Costa Rican Highlights

Posted: November 15, 2012

Name: Heather Krieger
School: Hamilton College
Program: Sustainable Development Studies, Costa Rica

Just finished final exams! It’s so hard to believe I only have one month left here in Costa Rica. Programs like this — where you’re thrown into living with a small group of people in such a productive and adventurous environment — lead to fast friendships and decidedly memorable explorations. In the past two months I have been inspired and energized by my new-found friends and professors, and somehow I feel completely comfortable in my new tropical home. There are so many chances for conversation and reflection, and I love the rawness of waking up every morning to cold showers and new opportunities.

On this program we’ve had the opportunity to travel around the country, and these hands-on trips have definitely been one of my favorite parts of the semester. For a recent trip we went to a family-run organic coffee farm right here in Atenas called El Toledo. We had a tour of the farm, learned how to shell coffee beans using a low-technology machine that uses far less water than conventional agricultural methods, and sampled more coffee than one should ever drink in a day. El Toledo is a model of how an organic farm can overcome the economic struggles during the transition from a conventional to an organic agricultural approach. “Profits we are not getting today are an investment for the future,” is how one of the owners put it.

Some other recent highlights of the semester include:
• The complete, contagious joy that we all felt when we emerged at the most beautiful waterfall I’ve ever seen was incredible. The contrast of the sheer power of the waterfall and its understated tranquility made our challenging, sweaty hike so worth it.
• Even though Costa Ricans don’t really celebrate Halloween and there weren’t any autumn pumpkins or cider, this Halloween was one of my best. What’s better than cuddling up in a sleeping bag, watching a semi-scary 60’s movie in our outdoor classroom, consuming more sweets in one day than I’ve had all semester, and a finishing off the night with a bonfire and s’mores?
• We visited a little community called El Sur and spent one day with the eight local school kids collecting and identifying macro invertebrates in the river, swimming, and playing an exhausting and enlivening soccer game with them and their teacher. El Sur is a community of about 60 people located on the edge of Carara National Park. The community members are taking advantage of the park to create a small ecotourism business that will bring volunteers and students to the area. We had a discussion with some of the community members one evening, and they told us that they’re interested in expanding their tourism industry for additional income, but only to an extent that doesn’t jeopardize local culture.
• Seeing glass frogs on a night hike through the river in El Sur! These little creatures have transparent skin so you can see right through to their inner organs. Ever since a presentation on different tropical species from the first week of the semester, glass frogs are one of the species I’ve been most eager to see in Costa Rica (in addition to sloths, of course).

From nighttime sing-alongs in hammocks to climbing all day up a volcano to debating the opinions of various stakeholders in watershed management, this semester has given me a renewed desire to meet new people, travel, spend as much time outside as possible, and figure out how to balance sustainability in my life. I’ve realized throughout the semester that there is something so rewarding about investing myself in nature, whether that be through hiking, rafting, taking a walk, or studying the environment. Costa Rica has challenged my priorities, and I have gained an awareness and appreciation for living simply. I love spending the majority of my waking hours outside, and it’s so great to be with thirty other people who feel the exact same way. I’m excited to see what the rest of the semester has in store!