Archive for January 2012
So, don’t have the time for a real post now to catch you up, but I have to share this. Saturday morning I (and a few other people from my class) woke up at 4:15 to hike up to a lookout point in Monteverde, which sits on the continental divide (Pacific slope on one side of the mountain, Caribbean (Atlantic) slop on the other) to watch the sunrise. It has come full circle, because last night I got to watch it set from the same spot. Only have pictures from the sunrise on my computer so far, but still. These are the best 2 I could get with long exposures, without a tripod and in 80+km/hr winds, and they only begin to capture the amazingness, but still…
Remember, even great photographers can’t get a photo that can do justice to the whole scene…
Okay, so once again, I’m falling behind – Here comes another quick (well, sort of – believe it or not, this is the short, summed-up version!) one to get you a little caught up with where I actually am. There are just too many things to do here: I have to keep a journal for class, so I feel like I’m repeating myself when I write that and then think about what to update my blog with. And really – who wants to sit on a computer when in Costa Rica? Not me!
But here I am, to try and sum up the past few days (which, again, has felt almost like weeks!) As I mentioned, the next stop on our itinerary was Yorkin, one of the communities of the indigenous Bribri population in southeastern Costa Rica. To reach this community required (after a long bus ride) an hour-long boat ride up the shallow Sixaola River – our guides bringing us often had to get out and push the wooden boat through the shallow water over rocks. We were literally in one of the most remote areas of the country – in fact, we might have left the country. You see, the Sixaola River is the border between Costa Rica and Panama, and we were just inches away from touching Panama on several occasions (yes, we were trying). Where I’m from, we would say we were way out in the boonies.
The remote feeling continued as we hiked up from the river, through the village, past the elementary and high schools and a few houses – all just wood huts with thatched roofs – and to the small dining area and modest kitchen where our hosts prepared our entirely organic and mostly locally-grown meals. Dinner was eaten by candlelight, since there is no electricity in the village. We learned about the effort of restoring and continuing the Bribri culture: we learned about and even got to test our skills at hunting for our own dinner with bow & arrow made from palm tree part (we didn’t literally hunt though), learned how to create the thatched roofs from palm leaves, and learned about cultivating cacao plus the traditional methods of preparation. Although this part was a little bit of repeat from my past experiences, I did not mind it one bit, because of course it meant sampling delicious fresh chocolate. J And for relief from the oppressive heat & humidity, we headed down to another section of the river for a dip in the cool water.
Soon our time at Yorkin was up, we said goodbye to the friendly, smiling faces of the people who had shared their lives with us. The trip downriver was much quicker and before we knew it we were back on the bus. Although I loved the experience with the Bribri, I was especially looking forward to the next stop: Cauhita. The bus trip to Bribri took us down painfully familiar roads (the ones I traveled many weekends down to the Caribbean coast), and I was longing to get to the beach, and the powerful healing powers of the ocean. Homework didn’t seem so bad, as long as it was reading I could do sitting on the beach (well, try to do – I ended up getting quite distracted between the monkeys jumping in the trees behind me, the cute crabs digging their holes in front of me, and the sloth (:D) that meandered over in the tree next to me). Possibly the best thing about Cauhita, besides finally getting a little free time to spend on our own exploring the town (and the beach), was that class was held one afternoon in the ocean. Yep – the ecosystem we were to learn about there was, of course, coral reefs, and what better way to study them than to observe them up close and personal, aka snorkeling!!!
This was my first time snorkeling, and I must say, I LOVED it! Its funny to think that when we were on the boat ride out to the site, I was quite apprehensive, and was considering backing out. Once I got in the water though, and got the hang of breathing through my mouth instead of my nose (took me a little while, haha), I was enthralled with watching the wonders below me while easily floating through the soft rock of the waves. There were many types of coral: brain coral, star coral, moose coral, lettuce coral, with all sorts of fish darting about. Then, we saw a shark. YEP, A SHARK. I floated directly over a shark – only about a meter (3.3 feet) above it. No worries, it was a nurse shark, and even though I knew it was safe, it was hard to fight the panicky urge to swim quickly away when you see a shark directly below you, staring right back at you with that unblinking eye. Towards the end, I also spotted an eel peering out from its home in the coral, and had to call my friend with the underwater camera over to get a shot of it. Another uneasy feeling – I definitely preferred staying to the side where I could keep a better lookout and have an easier get-away…
The unavoidable sunburned back & shoulders from that experience was completely worth it; it will be hard to top that class! You never know, though, there is still a lot of time left here, or at least, a lot more to pack into the time we have left! Although the sands of Cauhita will stay with us for a while (literally – that stuff gets everywhere), we have moved on to our next ecosystem: the rainforest. We are in one of the best pieces of rainforest in Costa Rica – well, at least the most studied yet natural area – called La Selva. I’ll tell you more about it soon, but while you wait for me, read some of the facts from the class blog with the intro to La Selva! http://tropicalecology2012.blogspot.com/
P.S: Pictures from Bribri and Cauhita are on my small camera, and I don’t have that cord with to upload pictures, so those will have to wait until I get home. Sorry. I will really really try to get some pics of other things up before we leave La Selva (and the reliable internet connection) – this blog must be getting pretty boring just filled with words! They’ll come sometime, pura vida.
This will be my last day with internet for a while, so I’m going to try to squeeze in a post really quickly. Normally I wouldn’t mind waiting, but at the pace we’re going, I will have to write for pages & pages to tell you about all I’ve done – we are packing our days full of great activities, and trying to squeeze class in as well, usually at night after dinner. It makes for long days, but each of our activities has been so great, I wouldn’t cut any of them out (except maybe class, but I guess that’s not really possible…)
I’ve mentioned briefly our activities in San Jose, so lets jump ahead to the next destination: Turrialba, home of CATIE, the Center of Tropical Agriculture Research and Education. I had heard of CATIE before, due to my background with cacao and all of the research that CATIE does with cacao genetics and disease resistance, and helping indigenous communities and small farmers work towards increasing production (that’s actually our focus for the next couple of days…). I am also writing my research paper for this class on different aspects of sustainable agriculture in Costa Rica – a topic that is near and dear to my heart and was very relevant especially in this first week of our trip.
Our first day in Turrialba once we arrived was to be introduced briefly to the area and some work of CATIE’s, with a lecture about the biological corridor protection system and its importance in this area as demand for agriculture (esp. beef) contributed to deforestation all around the country, and a trip to CATIE’s botanical gardens. One of CATIE’s main projects has been their creation of a plant library: species of important crops like cacao, coffee, pejibaye, sugar cane, achiote, and many more – for research of genetics, disease resistance, and productivity of these crops. Well the botanical garden, in a way, is like the reference section of this library: they have a garden that includes plants of nearly every tropical fruit tree in central and south america. It was amazing the amount of information that our guide Marco was able to share with us: Family, genus & species of all the trees, properties of the plant, including the roots, sap, flowers, and fruits. It was impossible to retain it all – to keep straight the fruits that are toxic and those that are only “slightly toxic” (uh, I think I’ll just avoid them all), or to remember which varieties of sapote tasted like condensed milk, etc. Possible the most important thing I learned is that a variety of impatiens helps with insect bites – simply by rubbing the petals on the bite – something that I’ve already needed to try on my chewed-up legs. Ethnobotany is so cool.
Moving on: Day 4, the day of coffee (or at least surrounded by coffee plants). We visited two coffee farms: the largest coffee-producing farm in Costa Rica and one of the smallest; the first a large, conventional although shade-grown production, the second an organic family-run operation. Our (another) extremely intelligent “guide” from CATIE brought us to our first outdoor “classroom” of the day – a clearing under a giant Ceiba tree, partway up Volcán Turrialba with a great view of the valley below, to teach us about the process of processing coffee, about the production and management of farms – that also included a trip through the history of coffee but also of agriculture in general and the technological revolutions that have brought about this little pickle in which we find ourselves today. Due to lack of time and energy, I’ll refer you to the class blog for the rest of that part of the story. I’ll also just mention that I’m not so sure I have as much faith in labels like “Rainforest Alliance” certified coffee, as I was able to witness firsthand I am not getting what I believe I am paying for… As mentioned in our class blog, the mood was greatly uplifted in the afternoon with a DELICIOUS lunch (there’s just nothing like a good lunch from an organic farm, I should know) and a tour through the small, organic, environmentally friendly and intelligently designed family farm.
Speaking of great lunches, we were fortunate enough to have another today – again, we were on another environmentally friendly organic family farm – this one a dairy farm that produces the unique Turrialba Cheese. Through fun activities and challenges, we learned about the process of caring for the cows. It was truly amazing how this family ensured the self-sustainability of their farm – the coolest part being the biodigestor that naturally transformed hog & cow manure into methane gas – that was used for cooking in their house and for boiling water in the workshed to sterilize equipment to avoid using chemicals – and liquid fertilizer that could be spread on their pastures to help grow grasses and feed for the cows. It is amazing how simple some of the solutions are that are able to help reduce our problems/conflict between being environmentally friendly and successful in agriculture, and it truly confirms my desire to study such systems in hopes of helping solve such issues…
The theme continues tomorrow with our trip to the indigenous community the Bribri to learn about their management of cacao systems (yay!).
So in my brief introduction about this class that I wrote last post, I forgot to mention that we’re going to have a class blog, which will be updated much more frequently than I’ll be able to update my own. So here is the link for that so you can check that out for more detail of our activities & what we’re learning about each day: http://tropicalecology2012.blogspot.com/
It has been a whirlwind these first few days: a long first day of travel, followed by a long introductory day that for me was all about experiencing things in reality that I have been reminiscing/dreaming about for the last 6 months. I’ve been realizing there are things I didn’t even know I missed. There were brand new things (like going to INBio: the national institute for biodiversity, a little oasis of nature in the middle of bustling Heredia (near San Jose), and there were some near and dear familiar things (like going to ACM to have a lecture from Chris on scarlet macaws). While at ACM, I got to see some of the staff (Alejandra and Yvette, who remembered me! – I was a little scared they would have already forgotten me, with the amount of students they have). It was even just surreal to be back in the building – in a way it felt like I’ve only been gone for a short vacation, and I was back again for classes (I even sat in my usual spot during the lecture , and we got the familiar delicious arroz con leche that Yvette makes).
Actually, the really surreal/crazy/awesome part was that I was able to go visit my host family in San Jose. I skipped class dinner to take a cab all the way across the city (too bad I couldn’t have gone right from ACM – I could have even taken the bus!) Perfect timing, it was my older sister’s birthday, so the whole family was together to have cake and ice cream. (I’m so mad that I forgot to bring my camera!) My older sister got married this past summer and so she does not actually live with them anymore, and I could tell my younger siblings have grown, but being there all together was like nothing had changed. I got to hear all of the phrases, spoken with such great tico accents, that provided instant flashbacks and warm fuzzy feelings of being home. My spanish was a little rusty, but it quickly came back when I got time to sit and chat with my mom and sister, and I realized that ACM delivers in its promise to pair you with host families who take you in as part of their family; I will have a special bond with these people for the rest of my life.
The night got even better as I went from my house to meet up with some of my good friends from San Jose, of course at our favorite bar, Caccios. Of course I got an Olaffo (a giant mug of Costa Rican beer), and then we went out to a few other popular bars in the area. We dedicated a drink to all of our fellow ACM students who were missing, and I even got to salsa dance again (another thing at which I was a bit rusty, but I think it came back after a while, thanks to a good leader). Crazily, while at a new bar, I ran into another friend from Costa Rica – who I actually met on my rural stay, but he is a student at the UCR and so he is back in San Pedro. What are the chances – classes aren’t in session now – and we just happened to see each other!!? It was so much fun! The whole day/night was just great; there were many different emotions involved, but mostly good.
Since this is getting very long (and a little mushy), lets go to list form, to wrap up my feelings of the first few days. I will write more about what the class has done since we’ve left San Jose in my next post…
Things that, now that I’m back, I realize even more how much I’ve missed them/things that make me reminisce or feel like I’m home:
-Sounds, like the call of certain birds that I’ve only heard here (flycatchers, oropendulas, grackels, etc) and frogs, the little geckos on my wall . I’m looking forward to even more, like the call of howler monkeys and the sound of waves on the ocean.
-Phrases, like “con much gusto” (with pleasure) for “you’re welcome”, “¡Que dicha!”, the ones of my family, and some from my friends which I probably shouldn’t repeat.
-Smells/Tastes: humid air, cacao pulp (stole some today from a tree at CATIE, shh don’t tell), the fruit (well, I knew I missed that), etc.
- Pura Vida.
So, here I am, 6 months after I returned from a semester in Costa Rica, packing again to go back to Costa Rica! I’m not even sure if that has really set in yet… it seems so surreal that I will soon be able to walk the same streets that I did everyday for two months (We’re going to visit ACM!), and see some of the same sights. This time, however, will also be very different in many ways. But let me backup first, and give you a little update of my life since returning from Costa Rica.
People often say that semesters abroad are life-changing experiences. I wasn’t sure I felt that way when I left Costa Rica – yes, it had definitely been a great learning experience and I tried new things and such, but had I actually changed that much? Well as time back in the states went by (FLEW by), I started realizing all of the ways that my experience in Costa Rica really has directed my path into the future. This is especially evident when looking at my current “future goals” or “career plans” – that big, looming pressure that stews in the back of every college student’s mind, flaming up more and more often as one becomes a senior and it seems that all people want to know is what you’re going to do after graduation. Well, thanks to recent experiences, I’ve decided I want to go to grad school, and I want to do research that is in some way related to agricultural systems. (That’s all the detail I’m going to divulge now…) I think this is largely due to the positive experience I had while living on the Finmac plantation. I was becoming slightly interested in agriculture before I went – that is, afterall, how I ended up on the farm in the first place – but at the time it was just one of many things I was interested in and considered studying. with my experience on the farm fresh in my memory, I wasted no time in accepting another agriculturally based project when I returned, that I completed this fall semester – and so on. Also, sloths are now my favorite animal. I miss them, and I sometimes miss the luxury of being able to live like one – at least temporarily.
So yeah, life went on. I loved the feeling of putting on a big comfy sweatshirt when the temps stayed cool in early June, but then the unusually hot & humid July had me pining for an ocean/beach get away (instead, I baked & sweated in out in my non air-conditioned dorm room). As fall rolled around I was plunged back into the hustle and bustle of life at St. Olaf, and the mounting stress from homework and activities and research and studying had me longing like never before for my hammock on the porch at Finmac. I missed my big plate of fresh fruit, guanabana juice, sloths, waking up at 5 or 5:30 am without needing an alarm and feeling refreshed and rested, thinking in Spanish without effort, and especially my ACM friends. Working with the off-campus studies office to help prepare the Oles who will be going on the program this spring was fun for me, because it meant I got to reminisce and share stories about Costa Rica.
However, like I mentioned earlier – I am one of the lucky ones. While all of us probably suffered through longings similar to those mentioned above, I got to endure them while also getting excited to go back, albeit under slightly different conditions.
I’m returning to Costa Rica – only for four weeks this time – for a St. Olaf Interim class, titled Tropical Ecology and Sustainable Land Use in Costa Rica. We will be traveling all over the country – moving every few days – to see and learn about some of the biology and conservation efforts of the diverse ecosystems found throughout the country. We will be visiting some places I went before, but also many new ones. I’m excited to learn in more detail about these systems and issues that fascinate me so much; however, I know I need to look forward to a very different experience than my last one in Costa Rica – the biggest things being that this course is in English, and we’ll be traveling around quite a bit and as a big group. It will take a little getting use to, but I’m looking forward to a great trip!
Hello there. Well, it has been over 6 months, but I have an update to post. First, I’m going to wrap-up the story/adventure that I started 11 months ago by posting about my last week in Costa Rica with my parents – like I promised and then, in the next post, I will explain why I’m starting to blog again (Hint: I’m back in Costa Rica!).
So, in nutshell, my last week in Costa Rica in may went something like this: My parents came to San Jose, in order to drag me back home (they knew I was going to want to stay in Costa Rica!), but before I was forced to get on the plane home, we had the opportunity to travel around so I could show them a bit of the country I had called home for a semester. They were able to come to ACM on the last few days of class activities, they met my classmates and professors, we got to meet part of my host family, and got to see a bit of what my life was like in San Jose.
Next, we took off to visit Monteverde – a popular tourist destination for the sights (animals, esp birds) of the cloud forest & a typical tourist activity: Zip-lining through the canopy! Getting to Monteverde was half of the adventure: rumbling along rock roads that were washed out in places in our 10-passenger van (Interbus!) was probably not Mom’s favorite part, but we made it! I loved our little cottage-style environmentally friendly hotel where we stayed, but as I mentioned, the highlight was the Zip-lining. I couldn’t believe how easily Mom went for it, considering her fear of heights, but we all had a blast! My favorite part was making friends with the fun staff people – I was already missing speaking Spanish, so I showed off by using typical tico phrases to get a conversation with them going in Spanish. The funniest part was the end: a kilometer-long cable that, in order to make it all the way, had to be traversed by pairs of zip-liners hooked together. Boy did we fly! As evidenced by the facial expression I captured on camera at the end of the line, Mom didn’t believe she and dad would be able to stop in time to avoid crashing into the giant tree that the last platform surrounded (For mom’s sake I won’t post that particular picture, but Family you will definitely be able to see it when I have it printed! )
Next stop – after another shaky bus trip – was my second visit to La Fortuna, to see Volcano Arenal. We were lucky to have fantastic weather that allowed us to see the volcano the entire day – the great view from our hotel room balcony and when we went to hike around it. We hiked on the path from old lava from an eruption in 1968. Mom and I also couldn’t pass up the opportunity for some relaxation time in the volcanic hot springs.
Finally, we headed to the West coast, for my second visit to Tamarindo. There we stayed in the only beach-side resort in Tamarindo and practiced the epitome of vacation: we lounged by the pool or on the beach – I worked (a little too much) on topping of my Costa Rica tan, we meandered the streets at night to find dinner and peruse the shops, and enjoyed the fabulous sunsets that the Pacific coast of Costa Rica so often delivers.
It soon came to an end. It was a very strange feeling: it felt like a vacation with my parents, but that the end of the vacation would bring my return to ACM and classes and my friends that I had made throughout the semester. But when we returned to San Jose, I stayed in a hotel, not a home. It was really over. Obviously there was a part of me that was pretty excited to get back to the states: I was going back, spending a whirlwind 16 hours at my house just to unpack, do laundry, (a tiny bit of sleep), and repack to move down to St. Olaf for the summer, I would get to see some of my friends and roommates graduate – some that I hadn’t seen for 5 months! But I was also very sad to be leaving behind such a great time that I had been having. I didn’t even know then the impact this experience had on me – and would continue to influence my life decisions months afterwards. The one thing that made it easier to leave was the thought that in 6 months, I would have the opportunity to return….