Tuesday, March 27, 2012

For Science!

Hello world! Now that that is out of the way, I'd like to introduce my perspective on this journey into the wild. I'm just going to jump in and hopefully you can gain insight into my perception.

When I initially explored the jungles here in Costa Rica, I couldn't help but notice that my brain was convinced that none of it was real. Perhaps it was too much Far Cry 2, or exposure to the plastic plants in the doctor's office, but I undeniably perceived the world in a strange pseudo-reality lense. My brain was persistently searching for the signature bad shadow casting or low anti-aliasing I've been familiar with in so many jungle based video games. It was only after a lot of polygon searching and leaf sampling before I finally determined that either it was advanced ray-tracing, or that it was all real. Today, I can definitively say that my perception has finally accepted the fact that I am in Costa Rica. I'm glad I got that figured out.

In case you have not figured out from the other posters, we left Pozo Azul today. As a Mainer, I assure you that Pozo Azul offers a very authentic camping experience. The tents were open allowing all the sounds of the jungle to fill the enclosure, and each tent was tucked into peaceful pockets of vegetation in such a way that the view out of the front of the tent was completely filled with jungle. It really made you feel like you were alone with just the jungle as your acquaintance. This is what I look for in a camp site, and it is what made Pozo Azul such an immersive experience. Nonetheless, we had to leave, and after the last delicious breakfast (where I took advantage once again of the fruit of unprecedented flavor) we all piled into the vans and took off to Tirimbina.

Tirimbina is another research area that is home of many projects revolving around the rich biodiversity of Costa Rica. Our task for the first half of today was to continue assisting in the catapillar research. My group was in charge of circling a small mountain and trudging through the jungle in search of caterpillars. We were instructed to collect the caterpillars that were found specifically on the piper plant, which is the food of choice for the generalist caterpillars. Now, one would think, being a rain forest and all, that finding a caterpillar would be a relatively simple task. It's warm, and moist, and shady, and there are things to eat everywhere. This proved to not be true. In fact, over the entire time that we were searching, I was only able to find one. Don't accuse me of not trying either. I covered many miles in my knee high rubber boots, through many perils, and risked my life against spiders, bullet ants, and blistered feet in search of these caterpillars. I was rather ashamed at my weak accomplishment, but it appeared I was simply lacking the gift of locating these elusive creatures.

After a couple hours of this frustration, Alex and I began to explore the surrounding paths in the hope that maybe the caterpillars were hiding in a place not where we were designated to look. The only thing we were able to find was a suspension bridge that was much higher than any of the previous suspension bridges. When faced with with this new and wonderful achievement of engineering, we simply could not resist the temptation to investigate every aspect of this bridge. It didn't take long before we realized that this bridge did not have the same amount of dampening that the other bridges had. Each step, if done at the correct time, would amplify the movement of the bridge by several degrees. To see this large metal structure twist and ripple as it did was equally a fascinating and a horrifying experience. Nothing in my life could have prepared me for this. Alex and I simply gripped the hand rails and let friction save our lives. another interesting feature of this bridge was that we were actually very near the tree tops. This revealed that trees sway quite a bit in the wind, which resulted in several panic attacks as I thought the bridge was sliding away from the land, when in actuality it was just a trick of perspective the trees were playing on me. As I've already explained, my perception of things is not the most reliable, so this seemed very real to me, and I'm pretty sure a few surges of adrenaline resulted. Nonetheless, Alex and I were very impressed by the entire display of engineering.

Forgive me for skipping some of the other details of the day, but at this time it is getting late and I would really like to mention the amazing lecture about bats. I should preface this by stating I have not had a lot of experience with bats. There were a lot of bats that flew around the barn on the farm that I grew up on, but other than that, I did not realize the awesomeness that is bats. First of all, they are closely related to primates, and because of this, they have many interesting anatomical characteristics that totally blew my mind. There are bats that resemble, with chilling similarity, dogs, skunks, sheep, and other mammals. I mean this in the most literal way. They looked strikingly like these other mammals. To me, that is really cool. Also, we learned of the various dietary classifications of bats and how to identify them. The different diets included fruit, nectar, insects, blood, and fish. Believe it or not, the "blood sucking" bats only account for 3 of the 1100 species of bats. These are the only bats the pose real threats to farmers due to infections from open wounds on their cattle. Part of the goal is to inform the farmers how to identify these bats so that they do not unnecessarily kill the other harmless bats. The presenter also gave us a close-up view of a couple live bats, both of which I was able to identify as fruit eaters, thanks to what I had learned. Because of this lecture, I've gained a huge amount of respect for these mammals, and I’m looking forward to applying this knowledge in the future to protect them.

Well folks, I'm rather tired now. Gotta get up for 6:15 to visit a dairy farm. Not gonna lie, the farmer in me is excited to see the cows!

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