Tag Archives: Costa Rica 2015

Last Few Days in Costa Rica

From Colin ’16

Today is Sunday, and our trip to Costa Rica is winding down. We woke up this morning expecting an easy day of travelling to San Jose, but were instead greeted with news that portions of the lodge had flooded. There had been a tropical depression that moved in and stalled over the Caribbean lowlands dumping roughly ten inches of rain in the middle of the night.  The area got the equivalent of three months of rain for us in Bucks County in the span of a few intense hours.  Luckily, we were staying in the mountainside bungalows and thusly did not need to be evacuated at 5:00 a.m., like some other guests did. The group found out that the local Saripiquí River had overflowed its banks onto the footbridges connecting the lobby to the rest of the lodge, as well as the bridge connecting our rooms to the dining hall.  Fortunately, the paths eventually cleared, and we had breakfast at the lodge.

After the breakfast that almost did not happen, we departed Chilamate, so we thought. The flooding was pretty bad up and down the Sarapiqui—some buildings were damaged, trees were knocked over and houses and fields were inundated. We discovered that, at a dam further upstream, they were going to open the floodgates to prevent the dam from cracking from all the extra water. People were gathered by the side of the road for safety and in anticipation of further flooding.  Our original route out of the area was blocked so Carlos had to look for another. We also found that three of the five ways out of the region were blocked.   We went up the central mountains using an extremely narrow and old paved road.  It took most of the morning, but Carlos got us to the central plateau safely.

Consequently, we were forced to shift gears and had to skip our planned volcano visit. Instead, we stopped at Sarchí, the main artisan town, close to San Jose, famous for its ox wagons (we saw the biggest one in the world).

After some quick souvenir shopping, we took a tour of a butterfly preserve. Our guide picked up butterflies with ease, and explained some of their anatomy and camouflage. After a short visit, and many photos, we left the butterflies and went to have lunch.

After another delicious and typical Costa Rican meal in a restaurant full of Ticos out to lunch on Father’s Day, we left the restaurant and got back on the bus for San Jose. After a relatively short drive, we arrived at La Capital. Mario, our guide, told us that about two million people live in San Jose, almost half the total population of Costa Rica. We stopped by the National Theater, one of the most notable landmarks in the city. Interestingly, the theater is across from the very first McDonald’s in Costa Rica. Though we didn’t spend much time there, it was obvious that San Jose is a city full of life.

After this quick city snapshot, we got back on the bus and headed to our hotel. We learned that where we’re staying is right next to a local chocolatier, which as it turns out has some amazing dark chocolate that they prepare right there in the store. In a way, it’s almost poetic that we end the trip with a bit of bitter-sweetness. It seems to me that everyone is excited to get home and see their families, but that no one will leave here without a sense of sadness that we are finally saying goodbye to this wonderful country full of wonderful people. I know I’ll always have a bit of Tico to carry with me as I move through life.



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News from Costa Rica

Homestay Account (by Brooke ‘16)

This morning, instead of waking up to rain falling on the roof of my jungle-surrounded bungalow, or being scared awake by my alarm, I was awoken, at approximately 3:28 a.m., by a rooster. This rude awakening was because I was at my homestay last night, and instead of sleeping at the eco-lodge with my roommate, I was in a house with my host parents, Bernarda and Ademar. Continue reading

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June 19: San Vicente

Last night, six of us stayed with homestay families from the early afternoon until this morning. I was in this first group. I liked my Tico family a lot. My IB Spanish 4 came in handy because no one was fluent English. The youngest boy, who was 11 years old, knew very little English, so I had to speak to them in Spanish. It was an eye-opening experience for me, because I got to briefly live in the style of rural Costa Ricans. Their house was just a little bigger than my garage and was simply constructed of wooden planks and a tin roof. They did have running water, electricity, and a TV nevertheless. It made me appreciate how fortunate I am to have the luxuries I have in the United States. I really liked the family, and we spent hours talking, despite coming from two different backgrounds. I gave the family a GS tee shirt to remember me, and two New York Yankees hats, since they are my favorite baseball team. They asked if I was coming back to visit them, and I felt so loved. I wanted to say yes, but I wasn’t sure if I would ever get the opportunity to come to Costa Rica again. I told them if I could, I would visit them. I will never forget my Tico family, who are like my real family now.

Today, however, is Friday. We went to yet another rural elementary school today to help out. This one is called San Vicente, not too far from the main road adjacent to the Sarapiqui River. Half of us came on the bus from the lodge with Pacho and Sara, while the other half arrived with our homestay families, with whom we spent the night. We gathered at the school at 8:45 a.m. and shortly thereafter started painting the fence outside the school a metallic silver color.

We had to cover the previous paint job, which was done in a terracotta color. We were to paint both the tubing and the mesh by partnering up in twos, one outside the fence and the other one inside it, and working in tandem. It was a bit of a tedious process, since most of it was a chain-linked fence and we had to paint each link. This time we were working with very viscous oil-based paint that had a strong fumes so we wore masks, which were uncomfortable since it was steaming hot.  It was also a messy project, as some of us got paint on our gloves, arms, hair, and faces. The weather also did not cooperate as it rained on-and-off all morning. Luckily, we were able to stay dry while we worked in a covered area that students use as they are waiting for their parents.

Mid-morning, we were given a break for about 20 minutes to snack on some fruit given to us by the school. We then continued to paint, dripping in sweat from how hard we were working. We may have not thought that today’s service was essential, but when we finished, we saw how great the fence looked and were proud of what we did. Then, we had a well-deserved lunch cooked by the school’s cook (who also happened to be one of the people that hosted our homestays), which consisted of rice, beans, chicken, and watermelon.

Then came the obligatory games, some of us played a game of soccer with the school kids, while others played Frisbee and yet another group passed around a soccer ball. We had a lot of fun with the kids, as they are very competitive and pretty good at soccer. After our playtime with the kids, we returned to work, but this time our task was removed branches and empty coconuts on the backyard and put them in the school’s compost hole. After our work, we once again sang to them “Count on Me” by Bruno Mars, which they seemed to be entertained by. I was our school representative who gave the teacher a care package, which consisted of notebooks, pencils, pens, erasers, and numerous other school supplies. The teacher thanked us publically and talked about the great help we provided and how the children were looking forward to our visit all week. The teacher was also happy that the school fence was getting a makeover. We then shook all the kids hands (we were too sweaty for hugs) and sadly said goodbye. At around 2:30, we left the school and waved goodbye to the kids, happy that we got another chance to help out a rural community and to live the way they do.

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June 18: Sarapiqui Service

From Tyler ’16

Today is Thursday and it consisted of lots of service. We departed later than usual today, which provided us a nice break in the morning before a long hot day of work. We left the lodge at 9 a.m. and drove to Escuela San Isidro, a three-room primary school that is midst of pineapple plantations. It was a bumpy ride that consisted of roadblocks and muddy roads, which our driver Carlos fearlessly took on.

It is located in an area known as La Virgen, since there is a spot close by where the Virgin Mary made an apparition to a young peasant boy decades ago. It’s off the main road, only accessed by muddy country roads. There were two routes; we started on a muddy track, but then turned into a wide brand new road, which is not supposed to be open to traffic yet, but one that locals use if there no construction work being done at the time. Francine, the SCLC coordinator, suggested that if we use this route as it would save us some time. The route was still unpaved, but it took us over a strip of flat gravel two miles long. After slow and uneasy driving over the strip, we were greeted by firmer and more stable road. Up ahead a guard informed us that there were men at work, and he would not let us pass. We were forced us to turn around and go back the way we came.

After successfully navigating the muddy road, we continued our way to the escuela. We arrived at the school and were introduced to the children. The school is quite small with only three classrooms, forcing them to have multiple grades together in one classroom. First we said our names and they replied with theirs. They returned to their lessons, while we began our painting preparations.

Our job for the day was to paint all the external walls of the school. A big job, but since there were 17 of us, including five adults, it seemed plausible. We were divvied up into several groups to work on different sides of the building. I started in the back with three other group members. The first thing we had to do was to wash the dirt from the sides of the building and tape the walls and iron bars. The scrubbing and tapping took a while and was very laborious, but getting this done first made it easier to paint later. The top half of the wall was covered in a bright blue paint, which we covered with two coats of mint colored paint. This first round of painting covered me from head to toe with the mint paint.

At 11:30 a.m. we took a break from working and gathered with the students to formally give them supplies as well as to sing to them. We were then challenged by the children to a game of fútbol. Two of the children were chosen as captains and then they picked teams. The team I was chosen for took a four to zero lead very early, but with the help of Pacho and Carlos, our opponents came back, scoring two magnificent goals before a tropical storm descended upon us. First we saw the lightning, then the wind picked up and shortly after we experienced a tropical downpour. The storm saved us since we were gassed.

Dripping in sweat, we gathered in the dining room for some lunch. There were two aids that served us rice with a mixture of mushrooms, onions, chicken, and other typical Costa Rican spices. It was a typical lunch given to the kids. For them it means not going hungry all day. The storm passed overhead in as we were eating and cooled us all off with an incredible breeze.

We worked for a couple of more hours applying dark green color to the base of the walls and columns. We then gave the base a second coat, thus completing our entire task, and we then spent a long time cleaning up.

The children had all gone home for the day but a couple hung around to say goodbye. Although the work was very strenuous, the final product was worth all of the time and effort we had put into it. It was a good day of service.

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June 17: Selva Verde Lodge & Rainforest Reserve

Stephanie ’16

Today is Wednesday and our Costa Rica service group has relocated to the Selva Verde Lodge & Rainforest Reserve. This means that today was a travel day with a total of three hours on our coaster bus. During this ride, we took breaks to experience two interesting attractions that reminded us, once again, that the point of this trip is to immure ourselves in the culture and environmental awareness that Costa Rica has to offer us.

Our first stop of the day was to Las Termales del Bosque, a rustic hot springs establishment found in the middle of a tropical wet forest, to enjoy two hours of relaxation in the hot springs. The spot is four miles away from the birthplace of our guide Mario, as well as of his father and grandfather.  Mario told us that his great grandfather, Fructus Cordoba, had come to the region to work in a cattle ranch and settled his family in the region.

The pools were located deep in the forest down a fairly steep ravine. It took us ten minutes to walk and reach the springs that sat adjacent a picturesque river. The springs were organized to have guests relax as they gradually go through the pools with the temperature of the water increasing as they go. Pools started at 34, then 36, then 38, going all the way up to 48 degrees Celsius (that’s 118.5 degrees Fahrenheit!).   Most of us could not stay in the last one very long.  The best part about the pools was the fact that we were isolated from the hustle and bustle of city life. Our day consisted of never-ending rainfall and it was a unique experience to be in the forest and with its inhabitants as they are in the middle of a rainstorm.

After a delicious lunch at Las Termales del Bosque, we drove to the Jardin Zoologico called “La Marina.” There the group had an opportunity to learn more about wildlife in Costa Rica and the obstacles they face because of societal advancement and the mistreatment of animals. La Marina is a privately owned nonprofit that works to rescue endangered species and mistreated animals. The Center is world famous for being the only place to have been so successful at breeding Tapirs in captivity, producing over twenty babies thus far.

Each animal has a unique story. For instance, one of their lions was rescued from a travelling circus that no longer wanted her. “La Marina” sheltered the abandoned animal and provided her with a comfortable life until she died peacefully of old age. This is the goal of La Marina–to provide helpless animals with a peaceful existence, and although they were contained, they are safe from predators and illegal hunting (no form of hunting is allowed in Costa Rica).   Other animals come to them as confiscated illegal pets (no wild animals are allowed as pets in this country).  We saw several cats including a jaguar, a puma, an angry ocelot, and a couple of arboreal margays.

We continued driving down the Caribbean lowlands until we reached a town called Chilamate on the banks of the Sarapiqui River, not too far from Puerto Viejo.  Once we finally reached the Selva Verde Lodge & Rainforest Reserve, and learned that it has 500 acres of pristine primary lowland rainforest, we met with the Sarapiqui Conservation and Learning Center director Francine to learn about the organization’s mission.

The SCLS’s charter is to help local children and adults improve their knowledge of the ecological wonders of the region and through free English classes. Adult usually attend classes in the evenings from Mondays to Thursdays, which accommodates well with their work schedules. Children, whose age ranges more around elementary school level, attend these classes on Saturdays. Other programs they provide for the community include access to computers. A unique rule the Center has is that children must read at least thirty minutes before getting on a computer. This is beneficial to the children because it allow for the children to focus and develop their reading skills.

Because they only have six computers and a high demand for use, people are usually limited to thirty minutes of Internet use. Even with limited resources SCLC has been able to help the entire community by enhancing their education.  The SCLC is an exceptional center that aims to help locals through language and environmental education. We are planning to help them by painting local schools and by planting trees for the next three days.   They are also organizing our homestays.

Overall, although today was a travelling day, the group and I did have an impactful day. By getting the chance to see rescued animals and meeting the director of a nonprofit built to educate their communities, it is clear that the people of Costa Rica do strive for a sustainable environment and caring community by helping one another in any way shape or form.

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June 16: Second day in Arenal

From Mailyse ’16

Today is Tuesday, and though it was very rainy, we managed to do service at the Agua Azul primary school on the outskirts of the town of La Fortuna. We split into three work brigades. Some of the others GS students cleaned the escuela’s stock room, while others painted the outside walls and washed the windows.  My group’s job was to paint the kindergarten classroom along with Stephanie and Maria. We worked on adding a purple trim to the sky blue color. We did this work as the young children watched and played around us. The children were really sweet, cute and rambunctious. There was a beautiful boy with big brown eyes that gave all the girls hugs and seemed so happy.

The colors of the classroom reflected the spirit of the country: bright ocean blues and an electric lavender, things are exciting and spontaneous here you never know what’s in store next. However, no matter how hard things get, a smiling face by the kids in those escuelas will always greet you.

Afterwards, we all gathered across the street on a large immaculately kept soccer field, and of course, the boys could not turn down the opportunity of playing a quick soccer game, it wasn’t long after the some little boys from the school ran out to join them, disregarding the fact that they were still in their school uniforms. Mario and Carlos, our trusted guide and driver, who are huge soccer fans, organized the pickup game. The rest of us did yoga, played Frisbee, and got eaten alive by bugs. When we all were tired and had enough of our daily dose of physical activity, the kind teachers from the school prepared an intricate carved pineapple dish for us. I feel like many did not know the intensity of this gesture. Pineapples signify friendship and are meant to welcome people. Whether or not this was intentional or not, I feel as if this meant acceptance of us into their home country and their culture.

Laundry in a hot humid place like Arenal is so important. I feel as if people don’t realize how important it is to have dry, clean clothes until you have none left. We all were so happy to pay for perfectly folded clothes and for the chance to help the local economy. I could not thank the woman at La Fortuna enough. To my surprise, next-door was a place that sold the cutest baby chicks I have ever seen. Alas I had to bid them goodbye and waved to them from the window of the van, the heartbreak overwhelmed me for I always wanted a baby chick. After lunch, I mentally prepared myself to hike the base of a volcano, but not just any volcano, but one of the most active ones in the last 45 years. I was terrified! When we arrived, we hiked for approximately thirty minutes. Then, the clouds began to roll in, we could hear rumbling, then the rain began to fall, upon which I had a mini heart attack because the approaching storm had thunder and I thought the volcano was about to erupt… it wasn’t. Thankfully Pacho and Mario thought the safe thing to do would be for us to turn around.

We moved to a sheltered place inside the national park, El Mirador, to see the volcano and pass the storm. It just kept on raining. On the way out the park we saw an eyelash pit viper, one of the recent colonists to the area that has been under ecological succession since the volcano wiped out all life in 1968. Back then, 78 people died in this sparsely populated side of the mountain.

Overall today was a very jam-packed day filled with lots of rain and friendly service. This experience was both rewarding and beneficial to my understanding of the culture and the unpredictability of life in Costa Rica. This is something that I would never trade for anything for this experience has humbled my peers and I, we hope to never leave. !Pura Vida!

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June 15: On route to Arenal

From Tim ’16

This was a typical travel day, which was mostly spent on the bus. We had breakfast at 7:00 and hit the road right shortly afterwards. The bus drive was done in two stages, taking almost 5 hours. As we descended 1000 vertical meters, we went through many beautiful sites such as steep hillsides dotted with houses, plantations and wind farms. The houses on the mountain were small yet colorful, which represent people’s outlook on life: not extremely wealthy but happy.

After two hours of lots of winding turns, we stopped at a primary school to meet the kids and played with them. Some of us played jump rope and others split into two teams and played an intense game of soccer. Knowing that I am not a great soccer player, I decided to be a photographer instead. Although we had some GS varsity players going vs. middle school kids half their size, the kids’ devotion to soccer and fearless determination gave our guys a hard time. From this experience I realized how much soccer means to people in the country. After soccer, we sang Bruno Mars’s Count on Me to the kids, we preformed really well. In return, the kids danced for us. It was very cute. We delivered school supplies and gave hugs to all the kids. When we hit the road again, I kind of wanted to stay and re-live my childhood a bit.   We gave another teacher a ride to her one-room “escuela.” She wanted us to stay, but we still had a long way to go to get to La Fortuna, our lunch destination.

After the sweet little stop at Tilaran, a sleepy town on the foothills of the Tilaran Mountain range, we approached for the second largest man-made lake in Central America—Lake Arenal. This lake was completed in 1979 to provide hydroelectric power. Being close to Monteverde, it captures the runoff which is brought down by its multiple rivers. Originally, the lake not only provided water and recreational sports for tourists, but also accounted for over 60% of all the electricity used in the country. Costa Rica used this project to launch its ambitious green initiative: to generate all of its electricity using renewable sources, a feat that was met for the first time in 2015. If the world would learn to harness clean energy like Costa Rica, it would help slow climate change.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t hike the volcano as planned (due to rainy weather) even though it sat right in front of us (we will actually have to go to the other side of it to see signs of lava flows). We could just see its base, the top was covered by clouds. Arenal volcano was active daily from 1968 to 2010, making it one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It has gone silent recently, but there are still signs of magma activity in the form of numerous hot springs. Our hotel has numerous pools of hot spring water each at a different temperature. We might have a chance tomorrow or the next day if the weather cooperates. The weather is unpredictable in the tropics. Instead of climbing the volcano we went to buy gifts in La Fortuna, which are expensive but elegant. Today is a relatively easy day, something unusual in this service trip.

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June 15: Photos from Costa Rica

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June 14: Traveling to Monteverde


From Rhodes ‘16

Today is Sunday, a day without rest for us travelers. We started off the day with a wonderful breakfast consisting of French toast, eggs, fruit, and fresh squeezed orange juice. We then proceeded to the world-renowned Monte Verde Cloud Forest Reserve, which was originally sponsored by the Monteverde Quakers in the 1960s. They were interested in preserving their watershed and the natural beauty of the mountains.  What is really neat about this place is the fact that it sits on the Continental Divide, meaning that water flows both towards the Pacific Ocean on the Western slope and to the Caribbean Sea on the Eastern side of these beautiful mountains.

We began our visit of this huge reserve by hiking up the Camino Trail, which follows an old service trail making it nice and wide.  It was tough going due to the altitude (a mile high) and the steep slope of the mountain.  We stopped periodically to catch our breath and learn about local wildlife and its adaptations to living in very humid conditions. Mario, our guide, searched for tarantulas, picked up millipedes, and discussed different birds unique to this mountainous terrain.  In one of those stops, a hummingbird dove at Travin due to the fact that he wore a bright red sweatshirt, he was mistaken for a very large red flower. It was a close call, but everyone was OK, including Travin.  The hike was strenuous but it was all worth it in the end when we reached the summit of the mountain and were enveloped by quick moving clouds. The fantastical view was mesmerizing:  imagine 30-mile winds blowing constantly and carrying warm humid air from the Caribbean lowlands up the slope of the Tilaran mountain range.

Subsequent to the hike, we went to an adjacent cloud forest reserve called Reserva Santa Elena, owned by the local high school. This place was equally impressive, but more subdued.  George School has been coming here for years to help with the upkeep of the reserve.  Following our delicious lunch, it was time to get to work. We split up into two groups of six and were given different jobs to do. One group was in charge of moving wood from one place to another while the other group was preoccupied with shoveling the sandy soil behind the main building to help fill in ditches along the main trail. This work took us all of 3 hours, but felt quite shorter because we were having so much fun.

After we had finished all the service that needed to be done, we stopped at the Monte Verde Friend’s School, which was built by Quakers and local families when they settled here in the mid fifties. We were able to enjoy a short meeting for worship in their brand new and picturesque wooden meetinghouse, which was built by the community with large windows, high ceilings, and wooden pegs instead of nails.  It provided us with a beautiful and simple feeling of life in this enchanted place. Afterwards, we kicked back, relaxed, and kicked the soccer ball around the back of the school, while others chatted or did yoga.

On the way back to our hotel, we stopped at the Monteverde Coffee Cooperative and had some delicious beverages and small snacks, which I was able to enjoy thanks to my generous friends (since I left my wallet back at the hotel). The day was finished off with a nice dinner at the hotel. Our anticipation grows as we hit the road, leaving Monteverde behind and heading towards Arenal tomorrow.



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June 13: Enroute to Monteverde

From Maria ’15 

Today consisted of two things: relaxation and travel. This morning we all reconvened in the dining room for breakfast at 6:30 a.m. and discussed what our day was going to look like. As this was our last day at the Rincón de la vieja, we had to bring our entire luggage to breakfast with us. Our plan was to head to the beach and then to travel to our next destination: Monte Verde. Continue reading

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by | June 14, 2015 · 9:05 am