Sunday, January 21, 2018


Trips like this don't just happen.  There's a lot of work and planning that go on in the background that most folks don't see.

In particular, the students, Tim, and I want to extend our heartfelt thanks to the folks in the International Programs Office at Westfield State University for their organization, guidance, and help:

  • Director Cynthia Siegler,
  • Danielle Emerson, and
  • Bobby O'Neill.

Tim and I (and the Environmental Science Department) couldn't hardly function without the help of our incomparable assistant Mary Masse and lab tech extraordinaire Sarah Tomas.  Thank you for everything.

Cast of Characters:

Our awesome guides Mark Wainwright

 and Deb Hamilton

And most especially, my thanks to all the students for sharing some time with me (and being patient while I took about a million photos.  These are mostly last day portraits I made at the beach.)















 and Heather.

 It was an honor to get to watch all these students grow during the trip.

I've been working with Dr. Tim Parshall for many years.  He's an amazing educator, and somehow seems to bring out the best that each student has to offer.  This trip has been the result of many long hours of course design and evolution on his part, over seven or eight trips.  It's been slowly refined in many, many small ways that students never see, but benefit greatly from.  

Students routinely report that this trip is the best thing they ever did in their lives.  I've seen that most of our students who go on to graduate school are students that took this Costa Rica course -  I believe that this course rekindles a childlike curiosity in students to learn and to understand the world.  Also, many of our students who later go study abroad or do post-graduation internships abroad are students that took this course - we met two course alumni in Costa Rica during this trip alone.  I think that speaks volumes for how powerful of an experience this course is, and the impact that Tim has made on many, many students' lives.  We all owe him a lot.

 The picture above is one of Nick and his ball and cupper thingy, which I still haven't learned the name of.  To me, this is one of the strongest expressions of joy and contentment I know of.  Happiness in simple things, and an appreciation and joy of life simply for the high privilege of getting to experience it.  This is the gift I wish for you, my blog readers.

Finally, my inadequate thanks to my wonderful wife Karin, who kept the home front running, edited many of these blog posts, and shares my life.

Pura Vita
Costa Rica 2018


Like all things in life, both good and bad, our amazing trip to Costa Rica had to come to an end.  Tuesday, we got up at 5:30, hauled our bags to the bus, and after one last group photo we were on the road for a five hour trip to the airport in San Jose.

 Here we are!

On the way, we stopped at a restaurant for breakfast.  There were some stunning macaws in the trees.  Here you can see a green-winged macaw and a scarlet macaw, which I think is the most beautiful bird.  You can't tell from this photo how bit they are, but they are HUGE...and noisy. 

Tearful goodbyes as we left Deb, who took a shuttle back over the mountain to get back to work. 

A lot of people who didn't think they were going to cry...did.... 

From then on, it was busy, getting to the airport, unloading, getting everyone a boarding pass, checking everyone's luggage.  We said goodbye to Mark, went through customs and security, got on the plane, and flew to Atlanta.  Then all the wasn't busy, because our plane to Hartford got canceled.  There were no hotels to be had, so we got to spend one last night together sleeping on the floor of Concourse A in the Atlanta Airport, the biggest airport in the US.

If you ever wondered what the inside of the airport looks like at 3 in the morning when you can't sleep because there's no place to escape from the incessant "light jazz with saxophone tweedle deedle deedle squeeeeeeeeak solos", this is it.  I had a little nest made where some wheel chairs shaded me from the glaring light, but some cleaning people came and took them away.  A lot of the students just stayed up all night.  As Kate said, about 00:00 in the morning, "This is a lot suckier than I thought it would be."

We finally made it to Hartford, but our luggage didn't.  After everyone made a lost ("we don't like to use that word" as the Delta agent said) luggage claim, there were hugs, goodbyes, "see you next weeks," and everyone went home.

Thursday, January 18, 2018


Hi Everyone,

We drove up the coast to a place called Ostional, which is world famous as being one of the top sea turtle beaches in the world.

The road there was a crazy gravel road where we had to fjord two streams.  Our bus driver just drove right through, but each time we saw tourists at the edge of the stream with a Toyota Camry or some such small car, trying to figure out if they should cross. 

Here's a scene from the town where we parked the bus. This is pretty much all there is to see.

We walked to the beach, which honestly doesn't look a bit special. 

And here, you can see the tracks of a turtle that waded ashore last night and laid its eggs. 

Apparently, Mark doesn't believe a word of whatever Tim just said. 

The view up the beach.  There were several surfers out to catch an early morning wave. 

Here's a turtle egg shell.  To increase survivability of offspring, the turtles have one mass synchronized nesting each month, on the new moon.  At one time, there were over 500,000 turtles on the beach.  They lay between 80 and 100 eggs, and travel as far as India.  The turtles are carnivores and feed on shellfish, starfish, and other organisms.  Scientists estimate that only 0.2% of hatchlings emerge, and many that do are eaten before they make it to the sea.  Once there, if they are lucky and don't get eaten, after 15 years they are mature enough to reproduce.  They come back and nest at the same beach where they were born.  About 1/3 of the world's turtles nest here.  

The turtles are legally protected here, but natives of the town are allowed to harvest 10% of the turtles in the first few hours.  This is justified in a couple ways.  First, the first turtles are unlikely to survive, because subsequent turtles dig up the eggs while they try to find space to lay their own, and these first ones are most likely to be preyed upon.  Second, the locals, in return for getting to harvest the eggs, gain some sense of ownership and care for the turtles by preventing poaching, minimizing other animals eating the young hatchlings, and cleaning debris off the beach so its easier for turtles to lay eggs.  Turtles lay around 30,000,000 eggs a year and locals harvest about 3,000,000.  The eggs are usually sold in traditional Costa Rican food delicacies around the country.  Yuck.

A couple more eggs and a leaf. 

Bridget holds a hermit crab she found. 

We walked in to town and found a restaurant to use the facilities.  We later came back to it for lunch. 

This restaurant was "the real deal," a Costa Rican restaurant probably not much changed from the 1920's.  It reminded me of some places I knew growing up in the South back in the 60's and 70's.  The family that ran it had their beds scattered around the restaurant, and their motorcycle parked inside.

 It's about 9:00 in the morning in this picture, but the lunch we had later here was incredible.  The woman that runs it is a fine cook.

 You can see the bar stools outside by the counter opening to the inside.

 Back on the bus for a trip down the coast to a beach where we would go snorkeing.

 The beach.

 Here's our bus.  We made camp under a shade tree, because the sun was so intense and hot.

 Someone getting ready to snorkel.

One group went this-a-way. 

 Local fishing boat.

One group went that-a-way 

The Costa Rican Air Force.  Costa Ricans made a conscious decision to not have a military, and to instead spend their money on education.  So, citizens are largely well educated.  Because of this, there's a joke that pelicans are the country's air force.   

Tim checks out a tide pool. 


Bird trying to steal from the fisherman. 

A school of students. 

You can get an idea of how clear the water was in this shot. 

This little Costa Rican girl was speaking Spanish to her dad, and when she passed me, she very bravely said "Hello."  You could see that she was proud to speak English. 

 Checking out life on the rocks.

 We had an awesome time snorkeling.  I saw about 10 fish species, anemones, and a lot of other marine life.  Tim Parshall saw a lobster, and some students saw octopi and manta rays.  When we were all sunned and swam out, we left to eat at that restaurant above, and then went back to The Gardens.

Tim and I stayed in this bungalow.

After showers, we took our lives in our hands and walked in to town on this busy gravel road.

Some students went shopping, but a group of us played mini-golf on what is honest-to-god the hardest mini-golf course I have ever played on.  We ran out of time and ended up just sort of rushing through the course before they closed.  

That night, we went out for our last supper together at a really good restaurant, but unfortunately, I don't have pictures of that :-(