Peñas Blancas (3/19-22)
Boy were we all ready for a field trip after two weeks of chaos in Monteverde.
We woke up this morning, still having to tie up some lose ends, as we all had to have our rooms packed up and last minute phone calls and emails needed to be made before leaving for Peñas Blancas.I also got screamed at by my roommate for not being a mom and trying to wake her up every 2 seconds, that wasn't cool.After breakfast we all grabbed our candy bars, sandwiches, and trail mix for our long hike ahead, and loaded into the vans that would take us to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.From there we hiked our stuff in 10 miles to Eladios in Peñas Blancas (a park south of Monteverde and connected to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve).The hike was beautiful, through secondary growth, but lots of diversity of understory.The trail used to be one that led to lots of farms, so at times we were walking on a road with grass growing on it and overgrown plants coming from the sides, but other times felt like I was in the middle of a forest.Most of the hike was downhill so we started with a great view and descended over streams and rivers.I could tell it was getting a lot wetter after we crossed the continental divide, as the Atlantic side gets the brunt of wet weather.Things were so lush and green, and at times you would come to a clearing that overlooked the hills with puffy-misty clouds hanging low.Towards the end we crossed a pretty shaky bridge (as I would soon learn to be the trend on the Atlantic slope) and we were so close to our final destination.Our turquoise abode at Eladios was literally in the middle of the rainforest (aka the middle of nowhere) and consisted of 2 bedrooms with bunks, a dining room, and a couple toilets and showers.Pretty simple.I was so glad to see it when I arrived at 2, having completely sweat through every inch of my clothing, and feeling sore knees from all the downhill.I literally fell asleep standing up, which I will never hear the end of from mis amigas aqui.Eladios used to be owned by a man named Eladio (hence the name) who actually comes with his son to this place to cook for different educational groups that come through.I will get to his life story later.
The view from the porch at Eladios is breathtaking.One overlooks a field of Cecropia plants (bambooish-look with awesome, large, palmate leaves), where scarlet-rumped tanagers are quite abundant.In the distance is a nice patch of wet forest that goes on for a ways and the charismatic mist clouds one associates with a cloud forest are almost always present.It is beautiful, and is where I will experience the most rain since I have been in Costa Rica.There is also no generator or mode for electricity here, so at night we eat and do stuff by candlelight/headlamp, very romantic...uuh.
It rained all night, and with a metal roof it was a thundering rain, beautiful.For breakfast we had pancakes and rice&beans (naturally).I really like the rice&beans in the mornings (called gallo pinto) because they are mixed together with extra seasonings, red pepper, and onions.They are so good!After breakfast, we all put on our raingear.It was the first time since we have arrived (this would never happen in the rainy season) so I chose to do the poncho over the raincoat and rain pants.One can never be too prepared, and lets face it, clear ponchos make me look like a ghost, and well, that's nice right?.
We went on an orientation hike in all are garb (as we always do the first day in a new place).We saw/felt mosquitoes, palms, birds, frogs, and some beautiful orchids.This was the first time I truly felt like I was in the stereotypical rainforest one sees pictures of in a National Geographic or a coffee table book.It was just so fresh and lush, MUDDY, and of course the rain brought out an unimaginable freshness.
That evening, Eladio discussed the history of the area.He discussed how in the 60's the land at the Alemans (about 5 miles from Eladios) was offered to his parents for farm land.This was common, and all of the land that is now protected in Peñas Blancas was farm land at this time.Protection wasn't initiated until the late 70's.Eladios parents (and himself) were one of the first to sell there land.And only a year ago was some of the last land sold back for protection.I was very inspired by Eladio's passion for place.A place, where he felt connected.He worked hard to convince farmers to sell, he saw that protection of these lands were important.He started taking students out into the forest and participating in various other environmental education endeavors.He truly has an amazing story and when we clapped after he finished, I could see him tearing up, the joy that it brings him to see younger people interested and caring about some of the same things he has stood his life for.It is truly amazing.
It rained all day which was great for our planned fungal diversity day.I woke up to do birding, but the rain made it nearly impossible to see things.Karen (Alan's wife, the other prof) wore her "I love to mushroom" shirt and a hat literally made out of fungus from Budapest.The hat was so soft, and naturally fungus made me thing of Oregon and many of the people I know there.We spent the morning going over fungal characteristics as well as taxonomy.
In the afternoon, they sent us out on a mushroom scavenger hunt.We broke into groups and were looking for things like the penis, jelly, and old man's finger 'shrooms.Great creative names, or actually very literal names.Lena and I won a prize for finding 5 types, it was cheese…Monteverde cheese, which is absolutely incredible.Of course all the prizes were things with fungus in them like beer, cheese, and bread.
After laughing our butts off with weird fungus, we laughed some more when we got into groups to act out fungal reproductive modes.Mine was autodigestion, where the fungus actually digests itself into a black-tar-goo.Man, what a way to reproduce.
When dinner was through, we went on a couple night hikes.Pablo and Mancho were first, so we set up a misnet and caught bats.We saw 2 types of leaf-nose bats, including one that is pregnant.Did I say we were standing on an ant hill as we looked at bats?Yeah, not smart.I moved. Karen's group was next and we went into the woods to try and catch herps or insects.We saw a baby fer-de-lance (the most deadly snake in Costa Rica).I guess they are very common around here.I thought I would be freaked out to see it, but it seemed too innocent, all curled up under a log.Yeah, it would have freaked me out if it striked though.There were many active frog calls too and I caught a tink frog which is about the size of my thumb.I had to climb a tree to get it, but I was determined.There were also some cool Katydids.Thy look like new and old leaves (pink and green) and literally their body looks like a leaf.They also have antennae that mimic legs as an antipredatory defense.We also found a bright green tree snake, beautiful.The really awesome thing we saw was a common paraque (a type of nightjar…bird like an owl, sort-of).It got caught in the misnet.It had golden eyes, beautiful mottled feathers, and such a large mouth.It was amazing and so graceful in its features.
After French toast for breakfast and some species reports we had a butterfly diversity day.Actually during this time Tania and Pablo found a coral snake that eats venomous snakes, yeah to that.What a beast.
We were split into 3 groups for the day.The first was Karen talking about characteristics and taxonomy of butterflies.She had lots of cool samples, including some glass-wing butterflies who actually have transparent parts to their wings.Beautiful.Our second section was with Pablo where we ran around with nets catching butterflies, like morphos and glass winged ones.It was funny, some caught with finesse, while others chose vigor and aggression.Surprisingly the latter tended to work better.One must be determined when catching butterflies I guess.
I took a 1 hour nap after lunch, and it felt so good.I sleep so well in Penas.Maybe it is the rain.However, it wasn't raining during my nap.After awaking, a group of us walked to a nearby waterfall.To get there we hiked over the "rainforest bridge" and then up the river.Crossing was a bit rough, but is felt nice on my feet and legs.The waterfall was tiny, but powerful and tucked back in an outlet off the main river.Teagan brought some clay, so we put on clay masks.
That night we had mac-and-cheese which I had been craving for about a month…YES!They also gave us popcorn and yummy cocoa, another craving, score.Eladio told us the craziest story about when he was bit by a fer-de-lance in Corcovado 20 years ago (remember, I was there on the last field trip).He was there with a school group and it was misidentified…stupid.He went to catch it and was bit three times in the hand.He felt good for an hour, but then started to bleed out of his pores.They were in the middle of nowhere and didn't know what to do.All of a sudden a squatter shows up with two horses and lets them borrow one to take out of the park.They were going to meet their bus-driver hopefully.Luckily he decided to fish that day and took them to the nearest hospital.By this time Eladio was hallucinating and bleeding out of every crevice, his arm was about the girth of a football.He ended up getting transferred to the hospital for the antivenom.A tourist saw him and freaked out.At the hospital he was very swollen.A pineapple picker was his roommate and told him to cut his woods to release the puss or he will lose his limbs.Eladio asked his doctor to do this, but he refused.That night he got a blade and the next morning he cut his wounds.The doctor came in later and asked him what happened.Eladio told him they broke in the shower.The doctor said, that is natural, happens all the time.So, now Eladio wants to go home and it turns out his old friend is the director of the hospital and arranges for him to get flown by helicopter to Monteverde.It took about a year for Eladios capillaries to strengthen back up from the snake bite, which was hard because he works on a farm.He had to lay low.Isn't this an amazing story?He looks fine, one would never guess, seeing him now, that he had been bit by a snake, let alone a fer-de-lance.Wow.
That night was more music story-time on the porch. Good times.