SIUE had an official relationship with Carara National Park, a 4700 ha tropical forest reserve located on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. The park is situated in a ecological transitional zone, and is composed of a unique combination of dry and wet forest plants and animals, including poison dart frogs, three species of monkeys, and the endangered scarlet macaw. For more than five years, SIUE had offered interdisciplinary travel study courses during the summers, and sometimes over winter and spring breaks, at the park. These courses typically involved some service activities (maintaining park buildings, clearing trails, collecting litter), interspersed with environmental educational activities at the park and field trips to local ecological and cultural sites (estuary tour, sea turtle nesting sites, botanical gardens, visits to local elementary schools).
In January 2008, I co-instructed a two-week course with Laura Wolff (Department of Economics, School of Business) centered at Carara. As part of the course, we spent several days at the Manuel Antonio National Park—a famous reserve south of Carara—observing unique coastal flora, squirrel monkeys, and lots of hermit crabs along the beaches. We also visited the traditional Costa Rican town of Orotina, spent a day hiking to Cascada de Bijuagual--the country’s tallest waterfall (and back up), ate traditional Tico food, enjoyed a morning boat ride along the Tarcoles River (lots of birds and crocodiles), swept trails, and painted a park building. The trip was a wonderful introduction to Costa Rica, and as a result of that trip, two students in the course returned to Carara in Summer 2008 to work on Senior Assignment Projects