Monday, July 14, 2014

Last day! - July 14

Olivia and Amanda here for the last blog of the trip!  Continued from the last post, we went out to go find some turtles at the beach.  Unfortunately, we did not see any baby turtles or momma turtles that are on their way to lay the eggs.  On the up side, we see a mommy turtle that got spooked and was on its way back to the ocean.  We all got a chance to touch the turtles shell! After anoth four hours on the beach, we all went to bed at 1:30 in the morning.  Today we went on a nature walk through the dry forest, we saw monkeys! After we got caught up on sleep, we went to the beach to celebrate the end of our trip. We swam for a couple of hours and had a delicious BBQ made by the locals!  Now I know all you families back home want to keep us crazy people as far away from you as possible, but we will be coming home tomorrow.  We can't wait to see everyone again, especially after we have been saying how much we miss Americanized food.  See you all tomorrow night!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Bye Finca La Anita....Hello Horizontes

We are blogging earlier today due to our schedule.  Today we packed up our things and took off from Finca La Anita after breakfast to the research station Horizontes.  It was a fairly long trip but we were able to stop at a local grocery store for some snacks along the way.  Students had fun finding treats!  Once we arrived at Horizontes we settled into our rooms and then had lunch.  After lunch we discussed the second year program focusing on Bioinformatics.  Then we walked to some Acacia trees to study another type of ant, Pseudomyrmex.  These ants live in the thorns of the Acacia tree and protect it from other organisms.  Afterwards, we discussed our plan for the evening.....our sweep of the beach for Eastern Pacific Rim Black Turtles.  Right now, students are resting and after dinner we will head to the beach for the sweep.  Depending on if we find a turtle or not we could be in for a very late night!  Our last two students will blog tomorrow about the turtle sweep and our last day in Costa Rica. 

Katie & Kristin

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Presentation Day


We are giving the students the night off from the blog as a reward for all their hard work today on finishing data collections, analyzing results and preparing their presentations for us.

This morning students were busy working on final data collections, checking their fungus experiment plates and beginning to work on their presentation notebooks as well as recording in their lab notebooks.  After lunch, students had a short break and then went back to work getting ready, doing statistical analysis of their results etc.  At 4 pm they practiced their presentations for one another and Adrian (our expert scientist).  At 6 pm each student group presented their experiment to one another, their teachers (us), Pablo, and two peace corp volunteers (Amy and Steven). Below is a brief overview of the presentations (so we don't spoil the parent presentation we will give later this summer).

1) Munetos (Amanda, Jackie and Fredo) tested the Effect of Temperature on the Health of the Fungus Garden.  They had three different temperatures that they exposed the fungus gardens to and they recorded the mass of each garden before and after each reading.  They found that heat was detrimental to the fungus garden.

2) Las Hercules (Anthony, Julia, Sarah and Katherine) tested the Effect of Acromyrmex bacteria on various leaf bacteria.  They swabbed different leaves and applied the bacteria that is found on the Acromyrmex ants to that bacteria to see if it would inhibit its growth.  Ficus and Citrus had statistical significance.  Their second experiment was testing a natural ant repellent.  They made an extract of leaves that the ants didn't like and painted it onto leaves they did like to cut. Again, ficus showed statistical significance.

3)  La Camisa Negra (Alyssa, Austin, Priya and Hannah) tested the Effect of Leaf Species on Fungal Growth and Activity.  They were curious why ants chose certain leaves over others and how they chose those particular leaves.  They made an extract and painted leaves to set out in the lab and on the trail to see if the ants would cut those leaves.  They found that the guava leaf (one the ants do not like) when painted with melina leaf paste (one the ants do like) showed some statistical significance.

4)  Las Tortugas Azules (Beth, CJ and Olivia) tested the Effect of the Bird of Paradise plant on the activity of the Atta Cephalotes.  They were hoping to use this as an organic repellent.  They created barriers made of the Bird of Paradise plants leaves, seeds, flowers and bark to surround Melina leaves (a plant the ants like to cut) and then tested it in the lab and in the field.  None of their results were statisically significant but they did find another species of ant on the tree that may have something to do with keeping the Atta ants away.

5)  La Pandilla (Maddie, Haley and Nick) tested Guava Infused Melina leaves in which they made a paste to coat Melina leaves as well as testing Antibiotic specialization in a second exeperiment.  In this case they wanted to see if the antibiotic the bacteria on the ants make is specific to the bad parasite of the fungus garden, Escovopsis.  In both cases they did not find statistcal significance but was noted was that the bacteria was not affected by the ant antibiotic.  This is a great result however as the antibiotic should be specific to the bad fungus and not all other beneficial microbes in the garden (like the bacteria that fix nitrogen).

All in all it was a long day of science but we are very impressed by the work the students have done this week.  Tomorrow we head to the dry forest for another experience in a climate very different from our rainforest retreat.  This is truly a great group of very funny, intelligent, hard working and adventurous students.  They have grown so much this week and have made new friends within our group!  We are sad that our time in Costa Rica is coming to a close in a few short days but look forward to seeing our families. And according to students.....not wearing bug repellent every moment of every day, wearing cute clothes, drinking milk and sleeping in beds that they fit into (poor Nick).

Buenos Noches,
Katie Foley & Kristin Gabel

Friday, July 11, 2014

An Ode to Our Day

Hi! Fredo and Austin reporting!
We woke in the morning
smelling omelets and bread toasting.
After we finished eating,
we lent a helping hand
to the town's weeding demand.
They gave us empanadas (we were fans),
and the sun broke through, giving tans.
On the way home
we ate ice cream cones
but they weren't in cones;
through bags the cream did flow.
After lunch, we started on science
groups worked on projects, with ant compliance.
We encountered problems, but there's always that chance.
After solving them quickly, we mentally danced.
Once we were done
we just kept on
having some fun
in the glowing sun.
Teams were made,
soccer was played,
win or lose, either way
fun was had today.
Being famished, off we went,
guided by a newfound friend,
to a house with an exotic scent.
Tortilla dough we rolled and bent.
Then we had to cut the cheese
(come on guys, we mean literally)
and after chopping veggies,
we filled our empty bellies.
Mango juice flowed
to ease burning hot throats
from peppers that showed
us spiciness yet untold.
Finally we returned,
bellies full, throats burned,
heads full of things learned,
with a good night's rest earned.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Day 5: Science & Senses


¡¡¡¡BREAKFAST!!!! Today we went a little more American and had pancakes with cacao nibs, sausage, eggs, yogurt with fruit, and juice. Safe to say this has been our favorite breakfast, except for the fact that there was no toast. After our meal, we went to the "classroom" and started our science projects. It was a little frustrating and crazy because everyone was doing different stuff at the same time in a small "lab" with limited equipment. Once we were all set up we earned our lunch of hot ham and cheese sandwiches and an assortment of chips :). After lunch, we headed off to Sensoria (Land of the Senses), a primary rainforest with hot springs and blue waterfalls. The "ride" to Sensoria was interesting to say the least. The roads were extremely bumpy and some people even rode on the back of pickup trucks - thankfully everyone survived. The rough ride was definitely worth it. Once we arrived at Sensoria, we hiked through the BEAUTIFUL primary forest (a forest that has never been cut down). The difference between the secondary forest area that we are staying in and the forest at Sensoria was incredible. The trees at Sensoria were so much larger and the brush was so much denser. It looked like we were walking through Jurassic Park. After a 45 minute hike, we arrived at the most breathtaking waterfall we had ever seen. The water was indescribably blue and we were fortunate enough to get the chance to swim in it. Austin even pulled a Tarzan move and swung from a vine. Unfortunately, the rest of us didn't get a chance to try it as Pablo didn't seem too happy about it :(. After we reluctantly left the water, we hiked to another infinity pool type spring. This one didn't have as blue of water, but it was still crystal clear until we made it muddy. Rather than trekking to the next spring in wet clothes, most of us just hiked in our swimsuits - who thought we'd ever be walking through the rainforest half naked? When we finally reached the real hot spring, everyone rejoiced and jumped in. After 40 minutes of relaxing and being massaged by a waterfall, we retreated to the main lodge for some cookies and juice. Then we had more cookies that Anna had packed for us on the way home. Some people had the opportunity to see parrots and wasp nests. Once we got back to Finca La Anita, some of us went to the pulperia while others crashed in their cabins before dinner. ¡¡¡¡DINNER!!! And font change!!!! For dinner we had exelente fish with a cilantro-garlic (fancy) pesto along with potatos, carrots, broccoli, and salad. AND THE MOST IMPORTANT PART DESSERT!!!!!!!! We had budin, a bread pudding with caramel drizzles and cacao nibs MMMMM YUMMM. But work was not done after dinner! For the next 2 hours, we slaved over our ant projects. Some were groups were smart and finished early, cough Jackie and co. cough, but others were lost in the jungle in the pitch black dark (don't worry we're alive). Now it's time for bed so that we can dream about breakfast like Alyssa. Katherine hopes we have bread tomorrow :).

¡¡¡Pura Vida!!!!

Alyssa, Katherine, and Maddie :)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

River & Night Hikes

Hello everyone!

Sorry for such a late post! We were all just out hiking with a naturalist at night! But we'll get to that later.

As usual, we got up and ate a delicious breakfast. Today, it was scrambled eggs with ham (or without), gallo pinto, homemade tortillas, grilled queso, and local fruit. Afterwards, we spent the morning getting our experiments together and checking on our ants. We developed a procedure off of ideas we brainstormed yesterday and then presented our proposals to the group for feedback. We all had a great time making colorful posters to illustrate what we plan to do in the next few days. As of now, we are all set up to put our projects into action!

Before lunch, we also checked our ants to see if they ate the food we gave them and also checked on the fungus we put onto the petri dishes to see if they grew. Then, we all headed out of the classroom and into the dining area for lunch, where we ate rice, cheese, and heart of palm casserole, vegetables, and salad.

After lunch, we all put on swimsuits and prepared for the long hike down to a river to swim. We all climbed into a rather cramped trailer pulled by a tractor. The cart had an open top, and some beetles, a lizard, an inchworm, and a few spiders managed to tag along for the ride. After that experience, we're all pretty close from practically sitting on top of each other. We reached a trail that headed deeper into the rainforest, where we were guided by a naturalist named Juan Carlos. He was very helpful in pointing out the different sights and identifying the wildlife. The trail down was rather slippery, and we were all slipping everywhere in the mud. Jackie fell, but don't worry, she's fine and just a little muddy. But it was all worth it when we reached the river. When we all jumped in, it was cool and refreshing. It was also deep and had a strong current in some places. Some people almost floated away! We found the parts of the river that were shallow and developed a way to reach upriver so we could float back down with the current. By the end we were all laughing and smiling. The only sad part was when we had to put our clothes back on and walk back uphill.

Afterwards, there was a little time left before dinner to shower and visit the pulperia. Hannah and the others got some ice cream, candy bars, and other treats. For dinner, we ate yucca, zucchini, carrots, corn salad, and pork loin (cheese empanadas for the vegetarians). The dessert was very popular: ice cream with cacao on top, with a side of sauteed bananas with a sort of carmelized sauce. This is where our schedule deviated from usual. Normally, we'd head to bed, but tonight we went on a night hike with Juan Carlos the naturalist.

We saw fascinating things in the rainforest that you can only see at night. First, we saw a hummingbird sleeping on the tip of a branch. It was very tiny and adorable! As we were just starting to walk again, we saw an oppossum swimming down the river. We've never really seen a mammal out at night, except for the bats that we occasionally see while we eat dinner. We also saw insects such as katydids and cicadas. Then we saw a sea of green: an active trail of leafcutter ants. We also saw a tiny green tree frog.

Now, we're getting ready for tomorrow, when we're working more on our experiments and taking another hike with another amazing desitnation.

Written by Hannah and Beth

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Day 4- Ziplining and more science

First thing we did today was eat breakfast, we had delicious omlets with pico de gallo, rice and beans, for fruit we had watermelon, pineapple, and papaya, and AMAZING toast with marmalade.
At 9 am we met with Dr. Pinto and we cultured the fungus gardens that we collected yesterday.  The fungus garden is composed of three basic layers.  The top layer is made up of the newly collected leaves that will soon be eaten up by the fungus.  The middle layer is where the larvae and pupae (which are premature ants) live and get fed.  The bottom layer is the oldest part of the fungus.  To culture the fungus gardens, we picked different parts of the fungus with sterile tweezers and placed them in petri dishes where they will grow so that we can tell the difference between good and bad fungus.  Haley managed to burn Maddie with the hot, sterile tweezers... but shes ok.  After that we worked on our booklets and completed many activities, including a reading about different diseases (Tuberculosis, Plague, and Cholera), a crossword puzzle, and a reading about good bacteria and bad bacteria.  Before we went to lunch we collected a bag full of leaves from different trees to feed the ants, which we gave to them after we ate lunch.
For lunch we had spaghetti, toast, and salad.  It was very good.  Many were commenting on how American food made in Costa Rica will be better than American food made in America.
Shortly after lunch we took a 45 minute bus ride to Canopy Tour in Miravales (Miravales is the name of the volcano) for ziplining.  There were lots of beautiful views of the volcano and valley.  Our 4 tour guides were fabulous!!!  The walk up to the first platform was a long, steep hike.  On one of the cables we were allowed to go upside down, which everyone did!  The whole tour took about an hour and a half.
After ziplining, many people went to pulperia (the local store) to buy yummy goodies.  At the store they sell various candies, ice cream, pop, and other everyday essentials.
At 6 we met with Dr. Pinto again to check on our fungus culture and brainstormed for our future project regarding the ants.
When we were finished with our brainstorming, about an hour later, we went to eat dinner, wonderful dinner.  Dinner included beef stroganoff, chayote (similar to summer squash), potatoes, corn on the cob, salad, and for dessert we had tres leche (which is like cake with milk and cacao).
In a few minutes we are going to watch an ant colony in action, because they are more active at night.

Written by Nick and Haley