Thursday, October 1, 2015


Coming into Costa Rica and the OTS program, I knew my casual city days were soon going to cease. The day after we arrived at La Selva Biological Station we had an orientation walk through a few trails in the rainforest. Our guide had pointed out a few sloths, howler monkeys, an iguana, turtle, multiple birds, lizards, and interesting insects. I couldn’t wait to hit the trails and find things for myself, but I never imagined that my journey thru the LOC trail (Lindero Occidental, which translates to the western border) would be as fun, scary, or muddy as it was.
            We had started developing independent projects, which consisted of thinking of ideas for a four day research project, which meant the likelihood of being turned back to the drawing board by our professors was high. My friends and I really wanted to study peccaries (Tayassuidae family) which are medium sized animals that resemble pigs. They linger around the station and in the forest and really enjoy eating the roots of palms we commonly refer to as walking palms. We wanted to study how the trails in the forest influence how heavily they forage on this palm. Before we could receive the okay, we needed to confirm there were palms deeper in the forest to study, further from the station. Our professors encouraged us to hike through the LOC trail, which was a straight shot and was the most reasonable trail on the map of the forest. The hike was going to be over four miles long and take a good part of the afternoon, so we set out right after lunch.
            The LOC is a trail that branches from one of the main paved trails at La Selva, and is not entirely paved itself. We came to this realization less than 100 meters in, when we found ourselves in nearly knee-deep mud. We couldn’t turn back though, because that meant we would go directly back to the drawing board we had found ourselves back to several times already. We ended up climbing over fallen trees, climbing up and down slippery slopes, and finding our way through puddles of thick mud. At one point, we were descending from a higher level on the path into another sea of mud, when one of my friends screams “there’s a snake!”. She was the person in the back of our line of four, and we all turned around to realize we had all stepped pretty close to what we later confirmed was a juvenile jumping pit viper. As the responsible hikers we’ve learned to be, we were all wearing our rubber boots and no harm was done. After the viper photo-shoot, we continued down the trail.
The encounter with the jumping pit viper was really amazing, but it had also startled us so we went on even more carefully after that. We started noticing more and more things. The forest became denser, we saw more insects, birds, nests of all sorts, and of course, mud. Sometime down the trail, one of my friends got her boot stuck in the mud, and fell to the side, landing in the pool of mud. That was the hardest laugh I had shared with my friends since we had arrived here. After that, we lightened up more and advanced further. Once we were about 450 meters into the LOC, we came across a stream that was going to require us to either walk across or take our chances on slippery stones and shaky tree trunks. That is where we decided the drawing board was actually a very welcoming invitation; we turned back around for the station. During our return, my friend almost fell in the mud again and it was just as funny as the first time; we stood there for over ten minutes in tears, trying to catch our breaths again.

 About another mile later, drenched in sweat, covered in mud, and ice creams in hand, I felt no disappointment from the events of that day. Even though we had no project yet, were exhausted and covered in mud, it was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve shared with my friends thus far. We had seen a beautiful animal I would never come across in the city, hiked on our own, and shared many laughs. I hope we get the chance to return to the LOC before we depart from La Selva, and make it through the trail and back with more memories to take back home.
Yocelin Brito Bello
University of Illinois, Champagne-Urbana

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