Friday, June 26, 2015
Kyle Clark

Note: this post is one of dozens written by students participating in a 2015 field course in Costa Rica. The entire series is here

Reflecting back on my study abroad trip to Costa Rica, I can see all the beneficial knowledge and characteristics that I gained from the experience. My cultural view was broadened when we visited our first destination, San Jose. The city was large and densely packed, which gave me a chance to see how the Costa Rica population functions. The street were busy and frankly quite chaotic, compared to those here in Kansas.

Every night while in San Jose we went out for dinner, most of which were Costa Rican cuisine. The food in Costa Rica was far better than what I had expected. The meal sizes were not only larger than what I am use to back in America, but also presented delicious and healthy food. I noticed that the food in Costa Rica  lacked preservatives and processing that most American foods contain, which I found to be much more enjoyable.

I was surprised by the hospitality of the people in the big city of San Jose. Unlike many large American cities, the people were incredibly friendly and genuine despite the language  barrier. It was obvious that the people in Costa Rica value the revenue that tourism brings to the country. Tourism was especially apparent when we reached areas such as Manuel Antonio and Monteverde. In many instances there were more Americans in these two areas than native Costa Ricans. The towns where tourism was heavy flourished due to the high amount of money flowing from the travelers.

The cloud forest in Monteverde probably left me with the best memories because I was able to see the true beauty of the rain Forest. There was life everywhere you looked, and was just as I had imagined it prior to the trip. The cloud forest was a perfect location for our research because there was a large population of Zingiberales in the area. My favorite part of the trip was doing the research itself, and getting my hands dirty looking for bugs. It was amazing to experience biological field work for the first time and I am now interested in participating in an ecology field of some sort. My trip to Costa Rica is one that I will remember for the rest of my life, I had a truly fantastic time!

Friday, June 26, 2015
John Kaiser

Note: this post is one of dozens written by students participating in a 2015 field course in Costa Rica. The entire series is here

As an Army brat, the concept of home is an idea that differs drastically from the views held by many of my classmates. Since the day I was born, my family has moved around to countless different locations, stayed a few months to possibly a few years, then packed up everything and left. As such, a single location that I can call home is completely foreign to me.

Take, for example, this new place that I am living at now. It’s an army base in Wiesbaden, Germany, a place that I have never seen before in my life. My dog is here, all the stuff that I decided not to bring to college is here, and even my family whom I have not seen in over ten months is here. I’ve lived here for less time than I’ve lived in Costa Rica, yet I already consider this place to be my home. When I told this to several of my classmates, they found this to be absolutely implausible. How could a home be a place I’d never seen before? To me, I’ve always found a home to be a place that makes me comfortable, a place that I can come home to after a hard day and just relax.

This brings me to my trip in Costa Rica. 

Every single day I would undergo some new thrill, some new adventure that very few people get the opportunity to enjoy, from playing with local dogs that randomly decided to include us in their pack, to spotting a sloth on a walk down to the beach, all the way to discovering how some of the best coffee in the Western Hemisphere is prepared. Although I was given the opportunity to do this, a new discovery or adventure is nothing without people to uncover it with.

My classmates were without a doubt an important part of this voyage, from their roles in uncovering exciting new sights out in the wild to being roommates for two straight weeks. Although many wanted to get out of Costa Rica by the end of the two weeks, I was ready to stick it through for quite a while more. Costa Rica had become a place of new friends, vast stores of knowledge and countless adventures. Which brings me back to the ultimate point of this blog post; Costa Rica had become, without a doubt, my home for the past two weeks.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Emma Overstreet

Note: this post is one of dozens written by students participating in a 2015 field course in Costa Rica. The entire series is here

beach

After our time spent marveling over the natural wonders of Costa Rica, I remained for another week to explore its cultural side a little more. My time travelling alone in Costa Rica led me to a much greater appreciation of its residents.

Everyone seemed eager to help in any way they could, from small favors and gifts to even just taking the time to try and talk to you, something that has become a rarity. Even though I could barely speak the language, warm conversations with taxi drivers, with waiters and waitresses, and even strangers on the bus were to be expected, and I realized this is sadly lacking from my life in America.

When I left my camera on a public bus, a woman hurriedly followed me off to return it to me, a kindness I would never expect. On more than one occasion, perfect strangers intervened on my behalf. Perhaps there were other dynamics at work that I was unaware of, but having traveled abroad before, my experiences have never been so overwhelmingly positive.

In addition to being more friendly, people seemed more outwardly happy. I think this may have something to do with the beautiful, lush landscape of the country. Who could be unhappy in such a picturesque setting?
This outgoing, cheerful and friendly attitude is possibly the most memorable thing I’ve experienced here, and it’s certainly something worth holding onto as I return to my daily life in the States.  
 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Emma Overstreet

A good percentage of American students will take classes in a foreign language sometime in their educational career- usually French or Spanish, both being romantic languages, similar to English, and relatively easy to pick up. In my case, I took Spanish all throughout school- for eight years in total. As is usually the case, I retained little and practiced even less, and by the time I came to Costa Rica the language was a distant memory.
       
It’s no secret that the most effective way to learn a language is through immersion. Since I’ve been here, I’ve managed to dust off that memory and begin to apply my limited knowledge to daily situations, with much difficulty. Having never had any experience listening to native speakers, trying to keep up is extremely intimidating. Though I’m getting better at picking up on phrases, very often the words of a fast-talking native will escape me entirely.
       
Another difficulty is the fact that the language used by Costa Ricans is slightly different then the Mexican Spanish commonly taught in schools. The most notable difference is the use of usted in place of tú. Usted, which (to my knowledge) is generally reserved for more formal interactions in other Spanish-speaking countries, is used in nearly all situations here. I almost assuredly unwittingly offended with my use of tú, which conveys less respect to Costa Ricans.
       
After a little while in the country, and some help from bilingual locals (much thanks to Dennis and Daniel), I began to learn some colloquialisms unique to Costa Rica. How could anyone possibly get by without knowing mae, the local expression for ‘dude?’ And of course, there is the all-important Pura Vida, which would be impossible for anyone not to pick up on during their stay here, as it used constantly as a greeting, positive sentiment, and affirmation. The phrase, which translates to ‘good life,’ sums up everything that is quintessentially Costa Rican.
       
As I’ll be travelling on my own later, without the help of our skilled translators, I’ll hopefully continue to improve. Becoming at least somewhat fluent in Spanish is now an immediate goal of mine, and I suspect that the short amount of time I’ll spend  in Latin America will be more conducive to that than my many years of classroom education. 
-Emma Overstreet

Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Tim Mayes

We are back in Kansas now, and there is one main thing that I’m struggling to determine if I miss or not. I wake up in the morning to a strange silence now -. During our travel, we awoke every morning with natural alarm clocks —the calls of various animals.

It started off with multiple types of birds. They seemed to start chirping at 5:30  am. One day, we left our bathroom window open and one almost got in the room.

Another natural alarm was the howler monkeys.  On a sign in the national park I read that a howler monkeys howl can be heard up to 3 miles away even through a dense forest. I thought this a very cool fact, until they started waking us up every day.

My third alarm clock was another species of monkey, a capuchin or white faced monkey. The way this monkey took to waking us up was actually fairly comical. He ran across the roof to the fire escape door, then bang on it, and run away. He did this continuously over the course of the morning. One day I stood at our room’s window looking for him and he came right up to it and stared at me, then ran over to the door. When I peeked out at the fire escape door, the monkey stared at me for roughly 10 seconds before banging on the door once and running off. I definitely lost that standoff with the monkey, seeing as he came back one more time to give the door a victory bang.

Although these natural alarm clocks seemed annoying at the time, now at home in Kansas I can honestly say I kind of miss those birds and monkeys.
- Tim Mayes

Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Kayla Yi

Note: this post is one of dozens written by students participating in a 2015 field course in Costa Rica. The entire series is here

During our final week in Costa Rica, our group traveled from San Jose to Monteverde to complete research at the field station. Dr. Chaboo had described Monteverde as a small town established by Quakers and a place very conscientious about the environment around them. What we had found was a town teeming with business and tourists. In a little over twenty years, Monteverde had been transformed from a small community to a bustling tourist destination.

This sudden influx of tourists has helped raise awareness about the decline in rainforests in places such as Monteverde. One of the most well known examples of the rainforests’ dire state is the extinction of the golden toad, Incilius periglenes. Once endemic to Monteverde, the species vanished by the 1990s. Tourists who visit the Monteverde Could Forest Biological Reserve come for the amazing sites and to learn about conservation. Now more that ever there is a drive to educate people and to protect the remaining rainforests.

But perhaps in a twist of irony, this sudden influx of tourists has also brought about new challenges for the environment. A larger population means more waste being produced, and more space required to dispose of it. As hotels, gift shops and restaurants appeared, land that once served as a self-sustaining ecosystem was developed into building space. In the height of tourism season, buses can line up from the reserve all the way into town. It is amazing to wake up each morning to see busloads of families, students and nature enthusiasts in the reserve.

Ecotourism is a double-edged sword. While it is a wonderful thing to see so many people eager to explore the cloud forest, such large numbers can also be a problem. But Monteverde has done an incredible job of finding a fine balance between the two. I have been amazed how the country of Costa Rica has been so environmentally conscious everywhere we go. The people here hold great pride in the biodiversity here and are eager to share it with the rest of the world.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Daniel Cirotski

Despite the fact that my group’s research focused on insect communities in plants, I witnessed a variety of mammals throughout my time abroad. These animals ranged in familiarity from incredibly common to previously unseen. However, many of them shared the unique nature of being wild, making their behaviors unique to the unexposed eye.

The first thing I noticed of familiar life in Costa Rica is that the country is filled with presumably ownerless dogs. These canines frequently follow any stranger for kilometers in hope of receiving affection and food. While it’s often medically advisable to avoid petting these unkempt mutts to avoid the parasitic worms they may potentially harbor, it’s admittedly difficult to resist their adorable begging for attention. Another familiar animal I encountered was a cat ambitiously hunting a sizable lizard. Raccoons also participate in their typically mischievous practices of scavenging through beach-goers affects.  

As for unfamiliar encounters, the bulk of my experiences occurred at a tourist attraction park. At this spot, our group enjoyed observing all three of the monkey species that live within the park — howler monkeys, white-throated capuchins, and squirrel monkeys. Upon seeing a pack of capuchins jumping through the trees, a single mother began to intimidate me away from her baby.

Later, at the Monteverdi Cloud Forest Reserve, I was awoken by the not-so-soothing sounds of the rainforest, those being the noisy antics of other howler monkeys and capuchins.  Howlers are named for their characteristic vocalizations which are territorial displays. Unfortunately, they often choose to begin this behavior at five in the morning, persisting for over an hour. On a different day but at the same time, a capuchin decided to climb the balcony and roof of the reserve, banging on the door for some unknown reason. 

While these animals often act unpredictably and strangely, it was exciting to observe so many creatures that common to Costa Rica.

 

Photos by Vickie Grotbeck.

Monday, June 22, 2015
John Kaiser

Note: this post is one of dozens written by students participating in a 2015 field course in Costa Rica. The entire series is here

A single flower lay out in the Costa Rican jungle, peacefully photosynthesizing and opening its petals in an effort to attract its arthropod pollinator. The woods were quiet except for the occasional rustling from a KU Field Biology class that was inexplicably tearing apart flowers in the nearby vicinity.

Suddenly, a flurry of wings appeared out of nowhere, beating with enough force to convince an uneducated individual that what you were hearing was an angry wasp. If a plant were capable of thought, it would understand that the horrible droning in the air was not coming from a measly wasp but from something much more horrifying. The plant would understand that it had become the victim of the hummingbird, otherwise known as the Vampire of the Plant world! Horrified, the plant could do nothing but remain still as the hummingbird plunged its ferocious bill into the depths of the flower and lap up all of its precious nectar before zooming off into the jungle to find its next victim

For those who don’t know much about hummingbirds, allow me to shed some light on this ferocious species, but be warned; vampires like having light shed on them just about as much as I like vampires. The hummingbird is a common bird species found throughout the New World where it can often be seen out in the wild, sucking the vital nectar from local flowers. The hummingbird’s metabolism is incredibly high and typically requires a single bird to consume up to three times its body weight in nectar on any given day. Smaller hummingbirds will also often substantiate their diets with alternate food sources, terrorizing insects when the larger and more territorial hummingbirds claim nearby flowers as their own. The energy garnered from this is used up almost immediately as it is diverted into the hummingbird’s wings, which can beat up to 100 times a minute according to a Monteverde guide.

Sunday, June 21, 2015
Kayla Yi

Note: this post is one of dozens written by students participating in a 2015 field course in Costa Rica. The entire series is here

On the way from San Jose to Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific Coast, our group visited a spice farm, the Villa Vanilla Spice Plantation, to learn about sustainable farming practices that are used there. One of the spices they produce is vanilla. Vanilla is derived from three different types of orchid, all from the genus Vanilla. While orchids are the largest group of plants on Earth, only one genus is edible. The flowers of the vanilla orchid must be pollinated by hand in order to produce fruit, the vanilla bean. As one might imagine, it is a fairly labor intensive process.

In fact, a majority of spice production is very labor intensive. At this farm, we observed cinnamon, the inner back of the cinnamon tree Cinnamomum verum, being harvested by a machete. Then the shavings are placed in a tray to be placed in a large dryer. The final result are the curled cinnamon sticks which can also be powdered.

We also saw their production of allspice, Pimenta dioica, a spice commonly used in pumpkin pies and Caribbean cuisine. The berries were set out in small batches in the sun to dry alongside several other types of spices. With such small batches, the production of each spice could be monitored individually. Even the fruit from the cocoa pods, Theobroma cacao, was fermented in the sun and occasionally mixed by hand. All of these plants, from the vanilla to the cinnamon to the cocoa tree were fertilized with compost made on site. There were no chemicals treatments or machinery and very little, if any, as wasted.

The amount of time and care put into the farm was incredible, but it also brings up a question about our own consumption of goods. With nearly 8 billion people on earth, small scale sustainable farming simply cannot keep up with demand. Documentaries such as Food Inc. discuss the culture of excess and wastefulness that exists in modern society but farms like Villa Vanilla are taking a stance against this movement of mass production. Hopefully in time, other farms will begin to go more green!

Saturday, June 20, 2015
Eric Becker

During our visit to the University of Costa Rica campus, we had some time to explore a small area outside the Biology building.  As I’m interested in spiders, I had a look around to see what I could find.  Given the incredible biodiversity in Costa Rica, I expected to find a few specimens.  However, I found amazing diversity even in the small area we explored.  On a single tree, both a hunting spider (Figure 1) and several orb weavers (Figure 2) could be found.  It seemed that every structure that could support a web had at least one arachnid resident.  One tree even hosted a small aggregation of spiders (Figure 3), which I had never gotten the opportunity to personally see before.  The sheer number of species that could be found in a cursory survey was simply astounding. 

While I was surprised by the diversity of the spiders in the area, I noticed that despite being thousands of miles away from Kansas, many common traits could be found between spiders from the two regions.  While I cannot say with complete certainty without examining specimens under a microscope exactly what genera some of these spiders belonged to, but many showed morphological characteristics that I had seen in field work in Kansas before.  Micrathena is a genus of spider that has a carapace with characteristic spikes.  A spider with such spikes was living between two of the trees (Figure 4).  Another genus, Cyclosa, was likely represented as well (Figure 5).  These spiders use parts of prey and plants to decorate their web as camouflage, as can be seen in the attached picture. 

Costa Rica has an incredible level of biodiversity and seeing just how many species can be found in an area has been an unforgettable experience.  However, recognizing genera of spiders from previous fieldwork has shown me that while not every country can have as diverse of wildlife as Costa Rica has, you can see some pretty amazing animals in your own backyard. - Eric Becker

Photo album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kubiodiversity/sets/72157655015121791