Saturday, August 21, 2010


Following a chaotic week of pura vida proportions... 3 week queue to see if i can change my class, an early morning attack from the pack of dogs that 'run the block' on my school route, and an encounter with "johnny", friendly yet somewhat shady fellow from Guatemala that fancied himself an 'artesian' (bracelets and bar napkin bouquets were his specialties) 
...It was time for  insert cliché 

& that's just what we got! 
We decided a trip up up & away! from the hustle and bustle of the city would do the trick and by 6:30am Saturday morning we were off to Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo. Such a ridiculous vowel-filled name is excusable in this case as the park is the second largest in Costa Rica (475.8 km²) and honors an influential character in the history of Costa Rica (B.C. wasn't an epoch, but he was the head of state and made great lengths to clean up and unify Costa Rica). Because of the gargantuan size of the park (vertically and horizontally), there are a vast number of life zones containing diverse flora and fauna. The picture above was taken en route to the Copey crater lake -and if you searched for a pterodactyl in this picutre, I regret to inform you that although your suspicions weren't far-fetched, the picture wasn't taken in the Jurassic.

Throughout the hike we got to see a nice variety of lowland, premontane, and montane rainforest. One of my favorite parts in the higher altitude (besides the pristine views, remarkably fresh climate, and vibrant blue skies) are the bromeliads!!! 
Bromeliaceae is a family of plants containing ~3,170 species of flowering plants which include the pineapple! The diversity of plants and their adaptations is pretty sweet and ranges from terrestrial (pineapple) & lithophytic species (plants that grow on rocks) to epiphytes (plants that grow upon other plants). In the picture above are a number of epiphytic bromeliads which may belong to Tillandsia & Neoregelia. Their attachment upon the upper limbs of this tree allow greater exposure to sunlight and thus increased photosynthesis! However, water is another necessity for these altitude loving plants as it is integral to the production of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate -the nucleotide responsible for transporting chemical energy within cells for metabolism). 

The splitting of water (H2O) provides electrons for the photosynthetic electron transport chains which down the road leads to ATP production (when H2O is split, oxygen O2 is released as a waste product into the atmosphere -thanks for littering plants!) To put ATP into somewhat of a perspective, think of it as the Jimmy John's bike delivery man who brings precious energy to the starving college student, who will then utilize this energy to study.... or engage in other 'social activities'.
Bromeliads are ingeniously designed to grow in a roseate pattern with a central 'cup' to store water. At high altitudes, such as the cloud forests of Braulio Carrillo National Park, there is a great deal of moisture present in the clouds and bromeliads are able to absorb said moisture via roots and leaves and then store in it their own cup. check it:                                                    
Here's a female Dendrobates pumilio carrying a tadpole up to the canopy. Another notable characteristic of bromeliads is that due to their water filled cup and relatively safe/high position in the rain forest, they provide the perfect environment for developing poison dart frogs (the mother will deposit fertile eggs into the H2O filled cup along with infertile eggs - a delicious part of a daily nutritious breakfast - and revisit daily throughout the development). If you've stuck around through all the biological mumbo-jumbo you may enjoy this sweet vid about the strawberry poison dart frog (D. pumilio)

Hidden within the thick vegetation were two different lagoons which we stumbled upon while searching for the crater (which we never did encounter...). To arrive at the first lagoon we walked along a surprisingly well kept trail considering the density of the surrounding vegetation. Thankfully we were lead by our fearless stray dog, aptly named nieva ('snow'). We walked up and down a number of overgrown staircases to find an opening in the seemingly impenetrable jungle. The opening showed off this spiffy lagoon (Lagoon Barva)
What isn't visible in the pic was the large flight of swallows dipping into the water for their prey

Following a few 10 second photos (Trademarked by Jen) we headed off to the next lagoon (~45 minutes away). The entire hike seemed to be slanted up or down and finding safe footing on moist tree roots / soft mud was about as easy as unicycling on a greased up slip n' slide.

Check out the huge gunnera plants ! 

check out this pompous fellow
and finally... the point where things got messy

Jen was also fortunate enough to experience the warm embrace of the 'quick mud' and within seconds was up to her knees. However, just beyond this final booby trap lay the destination! Although it was somewhat anticlimactic (due to the hour + of hiking and very limited supply of coffee...), I thought it was well worth it. 

Laguna Copey in all of it's elusive glory
Following a few more pics and a yippy break (yippys are like a dangerously addictive nutty bar) we hiked back up & down & up & down & so forth for a couple of hours until arriving back at the winding downhill road to sacramento. After seven hours of hiking we hopped on a bus and road into the sunset (aka the daily downpour from ~3-6pm).

Other tidbits in the past week
- Fresh Guava juice is delicious as well as chirriadas (corn 'pancakes' with sour cream lather on top)
- Justin Bieber was pegged by a water bottle, Ticans took the news hard
- Twice in the past two weeks teachers, faculty, and community members skipped out of classes  to participate in marches in Heredia & San Jose to raise funding for public universities. Pura Vida
- I saw this fellow on campus again (Blue crested motmot)
- Tonight we went to a fiesta at my mamatica's brother's house for a birthday party (Ana described it as an excuse for everyone to chat and eat ridiculous amounts of food). Pork, Beef, Chicken, Guacamole, and tortillas were over-consumed while we listened to live music (they hired a really good musician to sing/play guitar as well as discuss Bob Marley's role as a 'musical prophet', that last part was an added bonus )

few more pics 

Pura Vida ! Que vaya bien

Monday, August 9, 2010


I'm going to try and explain a concept which was initially frustrating for me and my fast track mindset. Pura Vida ('pure life') is simultaneously a greeting, goodbye, declaration, excuse and way of life. It's similar to hakuna matata, but instead of a cast of exuberant characters breaking out in song... your professor arrives 30 minutes late to class and asks if we want a 15 or 20 minute recess...

It has the ability to pop up in every facet of life... for example:
- The plan was to get our student ID's the first week of classes; however the machine was broken down and the secretary nonchalantly stated that the University was waiting for government funding to get it fixed
- Following macaws, ocelots, and capibaras! at the Animal Rehabilitation Center we were walking back to the bus to make the 11am departure time when our spanish profesora, Rrrrrrrosita (make sure to roll that r), spotted a sign for snakes.  She took a few of us with her and we casually strolled through the snake area to see a few (highly venomous) cuddly critters -like this guy! When we got back our director, who speaks in spanish, may have made it clear that we were 30 minutes late (she yelled at us in english!)... Rosita shrugged it off and simply said 'ahhh pura vida'
- When arriving 4 hours later than expected to Manuel Antonio, climbing a near vertical hill while the torrential down pour fuels a raging river which flows over and soaks your only shoes, all in search of a vacant hostel... simply shake it off, laugh a bit and say 'pura vida'

This concept of 'pure life' is evidenced in every facet of life (except traffic... there is nothing relaxed/pure about psychotic taxi drivers and the smog they leave in their tracks) and it isn't simply a good excuse for arriving ridiculously late to class... (looking at you 7am friday class...).

The positive aspects of 'Pura Vida' can be seen and understood through the conversations with ticos and their perspectives on life. I don't want this to sound like I'm on safari observing the ticos in their natural habitat, but the ticos live a much more relaxed lifestyle than what americans are accustomed to (hence the title of tranquilo...). In fact, ticans are so relaxed that every office on campus shuts down at noon and gets to enjoy an hour lunch break! <- fun learning experience.

What may be the most interesting facet of the pura vida lifestyle is the importance of company and conversation. Tican greetings carry a great deal more sentiment (ticos touch cheeks and kiss with the ticas) which is feels like a throwback to the days of spanish chivalry (gracias a Dios -thank God- the ticans don't speak with a lisp...). The conversations that follow are typically very genuine and contain plenty of enthusiastic language / sporadic hand movements - my mamatica informed me that hijueputa (son of a b****) isn't simply an excellent phrase for fútbol games, but that it can also be used as a term of endearment... still trying to understand how that works....

- quick interjection -
My host family consists of:
Ana, my mamatica that makes me enough food to feed the partridge family
Alfredo, my papatica who works somewhere during the week and randomly shows up on his dirt bike (contrary to popular belief he isn't italian and he doesn't resemble a jar of ragu)
Georgina, sister that works in San Jose... i think she´s 26
and Millie, a stupendous sneasing snouser with a sweet looking beard

here's an example of one of Ana's random/delicious combinations (that's fresh startfruit juice :)

typically her dishes involve rice n' beans - the good ol' central american food staple -  but she likes to switch it up. Also, the ketchup in this picture tastes like it has a tablespoon of sugar in every serving

one of my favorite tican dishes, Gallo Pinto (painted rooster) is rice n' beans mixed up via some delicious method along with eggs... It's so much better than leftover croissanwhiches from the Business Cafe....

One more thing, another one of the exchange students lives with my mamaticas sister right next door (our houses have a two foot gap between them) and she gets to enjoy this view from her balcony on a daily basis
Yeah it's real tough surviving here in Costa Rica...


Whenever Alfredo stops home (typically in the afternoon) we all sit down, sip some coffee, and just chat. It's laid back conversation and it can last a few minutes or a couple of hours... it's great. Discussing spanish slang over bocaditos and pilsens (tican hor d'oeuvres) with Ashli's host parents is another great example. It's a way of life which provides plenty of excuses to make an extended stay...

and at the other end of the spectrum.... classes!
- after getting completely lost en route to every classroom, missing a week of dendrology, and finding out that one of my classes doesn't exist... I've finally got a concrete schedule
Advanced Spanish, Evolution, Sources for documenting Costa Rican history - yeah it's a mouthful, Dendrology, and Indigenous Ecology

- I told my history professor that I wanted to learn about the history of Costa Rica and he responded by laughing and explaining that the class is more about analyzing the history of sources utilized to document history as well as investigating the history via the national library & archives
... neato!
- In Dendrology (the study of trees) I quickly found out that there are over 9000 species of vascular plants in Costa Rica

One thing that's interesting about classes here is that they're typically in one large block rather than being divided up throughout the week. For instance my history class starts at 8am and goes til 11:45 on tuesdays..

However at this moment I've got to go look at a few hundred tree species... but before I go, here's a random assortment of pics !

San Jose has it all

Pura Vida !