Monday, September 7, 2015

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Manuel Antonio National Park: Beach Day!

 Ms. Cuffee and Ms. Curran were kind enough to take over blogging duties this evening. Enjoy!

 One of several white-face monkeys we saw today

Today was a long, yet relaxing, day. We rose before the sun and departed around 7am for the beach. Upon arrival at Manuel Antonio National Park, we hiked to the sandy beach. The views, water, and wildlife were worth every second and step of the hot, humid, and hilly climb to the crystal clear blue water. Yesterday, when the tour guides explained that we would see dancing monkeys that would be interested in eating our food, we weren’t absolutely sold. Not only were there monkeys, but there were mischievous raccoons, darting schools of fish, and limber Cappuccino monkeys. The raccoons were sneaky and quite stealthy. Some of us fell victims to these grey creatures and lost a banana or two, a bag of chips, or a sandwich.

 The hot walk to the beach: worth it!

This sloth was one of the many interesting sights on the way to the beach

The water was a mixture of warm and cool and the sun played hide and seek among the clouds. It was PERFECT. Some students played chicken while others took selfies, buried each other in the sand, and admired the aforementioned animals. The four hours we spent at this luxurious location flew by and all 194 wrinkled hands and pruned feet filed out of the water while giving longing looks at the tempting tides. The trek back to the bus were filed with handfuls of “I want to go back” and “that was so awesome.” Many students used the bus ride back to the hotel to take a nap as thoughts of our impending lunch twinkled in their dreams.

The protected beach was a big hit!

Lunch, like all the other meals here, was fresh and delicious. Naps, showers, short walks on the beach, and pool-time directly followed lunch. Students enjoyed the rest of the afternoon and evening with some much deserved free-time and some even danced in the short down-pour of rain we experienced before dinner.

Students enjoy their free afternoon

Tonight, we have two guest posters who were kind enough to share some thoughts from the day:

The beach water was really clear. It was really pretty. Even though the waves weren’t that big. I still had a lot of fun getting splashed. We saw some raccoons and a white-faced monkey that was really cool.
-Jordyn Wade

The water was very salty. The sight was very pretty. It was a really fun experience because I got to hang out with a lot of different students on the trip. The ocean’s water was very deep. I even saw a raccoon steal a bag of chips!
-Gabriela Rivera

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Central Pacific Coast

This poisonous frog was on the other side of glass, thankfully

Our journey today took us from the cloud forests of Monteverde down to the dry Pacific coast. EF Tours, the company we worked with on this trip, has done a wonderful job coordinating the logistics of our group. This organization was evident today as three buses full of students and chaperones pulled out of the parking lot at the exact right moment to catch a break in construction on the one road out of the mountains. Our convoy was right on time to avoid a painful two hour detour.

On the way to the coast, we stopped at one of the many adventure parks in Costa Rica to see a forest via tram. Although the forest was billed as a “rainforest” in the promotional literature and name of the park, we were told this region is actually known as a “transitional” forest as it is located between the dry northern coast and rainy southern coast and has two distinct seasons. Today, the forest was dry, but we managed to see dozens of iguanas and a family of white-faced monkeys before leaving the park.

The tram moved through the forest much like a chairlift

Our final destination for the day was a beautiful, beach-front hotel which is, without question, the nicest lodging we’ve enjoyed on our trip. We arrived in time for the students to play on the beach and witness a stunning Pacific sunset. Although our hotel’s beach is beautiful, the water is too dangerous for swimming so our students used the pools at the hotel and look forward to tomorrow’s trip to Manuel Antonio Park, which has beaches with safe water.

 Lots of smiles on the tram

Tonight, we again have a handful of guest posters who were kind enough to share some... colorful... memories from the day:

Today we visited a supermarket on our way to the Pacific Coast. We were asked to buy water, more than we thought we would need, and any snacks. As my friends and I were moving towards the checkout, I noticed a pack of travel size Lysol disinfectant spray. It reminded me of the night before when we wished we had enough of that. Me and two of my friends had gone to the bathroom and an explosion of odors followed. We did not have any spray or air freshener to make it better. We had to spend the entire night submerged in stench. I‘m glad I could not smell it whilst I was sleeping.
-Colin Powell

Today, we went on a nature walk in a dry forest. It was extremely hot and humid, but the tour was really interesting, especially when we discovered we were being followed by an iguana. Everyone got some good photos, and it was the highlight of our tour.
-Lizzie Brennan

One of our many iguana friends from the day

When we are traveling on the bus, our group stops at stores to get food and water. Most of the food that we have both in Costa Rica and the US tastes exactly the same but everyone was interested in the Cheetos and the frosted flakes. They both taste so much better here! It's definitely interesting to see what brands taste different.
-Naomi Todd

Monday, April 13, 2015

Monte Verde, Round Dos

A typical view in the Monteverde cloud forest

After yesterday’s relative dryness, we learned today why Monteverde is known for its cloud forest. We awoke today to the wet, cool weather necessary to sustain the remarkable biodiversity of the region. With rain jackets on, we filled our three buses and left to explore the region. Today, students spent time on horseback (if they did not do so yesterday), hiked in the Monteverde Reserve, planted a tree to offset the carbon footprint of our trip, explored the town, and set to the skies via zip-line.

Students walk to the town of Monteverde

With striking vistas, pristine countryside, and enough adventure-based activities to keep an adrenaline junkie satisfied for years, it should be no surprise that Monteverde draws travelers from around the globe. Today’s busy schedule left our students’ tired, but gave them plenty of memorable moments and photo opportunities. Four students were kind enough to co-write about today’s experiences and I’ve posted a handful of images that should give you a taste of the excitement.

Pura vida!
Our guide, Diego, shows us a millipede in the cloud forest

Monteverde hosts more species of orchid than any other location on Earth

 Who wouldn't want ice cream after a long day?

Today was very adventurous and a time to break from our comfort zones. We began our day with zip-lining through the valleys of Monte Verde. This was very exciting and almost life changing. Zooming across the monstrous hills was the closest we have ever been to death! After an exhilarating time, we planted trees to help he environment. It was very fun and a simple deed that helps create a better planet. After eating lunch, some of us went horseback riding across the mountains! Horseback riding was, in our opinion, very very very scary but in the end a great time. After horsing around and recovering from sore booties, we arrived back at the hotel!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
-Anna (viajero) Reilly and Emma (viajero) Fisher

One thing we did today was horseback riding! We traveled through the mountains, which were absolutely breathtaking. A few kids worked on their Spanish by talking to an 8 year old Costa Rican boy named Paulo who only spoke Spanish. We introduced ourselves and carried on a conversation. Once on the trails, all you could see were mountains stretching far off into the distance. It was one of the most amazing experiences we have ever had and we will remember it forever. ¡Pura vida!
-Aidan Trinity & Annalise Myre

Sunday, April 12, 2015


Although today was travel-heavy, I am certain that it held some of the most memorable moments for  our students. We left La Fortuna early to wind our way around Lake Arenal on our way to Guanacaste and Monteverde. Our windy path provided us breathtaking views of the region and, once again, proved the impressive skills of our drivers. On the way, we stopped at a local school where the students were kind enough to perform a dance for us on a Sunday. Our students had an opportunity to interact with young Costa Ricans as they joined in the dancing and played soccer afterwards.

Once we arrived in Monteverde, our group split across two hotels before enjoying the day’s activities. Although Monteverde is typically known for its misty, cool climate this time in the year, this afternoon was pleasantly dry and warm. I was especially appreciative of the dryness on our horseback excursion as the rough terrain would have been especially adventurous in the mud and rain.

Again, I was fortunate to find three students willing to share their favorite experiences of the day so I will let them close out today’s post:

Today was a very fun day! We did many fun activities like visiting the school, going to town, and even walking through a rainforest. My favorite part of the day was probably when we visited the school. Visiting the school in La Cruz had a great impact on how I see my school back in D.C. The school wasn’t that big and it seemed a bit run down. Seeing this made me realize how lucky we are back home. It was cool meeting the kids who came to the school, even on a weekend, to perform a dance for us in cultural outfits and playing soccer with us. I had a lot of fun meeting these young Costa Rican locals. I also had fun going in to town and buying ice cream and buying stuff in random stores. Today was one of my favorite days so far!
-Sophia Strazzella

Probably my favorite thing about today’s trip was the chips. These chips are no ordinary chips, however. These chips are different. They are a feat of human engineering surpassing all other inventions of the 21st century. They combine the crunchiness that everyone loves, with the latin tradition of bananas or “plantanes” as they call it here. These plantain chips are like sliced bananas prepared using magical techniques to make crunchy slivers. It is something to all run to get. They feature regular, salted, lime and bbq flavor. So, next time you look at your chips remember, there is something better out there that you are missing.
-Chris Bond

Today we had a four-hour drive to Monteverde which was actually not that bad because the hotels are very nice. We also stopped at a school in La Cruz which looked very poor but what was interesting is that the whole school was pretty much built on the donations from different places. After horseback riding, we went into town and Aiden bought a hammock.  We also went to a chicken place and a really good ice cream store. All this time there was this stray dog that would not leave me alone and even licked my leg.
Stella Troy

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Water Day

After last night’s late arrival, our students didn’t catch their first glimpse of Arenal until this morning. Although clouds hid its peak, Arenal’s steep, volcanic rise from the countryside is unmistakable. This is no ordinary mountain and the region offers plenty of options for the adventurous traveler. The students took advantage of these offerings today as they kayaked, hiked to a waterfall, and relaxed in natural hot springs.

To break up the group, each bus was on a different schedule for kayaking and exploring the waterfall in the morning, but we came together again at the hot springs, which gave students a chance to spend time with friends on other buses. Our group travels well together and it’s a joy to see them share so many wonderful experiences.

For my bus, the day started with a kayaking trip. Each student donned a life vest and a partner for their tandem kayak before hitting the water. This man-made lake is one of many projects that helps Costa Rica produce 100% of its electric energy needs with renewable resources; something they have been able to do for the first time since the start of 2015. Our trip highlights included a race, beautiful views, swimming time, and even a capsized kayak or two.

After our kayak trip, we made our way directly to the waterfall. There was no time to dry off before we hiked ~450 steps down to one of the most beautiful waterfalls I’ve seen. Even with the relative crowds of a popular Costa Rican tourist destination, this powerful waterfall in a cloudy forrest felt magical. I can only hope that the hike back up those 450 steps didn’t erase the special experience from our students’ memory.

After a quick lunch and some time to explore La Fortuna (which mostly consisted of buying ice cream), we made our way to the hot springs. The springs feed a series of pools which range from comfortably warm to painfully hot. Regardless of their chosen temperature, the time to relax and rest our sore muscles was appreciated by students and chaperones alike.

Tomorrow we leave Arenal as we make our way to the cloud forest of Monteverde!

Tonight I was approached by a number of students who wanted to share their experiences. Below you will find two anecdotes written by two of these volunteers. If I can pull them away from the pool, I’ll try to have more students fill us in each day:

Today we went on a great adventure to Lake Arenal where we kayaked and explored the general area. A young Ethan Fingerhut was traveling in his kayak when his worst nightmare occurred. Ethan’s glasses fell into the 100 foot lake where they were never to be seen again.
- Noah Gross

Today we went around town for a bit. When kids our age go around town it basically means shopping. As groups, we looked into many stores, but at least for me, I had one issue: negotiating. Although I come from DC where everything is mostly a set price, I have blood from the Middle East. Everyone who knows the area knows there is a whole lot of negotiating about prices. I was completely ready for the job... at least I thought. I have negotiated prices throughout my life but have never experienced what happened today. I was looking at a Barcelona soccer jersey that was completely authentic *wink *wink. I immediately noticed something to my advantage, I saw in the jersey how much the store owner had paid, approximately 18 dollars. She was charging 36 so I knew I had the edge. I said something about how much she had got the jersey for and then asked for a more reasonable price on my behalf. The store owner immediately whispered “no” and then walked away. I never have had to experience someone walking away from me while I was negotiating. She ended up winning and getting $35 because I had no problem with her asking price. Somehow I bargained the price down 1 dollar, so at least I had one thing to try to be proud of.
- Noam Jacobovitz

Friday, April 10, 2015

Volcanos, Coffee, and Two Working Busses!

As hoped, our night in San José was quiet as the students were exhausted from their long flights and a few hours playing in the pool. San José lies in a valley, which tends to moderate its weather more than other areas in Costa Rica, which meant we slept well with open windows and a cool breeze. After a breakfast of cereal, beans, rice, coffee, and some assorted pastries, we hoped on the busses to start our day.

Our first stop of the day had us at a working coffee plantation. We enjoyed a tasty, cold mocha drink before touring the facility and learning about the coffee process from planting to roasting. After our tour, the guides took us to a soccer field where the students competed in a series of team competitions.

After the plantation, we stopped for an authentic Costa Rican lunch before making our way to Volcan Poás. The steep roads to Poás gave our drivers an opportunity to show off their bus handling skills, but eventually proved too much for bus 3 (my bus), which broke down as we entered the park. While we took the students on a hike to see the volcano, our resilient tour guides arranged for a new bus and a location to wait for its arrival.

At approximately 9000 ft of elevation, Volcan Poás was hidden in clouds and our view was mostly of the inside of these clouds. I’ve seen remarkable pictures of the vista over the active volcano, but we were forced to use our imaginations on this visit. That said, the short hike gave us a chance to see a wide variety of local fauna and our drive in to the national park offered several glimpses of Costa Rica’s landscape.

After the volcano, our students patiently awaited the arrival of the new bus by playing soccer, dancing, and sharing their favorite pictures from the day. Tonight our group is staying in two hotels in La Fortuna, which sits in the shadow of Costa Rica’s best known volcano: Arenal.

Tomorrow is what our guides call a “water day”. We’ll enjoy kayaking, a waterfall, and a swim in the volcanic hot springs. After two days of heavy travel, this will be a good chance to stretch our legs and enjoy the active side of life in Costa Rica.