Friday, June 29, 2012

A Different Kind of Learning

On Tuesday, we went into San Jose. We went as students, and not tourists. We didn't sit in on a lecture at an embassy or a think tank, or admire San Jose's unique culture from afar. Instead, we were able to meet with HIV/AIDS patients at a shelter. We were lead through the homey building into an area of tables and chairs, where several of the patients shared their stories with us. They told us their stories; many of them have known of their HIV positive status for over twenty years, have lost lovers along the way, and have endured serious discrimination from their families as well as the Costa Rican community. The people at this shelter, despite their hardships, opened up to us right away. They told us how they had been outcasted by their families, fired from their jobs when their employers found out their HIV status, and often times discriminated against for being homosexual. They shared with us their day to day struggles, facing the deaths of their friends and living with the disease themselves. It was more of a discussion than a lecture; we learned about their lifestyle and they learned about ours.

It was then that I realized, visits like this one are what studying abroad is all about. Yes, it's about seeing the countryside and getting to know the wildlife. Yes, it's about learning from the country's best teachers, and of course it's about getting to immerse ones self in a culture different from there own. That is what we did at the shelter. The majority of us had had very little exposure to the struggle of HIV/AIDS patients prior to this visit, and by the end of the discussion we had gotten to know a slice of culture that largely goes unseen in Costa Rica. At multiple times during the lecture I felt myself getting goosebumps, and being truly inspired by what these people had to say. They were all adamant about pursuing their goals, even in the face of animosity. As people who would some day also like to change the world, the Global Scholars had a lot to learn from the people living at the shelter; twenty years of hardships and they hadn't lost sight of their own personal power to change things, nor had they given up the fight. They were truly inspirational and helped put things back into perspective. For the people living at the shelter, giving up without a fight isn't an option- and it shouldn't be for any of us either. We can change things, and that's what we're aiming to do as students.

-Kelly Mertz

Final Excursion to San Jose

     Can’t believe it’s the end! These three weeks in Costa Rica flew by. Yesterday, whole gang went into San Jose to visit the National Theatre and the Gold Museum. It was a great visit—bus broke down on the way into town, but quickly got on another one that arrived… just a day in the life haha. We walked down Central Avenue, which is the main commercial street with no car access. So many shops, many American ones actually—of course, good ol’ Mcdonalds makes several appearances! There were also so many shoe stores, if you ever need new shoes, San Jose is the place to go! 
     We stopped by Crispy Churro for some yummy sweet treats before headed to the National Theatre—we all enjoyed our afternoon snacks. The National Theatre is the main tourist attraction in the city, and it met expectations. We ended up not getting a tour guide (despite every other group having one… they must trust us global scholars to figure things out! Haha), so it was awesome wandering around the theatre ourselves—Savanna even got some stage time. We had to wait out the usual afternoon downpour (it’ll be different going home and not having to carry around a rain jacket every day) and then some of us headed to the Gold Museum and others of us headed to a café. I was a part of the café group—Daphne, Cora, Carolina and Katie and I had a great time chatting at the café over yummy cappuccinos and some key lime pie. 
     We headed home after that with an excruciatingly long bus ride—San Jose rush hour! By the time we got home we were all exhausted, happy to be back in Ciudad Colon. We had reach deep and get that second wind to finish our final paper for the class. It was a great last excursion here in Costa Rica. Pura Vida!!


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen? Nonsense!

A few days ago, the seven of us living on the Pechuga compound (Savanna, Audrey, Bryana, Daphne, Daniel, Shun, and I) went to the supermarket with a mission. We needed to get food to prepare dinner Thursday night for our families. We got the ingredients for lasagna, a big, leafy salad, a tropical fruit salad, and chocolate brownies.

Thursday after class, we went to Che Pizza, an Argentinian pizza restaurant in town, to watch Germany and Italy duke it out in the semifinals of the EuroCup. After our stomachs were full and Italy was victorious (!!!!), we went back to the compound to begin preparing dinner. We used whatever utensils we could find to help us prepare three beautiful lasagnas, four giant bowls of salad, a fruit salad containing pineapple, cantaloupe, watermelon, and bananas, and two pans of brownies.

We had so much fun getting our hands dirty and testing our skills at using a Latin American kitchen all in an effort to give back to our wonderful host families who we have come to know and love. Hopefully dinner will go without a hitch.

Wish us luck!
Brock Grecco

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Monteverde 2

 Hey! In addition to our last blog post, I will talk about our last awesome weekend in Monteverde. As the last blog mentioned, we went to Monteverde not only to have fun, but also to study. Since we did so many activities that I cannot possibly write about everything here, I picked one activity we did for fun and one lecture that we got.

☆Night and Day Hiking☆

On Saturday, we explored a natural rainforest in the dark of night. Each of us were handed a flash light. We were divided as two groups and hiked for two solid hours. It was a little bit tiring, but we saw many cool animals that we cannot usually see in the day time. The huge tarantula on the right was one of them.

On Sunday morning, we explored another forest again, though we did not need flash lights this time. Although all the birds were sleeping during last night's hike, we could see many different kinds of birds today in the daylight. There were ton of bugs, too...

                        ↑                    ↑
 (Wasp nest through the telescope)                          (Caterpillars!!!)

(Quetzal!!!! through the telescope)
Our guide was so excited when he found this bird. We were so lucky that we could see this beautiful bird :)

☆Lecture at Vargas Leiton Family Farm☆

On Saturday evening, we visited Vargas Leiton Family Farm, where the guy in the picture has been trying to do organic farming and raise a few animals.
He confidently insisted that organic farming is possible. Remarkably, he was
using the waste from animal to make fuel to power the different plants on his farm.
He also takes part in the education of the Monteverde community. He invites the students like us regardless of age and teaches them about organic farming through his pure experience.
As we explored his huge farm, we were able to planted trees, saw his animals and had a wonderful time!

                           ↑                   ↑
            (Baby coffee plants)                                (Katie planting a tree)

↑                                                                 ↑
(Pigs♡)                 (Goats!)

↑                                                                ↑
  (Grace with baby chicken        (Chicken!! We harvested eggs.)
   she is so excited☆)

     Group pic on the huge tree♡

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Monteverde: What a weekend!

      Hello all! We just returned today from a lovely three day trip up to Monteverde. To give you a quick introduction to Monteverde, it is an area up in the northwest of the country, about a 3 hour drive from Ciudad Colón. High up in the clouds, it was definitely an uphill ride from where we are living. It is now one of the most famous parts of Costa Rica, known for its beautiful “cloud forest,” which is an absolutely amazing rainforest and wildlife refuge. 

     While it once was known for dairy farming because of the industrious Quakers that immigrated to the area in the 1950s, it is now an ecotourist’s paradise. Unfortunately for us, we were not just there to zipline and bird watching like most tourists, but instead we heard fascinating lectures on the history, biology, agriculture, and development of the region. In many ways, this trip reminded me of the Galapagos because this city too is facing a growing number of tourists with only a limited number of resources. One lecture touched upon the problems that the lack of zoning laws and a gray water treatment plant has had for Monteverde. Although 50 or even 30 years ago, Monteverde was sparsely populated, these issues are now pressing with the growing population and number of tourists.
     This is not to say that we weren’t able to have fun as well. We had the pleasure of going on a night hike to see sloths, tarantulas, frogs, and snakes; eating lots and lots of delicious food; planting trees on a sustainable farm; and doing some pretty intense nature walking. It was great to get away to a very different part of the country and be a big group all together again. It’s so crazy to think that we have less than a week left, but I know that there is still a lot of great stuff ahead, so stay posted!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Life at the Compound

Life at the Compound By: Savanna Rovira This place is full of life. It's a mini hub, a familial city. My foot kicks open the heavy red fence. It's a seemingly oxymoronical thing; its menacing outside is met with a warm, welcoming inside. Sort of like the family dog. Or one of those spiky fruits with the delectable and delightful flesh. The second I step inside, the sounds and smells and laughter and stories and personalities and above all, flavors, of the Pechuga Compound bombard me. Why Pechuga, right? Pechuga is the nickname given to the men of the family. Chicken breast. You laugh but their chests stick out and you sort of think of chickens too. Proud and noble chickens though, the kind you would want to be your host family, if you were a chicken. Our compound is comprised of a few brothers and sisters and their families. The matriarch is abuela. Each house (I think there are a total of five) has its own little family, and each is part of the bigger union that resides within this fence. Children and dogs, and the occasional chicken or monkey, scurry around the premises. The little ones fly in and out of the houses, interacting with the mamas of each, and playing with their cousins as if they were siblings. My own host mother runs next door to grab a cup of sugar (unfortunately I think I'm depleting their supply, although she won't say so. The only way I can convince myself I like coffee is by adding four spoonfuls of sugar...) and stays for a while to chat. The doors and kitchens are never locked, never closed, never unwelcoming. Behind each, at each dinner table, sits someone willing, hoping, waiting for conversation. And then there's us. Thrown into the mix at seasonal intervals. But it doesn't really matter at all that we aren't Costa Ricans, that we aren't "pechugas," that sometimes we confuse the words "perro" and "pero," and that we aren't all that accustomed to rice and beans. For a few weeks, it doesn't matter whose blood you have, or to which country you owe your allegiance, or which language your tongue babbles in. We're thrown into the life and spirit of this place, treated as one of their own. We all become Pechugas. Their smiles become ours. And ours theirs. It reminds me of my own big italian family at home on Sunday dinners. Forty people, Nonna, pasta on pasta. If someone was to sit in and be an observer of our life for a few weeks, or do a home stay with us, they would probably be writing down things similar to those I write down now. That people come and go and it's a never-ending cycle of new faces and smiles. And the dinner table stretches to meet any size, any amount of new or old friends. And the fence is always open. In all, we're loving it here so far. Pura Vida (which apparently means anything and everything, from hello, goodbye, life is good, etc.).

Coffee Plantation Visit Take 2

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to visit a coffee plantation and meet with one of the coffee plantation owners. It was so interesting to see the farm and how only the grandfather picks the coffee beans all by himself on a land less than one hector. I usually don't drink coffee back in the States, especially black, but here it's not bitter. Costa Rica has the right topography and weather for coffee to grow. Too bad it wasn't the high season; I would have like to see the coffee picking process. I felt so happy eating the delicious mango. One of the things I love about tropical region.
       After leaving the plantation, we went to a factory to see how the coffee is roasted and put into coffee bags. It was so weird how seeing so many coffee beans that seemed so insignificant; but in the background, there's a story to every product. It was so hot in there and all of us had to wear the head caps. We looked pretty ridiculous. What a great experience.

-Daniel Kim

Coffee Plantation Visit

Yesterday's morning started out a bit earlier than usual, with the daily gym-goers heading to "Nico's Fitness Gym" at 5:00am to be ready in time for the 7:00am bus. After an hour-long bus ride up through various plantations and Costa Rica's scenic, green landscape up to Palmichal, we were all eager to taste the country's famous coffee. We started out with a small tour of the town, learning about the city's history and rural tourism industry from our knowledgable guide Hérnan. Then we were given the opportunity to learn from Manuel, the happy 79 year old owner of Cerco Don Manuel. He showed us his coffee plants, let us try his coffee, offered us his wife's delicious cheese empanadas, shared stories about his life on the plantation (he is the ONLY one that works on it!) and played us a few songs on guitar. 
After lots of laughing and learning, we got to see the other side of Costa Rican coffee production as we visited the coffee roasting and packaging factory in Palmichal. We all walked around in our fancy hairnets while breathing in the burnt coffee scent, watching humongous machines spit coffee beans around. After the tour of the factory we all purchased bags of Café Don Manuel (for our parents of course...). 
It was a valuable experience for us to connect with our coffee's farmer and understand this important "farm to fork" relationship we often feel is lost, yet have been learning so much about in both our International Environmental Politics and International Development classes. I know I'll be thinking about Manuel and Palmichal when I make myself a latte back home in Texas.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

La Pura Vida en Costa Rica

Costa Rica has been so amazing! Everything around is
lush and green and it has been great to relax after our
busy schedule in the Galapagos. The UPEACE campus
is absolutely gorgeous. It is small and quaint with only
5 classrooms. There is a community park attached to the
campus with lakes and picnic areas. Inside the park is the
UN Peace Monument- pictured to the right. It is
incredibly symbolic and adds to the beauty of the whole


For Costa Rican Arbor Day, we went as a group to plant trees on the UPEACE campus. We have been told that we will be given the coordinates of our trees so we can watch them grow via satellite image.


On Sunday, we had our first excursion, a zipline tour through the canopy of the Costa Rican rainforest. It was breathtakingly beautiful and we had a great time, even though a few people in the group were conquering a fear of heights.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Costa Rican Eco-Tourists!

This weekend we had the privilege of experiencing Costa Rican eco-tourism for the first time since arriving in the land of “Pura Vida;” a country known most for its thriving eco-tourism industries. In the Galapagos we had done eco-tourism activities almost every day, everything from hiking to snorkeling but we got to experience something completely new this weekend.
Our first adventure was zip-lining, or as our host family calls it “canopy,” about an hour and a half outside of Ciudad Colon. Every zip-line I had done in the past was about 30 feet off the ground and lasted a total of 20 seconds. However, the zip-lining offered by Vista Los Suenos, roughly translated to sight of your dreams, was quite the opposite. In total we went on 14 different zip-lines (one upside down) zig-zagging through the Costa Rican jungle. We zipped high above the trees so we could see for miles around us. At one point we could see the ocean while we flew through the air. At each stopping point the men efficiently unharnessed and re-harnessed every gringo that came flying down the line and as somebody who is scared of heights, their efficiency and professionalism put the butterflies in my stomach to rest. This was no joke, our leader Marco had been working there for twelve years, employing English-speaking Ticos and perfecting the art of eco-tourism. That is how Costa Rica thrives.
For our next adventure we travelled another half an hour to a beautiful river-side restaurant that doubled as a crocodile river tour. After a delicious seafood lunch we loaded ourselves on to a long boat with a jolly, English-speaking tour guide and driver. For the first few minutes of the ride all we saw were birds, although interesting, not as entertaining as the massive crocodile we saw after about 10 minutes. We all thought that seeing the 10 foot long crocodile was thrilling but when the driver got out of the boat and started to dangle chicken meat in front of the crocodile so that it had to jump up to catch the meat, the boat rocked violently as we all crowded to one side to see, mouths open and cameras out. We motored on for about an hour and a half seeing strange birds, including a group of macaws, and dozens of other crocodiles. Our guide named each crocodile we saw; choosing names like Chavez, Castro, Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and my personal favorite: Monica Lewinsky. He catered to us Americans perfectly, the same way Marco had done, speaking near-perfect English and making a mundane activity such as riding a boat on a river a profit-making enterprise.
For our first weekend here in Costa Rica, our activities could not have been more fun, but they also opened my eyes to the real Costa Rica, one that thrives on eco-tourism and that caters to vacationing “gringos” to sustain their economy.

-Emily Elliot-Meisel

Friday, June 15, 2012

Our lovely host madre

Costa Rica has been significantly different to The Galapagos and Ecuador. After having travelled for three weeks and venturing on excursions and taking class, it has been nice to settle down in the quaint town of Ciudad Colon in Costa Rica. The few days I have been here, my hostess has spoilt Katie (my roommate) and me from every angle! In the mornings for breakfast, she always has a plate of tropical fruit, including mango, banana, watermelon and pineapple with either a grilled cheese or Gallo Pinto (a typical dish). She also sets out cups of orange juice and native coffee to accompany our scrumptious breakfast. Tita, our hostess, makes our bed and does our laundry without even letting us know! There is always clean pair of “panueletas” (towels) waiting on our desk and occasionally an afternoon snack. For dinner, Tita tends to prepare many local dishes. On her menu are yucca pie, potato and chicken and pork that are all accompanied by a salad, rice and beans. Tita truly makes me feel at home! 

-Carolina Kitras

Costa Rica!

The Galapagos group has arrived in Ciudad Colon, Costa Rica and is for the first time in three weeks split among three home-stays situated throughout the town. Sitting outside of San Jose, the capital of this country- famous for its lack of a military, amazing coffee, and overwhelming greenness- Ciudad Colon will be our home for the subsequent three weeks. Our families have already introduced us to their neighbors, communities, friends, and relatives. I personally feel as if I am part of the family. I have even been invited to attend the birthday party of Angel, my host-mother's grandson. The Ticos of Costa Rica are an inviting people, their genuine care for others easily showing in all things they do. 
The University of Peace is located around 7 kilometers from the edge of Ciudad Colon, and the bus ride there takes us through coffee plantations where men can be seen working with the plants, and through lush rainforest that begs to be explored. The vibrant colors of vines, flowers, and fruits can be glimsed in between the thick branches of green. We often gaze out the window in silence, in utter awe of the beauty around us. This landscape stands in such antithesis with that of the Galapagos. Instead of towering cactus plants and lava rocks, giant flowers and melodious birds dominate. The dry land of the archipelago is now tranformed into wetness. Daily, the downpours drench Ciudad Colon. Getting caught in the strong rain while walking back from the bus is unfortunate yet serene. Everything goes quiet as the steady beating of the rain literally drowns out all other sounds. 
Standing behind the University's main building looking at the gorgeous vista below and beyond takes my breath away. The mounatins opposite me are touched by the weight of huge clouds that appear to fill up half the sky. They form beautiful patterns in the bright blue sky, creating a wonderful view when paired with the inevitable green valley below. 
Every day here at U Peace is an adventure. The mornings in Costa Rica find us intellectually stimulated by lecture and discussion, in the afternoons we explore Ciudad Colon, and at night we learn culture from the Ticos as we interact in our home-stays. Professor Lacatus encourages us to learn from everything around us, and it is impossible not to. I can't wait for this journey to unfold. Two more weeks to go!
Hasta luego!
-Katie Field

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Otavalo, Ecuador

On Wednesday, we left early in the morning to visit Otavalo market. Though it was a long bus ride, the scenery was breathtaking. As we drove through the mountains, we were rewarded with perfect views of the Andes. Along the way, we stopped at an overlook where we could see a lake surrounded by the mountains. There was a llama, an alpaca, and a goat for tourists to pet. Naturally, many of us made friends with the animals. After staying there for a short while, we continued on our way to Otovalo.

At the Otavalo market, we were paired up to participate in a contest- who could find the most interesting item with the best story behind it for two dollars or less. Though there were many honorable mentions, Daphne and Brock were the winners. They had bought two dolls and gave them to two small Otavalan girls they met at the market, embodying the values of service that our program is built upon. While we shopped, we observed locals and market transactions, taking notes along the way. Later on we turned these field notes into an ethnography- cultural analyses of what we had witnessed. Many of us bartered for the first time and had to put our Spanish skills to the test, some more successful than others.

After leaving Otavalo, we visited an old Spanish hacienda built in the 18th century. The property was sprawling and beautiful and the estate was like stepping into a time machine. We gathered in the dining room to have lunch together. Some ate trout, some ate steak, and others were given a sampling of vegetarian options. The three course meals were all outstanding regardless of what was ordered. We were served by women in traditional dress and serenaded by a band. Overall, our lunch at the hacienda was a very culturally rewarding experience. After lunch, we toured Cotacachi, a small town that specializes in leather production. We only stayed for a short time, but we all enjoyed the shopping colorful buildings, cobblestone roads, and park. On our way home, we made a short excursion to El Mitad del Mundo- the equator. We straddled the line at zero degrees latitude and were simultaneously in the northern and southern hemispheres, experiencing spring and fall at the same time. We took several group pictures and took in the scenery before hopping on the long bus ride back home.
We returned later at night; traffic was very thick coming into the city of Quito. We all reflected on our experiences of the day and began our ethnographies of Otovalo market. Some students chose to watch Crude, a documentary about oil extraction in the Amazon which we learned about when Adrian Schwartz came to speak to us on Tuesday. Today (Thursday), we were greeted by Provost Scott Bass and his wife, who will be joining us in the Galapagos. We heard from a young professional from Sun Mountain International, an organization that assists other organizations in their environmental responsibilities, and then broke for a long lunch. Afterwards, we reconvened at the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment where were heard a stimulating presentation about the current state of the Galapagos islands, followed by a question and answer session. Our takeaway from the experience was that Ecuador is full of paradoxes and contradictions, and that the future of the Galapagos is not black and white.

Tonight, we will be visiting SWING, a cultural center, where we will enjoy live music. We look forward to fully utilizing our last day in Quito as well as our voyage to the Galapagos on Saturday morning. Hasta luego!

- Matthew and Kelly

Sunday, May 27, 2012

¡Quito, Te queremos!

As we begin our final night in Quito, I think about the strange, amazing learning environment that Quito has been. As I discuss my thoughts with Emily, one thing pops up in discussion more and more: unexpected. Before our trip, I imagined Quito as a run-down, dingy, “sketchy,” unfriendly city. This was the part of the trip that we would have to get through to reach the Galapagos, which would be the “prize” for getting through our week in Quito. While the city is polluted, it doesn’t seem all that worse than how a major American city is. Yes, there is graffiti on the walls and most of the buildings would be considered antiquated in the US, but Quito is vibrant nonetheless. And from what we have learned from Milton, our charming Ecuadorian guide, and Adrian, one of the speakers who came to address our class, Quito as a city has made a lot of progress in the past ten years. It’s true that Quito is a developing city, but what city isn’t? As we have learned this week, Quito has come a long way and has a lot of exciting plans for the future. One fact that especially stuck out to me is that there are 450,000 cars in Quito. While I don’t know if this is a lot for the 1 million residents, the air pollution has probably been the worst thing about the city. But if I heard this before the trip, I wouldn’t have expected there to be plans for correcting this problem. However, the Quito government has been encouraging the use of public transportation by subsidizing public transportation ($0.25 for a ride on the tram/buses that have their own lanes, which is highly preferable over the traffic in the city), and has a new initiative called “pico y placa”, which essentially restricts when cars are allowed to travel in the city. I suppose that this surprised me because I was expecting the city to be in a state of disarray or a giant mess that seemed to be spinning uncontrollably towards a near certain doom. Today we had the pleasure of visiting “Parque Metropolitano” in the north of the city, which was an absolutely beautiful urban, green space with trails for walking and a large playground. Because today is a national holiday, there were many families enjoying the fresh air and beautiful weather. Not only this, but I noticed that on many streets there are flower beds planted in the medians and other landscaping in and around the city. While our class may be more focused on the environmental issues in the Galapagos and the Amazon of Ecuador, I have been pleasantly surprised to find that Quito is a very livable city. Although it may not be considered particularly “green”, the city governance still seems to value and care about improving the city. While we did not get to see the whole city, and I’m sure many other problems exist, it is heartening to know that if I come back to the city later, it has the potential to be even better than it is now.