Posted: November 4, 2011

Name: Will Thompson
School: Saint Michael’s College
Major: Environmental Studies
Program: Sustainable Development Studies, Costa Rica

Greetings from Costa Rica!  It has been a wonderful semester, packed with traveling and plenty of adventure. Recently, we traveled to El Sur, a small town of ten families to learn about rural sustainable development. In El Sur, we saw and discussed first hand with the locals, the benefits and challenges of ecotourism.

Our days included gnarly hikes in the backside of Carara National Park, a “locals only,” in which the community has an agreement with the Park Service to use their hand cut trail. We were sliding down muddy hillsides and switchbacks, grabbing onto branches for support and picking each other up when one went down.  It was a true backcountry hiking experience that left the group covered in mud, but smiling happily.

Afterwards we went to a traditional trapiche, or sugar cane mill. It was amazing to see the entire process and we all got involved, gladly helping the family. Following the trapiche we went to a carpentry shop, the floor littered with spare wood and saw dust.  No walls, just a tin roof overhead. It was amazing to see how gracefully the carpenter sawed out the cutting board he was making, exactly how Ticos live there life; happy, peaceful and in connection with their land (The carpenter got all of his wood from fallen trees in the park). The nights at El Sur consisted of dance parties, bonfires, smores and fun interactions with the locals, who were all happy to have us in their town.

Following our trip to El Sur, we traveled a long way into the heart of Panama City. This trip, on the other hand, was to expose us to a new country and different culture in Central America, so we could compare and contrast sustainable development between Costa Rica and Panama.

The Panama trip was truly a wonderful experience. We did everything from visiting old ruins, controlled by both Spaniards and Americans, to rising over 100 feet in the air in the world’s first canopy crane. We rose high above the forest canopy with beautiful views of Panama City and the entire surrounding landscape. We also went to the Rainforest Discovery Center and climbed up a bird tower, and watched hundreds of migratory birds traverse the land across Central America in hopes of warmer weather. They have stations in Pennsylvania, Mexico and Panama, and work together to count and track the migratory birds.

The Panama Canal absolutely blew my mind!  It is an amazing feat of engineering; the original motors for the locks from 1914 are still being used today. They don’t build them like they used to! The museum at the Canal was really interesting. It gave us the opportunity to see how it was built, step by step, and the machines that were used. Panama is a great country, and home to many interesting people from the “Mayor of the Frontier” to the local indigenous people, with their bright colors and beautiful handmade artwork. In closing, I hope I gave you a little taste of the vibrant flavor of Central America.