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 ( and the NMSU Study Abroad Office ( 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 (  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 : )