Rafting the Puerto Viejo River

We started off Monday with a rafting tour with Alber, Kevin and Ralph (he is the one in the picture- the instigator of pulling people out of the boat when they least expected it!)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Ralph was our photographer in the kayak.

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A picture of the two other rafts- no white water due to all the rain in the past couple of weeks. 

 

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This is a fig that tiny wasps inhabit in the center.  These figs will drop into the river and the vegetarian piranhas will eat it.

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We stopped for a dip in the Puerto Viejo Rio.  Leslie and I jumped in together and the current was so strong you didn’t have to swim to the boats, the water pushed you there!

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The long vines in the pictures are roots of epiphytes.  Epiphytes are plants that live on the tree- a common epiphyte you may know is an orchid.  There can be up to 1,000 different species all living on the same tree!

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Here are some long-nosed bats that are not afraid to hang out in the day time light- they were very cute and would let us get very close!

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We stopped for a fruit buffet where our very skilled guys chopped and displayed fresh pineapple, mango, and watermelon for us to share! 

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I also learned how to get the best pineapple juice by cutting and squeezing the rind (skin) of the pineapple.  A little messy but hey, I’m in the rainforest!

We ended our tour back at La Selva Biological Station just before the bridge we use to walk from the dining hall to our classroom.  It was so great to have a water perspective! (It was also great not to see any caimans!)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Free Day!

For our free day we decided to go zip lining!

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The weather could not have been more indecisive – it was sunny and hot (I got some cankle burn), then it rained, then got “chilly” (cold for Costa Rica but not by your standards, most likely)

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On my third zipline I got stung by a bee (my first sting ever!) while IN the air!  After I got off the zipline I got bit by a bullet ant (they are about an inch in size!).  Bullet ants get their name from the bite – the pain is described like being shot or 30 times as bad as a bee sting.  Since I had a direct comparison, I would agree!  My arm radiated heat for 5 hours after I was bit even after icing it.  I got chills so by 3:00pm I took a Benadryl and some aspirin and slept from 3pm to 6am the next morning!  I have a good team who took care of me!  Stupid ant!

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Once it started raining the dirt/grease from the zipline splattered our faces – we were quite the site!  Overall, it was a great day!

Bananas 101

On Friday we went on a banana plantation tour run by Dole for the past 17 years.  It wasn’t until today that I realized I knew nothing about growing and harvesting bananas! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lesson #1: Bananas do not grow on trees.  Banana grow on herbaceous stem plants that get about 20 feet in height. 

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Lesson #2: Each banana plant requires about 36 liters of water per day and only has about 20-30 leaves before producing a bud (see the purple arrow-looking thing below).

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Lesson #3: The blue bags protect the bananas from bruising by the surrounding leaves.  It also provides a mini climate that allows the bananas to be ready for harvest a week early.  The bunches of bananas weigh an average of 60-70 lbs and they can even get up to 125 lbs.  Because of the weight, the trees are tied with an orange twine to keep them from falling over. 

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Lesson #4: Banana fruits are  which means only the female flowers produce the bananas even without fertilization.  If you look at the picture below you can see the mini bananas with flowers still attached.  A worker get paid to pick off the flowers by hand to eliminate the chance that it will rot and leave a black line in your banana.

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I had the opportunity to climb up the ladder and “bag” a new bunch of bananas – it is harder than it looks!

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The professionals (below) are showing us how to harvest the bananas by making only 3 cuts in the banana plant.

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The bananas are then put on a pulley system and taken to the processing area.

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After the bananas are cut into smaller bunches and cleaned they get stickers are every other banana in the bunch. 

 

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Free Air Conditioning on the Observation Tower

In order to really grasp the vastness, beauty, and diversity of the rainforest you need to see it from more than one perspective.  So, to get a better view we started our day with a climb. 

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The La Selva’s research observatory tower

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My pink harness used to keep me from falling OUT of the tower, but not falling DOWN the tower

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We climbed up the first tower then had to cross the bridge to the second tower

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The top of the second tower

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I made it to the top!  From above the canopy we could see the Barva, Irazu and Turrialba Volcanos in the distance. The best part, however, was the free air conditioning!  The breeze up here was amazing and a nice change from the humid and stagnant air on the rainforest floor.

Capture

Here is a little perspective from Google Maps.  We are at point A and I have circled the three volcanos in the area.  Notice the dark green – most of that is protected rainforest thanks for the Organization of Tropical Studies (OTS). 

 

 

Camera Trapping

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Camera trapping is the process of setting up a box with an SD card and about 16 batteries.  We found an animal trail by looking for animal tracks and placed the camera about knee height.  Using a motion sensor and infrared light this camera trap will take pictures of animals that pass by. 

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Coffee is Always a Good Idea

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At 7:00am we loaded the bus to San Miguel de Sarapiqui where we began our tour of Mi Cafecito.  This coffee co-op is an organic, fair trade, 100% Costa Rican owned and operated facility.  They are made up of 137 farmers from the northern region of Costa Rica and they only grow Arabica coffee because it is the best quality coffee bean.

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The tiny coffee seedling is known as a “soldero” or soldier, the sapling is called “la mariposa” because the leaves resemble a butterfly, and as 6 months, the coffee plant can be planted in the field.  It will be able to be harvested at 3 years.

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Tina picking coffee berries!

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Red coffee beans mean they are ripe (primary quality). Green are secondary quality (not ripe).

Walter, our coffee tour guide showed us how to pick ripe coffee berries and distinguish between primary and secondary quality.  Coffee in Costa Rica grows best at 600-2,000 meter elevation, near volcanoes (we happened to be near 3 dormant ones), and a low soil pH.  This combination creates a perfect soil cocktail for a rich Arabica coffee bean!  The coffee can be considered “shade grown” due to the banana and Pora trees that are planted between the coffee plants.  The banana trees act as shade as well as provide water in the hotter months and a delicious distraction to birds wanting a caffeinated snack.  The Poro trees provide necessary nitrogen to the soil as well as shade.

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I found some peaberry!  This is a natural mutation to the coffee bean that results in only one bean per coffee berry instead of two.  Think of it as Siamese twins coffee style!

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Drying out the coffee beans (without the skin but still in the shell).

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Costa Rican workers only get 1,000 colones ($2) per bucket (the one he is holding)!

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Mi Cafecito also grows and sells sugarcane and sugarcane juice (see sugarcane press above).  They also ferment the sugarcane juice and make sugarcane BOOZE!  Yes, we got to try it- tastes like rum!

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Yum! Sugarcane Rum!

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Post tour we got to taste the delicious coffee first hand!  Water was boiled on a wood fired stove and percolated through what looks like a sock.

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Coffee in Costa Rica is always served with a snack.  Homemade corn tortillas with white cheese and plantain mash- delicioso!

A Girl’s Gotta Eat!

The fruit here has been so fresh, ripe, and delicious! Plums, mangos, watermelon, pineapple, guava, avocado and bananas!

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Our dining hall is outdoor and beautiful.  They serve us food cafeteria style and it usually consists of beans, rice, and vegetables.  Very delicious and worth the mile hike to get there!

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Monkeys, Iguanas, and Sloths, Oh My!

We arrived in La Selva Biological station and moved into our rustic cabins! It is only a mile walk from the main camp and very beautiful!  At night, however, headlamp AND flashlight as well as a large group are very necessary!

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Thanks to Northrop Grumman for the amazing swag!  We got finishing shirts, waterproof journals, water bottles and hats!

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Monkeys, iguanas, and sloths, oh my!  Our first hike was with Albert, our Costa Rican guide.  We started in a secondary growth forest where it was easy to spot toucans, an active sloth (unusual), army ants, parrots, a honey creeper (bird), woodpeckers, iguanas, and blue-jean frogs (red with blue legs)! 

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                                                                                                Toucans                                                               

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                                                            Iguana                                                          Crested Guan

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                                                       Frog                                                                  More Toucans

Across the suspension bridge we went into the research area where the classrooms, library, and dorms are.  Here we found the wild peccaries (javalinas) roam freely. 

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In the river below this wobbly suspension bridge are vegetarian piranhas.  When you throw fruit into the water, the fish swarm it and it is gone in a few seconds.  Very frightening… glad they are vegetarian!

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As we entered the more mature forest, we noticed it was a lot darker due to the taller and larger trees.  Here we saw spider monkeys, bullet ants (about 1-2 inches long), and we could hear the howler monkeys in the distance! If you have never had the pleasure of hearing a howler monkey it sounds a lot like a very loud stomach growl!

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Oh yeah, and watch out for the snakes!  This was a little dead guy but gives you an idea of why we wear our rubber boots!

 

We have arrived!

After breezing through customs and getting my first passport stamp in my new passport (I am officially a world-traveling FERRIS) we have made it to our hotel for one night before taking off to La Selva Biological Station.20130722_074815[1]

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In the courtyard of our hotel, we found a golden egg tree!  Sounds like something out of a fairytale, but the yellow and white bulbs actually feel like an egg!

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I love the juxtaposition of the brick, stone, iron and metal!  We found this on our walk to the Fresh Market grocery store.

This is our beautiful hallway with lots of windows, natural light and fresh breezes due to all the open windows!20130721_150546[1]