Day 3 - Friday May 23, 2014
The students go on three different hiking tours through La Fortuna that include suspension bridges, a waterfall, and the Arenal Volcano.
1st Student Entry of the Day
Today was action-packed. We started the day off by taking a tour of a local rain forest. Our guide, Jésus took us through the forest showing us all of the different plant species. I think we walked on about 6 suspension bridges as we continued to hike up in higher levels which I must even admit was a little scary at first, but after a while I became used to it. I wasn’t able to hear much of what Jésus said since I was the last person in the group in the back and the hike had narrow passages which only allowed one person to stand alone and did not allow for huddling or crowding. But I was able to take pictures of all the beautiful wildlife and even get some pictures of the frogs.
Next we went to La Fortuna Waterfalls, which was very calming, relaxing, and for all the hiking it was quite refreshing. The waterfall also is surrounded by much plant life that allowed us to watch a family of howler monkeys consisting of two adults and an infant. Additionally, we were able to spot a toucan in the distance.
Lastly we went to hike up La Fortuna’s volcano. Jésus explained that the area before 1848 was inhabited by some natives who unknowingly chose a dangerous land to call home. The people thrived on the land for many years until they noticed strange signs in the environment including the fact that the river water began to bubble and some of the animals began to die, and then the volcano erupted and an entire village was destroyed, many lives were lost. It is an unfortunate story but it was an educational experience in the least. It is truly interesting to see and hear the many stories that all the places and people have in Costa Rica, and it has truly been an enriching experience.
2nd Student Entry of the Day
Today we visited the Arenal Volcano National Park in La Fortuna, Costa Rica. We participated in a total of three hikes where we were able to observe the beautiful flora and fauna of Costa Rica’s rainforests and learn a little about the volcano. Overall, it was an enlightening experience and quite a workout!
On the first hike, we were on the western side of the volcano. Our hike began with the view of Lake Arenal. We then proceeded on a 1.9-mile hike through the canopy of the rainforest, which included stationary and suspension bridges that were 20-29 meters above ground. This was very exciting. Being on the suspension bridges and being able to see miles of beautiful scenery sort of reminded me of being on a roller coaster, minus the feeling of free falling. As the hike progressed, we learned about the different adaptations plants develop to compensate for the lack of sunlight in some areas.
Some plants exist as epiphytes and are incapable of supporting themselves structurally. They exist as vines and wrap themselves around host plants. They continue to climb upward towards the sunlight while the roots are simultaneously climbing downward toward the soil to take in nutrients. This relationship with the host plant is symbiotic. The host plant is not harmed nor does it benefit.
We learned of other plants that exist as vines but are parasitic to the host plant. These plants wrap themselves around the host plant in a similar manner as the epiphytes; however, they drain nutrients from the host plant and eventually kill and replace it.
Many trees and shrubs near the ground of the dense rainforest have to wait patiently for their opportunity to receive direct sunlight. In the meantime, they are still able to survive because of the abundance of nutrients found on the forest floor. However, without direct sunlight, growth is relatively slower. Once they are able to receive direct sunlight, the plant can reach its full growing potential.
Sometimes, plants may become impatient. Instead of growing upward, they will grow horizontally until they can sense warmth. The plant then grows upward toward the sun. A plant’s sense of time is much slower than ours so one would not be able to watch this occur in one sitting. However, evidence of this is usually seen as a bent trunk that leans in one direction or another before it grows upright.
The tropical climate here in Costa Rica only consists of two seasons, a wet and a dry season. However, the growing season is year round. The wet season begins in May, so there has been an abundance of moisture. The rainforest is comprised of very diverse, dense vegetation that is constantly growing at different life stages and recycling nutrients from the canopy of the trees down to the vegetation in the ground. As plant material reaches the ground, microbes aid in its decomposition. The nutrients made available from this process are then recycled through the roots of surrounding vegetation.
After learning about the different plant adaptations, we were able to spot a few poisonous dart frogs. These frogs are about one inch in size. Our guide informed us that they were named dart frogs because the toxin secreted on their backs were used to coat the tips of arrows and hunt for game. Costa Rica’s rainforests contain a lot of other birds, mammals and reptiles but it rained a lot during our hike thus most of the animals were hidden.
After our first hike, we stopped at a local restaurant for lunch. We were able to taste a typical Costa Rican lunch dish - casada. The dish is comprised of rice, beans, fresh vegetable salad, a side of fried plantain and a choice of meat. The meat choices were fish (Sea bass), chicken breast or beef tenderloin. The beverage was fresh mango juice. I have enjoyed the Costa Rican food thus far, and the fresh juices are something that I will miss very much when I return to the U.S.
After lunch, we began our second hike. It was a relatively short one. We hiked the waterfall trail. It consisted of about 500 steps downward to a beautiful waterfall. We had the opportunity to swim under the waterfall but the current kept some of us from getting too close. On the way back to the bus, a family of howler monkeys and a toucan entertained us shortly.
On our final hike, we visited the trail of lava flow from the 1948 eruption of the Arenal Volcano. The villagers living near the volcano at the time had no idea that it was a volcano. They were not aware of the warning signs of a soon-to-erupt volcano. Several days leading up to the historic eruption, the lakes began to heat up and the fish were killed off. An earthquake occurred the night before the eruption, but all of these warnings were ignored. What was formerly known as Arenal Hill was about to show its true nature. The composition of its “lava” is 40-60 percent silica, which results in very viscous lava and not the hot, molting liquid lava one might imagine. It spewed large boulders and ash from its side. In the aftermath of its awakening, Arenal Volcano took 87 lives. In the path of lava flow that still remain today, the soil has a reddish hue and is very rich in iron.
I really enjoyed the opportunity to hike one of the rainforests in Costa Rica and observe its flora and fauna. It was a very enlightening and enriching experience that I will always remember. This experience further enforced my desire to become a Wildlife Biologist. I enjoyed being immersed in nature and learning about the flora, fauna and the environment.