Stories from the Field: OTS Tropical Ecology & Conservation Spring 2019

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My Journey

By: Maria Victoria “Vicky” Ortiz Cruz, Sierra del Rosario Biosphere Reserve, Cuba

My journey began some time ago, and I can only say that it has been wonderful, it has made me grow and see the world in a different way. I remember an infinity of questions crossed my mind when my course began that January morning in San Jose.  However, what I most thought about was whether I had made the right decision to attend this course. They told us about the origins and work of the Organization for Tropical Studies, which for more than 50 years has maintained a leadership in education and research in the tropics. It was then that I truly realized that I was in the right place, that I had made one of the best decisions of my life and that without a doubt I was going to acquire much new knowledge.

Novel were the tools that the Tropical Ecology and Conservation course offered us. These will allow us to make better science in Latin America and reflect positively on the image of each of our countries. In addition, endless were the teachings transmitted by each of the instructors who arrived during the course. They will surely be proud of us because we will put these teachings into practice from now on in our research.

This course has a rare magic that unites people.

In addition, this course gave me the opportunity to delve into new topics such as ecological restoration, indices of true diversity, intraspecific competition, future scenarios, predation, and herbivory among others. I also learned how to communicate science to all kinds of publics, something that for biologists can be a challenge. This was accomplished through  podcast and video making workshops, both wonderful experiences.

Undoubtedly, the exercise that left the greatest impression on me during the course was the project proposals workshop. Thanks to the teachings of Jenny, Adriana and Sofia during the course of this workshop, my perspective on how to think about an investigation took a 360 ° turn. This new challenge made me realize that in the past I had never stopped to think about how difficult it is to identify  a gap in information on a particular topic, and translate this into a compelling opportunity for research.  Definitely, for both my colleagues and me this is the most important lesson we have learned.

This trip not only broadened my horizons of knowledge, but also gave me a chance to learn about the  origins and interests of my colleagues; before my eyes emerged a great mosaic of cultures that I had hardly ever taken the time to perceive. All the moments that I shared with each of them were wonderful and unforgettable. How to forget our individual projects, our parties, our yoga classes, our dance classes and our soccer games ?  When we climbed the hill in Las Alturas, when we made the podcasts, when we filmed the science videos; or when we talked at breakfast, lunch or dinner. Each of these moments has its own magic; and that is what makes them unforgettable.

In addition, during the trip I fell in love with Costa Rica, I think forever. What a wonderful country and even more, what wonderful people. From the first day, I felt a peace that I cannot describe; it could be that I breathed “pura vida”. Little by little,  I was able to better understand the vocabulary and many of its customs, especially that of “pinto”. Each of the places we visited was spectacular, but my favorite was Palo Verde. Maybe it was because its warmth reminded me so much of my land, or because of so much beauty hidden behind every leaf fallen from the trees; or because every dawn seemed painted by the hand of an artist. When I close my eyes, I can still feel Palo Verde’s wind whispering in my ear and gently caressing me. I was also charmed by Monteverde and its cloud forests. When I walked through them, I felt that I was in my own paradise surrounded by an infinity of different plants … so much green … I fell in love with all my senses.

In Costa Rica I have left a bit of my heart, and I hope one day I can return to look for it. As I write these lines, I am already back in my land with my family, but I feel a huge void because I no longer have my colleagues, my OTS family by my side. I will always remember the moment of our farewell, when everyone in a single hug sang our song, because it has been one of the most beautiful and touching moments that I have lived. For many it may sound overly sentimental, but the point is that only those who have lived this wonderful experience can understand what each one of us feels at this moment.  As an alumnus friend of the ETC course told me – and I completely agree with him,  “this course has a rare magic that unites people”.

Pura Vida!