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Costa Rica Blog for Friday, August 1

The mornings in Costa Rica are beautiful. We were greeted with a crisp sunrise and the sounds of airplanes soaring above as we started day number two of our international adventure at the Hampton Inn in Alajuedo, Costa Rica. Breakfast was fantastic. Traditional Beans and Rice, a variety of passion fruit, and the specialty meal of stuffed tortillas provided for an incredible start to our day.

We first sojourned to the University of Costa Rica, where we were introduced to the geography, traditions, crop life, and economics of this beautiful country. One of the professors spoke about these topics with passion as he shared his deep-felt love for his homeland. After this, we went onward to an insect museum. This museum helped to acquaint us with the entomological systems of the native land. We learned about the many different types of insects, their behaviors, and the nutritional values that they offer to the people of the world.

Following our tour of the museum, we were given the opportunity to indulge in an insect treat. Frederico, our tour guide, taught us how to prepare insects for consumption. Using curry powder, water, and a hint of salt, a plate of insects became a protein meal. While some chose not to capitalize on this remarkable cultural opportunity for reasons unknown, many did choose to consume the bugs; and they thoroughly enjoyed them!

As the day progressed, we went on to participate in a much more balanced meal at the home of a local Costa Rican family. The food was incredible, and the hospitality they offered us was even more so! From here, we were able to enjoy a scenic view of a distant volcano. This view was breathtaking—reflecting the heart-stopping beauty of such a magnificent treasure of Central America.

Afterwards, we went to enjoy an informative tour of the Agronomy Research Center. This next adventure offered us the opportunity to see some of the priceless fruits of Costa Rica in their natural habitats. We enjoyed tasting fruits that we had never experienced before, or that we were not really familiar with. The fruit was amazing, and everyone loved it!

Leaving the Agronomy Research Center, we went to our final event of the evening—a historic Chocolate Dinner! Sibu, a Costa Rican chocolate shop, provided an interactive tour through the history of chocolate. We learned how chocolate had evolved and changed over time, all while being able to perceive it with edible examples! This experience was truly fantastic, and will be one that I never forget. The dinner that followed brought a pleasant and relaxing close to such an eventful day, and an even more educational evening.

Learning about Costa Rica by experiencing it has truly been a reminder of why “learning by doing” is so important. Some of the same things that I had read about in textbooks, or watched on the television, came to life. In fact, they became a part of my life. With such incredible memories forged by day two, I can only imagine what’s in store for tomorrow. I can’t wait to enjoy another day of the “pura vida” (Pure Life) of Costa Rica!

Michael Chaney, NC 4-H

Costa Rica Blog for Saturday, August 2

“Cultivating Community and Culture”

Saturday began with a misty morning bus ride from Alajuela to Guacimo to visit Earth University, a prestigious school with approximately 400 students who all study agronomy. Upon arriving, members of our team led a group of university students in a few interactive exercises and games to help us get acquainted with each other and share some good laughs. We had the opportunity to continue learning more about the students and their work at Earth over lunch conversations in their cafeteria.

Following lunch, a student named Michael walked us through a portion of the research areas where students are experimenting with raised beds, vertical agriculture, hydroponics, and more. One of their goals is to identify efficient and sustainable methods by which individuals in urban areas can grow food in smaller spaces. They also strive to develop ways for waste items like tires, construction blocks, and plastic bottles to be used for constructing the beds and gardens to grow these plants in. The university communicates its research to the surrounding community by conducting tours for interested visitors and through informational videos posted on their YouTube channel.

Our afternoon and evening consisted of a visit to a community in an area not far from the university. As we walked with our guide, we were shown houses, the community’s health clinic, two of their three grocery stores, churches, and more. We finished our time there for the day at the community center with Rojer and his family. Rojer welcomed us enthusiastically and dived in to asking us about our perceptions of Costa Rica before arriving and our experiences thus far. He helped us understand more of the richness of Costa Rican culture and some of the challenges currently being faced, such as a loss of knowledge of preparing traditional foods and speaking a dialect unique to Costa Ricans that are also of African descent (as Rojer is himself).

If what we witnessed and experienced today had to be summed up in one word, I would say it’s “cultivation”- and not just because of the lettuce, tomatoes, bananas, and herbs being grown that we saw throughout the day. Earth University is dedicated to cultivating a community of students who will go forth with both the technical knowledge and real-world experience necessary to become the next wave of agricultural leaders in all the places from which the students hail, whether it’s Ecuador or Sierra Leone. The university also works to cultivate communities in Costa Rica that are more sustainable in resource use while also being more productive. Rojer shared with us his passion for cultivating pieces of Costa Rican culture that are quickly being lost by the current generation by providing hands-on learning opportunities for Costa Rica citizens and visitors alike. As the evening came to a close, we left with a challenge from Rojer. It was a challenge to cultivate our own traditions and characteristics that form the cultures of our home towns and state because, just like Costa Rica, we too are rich in diversity and the potential of what we have to offer the world.

Alex Loflin, Shelton Scholar

“Community Day” – August 3rd, 2014

Sunday began by leaving the hotel at 9:15 to travel to the Iroquois community which we visited yesterday evening. Before leaving the hotel, we had the pleasure of having breakfast at the hotel restaurant. Breakfast consisted of cheese, eggs, plantains, toast, and rice and beans. We spent the morning at the community learning crafts from three local women. We learned how to make cards from Yessica, bows from Wendy, and animal clothes pin crafts from Doña Rosario. These crafts were all made from supplies collected from within the community, whether recycled or bought from local shops. After they shared their skills with our team, they showed us other crafts that they had made. These crafts were available for sale and some of our team saw crafts that they chose to purchase and were amazed by the talent demonstrated through art. At first glance, you would never think that these crafts were made with recycled or reused materials. We have seen first hand how resourceful and rich the Costa Rican culture really is. After all of the crafting was finished and cleaned up it was time to learn how to prepare fruit. We learned about casava, plaintains, bread fruit, papaya, mango, chaiyote, pineapple, coconut, mamanchino, and granadilla. Not only did we learn how each fruit is grown and prepared for cooking, but also got to taste them. Well, the ones that you are able to eat raw. It is crazy how much better the fruit tastes when it doesn’t have to be imported across hundreds of miles to reach its consumer.

After learning about all of these fruits, it was time for lunch. Lunch consisted of chicken, rice, vegetables, and fruit juice. The chicken was infused with coconut and was some of the most flavorful chicken I have ever tasted. The chicken was as fresh as you could get; straight from the community. Also, the fruit juice here in Costa Rica is absolutely to die for! After refueling, we went next door to the health center to lead activities for the children of the community. These children learned about the needs of animals such as food, water, and shelter as well as expressing their artistic abilities through coloring. Some even mentioned that they need love. After this, they learned about plant and animal cells as well as how cells ultimately make up us as humans. After a fun and educational experience, we took part in a friendly futbol game on the field in front of the health center.

We had about an hour of extra time so we came back to the hotel to rest and cool off. At 5:15 we went back to the community for dinner. Dinner was spaghetti, salad, and garlic toast. It was touching to have them make a dish that they knew would remind us of home. These women completely accepted our entire group as part of their own family. This was a feeling that can rarely be experienced within our own country, much less a completely different country that doesn’t even speak the same language as us. Although many of us could not speak directly to the women without a translator, there was a connection that allowed us to feel comfortable and trust one another. For desert we had rice pudding, coconut ice cream, and pineapple mango ice cream. Everyone agreed that all of the desert options were delicious. After eating dinner we thanked Wendy, Doña Rosario, and Yessica for their hospitality. Before leaving the community building, we could purchase pocketbooks and wallets made out of can tabs from a lady in the community. The final thing we had the opportunity to do in the community was go inside of one of their houses and see how they live. Many of us have never been outside the country and have never seen a house like this. Seeing where they laid their heads down to rest at night was a direct connection that we could share with the people within this community and realize just how blessed we are. This experience truly brought a different way of thinking for our group as a whole. Today was definitely a groundbreaking day.

Danielle Blake, NC FFA & Will Pfitzner, Shelton Scholar