SAND- a struggle

Que pasa? It’s ya gorls, Christina and Zoë! We are currently writing to you from the parlor on our last night in Costa Rica. We started our day casually with a delicious breakfast of rice & beans, scrambled eggs, and fried plantain, cooked for us by the wonderfully talented Marvin. After this we were able to once again meet up with Freddy and go on what he called a “short walk” in the dry forest, this took nearly two hours. During this wonderful walk we were able to see white faced monkeys or Capuchins. This was a lovely sight because they are constantly on the move for food and  are not always so easily seen. on the way back, Freddy showed us some leaves that smelled just like fresh guacamole, vines that grow “cat claws” to climb, and an interesting tree that drops pods that can be used as soap. As Freddy likes to say ” Nature provides!” After returning from the walk, a lucky few were graced with the opportunity to get a first hand account of Dr. Boldt’s very own autobiography on how she got her doctorate in microbiology. After returning to reality we were fed a scrumptious spaghetti lunch and then pushed out to get ready for the afternoon outing. A few students carried out a rather intense game of Egyptian Rat Race with Dr. Boldt, who was very amendment about winning, but eventually fell at the hands of her students. We were then corralled into two vans setting out to the beach. We could barely contain our excitement.

Once we arrived everyone piled out and ran to the welcoming waves of Playa Cabuyal beach. The water’s warm and the sand’s soft. We were visited by a fever of curious Manta rays, although some did not find this welcoming. Two rays were a bit to curious and got themselves into sticky situation which required some bi-pedal assistance. Later a few kids were lead by the trusty marine biologist Veronica to the estuary. An estuary is where fresh and salt water meet and form somewhat of a nursery for marine life. We were told that there were also crocodiles in this specific area, so that was an adventure in itself. After a fun day at the beach and a picturesque sunset, we were welcomed back to Horizontes with an amazing barbecue illuminated with string lights and accompanying music. Nothing will ever compare to such a fabulous night. We will now retire to our hopefully scorpion free cabins and patiently await our return to a place where our families await. We have had a great time “roughin’ it” in Costa Rica and cannot possibly give enough thanks to those who have helped get us here and keep us in one piece! THANK YOU! Adios mis amigos!!!! See you on the flip side 😉

last dinner pic Beth

 

last dinner pic Beth

Day 9- Viaje y Tortugas

Hola padres y amigos! This is Megan and Angelina reporting to you from Horizontes. This is because we departed from Finca La Anita earlier this morning. Our departure was mixed with sadness and excitement because while we were heading to a new place, we had to leave our gracious hosts (and Gus and Gary) behind. On the way to Horizontes we made many stops including a bracelet shop and a grocery store. The bracelet shop was started by a few women in the village who made many colorful, handmade bracelets. We then continued on our journey, until we stopped at a grocery store. As we entered the store, all eyes lit up with excitement upon seeing rows and rows of good ol’ American junk food. It was a 30 minute frenzy of students finding the candy and chips they loved, some girls even got an entire baguette. After leaving the grocery store, some students were able to find and connect to a local cafe’s free WiFi. Word spread quickly, leading to so many people connecting that the cafe’s WiFi crashed leaving us all back to our internet-free lives.

After forty minutes of driving, we arrived at Horizontes, our new home for the duration of our trip. The temperature here is much hotter because we moved out of a rainforest and into a dry forest. We were served lunch by our wonderful cook Marvin and then we moved into our new cabins. Upon entering our cabins, we had to do a thorough scorpion check involving two flashlights, a can of Off, and a boot. Unfortunately, our cabin experienced a swarm of ants by the door, however the problem is currently being resolved. After we moved in, we went to a presentation about sea turtles. We learned that sea turtles nesting are a link to us learning about the condition of the ocean. We also learned how to properly identify and collect data on sea turtles. Following the presentation, we went out in the forest to observe the symbiotic relationship between acacia trees and ants. We observed that the relationship was a mutualistic one, meaning both organisms benefit from each other. The ants used the spikes on the acacia tree as shelter to care for their young. The trees also provides the ants with sugar and protein. In return, the ants provide protection the the trees. This was well demonstrated when Danny took one for the team and had an ant crawl on him to see whether or not it would sting him (it did). The ants also kill competitors for the tree by putting chemicals around it to clear out other vegetation.

We are writing this post before dinner tonight because after dinner all of us are heading to the beach to hopefully witness a turtle nesting! We will be on the beach until midnight, and everyone is very excited. While we write this blog, there is a very intense (the red faces and muddy legs are a testimony) game of soccer, or should we say futbol, going on between the staff at Horizontes and the PA crew. It is currently tied 3-3 and we anxiously await the results. During our writing, we were visited by a deer who has been keeping us company outside the door and also reminding us of home.

We hope you all are having a very fun Fourth of July, and yes, we admit we are missing the fireworks and you all a little bit today. Hasta luego de Costa Rica! Angelina and Megan

 

Extra input from Mrs. Sheehan

The students have been doing an amazing job keeping the blog up every evening.  Some nights its been quite late for them since they don’t start working until they have finished all their science research for the day.  Sometimes I have not had time to download all the day’s pictures for them either.  One set of pictures that I want all of the families to see is of when we went to Mass on Sunday in Colonia Libertad.    Their tiny parish church shares a priest with several other communities and so only has Mass offered regularly on the 3rd Tuesday of each month…….UNLESS there is a special feast day.  Our host Ana and Pablo were excited to tell us when we first arrived at Finca La Anita that Sunday, July 1 was the feast day of their parish’s patron saint, “Mary, Mother of God”  is the only way I could translate it.  Anyway,  this meant that the priest would be offering Mass at their tiny church on Sunday and members of the 2 nearest villages would be joining them.  They were very excited to have us join the celebration.

The small church had a beautiful statue of Mary, Mother of God in the front and a beautifully carved wooden tabernacle and cross.  The wooden pews were filled with families from the 3 nearby villages and they had several rows of folding chairs in the back for us.  It was a tight fit but everyone got a seat.  Father came equipped with the Eucharistic bread and wine as well as an electric fan and a microphone that several parishioners setup on the altar as they were putting on their vestments.  Several Sisters from another village lead an enthusiastic children’s choir and played guitar and tambourine.  The songs sounded very similar to those we sing at our own parishes in MN.  Though the Mass was in Spanish, the order and cadence of the prayers and readings were identical to those at home that we had absolutely no trouble following the prayers and readings and even the homily, which was all about Maria leading us to salvation through her son, Jesus.    After communion the sacristan invited one of our group, Andrew McGurl, to come to the altar and say a few words in Spanish to the congregation.  Andrew was assisted by Felix who is Ana’s brother and grew up  in Mound, MN and graduated from Westonka HS:)   Andrew’s short speech to the congregation said that we were from a Catholic school in Minnesota and were staying at Finca La Anita to do science experiments.  He mentioned how welcome we feel in their community and thanked them for inviting us to join them in celebrating Mass.  His Spanish was excellent and everyone clapped for him.  After Mass we were all invited to join them for “hospitality” just like we do at home.  Several students got juice or bowls of beans with rice or fried plantains.  Dr. Boldt and I were very proud of our students interactions with the local parishioners and the priest.  It was a lovely example of the universal Church.

Day 7: Un Día de Ciencia

Buenas noches, muchachos, de “the Cabin Moms” (a.k.a. Clare and Gabby)!! We started off the morning with an optional rosary on Dr. Boldt’s front porch. The rain started before anyone left their cabins and ended around nightfall. We had a fantastic breakfast of eggs, beans and rice, fried cheese, fried plantains, and some yogurt and granola. After breakfast many of us browsed La Tienda (the shop) at Finca La Anita, where some people may or may not have purchased some delicious gourmet dark chocolate.

After breakfast, we all made progress on our science experiments, as today was our final day to work on them. The groups that had field experiments had to take a rain check (haha good one, Gabby) due to the intense precipitation that caused the ants to scuttle back inside their cozy colonies (amazing alliteration, Gabby).

Lunch was greeted warmly as our first American food of the trip–the one, the only, the hamburger! We gobbled ’em right up (great use of slang contractions, Gabby)! After lunch we continued work on our experiments while Dr. Boldt read on the porch because we didn’t need her help 🙂 We were invigorated from our hamburgers and the soundtrack to all three High School Musical movies (great music choice, Clare)! The choir kids especially enjoyed “We’re All in This Together”, but did not excel at their dance routine. Even our teacher, Andy, contributed to the “dance-a-long”! “Fergalicious” has also been a staple “hype-up” song for the entire group throughout the trip.

We had a much needed coffee break at 3:45 that included coffee and a variety of pastries made by the wonderful restaurant staff at La Anita. With the caffeine in our bodies, we charged ahead to finish our experiments before dinner.

At dinner, which was lasagna, we met Pablo and Ana’s daughter, Ana Paula, and two of her friends. They sat with us and we chatted about Spanish phrases we knew, missionary work, school, and cute boys (dang it, Clare, we weren’t gonna say that)! Some of us recalled the camp songs we loved from Girl Scout Camp and serenaded the restaurant. Let’s just say, Finca La Anita is never too quiet with us around!

IMG-2678

After dinner we finished making our presentations and headed back to our cabins early to catch up on sleep. Clare and Gabby can smell the sweet aroma of cacao as we compose this illustrious blog post, and might we say, it is quite exquisite. We are looking forward to giving our presentations tomorrow morning!

Buenas noches, muchachos! The jury is still out on whether we are missing you yet 😉

Clare and Gabby

Day 6

Another day in the jungles of Costa Rica. We started off the day early at 5:15 to prepare for a breakfast of pancakes, starfruit, and other foodstuffs. From this breakfast, the first group of students set off for a local ranch to enjoy some riding through the cloud forest on horseback. The 2nd group started their ride as the 1st group headed back to the resort to kill some time before heading off to afternoon Mass.  At the end of the Mass, Andrew McGurl shared a prepared message of good will with the congregation.  Following Mass, we returned to Finca La Anita for a Lunch of rice, sea bass, and salad. After lunch, we all sectioned off into our science groups to continue our experiments. Several groups went out into the wilds of the La Anita rain-forest to study the behaviors of wild Atta colonies while others studied captive ones. Both groups that went out to study wild colonies offered differently-treated leaves to the trails of ants that were present with the intention to discover natural substances capable of repelling ants. The groups that stayed behind and worked in the lab tested the ants reaction to large doses of Escovopsis being dropped on their colony. after conducting our experiments we ate a dinner of corn, pork, and salad.  Following dinner we examined Escovopsis cultures and finalized our methods for future experimentation.  Overall it was a great day in paradise.

 

 

Day 5

Hello from the non-Spanish students, George and Danny!

Today was an eventful day which started with a 6 AM breakfast of the classic scrambled eggs, beans and rice, and toast. Accompanying this meal was coffee, juice, and water. This energy helped fuel a quick turnaround and before we knew it we were on a 90 minute bus ride to Rincon de la Vieja National Park. From there Freddy and Eddy (we are not making those names up) guided us on a 3 hour round-trip hike to the hot springs located under sulfur vents of the volcano. Not even one minute in, we came across our first specimen, a Golden Orb Weaver. The female was significantly larger than the male, she was about the size of the palms of our hands. The males on the other hand were TINY compared to the females, only about the size of a quarter. Leafcutter ants were also abundant on the trails that we traveled, and it was awesome to watch them carry their chunks of leaves back to their nests. Another type of ant we saw was the Army ant. We were informed that the army ants are constantly moving their nests, and once they finish building their temporary home, they create a swinging line of ants that pick up all insects and up to medium sized animals in their path. Only the largest Leafcutter ant colonies can keep them away. Once we reached the hot springs we were greeted with a revolting smell of sulfur. We eventually got used to the smell and were able to enjoy the cool flowing stream and the hot springs which accompanied it. On the way back we stopped at a waterfall which was roaring due to the recent rain. After a few encounters with some frogs, snakes, and lizards, we made it back to the main lodge. Felix, one of our bus drivers, greeted us there with homemade sandwiches, potato chips, cookies, and a slushy soda drink, all courtesy of the Finca La Anita ranch cooks.

After a fabulous meal, we returned home and started our experiments with the Leafcutter ants. This was the first time groups collected data. Some teams used colonies that had previously been dug up, while others went out into the forest to start their experiments. After spending a couple of hours working hard on science, we switched gears and started working in the kitchen.

A couple minutes down the road, and we arrived at Casa Aricelli where the owner taught our entire group how to cook a variety of different foods. The first was a beautiful salad, which was followed by the best rice and beans anyone in our group had had. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, Aricelli taught us how to cook tortillas on a stove top heated by burning wood. The meal also included sauteed vegetables and of course, fresh fruit juice. The meal was finished off with Neapolitan ice cream in a cake cone. Felix and Eddy then drove 18 exhausted kids and 2 even more exhausted teachers back to Finca La Anita. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s horseback riding adventure and more! (See pictures of our day below)

We’re getting used to the constant threat of snake attacks and the early bird calls,

George and Danny

Day 4 – Research Day

Hola todo el mundo, It’s Sam and Katherine reporting live from finca la anita on dia quatro. We woke up at 7:16 am for another delicious breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, toast, beans and rice. After breakfast we continued our experiments from yesterday involving cultivating the fungal gardens, however we also extracted escovopsis (invading fungi). While other groups finished their extraction, we began planning our main experiments. We took a short break for lunch which was mexican fried rice, plantain tortillas and refried beans. Katherine and I took a treacherous stroll back to our cabin during a downpour to get our raincoats. After lunch we continued to develop our experiments and began constructing our proposals to be presented later that night. Next, we had another short break in which we enjoyed coffee and a variety of pastries made by the kitchen staff. After our quick “fuel-up”, some continued to work on proposals while others took another “hike” to find active leaf cutter ant trails. Eventually we found one! Everyone was very excited, especially Mrs. Sheehan who even compared the experience to that of National Geographic! Most took a few up-close shots of the ants and George wanted to take a closer look at a soldier ant by picking it up on a stick but when he lost sight of it, he threw the stick and fled. On the walk back, we encountered a few flying coconuts!! Once we returned to the ranch we moseyed on over to dinner and appreciated the american-style beef stroganoff and potatoes.  Following dinner we went back to the classroom to present our proposals. It was fun to see all of the other groups ideas and are excited to see how everyone’s experiments will work out! During the presentations however, the moths launched another surprise attack on unsuspecting victims Angelina and Andrew Martin, unlike Angelina, Andrew decided to fight back with a swift karate kick towards the attacker!! After the presentations while getting ready for the next activity, cabin Trinitario had a frightening guest, a snake!!! Thankfully, Pablo and his trusty machete came to the rescue. However, the highlight of the day (ironically) was the night hike! It was an optional experience that many choose to partake in. Since Costa Rica contains 4% of the species on earth, we expected to see lots of interesting creatures, and that hypothesis was correct! One of the first “stops” on the tour, we saw the fascinating yet dangerous Bullet Ants. They get their name because their sting feels exactly, if not worse than getting shot. Luckily no one was stung!! Once again a snake was also spotted but from a distance. A few other cool creatures we saw included a glass frog, nighthawk, katyvid, and fishing spider (pictures to come). The fright in the night makes us miss the cold Minnesota winters and a little homesick! More to come, hasta luego!!

Day 3: Rainforest Excursion

Hola de Emily and Ella. Today brought many new adventures and excitement.

Our day began with a delicious breakfast consisting of omelettes, rice, beans, and more of the special toast with orange marmalade sprinkled with fresh cocoa nibs.

Shortly afterwards eating, we met to discuss the method of extracting the ants’ fungal chamber. With our assigned groups, we separated to experience the fun firsthand! Two groups, EGGS and Anty McAnt Face, packed into a car for a roller-coaster of a ride in order to find colonies. Meanwhile, the other two groups, Fergalicious and Argentina, enjoyed a short walk to find colonies closer to the ranch. After driving, with some of us in the trunk, we reached our colonies. Along with finding our leaf cutter ants, we also encountered bullet ants, a super friendly horse, a nice old man, and a fern-like plant whose leaves shrunk at our touch. We scooped the fungus into a container to bring back to the lab. While most ants made it, a few made it up our shirts instead. This tedious process required the skill of several hands. Andrew McGurl was even declared MVD (most valuable digger). After returning to the ranch, we all enjoyed some time to freshen up before lunch.

We are continuing our PA tradition of praying the Our Father at noon, now the Padre Nuestro. Lunch was truly a treat. Risotto with some more heart of palm, plantain chips, salad, and vegetables filled our plates. We also enjoyed a refreshing ginger lemonade tea! Before heading out, we discovered the souvenir tienda. Maybe we’ll bring some back to share!

We hopped onto buses for an hour-long ride to the Canopy ziplining tour! We struggled while climbing up the side of the volcano, but the view on the way down was well worth the hike. We encountered a howler monkey, a toucan, many fuzzy caterpillars, and more of our friends, the ants. We quickly made even better friends with our tour guides, Marvin, Marvin, and Mican. We zipped through the rainforest along twelve lines. It took us quite a few tries to master the art, learning from our mistakes of either failing to break quickly enough, or breaking too soon. Don’t worry, our guides helped, and also joked and laughed with us.

At last, we enjoyed our dinner of pork chops with ginger sauce, vegetables, and salad, followed by a desert of satisfying creamy flan topped with our favorite cocoa nibs. After dinner, we practiced our counting skills with the petri dishes of bacteria from our experiments yesterday. We look forward to more experiments with the ants!

We feel quite at home here,

Ella and Emily

 

 

Day 3 – Ant Colonies

Today students got to dig up Atta ant colonies in the rain forest surrounding La Anita with Andy and Miguel, our research instructors.  Emily and Ella will post the “official” blog later this evening but I wanted to show you some of the pictures of our teachers and the work the students have been engaged in.  This is turning out to be an amazing experience for us all – Dr. Boldt and I are learning as much and having as much fun as the students. The first picture is of me, Dr. Boldt, Andy B.(biology professor from University of Oregon and tropical ecology researcher) and Pablo, owner of Finca La Anita.  The other pictures are students collecting swab samples from different parts of the ranch to support their varying hypothesis on the amount of bacteria to be found in different locations.

Pura vida!

Mrs. Sheehan

IMG_1469

 

Here are pictures of the students collecting Atta leaf cutter ant colonies in the rainforest surrounding Finca La Anita.  The goal was to gather an entire fungus garden, including a queen ant, and bring it back to the laboratory to use for their experiments.  Every group was successful and were able to add their colonies to others collected by previous groups so that they have many colonies in the lab to experiment with.  Miguel, a graduate student from the University of Costa Rica, is caring for the colonies and teaching students how to work with them in our small but well stocked lab here.

Here are some pictures of our students learning how to ‘read” bacteria plates and use statistical analysis for their data.

Vida por chocolate (Life by chocolate)

Hola familia y amigas! This is Celia and Sofia reporting to you all after a muy divertido day!

We started our day at 7:16 woken by the cheerful chorus of the jungle insects, animals, and birds. This was after Cabin Criollo’s (Gabby, Ella, Sam, Sofia, Celia, and Katherine) experience with a “werewolf” that we heard the previous night. Cabin Criollo then trekked down to breakfast in our pjs- Ella sported her iconic High School Musical pajama ensemble. Our wonderful breakfast, made by the incredible staff here at Finca la Anita, consisted of scrambled eggs, rice and beans, fresh papaya/pineapple/cantaloupe, yogurt, as well as a surprisingly tasty toast with homemade marmalade topped with cocoa nibs. We washed it all down with a mystery pink juice (which was delicioso) and Costa Rica’s famous coffee- coffee lovers and non-lovers enjoyed the smooth and sweet blend.

After our breakfast and some free time spent in our cabins, we went down to The Deck for our Chocolate Tour!!!!!!! This was led by Pablo, one of the owners of the ranch. First we learned about the history of chocolate, including the word itself. We learned that most chocolate that we consume is not the real deal. At Finca la Anita they grow Criollo cacao beans for the purest form of chocolate- it’s dark but not bitter. We then tried an old Mexican chocolate drink concoction. It was textured and tasted slightly hot due to chili powder. While enjoying this, we were entertained by a crab trying to steal our cacao beans! All in all, most thought it was delicious and asked for seconds. Then we tried Anitella- the ranch’s healthier version of nutella, created for the owner’s kids. It was fudgy and “tasted like the rainforest!” (@Celia) and many are planning to bring some home. The fun continued with the professional tasting techniques (and accompanying sounds) of two truffles- the ‘Costa Rica’ had pineapple and coconut, while the ‘California’ was filled with almonds and raisins. These were made on the ranch in the Chocolate Lab. We finished our tour with samples of dark chocolate, customizable with different toppings. We then explored the fields where cacao beans are grown, fermented, and dried. Pablo hacked open a Criollo fruit where we could tasted the beans inside- they were covered with a juice that tasted just like mangoes. Between the chocolate and the coffee, we were bouncing off the trees!

 

We helped make part of the lunch today- Pablo showed us how to make a heart of palm salad, using a machete to prepare the heart of palm! Sadly, the students didn’t get to experience this part of the salad making. We ate the salad with taro chips, followed by rice, beans, pork, and vegetables. There were mixed feelings about the ginger lemonade but the authors of this post truly found it scrumptious.

After lunch we had another break, which was filled with a “hike” to the local market. We cooled down with ice cream and processed sugary drinks not served at Finca la Anita 🙂

We got down to business with a science lecture and mini experiments led by Andy, a professor at Oregon State. We were asked to design experiments with bacteria, to practice the scientific method. We were excited to use fancy swabs, petri dishes and parafilm! We dived into the treacherous wild armed with these tools and abandoned the designated paths. We will keep you posted with results (if the next authors remember ;))

Dinner was once again amazing, with chicken, vegetables, mashed potatoes, squash soup, and a mystery juice (we actually asked but forgot the name of the fruit). We ended with dessert- carmelized plantains topped with ice cream. Even those who weren’t big fans of plantains admitted to liking this.

Some of us relaxed in hammocks and chatted before our last task for the day. Andy led us in another lecture in The Classroom, now about our besties, the leaf cutter ants! Memories were refreshed from our previous classes with Dr. Boldt, and we loved the dorky but educational videos. However, The Classroom has gotten a bad reputation for bugs. George and Sofia both got up close and personal with some moths- and don’t forget about the spider that traumatized Sam. These are the only experiences in Costa Rica that we wish to forget.

We are looking forward to our ziplining adventure and ant colony digging tomorrow!

Buenos noches del paraiso- look forward to pictures of our Costa Crew, our fabulous meals, and the ranch!

We don’t quite miss you yet,                                                                                                        Celia & Sofia