Life of a biologist

Everyday, we are awoken at 5 AM by the grumbling cries of howler monkeys near the guesthouse. They sound pretty terrifying, but they’re just the roosters of CR. The day begins really early here so I don’t mind that nature tells us to get up in the mornings.

Mufasa the aggouti eating scraps
Mufasa the aggouti eating scraps

At 7AM, we all head to the dining area and a typical CR breakfast: eggs, toast, rice with beans from last night, and coffee. The warm coffee isn’t too¬†caffeinated¬†so I just like to hold it with my hands and savor its delicious taste. I usually don’t eat carbs back in the US, but I’ve grown so fond of these overly buttered plain white toast and rice. The beans are a favorite of my too, even though I have it every meal. We usually enjoy the warm air, watching birds, butterflies, and aggoutis.

A typical breakfast: gallo pinto from dinner leftovers, eggs, and coffee
A typical breakfast: gallo pinto from dinner leftovers, eggs, and coffee

At around 8AM, we pack our stuff (two lab equipment bags, snorkeling gear, first aid kit, buckets, water bottles) and head out! It’s usually not too hot yet; a perfect 80’s. I spray myself with sunblock and deet, put on my hiking hat, and put an electrolyte tablet into my Camelbak.

Our best friend in the wild
Our best friend in the wild

We usually head to the river and scope out the area for a good pool. We’re trying to get fish from different places of the river, so we’ve been everywhere from the waterfall at the reserve edge and back. We usually spot some cool animals on the way.

We snorkel for convict cichlids. They’re usually most active in the mornings when they start to feed. The water’s a bit cold for the mornings but I get adjusted pretty quickly. We usually have a sort of assembly line set up – someone at the bucket weighing the fish and taking dorsal photos, the next person taking UV/visible light photos, and Lexi pumping their stomachs. I’ve gotten really good at catching them. I use two main methods: taking two nets and using a scooping motion, or lowering a net from above the fish. They nest and hid in rocky areas so you have to anticipate where they’re going.

At 11:30, we start to pack and head back from our noon lunch. We really can’t be late or Sade reprimands us (jokingly). She’s our jolly babysitting grandmother. Lunch is usually rice, beans, and some sort of meat with some freshly made juice.

Standard rice&beans lunch
Standard rice&beans lunch

At 1:30, we pack up to head out again. We usually go to another spot of the river, and repeat. We’re all glad to get into the water at this point since we’re usually sweating from the walk.

By 6PM, we’re back at the guesthouse getting ready for dinner: rice, beans, and some meat dish. I’m telling you, our meals have been simple, consistent, and lacking in flavor in the best way possible. Our “dessert” is usually munching on the junk food we bought at the grocery store.

A quick, cold shower later, we’re typically lounging about reading, trying to get the Wifi to work, or just chilling. It’s not a long night because we’re all exhausted by 9 and fall asleep soon after.

It’s only a 10 day trip, but this schedule makes it feel like we’ve been here for much longer. I really enjoy the calm and routine; there’s not much else to think about or do. It’s a great pause before the storm, aka final college semester ever.

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Entering pura vida

We made it! After a late 6 hour Northampton-Bradley-Atlanta-Libreria journey, we finally landed in sunny, hot Costa Rica. The first person we spotted was Ethan sporting a short haircut and tanned skin. Oh hello there, thesis advisor whom I haven’t seen all semester!

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Stuffing our luggage into Ethan’s car

We tied our luggage and labmobile to his tiny car and proceeded to take the bumpiest car ride of my life towards Lomas Barbudal Biological Reserve. It was as good thing we stopped for lunch & beer for the car ride. My first Costa Rican meal was simple and delicious (albeit from a grocery store) plate of beets, marinated beef, and of course, rice.

beets, pork, chicken rice
beets, pork, chicken rice

The reserve is extremely isolated; I supposed it is meant to be “protected.” The place we’re staying is the park rangers’ home. There’s a large open area where we eat, a kitchen, two bathrooms, and some rooms. There’s not much, but we’re so close to nature everyday.

Big pond cichlid at Lomas Barbudal
Big pond cichlid at Lomas Barbudal

We’re on the hunt for convict cichlids, and this is definitely the place to be. The river behind our guesthouse (if you can call it that) is teeming with them! Our goal is to capture and analyze (weight, photograph, gut contents) 100 total fish. It’s my first field research experience so it should be interesting. I’m ready with my hot pink flippers, snorkel, and beer!

Our arrival greeting! Pilsen and plantains
Our arrival greeting! Pilsen and plantains