An Explorer for the New Age

Although most places on Earth have made it on to the map, Ernest Minnema, 34, of the Deventer region of the Netherlands, believes there is still a place for adventurers and explorers in the world.

Growing up, Minnema said, he wanted to be a helicopter pilot because it was the most adventurous thing he could imagine.

Although it’s still on his bucket list, he said he soon discovered that the majority of private pilots only fly passengers out to oil platforms and back.

Even as a child, he declared helicopter pilot insufficiently exciting, and began the quest for his next adventure.

Minnema was born in to an adventurous family who both encouraged and enabled their children to travel. His parents presented him and his siblings with the gift of extended trips after their 18th birthdays.

In 1999, Minnema embarked on his first expedition. He explored the United States for 2 ½ months to discover what he called the university of life.

“It sparked a traveling flame in me,” he said. “Since then I have been addicted.”

That addiction would grow and lead to over 10 years of travel, adventures, exploration and discoveries.


Minnema holds a coral snake mimic while students at UGACR take photos.

Minnema said he lives his life by the motto, “When was the last time you did something for the first time?”

Following this credo, he has created a list of experiences that ranges from working in the Amazon rain forest to traveling to Thailand, and he said that he still has many things to cross off his bucket list.

Although Minnema calls himself an adventurer and not an explorer, he said he often feels like he was born in the wrong century, and wishes it were easier to make new discoveries.

His favorite author and inspiration is Redmond O’Hanlon, whom he calls one of the last true explorers of this world.

He said the way O’Hanlon describes how true discoveries can still exist in this day and age speaks to him.

Minnema said there are still places left on earth to explore and discover. His experience working in the Amazon rain forest allowed him to visit one of the wildest places on earth.

During this time, Minnema rode the Amazon tributaries a day and a half from the closest human settlement, guided by a local coworker.

Ernest said his coworker had sensed the explorer in him and wanted to take him to his grandfather’s secret hunting grounds.

“When I got off the boat there,” he said, “the sense of the rain forest is completely different.”

Minnema said the absence of humanity was what made that part of the forest extraordinary.

“If you take a true map of the Amazon, there are still many white gaps on that map,” he said. “Many people don’t know that, but there are still places on this world where no man has walked.”

Minnema’s coworker is not the only person to have sensed the spirit of adventure in him.  Molly Scanga, a fellow resident naturalist at the University of Georgia, Costa Rica, said she also recognized Minnema’s passion for discovery.

“That inner adventurous spirit that normally dies out with age, you can tell that he’s done a really good job of keeping it alive inside of him,” she said.

Minnema said his sense of adventure and past exploration of the Amazon has inspired his dream adventure of walking the Darién Gap.

The Darién Gap is a break in the Pan-American Highway, an undeveloped jungle of swamps and forests. The area has gained infamy as the home of the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC).

FARC is responsible for multiple assassinations and human rights violations, including the well-publicized kidnapping of National Geographic writer Robert Pelton in 2003.

“It’s the most wild and dangerous place in the world,” said Minnema. “ I will be on a list of 20, 25 people who did that.”

Although Minnema said he believes that pure adrenalin is the best drug in the world, danger is not what draws him to the Darién.

Due to FARC, the Darién Gap remains one of the last unexplored places in the world, said Minnema. It is this wildness that draws him.

“If you’ve ever been in a place where no man has been,” he said,  “you know that one footstep can completely change the forest.”

Though he realizes these unexplored spaces are becoming fewer, Minnema said he still believes there are new places to be discovered, and that others can be adventurers and explorers like him.

“You can,” he said. “Everybody can. Each second is the first second of the rest of your life.”

Minnema’s current adventure is serving as a resident naturalist at UGACR, guiding hikes, cooking classes, coffee tours and teaching science-based workshops.

Minnema teaches student and interns about local herpetology.

José Joaquín Montero Ramírez, UGACR’s coordinator for research, instruction and internships, said he believes this resident naturalist position is the gateway for new discoveries for Minnema.

“This is a way for him to move to the next stage of life,” he said, “to discover and investigate and use all his connections and knowledge to create a new idea.”

Minnema said after all his explorations, he has finally found the place that can satisfy his need for adventure and allow him to pursue his passion to educate others and help them make their own discoveries.

“This is the place I’ve been looking for over the past 10 years,” he said.

Though he’s discovered UGACR, a place that allows him to educate the next group of world explorers, Minnema  said, he won’t stop adventuring any time soon. He still has a few things to cross of his bucket list.

Blog post and photos by Erin Burnett, UGACR Photojournalism Intern


“You’ll never be quite the same.”

Those that have visited can attest- UGACR is a magical place. Just a few years ago in 2013, I had just graduated high school and was working on one of Georgia’s barrier islands. There I heard the poem “If Once You Have Slept on an Island” by Rachel Lyman Field. With a few changes, I believe it expresses how I feel about the magic UGACR possesses and the spell it casts on all who visit. Below is my adapted version.Read More »


The Partnership of Learning: Fit4Earth Workshops

Two weeks ago, UGACR hosted 84 seventh graders from San Jose, the Costa Rican capital, on campus. The middle schoolers attended four days of workshops on sustainability, agriculture, carbon sequestration, and entomology, all taught by our staff, while also enjoying the awesome wildlife on campus. These students were extraordinary- each was trilingual, speaking German, English and Spanish. They also did several hours of community service at the local San Luis school. Read More »


Tyler Reeves

Today we had to leave the UGA Costa Rica campus. It was sad to have to say goodbye to everyone, especially most of the naturalists. It is strange that many of us were able to form a connection with these people having only been there a week’s time. I believe how immersed we were in the activities and the learning process allowed us to become connected more quickly than normal. I think oftentimes we remain within our shells a bit and the time it takes for us to come out metaphorically is greater under normal situations.

However, we were not operating under normal circumstances. We were not seeing each other for one to two hours a day like you would in a classroom situation. We were spending all day with these people. Not only that, we were relying on them to help us complete our tasks and also to get us through the situations in which we were placed. I think this is crucial distinction in programs like these. This is not a classroom setting. There are no textbooks or assigned readings for this course. We are not being lectured to, we are not being talked at. We are learning by doing. We learned how to measure trees by actually going out and measuring the trees. We learned about the impacts of erosion by seeing with our own eyes how the land had been affected. We learned about endangered bird species by looking at them when they were only thirty feet away from us. That’s the difference. Your hands are measuring the trees, your hands are pushing the dirt, and your hands are making the difference. You aren’t just looking at some picture, or checking off some box. That’s why I believe we are actually learning, because we are doing.


Carly Landa


During this magical Tropical Reforestation course in Costa Rica, I had a wonderful time recording our adventures for you and reflecting on what we’ve learned. Now that we’re back, I have a final opportunity to communicate what our trip meant to us. It is impossible for me to really capture in words what we took away from this trip, and I think it’s safe to say that everyone in our group was profoundly touched by the experience.

In the cloud forests, mountains, valleys, villages, cliff faces and coastlines of Costa Rica we acquired a deep appreciation for tropical ecology and a holistic understanding of the multidimensional issues we will face in the future. We were deeply inspired by each other, by the staff, by the experts we met, and by the profound beauty of the natural world. We wrestled with so many levels of understanding, from practical problems like how to measure trees to abstract concepts like understanding how people think and feel about the environment.

“You can’t look at all of these planetary systems as different from the people,” Quint Newcomer had told us on the final night of our stay at the Monte Verde campus, “and that is the problem of our future.”

Suddenly, the distinct disciplinary categories of service and learning that had been drilled into us by formal education came screeching to a sudden halt. The experience we had in Costa Rica erased the arbitrary distinctions between the social, ecological, political, economic, and anthropological realms. The problems we face are so much more multidimensional than these discrete and simplistic categories. Thus, our understandings — our solutions — must be equally as profound if we are to effect real positive change in world.

The people in our group really helped me to understand this. I saw understanding of these issues unfold through the eyes of an accountant, a public health student, an artistically inclined linguistics enthusiast, a pair of eager environmental engineering students, of every student and staff and expert we had the pleasure to know. We all came into the program with a certain understanding of what might be important. But as we learned and shared, we became passionate about different things. For example, I found myself suddenly excited about soil quality and water systems in an ecosystem, about trees and plants and dirt. My friend Grant told me one day that I had changed the way that he felt about birds. We weren’t just learning from each other, we were going a step further – we were catching one another’s contagious excitement for whatever it is they care about most.

It was a rare and beautiful experience. Learning happened organically, and cooperatively. We were challenged to push the boundaries of our comfort zones, and the same time were supported and encouraged by the faculty and each other. When I first came to the UGA campus and spoke with Dr. Irwin (who is now one of my Committee Members) about potentially coming to UGA and studying wildlife, the first thing he showed me was footage of this trip. I immediately wanted to go – I wanted to learn, and work hard, and make a positive difference.

When I finally completed this course, I realized that the learning that took place was not just extrinsic, but intrinsic as well. We learned about ourselves and about each other. For me, this trip solidified my desire to work in the field of conservation. To work with natural things, including people, and to help foster more harmonious relationships between these seemingly separate systems.

Most of all, I feel that my colleagues and I are striving in our daily lives to hold on to something more intangible than ecological monitoring methods, or economics problems of conservation, or social issues around land use. We are trying to hold in our hearts the humbling awe of the Costa Rican rainforest, and the immense respect we gained for the mysterious Bellbird and other wild things. We are trying to carry with us the secret dramas of that mysterious world, a world which teems with so many kinds of life. We cannot un-see or un-know these things. We want to see it in our world every day. We want to keep this with us and let it motivate the hard work that we continue to do as we go about our lives. We have been touched by a divine knowledge, by the wisdom of something far greater than ourselves. We want to seed our spirit with the inspiration we’ve been given – and let it grow a forest.

Pura Vida!


Blog post by Carly Landa, UGA Tropical Reforestation study abroad student


Kayla Smith

Why is the Bellbird important to an Accountant?

Going into this Costa Ria trip my mindset was very simplistic: I wanted to travel and see Costa Rica. However, the introduction to the Bellbird, or the “calandria” as locals call it, would have a major impact on my life, and so would Costa Rica.Read More »


Anna Marie Davis


Words for the Bell Bird


Perching Branch


The arrival of the bird is announced.

Its talons close around the thin, lifeless branch,

Its plumes glow warmly in the

Sunshine peeping through the forest cover,

Illuminating the soil below.

Warm, soft soil which is to house

The future of an endangered, leafy being.


The bird cries its call,

Defiantly defending its role

As the life-giver of the dying.

From its meal, it makes its offerings,

Squeezing the perch below,

And it sets free the seeds

Of a new generation.


Read More »