What do you get when you combine the inquiring minds of MIT alumni with a country known for its butterflies, birds, sloths, and quality education system? Answer: The MIT Alumni Travel Program’s trip to Costa Rica.
This past November, the MIT Alumni Travel Program hosted a group of 19 alumni travelers on a tour of Costa Rica’s natural heritage and history. Listen to the highlights of the trip in this Slice of MIT podcast.
Costa Rica is home to 10 percent of the world’s known species of butterflies and more than 800 species of birds. That’s a lot for a country roughly the size of West Virginia.
In addition to exploring much of the country’s natural diversity, the travelers learned of Costa Rica’s reputation as a peaceful nation. The country’s military was abolished in 1948 under the leadership of President José Figueres Ferrer, a 1926 MIT alumnus. Ferrer reallocated its military budget to education, and Costa Rica now boasts the highest literacy rate in Latin America.
“This was the survey course on Costa Rica,” said Paul Epstein ’69. “It was like being in school with your favorite teacher,” as Suzanne Fass described the trip’s guide. “We knew we were going to have a guide, but we didn’t know how fabulous he was going to be.”
Travelers visited Poas Volcano in the country’s Central Valley, learned (and tasted!) why coffee is one of the country’s top exports, danced with girls at a village school, and hiked the trails of a family-owned botanical orchid garden. “Today we walked in the jungle to see orchids in their native habitat,” said Susan Meredith. “How many people are lucky enough to do that?!” She described this combination of educational and experiential activities as a key element of MIT Alumni tours.
For many, the trip offered an opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals. While traversing the swaying suspension bridges that overlooked rainforest, several alumni compared notes on bridge mechanics and frequency, joking about their classroom days at MIT. Each day included detailed lessons around nature sightings—from the red-eyed tree frog at a nature preserve, sloths in trees on the side of the road, howler monkeys exchanging calls, and even bats.
On many commercial tours, travelers tend to be interested in big things, said Peter Lobban ’66. “And on this tour, they’re excited about a bug. And that makes it unique. Sonja and I are always the ones that are excited about everything—plants, animals, insects, whatever. And we seldom have any company.”
The group also met with a 93-year-old American Quaker who shared his family’s harrowing experience traveling from Alabama to Costa Rica to start a new life. They founded the town of Monte Verde, and built a cheese-making factory that now produces more than 8,000 pounds of cheese a day.
“The trip itself was so well organized,” recalled Bob Mousley ’57. “Everything went like clockwork.”
Listen to the “Travel to Costa Rica with your Ears” podcast to experience the trip for yourself. Music Credits: “Cuban Sandwich,” “Carnivale Intrigue,” “Cumbia No Frills,” and “Pennsylvania Rose,” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Subscribe to the Slice of MIT podcast on iTunes and SoundCloud. Listen to past podcasts with novelists, professors, and entrepreneurs by visiting the Alumni Association’s SoundCloud page.
The MIT Alumni Travel Program offers more than 35 trips each year, many led by MIT faculty. The program is booking now for a safari in Botswana and Zambia, a rail program in New England, and a custom tour of Switzerland. Hold your spot and learn more by visiting alum.mit.edu/travel.