Marietta College

Christopher Newport University

2015 Central American Conservation and Leadership Field Trip

May 2015

Roger Blanco

5/19/15 - We picked up on Mayan culture today with a visit to a chocolate farm.  This farm grows the chocolate and processes it into cocoa powder, cocoa wine and chocolate.  They start with the cocoa plants, picking the pods and pulling out the seeds  The tissue surrounding the seeds is used to make the cocoa wine.  The seeds are dried using the sun over a period of a week or so, then the beans are fermented and roasted.  We started with the fermented beans and cracked them to remove the solid chocolate nibs.  These were then loaded onto a grinding stone that had been in our host Juan's family for hundreds of years (and passed into his hands as a wedding gift0.  The nibs were ground with the stones until the cocoa liquified and turned into a dark brown pastes.  Sugar was added and we had chocolate.  The demonstration was followed by a fantastic lunch featuring chocolate chicken and a variety of other local dishes.  Later we hiked to a swimming hole near a cave.


The cacao seeds.


A cacao seed with the seed coat picked off.  The remainder can be crushed to cacao nibs, which are then ground up.


Grinding the nibs.


Adding the cane sugar (also produced on the farm).


Tasting the final project.




And a swim to finish off the day.

5/18/15 - A very busy day.  We hooked up with a local NGO - TIDE (Toledo Institute for Development and Environment).  They protect a lot of the marine and freshwater resources locally and they took us up a river to see some of their land-based initiatives before taking us out to their ranger station on a small island and then to another small island to snorkel.  The water was very rough, but everyone had a good time snorkeling.


TIDE ranger station on the Rio Grande River.


Tide ranger station on Abalone Key.


Ready to snorkel.




More snorkeling.


This small Boa Constrictor was on the island where we had lunch.  It is not venomous.

5/17/15 - We got up about 3:30 to fly from Costa Rica to Belize via San Salvador.  The flights went well and we arrived in Belize mid-morning and promptly drove to the southern part of the country at Punta Gorda.

5/16/15 - We are in San Jose ready to fly to Belize in the morning.  We have internet at the hotel, but it is VERY slow and I can't upload photos.  Not sure when we will have internet in Belize.

5/15/15 - We haven't been able to update the pages as we've been at El Zota, a field station in the Caribbean lowlands of Costa Rica - no internet connection there. A brief recap of what has happened since the last update:  We drove down from Monteverde to La Fortuna at the base of the Arenal volcano.  There we studied some of the thermal springs in the area; Costa Rica is trying to reach energy independence in part through geothermal energy.  In Monteverde and in La Fortuna the students had locals complete surveys about their attitudes towards the environment; this is part of a multi-year study.  We then drove on to El Zota, where the owner, Heiner Ramirez, welcomed us with a BBQ of beef from his own farm.  We also had a bit of overlap with a group from Iowa State led by Tom LaDuke and Jill Pruetz.  We went on a hike the following morning, then started on the service project, which was to help fix up the local school (also called El Zota).

El Zota

The school at El Zota.  A one-room schoolhouse, it has 5 students and one teacher, who lives in part of the building to the right.  The lunchroom, also on the right, is no longer in service.

el Zota

The original school was built by the locals with material provided by US AID.


Heidi taking some of the students to her house for buckets and brooms.  The school was originally built when Heidi's family moved to Costa Rica from Germany in the 1980's; her son attended there but they had to move to the city so he could attend high school.


Bringing in the supplies.  Douglass from El Zota Field Station is carrying the paint.




Detail work on the lettering - we didn't have any black paint so they had to be careful to leave the original lettering there.


More painting.


Before painting.


After painting.


Inside the classroom.


Inside after some sprucing up.


This wall needed a lot of work; fungus had grown on the siding.


The painting crew.


The finished wall.


The painting crew.  They painted most of the exterior in just a few hours.  Note that they got very little paint on themselves!

finished product

After painting.

5/10/15 - A busy day.  We spent the morning at Bosque Eternal de los Ninos (BEN - Childrens' Eternal Rainforest).  This forest preserve was purchased with funds collected by students in Sweden and the rest of the world.  We met first with Leslie to get an overview of the program, then went on a nice hike on the reserve trails.  Later, we met with Bob Law, a Monteverdean from Ohio originally who has been here almost 50 years and is on the board of BEN.  We ate lunch at the reserve, and went on to CASEM, a women's cooperative where a diverse array of artisan's sell their work.  Then to the hummingbird gallery to see hummingbirds - many more species than in Ohio.  Dinner back at the hotel, then a trip to a restaurant for deserts to celebrate the birthday of one of the students.


Lecture at BEN.





Dr. Brown points out something important in this photo that was not at all staged.


This grasshopper looked and acted like a wasp.


A katydid that blended into its environment very well.



Meeting with Bob Law of Bosque Eternal de los Ninos.


5/9/15  A long drive from Santa Rosa in the northwest to Monteverde which is in the central mountains. We stopped for lunch when we were almost to Santa Elena, the town near Monteverde where we are actually staying.  After arrival we settled into the town and had an evening discussion.

Near to Monteverde

On a hillside outside Monteverde.


5/815 - The main activity of the day was a trip to Rincon de la Vieja,  This is an active volcano, and in fact it was too active for us to try the summit.  We did hike around an area of volcanic features, then had lunch and went swimming in a special swimming hole.  The trail to the swimming hole is dangerous, but the ranger gave us permission to go there and it was great.  We then went to Liberia for dinner and ice cream and returned to Santa Rosa to study.


Hiking at Rincon


On the way to the swimming hole.

Swimming Hole Jacuzzi

Swimming Hole

Swimming Hole

Studyinng at Santa Rosa

Studying at Santa Rosa

5/7/15 - After breakfast, the day started with a quiz and discussion, followed by an exploration of the Casona, a national monument in Costa Rica.  In the afternoon, we met with Roger Blanco, one of the Ticans instrumental in the formation of the Guanacaste Conservation Area and the recovery of the tropical dry forest, a critically endangered ecosystem.



Discussion at Santa Rosa

5/6/16 - We spent the morning in San Jose at the national museum and changing money, then we got off to Guanacaste in the afternoon.

Breakfast in San Jose

San Jose
Learning about San Jose

National Museum
National Museum

National Museum
National Museum

Stopping at a Fruit Stand.

5/5/15 - We met the CNU group just fine in Miami and the travel to San Jose in Costa Rica went off without a hitch.  We got in on time, but by the time we got through customs and to our hotel it was too late for lunch and too early for dinner - but we were all hungry.  It will take a day or two to get everyone's clock back on a regular schedule.  May get some pictures up tonight.  We visit the national museum tomorrow morning then off to Guanacaste and Santa Rosa NP.