Liberal Arts in Focus: Biodiversity in Costa Rica, Journal Entry #4

Our time at La Selva has been filled with excitement. From the moment we arrived and felt the heat outside, to the last few moments we enjoyed today, all of us have learned a lot and had amazing opportunities here. Our days have consisted of hikes, tours and individual research. Though every moment was spectacular, a few have stood out as special.

One amazing experience of our trip was the opportunity to raft down Rio Puerto Viejo. Our guide, Luis, and his assistant, Jorge, showed us the beauty and diversity of the river as we glided on the clear water. Each of us had the chance to either be on a large raft or a two-person “duckie” (think inflatable kayak). Our sightings included howler monkeys, green iguanas, anhinga, flying great green macaws and many others. There also were species that we wouldn’t have seen elsewhere during our trip such as neotropical otters.

After a long glide, we stopped at a bank to swim and have some fruit. The fruit was locally grown and tasted amazing! It was like tasting pineapple, mango and watermelon for the first time. As we feasted, we also played in the water. We used a rope swing to jump into the clear water. Afterward, we continued to raft until we reached the Rio Station where we had been staying — hotel-front service, if you will. We were grateful for the opportunity to see a large number of species and to enjoy the tastes and pastimes of riverfront Costa Rica.

The next day, we traveled 20 minutes to a one-hectare cacao plantation to learn about the process of making chocolate. Our guide explained that his family purchased the land two years ago. They did this so they could begin to educate not only tourists but locals on conservation of non-operational cacao plantations. He explained that they do not pick all of the cacao fruits because the fruits are utilized by rodents and monkeys as a food source which is a great way to help preserve the wide variety of animal species that are found in Costa Rica.

We learned the history of the cacao fruit as well. Many years ago, the Aztecs used the cacao to make a drink, Xocolatl, which means “drink of the gods.” Botanists were inspired by the Aztecs when they assigned the Latin name for the cacao species as Theobroma, which means “food of the gods.”

Today, we use the cacao beans that are found inside the fruit to make chocolate. Our guide showed us step-by-step how the beans are used to make chocolate. After each step, we got to try the bean and noticed that the taste of the beans began to change. When the final chocolate product is complete, the taste of it depends on the amount of cacao used and how long the beans were fermented. For example, if the concentration of cacao is 85 percent, then the chocolate will be very bitter; and if a concentration of 35 percent is used, the chocolate will taste very creamy because of the high amount of sugar and/or milk. It was great to see land being used for conservation and able to provide us with delicious chocolate.

Finally, each of us presented our individual research to the group. Our topics varied across vertebrates and invertebrates, including collared peccary, Lepidoptera and leaf cutter ants, to name a few. One of the really special parts of our time here in Costa Rica was the chance to experience what field researchers do — our individual research gave us a taste of doing field work. The field work is hot, buggy and sometimes tedious, but incredibly rewarding to discover answers to our questions and, most likely, ask quite a few more along the way. Here in Costa Rica, we learned so much — about biodiversity of species, about ecotourism, about conservation efforts and about research methods. We are grateful for the opportunities we had and can’t wait to share what we have learned with our colleagues back at Ripon.

Katie King ’19
Farmington, Minnesota

Dakota Wilcox ’19
Redgranite, Wisconsin

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