Samantha Morley's Diary

Friday, February 8, 2008 Thursday, March 20, 2008
Friday, June 20, 2008 Saturday, June 28, 2008
Sunday, June 29, 2008 Monday, June 30, 2008
Tuesday, July 2, 2008 Wednesday, July 3, 2008
Thursday, July 4, 2008 Friday, July 5, 2008
Saturday, July 6, 2008 Sunday, July 7, 2008
Monday, July 8, 2008 Tuesday, July 9, 2008
Wednesday, July 10, 2008 Thursday, July 11, 2008
Friday, July 12, 2008  

Friday, February 8, 2008 Hi, my name is Samantha Morley, and I have worked in the environmental department for Alcoa’s Western Australian mining operations for around three and a half years. I am currently based at the Huntly central administration building.

I was lucky enough to find out today that I had been offered an Earthwatch fellowship— “Hunting for Caterpillars in La Selva” (Costa Rica) in July 2008. Fantastic! I have done very little overseas travel and really wanted to go somewhere unique and out of my comfort zone. Well, Costa Rica is a great start! I hear they have those infamous two-toed sloths. How exciting!

I’m already thinking about vaccinations, travel insurance, and all the other things I need to sort out in the next few months. I started emailing family and friends to let them know the great news.

Thursday, March 20, 2008 I took today off to go get all the immunizations I need for the trip. I went to the travel doctor in Fremantle and walked out with a very sore arm! I had five needles in total, but I’m glad that it’s almost done. I still have to go back another two times.

I’ve also started to make some plans to see a little of the United States on my way home. I have a bit of extra leave up my sleeve and decided not to waste the opportunity while I was there. I think I’m going to do a small Contiki tour that will help me to see a few of the big U.S. cities in a small amount of time. I decide on the “Best of the U.S.,” which means I will go from Los Angeles to San Francisco to Las Vegas and end in New York, with the travel in between by plane.

Now that I have made those decisions, I am just waiting on some of the finer details from our Earthwatch coordinator, such as rendezvous locations. Then it will be time to book all my flights.

Friday, June 20, 2008 Lucky us—one of the women on our Earthwatch team, Vanessa, sent all the team an email introducing herself around a month ago. Great stuff! I had thought about doing the same but didn’t know what to say. Vanessa thought the same but did it anyway, which was great, because now everyone is sending emails back and forth themselves. There are people on this Earthwatch trip from varied nationalities and backgrounds. It will be great to spend time getting know all of them.

The Earthwatch trip isn’t very far away now. We are all talking about where we are going to meet and how our packing is going. I am meeting with a few of the women the first morning to look around town before we are supposed to meet with the full team that night.

I have a list of things I still need, which include a waterproof watch with an alarm, some more “quick-dry clothes,” and some waterproof sandals that apparently we need if we want to go swimming in the waterholes near our camp. I definitely would like to do that, so I’ll have to get myself a pair. I have also arranged to borrow some binoculars.

I’m a bit unsure about whether I have to treat my clothes with pesticide before I leave, as was recommended by the travel doctor. My Earthwatch coordinator tells me that this is not necessary. This is great, as I had no idea how to do it anyway.

I might spend a bit of time this weekend actually packing. I only have this weekend and next weekend to arrange anything I have forgotten, so it’s probably a good idea.

Saturday, June 28, 2008 I can’t believe I leave tomorrow. I have been trying to finalize my packing, and I’ve just run to the shops to grab a few more bits and pieces. As it turns out later, I really shouldn’t have, because my suitcase is bursting at the seams! I end up having to pull out a few things just to get it closed.
I have always been told to only take half of what you think you will need, but I’ve never been much good at actually doing that. However, in my defense, the knee-length gumboots and medical kit that we are required to bring are taking up a good half of the suitcase. I debate wearing the gumboots on the plane to save suitcase room, but then decide against it. It’s going to be a very long flight, and besides looking ridiculous, I don’t think it will be the most comfortable way to fly.
Although I am sure I will rearrange my suitcase about another four times before my flight, I am practically packed. All that’s left now is to have some last-minute catch-ups with family and friends before I leave.

Sunday, June 29, 2008 Well, here I am sitting in a hotel in Costa Rica! How wonderful it is to finally be here, and, more importantly, to no longer be on a plane or in an airport. I have just spent 37 hours in transit! I am now very glad I am not flying home in one trip.
In hindsight, there was probably a much shorter way to get here, but my flights were as follows: Perth to Tokyo (10 hours); Tokyo to Los Angeles (10 hours); Los Angeles to Dallas (2.5 hours); Dallas to San Jose (three hours).
Where did the rest of the 37 hours come from, you may ask? Well, the rest of the time I spent at the various airports. The longest stopover was six hours in the Tokyo airport. I had hoped to have a look around while I was there. However, after exchanging some money and trying to figure out how the rail system worked, I decided to play it safe and hang out at the airport. I imagined jumping on the rail, not knowing if I had paid the right fair, and not knowing how to get back. At that stage, I really wished I knew a little bit of Japanese. Oh well. I managed to amuse myself with a combination of reading, investigating the airports shops, enjoying some sushi for lunch, and reading some more.
After more flying and hanging out in airports, I fast-forward to my arrival in San Jose, Costa Rica. I arrived at around 10:30 at night, which was a bit later than I had hoped, knowing I had to travel alone to the hotel. As soon as I walked out of the airport, various taxi drivers were offering to take me where I needed to go. I chose a reputable-looking one that was connected to the airport itself. I paid a flat rate of US$25 for the taxi and left the airport.
The taxi driver drove quite erratically on the road, darting in and out of traffic, braking suddenly, and honking his horn at every opportunity. Judging by the other vehicles on the road, this is the normal way to drive in Costa Rica. This, coupled with the fact that we were driving on the opposite side of the road to what I am used to, made for an interesting journey.
The driver couldn’t speak very good English, so it took a little bit of sign language and pointing at my Earthwatch manual with the hotel address in it to get me to the hotel. I ended up trying to use my trusty phrasebook to ask for a receipt. However, I don’t think I was saying it right and again had to point at the word in the book. Now I really wish I knew some Spanish.
I really didn’t know what to expect when I arrived in Costa Rica. Prior to accepting this Earthwatch expedition, I knew basically zero about Costa Rica. Dmitry, one of the other Earthwatch volunteers who works for Alcoa in Russia, had sent around some Internet sites to help us all familiarize ourselves with Costa Rica. The information was interesting but also conflicting, and I still wasn’t sure what to expect upon arrival.
My first impressions were probably a little bit distorted by the time of night, but my initial thought was San Jose looked a bit dirty and scary, to be honest. As we drove through, I saw so much rubbish on the roads. You just wouldn’t see that in Australia, and it made me appreciate that straight away.
As I scanned along the side of the road, I saw many of the buildings and houses had barbed wire across them. Initially, I thought they were prisons, but I quickly realized that all these homes and buildings couldn’t be. I am unsure why the security is so high, but it doesn’t make the city look particularly inviting. 
However, I arrived at my hotel to find a friendly concierge and a clean and tidy hotel room, which was good. I immediately had a long, hot shower. I’m not sure if I can drink the water and don’t know how to ask, so I have taken the safe option and purchased some water and a can of what I think is melon-flavored soft drink. I’ll find out if I can drink the water tomorrow.
For now, I am just looking forward to a good night’s sleep. There is a lot a shouting and dogs barking outside the hotel, though. I turn the television on and find myself watching “Sex in the City” in Spanish until I fall asleep.

Monday, June 30, 2008 A few of the Earthwatch team members were also arriving a bit early, and we had pre-arranged to meet in the lobby at 9 a.m. to have a look around town together. Our official meet up time wasn’t until 6:00 p.m. that night.
I first went to the eating area of the hotel to grab some breakfast. The breakfast being offered looked great. The first thing that caught my eye was the fruit platter, which included pineapple, papaya, mango, and melon. I was in heaven already. Also offered were scrabbled eggs, a strange dish consisting of black beans, rice and herbs, papaya fruit juice, toast, cereal, and other assorted goodies. I grabbed some eggs, fruit, and toast. I thought I’d leave trying the rice and beans until another day. I’m not sure about that for breakfast.
I took a seat and started my breakfast, when one of my fellow Earthwatch team members introduced himself. His name is Jim, and he thought he’d introduce himself because I looked like an “Aussie.” Jim had previously introduced himself over email, so it was good to put a face to the name. Jim is American and is a sound recordist for “Pulse of the Planet,” an independent radio series. These series have included a number of stories on Earthwatch expeditions, and he will be recording some of our Earthwatch experience. 
Jim was one of the team members I was planning to meet up with in the lobby, so it was good to have made a friend already. Jim then introduced Kimmerle, who he had met up with the previous night. Kimmerle is a sixth grade teacher from New Jersey. She is really friendly and took a seat with Jim and me. I then met Jane, a sprightly 59-year-old who loves butterflies.
By this stage, I had already met almost everyone before our scheduled meeting time at 9 a.m. in the lobby. Our only missing member was Vanessa, who was staying at another hotel the previous night. We met her in the lobby with a plan for the day. Vanessa is from England and works in web page design. She is also really friendly and moved her stuff into a room that Kimmerle and I have arranged to share. She will check in later.
Our plan was to do an organized bus tour of the city sights in the afternoon. We still have the morning, so we decided to head out to see the sights of San Jose by foot. Jane decided not to do the full day, so we made plans to return to the hotel at around 1 p.m. and meet her then.
The center of San Jose is colorful and vibrant and markedly different to the impression I got last night when arriving. Just walking down the street, we all stopped constantly to take photos of pretty and brightly colored buildings, statues, and community artwork. There are lots of painted cows around the place, each one more outrageous than the last. The taxi driver the night before had said they were part of a festival. Whatever the reason, they certainly made the place look bright and interesting.
After looking around for a while, we decided to find the local markets for lunch. The markets are called Mercado Central and are quite famous. We weren’t really sure where to go, but luckily Kimmerle had done some Spanish at school and eventually got us pointed in the right direction. The market was really lively and loud. While I was already well aware after reading my Lonely Planet guidebook that you had to be weary of thieves and pickpockets in these markets, I don’t think I needed to know. Straight away I felt like I needed to watch my belongings and stay close to my fellow travelers. Vanessa wore her back pack on her front, and I had my hand firmly clasped on my handbag the whole time.
That being said, being in these markets was a sight to behold. There were so many different types of food hanging in stalls that you wouldn’t see in Australia. We all took heaps of photos and then decided to find somewhere to eat. We were all starving. We chose a small, open restaurant in the middle of the market. It didn’t look like the most hygienic place to eat, which made me rather cautious. But vowing to try new things, I ordered something that I thought was like a kebab. I ended up with chicken on the bone, rice, salad, and some corn tortillas. It was okay, but it didn’t measure up to breakfast.
We explored the markets a little longer and then headed back to the hotel for our tour. There are hardly any street signs in San Jose, and we found it difficult to get directions from anyone, even when Kimmerle and Jim attempted to speak Spanish. No one we spoke to seemed to know where they were, let alone be able to help us get where we were going.
As we walked through the streets, we seemed to walk into an area that we all agreed wasn’t a good idea. In hindsight, we think we walked into what is known as the Coca Cola district. This area is well known as a dangerous area, and most travel books and Internet sites will warn you not to walk there at night. Besides all the rubbish and the foul smells, we all got a strong sense from the people in the street that we really shouldn’t be there. We stuck together and walked quickly. By the time we got back to the hotel, I was feeling quite sick from the smell. I’m glad if we had to make the mistake and walk into that area, that we did it as a group in the middle of the day. It was certainly an experience.
We made it back to the hotel and met with our tour group. The tour guide spoke in English and Spanish, which was great, but for obvious reasons made the tour last quite a long time. The tour covered the history of the city, which was really interesting, and included an explanation for the barbed wire everywhere. Most of the houses are protected by barbed wire or some other sharply spiked fencing, and all are gated off with bars. In addition to that, some are electric fences as well! All this security had made me wonder what they were protecting themselves from. The guide said that this was a reflection of the concern about crime. Burglaries and thefts happen often. It is strange to see, because behind the prison-looking exterior, you can see almost normal houses, primary schools, and restaurants. It takes some getting used to.
It started to rain quite heavily in the afternoon. After quite a bit of driving around, we stopped and got out of the bus at the Teatro Nacional, or the National Theater. The guide informed us that it was completed in 1894 at the height of Costa Rica’s coffee and banana wealth, and you could tell! The interior was so extravagant. It included Italian pink marble floors with gold trim and exquisite marble statues. It was almost out of place in Costa Rica, but it certainly gave you a glimpse of the other side of this city. I can’t really explain it, but the entire place was amazingly intricate, from the staircase to the murals on the roof.
We followed this with a trip to the museum, or Museo del Oro Precolombino, and then finished the tour with a trip to a local jewelry store. Obviously, the last stop was a ploy to get tourists to buy their jewelry, but I don’t think any one actually did.
After the tour, we had no time to change and had to meet the rest of our group straight away. We all met in the hotel eating area. After some brief introductions, we walked to a nearby restaurant. Tara, one of the research assistants, chose the restaurant and said it was one of the oldest restaurants in San Jose. Funny enough, it was Italian. Over dinner, we got serenaded by a local guitarist and singer. It was brilliant.
It was a great night getting to know our two principal investigators, Lee Dyer and Grant Gentry, who we will be helping, and our two other research assistants, Alison and Tara. We had a great-sized group—13 volunteers plus the four supervisors. Lee pointed out that this is one of the largest groups he has ever had. There is such a diverse mix of people, from different backgrounds and of various ages and nationalities. I’m sure I’ll get to know everyone quite well over the next 11 days. I can tell I am going to have a great time here.
We finished up dinner and headed back to the hotel. We have a big day tomorrow, and everyone was keen to get an early night.

Tuesday, July 2, 2008 Kimmerle and I woke fairly early and began packing so we were ready to jump on the bus after breakfast. We went down to breakfast, and I decided to try this rice and black bean dish that everyone was telling me was so great. After eating it, I agreed. It was really tasty, even though I still think it’s a weird thing to have for breakfast. I am fast leaning that rice and beans are an “all-day food,” and you either like it or go hungry.

After breakfast, the whole team jumped on the bus for our trip up the mountain to the Tirimbina rainforest. It was a wonderful drive. The views almost instantly took my breath away, and it was then that so many of us on the bus realized we were actually in Costa Rica. The landscape looks exactly like that shown in the movie “Jurassic Park,” which was actually shot here. You could see small waterfalls among the mountains. It was simply beautiful. Even the rundown tire shops that were scattered along the roadside looked picture perfect. It was almost surreal. The bus driver was nice enough to stop several times and let us all jump out and take photos.

As we headed up the mountain, Tara, one of the assistant supervisors, talked us through some of the interesting sights. She pointed out a large-leafed plant that is known as the poor man’s umbrella. The origin of its name is obvious, as that is exactly what it looks like. I was already looking forward to taking pictures of someone pretending to use one of them as an umbrella.

As we continued up the hill, I started to notice truck after truck parked along the side of the road. The brightly colored trucks lined up among the vibrant green landscape were a real sight to see. Tara explained that San Jose had a rule that trucks could not move through the city streets during the morning traffic rush, and so they would line up along the side of the road and wait.

As we approached Tirimbina, I started to notice a significant change in the houses and the local lifestyle compared to San Jose. The houses were no longer protected by massive spiked fences and barbed wire, but were in open paddocks and looked as though they couldn’t even be locked up if you tried. The houses were still all different bright colors and just looked fantastic. After several more stops and a whole heap of photos, we arrived at the Tirimbina Rainforest Center.

We all had to grab our backpacks with lots of water and got ready to start our hike to the Tirimbina Field Station. Our bus then took all of our luggage by road to the field station. I had to thank my lucky stars for that, because if I had had to carry it up there, I think I would have died!

The weather was really warm and humid, but it was a great hike. First, Lee started running us through how to hunt for caterpillars. Some of the ways we were shown to try and find them was by looking for fresh eating patterns on the leaves. Once the damaged leaf area had turned brown, we could assume we were too late. Also, certain eating patterns could be associated with certain caterpillars. Others may be different insects all together.

Another really easy way to try and find caterpillars was to look for their frass, or as it’s more commonly known, caterpillar poo. If you found fresh frass, we were told a caterpillar couldn’t be too far away. This technique is often used by their natural predators and, as a result, some caterpillars have developed a survival strategy that involves literally flinging their frass away from them. Lee explained we would learn more about this and other caterpillar survival strategies later. However, this was a great start.

We were given team packs that included plastic bags, secateurs (pruning shears), labels, and pens, and we were shown how to catch, bag, and tag our caterpillars. With all this information, we were ready to start our trek.

Our first task was to cross the suspension bridge over the Sarapiqui River. This is the longest suspension bridge in Costa Rica. Though I am not afraid of heights particularly, after looking down once, I decided not to again. It was absolutely beautiful, though, and I took heaps of photos.

As we reached the other side of the bridge, we entered the real rainforest. The track we would be following up the mountain is maintained by personnel, but besides that, the forest appeared untouched. As we started walking, we all heard this very scary noise that sounded like a cross between growling dogs and a gorilla. Lee advised us to look up, and he pointed at a bunch of howler monkeys that were the source of the growls. Despite their terrifying sound, they were so beautiful. A few people got out their binoculars to have a closer look.

As we continued to walk, there was a strong odor that smelled to me like a mix between body odor and rotten onion. Lee explained that this scent was that of a peccary, and it was likely that some were or had been nearby. Peccaries are wild pig-like mammals. They have scent glands below each eye and another on their back, and the strong scent is used to mark their territory and to allow other peccaries to recognize others in the herd.

On top of all the animals we had already seen, there was also such diversity of plants and insects, and many of them looked prehistoric. We spotted a small line of what appeared to be moving bits of leaves. Upon closer inspection, we could see these comparatively large bits of expertly cut leaves were being carried by very small ants in a very distinct line. Lee explained that these were known as leafcutter ants. One would assume that the ants harvest and carry these large bits of leaf back to their nests as a food source, but they don’t. Specialized workers in the nest chop the leaf pieces down to even smaller sizes, cover them with their own droppings, and use them as a medium to grow fungus that the ants eat as food. How strange.

Next, we spotted one of the animals I was looking forward to seeing up close—a blue jeans, or poison dart, frog. They were much smaller than I actually thought they were, but the bright orange body and deep blue legs were a giveaway. We continued to see the frogs for the rest of the walk.

I was later informed that I should have spotted another reptile in my travels. Apparently, there was a pit viper, which is a very poisonous snake, right in the middle of the track. I was up front, and a few of the team members at the back of the line actually spotted it. Its brown mottled appearance helped camouflage it very well in the mud on the track, and I must have just walked straight over the top of it. That was a pretty scary thought for someone who hates snakes!

Finally, our hike to the field station was coming to an end. What was to have been an hour-long hike had taken almost three! By this stage, we were all totally exhausted and very hungry, as it was well past lunch time. Lucky for us, Grant and Tara had arrived early with our luggage and had made us tortillas with refried beans, cheese, sauce, and some vegetables. 

After lunch, we were given a bit of time to settle in. Kimmerle, Vanessa, Amelia (a second grade teacher from New Jersey) and I shared a room. The cabins were really nice. The only thing was that we had cold showers and couldn’t flush the toilet paper, but other than that, it was total luxury in my opinion.

Just as it started to rain, it was time to meet Lee and the rest of the team in the kitchen and dining area for our introductory lecture, “A Tritrophic View of Speciation Diversity.” The introduction mainly focused on the great diversity of all plants and animals in Costa Rica, and there are so many species that we don’t know a whole lot about. Caterpillars are one of these. There are estimated to be around 8,000 species in the La Selva and Tirimbina reserves that we will be working in, and many of these are not presently identified. In fact, Lee told us that it was likely we would find several new species over the next week and a half. The whole team found this pretty exciting.

Although butterflies have been extensively studied, moths have been studied less, and caterpillars hardly at all in comparison. For many species, no one is sure what caterpillar turns into what butterfly or moth. Therefore, while not the main objective of this Earthwatch project, our capturing and rearing the caterpillars to their adult form will potentially provide new scientific information. We can also provide even further information by collecting the plant that a captured caterpillar is eating. We will have to do this anyway so that the caterpillar has food and we know what to collect to continue to feed it. However, collecting the plant will help build associations between plants and certain species of caterpillars as well.

That all being said, our main project is examining the factors that affect interactions between caterpillars and their natural enemies. The natural enemies are called parasitoids and include many different species of wasps and flies that kill caterpillars by depositing their eggs on them. A parasitoid is different from a parasite in that it actually kills its host in the one generation, as would be the case when the wasp’s eggs hatch and the larvae burrow into the caterpillar and use it as a food source, eventually killing it. By capturing caterpillars and rearing them to adulthood, we can identify the different types of parasitoids that affect caterpillars and the mortality rates due to each.

We would learn more about parasitoids later. The rest of the presentation focused on different natural protection mechanisms that plants and insects use. Lee talked about plants and their chemical defenses mostly, but the caterpillars have some really interesting defenses mainly related to hiding from their predators.

In addition to the caterpillar that flings its frass away to not leave a trail for predators to find it, another caterpillar also uses its frass to avoid predators by hiding in a rolled leaf filled with its own frass. This is a pretty disgusting survival strategy and one not generally in line with other species of the world. The other most common strategy was camouflage. Some caterpillars look exactly like the leaves they feed on. Others look like sticks, which is bizarre.

The presentation was really interesting and made me almost miss my university studies.

For the rest of the afternoon, we went hunting. Grant showed us some of the eating patterns on leaves that are likely due to caterpillars. He also taught us the interesting technique of simply standing underneath a tree for a while, staring at the leaves. Grant said that sometimes you can look at a leaf several times before you actually see the caterpillar on it. We then went looking alongside the main road into the camp. By this stage, it was raining quite a bit, which we would later learn was the norm every afternoon in Costa Rica. The team only found a couple of caterpillars before it was time to head back and get ready for dinner.

For dinner, we had boiled rice, beans, potatoes, and carrots. I’m already feeling healthier than I do when I am at home. After dinner, a few of us played a game called “Spanish-English.” Basically, it was like the game “Balderdash” but using a Spanish dictionary. Someone had to find a word and read it out loud, and then everyone had to write down a fake definition. The person who chose the word had to write down the real one. You then got points if people in the group thought yours was the real definition. I was terrible, as I was really tired and I know absolutely no Spanish. It was still fun.

By the end of the game, there were only a few of us remaining. We all called it a night and headed off to our rooms to sleep. What a fantastic first day in the rainforest!

Wednesday, July 3, 2008 After breakfast this morning, we were told by Lee that we would be heading out to do our first focal species plot. Focal species are those plants that are well known to attract certain species of caterpillars. As I had mentioned earlier, there were a lot of components to this research project, and the intention of this plot was to count and collect all the focal species in the one plot and then count and identify all the caterpillars found on the plants.
Caterpillars are important regulators of plant species richness and an important source of food for other animals. Therefore, their presence and density are important information. Similarly, sampling in such a way may also provide an indication of the rate of parasitism that exists on the caterpillars found in a specific area and on a specific plant.
Plant chemistry is often recognized as a particularly important component of insert defense. Apparently, there are many examples of caterpillars gaining protection from parasitoids because they are feeding on more toxic plants. Parasitoids that develop along with their hosts are particularly susceptible to these toxins.
We hiked down the mountain for about 30 minutes, and then we veered off the track into the forest for the first time. There were quite a few mosquitoes, and I started to get quite bitten. I quickly covered up with a long-sleeve shirt and sprayed on a bit more repellent. It seemed Tanya (from Canada) and I were getting many more bites than everyone else. We later find out it’s probably our love of black clothes that is responsible for attracting all the biting insects.
Lee decided on a spot, and we used a pre-measured cross of rope to delineate our five-meter-by-five-meter (16-foot-by-16-foot) plot. Our focal species was described to us, and we had to carefully locate all that existed in the plot and count or estimate the number of leaves. This was quickly done, so the next job was to carefully cut and bag all the leaves on each plant. It had to be done very carefully to ensure that we didn’t lose any of the caterpillars that might be on the leaves.
Doing this collecting instantly reminded me of my university field work—it was great fun.
After we finished collecting, we headed back up the hill to a wooden shelter that overlooked a little soccer ground and the local river. It was beautiful and was to be our lab for the day. Amelia offered to do data entry, while the rest of us emptied the bags leaf by leaf, carefully checking each leaf for caterpillars. The search included not only caterpillars in their usual form, but eggs as well. The eggs were pretty hard to find, but very careful search found a number of tiny caterpillars, and some bigger ones on the leaves.
Before we made our way through all the leaves, we were asked if anyone would volunteer to make lunch. I hadn’t tried my hand in the kitchen yet, so Vanessa and I volunteered to head up and make lunch. We made rice with beans, some eggs, and sliced watermelon. It doesn’t sound like much, but it was a hit with everyone.
After lunch, we went hunting caterpillars along the track down the hill. I found a fluffy black caterpillar hanging from a leaf when I wasn’t even looking. It was a good start to the afternoon. I collected a total of three caterpillars in the afternoon, which was a pretty good haul.
After around two hours or so, we decided to head back to the station. Like clockwork, it began raining on our way back. I found the weather very predictable in Costa Rica. The mornings were always sunny, warm, and humid. Then, around 1 p.m., give or take, it began to rain. The rain generally lasted a couple of hours, and then late afternoon/early evening, it cleared for the rest of the night.
It’s funny. You can hear that it’s raining well before you feel it, because the dense upper canopy shields the rain until it’s saturated. The raindrops are huge and heavy, but I quite liked walking in the warm rain. It was refreshing in the heat of the afternoon.
When we got back to the station, we relaxed with some Costa Rican yummy snacks for a little while and then arranged to have a soccer game down near the wooden shelter that we had been working at that morning. Six of us were keen to play, so the teams were Grant, Lee, and Vanessa against Kimmerle, Dmitry, and me. I think in the end we came pretty even, but it was so hot while we played! By the end, we were all exhausted and boiling hot. I jumped in the river with all my clothes on.
By the end of the day, I was very tired. That night, we all sat around in the kitchen hall and talked.
It was Lee and Angela’s last day, so they decided to have an early night before leaving in the morning. A few of us stayed up for a while telling stories about ourselves and the places we come from before deciding it was time for bed.

Thursday, July 4, 2008 Lee and Angela left this morning, so by the time we made it down to breakfast, they were already gone. While we were waiting around for breakfast, Grant pointed out toucans in the trees directly in front of us. I had been dying to see a toucan, so I was pretty excited. I borrowed Jane’s binoculars and had a good look at them. They were brightly colored and beautiful.
Breakfast this morning was scrabbled eggs, black beans, and fried plantains. Plantains are similar to bananas but tend to be firmer and lower in sugar content than our regular bananas. While you eat bananas raw, plantains require cooking or other processing. I have learned that plantains are a staple food in Costa Rica and are treated in much the same way as potatoes. Actually, we often ate plantain salted chips for a snack, and they are really yummy. They were a bit like thick, tough potato chips.
Three of our team members had already left early with Tara to do some photosynthetic measurements. I didn’t end up getting involved with Tara’s work because we only had the opportunity a couple of times. However, my understanding was that these measurements were helping Tara with her extensive studies into plant defenses. Higher plants transform sunlight to chemical energy by means of photosynthesis, using carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. With their stomata open during this process, their ability to cope with water loss in the forest is important. Tara’s measurements of photosynthesis will allow for comparison and understanding of productivity (biomass accumulation) of vegetation systems at the leaf, plant, or community level, as well as their response to environmental stresses.
While those team members worked on that, the rest of the group headed out with Grant after breakfast for collecting. We headed in a different direction today and walked down toward the river where we had been swimming yesterday afternoon. The first challenge was crossing the river, but most of us had high-enough gum boots to walk slowly through, which was good. Once we were all on the other side, everyone couldn’t help but comment how pretty it was. We all took heaps of photos alongside the river.
As we walked deeper into the forest, Grant pointed out that we were walking in actual jungle for the first time on our trip. Of course, the rest of the time we had been in rainforest. The difference between jungle and rainforest is the dense undergrowth. Jungle is characterized by disturbed forest often near the edge of a rainforest or along riverbanks, both of which was the case here. In the rainforest, the high, dense canopy blocks out a lot of the light and keeps the understory relatively sparse. Disturbance causes subsequent availability of light and vigorous ground growth since lots of light and water are available.
The jungle undergrowth is a great breeding ground for caterpillars. However, after a few hours, the group had only found a few caterpillars, which surprised Grant. It was so hot today that by this time, I had drunk all my 2 liters of water. Luckily, it wasn’t long until we headed back to the station for lunch, which was rice (again) and spaghetti.
After lunch and a bit of a break, we walked down along the main track between our station and the Tirimbina Rainforest Center. It was a long afternoon, and we all got drenched with rain, but it was still enjoyable. Grant shared so much of his knowledge on many plants and insects, which kept me and the rest of the group interested the whole afternoon.
By the time we got back to the station, we were all pretty worn out, but it was so warm that we couldn’t resist going down to the river for another swim. Kimmerlee, Vanessa, and I went down and joined Dmitry and Jim for a swim for a while. It rained while we were swimming, but in the Costa Rican heat, it was really nice.
Tonight we had booked a bat tour. The tour guide was going to come up to the station and do it from here, as it was difficult for us all to get down there. However, the rain that had started during our swim had gotten much heavier and, unusually, it was still raining heavily around dinner time. Dinner was tortillas and spaghetti, and afterward we were told the tour had been cancelled. Instead, it would be tomorrow. Tomorrow was our “free day,” and we had already planned a packed day. With the tour at the end, it was going to be a long day.
With the tour cancelled, a few of us just sat around and chatting about ourselves before calling it a night and heading to bed.

Friday, July 5, 2008 Today is our free day, with which we could do whatever we chose. A group of us, which included Scott and Rose from Missouri, their daughter Lynetta from Ohio, Dmitry, Jim, Kimmerlee, Vanessa, and I, chose to start the day whitewater rafting down the Sarapiqui River.
Firstly, we had to hike down from the Tirimbina Rainforest Center, and then we got taxis to the start point. Our taxi driver was hilarious. He played us English music from the 80s, including “By the River’s of Babylon,” “Come on Feel the Noise,” and ‘I Want to Break
We met the rest of our rafting group and our three guides. One of the guides was a girl from Chile, and she had a full group already. Another one was a guy from Scotland named Stephen. He ran us through all the things we needed to know about whitewater rafting, such as “lean in,” “stop,” “forward,” and “back.” That was about it. The rest we would learn along the way. Vanessa and Dmitry went with Stephen, and the rest of us went with Mauricio, a local Costa Rican who was very funny.
The heavy rains from last night had continued for most of the night. As a result, the levels in the river were perfect. The rapids were a good Class 2 and 3, which was fun but not terrifying. We started slowly, but before long, we were headed through sets of rapids every few minutes or so. One of the more scary ones was called Confusion. As we were coming up to it, Vanessa and Dmitry’s raft in front tipped over, and they all fell out. Everyone was okay, but it made it pretty scary for us going into it. However, our raft got through without tipping over, and we all celebrated with the cheer “pura vida!” Pura vida is a well-used term in Costa Rica and generally means no worries or, effectively, a “high five” type comment. Throughout the trip after this point, we used the term often.
As we drifted along in one of the more quiet parts of the river, we were able to check out the monkeys, birds (including toucans and cormorants), and other wildlife along the side of the river. Even the cattle grazing alongside the river were impressive to look at. Mauricio made some great howler monkey noises, which made all the monkeys move around in the tress. It was a good impression, which he’d obviously done before.
Before we knew it, we were heading through another set of rapids. Stephen and Mauricio had been egging each other on all morning, which was very funny to watch. As we went through these rapids, Mauricio did a back flip off the back off the raft! It was incredibly dangerous, but he was fine and obviously enjoyed the look of horror on all our faces as he came to the surface!
By this stage, we were all pretty confident because we hadn’t had anyone fall out yet, despite some fairly intense rapids. I thought this was great, as one of my worst fears is being trapped underwater. However, it wasn’t long until we were in the rapids, and before I knew it, I felt the raft tip. Kimmerlee came down on top of me, and I was underwater! I must have only been underwater for a few seconds, but it felt like much longer. Once I got to the surface, I grabbed for the side of the boat as we had been instructed and waited for some help getting in. I then had to help the others in. In the end, everyone was okay, with the exception that Jim had taken quite a knock to his shin. “Pura vida,” and we were on our way again.
We then stopped for a break and were treated to some freshly sliced pineapple served on the side of the raft. We were parked on the side on the river right near a small cliff, which was only about two meters (6.6 feet) high. We were told we could go jump out from the side into the strong current and then swim to the side. It looked like fun, and some of the young kids on the third raft did it straight away. I happily ran up and jumped off with Kimmerlee and Vanessa. It was fantastic fun and completely out of my comfort zone.
We then headed back to the Tirimbina Rainforest Center. We had a beautiful lunch at the hotel there for around US$9, including an all-you-could-eat smorgasbord, drinks, and an ice cream to take away. We were then set for our next adventure, which was a canopy tour.
Our guides for the afternoon were Mia, a Danish girl who had moved to Costa Rica to run tourist adventures, and Alicia, a Mexican girl who was studying alternative tourism. Both had excellent English. After a few instructions, we had our first go. While all the safety measures made you realize you were very safe, it was still scary! All together there were 14 ziplines through the rainforest. Some were really high and frightening, but most were through such dense vegetation it was hard to tell how high you were. I found the second and last lines the most frightening, as they both went over the river that we were rafting on earlier that day.
We then headed back to the research station in taxis. Once again, it was a fun trip with the local taxi driver, who was only about 18 and spoke very little English. We passed lots of local homes that were really interesting to see. At the end of the road, just as we reached the research station, we passed the neighbor’s family home.
I forgot to mention that the other day as we were walking back from caterpillar hunting down the road, we passed the local family walking down the hill. The children looked so gorgeous, walking along and carrying their sticks like little workers. Kimmerlee asked the mother in Spanish if we could take their photo, and she agreed. We got some beautiful photos of them. I had already taken pictures of their house, because their home was brightly colored and had a number drawn simply on the wall. I found this really funny, as there didn’t seem to be a mailbox or any other house close for at least a mile or two, and it was number 3? We thanked our taxi driver and got ready for our bat tour.
The local guide for the bat tour was Willie. He was very knowledgeable and gave us a detailed presentation on bats and how they are largely misunderstood. They are often believed to be evil “blood-sucking” pests. As a result, their survival is in jeopardy, and they need to be conserved. Out of around 5,000 species of mammals found in the world, around 21% are bats. Only one species is known as the vampire bat, which will actually cause issues by sucking the blood of cows and other domestic animals. However, as a rule, most bats are harmless vegetarians, or they eat only small insects, lizards, and frogs.
Willie then proceeded to show us some real bats that he had caught earlier tonight. They were cute, but I could see why they have this evil reputation. The group then went into the forest to look at how they catch bats, but by this stage, I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I decided to stay behind and head to bed. It had been such a big day, and I had to go rest!

Saturday, July 6, 2008 We had a late start today. It was Kimmerlee’s birthday, and while we didn’t have a present for her, we still wished her a great day as soon as she woke in the morning! Funny enough, it was also Grant’s birthday today, and we would later wish him a happy birthday as well.
We then had to pack up all our stuff, because we were leaving the Tirimbina Field Station today and heading to La Selva. Before I packed it away, I made sure I put on a whole heap of cream for my insect stings, which were so itchy by now. I bought a few gifts down at the Tirimbina gift shop, and it was now getting pretty tough to get my suitcase closed!
We had breakfast and tidied up the kitchen for the last time. It was so great here, that after only four days, we were all sad to be leaving our oasis in the forest. Just before leaving, the local caretaker, Herrado, took a photo of the whole group outside the kitchen. Then we were off!
Upon arriving at the La Selva Biological Station, it was clear we were in for a different accommodation experience. The station looked like an ecotourism center crossed with a university campus. It is the premier ecology research station in Costa Rica, and one of the most important in the tropics worldwide.
To provide a bit of background, La Selva includes a nature reserve that protects about 15 square kilometers (5.8 square miles) of primary (old growth) tropical rainforest. The forest is surrounded on the west, east, and north by pastures, farms, and other open areas. Its southern boundary adjoins Braulio Carrillo National Park, making it a northern extension of the Central Volcanic Conservation Area. The research station is owned and operated by the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS), and it is the organization’s flagship field station.
Apparently, La Selva has been a pioneer site in education, research, conservation, and ecotourism in Costa Rica since 1963, and it is one of the first private protected areas in the country. Nearly 250 scientific papers are published each year from research conducted at the station. There are facilities for about 100 researchers, and hundreds of students from Costa Rica, the United States, and other countries spend part of their studies there in courses run by OTS or their home institutions.
Grant has already indicated that the species diversity is spectacular. I later learned that this includes more than 1,850 species of vascular plant flora, 350 species of trees, more than half of the 886 species of birds in Costa Rica, five of the six species of felines in the country, more than 70 species of bats, approximately 500 species of ants, and thousands of reptiles, amphibians, and other insects. Grant told me that I’m bound to see more toucans and a sloth, which I am still hoping to do.
We found our rooms, placed our bags there, and then went off to lunch. One of the biggest changes from the Tirimbina Field Station was that we didn’t have to cook our own meals! We were all given a lunch card and had to learn how to say our number in Spanish to get our lunch at the mess (cafeteria). It was really nice, with a selection of refried black beans, tortillas, and heaps of fresh fruit. Also, the coffee was brilliant!
After lunch, we headed out for quite a long hike and caterpillar hunting expedition. We first crossed another suspension bridge over the Sarapiqui River. Even with the distance we have traveled from Tirimbina, we were still right near the same river.
On this trip, we found some really interesting caterpillars that have the best camouflaging techniques. One of them looks exactly like the surface of a fern, and you have to stare at a leaf for a considerable amount of time until you spot the tiny caterpillars on the surface. We also found some caterpillars that were hanging from leaves, looking very much like sticks hanging from a spider’s web. You don’t even believe it’s a caterpillar until you touch it, and it moves.
The trail is great, and much of it is paved with concrete or wood. About halfway around, the typical rains started, and they were heavy. I don’t think I’ve been as soaked through and through as we were this afternoon. In some parts, where the track was only mud, some of the team members got stuck. It was fun, though we were all very exhausted by the time we got back to the camp. We dropped off all our caterpillars at the lab and were given the late part of the afternoon off.
The good thing about La Selva is that there are phones, Internet, and washing facilities. However, the computers were all taken, so I decided to wait a bit longer before sending an email home. I called my partner at home for the first time since leaving Perth, and all was well back there. I then tried to do some washing, but I had to wait until someone was finished with one of the washing machines.
Instead, we headed to the mess for dinner. Tonight, we had fish, rice, and vegetables, all of which was quite nice. After dinner, we needed to attend a lecture by Grant in one of the labs on the other side of the suspension bridge. I quickly put on my washing and headed over.
It was a really interesting speech on parasitoids and was attended by other interested students staying at the station. Gant told us that as part of this Earthwatch project, we will definitely be working with parasitoids that are currently not identified. Common parasitoids are flies and wasps.
Grant passed around a jar with a caterpillar that was infected with a type of parasitoid. It looked like the caterpillar had white blobs all over it.
Grant explained how a parasitoid locates its host. It first uses “ranging,” which basically means it tends to look for a host in one type of location—at the tops of trees or on the ground surface, for example. Once within its range, it looks for certain cues associated with the host it is looking for, such as a mix of caterpillar saliva on the host plant or visual cues. Once the host is located, it attacks.
Grant then went on to describe the defenses that some hosts have. These include chemical defenses, such as chemical glands on some caterpillars, or behavioral defenses, like biting and building shelters. The speech was really interesting and enjoyed by all.
I collected my washing and enjoyed my first relatively hot shower in five days before heading to bed.

Sunday, July 7, 2008 After breakfast this morning, we all had to meet at Tara’s and Grant’s lab office at 8 a.m. The group was spilt up, and five stayed back with Grant to process the caterpillars already caught. This process included identifying (if possible) and recording the caterpillars, recording how many were present in each bag, their current life stage, where they were found and the plant they were found on. They then had to clean the fras out of the bag and ensure there was plenty of food before taking it out to the “zoo.”
The zoo was an area where all the caught caterpillars were kept hanging in sections based on their current stage in the lifecycle. They are then reared through to adult butterflies or moths. This provides information on what caterpillars turn into which moths and butterflies, as well as the percentage of caterpillars infected with a parasitoid. If a caterpillar is infected with a parasitoid, then the species can be identified as well. Moths and butterflies already identified and catalogued and not infected by parasitoids are released.
I actually got to release some new butterflies, which was awesome. They sit on you finger until their wings are dry enough for them to fly.
Today, I went with the rest of the group members, as well as Tara and Umberto, a local caterpillar expert who lives at the station. First, we walked along a main concrete path and collected leaves of key focal species. For each, we had to collect 10 leaves off 10 individuals. This would later be used to measure leaf area for these particular species. We collected and bagged leaves and found caterpillars along the way.
Umberto was an expert at finding caterpillars and often directed us to find them. His English wasn’t very good, but we managed to get through with some help from Tara. Tara then asked us to leave our bags along the side of the path, as we would be heading into the forest to do another plot similar to the one we had done with Lee earlier in the week.
Again, we had to find all the individuals of the focal plant in the plot and count them. We then had to check each one in the field, spending a lot of time looking closely at each leaf. We were lucky and found 10 caterpillars. Tara was astounded, because usually you would only find two to three in a plot in La Selva. We bagged the caterpillars and then headed back to the track, collected all our other bags, and headed back to the lab. We then joined the others at the mess for lunch.
After lunch, we had the choice of going hiking in the field, working at the zoo, or doing leaf-area indexing. I hadn’t done any lab work as yet, mainly because I love hiking, so I offered to help Kim do the leaf area in the lab. Kim is the same as me and loves hiking, but she had hurt her ankle and needed to keep off it for a while.
Tara showed us how to use the leaf-area index machine. Basically, it uses light to determine area as a leaf rolls through the machine. We had to clean off the leaves first and then, one by one or in parts if the one leaf was too big, I fed through the leaves and read out the area measured. Kim entered the numbers into an Excel spreadsheet as we went. We moved through the leaves quite quickly, but after several hours, we still weren’t close to being finished. By 5 p.m., we decided to pack up and call it a day. It wasn’t the most exciting afternoon given what we have been doing in the last week.
I raced over to get a computer and send my family and friends a very belated email. It felt good to let everyone know I was okay, but it took me quite a long time to write an email on the Spanish keyboard. I wrote quickly, as I still needed to have a shower and get to dinner by 6 p.m.
After dinner, we hung around outside the mess chatting. Grant received some wonderful news—he was going to be the dad of a little boy in a few months to come. His wife had just been to the doctor and found out!

Monday, July 8, 2008 Again this morning we all met at the lab. I was keen to get out hiking again, so I joined Grant’s group. 
For today’s hike, we went straight into the forest behind the lab. Basically, we just looked anywhere in the area. Dmitry and I found three caterpillars on one plant almost straight away. It was great when that happened. After a while, we all separated out a bit, and then we lost Dmitry. Grant tried to find him by calling for “jungle boy,” which was a bit of an ongoing joke. We soon found him safe and sound and decided to move to a new area.
It was a really hot day, and I was already low on water after only an hour and a half. I took the opportunity while we were near the labs to grab more water. We then headed out along the main track and had a nice leisurely hike. It was really interesting, as always. It’s funny how every hike and every day is different.
We again got to see new insects and plants that I have never seen before. I pointed out to Grant a very cool beetle called a snap beetle. Grant is really passionate and animated when he tells us about all about the new insects we point out and what they can do, which makes learning about them really fun. The snap beetle was bright yellow and split in two sections. When it falls on its back, it snaps and flips itself back up. Very cool. We also saw a bat tent. This is created when a bat cuts a large leaf of a plant a certain way to make it like a little tent that it lives in. They are easy to spot, but the bats are not so easy, unfortunately.
On the way back from our morning hike, we dropped into the zoo to check in on the rest of the group. I got there at the best time, as Tara let me release some of the adult butterflies they did not need. They were a fairly common butterfly we had seen a lot during our time at La Selva, with cargo green and deep red wings. Basically, I just had to carefully get them out of the plastic bag and hold them in the air. It took a little bit of time for their wings to dry, but eventually they opened their wings and flew off my fingers. It was a wonderful thing to get to do.
We then headed to the mess for lunch, which was good today. It was the first red meat I’d really had since being in Costa Rica, except for some sausage and ham. We had beef tenderloin and broccoli with the ever popular beans and rice. It was nice.
After lunch, we got the choice of working in the lab or hiking and searching for caterpillars. The choice again was easy for me, and I headed out hiking with just Vanessa and Kim. We discussed with Tara which trail to take before heading out. It was in an area we hadn’t been in yet. The trail wasn’t too long, so we would have heaps of time to take it slow and look closely at things.
During our walk, we saw a bunch of monkeys. I started doing my best impersonation of a howler monkey, which I had gotten surprisingly good at over the past week (even if I do say so myself). My impersonation created a bit of a stir with the howler and spider monkeys in the trees, and they seemed to start to surround us. This was a bit too exciting, so we decided to move hastily from the area. It was a very funny afternoon.
As we slowly walked back, Kim and I were taking turns looking through Kim’s binoculars, hoping to see another sloth. Suddenly, we heard a shriek up ahead from Vanessa. She had found the most spectacular caterpillar we had ever seen! It was about seven centimeters (2.7 inches) long and quite wide, and it was green and purple with red legs and a black saddle-type spot on it. We examined it closely for a while, but Vanessa was so excited she decided to run back to the lab to show Grant. Kim and I decided to give the running a miss and continued to hunt for sloths. I didn't find any, but it was a great afternoon.
When we got back, we asked Grant about Vanessa’s caterpillar. He agreed it was a beauty and was called a saddleback caterpillar. I then quickly snuck off to the computer lab to send my family and friends another email before dinner.
At dinner, Dmitry said that he and Lynetta were doing a big hike tomorrow to the outskirts of the reserve. Grant wanted to see if we could find a few caterpillars out there. I volunteered straight away. For such a long hike, I would have to order lunch, though, and I was too late. However, one of the team members, Darryl, had ordered lunch and said he didn’t really need it because he was working at the zoo. With that problem solved, it looked like I was doing a huge hike tomorrow. I also needed more water bottles for such a long hike, and Kim lent me one of hers. She was disappointed she couldn’t join us as well, but her ankle was still sore and wouldn’t have been up to the demanding hike.
For dinner, a bunch of us decided to head into the local town, Puerto Viejo. With the help of the receptionist at the La Selva station, Dmitry booked a table at a restaurant and a taxi to get us all there. It was exciting to be heading into town for the night.
Dinner was beautiful. As an entrée, we had some fried plantains with refried beans as a dip. Then for dinner, I had some spicy chicken and a heart of palm salad. Heart of palm is like artichoke. I really enjoyed it. It was a great night.
I couldn’t believe it, but tomorrow was going to be our last work day here! I was already looking forward to the big hike tomorrow and planned to get as much out of it as I could.

Tuesday, July 9, 2008 After breakfast, Dmitry, Lynetta, and I met at the lab and discussed our trek for the day with Grant. The plan was to hike right out to the edge of the reserve and back. With the rough terrain, challenging path, and the added task of looking for caterpillars, it was expected to take around seven hours, including lunch. We decided to get started as soon as possible.
The hike was spectacular. We kept up a good speed, as the three of us were fairly fit and covered a lot of ground early. Some sections were really challenging. We all fell at one point or another onto our backside coming down some of the steep, muddy hills. At one point, it was such a steep, slippery climb that Dmitry had to use his pocketknife to scale up and then help Lynetta and me up.
In another spot, a large tree had fallen across the track. After assessing all the options, we had to crawl through to get to the other side, all the while keeping an eye out for the large ants, spiders, and snakes. We also had to cross a few rivers. They were really pretty and provided a refreshing break between the challenging stretches of the hike.
We eventually worked out that we had been making good time and could afford to slow down and have a good look for some caterpillars. Given that these tracks wouldn’t have been used very often, we expected to find heaps of caterpillars. Unfortunately, there weren’t many to be found, it seemed. Instead, we all got distracted by the many birds and insects along the way. Dmitry’s binoculars certainly came in handy.
We settled on eating our lunch at the top of a hill. It was a nice packed lunch, but the mosquitoes did get a bit annoying after a while. We didn’t hang around too long and continued on.
Lynetta and I did eventually find a couple of small caterpillars each, but Dmitry still hadn’t had any luck. We then hit concreted tracks, so we knew we weren’t too far from the camp. We decided to go really slowly and see if we could find a few more caterpillars before we got back. I was walking behind Dmitry and checked a plant he had already checked. I saw this hairy, long, green and black thing camouflaged really well on one of the leaves. I initially thought it was just moss, and then maybe a huge grasshopper. However, on closer inspection, I realized it was actually a huge caterpillar! I couldn’t help but let out a shriek, and Dmitry and Lynetta ran over to see. Dmitry couldn’t believe he missed it.
It was about 15 centimeters (six inches) long, fluffy, and dark green with black spikes and horns. It was by far the biggest caterpillar found on the trip. We bagged it and continued on. We were all very happy now that we had this huge caterpillar to take back to the team after our long hike. It made a great end to the hike. We decided we were too excited to dawdle and instead agreed to head back quickly and show everyone our catch! We were almost nervous to see if it actually was a caterpillar, because it was so big.
We arrived back at the zoo and showed everyone our caterpillar. Tara confirmed it was a caterpillar, of course, and everyone proceeded to take heaps of photos. We then went and found Grant at the lab and showed it to him. He said it was one of the largest caterpillars he had ever seen as well! It was also just about to change to a pupa, which means it was the largest it would probably be. 
As it was our last night in La Selva, the team hung around after dinner at the mess and reminisced about the last week and a bit. It was a fun night, and we were all getting sad that it was coming to an end. Tomorrow, we head back to San Jose.

Wednesday, July 10, 2008 The girls in my cabin all decided to get up early and go exploring one last time. I decided not to join them and slept in a bit longer before beginning the task of packing. I was a bit exhausted following yesterday’s hike.
I got a little bit of packing done and then decided to head over for my final breakfast before we left. I made sure I had more than enough pineapple, mango, and coffee so that hopefully I never forget how wonderful the fruit and coffee were here!
We all finished packing and then took our luggage down to the mess, where we waited for the bus. We took photos of each other as we waited and were on our way just after 10 a.m. Once we got back to San Jose, we spent the later part of the afternoon wandering around Costa Rica. We had to be back by 6 p.m. to meet for our final farewell dinner. It was at a great little restaurant.
Grant made a really nice speech about what a great Earthwatch team we had been. Apparently, our team found a total of 610 caterpillars, 10 of which Grant had never seen before, so they could potentially be new species!
We said our goodbyes with hugs. We were all doing different things tomorrow, so we wanted to make sure we had said bye and didn’t miss anyone. After dinner, a few of us went into the back of the restaurant and watched a couple of local bands. One of them was really good.
Vanessa, Wendy, Tanya, and I had booked a tour the next day, so we all said our goodbyes and headed off to bed. It was really sad, as I already knew I wouldn’t see Kim or Dmitry again. They had become such good friends in a small time. We vowed to keep in touch.

Thursday, July 11, 2008 Vanessa, Wendy, Tanya, and I jumped onto a bus very early to go on our tour. It was the “5 Highlights Tour.” During the day, we visited the Poas Volcano, a coffee plantation, and La Paz River Waterfalls, and took a tour of the Sarapiqui River and visited a rainforest lodge, which included a large aviary and snake zoo. It was a lovely day.
At the end of the day, I had to say more goodbyes. Again, it was hard to say bye to my new friends, but we were all going our separate ways the next day. Tomorrow I was leaving to go to Los Angeles.

Friday, July 12, 2008 On my way to the airport, I reflected on my time in Costa Rica. For a place that I hadn’t intended to visit, I was blown away by the scenery, plants, animals, and, most of all, the people. I will certainly be recommending a visit to Costa Rica to my friends.
Overall, I really enjoyed the experience in Costa Rica to the point that I would say it was the experience of a lifetime. I was placed with a great bunch of volunteers and supervisors who obviously were a huge part of making the experience both wonderful and memorable.
I would like to thank Alcoa and Earthwatch for the opportunity to be involved in such a great experience.

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Hunting for Caterpillars in La Selva

Hunting for Caterpillars in La Selva