Posts from Costa Rica
- Costa recall on January 27th, 2013
Its hard to believe that the amazing experience of study abroad in Costa Rica, with the amazing GREEN program is now over. Its hard to believe ago that this view of Lake Arenal and the volcano was a regular sight less than one week ago. Its hard to believe that I had such a great experience that most of this mandatory documentation of experience (known as a blog) has been left to the past tense. Let’s just agree that there wasn’t much wifi… The lake in this image was once a valley, with a thriving community. A river was damned, a town relocated, and a major hydro-electric system (a reason for our trip) was installed. No one said that renewable energies don’t cause collateral damage, and, you cant make an omelet without breaking some eggs.
- Day 7- Turbines and Tilaran on January 23rd, 2013
I woke up on Tuesday full of excitement because it was the day we were finally going to see the wind turbines. Basically every day so far in Costa Rica, we have been able to see the wind turbines from a distance, but it is a completely different experience to see them up close, and to have one of the engineers you about it. To add to the good day, we had eggs with rice and beans for breakfast yum yum. Frank gave us a lesson on wind power, and then we set off for the wind farm. The particular wind farm we visited was built in 1999, and it had 32 horizontal axis wind turbines, which is on the large end of the spectrum for wind farms. The engineer took us all into the control room and told us about the facility. He explained that the turbines begin to generate electricity with wind speeds of 4 m/s and stop generating electricity when wind speeds exceed 25 m/s for safety purposes. He also explained to us that the turbines undergo maintenance three times per year. The overall life span of a wind turbine is approximately 20 years, so the facility we visited will need to be replaced in about six years. After the engineer finished his presentation, we took some group pictures and got onto the bus. Reuban drove us along the road that circled the wind farm. We returned back to the area outside of the control room for more pictures and snacks compliments of the wind turbine engineers.
For lunch we went into downtown Tilaran, and had some free time to shop and eat lunch on our own. We all split up to scope out the lunch options, and settled on a tiny cafe a block or so away. This cafe actually had a buger with fries on the menu, so of course I ordered it for lunch. When it came out, the burger was not a traditional beer burger. It had a chicken nugget patty with a slice of actual ham and cheese on top. It was not what I was expecting at all, but I still enjoyed it. I spent the rest of the time in Tilaran checking out the little shops and buying souvenirs to bring home.The pool area at Volcano Brewing Hotel was still pretty sunny when we returned from town, so we all went outside to get some sun. Once the pool area was overcome with shade, I took out my notebook and finished some work poolside. Another GREEN group met us for dinner at Volcano Brewing. We all had a big bonfire with some more Costa Rican Smores for dessert.
- The End – Costa Rica Final Day Before Departure on January 20th, 2013
Today will surely be one to remember. It will definitely stick out as a very interesting day. We started off with an omelet and toast breakfast and then went off to enjoy our days. I went right to the beach and spent time floating with the waves with a few other people. The sun shined across the water and terns and pelicans flew by snapping up little fish. There were points in time where we could see little fish jumping out of the water as waves came and terns snatching them up. There was a point in time when I could feel fish hitting my legs and when I saw a tern grab one literally one foot in front of me as waves crashed down in the area around us. After lounging around for a bit, some of us headed to the town of Tamarindo to check out the shops and get lunch. To get to Tamarindo we had to walk across the beach and pay 500 colones to ride across a small channel to another side of the beach. I actually forgot my flip flops so I had to walk through the hot pavement and gravel roads of Tamarindo barefoot; it was fine though because I had been going barefoot often in the last week. So I survived the trip to Tamardino to then enjoy more time at the beach flowing with the waves while watching surfers. I constantly appreciated the beautiful view of the beach and the warmth of the water and sun. After relaxing on the beach of Tamarindo, we headed back to our hotel. On the way to the hotel two things were relevant: the low tide and the high-speed wind. The low tide enabled Brian, my new-found friend and roommate during the throughout the trip, to walk through the current and pass the channel to get back to hotel. As we approached the channel, the wind picked up and shot sand grans into our skin. We made it through the channel and headed back to the hotel (the rest of the group took a boat to get through the channel back to the other side). After getting back to the hotel I had some time to check my emails and get up to date. We then headed back to the beach to relax. The second time we went to the beach is when we saw all of the terns and pelicans. The scene around the beach at this time was amazing: there were birds filling the skies, the sun was midway through the sky, the sky was clear and the beach was open. After enjoying this beach time we had to a nearby beach town to experience a more local beach. This beach was very beautiful and had a lot of locals enjoying their time on it; it was much less of a tourist spot than the beach we were staying by. We walked to a section of this beach where the sand became shells. As we walked to this section of the beach we noticed locals throwing back beached fish. Brian and I walked over to check the scene and saw a black cloud of fish going in and out of the shore with the tide. We threw a few of these fish back ourselves. This all happened as the sun set. After it set, we walked back to where we entered the beach and had a great dinner. During dinner we gave our tributes and appreciation for the GREEN Program, going around telling everyone what we liked best about the program. This portion of the night really hit us; our trip was about to end and we had gained a lot from it. I have loved everything about the trip and appreciate everyone who has made the experience possible. Never have I learned so much while having so much fun. So after dinner we headed back and stopped at the food market to pick up snacks for the airport venture tomorrow. When we got home, everyone became settled down and started to check their computers. We had a relaxing night and before it ended I walked out to the beach and walked into the ocean alone. I felt very comfortable with my surroundings; the moon shining above me and the waves crashing below me (it was sort of a scary scene but it was really nice and tranquil). After taking some time to reflect and be alone I walked back up to my room, talked to a few people and started today’s blog, so here I am. This trip has truly been wonderful and I have been blessed for the opportunity to go on it. I have gained a lot of perspective and will never forget the people I’ve met here. Pura Vida!
- Wind Wonders on January 19th, 2013
The sun may have been shining but no one felt its heat when we reached the Movasa wind farm. It was full powered winds all around and a few hard hats almost got blown away just while getting off the bus! It was great to see the turbines up close and talk with one of the managers. He graciously spent a lot of time with us, talking and answering all of our questions even though occasionally there was a language barrier when it came to technical terms. We also rode around the facility and saw the cell of these 44 meter tall towers up close.
Throughout this trip, I have been able to see the many wind farms across the tremendous mountain landscape. It is an incredible feeling to simply look out my window and feel as though I am looking into the new world. Progress is right in front of me everywhere I turn. I can only say that it really brings a smile to my face when I see those blades turning beyond the hills. It is amazing what has been accomplished in Costa Rica and the U.S. has so much potential to harness the renewable energy that I have learned so much about during this trip. It is really beautiful how the people here want to use technology to preserve the country’s resources and enhance the environment’s beauty.
- Zip-Lining and Beach Time on January 19th, 2013
This morning we had to wake up an hour earlier than usual, because breakfast was being held at seven instead of eight and also due to the fact that we needed to give ourselves plenty of time to finish packing and get out on the road. We left our hotel in Puerto San Luis and set course for the beach and Tamarindo. On the bus ride over, our professor gave a brief lecture on coastal weather, natural diasters (such as tsunamis), as well as the distinction between what is magma and what is lava. The best place to be during a tsunami, as we learned, is out on a boat further out into the deeper ocean. That far away from the coastal line, the rising of the water is more subtle because it is more spread out. As for the difference between lava and magma, this one is simple: the two elements are composed of the same material, however magma stays beneath the earth’s crust, while lava is what it is called once it emerges.
After a little more driving, we finally arrived at the zip-lining place. This had been on of the activities I had anticipated the most throughout the trip, but once we arrived and saw the equipment we had to wear, I found myself getting pretty apprehensive. Our zip-line course consisted of twelve platforms, each varying in length and speed of descent. For protection, we were fastened into a harness, given protective helmets, and a sturdy pair of gloves for our hands. After we had all properly geared up, the facility guides gave us all a tutorial on how zip-lining works. They taught us the proper positions for our head and legs, how to increase or slow down, and, most importantly, how to brake. Finally, it was time to go. Now or never. We ascended a tall spiral of stairs up to the first platform and prepared for our first take-off. And it was…amazing. I had come this close to backing out of it at the last second, but I am so glad I didn’t because the experience was out of this world. We zipped through the canopies, past howler monkey and birds and it really felt like we were flying ourselves. Not only that, but how many people can say they have zip-lined in Central America? It was certainly an experience that won’t soon be forgotten.
Now pumped with adrenaline, we piled back onto the bus for the remainder of the ride to Tamarindo. A last minute change in hotels had us driving a little longer than anticipated, but the hotels we settled into are nice and comfortable, with the added benefit of looking out over the beach. Once we had all found our rooms and moved our things in, a bunch of us headed down towards the beach to explore for a bit. Some people escaped into the water, while others roamed the shoreline. As I walked along the shore, the afternoon sun beating down on me and the rolling waves swelling around my ankles, I took in the scenery and aimed my camera in the direction of some particularly nice views. While I took snapshots of my surroundings, a trio of pelicans dove into the water looking for dinner and the wind blew gently. It was very relaxing.
Then we were off to lunch. The first restaurant we tried wasn’t open, so we crcled the block and fount another one. The atmosphere was beachy and fun and they even had two parrots walking around the place. Craving more of an American lunch after all this time, I opted to order a grilled cheese sandwhich for lunch. It came with yucca sticks, which are like french fries (but way better!), and tasted superb! Many of my fellow classmates craving food that reminded them of home, ordered hamburgers. We took our time at the restaurant and then set off for a supermarket before returning back to our hotels. This market was more like a 7-eleven, but it had the last minute things we needed and then then we headed back to where we were staying. Tomorrow we have the day to ourselves to enjoy the beach, visit town, or grab some surfing lessons, and later in the evening we will have our final dinner with the group.
- Taboga Ingenio on January 19th, 2013
The second we got off the bus, my nose sniffed in confusion. There was such a strange smell in the air and I just could not place what it was. We entered the plant and were gratefully led out of the midday sun and into an air conditioned room where one of our team leaders, Frank, translated the plant manager’s presentation for us.
The mission of the company is to produce sugar, alcohol, and electricity while staying true to their clients’ needs and being in harmony with the workers, the community, and nature. The plant was an amazing site to see because it is setup as its own little city of production. The fields where the sugar cane was grown and cut had homes for the workers (since cutting cane is a seasonal job) were right next to plant where it was processed into sugar and also refined to make alcohol. Another part of the facility takes the wood waste and biomass materials and uses it as fuel to create electricity for the plant.
Later on we went to the rooftop of the buildings where the boilers were and we could see the entire facility. It was really wonderful and at the same time scary because it seemed that the wind would easily blow us right off the roof at any second! It was really great to see the landscape all around. We were able to see the volcano we had hiked up a few days prior and all the beautiful surrounding mountains.
- Kayaking and Capstone Presentations on January 19th, 2013
I woke up this morning feeling totally refreshed. Having gone to bed earlier than usual the night before, it was nice to wake up knowing that I had gotten a few precrious extra hours of sleep. Especially knowing the day ahead would be devoted to preparing for our captsone presentations. Breakfast was at eight and consisted of: rice and beans, scrambled eggs, and buttered toast. It also cane with juice and coffee, as usual. I don’t think I could ever get sick of the coffee down here. It’s out of this world. After breakfast, a bunch of us walked down to the lake, where several kayaks had been left out for us. Some of us doubled up, some of us ventured out solo, and we all rowed out to the other side of the lake. The morning sky was clear and the breeze cool as we paddled across the smooth surface of the water. We were only out on the lake for a little while, but it was nice to get out and do something on our own for a while and it was fun trying to figure out how to get the boat to move in the direction we wanted.
Following that, a lot of us took some time to relax by the pool to get some sun and then met up with our respective groups to piece together and organize our capstone presentations. Ours had a bit of work left to be done, but we put our heads together and managed to get it together in time for the presentation. And it came out pretty well! I definitely felt nervous going into our presentation, but the atmosphere, despite being formal, felt relaxed because we were presenting to fellow students on the trip as well as our Green leaders; all people we have gotten to know over the course of the trip. Everyone did such a great job on their projects and it was really interesting to see what the other groups came up with. After the presentations, we all headed down for dinner (rice and shrimp!). Tomorrow morning we leave this hotel and move on to our final destination: Tamarindo.
- Presentations and Fun – Costa Rica days 9 and 10 on January 19th, 2013
The last two days have been phenomenal. We didn’t really have an opportunity to blog yesterday so here I am now ready to tell you about two amazing days. Yesterday was dominated by Capstone presentations as most of us were working on our Capstone projects all day before 5 P.M. when we had to present. Our group had been working on our project plenty in advance so we had a lot of time to relax by the pool after breakfast and make use of the water slide at the hotel. I do need to add that we went kayaking after breakfast. Kayaking around Lake Arenal was amazing; we were pulling right up to cows and birds out on jutted mini peninsulas and passing floating gardens and tilapia fishing nets. We had our fun then we prepared specifically for the presentation; we practiced our slides and dressed up for a business-proposal-like performance. Every group presented their ideas and the presentations were definitely successful:
1.) Adjustments to Stony Brook University’s stadium lighting and turf
2.) The use of smart traffic systems and piezo electric mater to produce power from cars traveling over roads
3.) The use of new Windshire wind turbines to provide power for typical residential areas
4.) (Our idea) Implementing a living machine system to process waste water in micro-apartment complexes and also implementing new piping to preheat water before it is used to save costs on heating water
The presentations were very professional and the atmosphere provided for them was as well. The room was set up similarly to a board meeting and had a view overlooking Lake Arenal. This presentation offered experience; I’ve spoken in front of huge crowds before for various functions but the atmosphere created here was the kind you’d expect in the working world and felt very different. Anyway, the Capstones went really well and it turned out that the leaders had it planned for us to go out in Tileran that night. The night was really fun and further brought our group together. This trip has brought a group of 15 people with very different backgrounds together for 2 weeks. We’ve been spending so many hours together and we’ve become a tight knit group; it’s been amazing for connections and friendships.
Day 9 clearly went well. Now let me tell you about Day 10 and zip-lining for the very first time. This next sentence is going to sound really fun: We went zip-lining through the jungle, passing from tree-house platform to tree-house platform going backwards and upside down while encountering howler monkeys within feet from us as we made bee-lines through tremendous greenery. Zip-lining made me trust my surroundings more than I’ve ever had to. We were 100 feet up holding on to slim metal poles on very thin looking metal and wooden elevated platforms being geared up by men who I had never met. Many of us were anxious going up the stairs for our first try, but by the end of the session we felt so comfortable with zip-lining that it didn’t seem like a big deal. After going down the zip-line a few times, I started to feel as if the elevated platforms in the trees were just another floor in a building, comparing the ground level to floor 1 and the tree level to floor 2. It became second nature that we were up in the trees with the monkeys and it felt incredible. The men who worked at the zip-lining place were very enthusiastic and liked to have fun; the did some crazy things on the zip-lines and by watching them I realized that I too could zip-line upside, backwards or with no hands. To do this I had to trust my surroundings and I did. After zip-lining we went to hotel to set up our stuff for the beach. The hotel we are currently staying in is really festive and right by the water. As I am typing this blog, there are around 50 people really close by at the pool celebrating someone’s birthday and being very celebratory and loud. So we had time to check out the beach before lunch, and all I can say is that I feel like I’m in a vacation commercial or some type of awesome dream. I have never been anywhere like this. There is clear sky, perfectly warm water, and tons of open beach. It is absolutely beautiful here. It is the perfect place to go on a vacation, but I still miss home and know that the lifestyle here wouldn’t suit me long-term like New England does. Things here are very different and it is very hard to explain; people here are very nice and hospitable but after a while I would definitely miss being home. Being here has made me appreciate the importance of home and where you grow up. The people of Costa Rica have so much pride in their home and I think everyone needs to carry that mentality with their stomping grounds. Where you grow up is a big part of you. It might sound strange but that is something that I’ve thought about a lot while being here. The people here live their lives and love it, they grew up in Costa Rica and they love the life they’ve made for themselves. I don’t think statistics about happiness and location mean anything although it is known that Costa Rica is one of the happiest if not the happiest nation in the world. Happiness is a mentality. I’m here in Costa Rica for study abroad and we have events to do everyday but if I were here all year it wouldn’t be the same. I do love it here though and I will be sad to leave and because I appreciate home (I’ve never been outside of Connecticut for this long), I miss it already. So after we got lunch, a lot of us enjoyed free time on the beach playing soccer and swimming. This place is so relaxing and so fun. Tonight and the last 2 days should be a blast, I cannot wait!
- Hydroelectric Plant and Sustainable Homes on January 18th, 2013
Last night was our final night at the Volcano Brewing Company and it was a little bit surreal to zip up our luggage and check out of our rooms for the final time. For the last week, that hotel had served as our Costa Rican home and it was strange moving into new accommodations. Our new lodging is a hotel in Puerto San Luis and is located right next to a scenic docking area for boats. Before checking into our rooms, however, we began the morning with a lesson in solar energy, went on a trip to a hydroelectric facility, and took a trip to a sustainable home. During our class, we learned that solar energy may utilize two different types of technologies: photovoltaic power and concentrating solar power. It is also a renewable energy source that is continually on the rise in the United States and replaces peak load generation of fossil fuels. One historical fact regarding solar energy that I found to be really interesting is that the greek scientist, Archimedes, harnessed light from the sun to fend off attackers when the Romans invaded on battleships. They did so by tilting their bronze shields to collect light from the sun and then focusing the intense rays on their enemies, aiming to set fire to their ships.
The drive to the hydroelectric plant was short, but the sky was overcaset for the first time since we had arrived in the country. I’d been so accustomed to bright and sunny skies that at first the gentle drops of rain hitting the bus window seemed foreign to me. Luckily though, it only drizzled a bit and then quickly passed. We pulled up at the hydroelectric facility and were greeted by one of the managers, who showed us around. Inside, we were shown a scaled-down model of the technology they implement there as well as a pressure chamber that is used to stabilize divers who find themselves in trouble and is designed to carry two passengers: a physician and a patient.
Next, we visited a man and his wife at their sustainable home. They have been living in Costa Rica for a long time now, but only recently in the last few years have they finished construction on their new house and moved out of the cabin they had been staying in while it was being built. It is fully sustainable, when it comes to electricity and water, and is comfortably furnished. He built and designed the place, himself, and it sits cradled on a hilltop between primary rainforest. The inside of their house is beautifully decorated and fully equipped with such a low carbon footprint. They cooked a delicious meal for us, took us around on a tour of their property, and then we were off to check in at our hotel.
After settling in to our new rooms, the counselors surprised us with a sunset boat cruise around the lake. The view was absolutely gorgeous and a few of us even took a dip in the water when we stopped for a while to relax. Tomorrow, we have our capstone projects so we will be spending most of the day preparing for that.
- Follow your Dreams on January 17th, 2013
Visiting Viggo’s (I think that was his name, forgive me if I am wrong) completely sustainable house yesterday was one of the most inspirational lessons we learned yet. We were greeted from this little couple with extreme generosity and a hospitality that is tough to find these days. The house being off the grid was truly amazing, but the most motivational thing I took away from the experience was Viggo’s determination to succeed.
One of my peers asked Viggo how he was able to construct such a creation and his reply was simple. He said that if you could dream it you can accomplish it. This may seem so super cliche but this statement holds truth with the right mind set. Viggo tossed out his blue prints and was able to design a house with incredible style and resourcefulness. Viggo was a chef by trade but put his mind to work and was determined to find a location and style were he could be completely independent.
I am a firm believer that whatever you dream you can accomplish with the right work ethic. Anything is feasible and the move to a more sustainable culture may appear as a daunting task, but can be accomplished if we focus our energies upon renewables. America is the land of ingenuity and the capacity we have to adapt is limitless.