Wednesday, January 27, 2016

¡Vamos a la Playa!

The Osa Peninsula is a wild and wonderful place and I was lucky enough one day to spend time aimlessly meandering along the beach at Morgan's Jungle Lodge.  I love spending time like this.  I like to go off by myself and be lead by whatever catches my eye.  I might spend thirty seconds or twenty minutes at a single tree...but I am free to do so.  And whenever I allow myself this magical time I am never disappointed.  In fact, you will have to bear with me because I had a terrible time trying to limit the number of images for this post.

As I wandered along the beach that day I felt bombarded by the amazing colors and textures I came across. The first image in this post is of a rotting, sand-covered coconut I found on the beach.  I was blown away its color and texture.

The immature coconut below also caught my eye.  Where the above image seems very loud, this image seems very quiet to me and the green nut seems like it is practically glowing.

I won't comment on every image, but I love the photo below.  Something about the contrast between the colorful, lively coconut halves and the moonrock in the background makes me happy.

The next few images are chock full of beautiful Costa Rican texture. 

Most of the time I don't move things around when I am taking photos.  But I really liked the shape and color of these immature coconuts so I put them on a stone bench to photograph them.  As I was arranging them a large troop of at least thirty white-faced Capuchin monkeys was passing by overhead.  I could see them looking down at me wondering what I was doing.  

I don't know much about the geology of the area but many of the rocks had holes in them.  I thought it was interesting that it wasn't just one kind of rock, but both the orange and grey rocks had them.

I took so many picture of old root stumps that I couldn't include them all here.  But here are two of my favorites.

I also got a little carried away by photographing tree nubs.  I love the character of each of them.

The image above is of an almond tree fruit.  The scarlet macaws love this fruit and were all over the place squawking and making a ruckus.  The photo below is of a carapace of some kind of colorful lobster.

I also became quite enamored with the absurdly beautiful wood grains I found.  The bodies of these trees felt incredibly smooth and muscular. I couldn't help but run my hand over them.

And check out the wood grain pattern on the images below.  They looked like topo maps!

The subject of purposeless walking has been in the news of late and I hope that everyone who reads this will take the time to try it.  Don't try and combine it with exercising or making phone calls or texting...just take some real time for yourself.  And if you truly wander aimlessly you never know where you will end up!

“Go outside. Don’t tell anyone and don’t bring your phone. Start walking and keep walking until you no longer know the road like the palm of your hand, because we walk the same roads day in and day out, to the bus and back home and we cease to see. We walk in our sleep and teach our muscles to work without thinking and I dare you to walk where you have not yet walked and I dare you to notice. Don’t try to get anything out of it, because you won’t. Don’t try to make use of it, because you can’t. And that’s the point. Just walk, see, sit down if you like. And be. Just be, whatever you are with whatever you have, and realise that that is enough to be happy.

There’s a whole world out there, right outside your window. You’d be a fool to miss it.”
― Charlotte Eriksson

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Costa Rican Curiosities

After leaving the rainforest at Bijagual we drove south along the Talamanca mountain range to reach our second destination, El Mirador de Quetzales.  This adorable group of cabanas sits high in the mountains and not only has a spectacular mountain view but also offers incredible views of a variety of hummingbirds (check out Christina's photo here) and of course the elusive quetzal.  I was also quite taken by the blues, greens and pinks of their incredibly prolific succulents!

Below you can see our charming little cabins.

There is also a really nice trail on the property.  We woke up early and took a hike with their guide to find quetzals.  We only saw one on our hike but luckily one flew right next to the restaurant before lunch.  The photo below hardly captures how pretty the light was on that day in this mountain forest.  It was really quite magical and I felt like it was the perfect place for Costa Rican gnomes to live.

As you can see by this photo of the students, it was cold!  I didn't expect to be cold on this trip but the temperature can dip quite low in the mountains.

You can't really tell from this picture, but the ginger-colored moth below was as big as my hand.

After one night in the mountains we drove southward to the Osa Peninsula to Morgans' Jungle Lodge.  On our first day there we visited the Osa Interactive Gardens where they give a butterfly hike.  We got to go in and get a sneak peak at their tree houses in the mariposario (butterfly house).

One of my favorite tours on the Osa is of the organic chocolate farm Finca Kobo.  The farm not only grows chocolate but also a variety of interesting fruits and vegetables.  Part of the discussion on that day was about plant defenses and you couldn't find a better example than the tree below.  Those thorns were about the length of my pinky!

I also had to include a photo of the pichichillo fruit (Solanum mammosum) because it is so bizarre looking.  Wikipedia said it has many "colorful names," including nipplefruit and "Apple of Sodom." The fruit is also a member of the nightshade family, is related to tomatos, and is poisonous if ingested.

I couldn't resist sneaking in another Cecropia leaf image because I love the lines and shape of its leaves!  But this tree also has an interesting story.  Cecropia trees are myrmecophytes.  That is, they have a mutually beneficial relationship with ants.  In this case the ants protect the tree from being eaten by other animals (and from encroaching vines and plants) and the tree provides food and shelter for the ants.  George told me that if you bang on the tree the ants will come swarming out to protect it and if you squish them (which you shouldn't) they smell like bleu cheese.

I am still a mammalogist at heart and one of my absolute favorite mammal sightings on the trip is always the two-toed sloth.  We were lucky on this trip to have one right in the middle of campus.  I have a VERY high tolerance for watching them through the scope even though they barely move.  But every time there is a little stretch or the slightest adjustment I ooooh and aaaah. This one looked like a wet wooky because it rained really hard the night before he was spotted.

Although the sloth is a mighty strange creature (did you know they only come down from the treetops to defecate?), the squirrel monkey below wins the title of  the most curious of all creatures on this trip.  Because not only was she a baby squirrel monkey name Georgie that just took a grape from my hand...

but SHE LIKED TO RIDE DOGS!!!  This adorable little monkey was being rehabbed and was allowed the run of the entire house, inside and out.  Two dogs also live on the property and she would run around and hop on them like they were a horse.  The dogs didn't seem to think it was unusual and actually seemed to enjoy it.  I have never seen anything so cute!

The last day of our trip we visited the oxcart factory of Eloy Alfaro in Sarchi.  I love the beautifully decorated oxcarts and wheels.  The oxcarts were originally used to transport coffee from the growing fields to the coast.

The wheel below was about eight feet in diameter. 

Every time I go to Costa Rica I am always surprised by something new.  Although this trip was not without its difficulties (delayed flights, lack of sleep, and constipation just to name a few), it is always a grand adventure.  Even when I am exhausted and my stomach hurts and we have been on the bus for six hours I can hardly stand to let my eyes close because I LOVE to look out the window...just to see what I can see.    

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead —his eyes are closed. " - Albert Einstein

Friday, January 22, 2016


Last time I visited Bijagual I was on a hike with Paul Foster (director) and I was telling him how much I love the vines in the rainforest and that it would be interesting to make something with them.  As it turns out Paul studied vines and is interested in bringing in an ethnobotany researcher to study the plants, determine sustainable harvesting levels, and work with women’s groups on possible merchandise and designs.  So on this visit we harvested some mimbre (which means "wicker") as an experiment and I played around with it to see what I could make. 

It turns out mimbre (Heteropsis oblongifolia) is incredibly flexible and was very easy to work with.  I started out by trying to emulate the rock-wrapping I did last summer.  Although I had to work from my memory because we didn't have internet, I thought they turned out pretty well.  The only down side I could see was that the vine smells very strongly like green pepper or kerosene.  I was hoping that the smell would subside over time.  Paul said that it might help to keep insects away as everything degrades or is eaten quickly in this environment.  I also just found this interesting article that suggests the vines can be boiled, washed, scraped and dried as a way to get rid of the bark and any mold that might be growing. 

In addition to the stone wrapping I also made the basket shown below (those are grenadilla fruits - or passionfruit).

I used a bowl as a mold and started with five or six ribs in a star shape.  Then I just went over under over under until I reached my desired height.  If I had to do it over again I would have liked to have a thicker vine for the rim.

It will be interesting to see how this bowl holds up as it dries.  If it is sustainable to harvest the mimbre I will dig out my old basket-weaving books and try some more interesting designs next time I go. 

"A good life is like a weaving. Energy is created in the tension.
The struggle, the pull and tug are everything."

-Joan Erikson

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Bijagual Ecological Reserve

Bijagual Ecological Reserve was the first stop on our Costa Rica trip with Xavier students this year.  The reserve contains 720 acres of gorgeous rainforest and every time I visit I am overwhelmed by the fact that this land is teeming with life.  Literally everywhere you go you are surrounded by plants, animals, growth, decay, life, death and rain (and lots of it!).   And every time I go I am in awe of the crazy forms that life can take...many of which you could not imagine in your wildest dreams.  

The tree below is a great example.  I believe Paul (director of Bijagual) told me this tree was of the genus Euterpe.  When I googled that genus I discovered Euterpe was the Muse of Music in Greek Mythology.  She was the daugher of Zeus and Mnemosyne, she played the flute, and her name means "giver of much delight."  I suppose these roots could be likened to a flute.  And their amazing orange color and tube-like shape definitely brought me delight.  So I must concur on the name.

I also love the repetitious form of this bromeliad fruiting body.  It reminds me of a green firework ready to burst open shooting towards the sky.

I know I already posted last week about the Erythrina seed pod below, but as long as we are talking about the weird, wild and wonderful plants of Costa Rica I had to include a photo.  I also learned that the seed pod is not the main attraction of this plant.  Apparently the genus is know for its stunning red/orange flowers and the common name is coral tree.  The genus has mystical roots as it as been suggested that it was grown in Indra's garden (Hinduism), in the "land of bliss" (Tibetan Buddhism), and was one of the Five Trees of Paradise (Christian Gnosticism) (Wikipeida).

And last, but certainly not least, I had to include a cecropia leaf.  They are one of my favorite leaf shapes in Costa Rica.  I am usually obsessed with how they look when they land on the ground and start to dry (see past post here), but this particular leaf caught my eye because of its amazing color.

I would also be remiss not to include some hiking photos in a post about Bijagual.  Christina, Scott, Vanessa and I (yes, there were two Vanessa's!) took a beautiful hike along the Quebrada Roman.  Christina did an awesome sketch of it here.

Below are the stairs down to the Bijagual waterfall.

And the reward for all those stairs is a swim below the falls.  There is something about swimming in a river below a giant waterfall in the middle of the Costa Rican rainforest that makes me feel really present and alive.  As I swam closer to the falls I could really feel the power of water.  And when I looked around I could see that water is a part of every living thing.  Where there is an abundance of water, there is an abundance of life.  Water and life are synonymous here....perhaps everywhere, and as I floated in the river I realized I was quite literally surrounded and filled by water.  I realized that I am water and I am life.  Pura Vida.