Studying at EARTH wasn’t all hard work and cold showers. The university is on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica in the province of Limon, so we were able to travel to some pretty awesome beaches on our weekends off. I had never been to the Caribbean, so I especially enjoyed our time with the brilliant blue waters and sandy beaches. We were able to visit Puerto Viejo and Cahuita. Puerto Viejo is definitely more of party-surfer beach town and a destination for study abroad students. I even spotted some students from my home university that are in Costa Rica with a different program. The hostel we stayed at was as awesome as the beaches, and for $7 a night we could sleep in a hammock. Cahuita, on the other hand, was much more tranquila. While we were there we went to Playa Negra, a black sand beach, but there is also Cahuita National Park, which has a beautiful white sand beach. One of the interesting things about Cahuita is that the people own the national park and take care of it instead of the Costa Rican government. Because of this, there is a strong sense of community and the park has a special place in all of the residents’ hearts.
While we were on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, we were also able to visit the indigenous BriBri community in Talamanca as part of a class community experience. To get to the community, you have to travel by canoe for an hour. Although the BriBri traditionally depended on cacao (chocolate) production, they had to diversify their economic activity when there was an outbreak of a particular fungus across Costa Rica. Even though they still produce cacao (and extremely delicious chocolate) they also welcome tourists to experience their culture as a form of rural tourism. During our time there we were able to make chocolate, shoot a bow and arrow, and help build a thatch roof. As an international development major, it was interesting to see how government regulations and community needs are often disjointed. During a hike to a waterfall, we saw young community members complete a three hour uphill hike to the next community with sacks of cement on their backs. Apparently, the Costa Rican government had agreed to pay for new public restrooms for a school, but only if they used government materials – cement. In reality, it would have been just as effective, sanitary, and easier if the community had been allowed to build the restrooms from local wood materials. Definitely something that made an huge impact on myself and the rest of the group.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Hello! My name is Sydney Perlotto, and I am a junior at the University of Maryland, College Park majoring in Global Social Change and Development and minoring in Latin American Studies and International Development and Conflict Management. I am originally from Atlanta, GA but came to UMD because of its proximity to DC (and snow!). You can often find me volunteering around campus, baking tasty treats, or just generally frolicking! After traveling to Chile for a short term study abroad my sophomore year, I have definitely caught the travel bug and hope one day backpack throughout Latin America. Costa Rica is bound to be an adventure of language, culture, and biodiversity - and I have my waterproof hiking boots at the ready!</span></p>