A note from the managers: This past summer we were lucky enough to host Dr. Ben Earwicker and a group of his students here at QERC. Dr. Earwicker is a professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies at NNU. Their course was titled: “Ecology, photography, language, and cultures of Costa Rica”. Doesn’t that sound FUN! The students sure seemed to enjoy it, and they were kind enough to share some stories along with photos. Dr. Earwicker’s website has more photographs and information about the work he is doing: Latin Cultures
The group heading off toward the Mora Family farm "Harmonia Ambimental" which is located in Provedencia (the next valley over from QERC)
"Once we left the lowland jungles and visited the cloud forests (forests at a particularly high elevation) the temperature dropped. Yes, it was still humid and rainy every day, but seeing sun in the morning was an excitement. Temperatures felt more temperate because we were at higher elevations. QERC was at 7200 feet and this changed the wildlife we saw significantly more that I expected. Snakes were rare because of the elevation, but birds were much more noticeable, some with their loud sounds, others with their rapid fluttering. There was much more color—more flowers, more moss, more red and green ferns. In the lowlands, seeing something other than green was incredible. I also observed the difference in leaf size on plants and trees. In the lowland jungle the average leaf size was…HUGE! In the cloud forest, they were smaller and more abundant. Dead, wet leaves covered every path and made hiking, especially when rainy, slippery. Lack of rich, deep soil in the forests proved true at the brush of a foot across the leaves. Tree roots poked up everywhere and in turn made both natural steps and dangerous foot traps while walking. I was fascinated by the life we saw thriving in both kinds of forests, but even more enthralled by the dependent manners of them all. Without buttresses, tall trees wouldn’t be supported. Without tall trees, numerous birds would be without a home. Without sloths, trees wouldn’t receive the necessary nutrients from their weekly defecation. Without the daily rain, plants and animals would not be watered. The fruit from the trees becomes the fuel for humans. We depend on the fruit, literally and figuratively, from the Costa Rican rain forests. The forests depend on their abundant life to ebb and flow with the morning and night of each day. I went without any idea of life within a tropical forest; I sit here now in awe of the beauty, the color, the irreplaceable living and breathing codependence of the thousands of species within."
"....The long hikes tested my attitude and my behavior towards our trip and having a positive outlook on every situation. Although we did encounter some difficult encounters on our trip, it make the trip that much more memorable. This trip truthfully tested my behavior in tense situations and I believe I have grown and gotten better at having a positive outlook. Overall, Costa Rica not only taught me about its culture and its people, but also tested my behavior and attitude in many situations. Looking back I did love every minute of my cross cultural experience and I became aware of real world problems that families deal with everyday living in Costa Rica."
- Hannah G
Student holding a Pigeon in San Jose
"We were able to experience the hospitality of the Costa Rican people first-hand during our stay in Costa Rica. What could have been a dangerous and scary situation turned into an unforgettable encounter with a kind Costa Rican family. Our plan had been to take a four to five hour hike through the rainforest from the research center we were staying at to the Mora farm. However, after a wrong turn on the trail, this turned into an eight hour hike filled with bush-whacking through briar patches, trekking through ankle-deep mud, and finally getting soaked to the bone. “Drenched” is an understatement after a Costa Rican rainfall. Not only does the water come down with such force so that one feels as though they are under a giant shower head, but the rain can also last for hours without letting up. To add to the ordeal, our group got separated during the hike so that my group was twenty minutes ahead of the other group. Our original plan had been to meet at a road near where the trail ended, and then the Mora family would pick us up and take us the remainder of the distance to the farm. Yet, when our group reached the end of the trail, there was no road to be seen. The trail simply dropped off into a valley where two farm houses lay nestled on either side. After waiting a good twenty minutes for the rest of the group to catch up, the anxiety started to develop. “Were we lost? Had we taken a wrong turn?” Thoughts such as these raced through my mind as we stood there trying to decide what to do. Thankfully, we did not have to worry long because we heard the faint voice of our professor calling from the trailhead. Together at last (although what seemed like forever had probably only been thirty minutes), we evaluated the situation. Although we had not ended up in the foreseen spot, our professor thought we might be in the correct valley where the Mora family lived. We found a road after walking down into the valley and were able to get directions from a family down the road. What we discovered was quite the surprise. They told us that not only were we in the completely wrong valley, but that it was another six to eight hour hike to get to where we needed to be. For seven hungry, tired, and sopping wet college kids, this came as quite a shock.
The family was kind enough to let us stay with them for the night and made a place for us to lay some mattresses down in a cozy shed toward the back of their home. Their son, Javier, had lived in the United States for ten years and spoke excellent English. He brought us blankets, hot coffee, and even helped us map out how to get to the Mora farm from where we were. On top of all his generosity, he and his brother, Gustavo, offered to guide us to the Mora farm early the next morning.
I reflected on the same situation occurring back home in the United States. How many Americans would offer shelter, blankets, and assistance to a group of lost Costa Rican hikers? So often we become caught up in our own agenda that we do not stop to help those in need. For example, how often have I passed by a homeless person without so much as casting a second glance; or how many times do I go out of my way to serve others? In such a self-focused, individualized nation, it is easy to forget our call to serve and love others. The generosity and hospitality of the Elizondo family was a great reminder to me that I need to be an others-focused individual, willing to put aside my own agenda and serve those around me.
The following day, Javier and Gustavo guided us back through the rainforest and led us down the correct path to the Mora farm. I was yet again amazed by their kindness. As we hiked, Gustavo led, using his machete to clear the rail of fallen logs and low-hanging vines. He also placed rocks in small streams for us to step on so that our feet would stay dry. Javier stayed in the back, ensuring that we all stayed together. The trail was by no means easy and was characterized by very steep inclines, vines with sharp spines that would snatch at your legs and arms, and extremely muddy patches. However, they would stop periodically to allow us to rest and even offered to carry our heavy packs for us.
After a few hours of hiking, we met up with Nelson Mora. He and his family were another testament to the kindness and generosity of the Costa Rican people. He greeted us all eagerly, exclaiming how worried he and his family had been when we had not arrived at the agreed upon time. Nelson himself had hiked the trail back to the research center in search for us. Not only were they genuinely concerned with our safety, but even went so far as to look for us personally.
Our hike to the Mora farm was the most grueling hike I had ever been on. There were times when I had to just grit my teeth and push on despite the severity of the trail. With blistered feet and aching muscles, we pushed on through ankle deep mud and extremely steep sections of terrain. I did well mentally until the last stretch of the hike, which was a steep climb up a series of hills. After around eight hours of hiking with little to eat and being drenched with rain, my will power was dwindling. Yet, I determined to keep pushing and overcome the challenge I was faced with.
When we finally reached the Mora farm, Noria (Nelson’s mother) met us with open arms, despite our sopping wet and mud-coated bodies. She handed us each a towel and showed us to our rooms where we could clean up and dry off. She served a delicious lunch of chicken soup which tasted amazing to our famished group. The whole family was so welcoming to us and they continually expressed to us how worried they were about us the previous day. Although I was not able to pick up on everything that was said, I understood the deep sentiment they felt for us and their sincere concern for our wellbeing. They were some of the most compassionate and caring people I have ever met.
During our stay at the Mora farm, we learned a lot about how they ran their farm, grew their own produce, and how they had developed various techniques to making the most of what God had given them. I was amazed by Noria. Not only was she a skilled cook, but she also possessed an extensive amount of knowledge about growing things organically and utilizing their resources in the most efficient way possible. She was very eager to explain how everything was done on their farm. She told us how they used old plastics and trash to make the cement for their floor, what types of seeds they planted, and how they cultivated their produce. The Mora family lived very simple and humble lives; yet, they were so content with what they had. They were thankful to us for supporting their farm by staying with them, when we were the ones who were even more blessed by their kindness and hospitality. I learned a great deal from their example and I was reminded of how much God has blessed me and the treasure of the resources He has given me. I need to remember that I am called to be a steward of His creation and I have a responsibility to preserve and value what I have been given. The Mora family fully understood this responsibility and I admired how they took their responsibility to be good stewards of God’s creation seriously.
I also admired the fervency with which they pursued their work. I did not once hear them complain about how hard their work was, nor what a difficult task it was to run an efficient farm. They were a very hard working family, committed to maintaining their farm and contributing to the economic growth of their valley. This characteristic definitely dispels the erroneous stereotype some Americans have placed on the Latino community. I have heard them referred to as being lazy and unprofitable people many times in the United States. These people were by no means lazy and were some of the most hard-working people I have ever encountered. I hope that I would apply the same fervency and work ethic the Mora family possessed to the tasks I have been called to complete."