March 18, 2018
12 Bard students, 16+ hours of travel, approx. 4,150 miles traveled and the adventure has just begun. Our first full day here at the Firestone Ecological Field Station has come to a close. Under-slept and overheated, we hiked up and into the jungle. We started the day early, as in 6AM early, because the time difference still had us slightly confused (it’s two hours earlier here in Dominical). Breakfast was self-serve, featuring pineapple, cereal, coffee, and juice. Pitzer College students and a professor met up with us before we started our hike towards the “yoga studio”, dubbed for its shape and scenic location. The hike started off with a very steep hill made up of rocks and roots. Everywhere we looked greens and yellows bursted with life, and we saw several blue morpho butterflies and a sleeping nighthawk. The blue morpho butterfly is a species with wing structure made up of tiny microscopic ridges also known as structural coloring. The nighthawk was fast asleep and almost completely camouflaged in the brush for it is nocturnal and hunts at night. It is so confident in its camouflage that it did not stir as we approached. After some more uphill hiking, we finally reached the top of the station. Huge bamboo stalks surrounded the “yoga studio” overlooking the magnificent Pacific Ocean view. We snacked on plantains and re-filled our water bottles. We saw rocks covered in petroglyphs along the path – they were carved by ancient indigenous peoples. Near the petroglyphs, some students also had the chance to taste fresh honey produced by stinger-less bees! It was astonishingly sweet and the bees seemed fine with our intrusion. From there, we checked on Cathy’s plots which she has worked on for the past decade. The trees and the saplings had grown a significant amount in the past two years. The group encountered a mesmerizing total of 33 leafcutter ant trails (thanks Cameron!) with ants following one another, carrying foliage twice their size back to their nests.
As we walked, we started entering rainforest mostly untouched by humans. The temperature decreased as the canopy thickened. Fun fact: we all completed this whole hike in rubber rain boots, which we can tell you is a challenge, especially down a rocky, root-filled (moderately) dangerous trail and equipped with hiking gear . The good news is that we all made it down safely without injuries.
Over streams, under canopies, one of our last stops brought us to a waterfall. We are visiting during the dry season so all water sources were less active than normal. Returning back to the dorms, we were all tired from the hike, but elated to have some lunch. We all probably sweat out our body weight, so food and water was a must. Marionella prepared a delicious lunch for us, made up of rice, beans, lentils, cooked plantains, fresh watermelon, pineapple, cantaloupe, and salad. (This arrangement is a traditional Costa Rican meal known as casado in Spanish). Following lunch, we ventured back to the waterfall and practiced creating ecological questions. From those questions we created hypotheses and predictions. It was surreal to have class in a jungle setting with a beautiful waterfall behind us. We all finally got some downtime where some of us went to the waterfall and others lounged in hammocks. Wrapping up the day we returned before dark and ate some more Costa Rican cuisine, and settled in for the night. Looking forward to the rest of this adventure, onwards and upwards we go. Overwhelmed with awe and under the sun, we continue our new experience.
Liam & Lia