Tag Archives: costa rica 2017

Costa Rica – Final Reflection

By Pacho Gutierrez ‘77

Twenty-three years ago I led the first GS student trip to Costa Rica, a country that inspired me not only for its natural richness, but also for its dedication to conservation, sustainability, peace and social justice, among other things.  This was my 12th time taking students to this magnificent country.  As always, I left it refreshed and inspired.

Almost a quarter of a century will bring great change to any country, but it seems to be magnified in Costa Rica since it used to be so pristine.  Its population has grown by 47 percent between 1994 and 2017.  As Ticos gain in affluence, they buy more vehicles, build more roads, and construct more businesses.  This become greatly apparent as one travels the roads, there is construction everywhere.  The modern world is taking over, even a country where simplicity and unhurried lifestyle has been the way of life.

Costa Rica is doing its best to be a world leader in many fronts.  For example, and as was mentioned in the blogs, it was the first nation to reach 100 percent renewable electricity production in 2015, making it a leader in energy sustainability.  Almost one third of its territory is protected in some form or another from development or exploitation.  Ninety seven percent of its population has access to electricity and potable water. Costa Rica has one of the highest literacy rates in Latin America. It enforces conservation laws better than most other Latin American countries.  It provides health services better than most developing countries.  It has low crime and poverty rates.

Progress continues to spread over the planet.  Modern conveniences and amenities are encroaching the Costa Rican countryside.  For example, it used to be there was little or no cell service in rural areas, now it seems like there is WiFi connectivity in every room in every lodge, no matter how remote (Tortuguero).  Those eco-tourists demand their connectivity!

Ticos continue to soldier on with their respect for nature, for wildlife and for each other.  Animals move about unafraid or unconcerned with humans.  It’s like what happens with the GS squirrels, they are emboldened by the way they are left free to roam.

Ticos are humble people with a strong sense of family and solidarity with their neighbors, something that really struck a chord with our students.  The respect and cohesiveness they show with one another is refreshing and awe inspiring.  Sure, they have problems like everyone else, but they have a tranquility about them that is unique.

Ticos say Pura Vida! (literally: Pure Life) for everything: as a greeting, as a response, as an expression, as an invitation to be positive and jovial.  Its contagious, one can’t help to be happy around Ticos.  Pura Vida all around!

I hope they never lose their joy to live their meaningful lives!



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Costa Rica

by Kim Major 

As we sit on the runway in Atlanta it’s hard to not feel a bit wistful for the trip that is on the cusp of its finale. No gallo pinto tomorrow. No strong and amazingly flavorful coffee. No monkeys, exotic birds, or the deepest of greens all around. No smiles and holas from Erick and Enrique our guide and driver. No new adventures around the corner with sights that make me draw my breath in with a not-so-silent gasp.

No, it is back to life as I knew it. But, really, it’s not. Just like the students with whom I travelled, this experience has changed me. In our reflections, we often asked our students to frame their Costa Rica experience with a series of “what” questions: WHAT did I do (narrative), SO WHAT – how did this experience impact me, NOW WHAT – now that I’ve learned this, what will I do with this knowledge.

The WHAT has been thoroughly and beautifully covered by trip participants throughout the blog. I think the SO WHATs have been scattered with subtle awe throughout as well. For our students, I think the NOW WHAT is still forming – it won’t be until after re-immersion into day-to-day life that the impact can truly be known. As for me, over the course of the last 12 days, the NOW WHATS have come to me in dribbles and then, at times, in waves of what I like to call BFOs (blinding flashes of the obvious). Writing this blog entry gives me the opportunity to try to collect them in some coherent way. So here goes…

I studied French in school a long (very long) time ago. Aside from the occasional adios, I knew no Spanish. So, for months before the trip I tried my best to teach myself the basics of the language. After putting that to practice [some] and hearing it spoken all around me, I realized I want to learn the language not for the trip or future travel but because it is beautiful and I want to be the person who knows multiple languages, not the one who thinks everyone should speak mine. Now what? Now I continue to study the language with greater depth.

I have led service trips before with another school, but never internationally. In fact, aside from Canada (and sorry, dear husband of mine, Canada does not count) I had never before traveled internationally. Before this experience, I thought my top travel destinations were typical sightseeing spots in Europe or pure “fun” beach or ski vacations. But after visiting the cloud forest in Monteverde and the remote beaches of Tortuguero, and after immersing myself in the culture of a community off the beaten path, what I really want in future travel is to go to the places not as well traveled. To see flora and fauna that may not exist if we do not care for the environment. Sure, I want some time reading a book on a beach, but just as much, I want to look for more eco and adventure travel experiences – particularly those that, like in Costa Rica, serve to both enhance the local economy and provide resources to protect the environment.

Speaking of the environment, I was blown away by how Ticos and Ticas respect the environment. Ticos practice an environmental stewardship model of environmentalism by conserving, appreciating and valuing nature as ancient cultures did. I love George School, and we do an OK job with recycling but we have so much more we can do—particularly in the dorms. As a dorm parent, I want to do more to encourage my residents to consistently recycle. I have always cared for and about our natural resources, but I know I can do a lot more.

A more subtle NOW WHAT came through reading student journals. Students often remarked that they thought they would do more service on the trip, and then later noted all the learning about themselves and the outside world that had taken place. A big lesson for me is that if I have the opportunity to chaperone service learning trips in the future (my hand is already raised to volunteer), I can do a better job of framing the goals. In reality, in an 11-day trip, the total impact of the service a group our size can do is small. Minuscule, really. But, that does not mean it doesn’t matter. However, the purpose of the trip is not just service in the community—it is promoting shifts in thinking. If our students push themselves out of their comfort zones, they expand their worldview and may be more likely to stretch themselves to help others in the future. If they gain deeper understanding of and appreciation for different cultures and communities, they are more likely to reach out to strangers because they have seen firsthand that the differences between people really are not as vast as they might think they are on the surface. If they stand in awe of nature in a new way, they are more likely to work to respect and steward the environment at home. Sure, beach cleanups, playground rejuvenation and school visits have meaning, but I argue that the most far-reaching change that comes from trips like ours is the change inside each of us. I hope to do a better job of articulating that on future trips.

I am sure that for me, like our students, more lessons will come to me as the summer progresses. Parents, I encourage you to talk to your children about their NOW WHATs. Ask them to go beyond the store of photos in their phones. Ask them to describe the trip beyond the lodge reviews and review of the sites. Ask them about the impact on themselves. I know I will continue to ask myself what change will come in me from the trip. For now, however, I am so grateful that George School views experiences like this one as critical for students, I am glad I was able to participate in THIS trip, with THIS group, at THIS time. It was magical. And, I am certain of two things. First, I will return to Costa Rica. While I know I saw, experienced, and appreciated so much, I also know that the next time around I will see, feel, appreciate, and respect the country and its people even more. Like reading a great book, in the first pass you see it in broad, beautiful and inspiring strokes. The second? You notice the details, the nuances, the hidden beauty and deeper meaning you missed the first time. Costa Rica inspired me to see its details and, if I am lucky, more of the details in the world around me at home.

The other certainty? By the end of the summer I will find the winning gallo pinto recipe….

Thank you, George School, and 2017 Costa Rica service learning trip participants for a trip I will never forget!

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Costa Rica

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by Kevin

There is always something to be learned.  Isn’t that what we tell our students?  As adults and teachers we can generally anticipate their true needs as well as their desires.  Your children need to eat!  They desire connection to social media.  They need to set daily wake-up alarms.  Their desire is that we rouse them from their slumber in time to make it to breakfast.  Our students have been afforded the luxury of doing service in a country in which evaluating what is needed, verses what is desired, is a repeated thread in the fabric of the Tico’s way of life.

Today, after checking out of our tourist lodge, we visited an organic pineapple farm.  I was surprised to learn that I was woefully deficient in the actual facts involving the cultivation, organic needs, and eventual selection of the pineapples we purchase in the super market.  Four perfect pineapples were sacrificed to sate our desire for knowledge of the MD2 golden pineapple (Ananas Comosus) but the goal was accomplished.  Your children are now experts in how to pick the perfect pineapple and how to eat it!  This was a delicious learning experience.

I had the pleasure of delivering your children to their overnight homestays in San Isidro.  I hope that you will not think me unkind in the concealed joy that I took at observing them make their personal introductions to their families.  Moments later, as the adults were shaking hands with their overnight parents, you could see the uncertainty in their eyes and feel the desire, from most, to be spared this new experience.  For me, this was great theatre!  They will rarely be more present and truthful than in those moments.

What I relish in these closing hours of service are their final reflections.  As a group, they have done a marvelous job of bonding.  The overnight homestay visits touched each of your children in unique ways.  They understand now that they needed the visit to their rural families.  Families that have built their humble homes, from foundation to roof, with their own hands.  The pictures that we included in our blogs captured only the surface of a few moments that your child tasted, breathed and prayed their way through.  The changes were subtle.  They happened when they realized they were sleeping comfortably under three walls and an aluminum roof.  It happened as they were served freshly ground coffee dripping from a cloth filter with steamed milk.  It happened as they realized that Tico’s have opened their homes and way of life to the many and varied animals and plants that are native to Costa Rica.  Most noticed the way people in the community flow from house to house and the way Ticos focus on their families. Find the time to really listen to what your children have experienced.  When was the last time you were awakened by Howler monkeys, parrots, or a chorus of roosters on a fine weekday morning?  There have been so many new tastes, sounds and sights to compare and contrast.  In these closing hours before they return home to summer reading, chores, beaches, relatives and college visits, we will task them one last time to share and reflect on what they have lived with the hope that you will be the recipient of their trials and triumphs.

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Costa Rica

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by Brian

Homestay at San Isidro:

First things first, there are chickens; lots of chickens around the house of my homestay family. From 3:00 a.m. onwards, all I could hear were the clucking and cockle-doodle-doo-ing of the chickens as I tried to fall back asleep in my bed. I would even say they’re even louder than the howler monkeys that kept me up in Tortuguero. During the laborious process, I reminisced back to the exact moment I arrived at my homestay.
I was feeling uneasy as I walked up to the front porch of the house, giving a proper greeting and introduction to my hosts, Johana and Misael, in Spanish. The problem is, that introduction was all the Spanish I know, and I was spending the night with a Spanish-only speaking family.  As bad as it seems to be unable to communicate verbally at all whatsoever, both the hosts were none-judgmental of my lack of Spanish skills. I was promptly offered a drink and a tour around the premises, which housed a number of livestock, pets, wildlife, and plants. Misael seemed to enjoy educating me on the terms they used for the plants and animals in the area, like pato (duck) or cacao (cocoa). Despite the language barrier, the family and I somehow communicated well, with the common understanding of laughter and mindset to work towards a common goal. What really surprised me is how rustic the land they lived in was, with minimal construction and making full use of what nature has given them.

The evening really put emphasis in how they share their living spaces with nature. There were a variety of insects that swarm the air, howler monkeys bellowing in the distance and bats swoop about as they hunt for a 6-legged meal. This night, I wasn’t particularly bothered by mosquitoes, thanks to the mosquito netting over my bed.  Simply put, I enjoyed my homestay.  I honestly expected much worse, but now I am grateful to have had a hands-on experience of what it is like to live in rural Costa Rica.

Back in the present, I continued to struggle to sleep then came dawn.  I eventually slipped out of bed and walked outside to admire my surroundings and greet the early rising pets of the locals. I had breakfast and coffee on the porch, which was then interrupted by my travel group’s arrival.  As soon as I glanced over and saw the bus, I scrambled to grab my belongings and thanked my hosts for giving me a wonderful experience, and left.

Once again, we continuing our work painting community plaza at Llanos Grandes. Under partly conditions, we scraped old paint off slides, swings and seesaws with sandpaper and promptly got a hold of our absolute favorite tools-the paint brush. We colored the facilities in a variety of colors ranging from blue to orange to pink, and let me tell you, it was a chore to coordinate everyone working efficiently (ironically).

After a scrumptious lunch made by the community mothers, we went straight back to painting, but now we are painting flower patterns on tires instead, and there are plenty of tires to go around. However, heavy rain came pouring abruptly as some of us quickly scramble to cover and some are resilient in completing their masterpieces. As the rain stopped, we concluded that our work in the plaza in done and loaded ourselves back onto the bus and readied the next round of homestay students. Funnily enough, there’s this feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment that I felt as I walked off the plaza, as if contributing a small amount of work can impact the children of a community greatly.

Saying ironic farewells to this group of homestays wasn’t long-lived, as there was a special gathering this night with all the homestay families, much thanks to the SCLC coordinator, Francene. It was extremely nice to return and spend a little time with my original homestay family that night, as we are now in a more crowded and lively environment instead. The mothers in that part of the community prepared a special dinner for us, and let me tell you, the bread is utterly amazing. I should really be disgusted with myself by the way I absolutely devoured half a loaf. Knowing it was the second to last night we are going to spend together, everyone took part of a salsa dancing session. People laughed and cheered as they danced in the only lamp that shined under the starry night sky of Costa Rica.

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Costa Rica Day 9


Khalil ’18

If I am being completely honest with you and myself, I went into this service-learning trip thinking that it would be more of a vacation than community service. I looked at the itinerary several times and felt that there was more sight seeing, nature walking, and bird watching than the reason I signed up for it in the first place-making a difference in Costa Rica. Luckily, every aspect of the trip that I thought it would be was proven wrong today.

Waking up lazily before seven o’clock as usual, continued by the apparent tradition of not doing much service in the morning. We enjoyed the succulent pineapple and traditional breakfast, lunch, and dinner side dish of arroz y frijoles (Rice and beans), “gallo pinto” style. Though we were given a heads up about things changing on the trip in terms of community service, I chose to disregard the advisement as usual. Our destination was a community adjacent to Chilamate and made up mostly of laborers of the nearby banana and pineapple plantations. When we arrived at the community plaza beside the church and primary school, we were given cloths, Brillo pads, oil based paint, and brushes. We were instructed to wash and scrub gargantuan tractor tires that were used as flowerbeds along with cement benches that we were going to repaint.

Alongside Rachel (the twenty-two year old British student whom was studying trees for her dissertation and working as a volunteer for the Sarapiqui Conservation and Learning Center) and the SCLC coordinator, Francene, we enjoyed the sweltering 92 degrees and punishing sun throughout our morning’s work. For almost four hours we painted the objects vibrant, beautiful colors that Latin American cultures love and adore. Then, just as I thought we were coming to an end, Pacho instructed us to each grab a trash bag. For an additional time before lunch, we cleaned up non-biodegradable materials around the community plaza. We packed up, took pictures of our work (which looked a lot more beautiful and inviting than anticipated) and headed next door to a sparsely decorated community center for lunch. We ate delicious, arroz con pollo (chicken with rice), plantain chips, salad, and a star fruit cocktail.  It was made and served by some of the local community mothers just for us.

After lunch we moved two acres down to a primary school. We showed up at perfect timing for some the 3rd and 4th grade students were just beginning to play a futbol game. All it took for us to join was Kevin to say, ‘Go play.’ We sprinted to their soccer field and immediately formed teams. Though our group was feeling the effects of the heat, it seemed as if the children weren’t fazed at all. We continued to play futbol as most of the teachers (except for Pacho who played futbol with us), interacted with the remainder of the children. The game ended up being 2-4 loss for us, but it was apparent that everyone had fun. Then, we headed to some shaded area to cool off and sang several songs to the Costa Rican children. I don’t use the word ‘cute’ often, so when I say that the children singing Itsy Bitsy Spider and When you’re happy and you know it was cute, it’s more than an understatement. Without being as cliché as possible, the emotion that I felt when interacting with the kids was unmatched to anything I felt before. Doing service is one thing, but when the outcome of your efforts is evident in the smiling faces of children, you can’t easily put into words a feeling that immense. I’ve done 200+ hours of community service and I can truthfully say that today was one of the most life-changing experiences of my life.

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Costa Rica

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by Kate

Rather than beginning my reflection at the start of the day – more specifically, when we gathered for breakfast at 7:00 a.m. – I would like to open with a few thoughts about the night before. Last night, mere minutes before check-in, we found ourselves lying on the dock of Tortuguero, staring at the stars. They were noticeably brighter than the stars back home, and we were provided with a perfect spot to reflect on the service of the day. It is difficult to avoid comparisons between aspects of the environment back home, compared to here. Something that has stuck with me, especially because of the Quaker environment George School strives to achieve, are the Quaker “SPICES.” In middle school, I learned that these ideals are the basis of the Quaker belief: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship.


I can say that I have felt a closer connection with nature (and my surroundings) than ever before. I came upon an instance of this today, during our morning boat ride departing from “Pachira Lodge” in Tortuguero. Climbing aboard, the only open seat available was next to a small girl, who I later learned was named Elly. I didn’t ask her where she was from, because I didn’t have to. In a way, I didn’t want to ask. Something I have learned here, is that forming a connection with someone has little-to-nothing to do with where you are from. Sometimes, keeping an interaction simple is the best thing to do, because it can still have a significant impact.


As we traveled the canal, we slowed as we passed by three men on a small boat. The vessel was already mostly full of bagged sand, from the small island they were standing on. The two men, both young and physically fit, hauled the bags from the patch of sand back onto the boat. The third, an older looking man, was up to his neck in the water. My initial interpretation was that they must have been “gruff” (physically AND mentally). This was proven wrong, when they all took the time out of their strenuous work to stop and give us a respectful smile and wave. The main reason why I felt this was so significant was because of the genuine respect I felt for the three men in that moment.


The honesty that the Costa Ricans have, resulting from living such a present life, may be from creating such a strong connection and appreciation for their surroundings. This has caused me to significantly question my ability to be present back home. Leaving behind a seemingly inescapable addiction to technology has surprisingly proven to be easier than I initially expected, most likely because of the people here and their own commitment to being present.


At 9:45 a.m., our bus pulled up to “Escuela Vega del Río Palacios,” our first stop at any Costa Rican school. Trying to create a natural environment of ease, we found a soccer ball, set up the goals, and began to play. Slowly, the group of children began to leave their classroom to come join us for their recess break. Some were more hesitant than others, like the group of four young girls standing off to the side. I approached them with a smile, and invited them to play. One thing I kept in mind was that this was their community, and we were mere visitors. Although they were much younger than us, I felt that a large feeling of admiration for the kids. As we began to play soccer together, laughter and yelling filled the air. High-fives were exchanged, and Kevin even served as a great goalie. We had previously learned the song “Count On Me” by Bruno Mars, to sing to the schoolchildren. We wanted to make a connection based off of the music, and they even treated us to a song of their own as we sat with smiles on our faces. The school supplies were presented to one of the teachers, as we thanked them copiously and departed.


We arrived at the “Selva Verde Lodge” in Chilimate, at around 1:35 p.m. We walked to the local Learning Center, which was first developed in the early 90’s. Last year, they created a program to help the local community and its families. It formed a connection between the parents and the children. Separate from other environmental programs, the center assisted illiterate adults by having some of the children read to them. Additionally, the Minister of Science and Technology began training seminars of how to use technology such as Excel, PowerPoint, and Word. As our guide thoughtfully put it, they wanted to “empower the surrounding community, to help improve ecotourism.” In order to help the citizens find meaningful jobs near them, they helped them learn English. They aid around ten families, and twenty kids during each semester when they visit local schools.


Tomorrow, we will embark on a day filled with service activities. We plan to repaint community buildings, plant trees, recycle tires, and wash the outside of a local church. I look forward to giving back to a community, which has provided me with so much to look back on already.

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Costa Rica

by Spencer

It has officially been a week since we arrived here in Costa Rica—a whole seven days. While it honestly feels like I have spent more than a week here, it is still strange to think that a whole week has passed. For whatever reason, I feel as though time works differently here, in the sense that time passes slower. Our itinerary accounts for so much to do everyday, but we somehow still have time to rest and relax, making the days seem noticeably longer than at home. Perhaps it is the early wake ups, or the two hour time difference, which is not long enough to cause jet lag, but long enough to confuse one’s biological clock. Whatever the cause is, I can say with certainty that I will miss the unusually long days.

All that aside, Day 7 of our service trip accounted for a morning boat tour of the canals of Tortuguero National Park and an afternoon of Tortuguero beach cleanup.  The park’s canals run parallel to the ocean with only a sliver of land separating them.  Some of the canals are natural, but loggers dug up other ones in the 1940’s.  Now, visitors to the park use the canals when in search for rare and unique wildlife.

After a typical Costa Rican breakfast, we gathered the necessities for the boat tour and departed at 8:15 a.m. We were treated to an authentic Costa Rican wildlife tour, as there was a light rain throughout a majority of the 2.5 hour tour. The highlights of the tour were some sightings a plethora of exotic birds, including but not limited to toucans, kingfishers, Jacanas with really long feet that had yellow highlights, Anhingas with long necks and long beaks, night herons, parrots, in addition to a startlingly large wolf spider, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, basilisk lizards, and a cayman, which is basically a small crocodile. It wasn’t until I saw the cayman that I truly began to appreciate the fact that we are in such a unique environment, an environment that may not be around much longer due to pollution and global warming. To think that such incredible fauna is in danger, the colorful birds and fearless monkeys, and such beautiful flora, the giant palm trees and vibrant fruit. I feel blessed to have been able to experience Costa Rica while it is still flourishing.

Later in the day we took a short boat ride from our hotel across the Tortuguero River to access the beach and clean up some trash that has washed in or left by visitors. We walked down a narrow pathway from where the boat docked to get to a small green shelter that would serve as our “base camp.” Once we got all our work gloves on and were designated trash bags (general trash, plastic, and metal), we headed to the beach. Along the way, we were lucky enough to spot a dozen Great Green Macaws, an endemic and endangered species of large parrots only found in Costa Rica and Panama. This provided another opportunity to appreciate the fantastic and one-of-a-kind fauna that exists in this truly special country.

Once on the beach, we were certainly not at a loss for trash to clean up. We mostly focused on plastic items since that can harm turtles when ingested.  All in all, we covered half a kilometer of beach and found lots of small plastic items.  After some time, I was alerted by Pacho’s voice indicating that he had found something of interest. Once everyone had gathered, he revealed that he had found a broken turtle egg, probably a very common site in later months, but not in June, as we learned yesterday. (Yesterday we visited a Tortuguero Sea Turtle research and care conservatory to learn of the important of sea turtles). As one of the staff had explained, it is most important for people to have real, visceral experiences with sea turtles in order to understand their importance, as those experiences are far more effective than facts and statistics. I had obviously never had a true experience with sea turtles until I touched the baby turtle shell today and felt for myself how frail and easily breakable they are. More than any video or lecture could have ever influenced me, my experience with the turtle shell gave me a true appreciation for the impertinence of nature and how important it is to protect the environment.


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Costa Rica Day 6

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By Zach

A bug just flew into my face. As I’m sitting by the pool, typing up my experiences, planning my blog in my head, the thing smacked me. It went for my stomach, and I’m just glad I had my flip-flops on me. Ah, there’s a beetle on my sleeve. This is an exciting writing session.

Anyway, more than anything, these bugs remind me where I am. Like the animals, plants, and culture demonstrate, I’m far away from home. For the time I am here, the best thing I can do is appreciate the differences between here and the US, even if it means dealing with a few large, green, flying guys. Besides, I can always move seats.

Today was largely a travel day. We spent a few hours in the bus before we took a boat to Tortuguero. To get here we needed to start our journey at 5:00 a.m. driving three hours, stopping for breakfast, driving yet another hour and then riding on a motor boat down the Sarapiqui and Tortuguero Rivers for another two and a half hours until reaching the Caribbean Sea. I immediately noticed how isolated the area was, with the trip down the river being the only way of reaching it.  Soon after settling in our lodge, we visited the nearby Sea Turtle Conservancy Center.

Started in 1956, the conservancy works to protect turtles from illegal hunting while researching them and their movement patterns throughout their lives. When Archie Carr came to Tortuguero, he noticed the turtles were being killed, and their eggs and shells were often sold.  After going to the Costa Rican government and asked for help in preserving the turtles of Tortuguero, he and his organization shifted the area’s economic focus away from selling shells and eggs, and towards the tourism that the turtles’ presence brought. Carr managed to convince the Tico government to set aside 20 miles of Caribbean beach to protect the Green and Leatherhead nesting sites. The organization has been extremely successful, not only with the formation of the National Park, but in changing the local practices of harvesting eggs and turtle meat. Today, a total of 35 miles of black sand Tortuguero beach is protected. The turtle population has been growing (last year they counted 46,000 nests), and Archie Carr’s vision is still an inspiration to the world. Many dangers are posed to turtles today, such as plastic trash that they mistake for jellyfish and beach renovation that removes the land where turtle eggs are hatching, and where turtle’s need to return to lay their own eggs. After 20 years, female sea turtles always return to their birthplace to nest. Tortuguero has the largest Green Sea Turtle nesting colony in the hemisphere. The conservancy has been tracking turtles born on its beaches since the 50s, and continues to learn from them today.  The STC has been protecting sea turtles longer than any other organization worldwide.

Here’s where I noticed a difference. Living up to its “Pura Vida” motto, Costa Rica was one of the first countries to use the amount of clean energy that it does. Everywhere I go, there are signs asking me to turn off the lights, or save water. Sure, there’s plenty of similar speech in the US, but what is a hotly debated issue at home is the standard way of life here in Costa Rica. It is pretty cool. I imagine it is one of the reasons that draw so many people to Costa Rica. Not only does it have such a huge biodiversity, it actively works to protect it so that we can appreciate it.  Over 28 percent of its territory is set aside for national parks, nature preserves, and wildlife refuges.

From a foggy volcanoes to gigantic beetles, I have been noticing the differences and appreciating them as much as possible. I am especially interested in the way Costa Rica approaches its environment. Maybe it takes a beautiful mountain view for people to want to protect the environment that sustains its flora and fauna.

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Costa Rica Day 5

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by Andreas


That word would be an understatement when describing the sight of the beautiful mountainous landscape just outside the windows of our bus throughout our trip from our ‘lodge in the clouds’ in Monteverde to our new home in Arenal Paraiso. It was impossible to not feel some sort of overwhelming happiness when looking out at the different shades of light and dark green vegetation that covered every inch of the mountains.


That would be a more accurate word to describe not just the scenery on the bus ride, but also the distant view of Arenal’s huge active volcano from our small boat that sailed us across Lake Arenal, a 39 kilometer long reservoir built in 1979 to generate most of Costa Rica’s electricity. We all sat on the edge of our seats, prepared to snap a photo whenever we got the perfect vision of the volcano and the rest of the stunning Costa Rican landscape. We saw lots of kingfishers, a nesting anhing, and raptors.  About half a million pictures later, we were greeted with a dam, which marked the end of our boat ride. We next boarded another bus and admired similar scenery on our ride to Hotel Arenal Paraíso.


That word would describe our greeting to the hotel, as we relaxed on the couches in the lobby drinking a complementary mixed fruit cocktail consisting of mango, papaya (a fan-favorite here in Costa Rica), and cherry on top. After enjoying that drink, we were met with another very tasty juice, made from Cas, a sour guava, at lunch. We loved our lunch about as much as we loved the perfect view of the active volcano right behind us, but maybe not as much as we loved our passion fruit pastries for dessert prepared with cool sauce-made designs that differed for each plate.


That word would properly describe my thoughts on the ride from the hotel to the entrance of the path we would take to hike to the base of the volcano. Our bus passed by small house where I saw a young boy sharpening a machete. Surprisingly, this is not the first time I saw a machete on the trip; I have actually seen locals carrying them in multiple occasions. I believe they are used for cutting through the thick vegetation that fills the rainforest terrain that consumes most of the country. This sight, for some reason, sparked me to compare the very different cultures and lifestyles in the United States and Costa Rica. While Americans much more often live more traditionally ‘luxurious’ lives with many more resources and more advanced technology, Costa Rica is considered one of the happiest countries on Earth. How could this be? My theory is that it has to do with Costa Ricans’ connection with nature and their more simplistic and peaceful lifestyles.


Surprisingly, this word would describe the land surrounding the active volcano that we walked through to get to the volcano’s base. After years of hourly eruptions from the year it woke up (1968), the volcano started becoming progressively less active starting from 2005 until it had its last eruption to this point in 2010. Arenal grew hundreds of feet at it deposited billions of tons of rock and ash on its steep slopes. While you might expect a lot of dark, lifeless land to result from the many eruptions over time, the land was actually very green and lively, such as the rest of Costa Rica. Most of the vegetation in the beginning of our hike was wild cane, or gray cane, which specifically grows after volcanic eruptions. My best description of it would be a tall skinny cane of grass. Now you see shrubs, ferns, and lots of Cecropia seedling. However, while the land is already quite vibrant, it can take up to hundreds of years after a big eruption for this land to return to its previous form.


This word would describe all of the cool information that Pacho and our tour guide, Eric, told us on our hike. We passed by lots of intriguing wildlife in our walk to the volcano’s base. One example would be a Ceiba Tree: a gigantic tree that has most likely lived for about 500 years (and is the home of many Daddy Longlegs as we found out while posing for a picture in front of it) that was spared by the eruption of 68. It was surrounded by a small patch of primary forest that somehow escaped the devastation of the volcano blowing its top. Another example would be the constant sounds of Oropendulas, which are similar to Orioles but much bigger, sending out mating calls.


This would be a word to describe the feeling we felt when we finally reached the base of the mountain after lots of walking and finally saw the volcano up close. We climbed over boulders of all sizes from the 92-93 lava flows that just stopped short of the primary forest.  The top of the mountain was covered in cloud. Luckily for us, the clouds decided to part just as we arrived and we were able to take many great photos of us on the rocks in front of the volcano. After our mini photo-shoot, we grabbed a small pieces of pumice rock as a souvenir and headed back to the lodge.


This would be the perfect word to describe this Day 5 of our service trip. No additional explanation needed.

Finally, if you put together the first letter of each of the words I discussed, you get two words that describe Costa Rica perfectly: Pura Vida (Pure Life).

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Costa Rica

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by Logan

This morning we woke up to the sound of Pacho’s thunderous wakeup call at around 5:30 a.m. since we needed to be on the road by 7:15 a.m. The previous day, the view from our room was covered by a thick, foggy cloud so it was hard to see the view.  This morning, the visibility was completely clear.  From our vantage point, you could see 40 miles to the west the Golfo de Nicoya and the Nicoya Peninsula.

After breakfast, we took the bus to the Santa Elena Reserve where we were ready to begin our hours of vigorous service on the trails.  The reserve is privately owned and sits adjacent to the world famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest, a conglomerate of preserves that encompasses 26,000 acres. We sat through a short presentation about the reserve where we learned about the different species of animals in the forest, which are spotted thanks to motion detection video cameras. Personally, I was very excited to see that the cameras set in the forest had spotted ocelots. Donations and some governmental funding run the reserve. Walter, the educational specialist and the coordinator of our service, taught us that all of the cameras they had at the reserve had been donated by schools or organizations. Someone from the Rocky Mountains donated the first camera a couple of years ago. They saw the same bird in Colorado as they saw in Costa Rica on vacation and they thought it was cool to see the migration to a vastly different area. I also thought this was cool because it truly showed how much closer two separate communities are despite the distance between. The bird represented the crossover between the cultures.

After the presentation, we threw on some boots and began our work. The reserve has only two workers maintaining 12 kilometers of trails and they need volunteers, like us, to help. We carried bags of gravel to an evacuation trail that was being completed.  The gravel allows water to drain and keeps out the mud. It was a physically challenging job due to the steep terrain. We had a system where half of the people would carry bags halfway to the destination, then drop the bags for the other half of the people to carry to the end. It reminded me of a fire line where firemen pass a bucket of water to put out the fire. This work was very labor intensive. Not only were we carrying 20-30 pound bags filled with stones, but we also had to trek through thick mud to reach the end. Spencer told stories to Andreas and me about his backpacking trip in Canada which helped to pass the time. Although the work was difficult, the reserve has very few people that maintain the trails despite the fact they have kilometers of trails to cover. I could not even imagine attempting this task alone. For a good comparison, that would be like cutting an acre of grass with scissors. By the end of the morning, all of us were covered in mud and sweat from the task.

Walter then led us through a trail to the nature walk area where we immediately spotted a sloth high up in a tree. On this nature walk we learned about the biodiversity in the cloud forests and that Santa Elena reserve forest has been named one of the 25 most beautiful forests in the world. The clouds are constantly traveling through this area, therefore plants on trees and on the ground have a constant supply of water. Eric told us this was the reasoning behind the high density of plants. Walter then pointed out that there are over 400 different species of birds in the reserve alone. The reserve is the size of New York City approximately. The United States has about 800 or so different species of birds throughout the entire country. Meanwhile, I listened to all of the different birdcalls. We continued down the trail until we reached the visitors center again. We took off our muddy boots and sat down for another delicious casado for lunch. We then drove back to the lodge, showered, then some of us prepared to visit the town nearby. We got ice cream then returned to the lodge just in time to take off for the friends school visit.

When we arrived at the Monteverde Friends School, we went to the back of the school where the playground and soccer field was. It is Sunday so there were no classes going on, but a few families were there to enjoy the day. After playing Frisbee for a bit, a kid showed up with a soccer ball. At first I was shy to talk to him so I did not say anything to him, only motioned for him to pass me the ball. We then played for another 30 minutes or so until we had to leave for our next destination, the Bat Jungle. Anna, the tour guide at the bat jungle, informed us all about bats and all of the different species. It turns out that bats are very social animals. They love to spend time together and be in close proximity to one another. Typically, I think many people see bats as a symbol of scariness like Halloween, but after learning that they like to socialize and share food with different species, my opinion changed. It was fascinating to see 60+ bats up close, most of them clumped together, hanging from the ceiling, others flying through to get a drink. They belonged to five different species feeding from nectar and fruit.  The experience was like nothing before, and Anna’s infatuation with the bats was very endearing.  After watching the bats for a few minutes we left the bat jungle and headed back to the lodge, only to meet up with Loren Thomas, the co-head of the Monteverde Friends School. We all sat at a table together and he informed us of all of the differences between American schools and Costa Rican schools. He told the story of how a group of Alabama Quakers settled in Monteverde and founded the school to teach their children 65 years ago.  The school has now 120 students from K to12 and 75 percent of the students are Ticos. He answered all of the questions the students had until it was time for dinner. Another productive day of service and fun in Costa Rica. Feliz dia del padre!

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