Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Las Alturas Experience

A few weeks ago, we had the privilege of spending a couple of nights at the Las Alturas station which is a satellite station of the Las Cruces Biological Station in San Vito. Las Alturas is extremely close to the Panamanian border and is near a small town (called Las Alturas) that consists of half indigenous and half non-indigenous people. The station is a small cabin in the middle of a clearing twenty feet from the primary forest. There was no hot water and electricity only for a few hours every evening.

On our first day there, Zach (Las Cruces Station Director) led us on a hike to a look out point. It was cool temperature nice for hiking and there was lots of fog we could see rolling in into the mountains at the look out point. As we ascended the mountain it was very interesting to see how the foliage changed. Zach explained it as the plants becoming 'dwarfed'. Zach told us that in this area the jaguar population is thriving. Luckily, there is heavy security to protect jaguars as well as other animals from poachers.

Our second day in Las Cruces, we split into three groups and rotated activities throughout the day. In the morning my group and I went on a 'plant identification' walk with Zach. Just on the edge of the clearing surrounding the cabin he was able to show us countless different leaf patterns and leaf arrangements. What was most interesting to me was that many of the plants he showed us were closely related to plants such as tomatoes, strawberries, avocados, and many more. After we worked on our plant identification skills we went on a short hike to the river. The river was beautiful with clear, mountain run-off water. It was a unique experience to be able to sit on a large rock in the middle of the river for a few minutes.

That afternoon we rotated to the clinic where we worked in various positions. First I shadowed Dr. Nicolas Lopez, our program's resident professor, as he treated patients. When I was shadowing he mostly treated indigenous children. Then I rotated to the 'child-care' position where I colored with children and played with stickers. The last rotation was working as a secretary doing paper work and stamping various documents.

The last day our professor Jessica Arias led us in an ethnobiology activity where we made skin products out of nature. First we made an orange sugar scrub that serves as a skin exfoliant. Then we made a beeswax/tea tree/vitamin E butter to heal insect bites and dry skin. Lastly, we made a chamomile face steam bath.

Overall, Las Alturas was a great experience and I'm so glad we took a few days out of our time at Las Cruces to go there.

Hailey Alexander

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