Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Last Chapter

The activities for today included a visit to one of the most important cooperatives in the county followed by a trip to a macaw rescue rehabilitation center. We were scheduled to leave the hotel at 9:15 am so we could meet with the person in charge of the tour of Dos Pinos Milk Cooperative, which means “two pines trees” in Spanish. The tour began with a brief introduction of Dos Pinos which was founded in 1947. The company’s main business was producing concentrated animal food and after 4 years of business they started producing dairy products. Currently, they sell 341 products including dairy and non-dairy and is the number 1 brand in Costa Rica and a well-known brand in Central America.
After the introduction we were taken to see their distribution channels which were divided by the type of product and were placed into fully capacitated trucks in order to keep the product from going bad. Most of the trucks have the ability to select the degree of temperature appropriate for different products.
Dos Pinos’ current general manager is Jorge Paton who has been in office for 20 years. This is important for the company because allows them to show continuity in their products and consistent business practices. In his term, Dos Pinos moved their plant from San Jose to Collos de Alajuela and allowed them to grow, drastically penetrating international markets.  Currently, they employ 3500 employees and all of them receive benefits such as medical assistance. Also, Dos Pinos gives out scholarships for workers to enhance their knowledge in their fields.
Dos Pinos, besides being the biggest cooperative in Central America, is extremely conscious with social and environmental issues. They invested in a recycling plant of tetra packs which are most of the packages from their products. With the recycled materials, Dos Pinos hires prisoners to build school desks, reducing their sentence after every 2 work days, and when finished, Dos Pinos give them to local schools.
Dos Pinos is conscious with their milk producers. They provide them advantages that allow them to have a good business. Each day Dos Pinos collects 1,000,000 liters of milk and it takes them 36 hours to start selling the milk in stores. Our tour included a visit inside the facilities of the company; we were able to see the pasteurization process as well as the packaging process of all their products.  After all the incredible explanation of Dos Pinos, the moment that everybody was waiting finally came; they gave us ice cream.
For the evening tour, we visited a macaw rehabilitation center.  We were pleased to be greeted by a herd of dogs as opposed to macaws- that was a shocker. However, guided by the dogs, we were taken to the cages where the beautiful macaws lived. The ARA project is a non-profit organization that is fully devoted to helping mistreated macaws. Jenny, who is the person in charge, gave us a detailed explanation of her duties.  She really showed us how passionate she is with macaws by responding to all of our questions without hesitating.  At some point, the macaws started pleading for food creating such a loud environment that Jenny told us to move so we can hear her (and of course the 18 dogs followed us).  Currently, there are 108 macaws in the center, and Jenny puts 100% of her time to them, without pay, and unfortunately they have been told to evacuate the premises. SO, in order to help the ARA project, please find some time to like their Facebook page and help them or log into
Now we are off to our farewell dinner and everybody is showing a bittersweet expression on everyone’s face. Even though we are all excited to go back home to our families we are sad to leave this wonderful place.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Day 6 Costa Rica - Irazu Volcano and Artisan Market

After a hearty breakfast at the hotel, we boarded the bus for a two and a half journey to the Irazu Volcano in the town of Cartago. Irazu means "mountain of the thunder." This name was given by the indigenous people who lived in the area due to the sounds it made. At 3,400 meters or 12,000 feet, Irazu is the highest volcano in Costa Rica. The last time it erupted was in 1963 when it released clouds of ashes over San Jose along with lava. It is a pyroclastic volcano, which means that when it erupts it throws huge chunks of rock. As we drove up from the base of the volcano, we hoped that the volcano would not celebrate it's 40th anniversary since its last eruption today. Irazu's twin volcano, Turrialba, is another active volcano that tourists are not able to visit because of its recent eruptions and acid rain. Our group debated who we should sacrifice when we heard that the indigenous people used to sacrifice virgins in order to appease their gods.

Although the bus ride was long, we were able to view beautiful landscapes and learn about some of the wildlife at these high elevations. We got amazing sights of the Talamanca Mountain range that crosses from Costa Rica to Panama. Some of the flora we observed only grows at high elevations. The flowers of some plants have red leaves in order to protect the plant from the more intense UV rays at over 3000 meters (don't worry we put on sunscreen). The land is extremely fertile because of the mineral-rich soil from the volcano, and we watched farmers in their fields of potatoes, radishes, and other vegetation. This climate is great for people's health, which is why there used to be a tuberculosis hospital at the base of the volcano. Patients from all over were sent to this hospital to be treated.

Thankfully it was clear enough for us to get a good look at the crater of Irazu. We could smell the sulfur in the air as we hiked to the peak of the volcano from there. The air thinned out as we hiked to higher elevations, making it more difficult to breathe, but once we arrived at the top it was worth it. We took really great pictures at the top, but once the clouds began to roll in we headed back down to where the bus was waiting.

A bit tired from our volcano exploration, we stopped at the Basilica de los Angeles. The church was also located in the first capital of Costa Rica, Cartago. The city was first established by the Spaniards who arrived in Costa Rica. When they climbed up Volcano Irazu and saw the valley they decided to build their city there. This church was first built in 1637. Since then, because of the volcanic eruptions, it has been rebuilt twice. The impressive Catholic church boasted pretty stained glass imported from France and architecture that was inspired by a mosque in Istanbul. Thousands of people visit this church each year.

After a very long day, we dropped by the artisan market in San Jose to spend our leftover colones on gifts and souvenirs. Satisfied and exhausted, we drove back to the hotel to enjoy dinner and a night by the pool.

¡Buenas noches!

--Amy and Brooke

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Day 5 Costa Rica- Earth University!

Day 5,

Beginning with an early start, 545am, we hit the road to our new destination.  Today we were going to be exploring one of the worlds most prestigous argicultural universities, Earth University.  After a grueling 3hr bus ride across the mountainous plains of Costa Rica we finally arrived.  As we pulled up to the entrance, it seemed that the only transportation being used were bicycles (we would eventually learn, students were prohibited from using cars on campus).  We were greeted by our tour guide, Victor.  Victor explained to us a little about the university and how it operates.  One of the most extrordinary details that he shared with us was that Earth was the only Carbo-neutral facilities in Costa Rica, which, as a country,  plans to be 100% Carbo-neutral by 2021.  Carbo neutral is when a facility absorbs more carbon dioxide through the growing of trees and plants to cancel out the harmful waste given off by air conditioning, cars, gas emisions, and other harmful products.  Once Victor explained the university and its features, we were ready to begin our tour.

Earth university first started off with 60 students and only a few professors, but now there are about 400 students and about 60 professors. Earth university is a very prestigous school when it comes to agricluture, and only accepts about 100 students every year. These students come from all over the world like Jamaica, Kenya, Europe, and a few are from America. Earth univervisty has a such a diverse amount of plants and animals. We only got to try a few plants they have to offer like the sugar cane, panamanio, cacau  and tangerines. We visited a medicinal garden and the "Peri-Urban garden" which highlighted the common, everyday recycling materials used in growing vegetables and herbs. Walking thoughout the horizizontal, and vertical plant areas we discovered they did not use pesticides or any spray that would harm the environment. This allows the plants to be organical and have a natural flavor. The reason for the vertical planting was to allow for easy accces to the plants without injuring the back.  This is a new invention that helps the elderly and the injured plant with effinciency. Earth University was a great experience for all of us, and gave us a great insight into how we can all contribute to and support sustainable farming methods.

Kevin Rudd & Todd Nigro

Monday, January 14, 2013

Day 4 in Costa Rica

Obras Del Espiritu Santo

We arrived at the facility and were welcomed in open arms by Father Sergio Valverde, the founder and head priest of the association. Following this, we briefly met the children with whom we were about to spend the day. As we walked onto the grounds they ran at our group and greeted us with hugs and handshakes.The director, Ana Silles introduced herself and brought us to site of their national campaign to collect donations for the children. There, each of our students were able to give a personal donation along with school supplies that were purchased with money raised by the group prior to the trip. Next, we were given a tour of  the broadcasting station and into the sets of popular news channels in Costa Rica. After, a select group of students stayed at the donation center to aid with the collections while the rest waited to be assigned their first service station.

The remaining students were directed to one of four stations. First of which was the "esquela." Here the students were able to interact and play with school aged children who were full of life and eager to learn about us. There was a consensus that a number us will have sore backs tomorrow from all of the piggy back rides given throughout the day. The second station was the "bodega." This was a warehouse used by the organization to store and sort donations collected through the national campaign. Students were asked to take inventory of the donation already sorted as well as sort donations that were not yet processed. Once an area of the warehouse was clear we also were asked to sweep and tidy as we went along. The third station was "granja." This was a little farm located just behind the school building that is kept up by only a few staff members. For some students this was a bit of a wake up call but others felt right at home. The work mostly consisted of scrubbing the animal pens, while interacting with the various breeds of animals. The last station was the "guarderia." Where three female students went to look after the younger children. These students returned with mixed feelings. The students felt this was a very rewarding experience even though there was a bit of accident on one of the individuals.

At the end of the day each student was able to experience at least two if not more of the stations. After this experience, we can honestly say that the group seemed extremely fulfilled from the day's activities. Some students even left with gifts personally given to them by the students they had spent their time with.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Costa Rica Day 3 - Doka Coffee Estate

¡Hola familia y nuestros amigos!Today we left the beautiful beach town of Manuel Antonio taking a three hour bus ride for Alajuela and the Doka Coffee Estate, also known as Café Tres Generaciones.  This estate has been family run since the 1824.  It is 24,000 acres and is harvested by 2,000 Nicaraguan and Panamanian workers.  These workers harvest the coffee cherries for ten hours a day, seven days a week for five months of the year.  They are paid on a per basket rate of $2, which we learned was four times higher than what they would make in their home countries.  In addition, they receive free housing, medical coverage and education.  The more experienced workers can fill up a basket with only the ripe cherries in about twenty minutes.  The average is 25-30 baskets per person every day.  None of the coffee cherries containing the coffee beans are picked by machines because machines cannot tell which are ripe and which are not since the cherries mature at different rates.  Therefore, every single cherry is hand picked.  Doka only sells the highest quality beans to their customers.  You might be familiar with this cofffee if you stop at Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts on your way to work in the morning.
Due to Costa Rican laws, Doka can only grow the Arabica coffee plant.  For you true coffee lovers out there, you might know that Arabica is different from Robusto and Liberica coffee in terms of caffeine content and flavor.  Doka also has a certain type of bean that makes them unique.  It is called the peaberry coffee.  Unlike most coffees that are flat on one side, the Peaberry coffee bean is completely round.  This bean has a very sweet flavor and is on the lighter side of the roasting scale. 
The processing system has been the same since the estate's founding.  The coffee cherries are first picked by hand, then brought to the 110 year old, hydro powered processing mill where the beans are taken out of the fruit and naturally fermented in water to lose their sugary coat.  The highest quality beans are easily distinguishable since they are heavier and sink when the beans are dumped into the water.  The higher quality beans are used for the coffee you might be familiar with.  As for you instant coffee lovers you might be more familiar with the slightly lower quality beans.  After fermentation, the high quality beans are sun dried and raked every half hour during the day for a month.  They are only covered with a tarp when there is going to be rain as well as at night time.  The higher quality beans are then aged for three months after this stage.  Finally, the beans are roasted and develop the coffee smell that we all love (except for maybe those of you that don't care for coffee).  The beans can be roasted 15, 17, or 20 minutes, depending on the desired flavor.  For some of the roasted beans, the process is not over, as the decaffeination process is done in Germany via chemical and Swiss water treatment. 
This coffee estate was amazingly eco-friendly, having numerous recycle stations and having attractions such as a butterfly garden, Bansai garden and a vegetable garden.  Also, the bags that they ship the coffee beans in are made from receycled burlap.  In addition, water is reused and the wood that is burnt during the roasting stage is from the 20 year old coffee plants that stop yielding as many cherries.  Finally, the parchment that covers the actual bean is used to make paper.  Flowers from the plant can also be used in types of Jasmine perfume (just in case coffee breath wasn't enough for you).
Costa Rican coffee only accounts for 3% of the worlds coffee supply but trust us, it's some of the best on the market.  We also highly recomend a visit here yourself if you ever get the opportunity since not only is learning how the coffee made interesting, the views are spectacular, and the free samples aren't too bad either.
To make our day even better, it ended with us arriving at Orquideas Inn.  This beautiful family run hotel is nestled into a Costa Rican forest and completely open air.  The pool and hot tub were perfect to end the day with, as well as socializing with the hotel dog, Marilyn. 
Also warm happy birthday wishes to our amazing Professor Greenan!!!
¡Hasta Pronto!  Stephanie (SJ) Jones y Peter (Pedro) Harsh

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Day 1 and 2 in Costa Rica!!

Today was a traveling day! We departed from the beautiful country of Panama and set 
forth towards Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.  Our flight was at 8 am so we left our hotel at about 5:45 am.  We had a very smooth flight.  Once we arrived in Costa Rica we met our new bus driver, Marvin! We were then brought to a bridge crawling with crocodiles and a fruit market. We ate lunch on the bus which consisted of delicious sandwiches and snacks.  After a three hour ride we finally made it to Hotel Karahe. We were greeted with some iguanas and a beautiful pool and beach front.  We quickly changed into comfortable clothing and headed to Manuel Antonio National Park. There we saw many different types of plants and had an amazing encounter with howler monkeys, whitefaced monkeys and squirrel monkeys!! They were definitely not shy and we all snapped some amazing pictures.  After our wildlife adventure we sipped on some coconut water as we walked the shore. Such a peaceful first day!

Day 2
Today we woke up with a late start after spending out first official night in Costa Rica! The hotel provided us with breakfast and an ocean view which is breathtaking. It was our first free day and most of us chose to spend their day ziplining at the Midword park. We started our bus ride over to the park at 10 am. It was nice to get to sleep in a little latter than usual. Before our bus ride some of us got to relax by the pool and the amazing beach. We could certainly get used to this lifestyle! The bus drive to the park took us through the local town. Along the way we got to see a palm tree planation which consisited of acres of palm trees lined up. We also lesaned about the history and background of the plantations in Costa Rica.

When we got to the park we hopped off the bus and crossed the drawbridge where our truck was waiting to take us to our first zipline platform. There was a total of 10 different platforms. Some students were nervous to take their first zipline. After the first zipline the others seemed like a piece of cake. We rode on the longest zipline im Costa Rica! After conquering all of the ziplines they served us a fresh prepared lunch. It was delicious! 

Arriving back at the hotel after our adventurous day in the canopies of Costa Rica we had our midterm review on the beach covering what we learned from our visit in Panama.

Stephanie Faria and Rachael Severino

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Final day in Panama!

Hola familia y amigos!

Today was our final day in Panama. Our first stop was the Dell Corporation.  This corporation started in Michael Dell's garage with only $450.  The corporation first started out as a PC provider and has now advanced to become a Service provider. Panama Dell Corporation has been operating for nine years and is the only call center for the Americas.  This location is the geographic hub for Latin America.  Dell's purpose is to deliver technology solutions that enable people everywhere to grow and thrive.  We toured the corporation's newly renovated office space and sat through a presentation about Dell services.  We observed the open door policy as we toured the offices.  Each department was set up in cubicles where they were free to go to talk to anyone with any questions they had.  This is also where we learned about the different positions that Dell is made up of to perform their services. The largest department, being their Technical Support Group. Dell continues to create jobs for the Panamanian society.  They employ around 2,200 employees in their Panama office alone.  Most employees speak English and Spanish.  There are also classes provided to improve the employees English if needed.  Dell is one of the top ten places to work.  The corporation has created over $62.1 billion in total revenue.  They have become a go green corporation. Some exapmles of how this corportion goes green is by using bamboo to package most of their products and use recycled watter bottles for their touch screens in their computers. 

Our second stop was the American Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Panama, otherwise known as Panamchan.  We learned about the U.S. Panama Free Trade Agreement and how this has a major influence on Panamanian trade.  This agreement gives the country of Panama:
1. U.S. seal of approval
2. Panama as a global player
3. Transparency enhancements
4. Rule of law/ property of rights. 

Some of Panama's biggest exports are copper, gold, shrimp, bananas, melons, and pineapple. 

After visiting the Chamber of Commerce, we made a quick stop at the Seafood market. Although, the smell was unbearable, there were many different types of fresh fish in the market.  We observed people cutting the fish and preparing it to be cooked.  To many of us it was disturbing to look at the fish head alone.  After going through the market, many students were given the opportunity to try the fish especially the Cerviche, which is a fish marinated in a citrus juice with onions. 

Our last stop of the day was the Artisan Market.  Here was the students last chance in Panama to purchase any last minute souvenirs and gifts.  It was fun to negotiate the prices and have a chance to look at different types of hand crafted Panamanian gifts.  Many students bought gifts to bring back to their friends and family, so make sure you ask for your gift when your traveler gets home!  I think we can all say that Brent Lavitt had the most fun in the Artisan market, as he decided to dress up in Panamanian clothing.

That is all for now! We're off to Costa Rica bright and early tomorrow morning.

Hasta mañana!

Jackie and Tracy

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Day 4 in Panama. It only gets better.

Hola lectores!

Day 4, what can we say? A new day,  a lot of new experiences, and another beautiful day in paradise. The weather was warm, and we arrived at our first destination of the day, the Colón Free Trade Zone (CFTZ) at 8 am.

Our first stop in the trade zone was the CFTZ Headquarters. We were greeted by , a Bryant alum, who gave us a tour of the trade zone. Wow! We were in the HQ of the second largest free trade zone in the world! In this meeting, we learned all kinds of exciting things and we were given an outside view of the trade zone in general, such as warehouses, stores, and how it works. We were told some of the trade zone's future plans, such as a new airport that is expected to be completed in 2014 and a sort of facelift in the appearance of the CFTZ. Also, the new construction happening in the Panama Canal will increase the amount of goods that pass through the Canal and the business in the CFTZ. The business in the CFTZ is expected to multiply with these new changes.

The CFTZ started in 1948, with only 10 companies, and now there are over 3000 companies selling wholesale products, tax-free. It is viewed as a cash cow for the Panamanian country due to the jobs that it creates. One of the reasons for its wild success is that it's location is geographically convenient, due to the Panama Canal and the international traffic that utilizes the Canal on a daily basis. Not only does it provide $34 billion worth of business, but it also creates new jobs and new investments.

While we were there, we were given the opportunity to visit three different stores. These were Multiinternational, Ruviera, and Motto (not pronounced like the song). This gave us insight as to how buyer interactions occur in a free trade zone. We were also given the opportunity to purchase tax-free goods. Yay for us, and the gift recipients!

Our next stop was lunch at Los Cañones, a small, family-owned restaurant on the way to Portobelo. Muy delicioso!

Afterwards, we went to the Portobelo ruins and the church of El Christo Negro. Portobelo was important because it was one of the first cities that Spain inhabited, and all the gold would pass through their ports. We saw what was left of the three different fortresses meant to secure the gold from pirates and mercenaries from other countries. The church of El Christo Negro was there for the Panamanian citizens, so that the mestizaje people can identify with Christ. It's also important to note the colonial architecture because it influenced how the church was structured.

After some much needed rest, we were ready for our next celebration: dinner at Tinajas. While enjoying a delicious Panamanian dinner, we were treated to a couple of traditional dances.

It was a phenomenal way to end a day with new friends, new knowledge, and a better appreciation for the rich Panamanian culture.

Until next time, buenas noches!

- Matt and Kevin

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Day 3 in Panama!

Buenas noches! Today was a long and activity packed day. Off to an early start, we left the hotel at 7am and headed towards the Panama Canal. We boarded a tour boat and were guided down the canal and through the Miraflores Locks, which is definitely an experience none of us will forget because the Panama Canal is now the 8th wonder of the world due to its advanced engineering characteristics.

During the our trip, we went from sea level to 85 feet about sea level through a series of 3 locks, to match the Gatun Lake. The locks function by fresh water flowing into the chamber causing the water level rise, in turn raising the boat. When the water level was the appropriate depth, the next set of doors opened allowing us to proceed to the next set of locks. If anyone is interested in crossing the canal for themselves, there are just three requirements:

  1. Pay your fees 48 hours in advance, cash only! 
  2. Make sure you vessel is properly inspected and will not breakdown in the canal
  3. You must allow a Panamanian engineer to drive your boat through the canal
After we docked, we went to the Miraflores Museum. There we had the opportunity to watch a cargo ship and a cruise ship pass through the locks, being brought down from 85 feet to sea level. With seemingly inches to spare on either side, the cargo ship was pulled by "Mules," which were essentially little trolleys guiding the ship on tracks on either side of the canal. Once the excitement had passed, we watched a 10 minute, 3-D film at the museum giving us a bit of history and more in-depth information about the canal and how it was built. 

The Panama Canal used to be under US ownership, but since 1999 it has been under the laws of the Panamanian Government, however the canal itself is a sovereign entity with a board of authority directors who are elected, and are completely separate from the government to prevent political intervention. 

Our day concluded with the Alumni Dinner. We arrived in style, as our awesome professors arranged for us to be transported by a "Diablo Rojo," which is a bus typical of Panama, but will soon be extinct as they are updating their public transportation system. At the dinner we met some prospective students and current students from Panama, as well as some alum. It was a great experience, and we were happy to share it with Dr. Griffiths and her family! 

Overall, it was an awesome day, and we can't wait to see what's in store for us tomorrow! Each day gets better and better as we learn more about the culture and history.

-Claire and Blayne

Monday, January 7, 2013

Day 2 in Panama!

Hola todos! Today was day 2 in Panama. We visited the Embera Quera village. The Embera Quera village is a private community consisting of 12 families (78 people) of native Panamanian indians. The Embera Quera people bought the land six years ago after leaving Colombia due to the drug trade. Drug dealers attempted to force the natives to make drugs and when they refused, the drug dealers retaliated by killing and burning their houses. They searched around for land and made a deal with an acquaintance to buy his farming land.

We were joined today by Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Griffiths and her family. It was a treat to share our experience with them! We got to the Embera Quera village by canoe powered by motor and operated by some of the natives. When we arrived, the residents of the village greeted us with music and traditional dance. During our tour of the Embera Quera village, we were able to see the houses of all of the natives, the school where the Embera Quera children learn, and we learned about herbal medicines from the village doctor named Miguel Flacco. We ate chicken and tilapia, fresh pineapple, and yuca root (which is like a potato) for lunch. Everyone agreed that it was delicious!

We also had the opportunity to get traditional Embera Quera (temporary) tattoos. A lot of us got tattoos on our arms and wrists painted on by the natives using an ink that was made up of fruit juices. We also had the opportunity to buy the handicrafts of the Embera Quera women. All of the money that the natives of Embera Quera receive goes to a fund to help them buy supplies to build houses and buy gasoline so they can cook and charge their cell phones (which are the only method of communication with people outside the village).

Our visit to the Embera Quera village was phenomenal. It was a once in a lifetime experience that none of us will forget. That's all for today and tomorrow we visit the Panama Canal!

 - Emily and Boqian