When the sun rose and began filling the earth with its light, our camp slowly came to life. Our large group of 23 people split into two smaller pre-arranged groups. The other group headed out for surf instructions while my group began community service at Playa Hermosa, the beach where we camped. Throughout the morning, we raked leaves on the tropical lawn, removed fallen coconuts, and cleared palm branches from the road. As we were working, we found many creatures; some were intriguing while others gave us the heebie-jeebies. Geckos, iguanas, and crabs, but also numerous spiders, ants, and other small critters that always flocked to any exposed skin were among the list.
Lunch brought with it rest that was much needed due to our work in the hot sun. Our bodies were used to a northern winter and had not yet adjusted to the tropical climate. We ate fresh pineapple and coconut in the shade along with the rest of our lunch. The fruit was the freshest we had ever tasted. We had actually watched to coconut be chopped down from the tree next to us and the pineapple was only a day or two from the field.
For the afternoon, the two groups switched roles. The others worked on the beach while my group went to the water for our lesson in shredding waves. Our instructor was knowledgeable and good at teaching. He quickly moved us from the basics on the beach into the water so that we could learn by trial and error. I had surfed once before and had done quite well at it. I eagerly raced into the water and paddled out. Before the instructor had entered the water, I had already caught my first wave. Most of the group members were on 8’ boards, but I had taken a 6’ 6” board for a challenge. It was a lot of fun but was still the round-nosed, padded, beginner-styled board. After surfing for a while, I talked to the instructor and he told me I could go swap my board out for a hard board with a more pointed tip.
On my way in from the beach, our group leader and the student who had needed a new passport arrived in a jeep. This meant my group was done surfing and had to prepare to head out to the mountains and start our backpacking journey. Our original itinerary had the my group scheduled to go directly to the mountains from the airport, but with a student and a leader stuck back in the states for an extra night, our itinerary was slightly adjusted. The others were called in from the beach and we rinsed the salt water off our bodies before changing into dry clothes. The shower was not working, so we filled buckets with rainwater and gave one another bucket showers. This became a good group bonding experience as everyone was dependant on others and each shared with the group the pouring techniques they found to work best.
Following a brief meting as a whole Calvin College group, my patrol (this is what we called each of the sub-groups) piled into a van with all of our gear and headed towards the mountains. It was unnerving to ride through the mountain roads with the way Ticos (native Costa Ricans) drive. One easy example of what unnerved us so much is that passing on the inside of a blind curve is standard in Costa Rica. This wasn’t so bad when nobody was coming the other direction, but when the occasional 18-wheeler came around the corner and caused the driver to slam on his brakes and swerve back in behind the person he attempted to pass, it tended to make us uneasy.
After a few hours of this sort of driving, we stopped for dinner. The guide planned to have one meal choice at the restaurant with each person choosing between beef or chicken as their meat. A humorous situation arose when one of the girls requested to not have any meat with her meal. The guide, rather perplexed and struggling with an uncommon English word, asked her if she was a vegetable. When the van erupted in laughter, he knew he had used the wrong word. We informed him that the correct word was ‘vegetarian’ and he joined us in the laughter. We ate dinner, drank the last coke and ate the last ice cream we would have for weeks and piled back into the vehicle to finish our five-and-a-half hour drive.
The end of our ride took us to a mountain home overlooking a beautiful town. It was dark, so we couldn’t see much and quickly went inside. We were very pleasantly surprised to find that the house had beds for everyone. We had never expected such nice sleeping arrangements to start a backpacking trip.