Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Day 10: July 24th

Wow! It's hard to believe it's our last night here in Costa Rica. The time has really flown by, and it feels like we just got here. Before we launch into our blog, we would like to inform you of a few things. First, Mrs. Leland would like everyone to know that it wasn't her mentioned in the previous blog, despite the fact that she is the only female teacher here. Also, we would like to caution the parents about the horrid stench they will encounter once they open their child's suitcase when we return.

Now, what you've all been waiting for, the day's activities. This morning, 6 students sacrificed their morning of sleeping in for the sake of milking cows. It was a new experience for the suburban Plymouth residents. Although some had reservations about grabbing the udder, we all found it to be worthwhile and enjoyable. The less than perfect attendance continued as only those 6 that were already up decided to attend breakfast. The rest of the students decided that they would make up for the lost meal with the snacks they had bought the day before.

The continuous rain (as mentioned in the previous blog) did not dampen the spirits of most of the students, partly due to a long and treacherous ride on the Swactor (Swagging tractor) Number Two (also known as S#2). After spending over an hour on the S#2, we finally reached a cool rainforest trail in hopes that we might glimpse a monkey or two. Alas, they evaded us, but we did manage to see some awesome caterpillars (that had adaptations to make them well camouflaged to look like feces so predators wouldn't eat them), monkey ladder vines, long-nosed bats, and a few exotic birds. A muddy and long S#2 ride later, we were all starving for lunch, which provided us with the nutrients to carry on for the rest of the day.

Everyone had been looking forward to spending time on the gorgeous beach of Playa Cabuyal since we left Finca la Anita. As soon as the bus arrived at the Horizontes Biological Research Station (where we are staying), all the students hurriedly jumped on. We arrived at the beach around 3:00 and spent the rest of the day body surfing, tanning, and collecting hermit crabs. Finally, a day with no deadlines or worksheets! Once the sun started to set, we had a delicious meal of grilled chicken, steak, sausage, and veggies. Many students spent the last minutes before the sun went down taking pictures of the beautiful surroundings and of each other. We were sad to leave the beach, but the fun didn't stop once we left. We had a fantastic sing-along party on the 40 minute bus ride back.

This experience has truly been eye-opening and powerful. We have seen measurable growth in our scientific knowledge and ability. We learned that "real-world" science can be much more challenging than structured science in a classroom, but we found it to be very rewarding, especially when we were successful in solving problems, thinking creatively, and working together. These past 10 days have immersed us in a new culture that we had only seen on TV or read about. Interacting with the locals and seeing how they live has given us a new perspective about the world. This opportunity, and the adventures and friendships that came with it, have been something that we will cherish for the rest of our lives. We would like to close this final blog entry with a thank-you to the parents who have made this possible and supported us throughout this journey.

Signing off for the last time,
Annie and Anna

Day 9: July 23

Well, last night was quite the adventure. We were up very late doing turtle beach sweeps, which prevented us from blogging last night, so we are doing it instead this morning. Yesterday was a bittersweet day because we had to leave Finca la Anita to come here to Horizontes (a dry rainforest). We had our last delicious meal from Finca la Anita, and hopped on a bus that we took all the way to Horizontes with a stop for some snacks and fun treats at a grocery store in Liberia. Some people bought only a few things, but some of the teachers went there on a shopping trip and got a whole cart-full of jams and other gifts for her friends and family. When we finally arrived here, we got settled in our adjoining dorms, and realized that we all shared one big unisex bathroom where we cannot flush the toilet paper. We had lunch, and realized how spoiled we were with the food at Finca la Anita. Next on our to-do list we went out into the field and learned and discussed the relationships between pseudomyrmex ants and acacia trees. Following that adventure we played another game of soccer with the staff here. This game we played against much older men who worked here, and only three of them showed up to play, so Cort and Mary went over and played on the winning team. An hour later, the score was 7 to 4 in favor of the staff and Cort and Mary. During the game, we had a herd of large bulls get herded through the soccer field, so we all stood quite still and hoped the bulls didn't stampede us.

 For dinner we had some very delicious noodles, salad, and bread. So while many of us ate it, Anna was unable to eat almost any of the meal, so she got some special treatment and got leftover beans and meat patty from lunch. We then got back on a bus and went 3 miles to the beach which took us 30 minutes. We all love dirt roads! (Especially the runners) We got to the beach, where the j fam dub team saw the ocean for the first time. We started our sweeping and told ghost stories and riddles to pass the time. While we didn't see turtles, we had a lot of fun, at the beach under the light of the moon. We got back at 12, and took our showers together (in separate stalls of course). One member of the group also decided that the second to last day would be a good day to do all of his laundry as well. We finally got to bed at 1:00. Some of us also decided to wake up at 6:00 to milk cows which was definitely an interesting experience. We are now off to breakfast in the pouring rain, so we will sign off and others will tell you more tonight.

The American members of the winning Costa Rican team,
Mary (aka Bloody Rosemaria Poppins del Bano sin Pantalones) and Cort

Monday, July 22, 2013

Day 8, 22 July

Today began with attempted early rising, but many of us over slept following last night's late "science-ing" session.  After breakfast the real work began.  A few groups had last minute data collection to complete and we spent all morning preparing for our final presentations.  Everyone was incredibly tired this morning and anxious to wrap up our work and celebrate.  We cleaned the lab, finalized our data, ran statistical tests and completed our presentation boards. At 11:30 the stage was set and we shared all of our hard work with the group.  Even though some groups' data did not support their hypotheses with statistical significance we all learned quite a bit about what it takes to complete a real scientific field study.  Following the presentations we ate a late lunch at 1:00.  After lunch we said goodbye and took some final group pictures with one of our advisers, Dr. Adrian Pinto.

 This afternoon's fun activity was a trip to a pool and hot springs where we celebrated our accomplishment and relaxed in the warm water.  After many days of exhausting our brains the relaxation was much needed. Before dinner most of our group stopped in town to stock up on some caffeine and candy as we will be leaving for the coast tomorrow morning after breakfast.  As always there were a few pre-dinner card games followed by another delicious Finca la Anita meal. After dinner we have been finalizing our lab notebooks and doing some final cleaning.  Finca la Anita has been a great home for us these past eight days and we will definitely be sad to say goodbye. We are all enjoying our time here and are sad to see it passing so quickly, but many of us our anxious to see our friends and family upon our return.  Now we are off to pack for our adventures on the coast.

Erin Gilbertson and Leah Johnson :)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Day 7 July 21st

Today was much different from any other day here at Finca La Anita. We did not go on an excursion to go horse back riding or zip-lining, but today was just as exciting as any other. Today was purely dedicated to the reason we're all here, science. We broke out into our groups and worked hard gathering data for our independent experiments. From making ant puree to barricading ant highways, today was interesting to say the least. Never leaving the lab/field save for meals and one quick trip to town, we worked very hard on our experiments and preparing our presentations.

Problem solving was a crucial element in keeping our experiments on track. It was also evident how dedicated each group was, many getting up in the wee hours of the morning to to run trials and gather data (and planning to do so again tomorrow). Each and every meal was delicious, as usual, and kept us energized for our work. Aside from our own experiments, we also viewed dyed bacterial colonies under the microscope to determine whether they were gram-positive or gram-negative. Our science game was on point today, y'all better recognize.

Oh, Annie and Hannah rode a horse too.

Written by the J Fam Dub Team

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Day 6: July 20th

HELLO PARENTS!! We're having lots of fun in Costa Rica! Today was another early morning with breakfast at 8:00 am sharp! After breakfast we truly began sciencing which was really fun. The past few days were planning days, but today we finally were able to begin collecting data and setting up our experiments. We were all very eager to start testing our hypotheses! Groups went out in the field collecting ant colonies and the leaves that are used to feed them. One of the groups was able to see the results of a preliminary, informal test in the field. They had set up an obstacle on an Atta's trail and found that the Attas had formed a new trail in less than 24 hours. A different group, whose experiment requires sugar cane, found it difficult to receive the sugar cane from their stalks, but they came up with some creative ideas. After going through several designs, they finally settled on using a tractor to crush the sugar cane stalks and collecting the run off juice. After a long morning of working hard on our science projects it was time for lunch, which were cheeseburgers! Although the food has been amazing all week, the cheeseburgers were a definite favorite.

 In the afternoon, we headed into town for our community service project. We helped eleven women, who own a garden in the center of town, weed and move wood for the house they are building on the property. Although it is progressing, in Costa Rica it is much less common for women to work and it is harder for them to find jobs. The women we worked with were very courageous and determined to support their families, which was very inspiring. It was really cool to be able to help out, and all of the women were very fun to talk to and get to know. We were honored to give back to a community that has helped us so much!

After we had departed from our service project, we walked to the local futbol field to play a "friendly" match against some of the local boys. Although we outnumbered them by more than 3 to 1, they beat us 3-0. There is a futbol player staying at Finca la Anita, and we invited him to join our team. We would have been far more destroyed had it not been for his help. The fields were very muddy and we were slipping around the entire game which added to the fun. It was a very unique experience for us because we couldn't understand the other team's communication, there were no nets in the goals, and barbed wire surrounded the field. In the end, we were able to make new friends and we all had a good time.

Next, we had the opportunity to learn how to cook an authentic Caribbean meal with a local family. The family was very welcoming and friendly. We chopped vegetables and made cheese, but the part of the meal that was the most fun to make were the corn tortillas. The tortillas were made by pressing the dough in a circular motion and then frying them on a wood stove. There was a girl from the family who was close to our age with whom we enjoyed speaking in Spanish, English, and even Chinese! She had a music player and some of us joined in on a spontaneous dance party. Eventually we got to try our beautiful and tasty meal and it did not disappoint. We had chicken on tortillas with a side of spicy rice and beans and a fancy salad as well as homemade juice which was really fantastic. For dessert we had fried flour tortillas drizzled in honey, and they were delicious! Once we got back to Finca la Anita (at 9:00 pm), we returned to our experiments since the Attas are most active later in the night. Some groups collected data or specimens out in the wild Costa Rican jungles while others stayed back and studied their artificial colonies. It was a late night (hence the late blog posting), but everyone is pleased with the work that was accomplished and the fun that was had by all.

Blog entry by Leah Johnson and Anna French

Friday, July 19, 2013

Day 5: July 19

Hello every one! It was another successful day in this exotic land known as Costa Rica. We woke up to thunder and heavy downpours, but somehow Anna still managed to find a way to run. We started off our day by discussing the results of the microbial experiment we did earlier this week. The discussion was in a group format and we reflected on what we could have done to make the experiments more accurate. This set us up for our next group discussion about our experiments with the ants. Every group presented their plans for the experiment and we all gave suggestions on how to further improve upon their ideas. We discussed how it is very important to conduct many consistent repetitions of a particular experiment to make the results as statistically accurate as possible. It was really helpful to hear what our peers had to say and hopefully they will make our experiments all the better.
After another delicious lunch, we headed to our canopy tour. It was very exciting to see the extensive bio-diversity of all the plants and insects that inhabit the canopy layer of the rainforest. We compared and contrasted the Costa Rican rainforest and the very familiar forests of Minnesota. For example, the roots of the trees in the rainforest have shallower root systems and have a wider circumference than the deciduous trees in Minnesota. Some of the group were lucky enough to see a sloth, however we all got to see a species of ants that have adapted to canopy life and acquired the ability to glide from tree to tree without wings. We even got to zip line upside down, which was an experience nobody is likely to forget!

Once we got back to the farm, we had some much needed rest time. Although, some of us had to go for a run and do their PSAT practice book. Our group is bonding fantastically over the many games of cards we play every chance we get, and through the amount of bug bites we seem to be accumulating by the second. After dinner (and another game of cards) we finally received the coveted lab notebooks from trips prior. We had the chance to look over past groups experiments and findings that were similar to our own. All of us are very excited to get up bright and early tomorrow and begin our own research!
Over and out, Meghan and The Claudster 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Day 4: July 18

As a teacher, I would like to make a comment to all of the parents of the students that are on this trip.  Your student is doing an amazing job here and they are a delight to have on this trip.  -Mrs. Leland

As the amount of bug bites that each of us acquires grows exponentially, so does the plethora of knowledge and fun. We spent the morning eating, yet again... rice and beans. To top that, we had the Costa Rican equivalent of cheese curds; much healthier than the state fair version that we are used to. Post-breakfast, we reviewed our bacterial samples from a couple days prior and brainstormed/decided about the experiments we will be completing later this week. This required some laborious thinking on our part: nothing a group of teenagers can't handle. Most of the students were just glad to have a break from the grueling treks through the jungle. After our lack of physical activity, we filled our bellies with another authentic Costa Rican meal; spaghetti and garlic bread. :)

After a short span of playing Farkle and Presidents (the card game), we bused out to the location where we would be completing our next activity: horseback riding (Andrea and Hannah had been waiting for this moment since before the trip). Pablo reassured us that all the horses were very tame, and tame they were. The wilderness on either side of the trail was ten times as crazy as any animals we were riding. Even the terrible gassiness of some of the horses and the extreme slipperiness of the freshly rained on slopes could not stop us from having a great time.
We returned from the experience with sore legs and smiles and continued our day of fun by hiking out to the local poperia (a local market containing just about anything you need). When we returned to Finca La Anita with fanny packs full of suckers, we had more down time to play more cards and dice.

We of course had to leave some room for the most impressive sirloin and freshly squeezed passion fruit (maracuya). This went along with an array of grilled veggies and of course the ever popular accompanying salad. Dessert was Tres Leches (A sweet cake drizzled in milk). We found time for one last round of Presidents before we had a quick de-briefing about tomorrows activities. 

For now it's off to bed. That is if we get any sleep with the excitement boiling inside us for tomorrow.

-Andrea Polis and Hannah Nelson (And of course the rest of the students here.)