Day 1 started in the Juan Santamaria International Airport when the group arrived. We were lucky enough to see a rare natural phenomenon, the 22 degree Sun Halo, over the airport. After this impressive sight, we went to our much needed lunch date at Super Snacks where we were introduced to the Costa Rican dish, el casado. Having eaten well, it was time for a tour of the neighborhood where we would be spending the next week. Walking around many cultural differences were being noted such as: the very gated houses and how difficult it was to cross the street.
After a long day of traveling with many new impressions we went to sleep, excited for the next day
Day 2: Sunday started off with a traditional Costa Rican Catholic Sunday mass. The priest gave an inspiring sermon and when we had received the communionand shook hands with the nearby churchgoers we headed out to see what San José had to offer.
We started at the local farmer's/flee market and saw all it had to offer in fresh fruits and vegetables as well as second hand items. We were even lucky enough to be offered a drink fresh from the coconut! The tour continued throughout historical San José onwards to the National Museum. We were, once again, in luck as the museum did not charge a cover due to it being the 132nd anniversary. Inside we walked the history of Costa Rica all the way from the pre-colombian natives, through the Spanish reign, and ended in the present day. We also saw the famous, mythical, pre-colombian spheres that are found around Costa Rica. We ended the tour with what was widely deemed the highlight of the day: The Town Market. Although not in full effect due to the time and day, the experience was good. We also got a chance to practice our negotiations skills in Spanish when we successfully haggled the home made hammocks down from 14,000 colones to 2,500 colones. Then again, we should expect nothing less from Rollins' business students.
Day 3 was the first week day of the trip. We used this day to visit the Costa Rican Investment Promotion Agency (CINDE). CINDE has more than 35 years of experience attracting foreign investments, and they are doing really well. Francesca, our speaker, told us about all the competitive advantages that Costa Rica can offer multinational companies, if they invest in the country: Highly skilled and educated work force, the happiness of the people, good living conditions, and the investment climate. However, Costa Rica does not just welcome anybody. They are picky and will reject a company's offer to invest if they do not believe that the company in question adhere to the rather strict environmental standards in Costa Rica.
The day concluded with the first official Spanish class at CPI. Unofficial lessons had already been given by our host families the evening before and on the morning of this day. We went into the class with high expectations, hoping to be fluent Spanish speakers by the end of the week.
Day 4: Today was all about a local success story. Grupo Britt was our host for the day and they put on a show. Firstly, we heard from the HR manager, Roberto Ureña, who told us about the history and present of the company. It was a captivating tale and example of how you can grow your business in a positive way without exploiting your employees or nature. It is amazing how well this company treats their work force.
After this, we went on the small Tour de Coffee. Our lovely guides covered everything from the history of coffee, over the growing of the plants, to the final product in the stores – and they did it all with a smile! They did not do it alone however. Valued group members Tyler and Kyle were recruited to participate; Tyler stood in for a coffee picker and had to work hard in the sun for his 3 dollars; Kyle enjoyed the daunting task of being place in charge of quality control where he first had to learn how to correctly taste the coffee. Big thanks to both!
Day 5 was a Wednesday and we kicked the day off bright and early at 7 am. After having traversed the San José morning rush hour, we arrived at the American Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Kevin Díaz received us with open arms and layed his vast business knowledge on us. In fact, he had so much knowledge to share that we ended up spending an additional hour in the Chamber. After this, we went to Heredia and walked around the cozy city center.
Day 6 was a day of lasting impressions as we visited the organization, Boy with a Ball. They showed us around the precarious neighborhood they work, El Triangulo de Solidaridad, and we saw first hand what people will do in hope of a better life. This was a very inspiring experience and more than one student expressed interest in coming back to help whatever way they could. After a delicious chicken lunch cooked by a local lady, we moved on to another event with Grupo Bitt. We were given a tour of their chocolate factory and saw everything from storage to production and quality control.
On Friday Day 7, we left San Joaquin and went to country side. The highlights of this weekend excursion was the visit to volcano Arenal, hiking, swimming in waterfalls, and the hot springs. When the weekend turned to Monday, we packed our things and headed to Monteverde were we had some afternoon classes before meeting our host families for the week.
Day 11: Our first full day in Monteverde kicked of with a tour of El Establo hotel. We saw how they catered to their customers and learned exactly how much money is spend on maintaining pillows, towels, and lines. After this, we walked to the nearby women's artistic collective, CASEM, for a traditional lunch of rice and beans before the afternoon classes. In the afternoon, we made our snacks in the CPI cooking class. Of course this was a big hit – maybe it was because of the chef's hats we all donned.
Day 12: Today started with a down pour. Luckily for us it stopped when we reached our tour around the combined coffee and sugar plantation, Trapiche. On this trip we were given many insights into how to make coffee, sugar, and chocolate. They drove us around in a traditional Costa Rican ox-cart, la carreta, and we learned that big oxen can be very scary when they suddenly move.
The afternoon was highlighted by a visit from the indigenous group, the Borucas. They had brought their cultural masks and where gladly telling everybody the story of why and when they used them. They even demonstrated how to make a mask and how to weave textiles. These techniques have given them the opportunity to make extra income and put a lot of familiars through school.
Day 13 started out bright and early in the Santa Elena Reserve Cloud Forrest. Full of hope of seeing all the cool animals that Costa Rica has to offer, we went into the wild. Unfortunately, this morning the animals were not putting on a show, but that is what happens when you don't go to a zoo. We did manage to see a Tucan, some squirrels, and a millipede.
After a quiet morning we needed some action to liven up. Luckily, we had zip-lining planned! We got strapped in and had a practice run before we headed out to the actual course. 7 lines, a lot of yards, and free fall later, the tour was sadly over and we headed to Santa Elena for lunch.
Day 14 we learned more about coffee. In fact, we are becoming quite the experts! We drove a little bit down the mountain on the muddy back roads of Monteverde to Monteverde LIFE. Our guide, Guillermo, welcomed us and started the tour with a lecture on the history of the farm and how they have succeeded in incorporating very sustainable practices into their business model. We then walked past the farm animals that they still keep and learned about their role in becoming a self sufficient farm. For instance, the pigs produce methane that LIFE uses for their gas stove to cook dinner for the visitors. The afternoon was highlighted by the last Spanish classes and a dance class with Latin dances.