Rutgers - Science Summer Abroad 2010
Nine Science Undergraduate Students Around the World

Sunday, June 6, 2010

And I'm back

No, not really back in the US, but back online!
I know if I were in your position, I would be biting my (beautifully painted cherry-red-and-yellow) nails right now, sitting on the edge of my seat, waiting for more exciting news. Well, I'm not in your seat and I am not biting my nails, but I will be happy to oblige you and regale you with tales of my latest adventures.

5/29: To Arenal, an active (particularly recently) volcano. We stopped for pizza in La Fortuna, the town near the volcano. It's not as good as NJ/NY pizza, but it was tolerable. Then we took a nice hike around the volcano (note to self: do not eat pizza before hike in the heat). Dinner and a show at the observatory at Arenal National Park. We were able to see lava from the restaurant. In the middle of some nice mealtime conversation, we would interrupt to point out these small eruptions. There were so many stars, no light pollution. On the way down, we ran into some issues with people parked along the side of the road, watching the volcano. There is a huge tourist industry built around it.
That night, we stayed at Arenal Paraiso, a resort, one of the ones where they give you a bracelet to get into different things on the property. They have thermal pools and trails and a gym and spa and all sorts of other amenities. (I found it, I don't know what the word would be, I guess, disturbing, that they offer a $130 spa treatment for kids).

5/30: There was a sloth in the tree outside the dining room at breakfast. Just chilling. No, this sloth did not bother us either.
The volcano was still smoking, and there were some unsettlingly loud rumbles. I was relieved to be leaving!
La Ensanada Londge: ( Located in the Guanacaste (cowboy) region, on the Pacific coast, the lodge is not only a lodge; it also produces salt, beef, and dairy. In the evening, we took a short tarantula walk. Tarantulas are solitary, ground-dwelling spiders, very interesting creatures.

5/31: Early boat ride in the mangroves, followed by breakfast. Mangroves are really fascinating plants, the adaptations they have evolved, the root structures, truly fantastic. This is why I love evolution and ecology, because of such interesting organisms as these. There were 4 types where we were. They help stabilize the bank and prevent erosion and runoff. They catch sediment, stopping it from running into the ocean, and create the foundation for a whole community of crabs, birds and other creatures.
Watched the sun set over the Pacific from a hilltop. As we were walking down the gravelly hill, it started to thunder and lightning. My friend and I were startled and started running. And I fell, scraped my leg. Oh, such a klutz! Don't worry, I am A-OK!

6/1: Turns out there was another earthquake last night, near La Ensanada. 9PM. Magnitude 6.2. None of us felt a thing. Second time this has happened!

6/2: Like mango? I harvested some. Gotta be careful. Mango is in the same family as poison ivy. the latex can really irritate your skin. After harvesting, we visited the plant where it is packed. US has some really strict import regulations, in order to keep out pests, particularly fruit flies. So mangoes have to be washed and heat-treated, and the plant has to have a USDA inspector supervising the process. And they have to pay the inspector US wages, though the living wage in Costa Rica is much less.
In the town of Liberia, we stopped for ice cream. Helado. See, I'm learning some Spanish! Let me tell you, macadamia ice cream is delicious.

6/3: A bumpy ride to University of Georgia's satellite campus "ecolodge," in San Luis, near Monteverde, in the cloud forest. We toured a coffee farm (in the rain). Then "juiced" some sugar cane. A large machine, once powered by two pair of oxen - instead we powered it. Made some wonderful agua de cana. Have to keep our dentists in business!
That night, we all went to our homestays. Stephanie and I stayed with the family that runs the waterfall business (more about that later). Thank goodness she speaks Spanish! Very sweet family. Two sons: Daniel, 13 (speaks English) and Miguel, 3 (oh so cute!) and a small dog. I taught Miguel to make a friendship bracelet, you know, the Chinese staircase.

6/4: Dona Christina, our homestay mom, made a delicious breakfast: empanadas, sweet mint tea, mangoes (from her own mango trees). Surprisingly, no coffee.
We hiked to the waterfall (this is the business run by our homestay family). Long, scary, tiring hike. Not to dissuade you from ever doing it. It's just the rocks are slippery and the slopes can be steep and there's not always something to hold on to. I did not want to fall a second time on the same trip! The hike was well worth it. I did not swim in the swimming hole at the base of the falls - the water was much too cold. A couple from NY, probably on their honeymoon, arrived at the hole. Started talking to me in Spanish. Huh? I know not a word. I replied in English. They thought I was Costa Rican! Nope, NJ, born and raised.
When we went back to our homestay in the afternoon, Dona Christina did our nails. Mine are red with yellow flowers. Stephanie's are pink, with white tips and black bowties. Really really cute. She should open a business, do all the girls' nails at Ecolodge. Then we had to watch Dona Barbara, a telenovela, before we started making dinner. Everyone watches Dona Barbara.
Later that night, after dinner, while we were watching tv, Dona Christina surprised us with Monteverde ice cream! Monteverde is a dairy-producing region, originally started by the Quakers. The ice cream, which she topped with homemade marmalade, was delicious! Everyone went to bed early. In fact, Miguel, fell asleep on the couch before Dona Barbara came on at 6PM.

6/5: Had to say goodbye to our homestay family. I didn't want to leave! I wanted to eat more of her delicious banana pancakes! I wish we could have stayed longer, had a less rushed goodbye. We were out the door at 6:30. Zipline or canopy walk. A scaredy cat, I chose the canopy walk. It was nice though. I actually got to see things and take pictures. I looked at my feet the whole hike to the waterfall, so it was nice to actually see the forest at the canopy walk.
We bought coffee from the Monteverde cooperative, an association comprised of local coffee growers, and did some more shopping at the women's cooperative.
The day ended with fiesta in San Luis. Set up like a middle school dance, except there was alcohol being served. Local families and students from Ecolodge came together for a great night. A precocious ten-year-old asked me to dance. Of course, I had to say yes. A very good dance, I have to say. One day, he'll find a nice dance partner his own age.

6/6: Happy anniversary mom and dad!


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