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Drinking Goodbye to Friends – Costa Rica day 22

We awoke for a day on the beaches of Costa Rica. The group spent the morning helping the government-employed workers tend the ground where we stayed. We picked up the debris that had fallen from trees and tore down the turtle sanctuary for the season. The last nest has hatched that morning and the sand needed to drift around and re-organize the nutrients before the next season’s horde of turtles would come to lay their eggs.

Everyone enjoyed releasing baby turtles one last time at Playa Hermosa. It was the third nest to have hatched while we were there. While the turtles struggled through the sand, everyone picked the turtle they thought would be fastest. We cheered and bantered over whose was best. Mine did well, but it didn’t pick the quickest path to the water.

A sudden bit of excitement beckoned me over to a group that was forming around a student. I rushed over to see what the commotion was all about and found a very large starfish in one of the guy’s hands. It had bright orange legs that were feeling around in all directions. It was beautiful. After everyone had a look, it was returned safely to the water.

The day was spent hanging out, playing soccer and football on the beach and trying to catch waves in the bad surfing conditions. After playing some football, I waxed my board and paddled out between sets. I waited a long time before finally finding a wave worth riding, but when it came, I hit it and got everything I could from it. I did this several times before the sun had crossed the sky and began to set.I had been surfing for hours and only found a few waves, but I didn’t care. I was moving with the warm ocean waters rather than shivering in a jacket as I would be 24 hours later. I didn’t let myself take any of this for granted.

When the sun was low in the sky, the other surfers and I caught our last waves back to shore and rejoined our respective sub-groups who we had been with for the last weeks. In the groups, we discussed the experiences we had and shared what we appreciated about each person. It was very nice to hear the uplifting talk and each person was affirmed for his or her contributions to the group.

When the meeting was over, we were taken to a restaurant to eat wonderfully prepared meal and taste the only alcohol we were allowed on the trip. Those of us who indulged were faced with a choice between Pilsen or Imperial Beer. I chose Imperial after a suggestion from one of the guides, but after trying a sip of each, I determined Pilsen to be the better brew. After weeks of sweating and being grungy much of the time, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to sit in a restaurant with clean clothes and enjoy my Cajun mahi-mahi and beer.

I found myself enjoying the company of friends in a paradise I knew would not last and I was in the best mood I have been in for as long as I can remember. It was a magnificent feeling. I knew I would not see the guides again unless there was a very fortunate turn of events. As I drank my beer, I felt like I was drinking goodbye to friends.

After dinner, the group went back to the beach at Playa Hermosa. We gathered in the sand and were given a show of Fire Poi by one of our members. It was beautiful to watch the fiery orbs dance around our member’s head while hearing the whoosh of the fast-moving flame. It put me in a trance.

When the show concluded, Felipe’s daughter of 6 years wanted some attention of her own. With a headlamp in each hand, she danced around and twirled the lights while performing her own dance. Everyone applauded for the adorable girl and watched as her face lit up from the attention.

Once the show was over, everyone began to prepare for bed. My group members and I walked down to the water to dip our toes in the Pacific Ocean one last time. We would be leaving early in the morning and would not get to touch the ocean again before we left. The water was warm and everyone was happy enjoying their last bit of paradise before heading home in the morning. I went back to camp and crawled into my hammock to sleep in the warm Costa Rican air.

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Releasing Baby Sea Turtles and Surfing – Costa Rica day 21

Shortly after lying down in my hammock, a hard rain began to fall. I quickly rolled out of my hammock and threw my belongings sloppily into one of the tents that had room for an additional guy. Everyone scrambled to put the rain flies on the tents because we had chosen to sleep without them during the trip due to in the Costa Rican heat.

Around 5:00 AM came the almost daily interruption of our morning. This time, however, it was not a rooster, goose, or other fowl, but rather a new bird with a far more annoying call than any had previously made. It literally made the Dolby Surround Sound warm-up noise repeatedly for the entire morning. We were not amused.

Upon leaving our tents in the morning, we were greeted with a wonderful surprise. In the night, one of the turtle nests had hatched in the sanctuary and we were going to release them before breakfast.

A full bucket of baby sea turtles (they were carefully places in their by a man with a glove on) was brought to the beach and the turtles were poured out in a line on the sand. Some had not yet woken up from their slumber and were put back in the bucket so they could be released later that day when they become conscious. The rest began their long journey down the beach with us protecting them from the birds.

We had to release the turtles high on the beach because their journey across the beach is crucial for them to be able to return to this specific beach in order to lay eggs in successive years (The turtles have glands that learn the exact sand composition of the beach and the turtle will return to the same beach for the entirety of their life).

When all of the baby turtles had made their struggle into the vast waters of the Pacific Ocean, I took a walk down the beach. I was amazed at the variety of shells and lack of trash on the beach. It was so clean and natural looking.

Eventually, I wandered back to our camp for breakfast. The waves were not yet sufficient for surfing, so everyone helped do community service around the grounds where we stayed. Some helped with the turtle hatchery while others removed debris from the ground. Coconuts were thrown into the jungle and fallen branches stacked at the edge of the jungle.

When the waves had built enough for surfing, everyone went to the storage room and grabbed boards. Since I had previous experience surfing and have done nearly every board-sport imaginable, I was permitted to forego the padded noob boards and take a hard board. The instructor was really cool about this and took time to teach me how to properly wax a surf board and what to look for should I ever be in the market to purchase one.

After waxing my board, I joined the others in the surf and began catching waves.  I found the board to be a lot of fun and began practicing my turns. It was challenging, but I was successful in making a few turns and was happy with the speed at which I was picking up the sport. I don’t know what it is with myself and water sports, but we just work well together.

Consumed by hunger, we took a break from the waves and went in for lunch. We had fresh pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, coconut, and sandwiches. It was healthy, filling, and delectable. Everyone left the meal with full stomachs and bodies tired from surfing (which is a lot more work that it appears to be!).

I went and laid in my hammock while the rest of the group grabbed their sleeping mats and lay in the shade around me. It was siesta time as the afternoon sun turned the sand too hot to stand. Several members of the group talked and laughed quite loudly, so none slept, but it sure was nice to rest in such a warm beautiful place. It was 88 degrees in the shade with a light breeze. Life could not be better.

Eventually, the group grabbed their boards, I grabbed mine, and together we headed down to the water. We surfed non-stop for hours. As the gigantic sun began to drown into the aquatic horizon, it painted the canvas of the sky a luminescent watercolor of every pink and purple hue imaginable.

Having paddled myself beyond the breakers, I laid half-submerged with my back atop my surfboard in order to watch as the glowing bauble in the sky sank below the horizon. I had never seen the sun so large. Viewing it from a surfboard that was gently bobbing in the warm, Pacific Ocean water made it an unbeatable experience. I found myself having one of the few moments of my life that stand above the rest. Life was pure – Pura Vida.

Upon returning to the beach, we were informed that the other group from our college would be arriving soon. We were all a little nervous as our group had formed a very tranquil atmosphere and the other group was much louder and outspoken. Their arrival, with shouts and song that could be heard from far down the road only made us more nervous. Fortunately their energy did not stay too high for very long and the two groups quickly blended together as they had in the first day of the trip.

Later that evening, everyone was asked to sign up for a one-hour shift watching and protecting the turtle nests during the night. I signed up with a girl whom I had been friends with for a long time but rarely spoke to outside the trip. We got along very well and had many things in common. It was fun to sit and catch up on the last few years where we had been near to one another, but so few words were exchanged.

While everyone got ready to go to bed, our surf instructor broke out his guitar and began to serenade the camp in his Costa Rican accent. He was a well built man with dark complexion and gnarly dreads. The girls all melted when he played “Banana Pancakes” by Jack Johnson, but I rather preferred his renditions of “Jammin” by Bob Marley and “The General” by Dispatch.

I quickly fell asleep because I had essentially been up since 5:00 AM thanks to the Dolby-Surround-Sound-bird and had signed up for a turtle-watch shift in the middle of the night. My hammock was comfortable and I was happy to be in it again (if only for a while).

 

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Costa Rican Sea Turtle Sanctuary – Costa Rica Day 1

My trip to Costa Rica began with a rough start. I had marked on my calendar that we left on January 4 (as our original itinerary stated), but the date had been pushed up 24 hours. I had missed the memo. At 4:10 AM on January 3, I received a phone call informing me that I had twenty minutes to get myself to the airport.

I had stayed up until about 2:30 AM then gotten back up at 4:10 AM to join my comrades at the airport. I was tired but in very high spirits as I saw familiar faces in the airport line. After being the butt of a few jokes, I was happily welcomed into the group of my classmates as we prepared to venture to Costa Rica for a 3-credit cross cultural engagement and recreation course offered through Calvin College.

We soon found ourselves in Atlanta, GA after our first flight. Preparing for our second flight, we were all told to check our passport expiration dates. We would not be allowed to leave the country if our passport would expire any time in the next six months. This information had been given to us previously, but with the great list of things, we prepared, not everyone had checked.

Workers taking baby sea turtles out of a nest because they are hatching (pics and videos of the little ones later in the trip!)

One member of the trip who had not checked found herself in a pinch. Her passport expired too close to when we would return and she could not fly with us. Our trip leader stayed back with her to resolve the issue as quickly as possible while we flew on to Costa Rica. As it turned out, these two that stayed behind were able to get a new passport issued and fly out the next day to join the group in Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica.

Upon landing in the San Jose airport, warm weather greeted us and so did several of our Tico (native Costa Rican) guides. The Ticos were very pleasant and spoke English surprisingly well. We loaded a bus and drove three hours to Playa Hermosa, a beach on the Pacific Ocean.

We stayed on a Government-funded turtle sanctuary. The sanctuary protected about 900 turtle nests that spawned around 100,000 baby turtles per season. Due to the efforts of the men who run this sanctuary, the survival rate of the baby turtles is drastically increased.

I Pinch!

As our first nightfall came in Costa Rica, we were surprised at the quantity of creatures that roam during the night. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of purple crabs with fiery orange legs. In dodging the crabs on the beach, I nearly stepped on a toad that was as large as my foot.

Insects were countless as well. I strung up my new hammock between two trees and pulled the bug net tight. The warm Pacific wind felt good as the temperature was about 60 degrees warmer than back home. I happily fell asleep in the warm Costa Rican weather after I essentially been awake for 36 hours.

 

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Pura Vida – Pure Life [in Costa Rica]

I am back from Costa Rica. I have a tan that is fading too quickly in the Michigan weather, a thousand new photos, a hundred stories, ten infected cuts, and one brand-new scar. On my trip I saw cattle, toucans, osprey, pelicans, river otters, deadly snakes, numerous spiders, iguanas, crocodiles, toads as large as softballs, star fish, and hundreds of baby sea turtles making their way to the ocean.

Over the last month, I learned many farming and cooking techniques from five rural Tico (native Costa Rican) families. I learned how to harvest and process sugar cane into brown sugar and how to shell white rice with techniques they have used for centuries. I also learned much about the rural Tico culture in Costa Rica through interacting with families who spoke little (if any) English.

My month was spent backpacking from home to home in the rainforests of Costa Rica, whitewater kayaking on the Savegre and the Rio General, and dividing time between turtle restoration and surfing at Playa Hermosa.

Before I begin to break my trip down I will be writing a post about the Savegre River and the support needed in order to keep it around. The Costa Rican government has plans to destroy it to earn a profit. This would destroy the livelihood of thousands of people, lead to thousands of species that only live on the banks of this river to be extinct, and destroy the cleanest river in Central America. Please stay tuned to find out more and see how you can help. Any little bit you are willing to do will help. Please take it seriously; there is a lot of unnecessary damage that could happen from allowing this river to be destroyed.

I will be posting a day-by-day of my trip with pictures. I will try to post often, but I apologize that I cannot give a definite schedule of when I will post.  I am a full-time student at a very challenging college and am working part time. I hope you enjoy following me through my last expedition.

 

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