We departed Cuerici at about 6:30am, after a rushed breakfast. The hike out was definitely a solid trek, so everyone was booking it. Most of us ended up getting picked up by the luggage truck towards the end (but of course I had too much pride and so the crew looked on as I attempted to run up the last few hundred yards, wheezing and sweating as the long-tailed blackbirds cackled overhead). Quickly passed out on the bus, relieved that both the hill sprint, and one of the most stressful and difficult weeks of my life, were over.
The coach took us spiraling down out of the mountains, down through rolling hills, out into the lowland heat of the Osa Peninsula. We stopped in a small coastal town, for we had an old friend to meet there….
….Matt had come to join us in exploring a new location for FSP: El Campanario Research Station in Corcovado National Park. For many years, FSP has been going to Corcovado, but our usual station there had decided to cater more to a touristy crowd or something like that. Well, the hell with them because it appears we made the right decision to go elsewhere.
To get to the station, we all piled into a dinky 250 HP motorboat and chugged our way out of from the docks into mangrove swamps. Mario, who introduced himself as the station’s botanist who would accompany us for the week, pointed out local waterfowl as he overviewed the importance of mangroves, a topic many of us were familiar with. Mangroves serve not only important ecological functions (estuaries for breeding fish, buffer zones for fresh- and saltwater systems), but also can serve local communities (protecting from storm surge, enhancing the local fishing industry). Halfway through the boat ride, we got off and stepped out to troop around in the mangroves themselves. We perched among the massive root systems, 8 feet above the mud, as Mario explained the unique functions of the various taxa termed “mangrove.” As Matt pointed out, it’s rare that species with no taxonomic similarities are all bunched together under one common name, and so universally too.
After reboarding, the boat sped out into the open waters of the Pacific. Izzy got a little panicky from the big waves, but when I helped her realized she was riding a magical seahorse (duh) things became a lot more fun. It was wonderful to be reunited with the ocean, and that boatride made me realize how much I missed the Jersey Shore and being around boats. It’s been a while.
So as you can imagine, we were all washed with euphoria when we saw what the station was like. After all the collective misery of Cuerici, we could tell from the very beginning that our stay at Corcovado would be far more good vibes. We unloaded the boat and basked in the glory of where we were. I mean c’mon: a cozy little station ten feet away from the beach, beautiful gardens with all kinds of edible fruits surrounding the location, and lush lowland rainforest just a few steps away. Basilisks sprinted across the path, and scarlet macaws called from above. It really doesn’t get better than this.
We took it fairly easy the rest of the afternoon, got settled in to our rooms and received a safety talk from Nancy, the station manager. Corcovado has some serious dangers — and by that, I mean snakes. Real talk. You don’t go more than a hundred meters from the station without wearing high rubber boots or snake gaiters, and no one was to go out into the forest alone. Of the many venomous snakes found here, the most prominent is the feared Fer-de-Lance (“Iron Sword,” after its pointed head and vicious bite). Not a snake to mess with. So I had to find one.
For once, we actually had some free time. I decided to be a little social and join in on the frolicking in the waves. Golden rays of sun pierced the canopy on the cliffs behind us, and lit up the cumulonimbus clouds over the distant seas with a hazy pink hue. The water was perfectly clear and comfortably warm. As the first time in a little while that all of the kids were together in one place, and not in an academic setting, we took the opportunity to laugh out all the stress that had accumulated from our last projects, and joked about things besides science (for once). This was definitely going to be a turning point for me; there’s no way I can’t succeed in a perfect environment like this.
That evening, after a delicious and colorful dinner, we sat all together under candlelight to hear Yasmeen’s paper presentation. The whole station was powered by solar panels, and so electricity was limited and not available at night. This was one of the things that set aside El Camp from any of our other locations so far, and the dimly lit dining room atmosphere was a reminder of just how far off the grid we were.
While everyone played cards or talked, I took some time to think about potential projects. There’s a lot of room to work with here, and so many possibilities unexplored. Just the place to do a project on something I really love, while also producing cool science that matters.