Friday, January 12, 2018

The Hike Down to San Gerardo

We drove to the edge of Monteverde, where the Children's Eternal Rainforest begins.  Our goal was to spend a couple days at the San Gerardo Field Station.  There's quite a story connected to this amazing cloud forest - so much to tell, that I'm breaking this trip up into parts.  First, we loaded our backpacks with a couple days stuff, put on our mud boots, and headed down the trail.

We spent a lot of time talking about butterflies and other insects.  Here, Mark explains butterfly ecology to the group.  There are about 1,500 butterfly species in Costa Rica, and around 17,000 moth species.

Sam checks out a butterfly.  We place them in a plastic bag to keep from harming them.  After everyone looks, we release the insect.

Here Mark shows students how to identify mammals by their tracks. 

One of the many (40,000 species)  weevils. 

The trail started out muddy, and then got REALLY MUDDY. 

 That long bit that looks like a beaded chain is the flower on this orchid.

These orchids are about an inch and a half long, all total. 

This orchid wasn't open yet, about a foot high.

 Here, Tim shows just how muddy the trail is.

 This orchid was beautiful...but

in the giant December wind storm, it had fallen off it's host tree and into the road.  You can see all the mud on it.  I took it out of the road so it didn't get ran over by quads, wrapped it around a broken off tree, and maybe it will live. Generally, environmental ethics would say that you don't mess with organisms - you can't play god and help one or harm another.  Still, if there's something in the road that's going to get run over, I usually will move it to the side.

Its wicked hard for me to get pictures that show the size and grandeur of the forest.  Here's a try.  If you look way down the hill to the corner, you'll see one of us (tiny) hiking out of sight, and you can compare the height of that person to the height of the distance tree.

You'd think someone with an expensive camera like mine would nail a shot like this.  Think again.  This one was on the hunt.  You're looking at the insect with the second most painful sting of all tropical insects (after the bullet ant you met in an earlier blog post).  This is the dreaded tarantula wasp.  Honestly, not much creeps me out...but this one does.  The tarantula wasp seeks out tarantula spiders by going in and out of holes in the ground (I saw this one go in and out of several).  When it finds a tarantula, it stings the spider, putting it into a coma.  Then it lays an egg in the spider.  When the egg hatches, the larvae eats the still living comatized spider from the inside.  Its careful to not eat the vital organs until the end, so the spider stays alive and the freshness of the spider is preserved.  After everything else is eaten, the larva eats the vital organs (finally killing the spider), metamorphizes, and comes out as a flying tarantula wasp.  Yick.  This gives me the creeps.

More tracks. 

 We were hiking from the Pacific side to the Caribbean side, and finally made it to the cloud forest...appropriately named, eh?  You'll recall that the clouds come from the humid Caribbean air cooling off and condensing as it blows up the mountain.

It was relatively warm, and the trade winds were blowing the clouds right along.

With the heavy November hurricane rains I mentioned in an earlier post, there were many landslides.  Here, Josh stands at the edge of a slide. 

 I don't know how to capture a picture of the drop...its about 600 feet to the bottom of this slide, which is about 100 feet wide.

Here, Nick is looking for butterflies in the mist.

The group stopped for lunch about halfway down. 

And we celebrated Bekah's 21st birthday with a VERY tough piñata.  It was no match for the birthday girl!

Deb had to work and walked in late.  You can see her way, way up the trail.

From the lunch spot, you could see Arenal Lake and Arenal Volcano.  The top of the volcano is up in the clouds (just right and just above center, to the right of the lake).

Another huge landslide, looking down the mountain.  When I see the scale of these things, it makes me thoughtful...  Deb told the story of some friends of hers who had just gone to bed when they heard a rumbling.  An avalanche!  Their bed was on the second floor of the house, and the landslide hit, knocking down the house and killing their dogs who were down in the first floor.  The couple and their child were not harmed, and after everything stopped, they climbed out of what was previously their second story bathroom window...onto the lawn. 

 Here's Tim checking out the damage to the forest from a tornado.

This Orchid is just about to open, and if you read future blog posts, you'll see a picture of it after it does open.

Getting close.... 


San Gerardo is about as remote a place as you can find in Costa Rica.

This is Tim's favorite field station.  Here, students take a well-deserved break on the porch.  The rooms are to the left, and to the right are amazing views of Arenal Volcano, Arena Lake, and the cloud forest.  In the next post, we'll look at some pictures of this amazing and unique forest.

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