The Future of Ecotourism

Written by Olivia Carbonaro

Our trip to Costa Rica was many things for me. It was especially serendipitous in the sense that I found more inspiration than I could have ever bargained for in many unexpected places.  When thinking of all of the things that happened on our trip, there were a few people and moments that really resonate in my mind.

manuel3group

Manuel introducing his fellow classmates from La Gloria Secondary School.

Among these people include Manuel, a 15-year-old student from a secondary school called La Gloria. La Gloria is about a 40-minute bus ride from where we stayed for most of our trip in Mastatal (or 2 hours away when walking, which many of the locals do). The secondary school would be similar to what the United States considers to be middle school and high school combined—teaching students from ages 12 through 18 years old. La Gloria is known as a technical school, specializing in teaching students how to become eco tour guides.  As visitors, we could see that tourism is an essential part of the economy in Costa Rica and we were excited to get the chance to meet the future of ecotourism. Surrounded by lush flora and a diversity of fauna, La Gloria serves as a truly great place for students to learn how to become eco tour guides.

Manuel leading us on our tour through the trails behind the school.

Manuel leading us on our tour through the trails behind the school.

I was so excited when we were told that the students at La Gloria would be practicing their newly acquired tour guide skills on us. It ended up being such a fun and exciting experience to have our presence be beneficial in helping achieve their school’s learning outcomes. It was satisfying to be able to give them the practice they will need to be able to pursue careers in the field of ecotourism. I think the biggest source of help we could give was providing the students a chance to practice their English speaking skills with us.

When we first arrived to La Gloria, Manuel took the lead and introduced the group of his fellow students, welcoming us all to their school. Our group was soon split up into several smaller groups of 2-3 people, and we were led by 2-3 of La Gloria’s future eco tour guides. My group was lead by Manuel and 2 other students from their school accompanied us. Not all of the students we met at the school spoke English fluently, but Manuel spoke English so clearly and elegantly. It became very apparent to me that he really took it upon himself as his own personal initiative to learn English. An unexpected fact I learned was that Manuel was among one of the youngest in the group of students, which made him all the more impressive to me. I was really happy that he was leading our small group because it gave me a chance to talk to him one-on-one and get to know him better.

Manuel led our group and introduced us to the projects they had going at the school, including some that had plans for improvement. Among these projects included a pig pen holding little pink pings that reminded me of the pig from the movie Babe. He also showed us their chickens, which were all babies and still had their yellow fur.  He led us to an area which he said used to be the home of horses and bulls, but the school couldn’t continue to afford to keep those animals there. We talked through the woods on trails that seemed a bit off the beaten path, but Manuel always checked to make sure we were okay, warning us when we needed to watch our step while holding branches out of the way for us as we walked by. Then we walked to the Soda, which is a Costa Rican-style bar/restaurant where we all got juices and sodas. As we walked, Manuel and I got to talking and I learned that one of his favorite television shows is Friends, and he particularly likes the characters Joey and Phoebe. He also told me that two of his favorite American movies are Donnie Darko and Clockwork Orange.  It surprised me when he told me this, because La Gloria seemed so far away from the United States, and yet there we were discussing popular American TV shows and movies. This all just showed me how globalized we have become on this Earth—that even in a rural town in Costa Rica, American sitcoms can still be found.

Richard, Diana & I taking a photo with our ecotour guides for the day!

Richard, Diana & I taking a photo with our ecotour guides for the day!

As we walked back from the Soda to return to the school to meet the rest of the groups, I asked Manuel if we could all take a picture together. He replied saying “We will do anything that makes you happy, that is what we are here for” (or maybe he said we will do anything that brings me pleasure- I don’t remember exactly now), but he replied in such way that almost startled me. I was taken aback by his genuine desire to serve us while we were there, which wasn’t something I went in expecting. I went in thinking we would get a tour of the school and maybe practice English with the students- but we got so much more than that. It humbled me that Manuel and his fellow students really went above and beyond to give us a fulfilling experience at the school and put so much care into making us feel welcome and happy. When we returned to the school, we were further humbled by a delicious meal and a showcase of dances performed by the students. After this, we went to the schools indoor soccer field, where Manuel popped up in a green wig. It was so great to see him in a less formal setting, joking with everyone and running around playing soccer. He even ran up to me and called me his “BFF” (which stands for best friend forever) and we went on to take some silly photos together.

Manuel entertaining the group with his unique dance moves!

Manuel entertaining the group with his unique dance moves!

Manuel rocking his green wig with me on his left!

Manuel rocking his green wig with me on his left!

Manuel reminded me what dedication looks like. He reminded me in just one day what being a wholesome person looks like—someone who works hard, but also knows how to make time to play and be silly. Despite whether or not others were practicing becoming fluent English speakers, he went on practicing diligently and was able to hold great conversations with us. Manuel, despite being only 15-years-old, shined with potential and personality. In my eyes, Manuel is the future of ecotourism in Costa Rica, and I am honored I got the chance to meet him.

Tranquil Costa Rica- A Video Compilation

By Olivia Carbonaro

Even though it has been over a month since we have returned from our adventurous journey to rural Costa Rica, the impacts it made on me still carry on. It is difficult to articulate in a short conversation how this 10 day trip changed my life and left footprints in my heart and mind. And since it isn’t quite practical for me to attempt to express to everyone through daily conversation how much I enjoyed this trip, I attempted to compile my thoughts and feelings towards the trip in a short 5 minute video. I hope you will take the time to watch this video and indulge in the pure simplicity and tranquility that my fellow participants & I got to enjoy while on our Spring Break trip. Please feel free to share this video. GRACIAS! 🙂

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLzUyDfmagA[/youtube]

I SPY DURing an Eight-Legged Adventure

Written by Alyssa Collins

Throughout the process of landing myself in one of the most bio-diverse countries on the planet with eighteen other students, I always considered the possibility that I would see more wildlife in Costa Rica than I could possibly imagine. Little did I know that I would be seeing many creatures that I had grown up having a major fear of and it didn’t occur to me how many times I would be seeing them. Before departing for the adventure of a lifetime, we had gone over logistics in class about the trip. We were told we would probably see tarantulas, as well as many other creatures, and my immediate thought was, “oh, dear God”. Then I thought, “if I see one, bring it on because I have to conquer my fear one day”!

So, that’s what happened.

It was brought on and mostly in the beginning parts of our ten-day adventure. The second day we were preparing for our daily activities at our lodge in Mastatal.  In Siempre Verde, I felt like I was at summer camp. It was such a wonderful feeling. My fellow classmates and I were down near the hammocks underneath the lodge and were talking about what the day might consist of, when a big hairy tarantula was discovered hanging out inside one of my classmate’s sandal. Now, you might imagine, “okay, this is a tarantula and it means no harm. Its just trying to find a place to hang out and do whatever giant spiders like to do”, but imagine if my classmate had put his foot into the sandal! The tarantula would have gone crazy and bit his foot off, or so I assume! The spider was not visible from the outside at all. Kudos to my classmate who discovered it was there, which is in itself another mystery. After trying to get myself to a position and good angle where I could take a picture of the hairy monster, I wanted to cringe as soon as I saw it. However, I made sure I held back because it wasn’t worth losing my breakfast over. I thought back to when we were in class and thought, “I have now seen a very giant spider, I don’t need to see any more.”

Spider Shoes

Tarantula inside a shoe at the lodge at Siempre Verde in Mastatal. Isn’t he cute?

Later that day, my thoughts had been totally jinxed–thanks to the spider gods! We went on a lovely hike down to a river not too far from Mastatal. The coolest thing about this river was there was a pool with a waterfall coming into it and you could go under the waterfall and peer out from behind it. There were about four or five of us in this pool and I had just come out from underneath the waterfall when one of my classmates told me to not freak out, because something was just on my right shoulder.  She pointed to a big spider the size of a small child’s fist. I don’t know if it was because I was in shock, but there was definitely a delayed reaction. Then finally, I screamed and left the pool like my life depended on it. Paranoia set in and I kept checking my shoulder if it had bit me. After awhile when I got over the fact that a giant spider had just been on me, I realized maybe spiders aren’t so bad after all. However, it is still clear as day in my mind how I felt during this experience, and I could go without reliving that.

The river we hiked to not too far from Mastatal and not too far upstream was a small waterfall.

The river we hiked to not too far from Mastatal and not too far upstream was a small waterfall.

The next spider encounter we had was a couple days later into the trip. We were painting an elementary school and those of us who had gone back to finish the school were somewhat surprised to learn that underneath the refrigerator in the cafeteria was a six-legged tarantula sized spider. However, this time for some reason I wasn’t as scared as I would have normally been. The spider was blocking our paint job, but we decided to work around it as well as we could and I was a good distance from the spider keeping an eye on it while still getting my painting done. If this were me back in the United States before the Costa Rica Program, I would have immediately ran away and never looked back.

The spider we found when we moved the refrigerator to paint the cafeteria of the elementary school.

The six-legged spider we found when we moved the refrigerator to paint the cafeteria of the elementary school.

I look back at our ten-day adventure in Costa Rica and analyze how this trip transformed me in a number of ways, and I am so glad that this trip has reduced my arachnophobia by a long shot. Seeing very large spiders on an everyday basis exposes you and you just get used to them. I don’t feel the need to run away every time I see one anymore. I am thankful to the UCI Costa Rica Program because before going on this adventure, I would have never expected to conquer one of my biggest fears.

Relax & Take Your Shoes Off

Written by Kinsey Colgan 

Sin Zapatos: Taken outside the kitchen area at Rancho Mastatal

Sin Zapatos: Taken outside the kitchen area at Rancho Mastatal

Upon arriving at Siempre Verde Lodge, our home for the next six days and five nights, I found it interesting that I had to take off my tennis shoes to take my bag up a flight of stairs to where I would be sleeping. Little did I know that having to take off our shoes was going to be a common theme during the rest of our stay in Costa Rica. I did not think twice about removing my shoes once I was told to do so, but I did not expect to have to take our shoes off as much as we did. It seemed like a hassle to walk a short distance and have to take off our shoes again, such as walking the 50 feet from the lodge to the kitchen for breakfast.

Whenever friends and family visit my house in California, they are always told to take off their shoes when they enter the house, so that they do not track dirt into the house.  They are allowed to enter the house with their shoes on, and take them off and place them inside the entrance of the house. In Costa Rica, we had to take off our shoes as soon as the dirt path turned into the concrete or tile floor, which was often a few feet away from the entrance of the house.

Pura Vida: Taken outside of the volunteer sleeping cabin at Villas Mastatal

Pura Vida: Taken outside of the volunteer sleeping cabin at Villas Mastatal

I understood why I had to take off my shoes when it came to entering a house or other enclosed structure because that is the same thing I would do back home, but I did not realize that this applied to open air structures as well. When I had the chance to experience how much it rained in Costa Rica and saw the dirt caked to all of the participant’s shoes all of the time, it began to make sense. Once our shoes dried it was difficult to get the mud off and I can only image what a hassle it would be to have to scrub the floor ever time it rained to get all of the mud that is tracked inside.

At all of the farms that we visited there were shoe racks for people to place their shoes and even fixtures for shoes to be placed upside down. These upside down shoe racks made sure that no bugs, spiders, or any other creepy crawlies found a safe place to sleep for the night. When our shoes were not placed on the rack, we were advised to shake out our shoes before placing them on our feet to knock out anything that might be hiding in there. This is not a problem that we have back home because our shoes are usually kept inside when we are not wearing them, where there is little chance for a creature to get access to hide in it.

Shoe Rack: Taken at Siempre Verde

Shoe Rack: Taken at Siempre Verde

Costa Ricans want to take care of their open aired structures as much as I value my house back home. No one wants to have to put in extra effort to clean if they do not have to. Doing something as simple as taking off one’s shoes is a sign that you respect that person and their belongings. As for now, sit back, relax and take your shoes off.