Monthly Archives: August 2010

Bernardo: Conservationist, Leader, and Great Teacher

Bernardo in the field

In order to understand our trip to the Osa Peninsula, one must know something about the man who led it.  Bernardo Aguilar is the professor for the class “Ecosystem Health and Public Health: The Case of Costa Rica”.  He grew up in Costa Rica but is a resident of the US and teaches at a university in Arizona (I think at ASU).  He is an enthusiastic teacher who loves sparking new minds to great ideas and challenging conventional ways of thinking.  Throughout our time here in Costa Rica, he has challenged us to think critically about how things (from ideas, history, to the identity of the country itself) are presented and the motives behind such presentation.

Bernardo is also the head of an NGO called Fundacion Neotropica.  The foundation’s chief goal is to find balance between man and nature, especially along the lines of conservation.  Bernardo encourages his students to fully engage with the world around them and the material he goes over in class.  Field trips are a must.  Our midterm and final for the Ecosystems class were both based on field excursions.  Bernardo took us to visit the protected zone of La Carpintera for our midterm, he also led the group trip to the National Museum, and for our final exam he organized the group trip to the Osa Peninsula.  He has a philosophy concerning exams that I really appreciated and agreed with: he considers them another opportunity to learn.  Using his connections and knowledge about the area, he gave the entire Travel-Study group the chance for an informative and hands-on experience in Osa.

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Week 4: Birthday Break

Nick, Alex, Me, and Gloria ready for some birthday fun

Monday was Alex’s birthday so we all tried to go out to celebrate.  Unfortunately, we all had midterms and projects due in the next few days so not everyone was able to go but about half of us were able to make it.   Everyone who could went out to eat at a restaurant near the hotel.   The place had a “TEXAS” strip club in the back and Alex could not pass up the opportunity to see it.  We all went back there with her only to find it was empty except for a few working girls dressed in white waiting around for some customers to arrive.   I thought it funny that “El Amor”, a song I learned in Spanish class in high school (that would definitely NOT typically bring images of strip clubs to mind), was playing when we walked in.   Though the place looked like the backdrop for a movie scene (which is about the extent of my strip club experiences thus far), nothing was going on so we soon left and headed to a normal club, El Cuartel de la Boca del Monte in San Jose.

The place was poppin’, absolutely packed with live music, full bar, restaurant, dining area, and dance floor.  Everyone had a lot of fun.   Speaking with some of the other patrons, our group was presented with a great example of how interconnected the world and its inhabitants really are.   We mentioned to one man how much our group had loved Manuel Antonio and it turned out that he had lived and worked there as a river guide with the company we had gone rafting with.   Parul, one of the girls in our group, had wanted to get in contact with a guy she met there and our guide Fernando had been searching for over a week.  It turned out that this man we ran into at El Cuartel was a good friend of his and knew his number by heart.  We were all really excited to tell Parul and impressed by the example of how small the world can be.  Soon after this experience, we decided to head out.  Unfortunately most of us still had midterms and other school projects to work on so we had to leave earlier than desired, but the night was considered a great success.

The Post Office

Tuesday and Wednesday were spent on school work and packing.  Wednesday afternoon a group of us went on an excursion with Fernando into downtown San Jose.  We wandered the city streets, visiting the giant, extravagant building that was the central Post Office to mail some post cards and letters.  I wanted to take a picture of the outgoing mail slots, where you could choose from sending your letter to Europe, Asia, the Americas, etc. but a guard stopped me and informed me that no pictures were allowed, even just of slots in the wall.  Slightly disappointed but understanding, I continued down the main walking thoroughfare of the city along with the rest of the group.

On our excursion, we walked through the city’s central market (El Mercado Central) looking for souvenirs, etc.  We searched for coffee makers, good coffee, machetes, and finally, ice cream.  Fernando took us to a great heladeria (ice cream shop) that was family-owned and had been in the market since 1901.  The ice cream was some of the best I’ve had.  They had options to get it with gelatin and/or powdered condensed milk but I voted for just the ice cream.  It was filled with cinnamon and other spices and didn’t need anything else.

Old man and his statue

We also visited the main cathedral of San Jose, the Teatro Nacional (National Theater), and on the way visited a churro stand (the churros were interestingly filled with condensed milk) as well as an old man on the street.  The cathedral was an impressive building that has been a major part of the city for a long time.  There was a small separate room past one of the alcoves that Fernando claimed his parents were married in.  This was the first time he had ever seen that room open but it was beautiful addition to the big church.  The Teatro Nacional is one of the oldest buildings in San Jose and it is absolutely gorgeous.  We only saw the lobby and the cafe, but the painted ceilings and marble statues made an impression.   Walking there, we passed a man sitting on the street, leaning against a painted bull statue that reminded me of the frog statues found throughout Calaveras County.  Apparently, he was so famous for sitting there that the statue was named after him.

Results of the long bus ride

Results of the long bus ride

On Thursday morning, everyone went to the university so that once we were finished with lunch we could all cram onto a couple of buses and head out on our next field excursion to Osa Peninsula.  The drive was long, and made longer by the fact that one of the buses (thankfully it was the one I was not on) broke down as soon as we pulled out of the university.  Thankfully, the bus company was able to send us another one relatively quickly (it wasn’t more than an 45 minutes) and we were able to get back on the road.

People traded off sleeping, talking, and listening to music.  I managed to get in some reading of El Alquimista on the ride, which made me happy.  The author, Paulo Coelho is an amazing and insightful writer that I absolutely love.  I decided early on in the trip that the best souvenir I could get for myself would be a book in Spanish and when I saw this version of The Alchemist I just couldn’t pass it up.  It is one novel that one can read over and over again and continue to gain something new every time.   Regardless of how they spent the six hour drive, however, everyone was glad when we finally reached our destination later that evening.

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