Six Tusculum College students explored rain forests and coastal ecosystems in Costa Rica as part of an environmental science course.
The students spent 16 days of the 18-day “Field Biology II” course in Costa Rica, exploring the Central American nation’s rich abundance and variety of plant and animal life. The students shared their experiences in a presentation to the Tusculum College community on Tuesday, April 17.
The trip took the students all across the nation as they visited a volcano, mountainous regions, a wet tropical forest, a dry tropical forest and the coast.
“Ecotourism is huge in Costa Rica,” said Ariel Hawkins, and the students stayed in eco-friendly hotels and visited nature reserves, a reforestation project and an animal rehabilitation organization. Hawkins is a senior from Greeneville.
They stayed at the Celeste Mountain Lodge, which is operated by a French national and constructed in a modern style with primarily recycled materials. “It was one of the most beautiful places that we stayed,” said Drew Baker, a junior from Athens, Tenn., who recalled that the students wondered about their destination as they traveled over narrow and treacherous roads.
The lodge had a garden area that stretched to the bordering nature reserved. “When we were in the garden, we saw more native birds there than any other place on our trip,” said Charles Shrewsbury, a senior from Stanton, Va.
While there, they hiked to the Rio Celeste, a nearby river, and to some natural hot springs. Hiking through the rain forest, the students experienced a rain shower unlike one they had experienced before. Jabari Bunch, a senior from Stone Mountain, Ga., explained that when it started to rain, the tree canopy overhead was so thick that they stayed relatively dry. “Everything seemed to glow there,” Bunch said of the rain forest. “Everything was so colorful.”
Wherever they traveled, the students said their guides cautioned them to not veer from paths because of the dangerous and poisonous animals in the forest. Morgan Baese, a senior from Chattanooga, Tenn., noted that at the Rio Celeste Lodge, there was a carpeted path going through the garden because the first guests apparently would go out into the garden and the wilderness beyond barefooted.
This caution was needed at their stop at Tárcoles River. The students took a boat ride on the river, which is filled with huge crocodiles. “We were riding in a flat-bottom boat,” Baese said. “The water was murky and every once in a while, you would see these two eyes peering at you beside the boat.”
The primary purpose of the boat ride was to see the hundreds of birds that live alongside the river. At one point, Hawkins said, “the guide asked everyone to be quiet and we could hear the most beautiful song. It was from a clay robin, which is not the most colorful or beautiful bird. In Costa Rica, it is the symbol of the common man . . . that he has a beautiful song inside.”
The students then visited the coastal region. “The beach there looked like a movie,” Hawkins said. Swimming into tidal pools off the beach, the students saw an abundance of sea life and also encountered spider monkeys on land.
Their next few days were spent visiting Cloudbridge Nature Reserve that is focused on reforestation of land that had been stripped by farming practices. The reforestation has been a success and the reserve is now channeling its efforts into education about the importance of the forests and how to preserve the forest.
At Cloudbridge, the students met a former attorney from Minnesota who is living at the edge of the reserve in a home that is completely hydro-powered. They also talked with a former local farmer who is now helping in the reforestation project and with college students completing research internships.
Another destination was La Fortuna, a small town at the base of the volcano. Shrewsbury said that this was one of his most anticipated destinations of the trip because he wanted to see an active lava flow. Unfortunately, there was not one while the students were there, but they hiked up the side of the volcano.
Five of the students are majoring in the sciences while Baker is a creative writing major. Baker said his primary reason to go on the trip was gaining further experience in travel writing.
Baker is most interested in the travel essay that shares reflections on experiences in a particular location and what an individual felt and learned. He encouraged anyone who is interested in that type of writing to keep an open mind when traveling with no expectations or assumptions of the destination.