Costa Rica: Week 8

10/20: The week began with an early morning to help on

the farm. We weeded the butterfly garden and the lettuce beds and gave everything in the greenhouse a nice drink. There are these very very very hot peppers on the farm. At lunch, the cooks had pickled them and in my naivety I tried a big bite of one. It took lots of gallo pinto and several bananas to wash away the burn.

Coffee from El Toledo

Coffee from El Toledo

The highlight of the day was a trip to another sustainable, organic coffee farm in Atenas. The coffee is shade grown, which lent itself to an agroforestry lecture. We saw the green coffee beans go from berry to bean to roasted light-medium-dark. It is important to consider locally roasted coffee when buying organic, because the quality of the roast decreases the longer the beans sit after roasting. So, while unroasted beans can be shipped via boat or in large quantities in a more leisure manner, roasted beans need to be expedited to their location, mostly via air, which is less environmentally sound. Take home message: either roast at home (new project!? The farmer said it was possible to roast as you would cook popcorn) or buy locally roasted organic beans. Or a simpler message, quality is higher closer to roasting time, so if subtleties of coffee are important to you, make sure the beans were roasted recently.

 

After three days of classes and hanging out with some local university students to do an English-Spanish exchange, we packed up again, this time for El Sur. By 7 a.m. we were on a bus up and down mountains to the southern portion of Carrara national park to stay in an eco lodge situated between the national park and another protected reserve. We tromped over cattle pastures in the blazing heat, and with sweat pouring down, we escaped into the cool refuge of the national park for an orientation hike. The trail was the least well maintained of all of the trails we have been on, but it was the most fun hike by far. Especially hiking at the end of the line of 30+ people, the muddy trail was very slippery and it required tactical, ninja like skills to move down steeper slopes. We exited the jungle after two hours, some with muddy butts as evidence of a great hike.

The next day we visited a local sugar cane farm and processing location. We squeezed sugar cane with a machine powered by oxen, and then boiled the sap down to a syrupy consistency, where we then took it off the heat and stirred and stirred and suddenly there was brown sugar in block-form. It was woody and delicious and still warm and we all left on a sugar high.

Also in El Sur:

  • Night Hike (saw tree frogs and glass frogs and a snake and a kinkajou)
  • Teaching local kids about insects
  • Scarlet Macaws flying overhead
  • A secluded swimming hole that was a 10 minute walk upriver through the water and rapids. Moss-covered rocks provided the setting and churning rapids rinsed the sweat off from activity in the tropics.
  • A bonfire with fruity flavored marshmallows and a camp-like vibe
  • Morning birding and saw a pygmy owl and toucans and macaws and kouati
  • Ample discussions about how El Sur can continue to grow in a sustainable manner while still bringing in tourist groups such as us students.

Came back in time to start worrying about finals, which are this next week. Or maybe just more time to get excited for Directed Research!

Costa Rica: Week 6-7

Begin: buildup to Nicaragua. We had classes back-to-back and Nicaraguan history and ecology at every hour. Tuesday was our prep day, and we were shuttled into town to get snacks and drink smoothies with friends. On Wednesday at 2 a.m. we woke up and boarded a bus to Nicaragua. We drove from 3am-10am including border control. At the port for Lake Nicaragua on the mainland, we loaded a ferry and an hour later we were on Ometepe Island, gawking at Concapción and Maderas volcanoes. Tired and loopy, we arrived in Managua.

 

The culture immediately contrasted that of Costa Rica: The people were more direct in their speech, and less cordial than the smile-and-‘buenas’ Ticos, but this was also good for perspective and we were evidently tourists. The general vibe was grounded in the tumultuous Somoza-Sandinista history and civil war that did little for Nicaragua’s stability. Builds a strong society of people.

Lago Nicaragua

A view from our room of Lago Nicaragua

We stayed at Hotel Finca Venecia, which was right on the water on the Concepcion side of the island, and a stunning hotel with a pristine view of locals fishing and cormorants slapping the water.

Volcan Concepcion

Concepcion Volcano

The first day there it poured all day. We were there during a landslide that affected 30 households and resulted in a casualty. It was a powerful vision to see the aftermath and the day after we crossed over debris by foot for about a kilometer to be able to bus to the other side of the island. We visited a sustainable coffee farm, Finca Magdalena, and toured the petroglyphs on their property. We returned and crossed the landslide by food

 

Next to our hotel was a small protected area managed by Hotel Charco Verde, and we took our GPS units out and mapped all of the trails. We later processed this map using ArcGIS, which brought me back to Geomorphology days…

 

For meals there were patacones/tostones (nuggets of plantain thick chips) all the time, which are probably one of my favorite things here. It was a treat to have them every day for lunch.

 

In Lake Nicaragua, Tilapia is an invasive species, and Nicaraguans think they taste like mud. I must have underdevoloped taste for fish because our last night at Venecia we had whole tilapia and I think my taste buds were thoroughly pleased.  We were also gifted little fried yuca spheres with honey to dip them in.

 

We arrived in Granada after a ferry ride and a bus ride. Our bus was a decked-out blue and white school bus with lots of Jesus all around. Good to know we were protected. We stayed at this beautiful hotel, once again, and if you can’t tell I’m so surprised in the best way about our living situations on field trips. Woah. Granada had a main street directly geared toward tourists with waiters shoving menus in your face with every step. The restaurant scene was diverse and there was humus and pita. Well fed tummies for the ample exploring we did, including an earthquake (a 7.4 in El Salvador!!!), hiking up Volcan Masaya in the midst of sulfur fumes, and Volcan Mombacho  the next day via the Puma trail.

Highlights definitely included the hikes on the volcanoes and Ometepe in general. We left Granada in high spirits and returned to Atenas after a monstrous bus ride exhausted and ready for our free weekend.

Costa Rica: Week 5

This weekend was our first free weekend. The normalcy of having classes and field trips on Saturdays was apparent as it felt liberating to suddenly have two days with no scheduled activities.

We had just finished a week full of studying and midterm exams. I had a batido con aqua (fruit blended with ice; I typically go for mango or sandía/watermelon or occasionally if I need some anti-inflammatory, piña) nearly every day when my friends and I ventured into town to cafe hop and study.

I also discovered this vista just a few hundred meters from the center and straight up a hill:

View from the Vista de la Presa

This is the neighborhood La Presa in Atenas that contains the center. It is cloudy most of the time, and filled with green things and land for sale.

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Back to studying; my friend Kate taught us the Pomodoro Method where you study for 20 minutes, then take a 5 minute break, and repeat four times, and then take a 30 minute break, and repeat. It was incredible effective and gave us time to be distracted by available wi-fi and our yummy smoothies (tip: passion fruit+strawberry+mango is a DOPE combination). We were all well prepared and the week flew by. Suddenly, it was Saturday morning, and 28 of us boarded a bus to Jaco.

The Lonely Planet guidebook to Costa Rica warns that Jaco is a tourist destination despised by most environmentalists. Rosalie (a fellow 7-sister attendee!) and I were travel buddies and found a hostel once in Jaco. We stayed at a hostel called Hotel de Haan. The owner, Wilson, was perhaps the most accommodating, relaxed, and amiable host. For $10 each, we shared a 5 person dorm, and were steps from the beach. The hostel was also affiliated with a surf school, and we got a great rate for a 2hr private lesson for the both of us. The rainy afternoons meant that we had a solid amount of time on the beach before being forced into one of the many restaurants to read our books and wait out the rain with either gelato or a smoothie. The weekend seemed infinite and yet suddenly we were back on the bus Sunday evening back to Atenas.

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Rosalie and I after our surf lesson

Overall impression: Jaco is certainly overdeveloped, and it is most lively at night when perhaps all you want is a good night’s sleep. Certain items are overpriced but the seafood and fish are excellent. The beachfront has buildings spilling onto the sand and some of the taller buildings are not ideal for the view. The town is clearly touristy and foreigners were just as present as Ticos.

As an environmentalist, I was not thrilled, but as a student with some beach-bumming time, I was happy and content. A weekend was the perfect amount of time to soak up the sun (and rain!). It sometimes feels as though these relaxing experiences contradict the sustainable values I am cultivating. I have been trying to be content with doing the best I can in the given situation.

We leave for Nicaragua on Wednesday at 2a.m. and will spend a week comparing its situation as the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with the prospering Costa Rica. There is a lot of emphasis on the proposed canal through Lake Nicaragua. It is a contentious topic that may not even be feasible given the (lack of) political order. Our professors have said that the trip to Nicaragua is like going back to a Costa Rica of 30 years ago­– we’ll see how time travel goes.