realized I forgot two people in my descriptions! Steve and Val! So, here goes:

Steve – He’s definitely the clown of the group. He went on this trip last year and liked it so much that he had to go again. He always seems to be looking for approval. He makes a joke and then looks around to be sure that everyone else thought it was funny. He laughs harder at his jokes when others laugh… and whenever he says that something is cool, he adds a “right?” to the person(s) that he is talking with, to make sure they agree. He’s usually pretty sweet, he’s a teddy bear on the inside but I don’t really know about the way he treats Val (his girlfriend). He treats her like she’s a piece of meat. I think he probably really loves her, but I think he’s just so proud of himself that he has her that he puffs out his chest and treats her how he thinks a man should treat a woman: like an object. She doesn’t seem to mind though, so I guess it works for them. Steve also has an obvious drinking problem. He drinks every day and night, it’s the first thing he does when we aren’t having any kind of classwork. I would think it was just a young college kid thing, but he’s 27 years old! He really needs to get in control of that. He gets very cranky if he finds out he can’t go drinking.

Val – Val is a nice girl, but I think she has pretty low self-esteem. She says she can’t go anywhere without makeup because she feels ugly, which usually does point to low self-esteem. That might explain why she doesn’t seem to care when Steve treats her like an object. She is very smart, but she should just have a little more faith in herself. If she stays with Steve, I hope she can help curb him of his drinking!

Well, now I must go shopping for souvenirs… more later!

OK, my souvenir shopping is all done. Tonight we all (minus the professors) went out to dinner at a very authentic Costa Rican restaurant. It was really cool, they even served the food on plantain leaves (or was it banana leaves?) Again, Ben was really pissing me off. He kept insisting that he was the one guy in the world who had the ability to drive drunk. He said he did it often when he used to drink, and he knew he was good at it. He admitted that some people could not drive drunk, he was certain that HE could.

Even though he no longer drinks, it still really angered me. I hate when people drive drunk, and his attitude was so ignorant! At first, I thought he was kidding around, but it quickly became obvious that he was not. He usually admits the joke if it upsets someone, but he kept insisting this was true. I know he really believed it. Steve was getting a big kick out of us arguing though – I suppose it’s nice I could be of some entertainment. I’m seriously glad that Ben doesn’t drink anymore.

When we got back to the room, we didn’t do much. The Nicoles went to bed early and I just felt like sitting downstairs at the Café and writing. While I was down there, I saw a lot of young prostitutes coming in and out of the hotel with old men. Tonight was a big night for prostitution! I think Damon is seriously thinking about getting himself one. I doubt he really will, but he was sitting down here with Jeff and he started wondering out loud if he could get one, and how much, and where they all are… Hahaha! Tomorrow is rafting day, can’t wait!

6/9/03 

Rafting was AWESOME! My guide was awesome – he had a great personality and loved what he was doing. He was also FUN! The rafting was scary, but a good scary. Our guide was happy with how we all worked together, so he made sure we went on all the hard rapids. When the head raft guy made a command for him to skip one, he went on it anyway, at the risk of getting in trouble. No “chicken runs” for us!

Costa Rica white water rafting (1)

Costa Rica white water rafting (2)

Costa Rica white water rafting (3)

In my raft it was Damon, Jeff, Ellie, Jamie Lee, Jamie, and myself, and the guide was in the back. It was an unbelievable experience, one that I would most definitely do again.

Costa Rica white water rafting (4)

We had lunch in a little shelter area (because it was raining we couldn’t eat outside). The food was delicious! We had fresh fruit, sandwiches and cookies – and we were all so hungry that it tasted even better. After lunch we got back to the raft and finished the trip, with one more short break to go swimming.

After it was done, they offered to sell us a CD with all the pictures on the trip, and of course we bought it. There were some great pictures! In our entire group, only one person (Brady) fell out – but she was OK.

After we got back, Brady and Jeff had to leave for the second part of their study abroad. They were doing an intensive language study for 6 more weeks in San Jose, tears all around.

As we were saying goodbye, we saw an interesting guy yelling in Spanish and waving around the bible at everyone in the street. He was talking too fast for me to understand what he was saying… I caught Diablo (devil) and a few other things. He didn’t have many teeth. I gotta go for now, more later, maybe.

San Jose street scene

In San Jose

San Jose street scene 2

San Jose (ALTO!)

Well, people really annoy me sometimes.

We’re working on our final (everyone divided up the questions so we would all do some of it), and I had my questions done pretty early (as did Damon), but no one else did. And, silly me, I was the one who volunteered to collect all the answers and put them together, so I ended up having to do so much extra work. By the end of the night, everyone did SOMETHING, but some people did very little and barely answered the questions so I had to make up for it and fix them. I was in such a bad mood by the end of the night. Some people did such a half-assed job on their questions and I hated that my name had to go on it too, but what could I do? I didn’t have time to re-do everything. I’m usually a perfectionist and I really didn’t like handing something that wasn’t perfect. I regretted agreeing to work on this as a group.

I guess I also kind of snapped at poor Ben too. He was doing a lot and helping a lot, but he kept asking such ridiculous questions! And asking them over and over again! Sigh. I’ll have to apologize to him. Right now, bed.

June 10

TIME TO GO HOME!

And for your reading pleasure, see some of the below scanned papers (pdfs).

Final exam (questions only)

Final report (completed at home)

Animals of Costa Rica

Costa Rica – Part II: Pale Verde

It took me a while to get to publishing part II of my Costa Rica trip – it’s funny how life happens and so much time goes by before you realize it. But for everyone who has been waiting so patiently, here it is!

If you haven’t read part I, click here!

5/31

Today we had a “break” day. We spent it at the beautiful Tabacon Spa Lodge in La Fortuna.

Tabacon Spa lodge in La Fortuna

Before reaching the lodge, we stopped for lunch next to a lake. It provided us with a gorgeous view of an absolutely breathtaking volcano. I am sorry to say that I didn’t get a picture of the volcano because my camera was MIA at the time, but no worries, I found it now!

Check out the beautiful river we saw near the lodge:

Tabacon Spa lodge in La Fortuna - river

Tabacon Spa lodge in La Fortuna - river

Tabacon Spa lodge in La Fortuna - river

When we first checked into the lodge we immediately went to the pool, which we were pleasantly surprised to see had a swim up bar. (Note from the present – I knew I remembered visiting somewhere with a swim up bar but couldn’t remember where it was! It wasn’t until I re-read my Costa Rica journey that I realized. Shame, I was hoping it was in Florida so I could go back!) We hung out there for an hour or so and then we went over to the hot water springs, which are naturally heated from the lava (or I suppose when lava is still underground it’s called magma?). Those springs were fantastic; I had never been to a hot springs before and honestly had no idea that they could be THAT hot! We stayed there until they made us leave because it started storming with lightning and thunder.

The view outside my window at the lodge is beautiful – the same volcano that we saw earlier can be seen in the distance. It’s smoking and rumbling right now, and tonight after dark we’ll be able to see it glowing red because it is spewing lava – it’s just too bright outside to see it now. All you can see in the daytime is the smoke trailing down the mountain.

Volano Arenal Costa Rica

This volcano is known as Volcano Arenal. It has frequent (non life-threatening) eruptions; it’s a very active volcano.

I’m now in the patio attached to my room and I’m just sitting here by myself… watching the rain, listening to the thunder, and watching the volcano erupt. At the moment it’s hard to tell if the noises I hear are coming from the volcano or the thunder.

Side note – the volcano just did a huge boom, WOW!

Everyone is begging the professor to let us stay here a couple of days more instead of going to Pale Verde, our next rain forest (or actually dry tropical forest) site. I know that this place is nice, and it’s cool to have a little break from roughing it in Costa Rica, but I would definitely rather go see the forest. You can go to a spa with friends a lot easier than you can go to a dry tropical forest and learn about it first hand! I will admit though that I am a little worried about the scorpions that are supposed to be all over the place in Pale Verde.

6/1

Before I talk about today, let me tell you about last night… Not only did I get to see the volcano erupting in the dark (which was well worth the wait), I also got to go to a Spanish club with a few of the others. It was really fun! We went in and immediately heard a Spanish band playing. There were three guys up on a stage with their instruments who were dancing synchronized, Spanish style dancing, with plenty of singing and clapping. All I can think to explain is that it was like the Spanish Backstreet Boys! All the people on the dance floor were dancing in the Spanish style, which intimidated us at first, but we got used to it – and we ended up dancing throughout the night.

It was really fun, even though I’m sure they could tell I was American by my (terrible) dancing. When we got back to our rooms from the club, a few of the guys and a few of the girls and I chilled on the patio and watched some more of the eruptions before going to bed. It was a good night.

THEN we get to Pale Verde. Oh. My. God.

First of all, let me warn you that I’m not in all that great of a mood to begin with because I haven’t had much sleep.

We get there and the place is swarming, literally SWARMING with insects. In 15 minutes, I got about 13 bug bites. This was when the strong bug block went on full strength, and yet still they harassed us. I also got bit by an ant, which REALLY hurt. I may have whined about it more than I normally would have because of my crankiness, but it HURT!

Here we are hiking through the buggy dry forest:

Hiking in Dry Tropical Forest - Pale Verde Costa Rica

More bug bites and harassment by bugs happened throughout the day. We saw monkeys and cool birds, but I was so distracted with slapping myself to get rid of the mosquitoes that I didn’t pay much attention. I felt bad because Prof L kept trying to teach but we were not paying as much attention as we did in La Selva. Hopefully after we’ve all had a bit of sleep we’ll be better able to ignore the annoying insects.

One positive thing about the bugginess – because Pale Verde has so many mosquitoes, it also has a TON of dragonflies. The dragonflies are zipping around everywhere, hanging around the people because the people attract the mosquitoes which dragonflies love to eat. I became very fond of dragonflies on this trip.

We did see some cool things. For example, I never would have thought you’d see cacti in a rain forest:

Cactus in Pale Verde

Pale Verde is scary in more ways than just the little bugs. It also has scorpions crawling up through shower drains (yes, we saw it) and it’s a place where killer bees are known to exist (one boy years ago was killed by them). So let it be known that as of now I’m not very happy and I can’t wait to leave. I really hope this all won’t seem as bad tomorrow because I do want to learn about the tropical dry forest.

I do have to admit there were some very pretty parts in Pale Verde, even if I was too miserable to pay attention besides snapping photos every so often. This swampy area is so colorful!

Colorful field in Pale Verde Costa Rica

And the mountains in the background were beautiful.

Dry Trees in Pale Verde

Swampy area in Pale Verde Costa Rica

Swampy area in Pale Verde Costa Rica with mountains

Today was also the day we presented our personal experiments from La Selva in class. A few of the things that were tested and reported on during class –

  • leaf litter amounts on the floor
  • kinds of sugars ants are attracted to
  • leaf cutters being placed in different colonies
  • pheromone trail moving (mine!)
  • water PH levels
  • DEET sprays on ant trails

OK, I have to sleep now, more will definitely happen tomorrow.

6/2

Today was another buggy day.

We woke up very early, crawled out of our bug nets, had breakfast and went on a nature hike in the Pale Verde forest. It was very cool, but also very hot. These woods are quite different from the ones in La Selva. The trees don’t grow to be nearly as tall, and the leaves are much smaller. In La Selva, if you cut down a tree you wouldn’t be able to count the trees age by it’s rings because it doesn’t have them. It is a constant growing season there. In contrast – Pale Verde has a 4-6 month dry season, so the trees do have rings. An interesting fact – some people can estimate a trees age in tropical rain forests by the size of the woody vines growing on them.

Pale Verde is also much more rocky than La Selva. The rocks are mainly limestone, which provides many of the minerals that are necessary for the trees to grow. There are many more bugs in Pale Verde (SO MANY MORE), which I don’t quite understand because La Selva is so much wetter. Don’t bugs normally dig moisture? Pale Verde is also larger than La Selva, and is part of a national park.

It seems to also be uncomfortably hotter here in Pale Verde. Where is this “dry heat is better than wet heat” coming from?!

There are a bigger variety of birds here in Pale Verde that I did not see in La Selva, I saw a turquoise browed motmot, which is a stunningly beautiful bird. I also saw a couple of scarlet macaws, very beautiful birds that are hunted for sale in pet stores. I saw a ferruginous pygmy owl, a few great kiskadees, and a few orioles, who have very interesting nests. They hang from the trees and look a bit like this (I drew a picture)

Drawing of Oriole nest

We also saw egrets, woodstorks, a few northern jacana, and a black bellied whistling duck. I haven’t seen any hummingbirds here, but in La Selva they were all over the place.

The trees in Pale Verde that grow near the streams and lakes are evergreen trees – they have water all year round so they have no reason to lose their leaves in the dry season.

There are iguanas everywhere here! Some people were feeding them bananas by hand, which I didn’t think was a very good idea because I’ve always heard that you should never feed wild animals. It only causes them to no longer fear humans, which can lead to all kinds of trouble.
Iguana eating banana in Pale Verde
On our long hike today we climbed up to a really high scenic outlook rock which was appropriately named “La Roca”; we sat and relaxed there for a while, enjoying the surrounding view. Unfortunately, it was at this point that I started not feeling terrific, so I wasn’t able to enjoy it as much as I should have. I was so hot, and I was feeling light-headed – and being that high up is definitely not a good place to feel light-headed! So I sat down and put my head in my hands for a while until it passed. I didn’t really want to tell anyone because I would have felt bad if I made everyone come down because I wasn’t feeling good. Eventually I think Prof. L realized that something was wrong and he took me down. I guess it could have been dehydration or heat exhaustion or a mixture of the two, I don’t know. I just went home and took a nap, and woke up with a splitting headache, but I took a Tylenol and felt a lot better when it kicked in.

I was kind of upset that I missed the next hike because of that nap though. Everyone got to see a rattler and a bunch of other birds, and they all seemed really happy with that hike. I hate that I missed it because that chance will never come again. Oh well, I’ll have to make up for it on the rest of the trip, although the other two sites we visit are not going to be as intense as the first two.

After I felt better, I went out to do my ant experiment for my report which would be due a few weeks after we returned to the states.

The acacia tree  is full of vicious little ants called “pseudomyrmex” who will fight furiously for the survival of their tree. They keep it clean of all bugs and predators who mean harm to the tree (any leaf eaters), and also keep it clean of moss. They attempt to keep it free of nesting birds but the birds usually ignore them and keep coming back so eventually the ants leave them alone. The ants live in thorns on the plant. It looks a bit like this:

Acacia Tree Drawing

The pseudomyrmex ants are constantly patrolling the acacia trees, but if you don’t see them at any time, all you generally have to do is shake a branch on the tree, which will cause a swarm of ants to come out. Because this relationship has evolved over many years, the tree now depends on the ants to protect it. If the ants ever stopped protecting the tree, it would eventually die. Here are some slightly blurry images of the acacia:

 

Acacia tree - Pale Verde       Pale Verde acacia leaves

If you are stung by one of the ants, it is quite painful and will hurt for about 10 minutes afterwards. The sting area will swell up a bit and/or become red in a slightly bigger than a quarter-sized area, but if left alone for a couple of hours it will eventually end up looking like a mosquito bite.

For my independent study report, I wanted to see the reactions of the ants to various stimuli being placed on their tree.

Here are my results:

First, I shook a branch to see if the ants were active in that particular tree. They came out very quickly, ready to attack. I put a leaf on one of the spikes that the ants live in, but the ants didn’t really pay attention to the leaf. A few of them investigated, but that was the extent of it.

Next, I found another acacia tree that was near the one I used for my experiment. It was at most 2 feet away from it. I attempted to get an ant to come on a stick so I could transfer it from one tree to another, but the ants just ignored the stick. So I got a pair of tweezers and a small plastic box, and began to catch ants by pulling off a few leaves with the tweezers that had an ant on it, and dropped it into the box before the ant could bite me (of course I got bit a few times anyway). I then transferred that ant to my main acacia tree. Surprisingly enough, the ants didn’t bother the new ant. They ignored him completely, though the new ant seemed to be very upset about being on a new tree.

Here are more results when I tried to take ants from further away trees (boy I wish my ant catcher didn’t break).

  • 2 feet – no reaction
  • 15-20 feet – again, nothing
  • 30-40 feet – the ants definitely didn’t like this guy. They attacked him, and I eventually lost sight of him.
  • 50-60 feet – I expected the ants to attack this one too, since he was from even further away, but they ignored it. I haven’t the foggiest idea why that was. My scientific instinct told me to try once again, so I went and found a tree that was…
  • 100 feet away – I grabbed an ant (actually I got two this time) and when I put them on the tree, they were both attacked.

Next I decided to try something else. I found a dead dragonfly on the ground (I wouldn’t hurt a live dragonfly because they make me happy by eating those vile mosquitoes) and I tried putting it on the tree. It was windy so it fell off a few times, but I got it wedged in eventually. The wind made it move around fairly realistically, and the ants attacked that dragonfly so quickly it was unbelievable. They completely swarmed that dead dragonfly. Unfortunately, after this, I could no longer perform any more experiments because the wind was getting too strong and it definitely seemed like it was going to rain, but I think I have enough data for my paper!

I pissed off a lot of ants today, that’s for sure. Hopefully they don’t come back for revenge some day (Note from the present – how’s THAT for forshadowing? I’ve had numerous problems with ants since then, the most notable being the “ghost ant” which is common in Florida. I like to think they are the ghost ancestors of these Costa Rican ants that I sent to their death).

We are leaving Pale Verde forever tomorrow, so I must get some sleep and pray that no mosquitoes or other insects get into my netting (I had to tape up a bunch of holes in it already. I’m not sure exactly what possessed me to bring tape on this trip, but I sure am glad that I did!

Oh, and before I sign off there is one more thing that I forgot to mention that was interesting about today. Damon ate a live beetle. A big juicy one with a crispy crunchy shell… ugh. It was so disgusting! I think he got the idea because H was talking about how while he was in the woods he ate a couple of termites (his reasoning being that if he was ever lost in the woods, he would have to eat something for protein and he wanted to know what to expect). So Damon picks up a beetle that is crawling along the table and holds it by it’s legs while it wiggles around like mad and asks how much we would pay for him to bite it’s head off.

After a bidding war the money amount gets up to 10,000 colones (about 25 American dollars).

When the money was on the table, Damon put the beetle on his spoon, said “this is for your birthday, H”, and put the entire thing in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed.

It was absolutely disgusting! I really didn’t think he would do it, but he did. It’s so funny how these boys constantly compete… H ate termites, so Damon had to eat a beetle.

Tomorrow we are off to Monte Verde for our cloud forest adventure; more writing will come then! P.S., I had two cockroaches in my insect net when I got to my bed, which really annoyed me. Cockroaches are so dirty, they are the last thing I want crawling in my bed.

Skull in Pale Verde

How I felt during my time at Pale Verde…

For part III (the conclusion!) click here.

Costa Rica – Part I – The Beginning: La Selva

In 2003 (13 years ago!) I went to Costa Rica as part of a study abroad program for my college. I was required to keep a journal while I was there and then turn it in after the trip. I have had this journal sitting in my bookshelf for years just collecting dust, and I recently had the bright idea that I should add it to my travel blog. It is, after all, traveling that I did, and I’d love to keep a digital record of my time there. I don’t think anyone has seen this journal besides myself and the professor so it’ll be nice to be able to share it with my family and friends!

This first blog post will be dedicated to my time in La Selva. We spent most of our time there and it was my favorite place on the trip so I wrote quite a bit more about it than the other places we went. This one is going to be a long one! The other two or three posts should be much shorter.

Please excuse the writing. I did clean it up a little, but tried to keep it pretty much the same as it was in the journal so it had the same feeling of being written by the naïve college student I was. I cringed when I was re-reading some of it. I thought I was so clever…  little did I know, I didn’t really know much!  Note that the pictures were developed AFTER I returned to the states. I added some of the descriptions to the journal in 2003, but I also added to this blog some of the pictures that I didn’t include in the journal, so the description of those pics are from 2016… ergo they might not be 100% accurate. Memory is fleeting. And about the pictures… Do you remember 35mm cameras? And not being able to look at your pictures right after you take them? And having to pick and choose when to take a picture and when to save film? Me either. Those were dark times.

On a side note – this trip seems like it was a foreshadowing of my lifetime battle with ants everywhere I go…

May 25, 2003

Well, I made it to Costa Rica alive! That always gets a trip off on the right foot. The flight was pleasant enough, a bit uncomfortable perhaps, but all in all not too bad. Right now I’m in San Jose, which is an *ok* little city. Not terribly exciting, but what I’m really looking forward to is to get my feet in that rain forest and to see the volcanoes!

San Jose

I was assigned two roommates, but I’m not so sure how I feel about them. They haven’t been mean, exactly, but they also haven’t been all that nice. They seem very cliquey – they mostly only talk to each other. When I try to get into the conversation with them it just doesn’t seem to work out for me. Oh well, maybe by some stroke of luck I’ll be switched into another room later in the trip.

The glass ant catcher that Professor L made me for my required final experiment broke in my luggage during the flight. Now I don’t know what I’m going to do when the time comes for me to catch some ants! I don’t want to get bitten by catching them by hand – I’ll either have to find some other way to catch them or do something else altogether for my experiment.

Almost everyone went out clubbing in San Jose tonight, but I opted out. I’m still tired from traveling and I didn’t get any sleep last night because I was so excited for the trip. I also want to be awake and refreshed enough to enjoy tomorrow.

That’s enough for today. Rain forest tomorrow!

May 26, 2003

Today was a nice day, with a few exceptions. One of the study abroad students got sick and ended up having to go to the hospital. He turned out to be OK, but we were all pretty worried.

We got to “see” the volcano today – or rather it was so foggy that in reality we didn’t see much of anything. This is pretty much what we saw:

Volcano - Cloudy

Foggy Volcano

At the Volcano

Volcano map

I do have a good picture, but I cheated! The picture is actually from a postcard I purchased from the shop nearby. This is what the volcano would have looked like in ideal conditions.

Volcano - Clear

Check out this brave squirrel sitting next to the crater!

Squirrel in front of volcano

The volcano tour was a bit rushed because we had to hurry back to make sure that Ben (the student who went to the hospital) was OK. It was too bad, as there was always the chance the clouds may have lifted and we’d have been able to actually see the volcano, but thems the breaks!

One of the tasks we are all going to have to do while in La Selva is to design and conduct our own experiments on plants, ants, birds, or anything else we can think of. This is separate from the experiment we each have to run for our final papers (i.e. my broken ant catcher experiment). The La Selva experiments will be presented in Pale Verde, the next site we visit. I haven’t yet decided on mine, but I hope I can come up with a good one. I’m also thinking that I can do my own psychological observational study along with the scientific experiment. After all, I’m with a group of people that I didn’t know before this trip, and people-watching is fascinating!

For example – two of the guys on this trip seem to be heavily competing with each other for the attention of one of the girls. I could tell that these two guys were going to be spending a lot of their time girl chasing from the very beginning – just from overhearing some of their conversations with each other. It seems like when one of the guys shows an interest in one girl, the other guy attempts his luck with that same girl. It varies between who goes for which girl first, but they are constantly challenging each other. Maybe it’s not so much for the sake of getting a girl, but for the sake of being the “dominant” guy.

This poor girl who is currently attracting all their attention doesn’t seem like she is interested in either one of them in any way more than as friends and fellow students, but whenever she attempts to have a conversation with one of them, it is obvious that the other one gets really pissed off and sulks. It’s kind of funny to watch!

We spent a lot of time on the bus driving to La Selva, but I managed to take some pictures from the window.

Costa rica from the bus 2

Costa rica from the bus

Now can you tell me what color the flowers in the picture below are? It’s not as easy as it seems! Go ahead, take a guess!

White flowers in Costa Rica

Did you say pink, purple, fuchsia, or a similar color? Well, you are WRONG! They are actually white. The flowers are the white parts in the middle of the pinkish/purple leaves. Professor L drove us crazy with that question.

We stopped at a few places during our drive to La Selva to break up the boredom of the drive. One stop was a pretty waterfall:

Waterfall in Costa Rica

Waterfall in Costa Rica 2

We even got to go behind the waterfall!

Behind the waterfall

And we got to see some cool looking plants and trees. I’ve always had a fondness for moss. It’s so fluffy!

Costa Rica Plants

These leaves were HUGE. People can use them as umbrellas, and they are appropriately called “Poor Man’s Umbrella”. It’s a shame I didn’t have someone standing next to them for scale.

Poor Man's Umbrella leaves

We saw a sloth in a tree! Yes, he was very slow.

Costa Rica Sloth

The forests in Costa Rica can be beautiful and spooky at the same time.

Costa Rica Trees

We didn’t arrive in La Selva until nightfall, so all we were able to do was take a short walk around in the dark. The rain forest at night is not as cool as I expect it will be in the day, but we saw some interesting things anyway. Leaf cutter ants are probably some of the most fascinating creatures I’ve seen so far. There were so many of them! They were all walking in a row, each carrying bits of leaves or flowers above their heads. It looked especially mesmerizing when our flashlights were pointed at them, particularly when the light hit the white flower bits, which seemed to be glowing as they moved along in the dark. A couple of the guys dropped a giant leaf onto the trail to see if it would stop the ants. The ants did become extremely confused, and some started to walk the other way. An unbroken trail seems to be so important to their work that even an unexpected leaf can mess up their whole day.

We learned a lot about La Selva during our walk. Unfortunately, the area is becoming less and less remote as the time goes by and it becomes more and more populated by people. It’s becoming more of an “island” of forest surrounded by agricultural production, which is extremely damaging to the diversity of the forest. This is causing a lot of concern amongst scientists who are studying La Selva because logging and the agricultural production keeps on expanding and the forest keeps on shrinking. If things aren’t changed soon there could one day be no forest at all.

We also learned how to find our way around the forest ourselves by using the trail markers. When the numbers on the markers go up, you are walking further into the forest. When they go down, you are getting closer to the town (and civilization!). The numbers shown inform people how many meters away you are from the beginning of a trail.

Before we headed back to the cabins for the night we heard a group of howler monkeys; they are LOUD and sound gigantic and scary! Here’s hoping that tomorrow we’ll get to see them in addition to hearing them.

The spider webs that were woven around the bridge leading to the rain forest were pretty amazing too. Speaking of spiders – at the end of the night, we saw a huge wolf spider, bigger than any spiders I have ever seen in NJ. I didn’t see any snakes today, but I did see a few rabbits. I can’t wait to see everything in the light tomorrow!

There was no partying going on tonight – everyone else went to bed early. I guess I am a little disappointed that I didn’t go out last night because it seemed like everyone had a lot of fun. I was so tired that it didn’t seem worth it, but now I wonder if I missed out. My main priority for this trip is to definitely soak in as much of the environment and knowledge as possible, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to have a little fun too!

Tomorrow I’m going to *try* to wake up for 5:30 bird watching. I love birds; I think they are going to be my favorite part of everything we will see, though I suppose my mind could be changed by the end of the trip. The leaf cutter ants were pretty damn amazing.

OK, I better get to sleep now if I want to wake up with the birds, more to come tomorrow.

May 27

Today we had a tour of the rain forest by a local certified guide, where we learned about the native plants, animals, and insects of the forest. This was the first of many long hikes we’ll be taking while in Costa Rica. I finally had the chance to see the forest in the day, and I was not disappointed!

Rainforest in Costa Rica

It’s a bit hard to see in the below picture, but there is actually a large Golden Orb spider on it’s web there:

Costa Rica Golden Orb Spider

Here is one red leaf growing out of a fern, which is a common sight in the Costa Rica forests. Eventually this leaf will turn green like it’s brothers. I’ll talk more about this (the “red leaf hypothesis”) in one of the later days.

Costa Rica Red Leaf

We again saw leaf cutter ants, though they don’t work as well in direct sunlight so the lines that were not shaded by trees were sparser. We saw bullet ants, which were huge ants with a nasty bite – they are at least an inch long. We also saw a colony of army ants that started attacking people who stood too close to their line.

We learned that the leaf cutter ants use a chemical trail of pheromones to help them find their way to and from food sources. If one of them accidentally leaves or loses the trail, they may die unless they can find it again. These worker ants live for only about a week or two, but the queen ant is alive for as long as the ant colony is alive – when she dies, so does the colony. Within the colony, there are workers who carry the leaves or flowers to the nest, soldiers who attack anything (or anyone) that harasses the workers, riders which are little ants that ride on the back of the workers to get rid of mites and other parasites, and of course the queen who lays millions of eggs so the colony can continue. The queen is born with wings, and when she is ready she flies up into the sky and mates with other winged male ants to get all the sperm that she will need for her whole lifetime. She then comes back down, bites off her wings, and starts laying eggs.

The ants that collect the leaves don’t eat the plants, because the leaves are toxic. Instead, they eat the fungus on it. The fungus can’t exist without the ants, and the ants can’t exist without the fungus. This is another example of how important plants and ants are to each other.

Here is a random bug that our professor picked up to show us. I can’t remember what kind of bug it was… but it looks cool!

Costa Rica Bug

Here are a few more interesting tidbits we learned from the guide:

1) After bananas grow agriculturally in a field for 25 years, the soil becomes useless and nothing will grow in it.

2) Hardly any light will reach the bottom of the forest in an old growth area (old growth in a forest is an area where all the greenery has been growing for many years – new growth is when an area of the forest has been removed either from logging or a fallen tree, and all the growth is relatively new.) Because there is so little light reaching the bottom of the floor, very tiny plants can actually be pretty old.

Costa Rica Sun

3) In La Selva, February is the driest month (though it is never really all that dry), and July and August are the wettest months. Pale Verde (the location we will be visiting next) tends to be driest from December to March, with a bit of rain in June and July. That forest gets very dry. The difference in moisture between the two forests is because of something known as the “rain shadow” effect – La Selva is in the Northern part of the country; wind blows through the mountain peaks creating the effect. Pale Verde is in the southern part on a high plateau, which doesn’t create the same effect.

4) Some trees in La Selva can be brought down not by loggers but by a plant called an epiphyte. They grow on trees, not parasitically, but they can reach 7-8 tons a hectacre (a hectare is 2.471 acres), and during the wet season can bring down a tree simply because of the water weight.

Mossy Costa Rica Tree

5) Poison dart frogs lay eggs in pools of water, and then the parent frog lays sterile eggs for a short while to feed the tadpoles.

6) The dominant mammal in the forest are bats – and Costa Rica does have vampire bats!

7) The reason it usually rains in the late afternoon is because of a process called transpiration – the moisture from the previous rain rises during the day until the clouds can’t hold anymore, and it all comes down, only to start again the next day.

8) Apparently howler monkeys eat a type of toxic leaf as their main diet, which is why they usually are lazy – they spend a lot of time trying to digest their food.

The below isn’t a great picture, but it’s mushrooms growing up a tree. It looked awesome, like little fairy steps.

Costa Rica Mushrooms Growing on Tree

On the tour, we were able to see where some tarantulas nest, but didn’t see any tarantulas. They tend to stay hidden, especially during the day, so we’ll have to go out at night to try to spot them. I’m all for that, because I also want to see the glow in the dark moss that I’ve been hearing about!

Tarantula nest in Costa Rica

We also saw agoutis (which are rat-like creatures) and some parrots.

When we got back to the camp we were treated with seeing a Collared Peccary (which kind of looks like a pig):

Costa Rica Collared Peccaryand a family of Coatimundi!

Costa Rica Coatimundi Family

I have this picture from the 27th too, but I have no idea what it is. It looks like a green leech, but my guess is that it was a frog of some sort? Or maybe a lizard?

Costa Rica Frog or Lizard? Who knows

Tomorrow I plan to go out early morning by myself to check out what I can see when it is a little quieter.

May 28th

We got another early start this morning, and right as we got into the forest we saw a group of howler monkeys. No snakes or anything else to mention for this short walk, but we’re going out again in half an hour for an 8-mile hike. I’m sure we’ll get to see lots of interesting critters then.

I have to say that I’ve never appreciated meals as much as I have these past couple of days that I’ve been in La Selva. I like it here, but it’s definitely a lot more exercise than I’m used to. Not that I can’t do it, because I can, I’m just not used to sweating this much. I’m sure I’ll go back to the States very healthy!

I am a bit worried about the next site we’re scheduled to visit (Pale Verde) because Professor L. says that where we are staying now is like a luxury resort compared to it… and believe me – this is not a luxury resort!

OK, going to go for now, I’ve got to get ready for my long hike! More later.

***

I’m back! I’m extremely tired from our hike, so I’m not going to write much more today. The walk was fantastic! We saw spider monkeys, and one of them decided to throw fruit at us for some reason. At least I hope it was fruit… The howler monkeys made another appearance, and we saw a few more parrots and a toucan. We also saw some wild bananas!

Costa Rica Bananas

I also got a picture of the leaf cutter ants. They have been traveling the same path for so long that they have carved out a trail for themselves in the wall!

Costa Rica Leaf Cutter Ants

During one section of our hike we had to go across the river one at a time in a pulley-type device. We would pull ourselves over two at a time while our legs dangled free above the river.

Costa Rica Crossing The River with Pulleys

The other side of the river was beautiful – there was a lake or a giant river with rapids, and some interesting looking ferns.

Costa Rica River

Costa Rica Rain Forest

Costa Rica Plants

I know this picture is double exposed, but I thought it still looked neat enough to share. Check out those vines!

Costa Rica Blurry Trees

Some of the trees had grown in such a way that you could actually walk inside them, and through them.

Costa Rica Climbing Inside a Tree

Here is a tiny poison dart frog. They get their names because the natives used to rub their arrows on the toxic secretions on the back of the frog to create a more potent weapon.

Costa Rica Red poison dart frog

We learned a lot more about the forest today. For one: there is a thing called a “tree fall gap” – which is what happens when a large tree falls. Because the tree is so large and has a large canopy of leaves, it creates a gap in the forest ceiling. This can cause a temperature change in that area of the forest, and it allows more light to get in, which allows all kinds of new types of growth in that area.

Costa Rica Tree Gap

Costa Rica Tree

Trees fall very easily in the rain forest because all of the root systems grow near the top of the ground and not deep down like the forests I’m used to. This is to allow them grab the nutrients from fallen leaves and dead animals as soon as it is possible. The nutrients that rain forest plants and trees use can not just be obtained from the soil because so much rain just washes it all away. Instead, nutrients are in the plants themselves. If a leaf or other organic matter falls to the ground, it rapidly decomposes because of wet, warm air and fungi. The roots of the plants and trees immediately bring in those nutrients for themselves.

Leaf Litter Costa Rica

At night after dinner, I sat for a while looking at the stars and watching a lightning storm. I can’t even explain to you what that was like. You turn towards one direction and all you see are millions of stars, and when you turn the other way there are clouds lighting up every couple of seconds with lightning. It was beautiful.

Ok, I gotta sleep now. I’ll be waking up extra early again!

May 29th

Today H and I decided to go for an early morning rain forest stroll, and were walking towards the forest when a passerby told us the whereabouts of a bushmaster snake. This was an unexpected (and delightful!) development. We were excited to go check it out. After getting lost once, we finally found it curled up under a log. It was only about 10 feet away from us, seemingly asleep. Bushmasters can grow to 20 feet long or even longer, and their fangs can be up to an inch. Because these snakes and their fangs are so large, they can inject a lot of poison into their victims, making them very dangerous and deadly (in fact, they are the largest of the venomous snakes in the world). The one that we saw could probably kill a human (if bit on the foot) in about 8 hours, and the person bit would become sick almost immediately. They eat small to medium sized animals, injecting the poison in and letting them die before eating them whole. H went closer to take a picture for me, and at first I thought he was nuts until he explained that they were non-aggressive unless threatened and generally lethargic during the day. (Ignore the time stamp, not sure why it is the wrong day, maybe something to do with the time change? I was up very early!)

Costa Rica Bushmaster Snake

Costa Rica Bushmaster Snake

After we saw the bushmaster and were heading back to home base, we were treated to seeing more spider monkeys. They were on the bridge leading to (and from) the rain forest, where they just stared at us and swung upside down from the railings of the bridge. One of them climbed down on the cable and was only two feet away from us.

Costa Rica Howler Monkey on Bridge

Costa Rica Howler Monkey on Bridge 2

Costa Rica Howler Monkey on Bridge 3

Costa Rica Howler Monkey on Bridge 4

Costa Rica Howler Monkey on Bridge 5

Later on in the day I went out on a walk by myself because I had to finally do my experiment. It was great wandering around by myself – you see so much more when you are by yourself or with a very small group of people.

For my experiment, I wanted to see how ants would react to me messing with their trails in different ways and whether or not they would find their way back.

My results:

finger sweat – ant #1 – completely lost, #2 – confused, then found trail. #3 – completely lost.

Rubbing trail with sneaker – ants became confused for a while, soldier ants seemed to be helping them through.

Rubbing trail with leaf – stopped them cold – like a wall. Some eventually found the way, some turned around.

Ink from pen– stopped them for a second, then they kept going.

Rubbing from back of pen – nothing.

Line of dirt taken from different part of trail – not much, an extra second to get over the dirt.

Line of dirt not from their trail – completely lost, turned around.

Moved ant from one trail to another – ant completely confused, running all over.

Moved ant about 10 feet back – seemed disorientated at first, started going the wrong way, then turned around and went the right way.

After my experiment and lunch, I went out and showed the bushmaster to a few more people, and we saw another snake. Initially we thought it was the deadly coral snake, but it turned out to be a harmless black Halloween snake.

Costa Rica Black Halloween Snake

Costa Rica Black Halloween Snake

Also, apparently we were wrong about the monkeys on the bridge being spider monkeys; they were howler monkeys. We didn’t realize because they weren’t making the typical noise howler monkeys make. They look so much smaller up close than you expect with all the noise they make!

And now for fun, here are two Costa Rican lizards. I’m not sure who’s hands those are.

Costa Rica Tiny Lizard

Costa Rica Bigger Lizard

After the second lizard was released… or perhaps before it was caught?

Costa Rican Lizard

After a full day of hiking (and going back and forth to where the bushmaster was to show different people) we all relaxed with a couple of glasses of wine, then Nicole, myself, and H went in the room and did some yoga.

May 30th     

This is our last day in La Selva, and I’m very sad about it. I’m going to miss it here. I will have to come back one day.

First things first: I’m not sure why I waited until the last day to take this picture, but here is what the bridge that lead into and out of the rain forest looked like:

Bridge to La Selva

This was my favorite day so far. It was a very active day – I did and saw so much. I went out into the rain forest three separate times today. The first time was before breakfast by myself to do some bird watching. I saw a strange looking woodpecker,

Costa Rica Woodpecker

a couple of toucans, and a bird similar to a toucan that I couldn’t identify. I also saw a large bird that at first I had no idea what it was. Its body was a rusty brown color, its neck was black, and its head was crested black with white spots. Its tail was black and white spotted, and underneath its belly was lighter than rest of body. Its beak had an orange/yellow tip, with the rest being black. It walked like a turkey, and had red eyes. It was taking a dust bath when I first saw it, and when I described the bird to Professor L. he told me it sounded like a great curassow. I looked up the bird later and it that was definitely what it was!

Costa Rica great curassow

After breakfast, I went out with a small group for a couple hours. We talked amongst ourselves about the red leaf hypothesis (which is the theory of why younger leaves in some plants start off red before they turn green). General thoughts are:

  1. Protection from U.V. Light – the younger leaves are not exposed to UV light because the red leaves protect it. UV light can be damaging to young plants
  2. Dead leaf (protection) – the leaves have the appearance of dead leaves to protect the fragile new leaves from predators – red color is like brown – also the leaves grow hanging down rather than out, for the appearance of being dead
  3. Red color caused by anti-fungal chemicals – if the young parts of plants have anti-fungus chemicals, it would be less attractive to the ants such as leaf cutters who grow fungus off leaves as their food source

We didn’t see any new birds on this walk but we did see a river turtle, which was about 6 inches long. I picked him up to check him out more closely. He had very sharp claws and started moving his tiny legs pretty fast when he was off the ground. I put him back down and he rushed away.

Costa Rica River Turtle

After lunch, I went out again with another one of the guy for a very long hike. This was the best trail that I had gone on so far! It was full of dirt, mud, grass paths, and log bridges; it was terrific! We saw another turtle that was about four times the size of the one I saw earlier. We also saw a tamandua (collared anteater) hanging out in one of the trees. I found out later that this type of anteater is actually quite rare to see so it was a treat that we found it!

Costa Rica tamandua collared anteater 2

Costa Rica tamandua collared anteater

We managed to see some more howler monkeys as well:

img825

Costa Rica Howler Monkey in the tree 3

Costa Rica Howler Monkey in the tree 2

After doing this trail I decided that my previous thoughts on this guy were incorrect and probably too harsh. He was one of the guys I talked about earlier who was competing over the poor girl with another guy. First impressions are not always right, and he was a lot more fun when he wasn’t around the other guys to show off or compete.

At one point during our hike we had an interesting scare. We were walking along and heard a loud buzzing. We got closer to the sound and it got louder and louder… eventually we saw what was making the noise. It was a giant flying insect! It was yellow and black striped with patterned yellow tipped wings and an orange/brown bottom quarter. It was about an inch and a half or two inches large. It was just hovering in one place, slowly moving up and down. We got a little closer to it and suddenly it started flying very quickly towards us! We had no idea what it was so we BOOKED it. We ran for quite a while until we couldn’t hear it chasing us anymore. We never did figure out what it was.

We also saw a spider with strange markings on it’s back that was chilling in a hole on the ground. He didn’t move when we tried to get him to come out of his hole, so I think he was sick or dead. Unfortunately, no snakes were to be seen on this 3 ½ hour hike, but the anteater and the fun we had climbing over felled trees and hiking through the mud made it extremely worthwhile. Here’s another poison dart frog!

Costa Rica Poison Dart Frog

And a better picture of mushrooms growing up a tree (fairy steps):

Costa Rica Mushrooms on tree

I feel so proud of myself that I was able to do that long hike. It was a difficult trail for sure. The slippery mud made it even more so. The end of the hike was perfect – just as we got out of the forest, we had a downpour. It felt so good.

At our class that evening we learned more about what we would be seeing in Pale Verde –

1) Pale Verde is a dry forest site, with lots of deciduous trees. The animals are more easily seen/found in this forest.

2) There is an area in Pale Verde that is “evergreen”, (not conifer, just not deciduous).

3) Pale Verde is home to the “Gibaru” – a rare bird that lives near the marsh.

4) 98% of all tropical dry forests have been destroyed; Pale Verde has some of the only dry forest left in the world.

5) Pale Verde is on the estuary of the Rio Tempisque – when the tide is out, it is fresh water, when tide is in, it is salt water

6) Pale Verde has limestone cliffs, which have eroded in such a way that they are very sharp. You wouldn’t want to fall on one of them!

Right now I’m doing laundry, and I’m mad crazy tired and really just want to go to bed, but I have to at least wait until I can put my clothes in the dryer. Then I have to get to sleep cause we wake up at 6 tomorrow for our early start out. I sure am going to miss La Selva!

To read part II, click here!

Wrapping up Switzerland

And now I think it is a good time for my final take on Switzerland, and a few tidbits that I didn’t tell you about in my previous posts.

All in all, I really enjoyed my time there. It was cold, but I had the proper clothing and a warm coat (thanks Samantha!) so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

As far as the language barrier goes, it was actually more difficult than I thought it would be. I didn’t really have a problem with the people I was working with, they all knew pretty good English, but it wasn’t uncommon for me to come across someone who didn’t speak terrific English.

One example – the doctor that treated my foot. He really struggled to tell me things, and I struggled to understand him. Eventually the point got across, but I wonder if I may have missed something he told me because I didn’t understand completely.

Another language barrier story – on the day that I went out for the second dinner with the team (the schnitzel dinner) I got up to go to the restroom. I saw a sign for WC which I learned on my trip to Australia means bathrooms. Well, I found my way to the general area… but I couldn’t figure out what was the correct door. There was no picture of a girl stick figure in a dress or a guy stick figure in pants. While I pondered, a couple of girls came up behind me obviously on the same mission. I started talking to them (probably too fast) asking them if they knew which door was for the ladies bathroom because I was completely and utterly lost! They both looked at me, then at each other, then at me. They obviously had NO idea what I was saying and probably thought I was completely crazy. Luckily, the waitress came up and after I explained my problem to her, she pointed me towards the correct door. When the time came to wash my hands, I did not see any knobs on the sink, so I just stuck my hands under the faucet expecting water to come rushing out. Nothing happened. I heard someone clearing their throat behind me and when I looked, I saw one of the girls who I had confused earlier. She pointed to the floor where there was a red button, and indicated for me to step on it. When I did, water rushed out of the sink. Interesting!

There was also the time I went to the grocery store to pick up a few things. The setup of the checkout lane was a little bit different, when it was my turn to check out I was a bit confused as to where to put my groceries. The cashier offered no help. She didn’t even make it obvious if she was open or not. She just stood there, looking at me. I walked up and put my groceries where I thought they should go… WRONG! She chastised me in German and pointed to where they should go, rolling her eyes like I should have known that.

But I did see at that grocery store what the Swiss consider “American Favorites”! Sugar, sugar, and more sugar!

American Favorites in Switzerland     American Favorites in Switzerland

And now the final problem I saw with the language barrier… you can’t eavesdrop on interesting conversations! While I was on the train there was a couple of girls having an extremely interesting sounding conversation. They were extremely animated and seemed very excited or upset about SOMETHING. But I will never know what that something is. I had to just amuse myself with looking out the window at the beautiful countryside.

Now onto the subject of electricity. Now we all know that outlets are different in most different countries. But these ones were just WEIRD. All those holes! And a Swiss plug only has two prongs! I was quite confused the first time I tried to plug something in. Which two holes go together?

Swiss Outlet

Oh, and look at this craziness. Would you want to get money out of an ATM that is in the back of a van? Especially in a deserted street, at night, by yourself?

IMG_3932

IMG_3931

I decided against it.

Hmmm, what else. Oh! So, at my hotel, there were a few other people I would sometimes meet while eating breakfast in the morning. Two of the guys who were staying in the hotel were Asian. At one point, one of the women who worked at the hotel was talking to us, and started saying things about Japan, obviously assuming two guys were from Japan. They looked at her and said “Actually, we are from China, not Japan.” and she laughed and said “Oh I guess it was because of these they look the same!” as she pulled out the corners of her eyes. I was pretty shocked! Something like that would NEVER fly in America! I didn’t really notice the guys reaction, but they didn’t seem to be too upset about it.

Oh, and did I mention in my Lucern post about the homeless guy that barked at me? Yeah, that was interesting. I was walking by a stoop and he saw me pass and just started barking like a dog. Maybe that is the Swiss version of catcalling? ;-)

And there, dear friends, is my Swiss trip! The 11-hour flight home was dreadful… I was randomly selected again for a patdown at security (I was selected coming in too oddly enough… I guess I look like trouble?) and I was assigned a middle seat. The person in front of me kept their seat pushed all the way back and being that I am so tall, it really hindered any leg movement. But I made it home safe and sound and I really feel like I took a lot away from this trip. Switzerland was crazy expensive but I’d love to come back and maybe try going to one of the bordering countries like Germany next time. Hopefully I will manage to not hurt myself on my next international trip, but it does seem to be my thing!

I just went back to the job today, and I have piles of work to catch up on this week. Busy. Just the way I like it!

 

Luzern, Switzerland

On Saturday I took the train into Luzern. I had been told by numerous people how beautiful it was, and I decided that I wouldn’t let my foot keep me from enjoying my last few days here and seeing the sights. Plus, my foot was already starting to feel better anyway! This post will be mostly pictures and not as many words because I took so many pictures that I really want to share.

Luzern was about an hour away by train. I was kept extremely entertained by the beautiful scenery through the window the whole time (well, when we weren’t going under a tunnel at least!)

View from Train

The trains became a bit crowded being that it was a Saturday, so someone did come and sit down across from me. He said something to me, and I just assumed he said “Can I sit here?” so I smiled and nodded. I tend to do a lot of smiling and nodding in Switzerland. And laughing. You become very good at telling when the appropriate response is a laugh or a smile or a nod. It might just be easier for me to say “I’m sorry, I don’t speak German” but I stopped saying that unless I absolutely had to. (I.e. someone was asking me a question that would not be answered by a smile, a nod, or a laugh).

I have an interesting story about the guy who sat across from me. He talked to himself under his breath the whole ride. Or, not quite so under his breath that I couldn’t hear what he was saying. It was constant! And it was in German so I have no idea if he was being rude or just crazy.

I took a few more pictures from the train window, but you can see the reflection in all of them and the window is slightly tinted so I don’t want  to waste valuable picture space. Ok, one more. Ever wanted to know what Swiss graffiti looked like? Wonder no more!

Swiss Graffiti

When I first arrived at Luzern, the indoor train station looked pretty much like all the other train stations I had been to, though it was a lot easier to find my way out of this one than the one in Zurich. I actually half expected the city to look a lot like Zurich when I stepped out of the station, but I was quite wrong!

Cool Buildings in Luzern

Luzern was beautiful, just as I was promised. The buildings were so historic and attractive, I couldn’t stop taking pictures because I thought each one looked more interesting than the last!

Luzern Building

Luzern Buildings

The shopping district was built with cobblestone roads and had people walking in the streets, though I did see cars sometimes attempting to come down these roads with people slowly making way for them.

Luzern Streets

One thing I noticed about Switzerland that would drive me crazy is that the roads are SUPER narrow, and many of them don’t have the lines drawn on them to tell you that it is a two way road! Roads that look like one-way are actually two-way. Good thing most cars in Switzerland are miniature! You’d have to look a while to find an SUV here like we have in America.

This guy cracked me up for some reason. I can’t believe I didn’t think to get a selfie with him! I do need a new profile picture. Oh well.

Luzern Souvenir Shop

I also found a few very interesting fountains in the streets. The first one is kind of like a totem pole… I do have a picture of it without the sun glare, but I think this one makes it look more interesting. And the second one… I’m not even sure what they were going for there. A guy smoking a pipe with a dragon sitting on it? or is the dragon the pipe? Help me out here.

Water Fountain in Luzern

Luzern Dragon Fountain

And now for the interesting part of Luzern! The water (and mountain) views!

Seeing the mountains over the lake was enough to take my breath away. The pictures don’t do the actual view justice. (Mostly because my camera is terrible)

Mountain Luzern

And seeing the beautifully built buildings from across the water was almost as stunning!

Luzern buildings across water

 

I love the Swiss flag!

Flags on the Water Luzern

It was a beautiful Saturday this day – warm (for Switzerland in March) and so many people were out enjoying it.

Luzern water view

People sat by the lake but no one swam in it – I assume it would still be way too cold. There were roller bladers, skateboarders, bicyclists and children riding those scooter things everywhere! (Those scooter things seem to be very popular here with children. So many of them have it. It was quite often when I had to jump out of the way to allow for a pack of rolling children to get through.)  It was so warm that day, that even I got a bit hot walking around in my winter coat that day. Me! Karen, queen of cold! But I digress. Let me get back to the pictures.

Boats were all over the lake, though the only ones that seemed to be in use that day were the larger ones for paid cruises.

Lots of Boats in Luzern

 

More Boats in Luzern

Here is one of the Dinner Cruise boats:

Swiss Boat in Luzern

 

And I don’t want to forget about the Blue Dragon!

Water Dragon Luzern

For the majority of the day I just walked all around Luzern. I did not count on how expensive Switzerland was going to be during my trip, so I had to keep my spending these last few days to a minimum. I’m very happy with the walking though, and I think I got some great pictures to share with you all. Here are a few more!

Pretty Buildings on Water in Luzern

Buildings and Water in Luzern

Mountains and water in Luzern

I happened to come on a day that there was a market running (it could be a normal Saturday thing for Luzern).

Saturday Market in Luzern

I was soooo tempted to buy some cheese. It smelled and looked so delicious, but I’m pretty certain that I wouldn’t be allowed to bring cheese back into the country. Dang international traveling laws.

Saturday Market in Luzern 2

One thing I’ve noticed while in Switzerland… there are a LOT of one type of tree. It looks so interesting when bare, all knobby and gnarled.

Cool Tree Luzern

And it creates the BEST shadows!

Kein Mensch Ist Illegal

They have them lining a lot of walking paths. They must be very beautiful when in bloom. Does anyone know what kind of trees these are?

Cool Tree Pathway Luzern

There was one section of town where you could walk across a long, enclosed wooden bridge that went over the lake. The ceiling of the bridge formed a triangle, and for each section there was a different drawing with words talking about Luzern. I just now realized that they were all numbered, I wonder if it is telling the story of Luzern?  I tried putting some of it into Google Translate but I did not have a very easy time of figuring out some of those letters!

Writing on the Bridge Luzern

Along my walk I found Montana. You know, it’s funny. I always had heard of Montana but I never realized it was all the way in Switzerland!

Montana in Luzern

 

I also saw this huge banner hanging on top of a building. I’m not sure what it was supposed to represent. A woman shooting the sun? I thought it was so strange that I had to take a picture of it. I noticed a couple of people looked at me strangely when I stopped to take the picture though. They looked at me, then the banner, then back at me again. I’m always causing mass confusion in Switzerland.

Woman Shooting the Sun Luzern

What do you think it means? There were no words. Is it a protest movement? An advertisement for something that everyone in Switzerland would know?

Anyway. I can’t get over how beautiful this city is. I’m so glad I decided to forget about the foot injury and come anyway.

Pretty Building in Luzern

This one made me think of a barn that was under water!

Luzern House In the Water

And now I’ll end my post with my favorite two pictures that I took that day. I spent about five hours walking around Luzern this afternoon and I loved every minute.

Water and Mountains Luzern

I’m not sure why I love this picture so much, maybe the colors and the focus on the tree branches in front, with the mountain looming in the background. And now my absolute favorite pic that I took this day! It was so much my favorite that you also probably saw it on the top of my post.

Swan on the lake Luzern
I won’t lie, I took a few (hundred) different swan pictures before I had one that came out just right. But this one worked out perfectly! Swans are EVERYWHERE in Switzerland. And I remember them being pretty plentiful when I went to England in ’98. Though I do remember the England swans being a lot nastier.

Good bye! I’ll be coming home tomorrow (11 hour plane ride) but I plan on having one more blog after I return to wrap things up. Hope you all liked the pictures!

 

 

 

Another Day in Switzerland

I don’t have a lot of new things to report, but I do have a few old things that I have not yet reported – so I can at least update once more before the weekend!

First, the bad news. The morning after my fall, I went back to the in-house nurse and had her check out my foot again. She decided that it looked bad enough that they should take me to the doctor to get it xrayed. The doctor we went to was five minutes away and was like a one-stop-shop, it was fantastic! I got in, got xrayed and got my results in under an hour!

Swiss Xray

The bad news was that I had torn a ligament and it was recommended that I wear a boot (provided to me right then and there) for 4-6 weeks, and to stay off it as much as possible to let it heal. This definitely puts a damper on my weekend traveling plans. The doctor didn’t speak English very well so it was a bit difficult to get what he was saying at first. He actually said I had a “broken ligament” which I assume is just the Swiss way of saying torn ligament?

Besides the boot, he gave me ibuprofen, an ice pack, and this interesting anti-inflammatory gel that I looked up on the web and it is apparently not available in the US. It seems to be quite popular for topical pain relief here though, everyone has asked me if I was given the gel or if I needed some.

Fastum Gel

Anyway, do you want to see how terrible my foot looks? If so, click the below link. I won’t put it directly on the post just in case one of my three readers are squeamish. It should open up in a new tab so you can come right back and continue reading!

My Poor Foot

So, I’ve been wearing the little boot and hobbling along without too much trouble. By the end of the day the foot hurts a lot more than it did in the beginning, but I guess that is pretty normal. My other leg has started hurting as well because I am depending on it a lot more now.

But on to more interesting topics! I wanted to show you what myself and the two other girls staying at my hotel have found hilarious on our walk to work. One of the houses we walk by has this outside on their balcony:

Strange Fake Man

It’s on the second floor so it took us a few looks to realize that it wasn’t really a guy standing on the balcony staring at us. This picture was taken yesterday, but this morning he was doing laundry (there were blankets drying on the railing on both sides of him).

Last night was our official team dinner. One of the girls who live in Switzerland was nice enough to offer me a ride to the restaurant so I wouldn’t have to walk to the train station and back. We went to “Restaurant Brunnentor” which is famous for their schnitzel. It was delicious!

Restaurant Brunnentor Schnitzel

If you don’t know what schnitzel is (I didn’t!) it is a popular dish that consists of meat pounded very very thin, then breaded and fried. Mine was pork. It looks like a lot of food, but it is pounded so thin that it really isn’t as much as it seems. I cleaned my plate and had some apple strudel afterwards. The apple strudel was DIVINE.

Let’s see… since I’m on the subject of food, I’ll tell you a funny little story about my second morning at breakfast in the hotel. I was sitting down and enjoying my croissant and orange juice when one of the owners of the hotel came and put this little bucket next to me and smiled then walked away.

Caotina bucket

I had no idea what it was supposed to be used for. Was it meant for tips? Do you give tips for continental breakfast in Switzerland? I looked around and saw a similar bucket on all the other tables. I decided I would watch for what the other people did with their bucket before I did anything crazy like wear it as a hat. One couple was just finishing their breakfast and stood up to leave. I could see from shadows that something was in the bucket, but BLAST I couldn’t see what it was! I stretched my neck as far as it would go but it was no use. It would have looked strange for me to get up and walk over there to sneak a peek because their table was nowhere near where the food was.

I did finally find out what it was for when the owner came in to clean up that table. She took way too long to deal with that bucket, but she finally looked into it and dumped the contents on a plate. It was trash. The bucket was for trash. Silly American thinking she should put money in the trash bin.

Well, I don’t really have much else to say. I’m feeling a bit sad because a few of the others went into Zurich today to hike up a small mountain/large hill to get a beautiful view of the city from above. Even if I wanted to risk my foot hurting, the sneakers I brought still don’t fit over my swollen foot so I can only wear my dress work shoes (not hiking material). This could be my only chance to visit Switzerland and I’m not able to experience it to the fullest because of rotten luck!

Instead, I decided to experience my first piece of Swiss chocolate while icing my injury. This would be my adventure for today!

Yesterday, we were each given a piece of popular Swiss chocolate by one of the trainers. She said it was a lucky chocolate (too bad I didn’t have it before the accident!) Isn’t it adorable?

Swiss Chocolate

Almost too cute to eat! Almost, but not quite. And now the adventure begins! I unwrap it:

Unwrapped swiss chocolate

It looks delicious! And now for the first taste:

Bitten Swiss chocolate

IT ABSOLUTELY IS DELICIOUS! I ate the rest and that brings my Swiss chocolate adventure to an end. Wow, my heart is racing! Who needs to go hiking up the mountains of Switzerland when I have this!

But really, it was quite good. The best chocolate I have tasted in some time. Or possibly even ever!

That now brings today’s post to an end. I hope you enjoyed it! I’m really going to try to get out and do some interesting things over the weekend. I’ll rest my foot the next couple of days and hope for the best. I think it will all work out somehow.

The First Thing That Tried to Kill me in Switzerland

Deadly Staircase

OK, so I may be being a TAD melodramatic here. But if things had gone just a little bit differently, I could have broken a neck! Plus, I really just wanted to make another shout-out to the Australian Croissant Incident.

Let me start from the beginning. This morning I woke up cheery and bright-eyed for another fascinating day of training. Little did I know that the universe had other plans for me. As I was walking down the treacherous spiral staircase (in the dark, mind you – it seems they don’t turn the light on in that hallway in the morning), I misjudged the width of a thin part of a step, and fell the rest of the way down the stairs. Luckily, my right foot took the brunt of the punishment. As of now it is swollen and bruised and quite painful to walk on. This does not bode well for my plans of doing a lot of walking around Switzerland during the weekend, but being that it is only Tuesday, I have high hopes that it will be all healed up by then.

I hobbled to the office for the training. When the local employees saw my limp they immediately sent me to the on-staff nurse who wrapped and iced up the ankle as best as she could. She told me if it doesn’t look any better tomorrow, she’d take me to the doctor to get it x-rayed.  I’ll be able to experience that universal healthcare I have heard so much about! So that’s a plus, right?

But anyway, that was just my bad luck today. Yesterday was much better! I had a great time meeting all the people at my office who I previously only knew through emails. I really felt like I learned a lot too. After the training, we all went out to dinner and had some AMAZING Italian. The Swiss really know how to do Italian right!

I’ll have more to write on Thursday (we’re going out to dinner again tomorrow to an authentic Swiss restaurant) but for now I’m just going to take it easy and keep my foot up. Please wish me luck that everything is better when I wake up in the morning! My foot is currently swollen to two or three times it’s normal size, but that just means it’s healing, right?

The funny thing is, when I saw how many spiral staircases they had in my hotel during check-in, I immediately thought that I would probably be the one person who would fall down them. But really, I have fallen down perfectly normal carpeted steps too so it could just be that I’m clumsy.

Nah…

Switzerland – The First Weekend

Switzerland! It’s cold, but beautiful.

My first weekend consisted mostly of sleeping off jet-lag and doing a bit of sightseeing, but it is still worth posting about.

My flight left Tampa at 8:20pm. I was lucky enough to get one of the rows that have AMPLE leg room because there were no seats in front of me (and they didn’t even ask me if I was willing to take the responsibility to help if the plane had an emergency and we had to vacate – in my experience before the people in that row are always asked that.)

It was approximately a 9 hour flight, and they kept giving us food throughout. Little bags of chips, cookies, dinner and breakfast. Most people on the flight seemed to be Swiss, they all spoke German and they spoke German on the loudspeaker.

Dinner that night consisted of a pasta and cheese dish that had apples in it (Pasta, cheese, and apples actually taste pretty darn good together) as well as a dish of fruit and cold cuts and some kind of peppers that I didn’t eat. Dessert was a custard/pudding dish with crushed nuts on top. Delicious.

Airport Dinner

I tried to get some sleep on the flight, but it wasn’t very easy. I did finally fall asleep and must have kicked my feet across the aisle because I woke up to the flight attendant picking up my legs and placing them where they belong. They were trying to serve breakfast but I guess they couldn’t get the cart past my big feet. At least that made it so I didn’t miss breakfast!

When we arrived at Switzerland (on the next day, I left Tampa on Friday night and arrived in Switzerland Saturday afternoon) and exited the plane, one of the first stands I saw:

Swiss Chocolate Airport

CHOCOLATE!

Swiss Chocolate Airport

I didn’t buy anything yet. I just got here after all, and everything is more expensive at airports. They did have some very interesting things though. I love how you can tell where you are just by looking around in airport shops. Everything was so different than what you’d see in an American airport!

Airport Shop Switzerland

Airport shop Switzerland

Look at how adorable the baby lederhosen are!

Kiddie clothes Switzerland Airport

I found a taxi and managed to get to my hotel in Greifensee (by pointing to the address of a printed out confirmation page – my taxi driver did not speak English).

The hotel I am staying at is a restaurant/bed and breakfast. There are only 8 rooms. It was quite cozy and had a friendly atmosphere. I felt a bit confused about where to check in when I got there, and even whether I was in the correct place, because walking in it looked like it was just a restaurant. However when I went up to someone in the restaurant and showed them my reservation paper they assured me I was in the right place. They spoke little English, but was able to get me my key and show me to my room. When they first got my key I actually thought it was a little bell that I’d be able to ring whenever I wanted service. “Fancy!” I thought. “I will have to be sure not to abuse it!” But it wasn’t a bell, just a large key ring. But tell me this doesn’t look like a bell!

Key Bell

I was shown to my room (they had a guy help me with my bags (I was worried about whether or not it was customary to tip because I had taken some money out at the airport but they were 50 notes and I had no change) but he left before I would have been able to give him anything.

The room is small, but adorable and cozy. The heat consisted of little ceramic radiator heaters, one in the bedroom and one in the bathroom, but it still seemed warm enough. I probably would have turned it up higher if I could have, but I can manage being a TINY bit cold in exchange for being in Switzerland.

Hotel Room

Hotel Mirror

Hotel Bathroom

And here is the view from my window. You can see water in the back!

View from Hotel 1

I had plans to go look around town this day to take in the sights, but I was so exhausted from having so little sleep that after I unpacked everything I decided to take a nap. When I woke up, it was around 11pm (Switzerland time) so there was no way I was going to wander around that late by myself. So I read a little and went back to bed. I got quite a lot of sleep this night!

The next day (Sunday) I woke up around 6am and decided to take the train into the city of Zurich. The free breakfast was at 7, and I was one of the first people downstairs. Breakfast consisted of cold cuts (they really love cold cuts in Switzerland), orange juice, croissants (I did not almost die this time eating croissants and orange juice like when I was in Sydney but don’t think that wasn’t on my mind!) and coffee. The coffee here was thicker than coffee I am used to, and the milk they provided for it was heated. It was quite good!

After breakfast, I headed out to try to find the train station.

THANK GOODNESS FOR GOOGLE MAPS!

Google Maps Train Station

I am sure I would have gotten extremely lost if it wasn’t for the GPS in my hand. Don’t you love technology? It was about a 10 minute walk to the train station, but I took some pictures of the beautiful buildings along the way so it took me a little longer.

Greifensee 1Greifensee 3

Greifensee 4

Greifensee 2

I made it to the train station (with much love to Google for the help) and I loved the look of it. Greifensee is a little town and it has a little train station to match.

Train Station Greifensee 1

Train Station Greifensee 2

Now came the real challenge. How to get to Zurich? I’ve never really taken a train by myself, so it took me a bit of staring blankly at the map and the ticket thing before I could figure out what to do. There was one guy who spoke English that tried to help me, but the train came before I could finish purchasing my ticket so he ran off shouting “Good luck!” behind him. I was once again on my own.

Greifensee Train MapAfter a few more minutes of pushing buttons, I’m pretty sure I purchased the correct ticket. The next train came and I got on.

It was about a 10 minute train ride to the city center of Zurich, and while I was riding another guy came in speaking German and pointing at something he was carrying. The other people on the train seemed very interested in what he was saying and took something from him while smiling and saying “danke!” When he got to me, he started talking and I shook my head, smiled, and said “I’m sorry I only speak English.” He said in broken English “Oh, sorry, this is for German only!” and moved on. I really wish I knew what he was peddling! Everyone on the train seemed so happy while he was talking to him.

When the train got to Zurich and I exited, the station was COMPLETELY different from the little one in Greifensee that I had just left. It was underground (it reminded me of a NYC subway station) and was within a mall. There were shops and train tracks everywhere, and I couldn’t even figure out how to get out into the city. Was this the city? Was I in the wrong area and went to the underground train station city of Zurich instead of the above ground ACTUAL city of Zurich?

I went to one of the shops to grab a water and asked the woman at the register. Luckily she spoke enough English to tell me that I had to go upstairs until I could go upstairs no more and there I would find the exit to the outside. I thanked her and went on my way.

I admit I was a bit nervous about finding my way home. This train station seemed a lot more complicated, with many, many trains going many, many places. But I figured I would worry about that later.

Before I left the station, I did see this store! Nothing but clocks! Very expensive Swiss clocks.

Swiss Coocoo Clocks

And I made it outside the train station! This is what greeted me outside:

Zurich 1

Zurich 2

Hmmm, there is an interesting looking statue…Demon Dog Statue

Let’s look at it closeup!

Demon Dog Statue Close up

That dog might be a bit too much for that poor kid.

And now, for a quick look back and a picture of the train station before I wander about the city (my version of breadcrumbs)

 

Train Station Zurich

The next bit of this post will mostly just be pictures. I did a lot of walking, but didn’t really learn much about the buildings so I won’t have a lot to say about them. But I will say that the architecture in Zurich is beautiful!

Zurich 8

There were a lot of alleys within the city.

Zurich 7

Zurich 6

There were also a lot of stairs! My legs are sore today!

Zurich 5

Switzerland does love it’s clocks!

Zurich 4

Zurich Clock 2

Zurich Clock 3

Zurich 3

After walking around for a while, I found the water.

Zurich water 1

Zurich water 2

Hello duckie!

Zurich water 3

Zurich water 4

Europe is full of swans.

Zurich water 5

Zurich water 6

Zurich water 7

Zurich water 8

You can see the mountains in the background. And snow!

Zurich water 9

Zurich water 10

Looks like Switzerland’s rowing team is at it again.

Zurich water 12

Zurich water 13

The boat is  coming in!

Zurich water 14

Zurich water 11

Zurich water 15

And now a few more non-water interesting pictures before I head back to the train station:

Zurich 10

The flags!Zurich 12

I’m not exactly sure what the bird did to deserve getting smacked, but if he’s anything like Nimbin, it was probably bad.

Zurich 11

Ummm… no you may not.

Zurich 14

This lion head looks incredibly grumpy. The same looking lion was everywhere in Zurich. Is the grumpy lion their mascot?

Zurich 13

I finally was ready to go back to the train station and try to find my way back to my hotel. I had been walking around the city of Zurich for hours. I had no idea where I was! Luckily I had my trusty Google Maps to find the way.

Actually, finding the train station was the easy part. The hard part was finding the right train to take. None of the trains said the city I wanted to go to, but they listed all the cities leading up to it and the one after it, so I was going to take the chance that I’d be on the right one. While I was waiting, I remembered that Google Maps ALSO has public transportation directions. Could it be this easy? I opened it up, and sure enough, it told me the train I was supposed to take, and it was the one I had assumed. Thanks again, Google!

After another 10 minute train ride (they never even came to check my tickets either way so I don’t know if Switzerland is on the honor system or if it is just random checks?) I found my way back to Greifensee. Before I went back to the hotel, I took a walk to where I would need to go to my office tomorrow, to make sure I’d be able to find it no problem. It seemed easy enough! Only 10 minutes from the hotel!

I went back to the hotel and realized that I have been so busy sight seeing, I never had the chance to eat yet! I went to my room and freshened up and came back downstairs to see how good the hotel’s restaurant was.

When I walked into the restaurant, people just looked at me. I said “umm… can I eat?” The woman smiled and said “Of course! Sit!”

I was given a menu that I could not understand one bit of. I did understand the beer section, but the food was a bit more difficult. Luckily, Google was my rescuer once again. Google Translate, take me away!

I ended up with a nice meal of breaded chicken, veggies, and fries. The chicken had a very interesting taste, it was somewhere between chicken and sausage.

Swiss Chicken Dinner

And now, my post is done! This took me hours! But for you guys, it’s worth it.

I’ll leave you now with a picture of the stairs leading up to my room. There are so many curved stairways in Switzerland.

Auf Wiedersehen!

Hotel Stairs

 

A Gecko in Need is a Friend Indeed

Here is a true story of a little gecko who found himself in quite a precarious situation. Luckily for him, things turned out much better than they could have!

A few months ago after I was newly moved into my new home, I noticed the apartment had a bit of a problem with roaches. I made numerous calls to maintenance and the office over the next several weeks and they sent someone to spray once or twice a week to try to fix the problem before it got any worse. It seemed to be working, but I wanted to make sure – I needed a way to objectively measure if the problem was actually getting better.

Enter the Roach Motel. This is an unobtrusive little box that seemingly smells irresistible to roaches. They climb in and get stuck in the glue coating on the inside of the box so they can’t get out. I was keeping track of how many I would catch in the boxes and paying attention to whether or not the numbers of catches were going down as the number of times my apartment got sprayed went up.

Roach Motel

Next character in this story – a curious little Gecko I’ll call Dexter.

Dexter is the proud father of 37 little geckos, all hatched in the last 4 years. While he has been a mostly absent father (as is the gecko way) he does secretly watch over them as they grow into adulthood to make sure they are eating enough and not joining any insidious gecko gangs.*

*story added for dramatic effect

Gecko On Window

Dexter popped into my apartment unexpectedly, but I welcomed my little house guest with open arms. I figured he might appreciate a nice roach dinner so I gave him free reign of the place while I went out to spend the evening with friends.

That night when I came home, I did my usual rounds to check on the roach population within the roach motels. To my dismay, I saw little Dexter stuck within the confines of one of the boxes! I could tell he was alive, but he was so incredibly stuck that he couldn’t move even his head to ask for help.

Lizard checking into roach motel

I felt awful that I didn’t think about this happening. Obviously Dexter smelled fresh roach meat in one of the boxes and thought they were ripe for the picking. What he didn’t know was that by jumping into the box it would very likely be his last meal. Actually, the even sadder part was that his mouth was nowhere near the roach he was after, so he could see it but could not even take a taste with his stretchy little lizard tongue.

I felt helpless. I knew I wouldn’t be able to just pull him out. The glue was so sticky that if I even tried I was sure I would only succeed in ripping him apart piece by piece. It seemed like such a horrific way to go, but I knew there was just nothing that I could do. He was a goner.

NO! I couldn’t let Dexter go out like this. I went to my trusty phone and pulled up Google. I scoured the web for any tips on how to free lizards from sticky traps. It seems I was far from the only person who has had this problem! I found page after page of people begging for help to save their scaly friends. Finally I came across a site that gave step by step instructions on how to save a lizard (or bird, hamster, turtle, small child, or anything that might somehow come in contact with a sticky trap).

The first step was to cut around the lizard to make it easier to free him. I didn’t want to cut too close to him, as I would risk accidentally amputating a toe or a leg.

Lizard stuck

Next – you need some Q-Tips and any kind of oil. Olive oil, baby oil, sunflower oil… anything of the sort. I happened to have olive oil so I poured some in a little dish and grabbed a handful of Q-Tips.

It was slow work. You had to wet the Q-Tip with the oil and slowly rub it around the outline of the lizard, being careful not to push too hard on him and crush his tiny bones. As the oil worked its way underneath his limbs, head, and tail, you needed to gently move them around (being careful not to allow them to get stuck in another area of the sticky trap). You don’t want to use too much oil either as that isn’t good for lizard skin, so I didn’t douse him with it to make it easier. As I worked free his head, tail, legs, and arms, I cut away that portion of the trap so he couldn’t get re-stuck.

Working him free

It took a good 45 minutes to an hour, but Dexter was finally free! He rested on a damp paper towel (which also helped to remove some of the excess oil from his skin) for a little while to get over his trauma.

Free lizard

After he had time to relax, I took him downstairs to put out onto the grass near our pond. I put him on a nice soft patch of green and he stood there for a second before I swear he looked back at me and mouthed “thank you” before scurrying off into the night.

I did my good deed for the night, and I learned a valuable lesson. If you are going to have lizard house guests, DO NOT allow them to run around unescorted. You never know what kind of trouble they can get into.

On another note – my roach problem seems to be completely gone! I have not seen any of those little monsters in my traps for at least a month now, which makes me feel confident that I can get rid of them all and hopefully invite Dexter over for some tea and mosquitoes.

 

New Jersey

As someone who was raised in NJ and lived there for over 20 years, I am sick and tired of the bad reputation that we New Jersians have in the eyes of the “out-of-staters”. I can only believe that people who say unkind things about New Jersey either (a) have never actually been to New Jersey, or (b) have only ever driven on the Turnpike or a major road on the way to another destination.

You simply can’t judge New Jersey based off of the Turnpike! The Turnpike is ugly. In some areas, it smells. It’s trafficky and people are always in a rush to get off it. I’m sure almost every state has a road like that – but because NJ is such a small state, everyone who goes through it manages to suffer a little on the Turnpike.

You also can’t judge New Jersey on the reality shows that claim to depict New Jersey. In all my years of living in New Jersey, I have never ONCE met someone like the Jersey Shore actors (who if I recall correctly actually come from New York). Every summer I went to the same Jersey Shore, and I never met or saw a “Snookie” or a “The Situation”. They just don’t exist in real life – at least not in New Jersey.

New Jersey has some amazing and beautiful places. In New Jersey you can find forests, beaches and farms. We have the best corn in the country when it’s in season (trust me – you can’t beat it). I’ve made lifelong friends and met many wonderful people in New Jersey. We have an Ivy League college (Princeton) and the city of Princeton is wonderful to visit. We’re close to other cities like New York City and Philadelphia, which are fantastic to visit when you want a change of scenery and pace. New Jersey does not charge sales tax on clothing – so even New Yorkers will come down to go shopping in Jersey!

We have pumpkin and apple picking in the fall, and when the colors change the foliage is breathtaking. We get snow, but not TOO much snow (usually), and when spring returns it brings with it beautiful flowering trees.

We have plentiful wildlife such as deer (not always a good thing when you are driving), bear (!) and songbirds. Where I lived as a child I could walk to a neighborhood duck pond and feed the ducks and the fish and play beneath the weeping willow trees.

I would never change where I grew up – New Jersey helped shape me into the awesome person I am now.

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