My time spent this winter completing the Wildlife Conservation and Sustainability course through DANTA was unrivaled. The experiences this program facilitated allowed me to be immersed in the ecosystem, community life, culture and traditions of Costa Rica in such a rich way compared to what I would have been able to experience on my own. Each day brought a new adventure. I was first blown away by the enormous trees and roots in the forest, and the sound of so much life all around.

It was quite amazing to hear and learn the sounds the different primates and birds make and to learn to recognize the movement of different primate species in the canopy. I had the chance to see squirrel monkeys mere feet from my face, TWICE, and even see howler monkeys howling during the day. One major highlight was spotting the northern tamandua scaling a tree. Not only did we explore the wonders of the forest, but the beach as well. We were lucky enough to watch sea turtle hatchlings be released, learn about how a turtle hatchery is run, ride horses on the beach, and watch brown pelicans cross the sky for perfect sunsets on the rocks.

We also had many opportunities to learn from local knowledge. For example, we learned of traditional medicinal plants on our afternoon with a local landowner and farmer, and a glimpse at how a primate expert thinks, follows, and observes monkeys at such a high level. We even spent part of an afternoon bird watching, straying no farther than to the road to find birds he considered good finds for seasoned birders. I frequently had to update my jealous father on all the new bird species I was seeing. The exercises we were responsible for also progressed and pushed us to ask and communicate our own questions and develop methodologies based on the skills and information we had learned so far. The camera trap project development exercise was very rewarding and made it easy to see how much I had learned in such a short time. Although the designated “fun” aspects of the trip were incredible, nothing beat the ability to wake up, walk outside, and just be in awe of all of the life around you.

Each day at Piro Biological Station was so full of exceptional moments, I struggled to write every detail down in our natural history journals. Through this trip, everyone was able to gain some independence, face some fears, and experience the wonder of one of the most biodiverse places on this planet. I will cherish this trip and all of the people I was able to meet forever.

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