Thursday, September 20, 2012

A perfect ending to a new beginning.

Thank you, Jared for those final words.  Well executed, as things from the heart usually are.  Our goal this coming Summer 2013 is to have at least 10 NMSU students experiencing the wonders which Jared and Denisha experienced between July 10 and August 2 this year.  The time frame will be about the same and once the final arrangements for the 2013 session at CATIE are complete registrations will be accepted.  Mr. Bloomquist (dbloomqu@nmsu.edu) and the NMSU Study Abroad Office (stdyabrd@nmsu.edu) are happy to answer any questions you have about this wonderful opportunity of a lifetime.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Reflections of a Bittersweet Trip

Oh Costa Rica.  It really is an amazing place and it really does leave a lasting impression on you.  Maybe it is the "pura vida" lifestyle (the country doesn't even have an army!), or the lush, exotic environment (so different from our own in NM), or the healthy food that grows on you (beans and rice and non-processed foods).  Whatever it is, I will never forget my time there during the Sustainability Seminar Series at CATIE.  If I can speak for both me and Denisha, I can say that we met a host of great peoples on our trip.  People from all over (most memorably were those from Ecuador, Switzerland, Panama, Denton TX, France, and the Czech Republic).  The people in Costa Rica are so friendly and willing to help you in any situation - which I found to be quite nice and a bit surprising.  Also, the school of CATIE has a great energy to it that I will never forget.  Between rafting the great river of the Pacuare, watching the sea turtle laying its eggs on the beach of Guanacaste, experiencing my first cow-milking at the dairy farm, the agua refescas that I drooled over each and every day, spending time at Charlie's bar and the other local bars, drinking the best 'chocolate caliente' ever created, and seeing my first perezosos (sloths) in all of their (somewhat ugly) beauty - our trip to Costa Rica was overall a spectacular experience.

For anyone who is thinking about venturing on this study abroad trip, or any trip to Costa Rica for that matter, I suggest you pack light, not worry as much about the food or drink as those in our first world US may lead you to believe, bring insect repellent, come with an open mind and make sure to delay all judgements (as this is crucial for any world travel to cultures outside of your own), take your umbrella with you everywhere (you never know when it might start raining), and be willing to see the world from a different perspective - one that considers the social, environmental, and economic impacts of each of the decisions we all make everyday in our lives, no matter how big or how small. 

Sustainability is not just a trend that tries to convince you that climate change exists, nor is it intended to ridicule the way you live your life, it is just another way of looking at the world.  It is about seeing the potential for creating a paradigm shift, one where we begin to question the current framework in which we live, while noticing (from a very non-ethnocentric viewpoint) that maybe our framework is not ideal; not that it isn't right, just that there may be ways to improve it so that we can enhance the conditions on this planet for people, wildlife, and environments.  Not just in the present time, but for the future as well.  We can do this by looking at other cultures' approaches to the challenges we all face (such as models of sustainable tourism in Costa Rica).  This is where the heart of the sustainability movement lies.  As we learned, placing tourism in the perspective of sustainability is highly important because the impacts of the tourism industry reverberate far and wide, across cultures and environments.  The knowledge I gained from this trip really supplemented by education in HRTM and provided me with additional skills revolved around sustainability, which are skills that more and more employers are looking for today.

A special thanks to our instructor Eric Norman, whose heart and soul are grounded in sustainable thinking.  Your passion is an inspiration to all of us.  Thanks for everything.  Also, thanks to the administration and instructors at CATIE such as Dr. Vargas and Dr. Dormody and UNT professor Dr. Spears.  Lastly, thanks to Mr. Bloomquist in the HRTM department (and Priscilla Bloomquist) for their work to get this program running, and to the Provost office for supporting such a program.  This trip would not have existed without any of you, so thanks for creating such a spectacular opportunity for us.

PURA VIDA!        

Guanacaste = paradise

For our last weekend in the beautiful paradise of Costa Rica we ventured out with the University of North Texas MIST (Masters in International Sustainable Tourism) crew to the scenic Guanacaste Province on the western shores of the country.  After a 7 hour bus ride we made it to our wonderful hotel (of which we were the only guests!) and indulged in some "real" corn (non-GMO and not as sweet as corn in the US) before setting out for the beach for a little bit of relaxation time. 

The beach at Guanacaste, Apuertocoyote, was fabulous!!!  Words cannot even describe how wonderful it was, so I will let the pictures speak for me:



After watching a very visually aesthetic sunset, we headed to a bar/restaurant nearby to eat some dinner (arroz frito con camarones - fried rice with very FRESH shrimp, oh! and of course, some fried plantains as usual).


The next morning we got up early and headed out to the shore with our friends from Pretoma, a local NGO who focuses on marine restoration, to go fishing as part of their sustainable fishing and tourism project (http://www.pretoma.org/the-sustainable-fishingtourism-project/).  Pretoma has been in the process of developing a tourism plan that educates people about the marine issues happening in the local area and the impact that tourists have on particular wildlife.  For example, turtle eggs are seen as a delicacy in the local bars, who usually sell them to tourists, claiming that they are aphrodisiacs.  Pretoma has a group of people who go out on the beach everyday in search of these eggs so that they can protect them in a reserve until ready to hatch, preventing poachers from stealing them for the bars.  The day consisted of us learning about the daily lives of the local fisherman and seeing how they are impacted by changing environmental and tourist patterns.      

We also got to go on a hands-on fishing excursion where we went out on the ocean to try and catch our own dinner.  This fishing excursion was one of my favorite activities of the entire CR trip.  We went out on private little fishing boats with the local people (our guide was the best, of course), learned about the strategies the fisherman use to catch fish (which is a very difficult job and requires the people to go out all night to fish while doing all their other duties during the day), and enjoyed the beautiful day out on the sea.  Some of our crew did not handle the sea too well and got a bit sick, but most of us did well.  We got to ride some crazy oceanic waves which was great!  The picture to the left is two girls from the UNT MIST program with Denisha.  While on the sea we busted into some refreshing watermelons (which some people threw up :-/) and even spent some time swimming out on the open waves.  It was such a gorgeous day!! 

Towards the end of the trip we went back towards the shore and explored the mangroves, which I learned from Dr. Vargas, a professor, are crucial for the existence of all life on earth!  Mangroves are places where the sea life come into shore to lay their eggs and without them, the new generations of sea wildlife would be jeopardized.



These drinks are called Mora (berry) and are SO good!
 Sadly, all of the fish we did catch were not appropriate to keep, so we put all of them back safely into the waters and dinner consisted of fish that the true fisherman caught that day - (talk about some freshly caught fish! And it tasted wonderful).  This was the first time I had ever eaten an entire fish before too.  Although it looks a little disturbing (picture below), it actually tasted really good and it was easier to eat than I thought it was going to be.   
After dinner we went to the camp where the Pretoma have their volunteers stationed.  While there we got to see the place where they rescue and preserve the turtle eggs.








Afterwards, we went down to a secluded beach to actually see the turtles in action.  Now, it is hard for me to describe this experience in words (we were not allowed to take pictures), but it definitely was the greatest part of the entire trip for me.  As we approached the beach, the sun had gone down and it was dark outside.  In Costa Rica, it is rare to ever see the moon because of all of the clouds.  That night, however, the clouds were scattered and the moon was shining down onto the beach and the water, creating this surreal shimmering glimmer that covered the area.  We silently moved along the beach until we finally spotted turtle tracks - and poof - there it was, a real life (and very archaic I might add) sea turtle.  It was an Olive Ridley Turtle, and it was beautiful!  We huddled close to it and watched as it dug a hole, squirted out a bunch of eggs, and then recovered the hole using this very unique twisting and squirming of the body.  After it jumped around to pack down the earth it preceded to make a mess in the sand by thrashing around so that predators would not be able to pinpoint the location of the eggs.  The sight was one that I'll never forget.  It truly was an inimitable (and probably once in a lifetime) experience.  Thinking back on it still makes me very happy : )

Monday, August 20, 2012

Organic Farm Trip

On our second Wednesday we took a joint field trip to an organic farm outside of Turrialba near Cartago.  This was another opportunity to see how small farms can incorporate tourism into their operations.  The field trip involved us working on the farm, which was actually really great because we got to see what life is like on a small family-owned farm in Costa Rica.  The trip also allowed us to witness first-hand some of the things we had been discussing in class related to food production and non-organic monoculture vs. organic farming methods.  We had discussed the problems of just planting one crop throughout an entire farm, such as susceptibility to disease and crop loss (i.e. potato famine in Ireland).  Planting several different types of crops greatly reduces such widespread disease and better supports the natural ecosystem.  After arriving at the farm we participated in a short tour and then we started making compost.  The compost was a Japanese recipe called Bokashi (I won't go in to detail what we put in there ; D).  
After making compost for a while the instructor decided that we should quit an we went out on the farm and started planting crops.  We developed a system with all of us students to efficiently plant lettuce and green onion.  It was great!  I love getting my hands dirty and in the soil - it really makes you appreciate the food you eat and take for granted everyday! 


Once done, the farmer took us all to his house and they cooked us a big meal, which was greatly appreciated after a morning of hard work.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Manuel Antonio


Although I am back from Costa Rica already (sadly), I still want to recap the events that occurred during my trip.  After the last events that I had previously posted we embarked on our first weekend trip to Manuel Antonio National Park.  The trip was fantastic!  On the way to our destination we stopped at a bridge and saw crocodiles that were lounging in a river.  The sight was one that I have never encountered before and it felt like a glimpse into a prehistoric world.  I felt lucky to see such creatures in the wild because who knows how much longer they will be around on this planet.  In fact, these wild crocodiles are being impacted from humans everyday as more and more tourists visit the area, throw down food and other trash and disrupt the crocs natural habitat. 

Upon arrival into the Manuel Antonio area we stopped at our hotel to have a personal meeting with the owner to discuss sustainable tourism.  The conversation was quite enlightening because he shed light on the issues he faces as a small business owner trying to compete with larger hotels while enforcing sustainable tourism policies and programs.  Costa Rica has a leaf rating system that ranks hotels based on their environmental, socio-cultural, and economic policies.  This program is called CST or Certification of Sustainable Tourism.  Although it is beneficial that Costa Rica has such a program, we learned that it impacts both small and large hotel operations in many different ways. 

That night we went and had a fantastic dinner in Quepos, a small town near Manuel Antonio.  After our meal we walked down to the beach and found out that walking around without a raincoat or umbrella was not such a good idea. 

The next day we got up early and headed to the National Park of Manuel Antonio.  Walking through the jungle was quite nice but after spending our time in such a small village (Turrialba) it felt odd being around so many tourists.  We learned that Manuel Antonio hosts thousands of tourists each year and that it is one of the most popular Costa Rican destinations.  This makes sense as the park was beautiful and the beaches pristine.  However, you could see the impact that the guests had on the area, such as the monkeys on the beach who acted very aggressively towards people, steeling their food.  This human-wildlife interaction has many implications.  The monkeys have started eating a diet of human junk foods they gather in the park. These foods are not even healthy for humans, let alone our for our primate relatives. 


My favorite encounter in the park was seeing the sloths.  These creatures are remarkable and yet very lazy (which is probably why the Spanish word for them is the same word for ‘lazy’).  I also enjoyed spending time at the beach, breaking open my first coconut, and seeing iguanas sun bathing. 

Later, we went and participated in a tour of the Arenas Del Mar Hotel with the Sustainability Director.  This was very interesting for me because I did similar work for a property in Washington State last year during an ‘Environmental Internship’ with Aramark Parks and Destinations.  This property demonstrated that a hotel could be both a five-star and a five-leaf (the highest leaf rating in the CST) property simultaneously, despite the myth that luxury and sustainability counteract one another.  It was interesting to hear that they encountered many of the same challenges that I faced while in my internship, such as employee engagement, public interpretation and education, and infrastructure investments.  It was really interesting to hear how the sustainability program saved the hotel a lot of money, created positive relations with the local community, and assisted in environmental preservation.

The next morning we got up and tried our hands at surfing, which none of us had done before (except for our instructor Eric).  The waves were very large though and all of us pretty much walked away feeling like the ocean had beat us up.  I absolutely loved it though and I am so glad that we tried it.  I cannot wait to try again under better circumstances.  One word of advice – do not take any money or credit cards with you unless you have a pocket that zips as my Velcro failed and I lost mine : (

Overall, it was a superb trip to a very different part of Costa Rica, one that differed greatly from the Turrialba region.          

Monday, July 30, 2012

The continued adventures of Costa Rica

So very much has happened that I haven't had a chance to write, so I will recap. A few days after our adventure with Carla and her queso farm, the group and I decided to go into town to check out a festival that the local church had put on. There were vendors there selling everything from rice and beans, to cotton candy and candy apples. There was music in the plaza and it seemed as if all of Turrialba had come to celebrate.

The very next day the festival continued with a cultural parade of indigenous dancers and people supporting the local community. What I thought was interesting about both the festival and the parade was that it was put on through the church. The church sits directly in front of the plaza, where you can go to sit and enjoy an ice cream and the afternoon. Another component of the plaza are the shoppes that are centered around it. This makes for a very tight nit community that work together, practice religion together, and party together.

7/16/2012 Dr. Vargas hosts a language and food party. In attendance were some of the CATIE staff, some students from the MIST (Masters of International Sustainable Tourism) program, and ourselves. The goal of the party was to get the staff to learn English and the rest of us to learn Spanish all while having fun and cooking. Half of us cooked Chifrijo, which to me seems like a loaded nacho consisting of rice, beans, chunks of beef, topped with guacamole and pico de gallo and tortilla chips. The other half cooked a relatively Northern American dish, apple fritter. All of the food came out fantastic and practicing the language was a complete success.

7/20/2012 Dr. Bloomquist arrives and we head to Manuel Antonio. On our way there, there is an infamous bridge overlooking a river that is a huge tourist attraction. The reason that this bridge in particular is so well known is because this is where great numbers of crocodiles live. According to Eric, our instructor, this is where fresh water meets salt water and is a perfect environment for the crocs to live in. If it gets too hot during the day, they wade underneath the overpass until it cools down.

Manuel Antonio is the beach of all touristic beaches. There are people from all around the world lodging in or near Manuel Antonio to catch some waves, shop at the souvenir shops or enjoy the night life. I was shocked at the completely different vibe that little old Turrialba has in comparison to the bustling Manuel Antonio. We did three things while in Manuel Antonio – went to the national park, took a tour of a 5 leaf/ 5 star hotel and caught some waves. The national park, although a fantastic park, was situated near the touristic area of Manuel Antonio. This was problematic because there were too many people in the park which destroyed the naturalistic feel that the park is supposed to give. Mostly what we spotted were white faced monkeys but was fortunate to see two sloths who are known to be found in this region. Sadly, visitors to the park often feed the monkeys snacks and junk foods and these monkeys will get sick and die from having such a poor diet. There are signs everywhere warning visitors against feeding the monkeys, however, on the park beaches the opposite occurred.

Next was the hotel tour. Before I begin to explain the tour I have to shed some light on this leaf system that has been adopted by Costa Rica. The leaf system is a sustainable approach to the star system. How it works is that a hotel will gain points based off of how they maintain and sustain their resources. They can get points for having solar panels, having recycle bins, hiring locals, etc., and these points will determine how sustainable the hotel is. The more sustainable a hotel is, the more leafs it will earn. We went on the tour to see just how a five leaf hotel operated and the processes that needed to be done in order to keep their leaf rating.

Fun came next. After all of our hard work and learning, we finally got to take a break and try out surfing. This was all of our first time and there is no better place to try it out than at the Rich Coast. Board rentals - $20. Bathing suit - $40. Being thrashed around on a wave with a board tied to your ankle - priceless. In all honesty, that was well worth the scars and bruises that I found the next day.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cocinando


The other night we went over to Dr. Vargas' (a professor here at CATIE) house for a cooking and Spanish lessons.  Dr. Vargas' wife hosted the event and invited our group (the SSS), the MIST students from UNT, and some local Latino students who are trying to learn English.  We were separated into two groups, one to cook the main entre√® (which would be a local Tico dish) and the other to cook the dessert (which was US-based).
Denisha and I were part of the entre√® group because we wanted to learn how to cook a meal local to this area.  Another important part of the activity was the fact that when we were in the kitchen cooking, we were to use only our non-native language, which allowed us to practice our Spanish and the local students to practice their English.  Although I was a little nervous about this at first because my Spanish skills are a bit lacking, it ended up being really fun and I happened to learn a lot.  It was also great just interacting with some of the local students and learning a little about their lives growing up in Turrialba.


We made Chilifrio, which included rice, pork, avocado, and a salsa like pico de gallo.  I am vegetarian so they made mine without the meat, which was nice.  We also fried some pineapple, which they added into mine to make it more hearty, but all of the Ticos just ate separately.  The fried pineapple was DELICIOUS!  Here is a pic of the finished product.  If you are curious about the recipe, here is a link to one: http://ticotimes.com/costa-rica/chifrijo-recipe.  For dessert, we had apple fritter (although I did not eat any as I am not much of a dessert person).  Overall, one more great night in CR!