The 2015 EcoTeach Guide Training included a two-day field trip for the guides to check out a potential new accommodation and tour experience in the Saripiqui area of northeastern Costa Rica. The new accommodation, Sura Farm, is a small family run operation using natural agricultural practices, with tilapia fish ponds, dormitories for overnight groups and much potential for group activities such as planting and picking pineapple, making pineapple juice and catching and learning to cook tilapia as well as understanding the agricultural philosophy of natural versus organic practices.
The evening of our arrival the guides had a briefing session to prepare for the next days boat trip up the Sarapiqui River to follow the route of an infamous conquest in Costa Rican/Nicaraguan history.
In 1855, William Walker, an American soldier of fortune came to Nicaragua to pursue his goal of spreadingslavery to the southern continent. Taking advantage of the internal political turmoil and civil war in the country, he and a small band of other soldiers of fortune (called filibusters) invaded and captured the powerful city of Granada and Walker promptly declared himself President of the country. The US administration under Franklin Pierce recognized his government giving Walker the legitimacy to overturn Nicaragua’s existing anti-slavery laws and make English the official language. The governments of nearby Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, concerned about Yankee imperialism and Walker’s intent to spread his view of Manifest Destiny, joined forces to remove him. The turning point in the battle to oust Walker’s army began on the Sarapiqui River in Costa Rica when Costa Rican troops chased Walker’s army up the river into Nicaragua where the Battle of Rivas occurred ultimately forcing Walker to flee back to the US.
The guides were first briefed by one of their colleagues who is from Nicaragua who explained what Nicaragua teaches about that period of his country’s history. It was a passionate and detailed presentation. In Nicarugua it’s a major event in their history taught in schools. The battles are celebrated as holidays and Walker is referred to as an invader and a dictator. My role was to explain the U.S. version of the events since many of the tour groups who use the eco-tour company are U.S. school groups. I was a high school history teacher and had never heard of William Walker. Internet research turned up some details. Apparently, other than Tennessee, where Walker as born (a modest Nashville memorial is erected to him and The Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History calls him “the Gray-Eyed Man of Destiny” who conquered Nicaragua) his invasion is not part of the history curriculum in U.S. schools.
The following day our group was accompanied up the Saripiqui River by a local historian and retired university professor who showed the guides the battle sites along the river. On our way up river we stopped at the home of a large, extended, economically impoverished family to deliver clothes, food and school supplies the guides had collected for them and later in the day we also delivered school supplies and clothes to the community association to distribute to the local school and needy families.
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