When I signed up for the field biology course in Costa Rica, I knew some of the material might tend to go over my head. I was also slightly nervous to try to relate to a group of my peers interested in a field so different from my own. Biology may seem like an area of study perfect for the antisocial hyper-intelligent bookworm, but as I found out from this trip, biologists make for a very interesting, dedicated and entertaining group to go on an adventure with.
Studying life and living organisms in all aspects gives one an undeniable appreciation for nature. I found that my classmates were genuinely interested in an impressive range of life. Eventually, their love for biology wore off on me, and in the process I often overheard many conversations only biologists would endure. I’ve included some examples below for your reading pleasure.
- A 30 minute discussion on tapeworms…I mean nematodes
- Reptile or Amphibian?
- Come poot this!!
- What time are we getting up? I think I’ll wake up 2 hours early to go set my traps.
- Ooooo another leaf roll!
- You should write a blog about that.
- I know one really cool ornithologist. Just one though.
- I love snakes, bats, beetles, dogs, cows, cats, pumas, bats, trees, etc.
- Taxonomy is so cool.
- Hey, I’m a fungi.
- Let’s go identify some plants, that will be fun.
- I just want to make this clear, a panther can be considered a puma or a cougar.
- Ughh, business majors.
- I saw a cat, or a monkey, I couldn’t tell, I only saw its face.
- Can you get drunk off of this ethanol?
I am constantly astounded by the amount and diversity of nature in Costa Rica. As I vigorously attempt to record the bright colors and structure of plants, animals and insects in my sketchpad, the group scurries along to the next feature of the cloud forest and I am left to wonder at the thriving ecosystem that surrounds me. Attempting to recreate the beautiful scenery is proving more challenging than I thought due to its impressive variety.
“[He] will go mad if the wonders do not cease,” said Alexander Von Humboldt of his fellow traveller on their journey to South America in the 19th century. I can see why upon entering forests such as Zurqui and Monteverde. The abundance of vegetation is an overwhelming indicator of life. Upon closer inspection, the inner workings of a tropical climate emerge from leaf rolls, bromeliads and other popular insect hang- outs. I have chosen to capture my experience of Costa Rica primarily through photography, rather than sketches, due to its timely and accurate sensibilities. There is simply too much to render with just pencil sketches.
This is not to say that I don’t appreciate the investigative qualities of sketching the nature around me. So much is lost behind the lense of the camera if one doesn’t stop to have an intimate understanding of the plants and insects. Dr. Chaboo encourages us to fondle the plants, which may sound peculiar, yet this practice allows us to understand the texture, taste and smell of various plants that we would otherwise not fully comprehend.
Before arriving in Costa Rica, I only had a vague understanding of what a cloud forest could be like. I did not appreciate how unique tropical areas such as Costa Rica are until I squished the damp earth below my boots, cracked open the stem of a zingiberale or collected beetle specimens. We are studying one of the most diverse areas on the planet, considered by some as the apex of creation. I may be mad with wonder, but it only motivates me to keep searching. -Jake Kaufmann
Today my amigo Dennis took me on an extraordinary adventure. We set off from the lodge at Monteverde Reserve on his motorcycle through a heavy rain. Upon arrival at Selvatura Adventure Park we were soaked and eager to begin our tour of the cloud forest canopy via zipline. This unique Costa Rican attraction offers an impressive network of ziplines including the longest in Latin America at 1,590 meters. It is safe, affordable, and environmentally friendly. It also contributes to the Costa Rican economy with little environmental impact.
There were 55 adventure seekers from around the world in my group alone. Each of us paid 45 dollars to witness the beauty of the cloud forest on 7 different lines, including two superman style cables and a terrifyingly fun Mega Tarzan Swing.
I will never forget soaring above the canopy flapping my arms like the wings of an eagle below. I think experiences such as this relate directly to biological conservation. The canopy tour allowed me to realize the importance of sustaining this environment, as well as ways in which we can enjoy it in a mutually beneficial way. The next step will be for the funds acquired by the zip lining company to aid in the conservation of the tropical paradise that attracts so many adventure seekers every year.
My name is Jake Kaufmann. I am studying Visual Art at the University of Kansas. I am participating in the Study Abroad program in Costa Rica because of my interest in the country's environmental sustainability and to enhance my connection to art and science. I am very excited to explore the region's cloud forests and to draw inspiration from the abundance of nature and culture. My goal is to reveal the beauty of environmentalism by depicting the Costa Rican landscape, while conducting field research and interacting with local people.