Concordia students and professors are on a nine-day cruise exploration of the Caribbean as part of the Ecology of the Tropics course. Follow along on their journey.

Ecology of the Tropics began meeting one hour per week at the start of the semester. The course culminates in a nine-day exploration of the Caribbean over spring break. The course helps students develop an increased appreciation for God’s creation through studying tropical ecosystems.

Professor Tom Saleska, PhD, joined this year’s adventure and he’s chronicling each day from his phone. Trip leader, Dr. Mark Schmitz, is also sharing updates via the Concordia Center for Free Enterprise Facebook page. Check back throughout the week as more entries are added.


Ready to board for the cruise! These tow, Olivia Kurtz and Amanda Bauer, will now be called my “hockey twins”. They’re roommates on the women’s hockey team at CUW and eager travelers. We’re ready to roll!

Day 1

Landed safely in Puerto Rico. First meal in a typical restaurant with authentic Puerto Rican food. I asked the students, “What are you eating?” They stared at me with blank expressions. No clue, but certainly yummy breaded goodness.

Many of reading this post have kayaked at some point in your life, and some have kayaked at night, but I’m guessing non one has ever kayaked with other brave souls in pitch blackness with only a tiny glow stick on the kayak in front of you to light your path. Students did this and more; they paddled through a mango-lined, alligator-infested canal in search of a bioluminescent algae called Pyrodinum bahamense (which sparkles in your hand). It was interesting, education, exhausting, and frightening all at once. Fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it’s all true (except for the alligator part…but it was still scary)!

Day 2

Our day began with an educational hike through a Puerto Rican tropical rain forest. Our guide, Papa Lion, pointed out interesting species as the students took pictures. Next, we stopped at a waterfall where the students couldn’t resist cooling off and splashing each other. After a tasty Puerto Rican dish, mofongo, it was onto the cruise ship for the start of the Caribbean cruise.

Day 3

Stayed on the ship the entire day. Boring? No way! The students had their day packed full with activities from swimming to shuffle board to to ping pong to euchre to eating as much as you want at the buffet. By the way, Dagan finished second in a ping pong tournament and the CUW Falcon dodgeball team won the tournament of champions (sounds like a good name for it). Another fantastic day – it’s on to Barbados.

Day 4

Today our group split up. Some of us went on a tour “Best of Barbados” where we saw tropical gardens and other historic sites. Did you know George Washington had relatives in Barbados and he borrowed some of our constitution from them? The rest of the group went snorkeling with turtles and tropical fish off some old pirate ship wrecks. Which would you choose? Snorkeling? Really?

Day 5

Most of the group went kayaking in the Mangroves of Trinidad’s coast line. Their goal was identification of native bird species. But maybe the highlight of the day occurred at dinner when all of our wait staff marched around the restaurant singing the Macarena and one did some impressive napkin art for us. Very entertaining, to say the least!

Day 6

Our day began with a nature walk through a tropical rain forest on the Island of Tobago. James, our guide, not only helped us identify various plant species but he also was a bird expert who could located, identify, and call all sorts of exotic birds.

The walk ended at Argyle Falls where the students frolicked, flipped, and yes, flopped into the refreshing water. Our fearless leader, Dr. Mark Schmitz, has organized excursions that are not only educational but also so much fun.

Day 7

A couple of us toured the Island of St. Lucia. Our tour group included only eight people and we had to sign a waiver…curious. The excursion included a “nature walk” which actually was a hike straight uphill 1,600 feet (thus the waiver) with guide, Jerwin, who was half human/half mountain goat. The last 200 feet were given the title “Stairway to Heaven.” After a 1,400-foot straight-up walk, I could think of a few other names I would have given that final uphill path.

Day 8

Final day on our ship, Jewel of the Seas. We’re gonna miss her! We landed on the island of Saint Martin. Most of the group went snorkeling on a catamaran cruise. Sounds like a blast! My wife, Vanessa, and I opted to take a scenic tour of the entire island crisscrossing from the Dutch half to the French half and back again. We were entertained by our delightful guide Dominick, who described the landscape, the culture, the history, the way of life of the people who live on the island. At the end of our bus tour we were treated to a catamaran excursion of the lagoon. Wonderful times! Great way to end a fabulous trip. Onto Puerto Rico, where we will again meet up with Papa Lion for a tour of San Juan.

Day 9

Our final day began (where it started eight days ago) with a gorgeous sunrise on the horizon of San Juan Puerto Rico. We were met by our favorite tour guide, Papa Lion, who took us on a fascinating trip around the city of San Juan where he highlighted both contemporary structures such as the Capitol building and historical sites like Castillo San Cristobal. We learned about the roles of early explorers (Christopher Columbus/Ponce da Leon) and how Puerto Rico evolved into the unique country it is today. Along the way we were refreshed with an ice cup of passion fruit called a limber, and learned how to make the traditional dish of Mofongo with a wooden mortar/pestle. We also saw the smallest house in the world, visited the church that contains the remains of Ponce De Leon, and walked in (and quickly out) of ancient, creepy, prison cells that once held 15 prisoners each. Yikes!

Final thoughts

First, if you ever visit Puerto Rico and need a guide, look up Papa Lion. No clue what his real name is but his range and depth of knowledge is incredible.

Second, our leader Dr. Mark Schmitz deserves a ton of gratitude from all of us for the very memorable trip. It takes a lot of work and time to put a trip like this together that created lifelong memories. Thanks so much!

Want in?  

Concordia offers 500-plus study abroad programs in 48 different countries. Students have the opportunity to see the world and experience new places and people, while earning their degree from CUW. Expand your horizons and perspective, and gain professional benefits from exposure to new cultures.