<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> Earth Is My Classroom Trip Blog Costa Rica 2009

~ Costa Rica Trip Blog ~Susan MacNicoll - April 18th to May 2, 2009

*******Read the blog below, the most recent entries are at the top.*****
My itinerary is at the bottom of this page


May 3 , 2009 I'm home! Thanks to all who participated in the blog.


May 1 , 2009
1. San Jose 2. Guácimo 3. LaFortuna 4. Monteverde 5. San Jose

Well, here's our route, we traveled many miles through sometimes rough and windy roads and experienced Costa Rica's rich landscape in all its breathtaking beauty. The uniquely peaceful quality of the people and the idea that many in the country are so committed to creating sustainablility has led all of us on this trip to a renewed commitment as teachers. As we US teachers discussed the trip in our final debrief at the Toyota plant in San Jose, it was evident that all of us feel an obligation as educatiors to invest in ways to develop environmental global understanding in our students. I for one want to inspire my students as we have been inspired

In an expression heard all over Costa Rica that roughly translates to "enjoy life" or "live life to the fullest." The phrase "Pura Vida" symbolizes the atmosphere and spirit we found in how the Costa Ricans live. They are happy and proud of their country. I will always remember the warm reception we received in this beautiful place in the world! And a huge thanks to folks at Toyota for the Toyota International Teacher Program. It's their commitment to education that made this trip possible.


Hola Mrs. Brisson! Thanks for the questions. Did you need to sleep with a net over your bed? Were there any insects in the hotels? How about insects at the homestay? Actually I was very surprised at the lack of bugs. I didn't use bug spray once! The hotels we stayed at were quite nice. Even at the homestay with no screen in the windows and no net there were very few bugs. I asked someone about this and they said that it is because we are at the very end of the dry season - it's extremely dry by Costa Rican standards. As the rains begin mid May, I understand there will be many bugs.

Hi Aunt Vi! Good to hear from you. About your questions...
Regarding the more than 50 native butterfly species in Costa Rica are they "just everywhere" and all of different color? or just especially at the Monteverde Garden? Also did you have a chance to trek along the upper elvations of Montervede Cloud Forest Reserve where the suspension bridges crisscross the forested canyons of the tree canopoies? or the likes.
We saw butterflies on occasion, but as with all wildlife in the rainforest it takes a careful patient eye to spot diverse fauna. One butterfly we did see fleetlingly was the Clear Winged Butterfly. One understanding I came away with from this trip is that spotting the flora and fauna takes patience and focus, therefore I send thanks out to our many great guides! We didn't do the suspension bridges, but trapsing through the cloud forest was incredible in itself.

Thanks to all the folks who made this trip possible!!

April 30, 2009 I dug my hands into a reforestation project today and LOVED it!! Our day started with a bit of readjusting the schedule because many of the teachers were very sick overnight. We aren't sure if it was water related, food poisoning, or a virus; but some were unable to do the service projects. Fortunately, I was one of the lucky ones (knock on wood) and felt fine. I'm glad because I was very much looking forward to today; during this trip I've come to believe I could be a farmer and be very happy. And hey, the folks at the Monteverde Institute were wonderful hosts and guided us through meaningful service projects. Sophia, our guide, was grateful that we helped and said we could say "Adios to our carbon footprint for the day." In a little way, we made a difference.

To fully understand the idea of our reforestation project it is important to understand biological corridors. Julio and Isa, our tour guides, and many other individuals here who are passionate about the environment, have stressed the idea that if there is one understanding we walk away with from Costa Rica it is of biological corridors. Preserved lands act like restricting islands to migratory animals and they are unable to move with their natural migratory routes to other parts of the region. Beautiful birds such as the Quetzal fly only about 100 meters at a time to stay hidden from predators. With massive areas of deforestation they are unable to travel their migratory routes. Planting trees in deforested areas creates corridors or bridges between preserves and in turn helps population size and the re-establishment of animal species that have been nearly eliminated by human activity. Corridors preserve and protect the biodiversity essential to the health of our planet.

What do corridors do for the human community? First they encourage sustainable and organic agriculture. They also increase rural tourism which helps the economy. Corridors promote environmental education, because it takes awareness by all to make them happen; community organization is key. People tend to stay with their land as well and maintain it's integrity. Biological corridors are good for Costa Rica, good for all of us.

See the photos from today!

Hi Mrs. Frisella! (she sent these questions) How are the hot springs to swim in? Great! We just kind of soaked and chatted. What a treat after the long days we've had. Do they have an odor to them? Not that I noticed, but I was pretty darn tired. Just how many snakes have you encountered since you've been there? Only two so far, an Eyelash Viper and some kind of brown snake. We all wanted to see more, but it just didn't happen.

Deforestation of the Pacific Coast

Our Reforestation Service Project

Monteverde Cloud Forest School - what an amazing view to have from school, huh?

April 29, 2009 Our morning started with a visit to the Centrode Educación Creativia or the Cloud Forest School. It's an innovative, private, bilingual, non-sectarian K-11 school which serves mostly rural children of Monteverde. Ninety-one percent are Costa Rican students and sixty percent receive scholarships. It was founded in 1991 by local parents. Their vision is "To nurture generations of ecologically aware, academically well-rounded students with the knowledge, values and skills needed to make environmentally and socially conscious decisions on a local, national, and global scale." We first toured the school, then senior science students shared with us some of the projects they were working on. This is a picture of part of the 106 acre school at Monteverde. More ...

We also visited the Monteverde Conservation League which is a non-profit civil organization, whose mission is "to conserve, preserve, and rehabilitate tropical ecosystems and their biodiversity". I bought a T-Shirt representing BEN which is the Costa Rican name for the Children's Eternal Rainforest (mentioned in yesterday's blog)- it's Bosque Eterno de Los Ninos.

Next we hiked in the Cloud Forest. It was amazing, check out my photos.

April 28, 2009

Today we took the long and windy bus ride to Monteverde. Half the four hour ride was paved and half gravel. Isa was our guide along the way. She told us about the Children's Eternal Rainforest which is an organization which allows school children all over the world to buy parts of the rainforest and join in the preservation of the forest. It was started by a teacher who came from Sweeden to Costa Rica and returned home to encourage her students to earn money to buy a small plot of the rainforest. They had many fund raising events and did buy land, the program grew and grew worldwide and is now the Children's Eternal Rainforest.

We listened to a lecture presented by British naturalist, Mark Wainwright (pictured) who has lived in Monteverde since 1991. He not only is a guide and instructor for ecology courses, but he also has authored five field guides in the Costa Rica Field Guide Series. He gave us a history of Monteverde and some insight into the importance of this extremely biologically diverse place.

Monteverde is a community in a preserved cloud forest in the Puntarenas region. It was established in 1951 when 11 families of Quakers left Alabama, USA in response to being jailed for their refusal to be drafted in the Korean War. Quakers are obligated by their religion to be pacifists. Eventually they were released. They chose Costa Rica because its military had been abolished the year before. The isolation from the world in Monteverde allowed them to live peacefully, graze cattle and make cheese. The Quakers also agreed to preserve the cloud forest.

Jesse wrote and asked me to keep finding music. Got ya some! We stopped on our way to Monteverde and I bought some gift bags, inside they had some homemade CDs of local music. Wonderful - have a listen.

And finally, Chris wrote and asked, "What advice do you have for other teachers who would like to do a project like this? I'd say go for it! I find that the hard work and challenges that I've faced re-energize me as a teacher. It's worth the effort!

April 27, 2009 We're checked into Hotel Kioro in the town of La Fortuna. Our hotel is fabulous and quite a switch from yesterday's experience. Actually, I'm still wrestling with the contrast. This photo is the view from my room.

La Fortuna is a small town in the province of Alajuela- it's about six miles from the volcano. There are lots of natural hot springs in this area, in fact we have one on hotel grounds with beautiful hot tubs. A few of us ended our day with a relaxing late evening dip.

Today we also visited El volcán Arenal. It's one of the top ten most active in the world. It's 5,437 feet high- but we walked just to a viewing area. Arenal has daily eruption activity with streams of hot gas, rocks and lava that can travel up to 80 miles an hour. Even viewing it from this far, Arenal's strength is undeniable. Oh, and I did the zip line through the canopy today - Yeeeeoooooo! See the photos from today!

Interesting questions today - check them out.


April 26, 2009 Our homestays - without a doubt my favorite part of the trip so far - were in some ways indescribable. In groups of five we visited sustainable family farms and were welcomed into a simple and abundantly beautiful place.

Host and hostess for our group were Fernando and Lydia. Also helping to make our stay comfortable were their daughter, their daughter-in-law Elaina and adorable, engaging little four year old Andréa (pictured). As the old saying goes, a picture tells a thousand words and because I'm finding it difficult to convey vividly the events of our stay, I think a page of images will do it best. Soooooo, please click on Andréa when you're ready.

I have to add beforehand though, that as we boarded the bus and left Earth University for our next stop, El Volcán Arenal, we were asked to share with each other our impressions of our homestays. Jason from our group shared a conversation he had with our host Fernando... which perhaps best expresses what the five of us came away with. When Jason asked Fernando some questions about costs, the economy, etc. Fernando said, "I don't need a lot of money, because I don't want a lot." There is something deeply true about the way this rural Costa Rican farming family lives - something simple and something right.

For those of you who submitted questions, here are my thoughts.

Aprll 25, 2009 It's 1 o'clock here and we've already been on a bird watch at 5:00 this morning (we saw about 15 different species of birds including a toucan), toured a banana plantation and processing plant and a sustainable dairy farm! Whew. Next we meet with Earth University students and attend our second lecture from Professor Dunne. This one will be on Water Resource Management.

The farms that we visited were designed to reduce the negative impacts on the environment. These are some of their policies:

  • Do not use herbicides;
  • Use organic post-harvest fungicide
  • Recycle organic waste into compost and paper;
  • Use chemical-free bags to protect fruit in the fields
  • Process animal waste to create methane based eletricity

I decided one thing I'm going to include this year is a water collection system for watering my gardens. Reusing and conserving water are two ways we can help in water resource management. I have to say that Earth University is an important place, inspiring! They are doing so much good to prepare young people to go back to their communities and countries and teach sustainable agriculture. Gotta go to my class, but I'll share some photos from the farm next time.

Aprll 24, 2009 Today was our day in the schools. We had the opportunity to visit Técnicol Profesional de Guacimo, a technical school near Earth University. This school had students from seventh through twelfth grades, however, they call it first through sixth grade. In this school students have a choice of focusing their studies in one of several areas including Agro-ecological, Eco-tourism, and Secretarial preparation.

A bit of information I have learned about Costa Rica's education is that it is not a lot like ours. Julio (our tour guide) told me the schools in Costa Rica were not so good. I asked him how that could be so, considering all the statistics and articles I have read say that Costa Rica is 95% literate, a very good number worldwide. He and Isa agreed that the statistics are based on an old definition of literacy. Sure, they said, Costa Ricans can read, but not at the level needed to compete in today's world. Three out of ten Costa Ricans do not go to school after sixth grade. I tell you all this because these students are in school and motivated to continue. Some of them travel two hours by public bus to get to school for 7:00 and do not get out till 4:15. I have a page of photos for you. Click here!

Tomorrow we leave Earth University and I go to my homestay on a tilapia and cheese farm. I'm sure I won't be blogging, but I'll take photos and video to show you on Sunday.

Here's today's questions and answers...

Art Class

Here I am standing outside the restaurant where we ate lunch.

Aprll 23, 2009 We were on the road today by 6:30 leaving San Jose and heading to Earth University in Guacimo. Just in the nick of time too, I was "citied out". Winding the roads through lush green mountains and vibrant valleys was exhilerating. Our bus wound its way first to Guayabo National Monument, a fascinating archeological site near Turrialba, a small town in the Central Valley of the Cartego Province. It is a site that was occupied between 1000 BC and 1400 AD, but then was mysteriously abandoned. This matriarchal society was clearly advanced in the construction of its village. Join me on my trip to Guayabo and our trek through the rainforest.

We'll be spending the next few days at Earth University which is a Spanish acronym for Agricultura de la Region Humeda, translated as School of Agriculture of the Humid Region. Earth University is a unique educational institution that helps to prepare future leaders with ethical values to con tribute to the sustainable development of the humid tropics. It's a beautiful campus and I'm sharing a room with another teacher in one of the dorms. It's great, I'm sitting out on the balcony now with wifi.

To all my students - I've made a page for your many great questions. Come and see!

Aprll 22, 2009 Happy Earth Day!!! Do something good for your mother today- Mother Earth that is.

This was a wonderful Earth Day for me, one that I'll never forget. I had the chance to celebrate it by hearing from people who are doing amazingly innovative things to help heal our planet. It was truly an inspiring day. First we visited the world's first carbon neutral airline, Nature Air. The gentleman who spoke to us is one of the owners, Alexi Huntley. He is a passionate entrepreneur who is dedicated to a company that is, as he says "chasing sustainability". In other words, always working towards giving as much to the environment as it uses. He's the first to say that it's not easy, but that it is the direction in which we all need to go. I wish there were more airlines like Nature Air; even though they cost more, I would choose a carbon neutral airline if I could. There's more about my trip to Nature Air if you click on the picture of Earth.

We also went to the University of Peace. In this beautiful and tranquil place in the mountains, 160 students from 47 countries study peace and conflict with the plan of eventually going out into the world to "promote among in all human beings the spirit of understanding, tolerance and peaceful coexistence, to stimulate cooperation among peoples and to help lessen obstacles and threats to world peace and progress." What a great idea, a school to learn how to be peaceful problem solvers! See the pictures of the beautiful monument at UPeace by clicking on the globe.

I decided to create a whole page of answers to my students questions because I recieved so many today. Click here to read their many thoughtful questions.

ps - I don't think I'll have connectivity tomorrow because we will be traveling to Earth University. I'll blog next probably Friday. Peace!

College students in a park

April 21, 2008 - Today I feel as though someone opened up my head and poured in a TON of information. One great thing I learned today though took precidence over everything. There is great hope in Costa Rica because of our new administration in Washington and particularly because of President Obama. People of this country feel he listens and is concerned about the environment as well as other issues of the region. That makes me, as an America, feel good. We met with people who are importantly connected to the progress of Costa Rica and I also had the opportunity to talk at length with our guides Julio and Isa. They gave me some real insight into the beliefs and ways of the Costa Rican people. So today we not only went to The Jade Museum, we visited the US Embassy and we spoke with Pedro Leon Azofeifa, scientific advisor to the President of Costa Rica - President Arias. Click the picture to learn more about our day

Let me answer a few of the questions posed on the blog by my students and others. By the way, love your questions, keep them coming. OK, so Matt asked a couple of questions. First he wanted to know if I'm scared to visit a volcano. Good question. Well, Matt, scientists constantly monitor volcanos very carefully and people are kept at a safe distance. If there is any danger of an eruption there would be an increase of certain gases as well as other warning signs. People would be evacuated, so actually I can't wait to go on Monday. Matt also asked if I was bored at the US Embassy. Nope, I loved it, it was very interesting and I'll explain more if you check out today's page.

Nicolette asked about how much $10 is in Costa Rican currency. It's 5,624 colones. When I buy something I ask if they accept US dollars, and they usually do. If they don't I can divide the amount of colones by 550 and come up with a close figure in US dollars so I'll know about how much I'm spending. You can use this online converter to check currency conversions.

Andrew, you asked if a lot of people walk and ride cars. Good question since you already know that Costa Rica is moving in a "Green" direction. Many people walk in the city, but cars are commonly used too. There are many buses for public transportation. That's one thing the scientific advisor to the president told us they need to change. They want to build public transportation systems to cut carbon emissions. And, Michael wanted to know if there are many similarities between the US and Costa Rica. That's an important question and it's something that I'd like you and all my students to start figuring out from what you're learning by reading the blog! As a mattter of fact it would be great if you made a slide in your Keynotes about the similarities and differences.

Elementary students on a field trip to the museum

April 20, 2009 - I want to start out today by thanking the collaborators on this Web 2.0 project. First, thanks to Don Clark and Barbara Shaw who are handling the tech and teaching sides of this stateside. Check out their bios on the About this Project page. Thanks, too, to Mrs. Wilusz, who has been an important part of increasing school participation by spreading the news of the blog and for her enthusiasm about the project. Thanks, as well, to all the teachers, staff, community members, friends and family who are also participating, your input adds to the broad scope of the endeavor. And special thanks to my students who have begun to ask the thoughtful questions that are key to making this learning experience come alive. Amazing what positive collaborative learning adventures are possible using technology in education, huh?

We arrived in San José, Costa Rica today, yea! As we drove to our hotel the volcanic mountains that surround the city were very impressive. Many of these volcanoes are active and we will visit one on Monday. This is the view from our hotel room at the Aurola Holiday Inn in downtown. Click on the picture to find out more about San José.

Students and others have submitted blog questions, so let me take a minute to answer a few.
- Meghan and Nicolette asked about the weather. Well girls, it kind of surprised me. I had been prepared for hot and humid, but today was breezy, and probably about 75 or 80. The rainy season is just about upon Costa Rica, so the temperature will drop a little. It does not feel humid at all, as a matter of fact there were very nice cooling winds today.
-Mrs. Frisella asked about the Bromeliad plant that I saw in the Everglades and how much water it needs. Well, in the Everglades these plants live on trees. They don't suck water from the tree. The Park Ranger told us that they actually take small drops of water from morning dew or from the humid air, so they don't need a whole lot of water.
-Megan asked if I have learned or used my Spanish here yet. Well, everyone so far has been speaking English. Spanish is the official language, but many people speak English as well. We'll see what happens when we get to the rural areas, but for now, it's been English.
-To all you students who want to know if I have seen animals...in the city I have heard many parrots; they make quite a racket. I won't get to really do a whole lot of animal viewing until Saturday when I go on a bird watch, and next week when I visit Monteverde and the Cloud Forest.
-To Renee, the teacher from Piscataway, New Jersey, who wanted to know how to participate in this blog with her Earth Science classes, just read along and comment or ask questions when you want.


April 19, 2009 - A long rewarding day was had by all today in Florida. I enjoyed a warm, breezy walk along Biscayne Bay as the sun rose brightly over the water. Breakfast was followed with a lecture given by the professor traveling with our trip, and then it was off to Everglade National Park which I learned is also a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve, and a Wetland of International Importance. I caught some really cool videos, which you can check out by clicking on the picture.

To my students, (who are creating projects while I'm away based on my blog) I have some challenges for you. First, add to your Keynote presentations three things from yesterday's blog that everyone could do to reduce, reuse, or recycle, things that will in turn help our environment. And second, simulate my flights. Open Google Earth, type in our school's address and then fly to Miami, Florida. Next fly to San Jose, Costa Rica. Can you figure out how many miles I've travelled? Let me know if you do! And lastly, if you have time left in class, make a slide about the Everglades National Park!

Also check out the bird eating a fish and the alligators!! Click here

April 18, 2009 - Here I am at the airport at about six this morning. I needed to get up at four am in order to drive to Manchester and board my flight. It didn't bother me getting up so early, I was so excited that the day had finally come I popped right out of bed! The other teachers and I have had one busy day spent traveling, registering at the hotel, meeting each other, attending orientation, and finally enjoying dinner. Whew! That's me at the airport about to go through security. Click on the picture to find out some of the things I learned today.

April 17, 2009 - Why should we learn about Costa Rica???? That's a good question and a New York Times op ed by Thomas Friedman, author of The World Is Flat , that I read recently gives some answers. Here are a few highlights:

  • Costa Rica is amazingly biodiverse. To ensure that it stays that way more than 25 percent of the country is protected area. That's a higher percent than any other country!
  • More than 95 percent of their energy sources are renewables such as hydro-electric, wind and geothermal. Annnndddd, they discovered their own oil five years ago and banned drilling!
  • They have a tax on carbon emissions that helps pay for protection of their forests and has helped with reforestation.

I think we can all learn a lot from the people of Costa Rica! A big thank you Aunt Jennie for sending me the article. Click on the picture of it to read the whole article. And hey, thank you, thank you, thank you to Sanja, a McLaughlin student, and Mrs. Newcomer and her class for my first two blog comments. They wished me a safe and happy trip. You're the best!

April 16, 2009 - OK, I'm pretty much packed to go! Wow, so much to remember. Luckily the folks at the Institute of International Education (IIE - they're the ones who I applied to and they helped plan our trip for the Toyota Internation Teacher Program) gave us travel tips and a packing guide. What a big help! If you click on the suitcase you can see some of what I'm bringing.


April 8, 2009 - One of my goals in this learning project is to spread the word and advertise the blog so that many people can learn about what makes Costa Rica so very unique. I created these business size cards and have been handing them out to the students and staff at McLaughlin. I've also given many to other colleagues, friends and family. It will be great for different types of people in our community to participate, but it's not limited to just us. There's so much everyone can learn from the Costa Rican people and environment. You can help spread the word about this collaborative study! More minds participating and commenting will add to the scope of what we'll all gain. So, please, invite others to follow and participate in the blog. And hey, there's an RSS feed on the Earth Is My Classroom homepage to help you stay updated. Click on it to add it to your reader.

April 1, 2009 - The countdown has begun!! I leave for Costa Rica on Saturday, April 18th. There are still a lot of preparations to complete, but so far I've gotten shots and medicine as recommended by my doctor and as listed at the website for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (which should be checked when traveling out of the country). The raincoat I just purchased should be really good for the rainforests. I've also been studying about Costa Rica with my students and have been taking Spanish classes (my teacher is wonderful - gracias Profesor Simpson)and I've been learning Spanish from cds (gracias por los discos Mark). The adventure has begun!

Visit other Teacher Blogs from the Costa Rica trip!

SATURDAY, APRIL 18, 2009 Miami, Florida - Orientation
SUNDAY, APRIL 19, 2009 Miami, Florida - The Everglades
MONDAY, APRIL 20, 2009 Miami, Florida to San José
TUESDAY, APRIL 21, 2009 San José - visit US Embassy
WEDNESDAY, A 22, 2009 San José - Visit Peace University
THURSDAY, APRIL 23, 2009 Travel to Guácimo, visit park and Earth University

FRIDAY, APRIL 24, 2009 - School Visits
SATURDAY, APRIL 25, 2009 - Tour Earth U sustainable farms homestay - meet with students
SUNDAY, APRIL 26, 2009 - Travel from Guácimo to LaFortuna
MONDAY, APRIL 27, 2009 - Volcán Arenal
TUESDAY, APRIL 28, 2009 - LaFortuna to Monteverde
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 29, 2009 - Monteverde school visits, Cloud Forest hike
THURSDAY, APRIL 30, 2009 - Monteverde Service Projects
FRIDAY, MAY 1, 2009 - Monteverde to San José
SATURDAY, MAY 2, 2009 - Depart for home

Home - About Costa Rica Wiki - About This Project - Student Blog - Ms. MacNicoll's Trip Blog - World Stories Project - McLaughlin Middle School - Learn to Speak Spanish - Environment Quotes

And hey, there's an RSS feed on the Earth Is My Classroom homepage to help you stay updated. Click on it to add it to your reader.