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.

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.

Happy Jack

Generalizations: we all make them from time to time, thinking we know a person’s story before they even open their mouth to tell us.  Perhaps one of the most prevalent generalizations out there is the one that the young generation puts on the older generation.  There always seems to be this idea that because of their age, the older adults are somehow stuck in old-fashioned or outdated ideals.  Jack Ewing of Hacienda Baru puts an end to this flawed set of assumptions by defying all expectations that the young have of the older generation.

Stopping to pose at a very old tree
Stopping to pose at a very old tree

Something about Jack reminded me instantly of my grandfather.  I do not know if it was the slight twang he had in his voice, or something about his overall demeanor that instantly made me think that he was a country-raised, “red-blooded” American, just like my grandpa had been.  Of course, I formed these opinions before I actually started listening to him, rather than just hearing.  Jack Ewing, property manager of Hacienda Baru, had come to Costa Rica on a temporary cattle-rearing contract back when the land was being used for cow-grazing.  He uprooted his growing family in the hopes of getting a change of scenery and an adventure before really settling down in the USA and starting a life.  For the first couple months, Jack felt no real attachment to his surroundings.

A million shades of green
A million shades of green

He was there to do a job, not to cohabitate with nature, and he did just that.  It wasn’t until he extended his contract in Costa Rica that he finally started to look around.  Without having realized it, Jack had been ignoring the slowly diminishing rainforest around him since his arrival in Costa Rica.  He had been too distracted with hunting and cultivating the land to form any attachment to it.

Once Jack began taking note of his environment, there was no possibility of turning back to any other life.  From that point forward, Jack poured himself tirelessly into making Hacienda Baru live up to its potential.  He began by reforesting the area with the seeds of trees that had become endangered.  In this way, he not only reforested large portions of Hacienda Baru’s landscape but also helped to reduce the risk of extinction for the formerly at-risk tree species.  Jack also helped in stopping hunting on the grounds of Hacienda Baru.  This change, in particular, struck me as a true measure of how far Jack’s thinking had come over the years.  From a man who hunted on Hacienda Baru, to a man that was willing to prosecute those who did, Jack Ewing’s mind had become forever changed.

Nothing but smiles at Hacienda Baru
Nothing but smiles at Hacienda Baru


When one of the participants asked Jack why he had chosen to switch to an environmentally-friendly lifestyle, he simply responded that after his mindset started switching, he would have felt false living any other way.  Going back to his cattle-rearing life of before would have made Jack incapable of looking his coworkers in the eye out of shame.  So in a way, it seems like the stereotypes about older adults are right in this case.  Jack Ewing is firmly stuck in his ways and will never change.  It just so happens that “the ways” he is stuck in are singlehandedly helping to create a healthier planet for the younger generation to live.  My generation might complain about how the older generation never changes, but at the end of the day, the world would prosper if more people like Jack were “stuck” in environmentalism.

There’s a First Time for Everything!

Written by Kelly Florimon

Kathryn and Toni's first time composting human waste!
Kathryn and Toni’s first time composting human waste!

During a long walk (in the wrong direction), I had some interesting conversations with my fellow teammates. One included a realization of all the “firsts” we’d had on the trip so far and of all the ones that were still in store for us. I am still amazed at how, in such a short time span, it felt like I had experienced infinitely more than I had in the past few months living my routine lifestyle back at home. The following list is my attempt to compile and account for all of the exciting “firsts” I experienced on this trip (in no particular order):

1.) Having my passport stamped for traveling to a foreign country.

2.) Getting lost in a foreign country!

3.) Holding a wild snake, cicada, and crab (not simultaneously).

4.) Eating cocoa fruit, guayaba (not guava), water apple, cashew fruit, palm fruit, and an egg fresh off the farm.

5.) Going ziplining (and then going ziplining backwards)!

6.) Seeing a wild capuchin monkey, sloth, toucan, poisonous frog, army ant colony, scorpion, crocodile, bat, lightening bug, turkey, and iguana.

7.) Weaving a basket!

8.) Harvesting cashews.

9.) Using a composting toilet.

10.) Staying with a host family.

11.) Learning about and seeing an aquaponics system.

12.) Having a frog jump on my back (and not freaking out about it)!

13.) Painting the outside of a building.

14.) Allowing a huge cockroach to crawl on my arm!

15.) Catching a wild lizard (to let it back out, into the rain forest).

16.) Not having access to a phone, computer, or iPod for over a week.

17.) Not being in contact with my family for more than a week.

18.) Spending a night in the jungle.

19.) Learning how to properly milk a cow (and then actually getting to milk it)!

20.) Sleeping to the sounds of jumping fish (Tilapia).

21.) Purposely walking in the rain without a jacket (and not feeling cold).

22.) Waking up at five in the morning just to see the sunrise.

23.) Dancing at the request of strangers (the children at the primary school we painted).

24.) Dreading the idea of returning home.

Jeff's first time behind bars!
Jeff’s first time behind bars!

It was pretty hard to not to add an exclamation point at the end of every event on my list because they were all pretty exciting for me. Each one brought me a new kind of happiness that was somehow different from the last. After talking with more teammates, I discovered that our lists vary drastically in length, specificity, and what one might consider usual. Despite these differences, however, we’ve all had the challenge of facing new, and sometimes frightening, situations. We each learned to embrace the ambiguity of life during (and hopefully after) this trip, and accepted these challenges with hearts full of optimism and determination.

Cesar's first time using a power drill!
Cesar’s first time using a power drill!

Upon returning to the United States, many of us found it difficult to share our experiences with friends and family in a way that captured all of the beauty, adventure, intellectual stimulation, comradeship and inspiration that was present. Although, my words and photographs could never compare to actually living these experiences, I’ve found my list of “firsts” so be a great source of conversation starters. Each “first” provides a little insight into my own perspective on how valuable the trip was. I hope that we all come as close as possible in explaining our complete appreciation of these experiences with others so that, they too, can be inspired to take action in their own communities and learn more about the world around them.

Marissa's first time smelling this seed!
Marissa’s first time smelling this seed!

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from this experience is that it’s ultimately up to me whether I make the most of every moment or not. Life is too beautiful to become so busy and wrapped up in the superficial world that you forget what’s truly important— happiness. Sometimes all it takes is a little time in nature or a meaningful, face-to-face conversation with another human being to remind someone how lucky he or she is to be alive. I could waste my spare time playing mindless computer games or searching the web on my phone, or I could use it wisely and go outdoors to help my mom with her garden, learn a new recipe, or spend some quality time playing with Rocky (my dog)—the choice is really up to me.

Alyssa's first time painting a building!
Alyssa’s first time painting a building!

I was initially dreading the idea of returning to my home in California, where I was afraid I’d quickly get sucked back into my busy, mundane lifestyle. After some thought, though,  I realized that each and every one of us has the power to make our lives here in the States just as happy and peaceful as our short, but wonderful lives in Costa Rica. If we truly take the time to stop and appreciate the little treasures in life, we can find a paradise closer than we ever imagined—right here, at home. In an effort to do exactly that, I’ve taken up the challenge of extending my list of firsts with every opportunity I get. I can’t wait to explore my surroundings (that I’ve neglected far too often) and discover what new “firsts” await! Whether it’s as daring as trying to learn how to surf, as challenging as trying to learn a new language, or as simple as starting a friendly conversation with a stranger, adventure awaits!

Olivia's first time eating raw cocoa fruit!
Olivia’s first time eating raw cocoa fruit!


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! 🙂


More Than Just Primary Painting

Written By Cesar Armas

Primary school is where we first learn how to interact with other students, learn to read and write, and start to find things we enjoy doing. Having the privilege to visit a primary school in Costa Rica gave me the opportunity to return to my childhood by playing a game of “Helado” with the local kids, all while making a difference in their lives. While visiting the primary school, we had the opportunity to paint it. Painting the school with 16 other UC Irvine students gave me the chance to impact the future of the community members of the small town that had allowed us to stay with them for a week.  

In our everyday tasks here in the United States, one doesn’t realize what it takes to paint a school, because for the most part, our Unified School Districts do that job for us. We hardly ever see the work and effort that it takes to maintain a school, nor do we stand up and appreciate the work that has been done. The children of the San Miguel primary school gave me a new perspective on the importance of the little things that make a school run.

We started off the day with scrapping paint and dust off the walls, allowing for the new paint to be absorbed by the cement walls. Painting the outside of the building, the only two classrooms they have, and the cafeteria was an all-day challenge. We each separated into different groups taking on different tasks that included everything from laying out newspaper to painting the walls. We all recognized the importance of our work and we were eagerly ready to take on whatever task was thrown our way.

While painting the outside building, we surrounded students trying to go on with their routine of learning the daily lesson. It was extremely difficult for us to concentrate on painting because we all wanted to interact with the kids and they wanted to talk to us. As we continued on our work, we then had the opportunity to rotate out of what we were doing to interact with the students. While some participants had lunch with them, other participants (including myself) got the chance to play a couple of games with them. When I got the chance to hang out with the kids, they introduced themselves to me without any nerves and wanted to know who I was. They quickly invited me to play a game of “Helado” (freeze tag) and I along with the other Costa Rica Participants didn’t hesitate in joining in.

As the day went on, we took a lunch break and the students eventually left for the day. After our lunch break, four Costa Rica Participants returned to finish the job we had started while the other participants went on to work on different duties around the farm. We returned and went straight to work trying to race against the sun to finish painting before it went dark. We quickly finished painting and as we left back to the farm, the principal of the school couldn’t stop thanking us. He was so pleased with all the work that we did and couldn’t put it into words how much he appreciated all that we had done for the school.

When I look back at the work that we all did, I can’t help but feel accomplished and in awe of how much was done in just one day. We were able to completely paint a school for students that helped us feel welcomed and we created an environment that will inspire them to learn every single day. When you look at the literacy rate of Costa Rica being above 96%, you can only imagine that their schools are some of the best in the world. In reality, the passion for teaching the students about the world triumphs that of the actual condition of the school. Many schools in Costa Rica are left to be handled by the people of the community, which can be a big burden as they try and support their own lives. This made our work that much more meaningful because we essentially gave the students something that they would not have otherwise received. I, along with the rest of the participants, know how wonderful it was to see the faces of the children smiling with glee because they had the opportunity to interact with us and also received a new update to their school. Seeing this project from start to finish made us realize that we were not leaving behind a bad taste of tourist in the community, but a great share of what it meant for us to give back and a “thank you” for allowing us to be immersed in such a beautiful culture. 

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.

Name That Fruit!

Written by Jeff Chiang

The textures, aromas, and flavors of Costa Rican cuisine left an indelible mark on my expedition to Central America. Despite how simple or complicated the dishes were, every plate of food was perfectly crafted to deliver a satiating meal. The portion that I loved most was the fruit present in every course. The variety of exotic and tropical fruits in Costa Rica was vast, providing my palate with an assortment of sensations. The extensive list of fruit we had the pleasure of tasting included, but was not limited to, water apples, cashew apples, guaba, papaya, pineapple, cacao, watermelon, avocado, and plantains. Every fruit was unique in its flavor; some were particularly sweet, while others were reminiscent of aged cheese. During my food-tasting venture, I came across two fruits that I thought to be unforgettable.

A blend of fresh, tasty fruit.
A blend of fresh, tasty fruit.

I was previously aware of how cashews were harvested, but I was always curious about the fruit that was attached to each nut. The cashew apple looked extremely similar to a jujube fruit, so I assumed the cashew apple had a crisp bite, as well as a mildly sweet taste. However, when I bit into my first cashew apple I was stunned to discover just how different it was. The fruit has a fleshy texture and the taste reminded me of cheese. The idea of a fruit tasting like a dairy product was slightly unsettling but astounding at the same time. The aroma that the fruit emitted was overpowering and had a slightly foul odor. By no means is the cashew fruit repulsive, I just happen to prefer fruits that aren’t savory.  As unique as the cashew apple is, it is a fruit that I probably wouldn’t seek to try again. Nonetheless, it is a flavor and texture that is worth trying at least once.

The Guaba fruits look like boomerangs from the outside!
These Guaba fruit look like boomerangs!

The guaba fruit is encapsulated in bean-like pods that looked vaguely similar to misshapen boomerangs. While the fruit looked alien in appearance, the taste was amazing. The edible part of the fruit is found on the seeds within the bean-like pod. The texture of the fruit can best be described as airy and light when it first hits the tongue, but becomes a creamy consistency as you break down the fruit. I cannot find the words to describe the taste of this magnificent fruit. It is mildly sweet while providing textural contrasts that progress from airy to creamy to chewy.

Pineapple fresh off the farm!
Pineapple fresh off the farm!

Every piece or slice of fruit I had in Costa Rica tasted far better than its counterpart back in Irvine. The pineapples, watermelons, papayas, bananas, plantains, and avocados were all vastly superior to the fruits that we find in our supermarkets. The natural taste, color, smell, and texture of fruits can only be fully reached when they are left to ripen uninterrupted. I am extremely fortunate to have tasted and experienced the wonders of how delicious, fresh and natural fruit can taste when the proper amount of time and dedication is put into growing it.

Open Living

Written by Lytia Lai

The open air houses scattered throughout the rural areas of Costa Rica made me realize how separated the inhabitants of first world countries are from nature. Growing up in a metropolitan city and currently living in Irvine, the thought of a house with no walls sitting in the middle of a rainforest had never crossed my mind.

Open air houses are built through precision-based timber frame construction, where wood is used as the primary material. The people who build these glorious structures have not had any formal education in architecture or construction; however, they have learned through other people’s experience and trust their intuition. This reminded me that there are many different forms of learning aside from that which takes place in a lecture hall—the main form of education which I, as a biology major, have participated in thus far. College education is still essential for my career path (pharmacy), but now I fully appreciate hands-on experience-based learning and find value in alternative forms of education. Not everyone is suited for traditional classroom style learning, nor is it available to everyone, and being able to recite equations or answer textbook problems is only a fraction of what is required in real life scenarios.


To build open air houses, carpenters in Costa Rica collect unwanted wood scraps (those that do not meet the minimum size requirement from companies that export Costa Rican wood), and by doing so they are reducing the negative environmental impact of deforestation projects, as well as their cost of building. Often, small cylindrical wooden dowels are used instead of metal screws to keep the structures together—a perfect example of people making-do with what they have.

As a society, we don’t need flashy extravagant marble floors, glittery wallpaper, or large flat screen plasma televisions to build a comfortable home. To me, open air houses symbolize the simplicity of happiness, and the importance of being non-disruptive to nature. Swinging in a hammock while gazing out the magnificent mountains of La Cangreja National Park, being softly cradled by the warm humid tropical air, and listening to the sounds of nature has brought me more internal peace and happiness than any of my other traveling experiences, which I now find are excessive and selfish.


I am ashamed to have been that tourist, who had the privilege to travel to many different countries, only to live in 5-star hotels, eat, shop, and then leave the country without having made any positive impact on the local community or learned anything. I strongly believe that traveling is the only thing we can buy that makes us richer, but the way I traveled with my family in the past just showed me that money buys good food, convenience, and service, which had absolutely no impact on my self-development and appreciation for everything I have. Seeing how minimal, simple, and clever open houses are definitely changed the way I want to travel and live life: no more expensive hotels, no more dream-yacht, no more trading social responsibility for convenience.

The owner of Rancho Mastatal shared that his motivation for building open air houses is being able to apply his love and passion for sustainability to a project that will do the greater good, and having that tangible result that will house volunteers and other tourists for many years to come. The first step in building an open air house is to “site the building;” you need to determine where to put the structure, figure out draining, consider landslide risks, how the sun moves to maximize natural lighting, which is used to power solar panels and substitute for light bulbs. Next, the house needs to be designed around the information from the siting process; factors such as air circulation and how the rain falls are accounted for. To build the structure, a foundation is laid down first, and then the wood is soaked in termite repellent, varnished and sanded down before being used. The measurements have to be exact in order for the structure to fit and for the “raising” process to go smoothly. Everything is built on the ground first, then “raised” or assembled afterwards. There is a lot of attention to detail, which I believe is more admirable, fascinating and impressive than using computer software to do all the calculation and planning. Open air houses are works of art; the builder incorporates their personality and life perspective into the structure. For example, one of the houses was called “Sea Port,” and there were mosaics of sharks, boats, and turtles made of recycled glass, and there were boat paddles and buoys hanging on the exterior walls of the house.

Walls of homes are used to separate nature from humans, to keep the animals out; however, we often forget that we are animals too, and just because we are at the top of the food chain it doesn’t mean that we get to disrespectfully exploit other ecosystems by demolishing their habitats to build our own. Insects do not infest our homes, but rather we are living in their territories and killing them with bug spray when they are trying to co-exist with us. Ant infestations are good because they clean out food crumbs and dead bugs, and once nothing is left they will leave. Since the residents of open air houses do not store any packaged processed food, they don’t need to worry about bugs consuming their food.


Open air houses caught my attention during the trip because they symbolized how humans and nature can coexist comfortably, safely, and sustainably. They showed me a completely new perspective of simple living and making-do with what you have, which unfortunately the first world is unable to do. We heavily rely on third world countries for natural resources because we have depleted our own sources, and instead of curbing our own usage we exploit other countries’ sources.

Never Have I Ever…

Written by Diego Sanchez

The day started when our group headed to “La Casa de Tiburon”. It begun like every other day we spent in Costa Rica—the schedule was very spontaneous and I never knew what to expect. The beautiful walk up to “La Casa de Tiburon”, or Tiburon’s House, the path seemed so unreal with the road filled by green scenery and bamboo trees. As the sun beat hard overhead, I decided to wear my Ray Ban sunglasses. Although not the best idea

to take these glasses on the trip, it was hard to leave them behind after I had taken them with me to every destination I traveled to in college. Once we arrived to the house, I was amazed by the structure, seeming less like a house and more like a vacation home, made from bamboo and other locally cut wood from the area. The first thing I did was rush to take as many pictures from the home looking out on the picturesque scenery of La Cangreja National Park in the distance.

I decided to head over to the bathroom and by no surprise, there was yet another composting toilet!

One of many glamorous wooden compost toilets we encountered on our trip.
One of many glamorous wooden compost toilets we encountered on our trip.

This one was a bit different, however, and not because it actually had a toilet seat, but because when I opened the top, down below there was a dark, black layer of 2-3 inch large cockroaches! I was astonished and decided to take a picture. Little did I know, I had forgotten that I placed my sunglasses on my head. As I leaned forward to take a picture of the cockroaches at the bottom of the composting toilet, my sunglasses fell into the 4-foot deep composting toilet.

Let's play a game.  Find the glasses in the pile of cockroaches!
Let’s play a game. Find the glasses in the pile of cockroaches!

I stood in shock, not knowing how to react to the situation at hand.  Our instructor, Jennifer called over Ryan, one our awesome tour guides throughout the trip, and he tried to get my sunglasses out. Minutes passed by without success. I was creating such a scene because I did not know what to do, when someone suggested moving the toilet and reaching in to grab the sunglasses. I looked at the people around me and their looks said it all.

“Diego, how badly do you want your glasses?” Someone asked from the crowd.

I wanted them back so badly, and I knew I had to reach in the composting toilet, surrounded by cockroaches, and grab them. I posed for several pictures as I reached in—I then realized this would definitely be a story for the books.

This experience taught me about willingness to do new things, and how effective it is to push boundaries I never thought could be reached before. Much like every activity on the trip, I was pushed to challenge myself in many ways that helped me grow and see things from new perspectives.

Sometimes there are invisible boundaries, which we set up for ourselves that makes us stay enclosed and allow us to live in fear. Never have I ever imagined myself reaching into a compost toilet for something I valued so much. This program and specifically this experience sparked curiosity in me and I have taken away the value of “willingness” to find new life experiences that at the moment may seem challenging, but will turn into memories shared with other individuals I can reflect and look back on.

The post-compost toilet cleaning of the glasses
The post-compost toilet cleaning of the glasses

The Impact: Fully Adaptable

Written by Shannon M. Lee

Prior to our 10 day adventure, navigating the world of environmentalism and Costa Rican culture, the 2014 Costa Rica Program participants were casual acquaintances—students who just saw each other for 1.5 hours a week. Through our weekly classes, we learned about cultural competency, how to become more environmentally friendly, and the Costa Rican culture.  The 10 weeks of preparation for the 10 days we would spend in Costa Rica quickly flew by and many of us were in shock that our time had come to actually apply what we learned.  Leaving Irvine, we left the “old” self and entered an entirely new culture.

Taken within the first few hours after we stepped foot on Costa Rican territory
Taken within the first few hours after we stepped foot on Costa Rican territory

Although we prepared immensely for this trip and knew a tad bit about what to expect in terms of scheduling, the 2014 Costa Rica Program participants learned far more than what we planned on, in terms of researching, growing closer as a group, and becoming more connected to the culture of Costa Rica. From learning about the composting toilet and its benefits, to our homestays in rural Mastatal, to learning how La Cangreja National Park was established, to becoming one with our environment, we were very fortunate to take part in this program.  Ultimately, we were able to feel a reality that often becomes overshadowed by our day-to-day lifestyle in America.


Taken on day 7. The sunset seen at La Finca Simpre Verde in Mastatal.
Taken on day 7. The sunset seen at La Finca Simpre Verde in Mastatal.

While in Costa Rica, I felt like I was at the right place at the right time, standing before the sunrise at 5:20 AM or laying upon a log at night to see the stars. All of my struggles from winter quarter vanished because I had found a stability in nature that no one could take away from me. And best of all, I knew the other participants were experiencing the same warm feeling I felt within each of the 10 days. When the last day of Spring Break arrived, I knew it was time for me to physically leave Costa Rica, and I was sad. However, when I found out that we would have to stay in Panama for one night and arrive at LAX on Monday afternoon, the feeling was bittersweet.  Although I did not want this adventure to end, reality struck me and, I knew I was already conforming to my previous mindset—of scheduling, planning, going to school… My mind was wrapped around my responsibilities that I would have when I stepped back on US territory. Even though our journey would continue another night in Panama, and I should have been excited. I wanted to go back to the states because I didn’t want to be behind in lectures and my old life. Our airlines ended up giving us hotel stay at the Hard Rock Hotel.  Moments after we entered the hotel, many of us were in awe at the cleanness of the hotel, the grandiose food at the buffet, and fell in love with the view of the New York styled buildings rising high above the ground. Watching my fellow participants adapt back to an American lifestyle scared me. I knew I would have to face my old life, but it came way too quickly. And knowing consciously that I was adapting back to this reality scared me even more. I didn’t want to go back to my old life; instead I wanted to relive what I had in Costa Rica.

Natural selection chooses the best to survive and reproduce. In order to be naturally selected, one must be adaptable. It is exactly four days and forty-two minutes since we arrived at Mesa Court from our Costa Rica journey. I know I am adapting back to the person I was before this trip, but I am fighting hard to keep the adaptation that I gained in Costa Rica. Each day that goes by, I search through the 30,000 students and faculty at this school to spot the 20 people I really I want to see. Each day that goes by, I see the unnecessary luxuries that this culture has and reminisce. Each day that goes by, I can recall the vivid pictures of the sunrise in the morning and the bright stars shining at night. Each day that goes by, I might say that I do not want to be here, but it is here where my love for Costa Rica and my experiences must be shared in hopes of enlightening others of the reality that I saw and will continue to see here because I have my memories. We, the 2014 Costa Rica Program, have grown so much in terms of our knowledge of the environment as well personal development. Although our trip only lasted 10 days, it will continue on in our memories about our perceptions of self, because now we are different from who we were.

Although our adventure in Costa Rica is over, our memories of each other and this trip last a lifetime.
Although our adventure in Costa Rica is over, our memories of each other and this trip last a lifetime.