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Trip to Nicaragua Is an Instant Highlight of the ACM Costa Rica Programs

Published: November 20, 2015

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This year, for the first time, students on the spring and fall ACM Costa Rica Programs took a five-day field trip to Nicaragua. Already, the excursion is becoming a highlight of both programs.

Visiting Costa Rica's neighbor to the north and seeing the similarities and contrasts between the two countries gives students a broader, richer regional perspective on Central America, according to Program Director Bonnie Furman.

At the Catarina Overlook

Fall program students at the Catarina Overlook with program faculty (seated) Bonnie Furman, Marco Castro Rodriguez, and Mario Morera.

With all the beautiful scenery and centuries-old colonial buildings, hikes into the massive lava tubes of a volcano, boat rides to tiny islands, and some great meals, the trips have been a chance for sight-seeing as well as cultural discovery.

The historic city of Granada, founded nearly 500 years ago, served as home base during the trips. The city is famous for the colorful, ornate Spanish colonial architecture of the many churches, historic sites, and museums in the town center.

Granada sits astride Lake Nicaragua, one of the largest lakes in the world and notable for the hundreds of Isletas, or small islands, that dot the lake near the city. The islands were formed by a volcanic eruption, and the students got a close-up look at some of them by taking boat tours that wound through the islands.

Tour of Granada
 
Tour of Granada
On a tour of historic Granada, Nicaragua.    

Each Nicaragua trip followed a similar itinerary, though one day was tailored to complement the academic themes of the programs — field research in the spring and public health, education, and the environment in the fall.

"In the spring, we spent a night at the Montibelli, a private biological reserve, where the students received a lecture and tour, went bird watching, and presented their mid-term research results for their independent projects," Furman explained.

Giant hammock at Tio Antonio

Students try out the giant hammock at El Centro Social Tio Antonio.

During the fall trip in October, the group skipped Montibelli and instead visited El Centro Social Tío Antonio Nicaragua, a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Granada. Staff at Tio Antonio train and employ people who are hearing impaired to make hammocks and to run Café Sonrisas, which is on site. The visit highlighted the fall program's academic themes and augmented the Community Engagement in Costa Rica course, which emphasizes community involvement and social justice.

The founder of Tio Antonio, Antonio Prieto Buñuel, gave a talk to the ACM group explaining the organization's history, the work they do, and his vision for the future. The students also toured the facilities, practiced weaving hammocks, and capped off their experience with lunch at the café and a group photo on Tio Antonio's famous giant hammock.

"Antonio Prieto's talk was inspiring and heartfelt," Furman said. "We also participated in a group exercise to simulate being hearing impaired, and that was a very powerful and emotional experience for all of us."

Spanish Language Coordinator Mario Morera tied the fall trip into both of his courses — Introduction to Costa Rica and Spanish Language and Culture. Students continued their language immersion throughout the field trip, abiding by a "Spanish only" policy, including all tours and lectures.

Weaving lessons at Tio Antonio

Weaving lessons at Tio Antonio.

The timing of the trip was perfect for the Introduction to Costa Rica course, as well, since they were studying immigration and transculturation, and the effect on Costa Rican culture of immigrants arriving from Nicaragua.

"The day before we left for Nicaragua, I had a guest speaker in the class who teaches at the University of Costa Rica," said Morera. "His dissertation was on migratory movements from Nicaragua to Costa Rica and he gave the students an overview of the topic from an academic point of view. The next day we left for Nicaragua, so the students could gain different perspectives by interviewing local people to learn more about Nicaraguan culture and how it compares with Costa Rica."

In both spring and fall, students spent a day exploring the geological wonders of Masaya Volcano National Park. Masaya has the distinction of being Nicaragua's first and largest national park and is one of 78 protected areas in the country.

Hiking was the order of the day, as the students learned about the history of the park and the volcano, viewed the massive crater, and donned hard hats for a tour of the underground lava tubes that are home to countless bats and cave dwelling invertebrates.

Entrance to lava tubes
 
In a lava tube
Exploring the lava tubes at Masaya Volcano National Park.

Along the way between Masaya and Granada, the group stopped to visit a family pottery workshop and business, take in the view at the Catarina Lookout above scenic Lake Apoyo, and shop at the Masaya Artisan Market.

Surveying the beauty of Lake Apoyo, fall program student Amanda Petrick from Coe College remarked on how much she appreciated the visit to Nicaragua. "No matter how cliché it sounds, this trip really has been eye-opening, and it shows you how another culture and people live," she observed. "I've really enjoyed my trip here, and maybe someday I'll even be able to come back!"


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