Saturday, May 26, 2012

Final Blog

I was reading back through my previous posts and realized I quit posting with 5 days left! In my defense, the Internet at the resort was very sketchy. Plus, it was great to be unplugged for a few days. But in all fairness to those of you following, I'll try and fill you in on what we did those last 5 days.

I'll start by saying, it may seem hard to believe, but things actually got better with each passing day.

We began the 18th by leaving San Jose bright and early and heading to the El Viejo Sugar Mill. This was a 14,000 acre sugar cane farm. It was beautiful. Imagine the cane fields of Louisiana but with mountains in the background. We had an interesting talk with the manager who is actually from Gueydan, LA and an LSU graduate. The farm uses harvesting equipment manufactured in Thibodeaux. It's definitely a small world. After a delicious lunch in the ranch house, we headed to the all-inclusive resort, Barcelo Langosta, in Tamarindo.

The resort was awesome! We checked in and then all headed to the beach to watch the sunset. Beautiful! After a quick dinner and shower, most of us walked to the onsite discotheque where we danced the night away. All in all it was a good first night at the beach.

Our second day at the resort was a free day. This means lots of sun, sand and water. Oh and did I mention the cold, fluffy drinks??? Yummy! This was a perfect day! Although, I was enjoying myself so much I forgot to put sunblock on my face so by the end of the afternoon I kind of looked like I had "face planted" into the sun. Oh well! After a fun day by the pool, Mike, Laney, Sergio and I headed in to the town of Tamarindo for some shopping. As we were walking, Mike decided that we had walked far enough and took it upon himself to hitchhike for us! It was hysterical. He got us a ride into town with a man from Vancouver who was in his 70s at least. On the way, we stopped and picked up his significantly younger Russian wife who was walking on the side of the road. One of our best experiences for, oh, 365 reasons!! Shopping was cool. What a neat little town. I did my part to stimulate the Tamarindon economy. We met up with our fearless leader, Gabby, and her husband. The six of us ended up sitting on the beach watching the sunset and sat there long enough to transition into fireflies. But all good things must end, so we had to go back to the resort and the kids. A quick dinner and a long talk by the pool and this perfect day was over. I can't describe how happy I was on this day. It will go into my list of all-time best days ever!

Our next day started bright and early as we took off on the short bus for our all-day excursion. First, we did the canopy tour. I had done this before in Puerto Vallarta, but this was so different. It was green and the scenery was beautiful! The next adventure of the day was white water tubing. This was a blast! Soaking wet and a little cold, we went back to the main building for a buffet style lunch. Several of us found an out building with hammocks secured underneath and took a much needed afternoon siesta. The more adventuresome of the group took on the horseback riding segment of the tour. Not being too comfortable on horses myself and given the rain, I decided to sit this part out. The consensus from those who went was that I made a wise decision.

Our final stop of the day was a natural hot spring and mud bath. Relaxing and warm. This felt great on our tired muscles. Thanks to a few rambunctious students, I ended up "mudded" several additional times, but it was all in good fun.

Exhausted, damp, but full of wonderful new memories, we took the bus back to our resort. After an invigorating and much welcomed shower, I enjoyed another good meal with fantastic company. A quick trip to the disco revealed that most students had either chosen to go into town or call it an early night. A few dances later, and thus ended another perfect day in Costa Rica!

Our final day in paradise and I took it mostly easy relaxing by the pool, swimming, and playing a little beach volleyball. Once again, I had to prove I wasn't old!! Still have bruises to support my case! Haha!! Several of my students asked if we could all get together one last time for dinner in town before we all went our separate ways the next morning. We ate at the Copacabana. The food was sinfully delicious. Grilled jumbo shrimp with coconut and curry sauce. Beef tenderloin with a green peppercorn sauce. The perfect blend of sweet and spicy. One of the students spied a tshirt at a next door souvenir shop with a "short bus" on it. Of course, we all had to buy one. What a fun group!! We ended the evening on a high note...literally...with karaoke. Two of my UL students were the best and Drew actually won first place!! I was extremely proud of everyone as we all took the stage to sing the last song of the night.

The next day we were up early to take our final ride on the short bus. Nine students traveled with me, two went out on an earlier flight, and three stayed behind for an extended vacation. The ride to the airport was sad and quiet, but nothing compared to the mood once we arrived. Most of us managed to hold back the tears until through security. I think it's fair to say that we all left a piece of our hearts in Costa Rica. The flights home were non eventful, thankfully. The customs and passport agents in Atlanta had us all laughing again. As we each caught our rides in Lafayette and went our separate ways, I knew this wonderful, memorable, life changing adventure had come to an end.

So how do I reflect on the 10 days we spent in this beautiful country? Well, for those of you who know me and for those who don't, suffice it to say that up to this point in time, 2012 has not been very kind to me. It's been a long and trying 5 months. I went to Costa Rica with no expectations excepting the desire to escape. I could never have known that this trip was not only just what I needed, but that it would touch my heart and renew my soul. It was a combination of the experiences, the beauty of the nature, and, more than anything else, the people. I fell in love with the Costa Ricans, the folks who guided us through our journey, and my kids. I was the teacher. I was there to lead and influence. So how do you explain to a bunch of college kids that you needed them much more than they will ever know? That they touched your life forever? Words cannot express my thanks to everyone who had a part in my experience. I now conclude this blog, this adventure, with a new understanding that most often the best things in life are those that are unexpected. We just have to keep our hearts and minds open to them. Until my next adventure...adios!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

No artificial ingredients.

Today we again started our day bright and early which has not been easy for me due to the car alarm that goes off right outside my window at 12:15 and 3:15 every night! I can set my clock by it. But I persist nevertheless.

We began with a short walk through the downtown central market. We were broken up into groups and I ended up with a delightful group of 6 "chicas" and our wonderful guide, Karen. By the end of our tour, we were affectionately referred to as the shoe group because of our unified attraction to all of the shoe stores. We also got bright colorful mums from a local street vendor. These proved to come in very handy when gathering for departure from one spot to the next. I did abandon the short bus super heroes for this tour, and although I was initially voted out of the group, they eventually acquiesced and allowed me back in. Probably the fact that I will eventually decide their grades had something to do with this decision.

After this short tour, we headed to the botanical orchid garden. On the way, Sergio handed out a local newspaper and made the students...and in Spanish. We ended up with our resident Venezuelan, Emir, translating our daily horoscopes. Just so you know, we laugh almost constantly on the short bus!!!

The orchid garden was amazing. It's always so interesting for me to see the diverse and unique foliage from country to country. Along with the varied orchids, we saw giant bamboo and ginger. After a delicious lunch here, the group separated and the short bus super heroes ventured to the butterfly farm. We did have to stop for directions several times since Costa Ricans do not have road signs or addresses. When asked what the address for the butterfly farm was, the guide replied, 500 meters past the entrance of the condominiums. The visit here was so interesting and fun. We got to actually see a caterpillar turn into a pupa. So cool!!

After a quick stop for ice cream and to ask directions again, we met the other group at INCAE, the number one business school in Costa Rica. We listened to lecture on sustainable development in Costa Rica. It was so interesting to learn how they have used economic means to achieve environmental sustainability.

After another very long day, a large group of us ended up at a local jazz club that is similar to the House of Blues. The food was great and the company was better!

We learned today that one of the more successful marketing campaigns for Costa Rica was simply, Costa Rica: No artificial ingredients. We've seen this in so many ways every where. In the business, the products, and especially the people. Tonight as a small group of us sat in the hotel bar, we talked about how happy we are to be the "short bus super heroes.". I didn't tell the story but we were separated out of the entire group on the first day and initially, we felt a little isolated from the other two schools. But now, we love it!! I've watched a group of 14 students bond and become a family of sorts in just a matter of 4 short days. We tease each other, protect each other, laugh at each other, and care for each other. They have come together in a way that honestly, I've seen few student groups do. I am not exaggerating when I say everyone wants to be us! We are the cool group, we are the fun group, and boy, are they learning..about Costa Rica, about themselves, and about each other. Ryan, aka Betty, profoundly nicknamed us the short bus super heroes on day two. Tonight as we discussed our group, he once again knowingly described us as a gumbo. Each person brings their own spice and together we blend together into something unique and amazing...and like, Costa Rica, we have no artificial ingredients. Viva UL-Lafayette!!

Wind and beans

Tuesday we had another full day. Started at 7:30 with a trip to Los Santos cooperative windmill project that provides free energy to 100,000 people across 6 counties. If you've never been right next to one of these windmills, let me tell you, they are huge! It was awesome! And the views across the valley were beautiful. Of course, I haven't seen anything in vista Rica yet that I didn't think was beautiful.

After the windmills, we headed to Coopedata, a cooperative of 800 coffee farmers. This company has the world's finest coffee and achieved carbon neutrality certification. Lonely Planet ranked Coopedata's coffee shop as one of the top ten places to drink coffee one the world. I had a mocha latte that was..."inexpresable"!

We had lunch at the coffee plantation and then finished our day with a drive back through the former capital city of Costa Rica, Cartago. We visited the Basilica de Los Angeles where every August 2nd more than 1 million people make a pilgrimage to give thanks and ask for favors.

Once back to the hotel, a quick dinner of very rare hamburgers and then most of us spent the rest of the night learning how to salsa. Cudos to our guys from UL who took the floor. Especially to Drew who danced the night away showing up everyone except the locals... All while wearing his crocs!!! Salute!!!

Monday, May 14, 2012

If it's Monday, it must be Costa Rica

If you want to see a cloud forest, a rain forest, a volcano, waterfalls, and the beach all in one location, go to Codta Rica! Today we spent our day learning about Costa Rica's tourism industry and what is done internationally to promote their products and services. Our first speaker was Ms. Vanessa Gibson, Director of After-Care from CINDE, a private non-profit nonpolictical organization that leads direct foreign investment for Costa Rica. It's an interesting model for what can happen when the government gets out of the way. Costa Rica recognizes that private industry creates jobs and advances their economy. So they incentivize investment by offering things such as no corporate income tax for 8 years. And if the company continues to reinvest in the country, this incentive is extended. There are companies which have operated here for over 20 years with no income tax! Examples of reinvestment include extension of product lines or increased employment. Amazing! Our second speaker was Mr. Robert Morales, a recognized authority on Costa Rica tourism. Costa Rica had close to 1.5 million tourists in 2011, and 56% of arrivals are from the United States. The problem facing the country now is over-development. Costa Rica marketed itself as a wild, adventuresome place for vacations, but as the number of tourists increases so does the private development. This increased development is now threatening the very environment the country's tourism industry is based upon. The challenge is one of standardization versus uniqueness. How to offer what tourists demand without sacrificing who you are as a destination? The future of Costa Rican tourism will be determined by this delicate balance.Next, we listened to a representative from Procomer, an nongovernmental organization dedicated to promoting investments and business relationships in Costa Rica. For instance, a pineapple farmer decides he wants to begin exporting his fruit to the United States. He contacts Procomer who then works on his behalf to make contacts with grocery chains in the States. I have to say that the most interesting part of this presentation for me was learning about the concept of "medical tourism.". This is where individuals, primarily from the United States, come to Costa Rica for medical procedures which are usually not covered by our traditional insurance. It probably won't surprise you to learn that the most popular procedures are dental and cosmetic. I am simply intrigued that this is considered a Costa Rican export. Our final presenter was Mr. Alberto Mora who provided information on the state of the Central American region. It was startling to see the diversity in these countries. Costa Rica is definitely the gem of Central America with limited crime, a high quality of life, and increasing economic prosperity.It has been said that globalization will replace the frontier. More than 30 years ago, Stanley Plog introduced a psychographic concept, based on a large nationwide U.S. study that described the travel patterns of different personality types. The polar dimensions of ventures and dependables has been used to explain why destination areas rise and fall in popularity. Ventures tend to seek new and exiting destinations that allow for hands-on interactive experiences whereas dependables tend towards more familiar travel spots frequently choosing all-inclusive options to reduce risk. Costa Rican tourism has risen in popularity due to their ability to attract the ventures, but with more development they are at risk of losing this important competitive advantage. Aa I sat in a conference room in Costa Rica today, I thought that I would probably describe myself as a dependable despite all my actions to the contrary. How ironic. So, ask yourself,are you a venture or a reliable? Your answer may determine whether you would prefer the Costa Rica of today or the possible one of the future.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

I've looked at clouds from both sides now...

Today was our first official day in Costa Rica and it was memorable. We started bright and early, leaving the hotel by 7:30. We are a large group with nearly 60 students between the three schools so we had to break into two groups and two separate busses. Our group ended up all together on the "short, special bus!". But as we wound up the mountain towards our first stop at the volcano national park, we were all very happy we were on the smaller bus. Plus, it gave our group a special time to get to know each other a little better and I think we actually more fun in our more intimate setting. Plus we had our own personal tour guide, Sergio. He is extremely knowledgable and blended well with our group.

On the way to our first stop, we made a short visit at a small coffee farm. Several students enjoyed a cup of the local blend and it was a wonderful photo op.

Our first real stop was a national park where we were supposed to hike to the top of a 9000 foot volcano for fantastic panoramic views. Well, we hiked and hiked and hiked some more, but unfortunately the volcano is located in the cloud forest and today, we all got to experience being inside a cloud. Special as this might sound, it does not lend itself to panoramic viewing. Lots and lots of white! But they tell us there is a volcano amidst the whiteness and we believe them.

Our next stop was the La Paz Waterfall Gardens. La Paz means "the peace" and this place lived up to its name. After a delicious lunch buffet, we walked through beautiful gardens with many unique flowers and trees. There were also several animals who had been rescued who are housed here as well as interesting enclosures where we were actually allowed to get up close and personal with toucans, hummingbirds, frogs, and butterflies. Once through talking with the animals, we hiked some more to the highlight of today's tour, the waterfalls. Only one word came to mind, majesty!

It was a long and beautiful day ending with a stop at a local roadside fruit stand for fresh strawberries and cheese. Perfecto!

This is a beautiful country. From the mountains, to the foliage, to the waterfalls, to the people. There is a saying here, "pura vida.". It means pure life. How appropriate.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Day One!

Well, it's been a very long day, but this has been a great day! All our flights were on time except one. I made new friends from Southeastern and Nicholls, and spent the evening catching up with old best friends. Our hotel is fabulous! For those of you who joined me on my journey last year, you may remember the infamous "kitchen" photo from my Italian apartment. In comparison, here's my room in San Jose! And it has air conditioning too!! I'm a happy camper.
We have 14 students from Lafayette and so far, they're a great group. Although exhausted, they pleasantly tolerated my obligatory airport photo today. We ended our day with a mandatory orientation meeting where our host and guide, Gabriela or Gabby filled us in on the exciting adventures awaiting us. And speaking of adventures, tomorrow we hike to the top of a volcano and visit the waterfall gardens which includes the butterfly and hummingbird farm. I promise to take lots of photos. So stay tuned as Viva Costa Rica unfolds!!!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Why Costa Rica?

As our adventure begins tomorrow, I thought I'd answer the all important question most people keep asking...why Costa Rica?  What can we learn about business, specifically management, from Costa Rica?  For those of you who don't know, of which I was one not too long ago, Costa Rica has established an international reputation for sustainable business practices and ecotourism. The basic belief of these two concepts is that we should strive to use our resources to meet the needs of today's of society without making it impossible for future generations to fulfill their own needs.  It's about reconciling economic interests with ecological interests.  In fact, Costa Rica has a strategic plan to be completely carbon neutral by 2021.  Costa Rica has become a model for nations that hope to encourage economic and business development within a framework of environmental protection and sustainability.  However, some research suggests that this may come at a cost to local communities and certain demographic populations. It will be very interesting to visit this country and learn about the pros and cons of government mandated business sustainability.  So, now that you know WHY Costa Rica, here's HOW we're planning on learning about these concepts.

Our Program Coordinator, Gabriela, has put together a magnificent program for our ten day visit.  Tentative lectures and visits include: a city tour with visits to the artisans and central market; lectures on the importance of tourism in Costa Rica, the history of the Costa Rican Economy, the state of the Central American region;  a lecture at INCAE the best business school of Latin America; a visit to the Dos Pinos Dairy Factory; a visit to a botanical orchid garden and wind energy project; a lecture by Mr. Michael Rothchild Director of the Walton Family Foundation in Costa Rica; a visit to the El Viejo Sugar Mill which produces sugar from renewable resources; a visit to Coopedota a cooperative of 800 coffee farmers; and a lecture with the Vice President of the National Council of Social Responsibility of the Chamber of Industry. This is just a sampling of some of our program.  As you can probably tell, we will be very busy!!  We'll begin most days around 7:00 a.m. and won't wrap up until after 5:00 p.m.

Fortunately, after our busy time in San Jose, we will conclude our program with 3 days at the Barcelo Langosta all-inclusive resort located near the small town of Tamarindo, a charming coastal village.  We'll need this time to recover!!

So, stay tuned as I begin this wonderful journey of Costa Rica's history, culture, economy, and natural beauty.