(Perhaps a big strangely, Thursday was the only day it rained here in El INVU throughout the entire two-week trip. The weather struck an appropriately different tone for this bittersweet closing day of our practicum experience.)
At 3:15 PM Thursday afternoon, just as our TESOL group was about to begin our final group reflection and project presentation session, news reached us at Central Espiral Maná that there was a rare Scarlet Macaw sighting in the nearby town of San Isidro. Within four minutes, our group had quickly piled into three vehicles and were already en route. Ten minutes later, we were standing on a dirt road in full awe of the macaws -- large red, yellow, and blue parrots native to South America. A group of six or seven magnificent macaws were perched in trees bordering the road, and we eagerly snapped photos, admired the birds, and had a moment to connect with nature.
As Director Mary Scholl noted, "This experience is a great metaphor for teaching. When you are presented with teachable moments, you need to seize the opportunity." And we did indeed seize the opportunity to see the macaws with gusto. What a lovely gift for us to receive on our last full day in Costa Rica.
Today was the final day of working with our English students, and the day of our hike. Although all three teaching groups were hiking the same trail at around the same time, we did this in separate groups.
My group (Ariel, Ben, Daniel, Haley) led them through the trail
backwards. We had done a scavenger hunt to review the vocabulary in class the day before, and students were given the same vocabulary lists.
At one point some of them started yelling “Sloth, sloth!”, pointing to a sloth hanging high in the tree. It was gratifying to see them effectively communicate in English something that we as guides hadn’t noticed (and of course the sloths we saw were incredibly cute). Other highlights of the hike for my group included seeing armies of ants carry leaves on their backs and finding a ton of fish by throwing small pieces of cookies into the water.
Today our entire group taught in the morning for the first time. This was a different experience for the groups that had been teaching at the Center! Despite the fact that our students were on vacation, they still showed up for class. Several people mentioned that students lose a fair amount of vocabulary over the weekend. This was very true in the youngest class at the center! For the 6-12 class, today was a day of review and practicing sentences for the hike on Wednesday. After teaching all morning, many of us were feeling the affects of the heat and went to La Pechuga (the swimming hole) for a swim.
Later in the afternoon, we went back to the trail where we would take our students hiking on Wednesday. This was our chance to figure out what exactly we wanted to show our students and how to best structure the activities or worksheets that they would be doing during the hike. We also learned some new things related to the hike such as what an agouti is, and that if you are ever unsure about whether something is infested with ants, chances are, it probably is.
After the hike, we headed back to the center for dinner and to plan our final full lesson.
For the sixth grade group our first day in front of a class started bright and early. We awoke at 6:45 to meet and go over lesson plans before leaving for the school at about 8:30. That day the plan was for each of us to teach a 30-minute game. As we arrived our mentor Amanda told us not to worry our only goal for the day was not to die faint or, if at all possible, bleed in front of the class, if we succeeded in those things our first day of teaching would be a success. The teaching day began with name games lead by Amanda and Daniel and then progressed through all of our lessons. I went first and taught left right go stop quickly and slowly in a game where the kids blindfolded a partner and led them around with the new words.
Ariel taught wide-angle vision and colors with a perfusion of I spy activities. Daniel taught numbers culminating in a telephone number game and Hailey taught animals using stuffed creatures and charades. All in all none of us bled, fainted or died and the kids seemed to have fun so it went pretty well. We returned to the center and had lunch before the entire class got together and attended a teaching workshop with the trainers. We then split into individual groups and received feedback. Then, while the other groups taught their first lessons we got together and planned for the next day.
We each stumbled out of bed at our own pace, many of us still feeling quite tired. Though we had arrived the previous night the combination of darkness and our sheer exhaustion had prevented us from exploring and appreciating the magic of the place we had spent an entire day traveling to arrive at. Excitement broke through the fog of sleepiness as we set our eyes on the landscape in the light of the slowly rising sun. A wave of energy crashed through us when we heard the sloth mother and baby had been spotted. Enthusiasm continued as brightly colored birds were discovered and a delicious breakfast feast was laid out, including a fresh tropical fruit salad.
We ambled about, looking at the classrooms, the luscious plants, and the various leisure spots- a covered deck overlooking the sloth tree, hanging rope chairs, a hammock. We began to meet the various staff, exchanging names, attempting to relay appreciation that was still forming.
After we had all ceased our wandering long enough to eat some breakfast we piled back into the vans we had gotten out of all to recently, eating empanadas as we rode for a refreshingly short time. We piled out of the vans and spent a few moments wandering around a gift shop full of items made of local stones and woods- jewelry, statues, masks. After a few moments we were joined by Alfonz, who owned the shop and started the river walk project which we were basing our English curriculums on. He guided us to the the start point of the river walk- a sugar cane press.
We took turns turning the press and pushing the sugar cane through and were rewarded with large cups of sweet sugar cane juice. Energized by the rush of sugar we began our walk. Before making it into the forest we walked through farm land. Alfonz showed us the "ornamental plants" grown there, explaining the process of growing the plants for export to Europe, cutting rings of bark around higher sections of the plants and painting them with root hormone in order to produce plants with roots that had never touched the local soil.
As we continued through the land worked by man we asked questions about local agriculture, Costa Rican environmental policy, and issues of environmental pollution in the area and were met with detailed answers. Finally, we made our way into the forest. Looking up we saw a high canopy dropping vines down all around us. Circling us foreign vegetation sprang from the ground- leaves so different from those Vermont, bright flowers in strange shapes, and large seed pods that appeared to be art projects or delicate baskets. The floor was populated with ant colonies of various types, some of them crawling up our ankles to bite us and some carrying leaves up and down their created highways. There were bright and fluorescent frogs so appealing that it was a challenge to remember that they were poisonous and we shouldn't pick them up.
When we reached the first section of river we observed fish and what at first seemed to be some type of insect, but in fact was a group of dark frogs so small that at least a dozen would fit on a single fingernail. Some of us snapped pictures ferociously while others hurled question after question with a curiosity that could not be quenched.
We left Marlboro at about 4:30 AM in a van, and made it to the Airport in Boston by about 7. Our two groups split up, mine was with
Bev, Ben, Louisa, Mason, and Ariel. We got through bag check and security without many problems, and then we sat at the gate in the airport until our plane started boarding at 9:15. The flight wasn't too long, and when we touched down in Atlanta, everyone was glad for a chance to stretch their legs. We took a cool underground shuttle to our gate, and then we stayed there for the next five hours. Some of us spent this time studying Chinese, some played sudou or went on the computer, others read. We all ate at some point. It was an excruciatingly long wait. We finally boarded the plane at about 5:35.
The flight was about four hours, and most of us sat separately. When we got on the ground in San Jose, we were all pretty exhausted, but our travel day wasn't over yet. We got through visitor's immigration and customs fairly quickly, meeting up with the other group after getting our bags. Outside of the airport, we met Roger and our drivers, who helped us all pack our bags into two vans. Then we were on the road. My car was ahead of the other and after about an hour and fifteen minutes of driving, we found ourselves at the top of a mountain in fog too thick to continue driving in. We pulled over and waited for the other van, who was following someone with fog lights. The fog was amazing, but it was nice to be on our way again. It took a little more than an hour to get to Centro Espiral Mana, but I think everyone was very happy to be out of the car when we got here.
Everyone was exhausted, but the other van arrived shortly, and Roger opened up the kitchen for us (it was about 12 Costa Rican time, 2 AM Marlboro time.) We all had rice and beans, and then Emma showed us our rooms, and we all went to sleep very, very quickly; very much looking forward to our first day in Costa Rica.
12 students from Marlboro College came to our school to teach English to local children and young adults. Their project is to teach "Environmental English" so that at the end of the 8 day course the students can take a hike and talk about nature (in English) and do activities on the trail that help them develop their awareness of tropical river ecology. Our town, San Isidro de Peñas Blancas has created the River walk to raise awareness of environmental issues affecting our area.