I woke up on one of my first days in Costa Rica around five in morning to the sounds of howler monkeys and birds. Although the temperature was in the mid-seventies it felt cool which was a relief compared to the heat and humidity that we normally spent our days in. Breakfast was a mix of fresh fruit, gallo pinto, yogurt, eggs, and most importantly coffee. After eating our group set out to tour the facilities at EARTH.
We saw a fair trade banana farm and processing plant that did business with both local communities and international partners such as whole foods. We also saw a cattle farm where the cattle were enclosed in a large round pen so as to create a less stressful environment for the animals that apparently aren’t a fan of being packed into tight square spaces. The soil of the pen was cultivated to help a specific microbe survive that breaks down manure more rapidly and made the area not smell like a large cattle farm (if you ever have spent time near one, or even if you haven’t, it’s easy to understand why this was a nice development).
Near the end of our tour we entered a botanical garden, which reminded me of the Arb except in a humid tropical setting. After class we as ate and then had free time. I ended up going on a short run with some of the group and then jumping into the pool that was at EARTH. The water was warm after having soaked up the sun all day which made for an excellent swim. All in all, it was a great beginning to my time in Costa Rica.
We as a group spent our weekend in Puerto Viejo which is a very tourist heavy portion of the country, especially in comparison to where we spent most of our time. While in the area we saw the Jaguar Rescue Center which was a local non-profit dedicated to protecting, and where possible rehabilitating/releasing animals back into the wild. The work that is being done there is absolutely incredible as it is funded by donations and run by mostly unpaid volunteers. The center actually went viral a few days after our visit for reuniting a baby sloth with its mother.
After spending some time in Puerto Viejo we went to a national park. As soon as we arrived it began pouring rain (the rainy season did not disappoint). After a 15 minute hike in the rainforest we arrived at an ocean lookout point just as the rain let up. While there we saw waves crashing into the shore and a ton of crabs on the nearby rock outcroppings. After that we went to the beach and of course the rain picked back up again. However, in spite of this I had an incredible time swimming in the Caribbean Sea as the water was still warm and the waves were huge.
We ended the day by going back to Guacimo and relaxing which was much needed. I took some time to call my family and share my experiences with them. In taking that time to reflect on what I had seen and did so far I felt incredibly grateful. Even though it hadn’t been very long I had easily seen hundreds of different types of animals ranging from monkeys and sloths to insects that could have easily been drawn by Dr. Seuss.
Having said goodbye to the friends that I made at EARTH’s Guacimo campus, we as a group went to the La Flor campus. There we toured AD Astra which is an aerospace and sustainable energy company. Their work includes a more efficient non-solid fuel engine for space shuttles to use once they have escaped orbit. Their goal is to make travel to mars and other parts of our solar system more feasible and less time consuming. As someone who has wanted to be an astronaut since I was a little kid, this part of the trip was extremely exciting and interesting to me.
We also had the opportunity to learn about the work the company was doing in regard to sustainable and clean energy. Despite being a group of 11 engineers the company had projects that were working on creating generators that run on biofuels, more efficient wind turbines, and even hydrogen busses. The work they are doing on hydrogen powered busses was actually showcased by the newly elected Costa Rican President who rode into his inauguration on the bus that we saw at AD Astra’s facilities. His administration has made it a goal to for the entire country to be carbon neutral by 2021.
The idea that a country so small is working so incredibly hard to minimize its impact on the environment and leading the way for other nations across the globe was inspiring to me. I hope that I can share the passion that I saw so many people had for the work they were doing with my peers at the University of Michigan. Furthermore, I hope that I return being able to show the same kindness and understanding that so many people showed to me during my time in Costa Rica. Whether it was people taking the time to help me improve my Spanish during our conversations, or the genuine interest that our peers at EARTH showed in my own studies I always felt welcome. I would have never imagined that I would have been able to learn so much in such a short time, but the fact that I was is a testament to the work and drive that the people at EARTH and throughout Costa Rica have.