Saturday, August 29, 2015


I learned how to use i-movie today and put together a video about our trip to Costa Rica.  Check it out.  I am scheduled to share photos of the trip at a faculty meeting next week and I thought this would be a fun way to do it.  

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Farewell to Costa Rica

It was so much fun to hear about everyones individual projects during our last day at La Selva.  They were all so different!  The California group focused on soil testing.  They even had us test our own samples.   The low pH of the local water made the results a little hard to interpret.  I am glad that we weren't the only ones experiencing technical difficulties.  I never would have thought about brining my own water to assure a consistent pH during field work.  The Frogger Loggers shared lots of frog sounds with us.  So many cute little croakers.  Then the Pennsylvania shared their vegetation measurements.  Hearing about the time they spent out in the field fighting to use equipment in the pouring rain sounded so familiar!  4 people doesn't seem like nearly enough when 2 of them are holding up umbrellas.  The plans people have to extend and share what they learned in their own classrooms when they return are truly inspiring.  
I had no idea ahead of time what an important part the projects would play in the ECO-classroom experience.  I  really didn't think that we would get as much data as we did in such a short amount of time.  It was so exciting every time we went out to check the camera traps to see what animals we had captured.  Looking back, I can see how we could have done so many things better, but we all learned so much though our trial and error field work.  
The trip back to San Jose and a night back at the Adventure Inn helped us to transition and start the process of thinking about leaving.  Everyone was strangely quiet as the bus pulled out of the field station for the last time.  
This was our last group dinner together.  After two weeks of rice and beans with each meal, eating at an Italian restaurant was such a treat.  Such a wonderful group of people!  Being able to share this experience with them was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.  I am so grateful to have been lucky enough to take participate in this program.  
Text messages and e-mails are starting to come in now asking us to share our experience with different local groups.  So far we are slated for a district inservice day, and something at the planetarium.  I guess we'd better take a look at what we'd like to say.  I am also supposed to share some pictures at our next faculty meeting.  That will be fun!
We had Open House last night and parents were telling me that they had read about my trip on this blog.  How much exciting is that?  Of course I had to include my favorite ocelot picture in my power point.  Hopefully there will be more to share as our follow up projects get under way, for now though, farewell to Costa Rica.  

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Life at La Selva

La Selva is a biological research facility not far from Saripiqui in Costa Rica.  It is run by the Organization for Tropical Studies and is also one the TEAM network sites.  Scientists and students come here for short or long amounts of time and stay while they go out into the forest to do their own individual research.  Birders and tourists also come and naturalists and guides are available for day and night hikes.  
I was informed, that as far as field stations go, this one is the equivalent of a five star Hilton.  The main dining hall has beautiful wooden ceilings with both inside and outside seating options.  
There are various sleeping options available.  Professors are placed in more prestigious houses, but as students, we were assigned to dorms which were similar to those used for summer camps.  There was a shared bathroom and a fan to help keep things cool.  Most of the time, rain kept the temperatures pleasant, but on the few days it didn't rain, it could get a little sticky.  There was no glass in the windows, just screens to keep out the bugs.  
A suspension bridge allowed us to cross over the river to get to the trails and classroom area.  It was about a mile round trip each time we went out, so we tried to take everything we would need each day, coming back only for meals.  Closed toed shoes were required on the trails, and we never went anywhere without an umbrella and a flashlight.  
We were in the Jaguar classroom for most of our time.  Peggy, Steve, and Jimmy each gave different presentations while we were there, and they brought computers and a projector with them.  
 Meal times brought us all together back at the main hall.  The menu was posted both in Spanish and English each day.  We were left to wonder what "mixed meat" meant, but there was a nice variety each day.
Meals were centered around beans and rice with a meat and a vegetable or starch.  There was also a salad bar with local fruits and a juice dispenser.  Coffee, tea and water were available 24-7, but the food was there only during scheduled meal times.  Scientists could request a bag lunch if they were going to be in the field all day.  
Here is a view of the serving line, all the food was cafeteria style, allowing you to choose what you would like at each meal.  The ladies were always willing to give you "mas" is you wanted more of a specific food.  Dinner even had dessert available!
 One thing we all noticed was how focused on recycling they were not just at La Selva, but everywhere we visited.  Plastic, paper and organics were all separated into different containers.  
Meals were a time to sit and relax, sharing stories of what we did during the day.  Most of the talk was centered around the research we were doing or the animals we had seen that day.  
Dr. Smiley was one of the scientists we shared several meals with.  He is a retired professor who always wanted to return to an unanswered question about beetles he found while working on his doctorate in 1971.  So after his retirement, he decided to come down and spend some time doing further study.  We would see him out on the trails going out to the succession plots, or at dinner excited about what he had found.  

Banana Plantation

There were a few days at La Selva when I was just too tired to set up a post, I'll make those up now though, so that there is a complete record of what we learned. Here is the first of the makeup posts.
 Did you know that the small black specks in your banana are rudimentary seeds and are not able to grow into a banana plant?  It's not a tree at all, but an herb.
Tuesday we traveled to a Dole plantation to learn more about how bananas are grown.  
 Bananas grow in blue bags to protect them from the bugs and to maintain temperature and humidity. Apparently the bananas grown without the blue bags aren't at all pretty.
 We practiced putting the blue bags on the bananas and marking them with the colored tags that are used to help with inventory and planning.
 First though, we got a talk about how the banana plant is propagated.  Everything in the story had to do with the number three, which was actually pretty funny after a while.  So here is the banana plant which was used to show us the process.  Bananas today are not only monoculture crops, but also clones.
 Traditionally a corm was divided and mature plant grown from the shoots that grew via asexual reproduction.
 Today though, the plant is split to reveal the meristematic tissues which are harvested and then multiplied in the lab via cell culture.  Though efficient at isolating the best traits, it does leave the plantation open the threats such as the T4 fungus which is wreaking havoc already in other banana growing regions.  There is much talk at banana conventions about finding new, fungus resistant strains.
 This is the banana flower which grows up and out of the middle of the shoot before falling under its own weight to point toward the ground.
Each banana grows from a fertilized flower.  After fertilization, each flower is removed by hand from the ripening banana.  The bunch is also trimmed to remove the bottom three hands of bananas, allowing the extra energy to concentrate in the top bananas.  Always wondered where that phrase came from?  The top bananas get the most nutrients and are least likely to be bruised are damaged by nearby bunches.  
To remove any chance of bruising, each round is separated and wrapped to isolate it from other bananas.  They are cut down and placed on a cable system where donkeys help pull them down to the packaging facility.  
There, the banana are washed and separated.  
Alum is brushed on the cut end to seal it and prevent latex oozing.  Stickers are added by hand wile inferior bananas are pulled to go to a baby food factory.  
Finally, the bananas are sorted onto trays, each weighing 42 pounds, before being placed by hand into boxes for shipping. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Chocolate Plantation

Today we traveled again to Tirimbina.  Last night we visited for a bat tour.   No post on that yet, I was so tired that I was asleep on the bus ride home.  Tirimbina is a lodge and preserve with nature tours and hikes, but also, a sustainable chocolate plantation.  So today we returned to learn more about the process of making chocolate.  Best tour ever! 
This is the cocoa plant.  You can see the large seed pods, not yet ripe.  They grow in the shade of the forest on do not require any deforestation or intensive land preparation.  
 When we made it to the lecture site, there were several informational posters explaining the history of chocolate.
 Michael was our main guide today, he asked for a volunteer to help crack open the seed pod.  Nicole from the California group was the first volunteer.
 Inside the pod are lots of seeds covered in slime.  He had us each taste one.  Not very appetizing in my opinion, but all part of the ancient and traditional chocolate making process.
 The saliva from our mouths was providing the initial starter culture for the fermentation process that is necessary to turn the raw beans into cocoa.  Here are the stages in the fermentation and drying process.
 The dried beans are then roasted and peeled.
 The roasted beans crumble into chocolate nibs which are then ground with a warm stone to help melt the cocoa butter.  Ellen volunteered to grind, but the stone was too hot, so she used a paper towel to protect her hands.  To grind the nibs completely by stone would take more than two hours, so Michael pulled out a hand cranked grinder to speed the process along.
 Then he mixed the ground nibs with brown sugar and cinnamon.  So good!
 Hot water was then added and Giovanni poured the cocoa was poured back and forth to make it frothy and light.
 Ryan thought it was delicious and went back for more.  The ground chocolate can be crystalized into chocolate rock and then melted in a double boiler.  We all sampled spoonfuls of the liquid chocolate.  It was heavenly.  There are no pictures of that, our hands were all full of chocolate.
 Finally, Michael discussed how lecithin can be added to make the chocolate creamier as it is turned into bars.  There was solid chocolate to end the lesson, both milk and dark.  So tasty.  I have a plan as to how I can turn the tour into a lesson on fermentation.  Usually we talk about lactic acid and possibly cheese or yogurt.  Wouldn't chocolate be so much more fun though?  The prezi is already running through my head.
There was no time to work on it today though.  We had the afternoon to finish our project so that we can be ready to present tomorrow.  I can't believe how quickly these last two weeks have flown by!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Coffee Plantation

Most of the time we have been here we have been working, but there are a few educational tours mixed in as well.  Yesterday we spent the afternoon getting a tour of a fair trade coffee plantation.  
David was our guide.  He first he showed us the difference between the green, red and black beans.  Coffee beans should be picked while red to have optimal caffeine and sugar content.  
These are the baby coffee plants just starting out.  They are allowed to grow for nine months before being transplanted outside.  Coffee beans are picked by hand, usually by migrant Nicaraguan seasonal workers.  
 They are paid two dollars per basket for the berries which are then measured before being rinsed and sorted.
 Sorted berries are opened to get out the beans which are dried either in the open air for 2-6 weeks or in drying ovens during the busy season.  Dried beans are roasted and ready sell.
David made coffee for us the traditional way, using grounds placed in cotton bags with water poured through.  
 We all enjoyed the coffee together along with some Costa Rican bread after the tour.  

Monday, August 10, 2015

We have spent many hours since arriving in Costa Rica out hiking the trails to check on our traps.  So far, we have logged 48 miles and the trip is only halfway done!
 It has been well worth all the effort though, for the many photos we are capturing on our camera traps.  Here is a puma crossing the bridge.
 This is a puma far away on another trail.  Is it the same puma, or a different one?  We would really love to know.
We aren't just catching lots of pumas.  We think that this is an ocelot.  Sometimes the animals are moving fast, and at night it can be a little bit blurry.  
 This one turned out just great though.  Look at how clear his marking are!  Absolutely an ocelot.  We have one of the traps set to video, and it is really helping us to see what is going on.
 It isn't all about the cats though.  Check out the paca leaping in the rain.  I didn't know that pacas could leap.
We still have several more days before we will have to collect the traps so that we can analyze our data.  I can't wait to see what else we will find.