We recently returned from our field trip to the small community of El Sur. This community borders Carara National Park and is a great case study of blossoming sustainable tourism practices in rural Costa Rica. Our time in El Sur began with a hike through the primary rainforest of Carara, where we slipped and stumbled our way through the jungle as we learned about the plants and animals native to the area.
That afternoon we visited a local sugarcane mill and participated in making tapas de dulce – sugarcane juice solidified in a cone shaped mold, traditionally used in Costa Rica to sweeten drinks or to eat as candy. In the evening we had a meeting with community members to discuss their history, challenges to community development, and their successes in sustainable tourism as a small community off the beaten path. That night, after dinner some students participated on a night hike led by our Tropical Ecology and Natural Resource Management professors. On the hike we saw five species of frogs including the famous Glass Frog, a snake, and a kinkajou – a small cat like mammal- perched in a tree.
The next day began with community outreach projects. Students split into groups and helped the community by restoring the recycling center, painting signs for an anti-littering campaign and the local community-run eco lodge, teaching a class about insects to students at the local elementary school, planting seeds in the school garden, and painting a mural at the school to help students remember to conserve water.
After the morning’s hard work under the sun, students were given some free time to explore the area. Some opted to walk up the river to the swimming hole – a magical place surrounded by waterfalls. Others opted to explore more of the community, only to get chased by cows. According to one student’s account: “I always thought of cows as gentle giants, but now I know the truth. I’ve never been so scared” (Rita Mary Hennigan). The last night of our last field trip as a whole group ended with a bonfire, Costa Rican s’mores, and campfire songs.
When thinking of what might happen while in Costa Rica, these were all the things I imagined. Ending our time as a full group in such a beautiful environment with such a strong example of Tico culture was more than ideal.