Posted: November 4, 2011

Name: Jose Edgardo Arevalo Hernandez, Ph.D.
Position: Lecturer in Tropical Ecology
Program: Sustainable Development Studies, Costa Rica

The intense downpours that had persisted for several days in most of the Central American isthmus accompanied us during our last field trip in Costa Rica. The small community of El Sur, located in the central pacific of the country, welcomed us with a variety of fascinating experiences typical of a Costa Rican rural environment.

We hiked through the forest, the students engaged in community outreach with school children, milked cows, helped with the process of obtaining molasses from sugar cane in a mill, and interacted with locals. Having enjoyed the hospitality of this small, but amazing community, we got ready for a contrasting international experience: Panama.
After a long bus journey that placed us in a “concrete jungle”, Panama City offered a great mix of cultural  experiences for our students. Tall buildings, intense trade, the Canal Zone with its busy ship traffic, tourism, indigenous art and crafts, and the dense forest still occupying part of the landscape. One would regard this as the perfect setting to learn about economic growth, natural resource use, and ecosystem conservation.

For instance, the Canal transportation system relies heavily on the water resource, thus the protection of the tropical rain forest in the Canal watershed is crucial to maximize water capture. This forest protection has facilitated scientific research which in turn could provide baseline information for monitoring projects towards the sustainable use of the Canal area.

Remarkably, the rich historical heritage of Panama transported us back in the colonial times when globalization began to emerge among the cultural interchanges that shaped the current societies in Central and South America.