Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Santa Rosa: A Visit to the Dry Forest

Santa Rosa National Park was the first national park established in Costa Rica. The park is located in Guanacaste, in the very Northwest of Costa Rica. As we embarked on our trip there, one thing in the back of all of mine and my friends’ minds the whole time was that this was our last field trip all together. Although saddened by this remembrance, we were all very excited to actually camp out. Most of us had camped and had some wilderness experiences; we had expected to do more camping this semester so we were extra ready to be out in the wilderness. I personally was ready to use the sleeping pad and sleeping bag that I had yet to use but that had taken up half of one of my suitcases.


A view from the lookout that we hiked to on the way to our second campsite

When we arrived at Santa Rosa National Park, we rode through a forest unlike what we had seen so far in Costa Rica. Most people imagine Costa Rica as a country covered in rain forest with brightly colored flora and fauna, full of life. However, this was not at all like that typical view of Costa Rica.


Our campsite

When we first got to our campsite, it hit us just how hot it was here in the dry forest. We set up our tents and had lunch. Then, the lethargy set in as the heat escalated after lunch; some of us slept and others read (I was obsessed with Divergent at the time). We hiked through the dry forest. It was so different from anything else I have seen here, most of the trees drop their leaves as an adaptation to the six-month dry season so the trees were bare. There were also cacti and the vegetation was not lush or particularly beautiful. But, the highlight of the hike was seeing a tree full of white-faced capuchin monkeys! They were so cute; there were lots of babies too.


Hiking through the dry forest




Students that act like monkeys

We hiked to La Casona, a museum that is a replica of the original house (it burned to the ground by arsonists in 2001). William Walker fought against the Costa Rican army here in 1856 and was quickly defeated. The museum takes visitors back to 1856 and a day in the life of a cook or a cowboy of the time that would have been at La Casona. It also detailed the battle and William Walker’s manifest destiny-driven campaign across Central America, mainly Nicaragua and Costa Rica. We had a Natural Resources Management class outside of La Casona and then hiked back. There was spaghetti for dinner; seriously, always having spaghetti is the main thing I don’t like about camping. An after dinner lecture and then a night hike. My professor, Edgardo who is a bird expert, caught a Night Jar (a kind of bird found in Costa Rica that nest on the ground) with his bare hands. His agility and ability to handle the bird was amazing. They have a really large mouth and interesting coloration. We also saw a spectacled owl; the way that it could move without  sound was slightly unsettling but also fascinating. No tapir though; I was really holding out hope for seeing one of these unique mammals but alas it didn’t happen.


La Casona

The next day we hiked 13 kilometers to our campsite by Playa Naranja. It was a really easy but nice hike. When we got there, the beach was our first priority; I walked out onto the beach and then down to La Piedra Bruja (The Witch’s Rock). The waves were huge and the ocean (Pacific Ocean) ranged in color from aquamarine to emerald green. It was mesmerizing to just watch the braves break in this place with renowned surfing and infamous rip tides (we were not allowed to swim for safety reasons but were allowed to wade in to our knees). After the nice long walk on the beach, with sore legs I settled into reading for a bit before lunch. Then, I collected tamarind from a nearby tree with some other students. This is a fruit that comes in a pod; you eat the flesh around the seeds by sucking on the sour fruit. It is delicious and some people even add it to water to give it flavor. Class and then another lazy afternoon. I played hearts with some friends, helped prepare dinner, and took a short walk on the beach. Most of us went on the beach to see the sun set. It was breathtaking; I don’t think I had ever seen the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. I was struck by a fierce dragon and unfortunately the only bathroom was an outhouse. We had to carry our own toilet paper and then use our own hand sanitizer. I think it might be a long time before I can venture into an outhouse or port-a-john again.


Rip tide warning sign by the beach


Tori and me in the ocean

Another early morning (“breakfast” or whatever food was left was at 5) so that we could pack up and hike back before it got too hot. Another nice walk and interesting conversation. When we got to the main park building, I joined everyone else in eating ice cream. I had some of the best I have had here. It was a prepackaged Cero Grados (Zero Degrees). This is dulce de leche ice cream in a ring shape, covered in chocolate, and mounted on a stick. It was amazing after being so hot and tired. We played cards and read until lunch. The trip back to the Center was quiet, as most people sleep on the bus, and I was able to reflect on my time abroad. I thought about how fortunate I was to be there and although it was our last field trip together and with the professors, we have so much to look forward to. Long weekends away, directed research (I am studying hummingbirds at Monteverde), making pizza in the pizza oven, and just bonding with my friends, learning from each other.

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