Finals time   Leave a comment

So from my last few blogs, or my facebook photo albums if you can see those too, you might get the impression that I’m on vacation here in Costa Rica – I talk mostly about trips to the beach, volcanic hiking, soccer games, and more trips to the beach. But believe it or not, I am still doing schoolwork as well. As a matter of fact, like my fellow Oles, I am approaching the end of my semester, which means finals. For me, it’s crunch time. I don’t have finals in the same form as most semesters back at Olaf, but I am experiencing the same feeling that usually comes at the end of the semester: so much to do with so little time left. So what better time to tell you a little bit about the conclusions I’m finding from the project that I’ve dedicated my four months to…

There are organic products out there that work as herbicides! Whoo! I was successful at killing weeds on the farm, which is good news for the farm. In fact, by now they’ve sprayed almost the entire farm with one of the products that I was testing, and I found that this practice has the potential to help them have over 60% savings in their weed control practices! It has been really exciting to realize what my work has the potential to do – there really isn’t a lot of research out there on organic herbicides (as I found out with my struggles during the background research process), and even better, Hugo is going to work with the man who created one of the products to try and set up a more standardized business and production process and eventually marketing this product. There is still a lot of work to be done, but my project has been one of the first steps towards achieving these possibilities. Here are some pictures of what my products can do:

The clear border of my plots appearing after 2 weeks due to plant mortality


A comparison of normal plants to...

..plants treated with my products

A lot of the excitement about my project surfaced when my advisor (and owner of Finmac), Hugo, came to meet with me to discuss my results. The meeting actually resulted in a surprise trip the following day back to the farm, for an extra follow-up day of collecting data – so that I could have data from 2 months after the herbicide applications. It was really great to get to go back to the farm and see my friends and family that I wasn’t sure if I was going to see again – it was quite a surprise for everyone. I was reminded once again of the oppressive heat and humidity, got a giant plate of fresh fruit for lunch from Doña Lucia, got to ride around on a motorcycle again, and talk to the farm workers and the ladies from Amazilia again – a perfect little day to fufill all the things that caused nostalgia for my rural home.

However, the trip to the farm also meant a lost day of data analysis, plus extra data to enter and therefore re-do most of the analyses that I had already done. So the following day I was at ACM working late, when I got another surprise Costa-Rican experience – the first earthquake here that I’ve felt (the first that I’ve ever felt in my life!)! I was upstairs in the ACM building with a fellow student when the shaking began, and after a few seconds we both realized what was happening. It was quite strong, and lasted long enough that we decided we needed to take our earthquake evacuation route out of the building to the “safe zone”. At first for me it was quite exciting, but soon I realized some of the staff at ACM were somewhat shaken by how strong it was (pun not intended, but I decided to leave it) – apparently it was the strongest one that they’ve felt in San Pedro for a while. It was all my family & neighbors were talking about when I got home – the phone was ringing every 5 minutes with family calling to discuss where they were when it happened and what it felt like (and check if everyone was okay). Apparently it was a 6.1 on the ricter scale, lasted about 20 seconds, and the epicenter was 45 km southwest of San Jose. There weren’t any deaths reported from the quake, and only minor injuries and damage close to the epicenter. Oh – the other weird thing… it was Friday the 13th…. spooky.

Finally, Saturday we had our “goodbye party” with ACM: all of the students and our families went to a park for a day to spend the day together: playing soccer, swimming in a pool, a large delicious lunch, group dance session with our instructor Roy, piñatas, and just all-around fun with our friends and families. The soccer game is a tradition: the students (los gringos) vs. the family memebers (los ticos) – The ticos supposedly win every year. Well we were darn close: we were ahead nearly the whole game, until we ended up tied 8-8 with only a few minutes left. The ticos managed to score a last-second goal to win the game 9-8, although I’m still convinced that we actually ended in a tie (I thought we were still up one when they scored that goal). The afternoon dance session was also a blast: my host mom was out there showing off her moves and heckling our dance instructor and fellow students – I knew she was fun, but it was the craziest I’d ever seen her!


Posted May 28, 2011 by rwieme in Uncategorized

Come Around Sundown   Leave a comment

I keep falling further and further behind in my blog: there are experiences I want to share, but between trying to wade through pages and pages of data and statistics and put together a final research paper and presentation plus trying to experience and enjoy my last weeks in this country, there’s not much “down time” to use to write about it all. Buut, there continue to be wonderful things that I get to do and see, like the following story that I must share with you.

So, a couple weeks ago (wow, I really am behind), our class had a scheduled trip to Punta Leona – an ecologically based private resort community on the Pacific coast – for a day at the beach. Well, we all agreed that a few hours at the beach wasn’t enough for us, and since we didn’t have class scheduled for the next day, we decided to use our director’s connections to arrange staying for the night at the resort’s hotel. It was definitely one of the best decisions we’ve made in Costa Rica – it led to an amazingly beautiful experience.

First, we arrived in Punta Leona mid-morning and spent some time on Playa Blanca – a beach rated as one of the best in Costa Rica. Although it was a cloudy day (we can tell the rainy season is setting in), we were still able to enjoy our time relaxing on the beach and floating in the ocean waves – a great break from working on our projects. Then we went to Carabela’s, one of the resort’s restaurants, where you dine (on delicious comida) practically in the forest. However, this also means that the animals have learned where they can find food for free, so we had some visitors as well, like birds and this brave garobo:

...and the view of Playa Blanca that morning.

But later that evening is when the real magic happened. The afternoon we spent on the beach near our hotel, soaking up some sun that finally appeared, and getting jet-ski rides from some fellow resort guests, until the sun started to set. From what I’ve seen, when the sun sets on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, it doesn’t usually just set – it goes down in style. Well, the show that night in Punta Leona was simply spectacular. Lets see if I can re-enact the story with pictures:

The view from the beach outside of our hotel

Trying to catch dinner, with a beautiful backdropI went to dip my feet and got a bit surprised by a strong wave

The golden light of the sun lighting up the trees of what was soon to be dubbed "Miracle Beach"


And another part of the miracle appeared: a rainbow over the beach

So beautiful

but don't forget this view (and these colors!)

But wait - It's a DOUBLE RAINBOW!

An evening rainbow

Amazing colors over the Pacific Ocean

Enjoying the view of the sky and ocean on fire

To wrap up the trip, we spent a few hours after dark lounging in the pool until we were chased out by a lightening storm & closing time, has some laughs hanging out together and taking crazy pictures, and the following day we spent the rest of the time on the beach. I went exploring some tide pools in the morning to find all sorts of interesting marine life (interesting for a biology nerd like me), and then we played a game of soccer in the sand until the tide covered our field. Turns out we had to stand nearly the entire 2-hour bus ride back to San Jose, but the memory of that amazing sunset and time spent together was one of the most memorable moments I will take away from this semester.

A view of Playa Blanca the next morning, from the rocky tide pools

A view of Playa Blanca the next morning form the rocky tide pools (top), and Last but not least, relaxing in the characteristic Punta Leona Palm

Posted May 23, 2011 by rwieme in Uncategorized

¡Si se puede!   Leave a comment

Next chapter of stories to tell: the return to San José. Like I expected, there are some good things, but there are definitely things that I miss about my rural stay, above all the food. Lucky for me, ACM keeps us stocked with chocolate from Finmac, so I can still get my daily fix, but it’s just not quite the same as getting it warm straight from the mixer like I could when I was with the Amazilia women. Same with my fruit and veggies: I still get some fresh foods, but its just not the same as picking it right from the tree outside my house. The other big difference is the pace of life: I had a hard time distinguishing if my time in el campo felt like it went fast or slow, but eventually I realized it was neither – it was just experiencing a certain amount of time for what it really was. Back here in San Jose our days are filled with work and activities and socializing, which means due dates and schedules and a little less time to just be. It also means my mid-days are once again filled with English – one thing that I’m not too happy about when I realize I only have 2-3 weeks left and still so much I want to learn.

Buut, just because I’m nearing the end of my program and am mostly consumed by the thought of finishing my final paper and presentation, it doesn’t mean that I’m not still having great experiences. The first of the two that I’m going to tell you about this post is our class trip that we took to see Volcán Irazú. We left San José in the early morning and I was a little worried/bummed about the weather conditions: it was much cloudier than it had been, and I thought it might take away from our experience of seeing the volcano. I soon realized the simple solution we had for that problem: we just went above the clouds. Although I’m sure the view of the valley below would have been amazing without the clouds, I also really enjoyed looking down upon them – that for me is normally a sight reserved only for rides in airplanes.

Looking down on the clouds

As our bus wound up the side of Irazú we were also rewarded with a spectacular view of another volcano, Volcán Turrialba, along with the column of gases that it emits almost constantly. For me it was especially neat to see Turrialba like we did – that was the volcano that I could see on clear mornings while working in the pastures of Finmac or on the bus ride to Guapiles. Once we reached the park area near the peak of Irazu, we walked with our guide volcanologist Jorge to see the sulfuric lake in the main crater and learn more about volcanology. Next, we hiked up to the highest point of the volcano, during which time I realized that I was at the highest altitude that I’ve ever been! We were at 3432 m, or about 11,260 feet! I definitely could feel the altitude as I was huffing and puffing during our hike up the hill. Our luck eventually ran out – by the time we reached the top, some clouds had arrived to block our view. However, it was another neat experience to be engulfed in a cloud, and it kind of felt like we were on the edge of the world…

Volcán Turrialba smoking, as see from the side of Irazu

Principle crater of Irazú

Looking out over the edge of the world

The next experience I want to share was another cultural experience I had the following weekend: my first “real” (National level) Costa Rican soccer game. Through another ACM student’s host brother, we made a last-minute decision to go to Alejuela to watch the semi-final game between La Liga (Alejuela) and Heredia. The only way to describe the atmosphere surrounding the game (beginning even on the bus ride to Alejuela) is: feverish. It was impossible not to get wrapped up in the intensity and passion that the crowd emitted. It became very apparent the moment we arrived in Alejuela: walking to the stadium you could hear the chants and songs shouted by La Liga fans getting stronger and stronger, along with increased numbers of policia and fuerza publica lining the streets. We were outside of the stadium to see the arrival of both teams, which was quite the show of the band of police on horseback pushing back the throngs of boisterous fans so the buses and players could safely pass.

The fever continued once we were inside the stadium for the game. We had incredibly great “seats” (we were standing the whole time, of course) – right on the center line, and above a tunnel entrance to the stadium, so no one in front of us with their crazy hats and noisemakers to block our view. It was a great game – La Liga scored enough goals to win and to make it into the finals (we needed two, but they scored four – so it was a very exciting game!) and I definitely learned some new vocabulary – the kind we don’t usually get to learn in the classroom. After the win, the Liga passion continued all the way home: walking down the streets of Alejuela starting cheers with random groups of Liga fans, hearing car horns honk the Liga rhythm all the way back to San Jose and even around San Pedro and Curridibat (neighborhoods where we live). My throat/voice probably didn’t really appreciate the night, but I sure did. The whole experience was pretty crazy – and it was only the semi-finals! Unfortunately, tickets are already sold out for the final games (La Liga vs. San Carlos), but I enjoyed the experience so much I am definitely now a Ligista and I will be watching the final games rooting for La Liga.

Great seats close to mid-field! (And our new Liga Jerseys)

Liga Campeon, Liga liga liga campeon!

Outside the stadium after the game

¡¿Cual equipo es el major? ¡LIGA LIGA SI SEÑOR!!

Posted May 11, 2011 by rwieme in Uncategorized

Semana Santa, in a seashell   Leave a comment

Once again, I’ve gone too long without writing a post – so much has happened that I want to share with you. Because I know that even if I try, my “short summaries” of the experience can get somewhat lengthy, I’m going to break it up into a few posts to post in the next few days… First: Semana Santa

In case you didn’t get it, the title of the post was going to be “Semana Santa in a nutshell” but as soon as I said it, I knew it needed to be changed, because Semana Santa could have also been called beach week. Semana Santa (the week from Palm Sunday to Easter) is a big deal in Costa Rica: there are no classes for the entire week, everyone – literally just about everyone – has Holy Thursday and Good Friday off of work, basically most things shut completely down (including bus services!) for these days. Along with that, it is a time that most Costa Ricans travel – to the beach! – to enjoy the “last hurrah” of summer before the rainy season sets in. So, given that I’m trying to live like a tica, it only made sense for me to spend the week at the beach, right? Well, that’s what I, and a few friends from ACM and a few tico friends did. We made the haul out to northern Guanacaste to spend a few days on some great pacific beaches: we stayed near a beach that is one of the best rated beaches in Costa Rica, called Playa Conchal. The beach gets its name from the fact that instead of sand, the beach is made of seashells (concha=shell). We were able to travel around the area to other beaches close by, including Tamarindo and Playa Grande. I’ll let the pictures do most of the rest of the talking: being that it was the pacific, we were provided with some great sunsets, and overall it was a great time to relax and recuperate before heading back to San José for the last few weeks of the semester which will be packed with working on our final paper and presentations. I’ll just let the pictures tell the rest of the story…

Playa Brasilito, where we stayed - sunset #1

A snapshot of Playa Conchal, with its turquoise waters.

Playa Conchal - Shell Beach

Sunset on Playa Conchal

The beach at Tamarindo

Sunset on Playa Grande

Sunset on Playa Langosta

Posted May 9, 2011 by rwieme in Uncategorized

We’re from the country and we like it that way   Leave a comment

I’m sitting here in my hammock on the eve of my departure from Finmac and Pueblo Nuevo, and I’m realizing that I don’t want to leave yet. I’m not ready to leave yet. There will be some good things/ advantages of going back to San Jose, but I feel like I was just starting to really get to know the people and the way of life out here. It has mostly been due to the fact that as my research project wound down I have had more time and energy to spend doing other things. It also helped that there was an event – I would call it a sort of fair – in the town this weekend, that got me off the farm and meeting more people of the town more than I had before. I’ll give a quick recap of some of the highlights of my last week and a half:

As you’ve probably gathered, there are many different types of work carried out on this one farm: there’s the work with the cacao harvesting and processing, “other fruit/crops” harvesting, the chocolate-making Amazilias, the sloth searching research – I think the only thing left is the cattle ranching. Hugo’s land includes about 100 acres of pasture on which they raise cattle – both for milk for people living on the farm and town, and for meat to be sold. One day I finally expressed my desire to go horseback riding, and so the next day that I didn’t have a lot of my own work to do, I got to go along with tico-cowboy Roy (;D) to see what his work was like. After a little fright at the beginning – when my horse starting galloping away and me not being able to stop it (I told Roy I had gone horseback riding before, but I soon realized that it was going to be quite different than my girl-scout adventure of the past because I actually had to control the horse…), my horse Jimmy and I had a great time following Roy and Paloma (his horse) around the pastures to check on the herds of cattle. We ended up having to move some of them, so got to be a “real cowgirl” and help round up cattle and move them to different pastures. The only downer was that it was a rainy morning, so I couldn’t take out my camera much to take pictures (and I was worried about keeping control of my horse).

 Roy’s Horse, Paloma
My Horse, Jimmy

My “cowgirl”/ country girl experience continued into the weekend, as the fair was mainly comprised of events that most of us in the US would call a rodeo. In addition to selling special-event foods (like tamales – a food reserved mainly for Christmas time or festivals such as this), Saturday there was a “corrido de torros” – bull riding and a few other rodeo events – and Sunday there were soccer games with all the local teams and then una “carerra de caballos” – an event where people rode horses at a gallop and tried to hook a ring (about the size of a quarter) which was hanging from a rope using a stick just a little bit bigger than a pencil. I went to the bull-riding rodeo with my neighbor Geovanny and the other ACM student who lives in Pueblo Nuevo, and we got “the best seats” (according to Geovanny). We didn’t sit in the bleachers that are meant for the audience, we sat on the fence that makes the bullring, so we could be right up close and personal with the bulls running around the ring. Throughout these events I got great chances to meet and talk with other people from the town, on top of just enjoying all the cowboys and how much I loved the “countryness” of it all.


A Grandson of Doña Norma - he was quite the little cowboy

This guy was good: he won the most prizes and the grand prize

The last experience that I have to share is the trip I took today. Many times when I’ve talked with people about living in Pueblo Nuevo or at Finmac, they would ask me if I’d been to “the towers” yet. The towers refers to the radio towers that are on top of the mini-mountain just to the north of the farm; near the towers there is a lookout area from which you can see in all directions – even the ocean and Canals of Tortuguero to the northeast on a clear morning. Well, I finally got my chance to go today: some high school girls that live on the farm and a few of their classmates were going to walk to the lookout, and invited me to come with (this happened on a day when I was letting them use my computer/internet to help them with some homework). I was really looking forward to going with them: It would give me an opportunity to talk more, and with girls (kinda) close to my age. I realized that if you take away meal times with Doña Lucia or her sister-in-law, I spent about 98% of my time with guys, just due to the nature of my work and living arrangements. Well, lets just say this trip reminded me of why I usually spend more time with guys…

Instead of hearing “mae” every other word (Costa Rica’s word, which roughly translates to “dude”), every other sentence began or ended with “guilas” (a word used to call a group of girls (or guilos for guys)).  There was quite a bit more complaining from this group of friends than my others. I have noticed that walking/running for enjoyment or exercise is seen as strange by many people here, but this group was somewhat extreme. We had walked no more than a kilometer, with only a slight hill included, and they were already talking about how tired of walking they were, and we needed to stop and rest. Then, each time we stopped somewhere, it would usually at least 6 times of different people saying “okay, lets go” in order to get everyone in agreement of where we were going and if we were ready to leave. This was one particular that really got under my skin, because I wasn’t expecting on spending the whole day on this trip (It can easily be done in 3-4 hours, and we left at 6am) – I still had to finish work when I got back. I was reminded that the Costa Rican custom of saying “yes, in a little bit” doesn’t really necessarily mean a short while. Don’t get me wrong, I did really enjoy the day – it was great to talk with the girls and I’m sad that we waited until the last day to do this because I would have liked to spend more time with them getting to know a different side of Costa Rican culture, and the relationship that we formed in such a short time will be very hard to continue after today.

A view on the way up to the Mirador

A few of las guilas that went on the hike

I do have to admit that Kaylene and Evelyn did impress me with their machete-weilding skills...

So, all in all, I am going to be very sad to leave Finmac tomorrow. I have adjusted to rural life, and I am enjoying it quite a bit. I’ve met a lot more people than I thought I would after spending my first three weeks in near solitude, and I wish I could continue meeting more or getting to know better the people that I just recently had the chance to meet. It will be great to reunite with friends from ACM and San Jose soon, but I will definitely miss the fresh air and incredibly fresh food and kind people that have made this part of my experience so great.

Posted April 26, 2011 by rwieme in Uncategorized

Chocolate: From Tree to Treat   Leave a comment

[A post about the process of harvesting and processing chocolate with lots of pictures will be coming soon…]

Posted April 26, 2011 by rwieme in Uncategorized

Sloth Adventures   1 comment

So I’ve joked a little bit in earlier posts about starting other side projects in addition to my research that I’m doing with herbicides here at Finmac, but this week that idea suddenly become reality. Although it’s not a chocolate-testing project like I imagined, it’s still an experience unique to Costa Rica: I have started helping my neighbor and his assistant with the sloth research that they are conducting. It all started the day I returned to Finmac after our midterm report in San José; that day Geovanny and Adiel found a baby sloth that had been separated from its mother, so they brought it home for the day/night (so it wouldn’t be in danger). I, of course, was more than willing to help care for it. Our attempt the next night to reunite it with is mother was not successful – for some reason she has abandoned her baby. Therefore, we have become its surrogate family. We give him goat’s milk (cow’s milk would be fatal to a sloth) and leaves to eat. He’s almost old enough to feed himself, but he still loves milk. We’ve also started “tree training” him: when we first had him he spent most of his time in a box with a little “nest” and t-shirt to cling to, but he’s getting more and more active by the night (like the night he stayed with me when Geovanny was gone and pulled himself out of the box). However, when he’s put in a tree by himself, he cries (I would call it a “yip”) quite a bit and moves around too much, so it might be dangerous for him to spend a night outside. The solution: a makeshift tree (a big branch) placed above his box/nest in Geovanny’s house, so he gets used to spending time there and finding his food when he’s awake at night. It has been a really neat experience: yes, he’s adorable and it’s fun to have a “pet”, but also once we realized we weren’t able to reunite him with his mom it became Geovanny’s goal to get him ready to survive on his own in the wild, so we’re doing what we can not to coddle him (too much).

The next sloth-related adventure that I got to have was when I went with Geovanny at night to go sloth hunting (sloth-searching): he didn’t really believe me when I said I saw two sloths together at a certain part of the farm and so he wanted to go see them at night, and additionally thought that the female there might be a possible surrogate mother for our orphan because she had recently separated from her own pup. It was so neat – I really really really should have brought my camera with me. We saw 5 sloths – I was close enough to touch 4 of them. We also crossed paths with a bunch of other animals: about 6 armadillos, we got to watch the caiman as it caught and ate fish, got to approach a bascaliscus (Jesus Christ lizard – which are really hard to get close to during the day). We left our little sloth with the female that we found: she seemed okay with it at the time and our little guy was happy.

The next day, however, she had abandoned him, and he had some wounds from some sort of fight (he was also about 800 m from where we left him – we were lucky to have found him!). Poor guy had a stressful night; he’ll be staying with us a while longer. The rest of the day I spent walking around with Geovanny and Adiel as they located sloths and took information about their location, as well as captured a few to take samples for genetic information. I thought last night was amazing to see five sloths – today I saw at least 10, and held 2 more (besides carrying around the re-rescued orphan all day).

I’ll use pictures to help describe the experience:

One morning I helped take samples from this guy – he was pretty fiesty:

The process actually begins by using a radio antenna to locate the area that the sloth is in:

Then, you have to search the surrounding trees to find the little dark spot. The next step usually involves Adiel climbing a tree, and having a nice little struggle with the sloth to get it down:

We took samples from this little guy, and gave him a microchip in return. He was happy to go back with him mom when we were done.

And there were many others that we saw, including these two drug addicts (they were eating form a plant that has hallucinogenic effects): 

They sleep in such funny positions:

Posted April 1, 2011 by rwieme in Uncategorized