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



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

We are here, safe, fed, excited and TIRED!

The trip from Minneapolis to Liberia was perfect, no problems, very comfortable.  We arrived and met Ana the owner of the Finca La Anita ranch who took us to a fantastic lunch in Liberia.  Then we drove 2 hours north, literally up the side of a volcano, to the ranch.  It is SOOOOOO green and beautiful here.

Pablo, the other owner of Finca La Anita, gave us a tour of the ranch, a fabulous dinner of seabass, salad and veges and then we had our first rainstorm and our first class with Andy.  The kids are really excited and happy to be here but now they are tired and we are all going to bed.  More tomorrow.