Parque Nacional de Volcán Irazú

Submitted by Kat Severson on the 2024 Winter SPAN program in Costa Rica

Looking at Volcan Irazu from the lookout point! Admiring the view!

Vulcán Irazú might be my favorite excursion thus far. Everything from the ride up the mountain to the spectacular view, to the coffee in the gift shop was incredible! I enjoyed getting out of Heredia and stretching my legs, breathing in the clean, fresh, rural, Cartago air. Throughout the whole bus ride up the mountain, I did not stop looking out the window. I was amazed by the views and looking at all the small local farms. As an agriculturist spending most of my life living on a farm, it feels good to be in that atmosphere (plus I miss my goats). The views of the Central Valley and the surrounding mountain ranges were incredible, I took so many pictures. Once at the top of Irazú, I took in all the cold fresh air I could, it was so nice being away from the sticky heat for a little bit and also to be out in nature. The views from the top of the volcano were astonishing, I took a seat and just took it all in. Though volcanoes are dangerous and at times unpredictable, they are very important to the lands. When they erupt, they provide rich nutrients to soils, which is why the land in the valley is so fertile and able to support the growing of many different crops. Hence why many farms can be found in the mountainsides, especially coffee. When erupting, volcanoes also release valuable organic material such as pumice, gold, opal, mercury, and other metals. Some of these precious stones and gems can be good for the economy. Carbon Dioxide and hydrogen gasses are also released during eruptions, which in moderation, can be good for the environment. I greatly appreciated being out in nature and seeing the natural wonders that the world created. And there was something so exhilarating looking down at a (kind of) active volcano. (Submitted on January 22, 2024)

First week in Rio de Janeiro

Submitted by Addison Garrett on the 2024 Winter PLSC/LARC program in Brazil…

Watercolor lessons at Casa Caminhoa with Alice

So far our time in Rio has been full of memorable experiences. One of my favorite activities has been our watercolor lessons. We have a teacher named Alice who is always so warm and welcoming. In the first class, she had us paint guava. In the second class, we painted different leaves. Finally, in the third class, we painted flowers. It was nice having some time to myself to get creative. Her classes emphasized capturing the beauty of nature in Brazil. We got to see this beauty firsthand at Jardim Botanico, a botanic garden in Rio. This garden had countless collections of plants including succulent greenhouses and a collection of stingless bee hives. The uniqueness in appearance and characteristics of each plant was fascinating. The garden was very effective at showing each plant’s beauty and role in the ecosystem.

The fashion in Rio is also fascinating. It is often very colorful and loose-fitting. I assume this allows airflow in warm weather. It’s interesting to think about not switching your wardrobe for the seasons. They are so close to the equator that the temperatures between seasons don’t fluctuate as much.

You can also see that the constant temperatures have an impact on architecture. Natural light is utilized extensively through big windows, skylights, or glass ceilings. There are also many more outdoor spaces. There’s even a free outdoor gym next to the beach that I’ve been super grateful for.

We’ve had plenty of unique views of Rio. One at the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain and one at the top of Corcovado, where Christ the Redeemer stands. Once you see Rio from high up you realize how massive it is and how little you’ve explored. It’s much bigger than any city I’ve seen in the US. (Submitted on January 20, 2024)

View of a part of Rio from the top of Corcovado

Week 2 Rio

Submitted by Ben Sekowski on the 2024 Winter PLSC/LARC program in Brazil…

In the second week of our study abroad in Brazil, we spent our time exploring the amazing parts of Rio. In the mornings we could go to an outdoor gym on the beach, which was cool to see the townspeople share the equipment and help each other workout. Working out with strangers made me realize that there is a big sense of community in Rio and Brazil. 

Usually we would have class around 11 am and then go on a trip or a watercolor painting lesson. The trips included hiking sugarloaf mountain, seeing the Metropolitan Cathedral, and some gardens. There were some breathtaking views and they were worth the long hikes and Ubers. During these trips we had to do some sketching assignments and each time I really started to improve in my art skills. Having to draw different scenes and items made me look into the views in more detail, which made me appreciate what I saw even more. (Submitted on January 20, 2024)

Segundo Semana en Costa Rica

The Ujarrás of Cartago

Submitted by Elias Tapia on the 2024 Winter SPAN program in Costa Rica…

This last week we went to Irazú Volcano and the Ujarrás of Cartago. They were so pretty and I was simply in awe of the vast beauty of Irazú volcano. The volcano is almost 11,000ft in elevation and a lot of people actually live and work on the volcano itself. The soil is rich from volcanic eruptions and many people farm coffee, potatoes, and cattle. You may ask, “why would someone live on an active volcano?” it is this mentality called “It won’t happen to me”; the people are aware that Irazú is still an active volcano but there are also multiple people who are constantly monitoring the volcano’s potential activity. 

The Ujarrás of Cartago were really cool too. It is an old Church, probably one of Costa Rica’s first churches and first potential settlement (it did not succeed). It was made a historical national monument in April of 1920, but it is estimated that it was first built in the 1500s. There are so many kinds of birds and parakeets that live in the trees surrounding the Ujarrás. Many locals seem to relax and enjoy the scenery surrounding the Ujarrás as well, and there are a few pools in the area that the locals also enjoy and relax in. (Submitted on January 18, 2024)

First Week in Costa Rica

Submitted by Alejandro Trujillo-Reyes on the 2024 Winter SPAN program in Costa Rica…

During my first week in Costa Rica, I got a bus tour of Heredia, visited a Toucan Rescue Ranch, took a museum tour in the capital of San Jose, and visited one of the largest active volcanoes named Volcan Irazu, and visited some of the most historical Catholic churches in Costa Rica. During the bus tour, we visited one of the most historical monuments in Heredia. El Fortin is a high tower that was built in 1876 as a military lookout post. In1974, it was declared as one of the national monuments of the town. It is near a beautiful park, a market, and other churches. Our second excursion was visiting a Toucan Rescue Ranch after class. During this visit, I had the opportunity to see toucans, sloths, monkeys, owls, and parrots. Not only did we see these animals, but we also learned about the history of why they were in the rescue ranch. A lot of these animals were either hurt by dogs, saved as a pet, or were brought by people in Costa Rica because of people thinking that the animals had no home or family. During our tour of San Jose, we visited the national theater of Costa Rica. We were able to see all floors of the theater, learn the history, and even sit in the original seats of the theater. During our free time, my friend and I walked around to find places to eat. We had some amazing tacos. Yesterday, we visited Volcan Irazu. This was my first time going to see an active volcano. To my surprise, it was cold at the
top of the volcano. We then had a buffet style lunch with an amazing view. Finally, I went to of Basilica de la Virgen de Los Angeles . This church is found in the historic city of Cartago.It is important as it is a shrine to the patron Saint of Costa Rica, the Virgin of Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles. The Basilica also has a small statue of the Virgin Mary carrying Jesus. The legend says
that a peasant girl discovered the statue in the 17th century. It is a popular destination for pilgrimages. Exploring this church, included us seeing the back side, front, and inside of the church. As soon as we entered, I observed a replica of the church along with a chart that demonstrated the progress of the church being built throughout the years. As we walked through the church, I noticed that it had the important Catholic saints that are the patron saints for their respective countries in Latin America. I took photos of the Dominican Republic’s (Nuestra Señora de Las Mercedes) and Mexico’s (Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe). I found it very amazing to see these posters up through the hallway, as it shows a deep connection between the Latin American countries that have Catholicism as their main religion.

As we continued to walk through the back side of the church, we saw a line of people standing in line to pray to the sculpture of la Senora de Los Angeles. Our tour guide mentioned in the bus that many people do this in Costa Rica as well as it is a tradition to also bring a charm of the thing that you are praying for. For example, those who were praying to have a body part healed, would bring a charm of that body part. I was honestly shocked to see the amount of glass cases filled with charms. As someone who prays, it was heartwarming seeing how many people in Costa Rica also do so. The most beautiful part of coming to see this church in Costa Rica, was going down to the bottom part of the outside, to see several fountains of Holy Water. I along with my peers went down to bless myself with the water, as well as drink it. This was a moment for me that I’ll cherish forever. One of my biggest goals during my stay here in Costa Rica was to reconnect with my Catholic side. As someone who was born into a Catholic household, we sometimes forget to find the meanings of things behind our religion. Lastly, I went inside the church. Mass was being held, and I was amazed by seeing the amount of people inside the breathtaking church. The feeling was one that I’ve felt before while being in a Catholic church in the US. Words can’t describe the fulfillment I felt today experiencing my visit to the Basilica de la Virgen de Los Ángeles. (Submitted on January 15, 2024)

Basilica de la Virgen de Los Angeles

Primero Semana en Costa Rica

Submitted by Elsley Hazell on the 2024 Winter SPAN program in Costa Rica…

A sloth sleeping at the Toucan Rescue Center.

We had a few excursions within our first week in Costa Rica! All of the students live with a roommate at a host family’s house in Heredia, Costa Rica. Our first excursion was January 7th, the day after we landed and we did a short bus and walking tour around Heredia. Our next excursion was Thursday the 11th where we went to a Toucan Rescue Center! They have more than just Toucan’s, but that’s the animal they started the center with. There were sloths, an otter, an Oncilla, Toucan’s, monkeys and various other kinds of birds and animals. 

On Saturday the 13th we traveled into San José and did a few tours there. We started with Costa Rica’s National Theatre that features many famous works of art relevant to Costa Rica’s history. The most important one being the Alegoría al Café y al Banano (Allegory of the Coffee and the Bananas), it was painted by an Italian painter (who had never been to Costa Rica) so there are inconsistencies, but regardless of that the painting still means a lot to the people of Costa Rica. After the theater was finished being built in 1897 Beethoven happened to be the first person to perform at its grand opening. 

I can’t say that I have experienced an overwhelming amount of culture shock, and that’s because I like to try to keep an open mind about things I don’t understand these days. There are so many things I haven’t learned yet or experienced yet in my life and I think it’s unfair to myself to set “expectations” of what I will experience. Obviously I have goals and aspirations, but I can never truly know what to expect when experiencing something new. (Submitted on January 14, 2024)

A famous painting in CR’s National Theatre

Rescuing and Rehabilitating Costa Rican Wildlife

Submitted by Kat Severson on the 2024 Winter SPAN program in Costa Rica…

Latte the sloth heading towards a yummy flower treat.

Starting off the month in Costa Rica, one of our first excursions was to the Toucan Rescue Ranch in Heredia. This Ranch dedicates itself to the rescuing and rehabilitating of Costa Rican wildlife, and returning those animals able enough to their natural habitat. Every one of these animals has tragic stories about why they ended up on the Ranch. Many (like the scarlet macaws) were a part of the illegal animal trades for pets, or hit by cars, or attacked by people’s pet dogs (like Hershey). Pictured are some of the Ranch’s permanent members who have been too imprinted by human intervention, or face more severe and permanent injuries that would make them unfit for a life in the wild. However, these animals are well cared for by the amazing volunteers who feed, clean, and socialize with them, as well as the vet and rehab staff.

Pictured, we see someone who is a symbol of Costa Rica, a sloth named Latte. Latte has failed her release program several times, thus showing that she is unfit for life in the wild, but there is always hope! We got to watch her enjoy a favorite treat, a full pink flower. Next, we learned about the numerous amounts of parrots that are permanent residents on the Ranch. There are several breeds, all of whom were a part of the illegal pet trade, and have been too imprinted by humans to be able to survive in the wild. Then there is Hershey, a tayra. When Hershey was very young, he was attacked by a domestic dog and badly injured. The person who saw the attack took Hershey in and nurtured him back to health, but by then Hershey was too attached and relied on his caretaker too much to be returned to the wild and was thus given to the Ranch.

This Ranch not inly helps its residents, but the entirety of Costa Rican biodiversity through its mission. Rehabilitating and returning the fit and able animals to their natural habitats helps restore the ecosystem and the balance of nature. (Submitted on January 14, 2024)

The scarlet macaws that had been rescued from the illegal animal trade.

Week 1

Submitted by Kayla Barr on the 2024 Winter SPAN program in Costa Rica…

I’ve just wrapped up my first week in the vibrant and breathtaking country of Costa Rica for my study abroad program, and let me tell you, it’s been an unforgettable experience filled with language immersion and cultural exploration.

As an intermediate Spanish speaker, I was both excited and nervous to put my language skills to the test in a real-world setting. One of the first things that struck me was the warmth of the Costa Rican people. From the locals in the markets to my fellow students and teachers, everyone welcomed me with open arms and a friendly “¡Hola!” It made breaking through the initial language barrier much smoother and more enjoyable.

The language immersion experience has been a game-changer for my Spanish skills. In the classroom, I’m refining my grammar and expanding my vocabulary, but getting real world experience is where I see the most growth. Conversations at the sodas, bargaining at the bustling markets, and even ordering comida típica from street vendors have become daily opportunities to practice and improve.

Navigating the city has also been an adventure of its own. Locals are patient and understanding, always ready to help a language learner find their way.

Costa Rica’s natural beauty has left me in awe. Seeing the animals in the toucan rescue was also very exciting and I was very happy to learn more about these animals and their program

Of course, no blog entry about Costa Rica would be complete without mentioning the food. Gallo pinto, casado, and delicious tropical fruits have become staples in my diet. Exploring the local cuisine has not only satisfied my taste buds but also given me the chance to engage in conversations with the chefs and locals, learning about the stories behind these traditional dishes. My host mom has made the most interesting meals and they have all been very good. 

As I reflect on my first week, I can confidently say that being an intermediate Spanish speaker in Costa Rica is a challenging yet incredibly rewarding experience. The language is coming more naturally, and I’m finding myself thinking in Spanish without even realizing it. (Submitted on January 12, 2024)

Weekend in the Amazon

Submitted by Sidney vanNeerden on the 2024 Winter PLSC program in Brazil…

Over the weekend I got to go to the Uakari Lodge in the Amazon rainforest. This was one of the most unique experiences I have ever had. The floating lodge is in the middle of a sustainable  development reserve which is a protected area in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. The lodge offers a comfortable but hot stay with breakfast, lunch and dinner. Our first night there we had dinner and then class in the main lodge. We talked about all the different flora and fauna the area has to offer and then did some sketching exercises. As we were about to watch a Andy Goldsworthy documentary the power went out so we finished it in the dark and then we all went to sleep. The next morning we woke up at 5:30 to douse ourselves in bug spray and put on long shirts and long pants to get ready for 6:30 breakfast. After a delicious breakfast from the lodge we got in boats and went to one of the 9 communities that support and work with the lodge.  Basically the lodge works alongside these communities as mutual help for the communities and the lodge. A few years back the state stopped funding the watching of the reserve so the lodge and communities took it into their own hands. Members from the communities work at the lodge as well as work for surveillance to watch out for illegal fishing. They have a system where each community starts the year with 10 points and depending on if members of the community break the rules and illegally fish they begin to lose points. The more points your community has at the end of the year the more money they get from the lodge. I was surprised how grateful the community was towards us. It was really cool to see how everyone’s main goal was to protect the land. Once we left the community we went back to the lodge, had lunch and class then some free time. We ended the day going to watch the sunset at the end of the lake. We saw a great deal of pink dolphins on our way to the sunset and I got so many beautiful pictures of them on my camera. When we got to the spot our guide brought snacks, we had popcorn, bananas, apples, cheese balls, and fresh juice. On our way back from the sunset it got dark and we used big flashlights to spot all the caman in the water. You could see their bright eyes and as soon as we got close to them they swam under the water rapidly. Once we got back to the lodge we had dinner and then all hung out playing card games and then went to bed. The next morning we woke up at 5:30 to dowse ourselves yet again in bug spray and went to breakfast at 6:30. We went on a hike in the forest and did some field sketching which I thought was really cool. We ended up doing 4 miles and then went to the lodge to pack our things and get ready to leave the Amazon. My weekend at the Uakari Lodge in the heart of the Amazon rainforest was nothing short of extraordinary. The floating lodge provided a blend of comfort and immersion in nature that I will never forget. From the engaging classes on local flora and fauna to the connection I got to experience between the lodge and local communities, this trip showed me how much power community led conservation has. Overall, I feel a deep sense of gratitude to be able to experience such connectedness with nature. (Submitted on January 10, 2024)

Sunsets, Pink Dolphins and Great Egrets

Week 1: Three Faces of Brazil

Submitted by Addison Garrett on the 2024 Winter PLSC/LARC program in Italy…

The first week of this study abroad in Brazil was packed with lots of unique experiences and traveling. The significant places we visited were Manaus, Tefé, the Uakari Lodge, and Rio de Janeiro. As you can see from the image of a map of Brazil, Manaus and Tefé are on the opposite side of the country compared to Rio. I thought this was a great aspect of this program. We got to see drastically different parts of Brazil. Manaus, Tefé, and the Uakari Lodge are all within the Amazon region while Rio is on the coast along with other large cities like São Paulo and Campinas.

Manaus was our first destination after we departed the U.S. from Miami. Visiting a city that isn’t dense with tourists was very culturing. No one spoke English which was a fun challenge for all of us. Our guide, Luis, gave us an interesting historical tour of Manaus. Earlier in its time Manaus was a prosperous city due to its main export, rubber. Rubber trees are native to the Amazon Rainforest. Around the late 19th century when the demand for rubber boomed, Henry Nicholas Ridley took 9 rubber tree seedlings from the Amazon to Malaysia. After this, Malaysia quickly grew to be the largest producer of rubber in the world and Manaus lost its riches. He showed us a few buildings that represent what Manaus used to be in its prime. The architecture was captivating and very artistic.

Our next destination was Tefé and the Uakari Lodge. We used Tefé as our checkpoint when leaving for and returning from the Uakari lodge. A boat took us from Tefé to the Uakari Lodge up the Amazon River. I couldn’t believe how the Lodge was so immersed in nature. Although it was drastically different from how I live at home, I felt comfort and peace from the simplicity and pureness of nature around me. The lodge is especially unique because it is placed in a protected region of the Amazon. This region is known for the Uakari Monkey in particular. Uakari Monkeys are found nowhere else in the world. Other notable wildlife were the Caiman, Squirrel Monkey, Pink Dolphin, Red Howler Monkey, and Arapaima. Our stay at the Lodge consisted of three delicious meals per day with activities in between. The activity I am most grateful for was our visit to one of the local communities, Vila Alemcay. This was certainly the largest culture shock. It was a very humbling and valuable experience to see how these people lived. They have a much more primitive lifestyle with their main crops and animals being tapioca, which comes from the root of a cassava plant, cows, and fish. A unique aspect of this region is that it has a major flood season from May to September. I could not believe how high up the water lines marked last year’s flood season on the trees. It was about 10-20 feet above sea level. I was fascinated by the way these people live alongside nature in harmony even with a flood season like that. All of the houses are on stilts and cows are put on a floating platform during the flooding. The significant part of these communities and those around it, is that they are all within the protected region of the Amazon. The government has established a point system that these communities follow. Every year, each community is given ten points. With each offense that breaks any regulation to protect the wildlife within the reserve, the offending community will have their points deducted. At the end of the year, each community receives funding and resources depending on how many points they have left. I was intrigued by this system and went on to think how this could be applied to many other places around the world.

After our stay at the Uakari Lodge, we took a boat to Tefé, a 12-hour boat ride (voyage) from Tefé to Manaus, and then flew from Manaus to Rio. That was a rough travel day, to say the least. Rio is a much more charming city than those on the East Coast of America in many ways. They integrate nature into the city unlike any other, and it is surrounded by gorgeous beaches and peaks. I have only spent one full day here in Rio, so I am excited for all of the fun experiences to come. So far the beach has been a blast and the culture has been fun to experience. Something I’ve valued about this trip so far is being a minority for once. Although it’s an uncomfortable feeling at times, I feel that it is a necessary experience, especially for those who live in the majority in America. Only a week in, I have gained a lot of awareness of how different people live in another part of the globe. This has made me feel like much more of a world citizen, a part of something bigger than America. (Submitted on January 10, 2024)

The Opera House in Manaus