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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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Language Gaps Can Be Quite Funny – Costa Rica Day 2

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.

 

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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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