Monday, April 4, 2016

Buenas Noches


It's hard to believe, but this is our last night in Costa Rica! We made our way from Playa Hermosa to San Jose with a few stops for food and souvenirs along the way. This evening half of our group is in the mountains for a cultural dinner while the other half will enjoy a buffet near the hotel. With a 2:30 am wake up time tomorrow, we will certainly go to bed early.

Looking back, this has been an absolutely wonderful trip. We had a few sunburns along the way, which is to be expected traveling with a large group, but our students showed the humor and flexibility of seasoned travelers when challenges presented themselves. I hope your students have come home with enough stories, selfies, and inside jokes to fuel months of conversations. I will try to post a few more pictures as they become available and there will eventually be a short video of our trip, but this will be the last post from Costa Rica. Thank you for reading and I hope the updates were helpful and just a little entertaining. 

Tomorrow will be a long day of travel, but I know the prevalence of American cuisine and functioning data plans will help it pass quickly. See you at the airport!



 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Beach Day!




After water days, adventure days, and more than a couple travel days, today was our much anticipated beach day! With only one item on the agenda, our students were allowed to sleep in until 7:00 am then it was off to Manuel Antonio National Park. Although it is Costa Rica’s smallest national park, Manuel Antonio is known for its high concentration of wildlife and white-sand beach. With highs in the mid-90s today, the students ran to the water to cool down then did what all kids do when they’re at the beach: they played!





They played chicken, they played with hermit crabs, they played in the sand! When the students had enough of the beach we hopped back on the bus and returned to the hotel where they, you guessed it, played on the beach even more. Today was all fun and I hope it shows in the sunset selfies they posted this evening.



With the rest of our activities focused on getting back to San Jose then home, today had a “last day of camp” feeling that was evident in the students’ sharing of stories, laughter, and proliferation of selfies. The students have had a wonderful trip and, though not done yet, it has been a pleasure!




Late night update! We had the remarkable luck of witnessing baby sea turtles hatch and make their journey to the ocean this evening! We have some video and we will try to upload it later.

Garabito Crocodile Tour and Aerial Tram Pictures

 







 

 
 


 
 


 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Traveling to Playa Hermosa

A promised picture from yesterday's horseback riding in Monteverde
After an early wake-up and delicious breakfast, our students hopped on the buses and we made our way from the mountains to Playa Hermosa on the Central Pacific Coast. World-reknown for its consistent, powerful breakers and miles of modestly developed beach, this area is a surfing hot spot. Sadly, we all left our surfboards at home so we'll need to find other ways to entertain ourselves on the beach!

Sneaking up on crocodiles
As usual, our tour guides broke up the long drive with a snack stop, a river wildlife tour to search for crocodiles, and a canopy tour in a gondola. The climate along the coast is hot, even by Costa Rica standards, which left our students dragging a bit and happy to not be hiking as they enjoyed a free ride in the boat and gondola. After seeing relatively few animals on the trip, we had fantastic wildlife string of wildlife sitings which included countless birds, a sloth, white-faced monkeys, butterflies, carpenter ants, and, of course, crocodiles. The students' reactions varied depending on the animal, sometimes running towards and sometimes running away.

It didn't happen if it isn't posted (immediately) to the internet
What sharp teeth you have!
The combination of heat and bus-time left the students anxious to arrive at the beach. Our hotel in Playa Hermosa is right on the water and one of our most comfortable locations (AC and TV's are much more appreciated now). While the students will not swim in the beach here due to unpredictable currents, tomorrow we will make our way to Manuel Antonio National Park, which has a picturesque tropical beach and equally beautiful wildlife.


Hi Ms. Trenkle!
Our tour guide informed us that, despite their Fruit Loops sponsorship, toucans are actually quite mean
With just three nights left in the trip, we've hit our stride as a group and the students are meshing well. Students are pleased to have reached the beach, but they are starting to talk more about getting back home as they begin to realize that our next big stop will be DC. For now, though, we will enjoy our last few days in this beautiful country.

Pura vida!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Monteverde

The birds wouldn't hold still so I took a picture of this sign
Monteverde! If there's a more beautiful spot in Costa Rica, I am yet to see it! Our students had their most adventurous day of the trip and, for the most part, it was a resounding success. I will apologize in advance for the brevity of this post, but the s'mores and discoteca are in full swing and I don't want to miss out on any of that fun.

Horseback riding this morning was a terrifyingly great experience for most students, but a little too frightening for others. Although a few students opted not to participate and one poor student had a bit of a scare, the students all had smiles at the end of the day and will surely come home with great stories to death-defying feats. While I took some video of the fun, I did not bring my camera so I will try to post pictures later.

Bus 2's wonderful guide, Freddy, is responsible for a large portion of the fun and learning on our trip
Sadly, I was taking care of some trip business this morning so I missed out on the zip-lining adventure that followed horseback riding. Luckily, the students told me all about it! It goes without saying that flying through a tropical canopy was a highlight for many students! Again, no pictures so I'll try to post more later.
Exploring the cloud forest... no sneaking up on animals with this group!
My highlight of the day was the hike through Monteverde's cloud forest. A combination of fauna camouflage and not-so-sneaky students hindered our animal sitings, but the scenery was as remarkable as always and we did manage to snap a few pictures of tropical flowers and some of the braver birds.
Exploring the cloud forest
Tomorrow is another travel-heavy day as we make our way to Playa Hermosa on the Central Pacific Coast with stops at a crocodile tour and canopy tour alone the way. To the beach!

Cloud forest sitings
Cloud forest sitings, it's a kite!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Traveling to Monteverde


Our group had another travel heavy day as we left the left Arenal on our way to Monteverde, one of Costa Rica's best known ecological treasures. We spent about 5 hours in the bus today winding our way around Lake Arenal and working our way through winding, mountain roads. As usual, our guides' experience shined as they allowed for several stretch breaks at popular snack spots. If your student was awake for this portion of the trip (most weren't), they were treated to panoramic views of the plains, one last glimpse of Arenal, and several close-ups of Costa Rica's wind-power infrastructure.
A german bakery visit made for a tasty stop outside Arenal
Once in Monteverde, our group visited a small school. The school partners with EF Tours and is accustomed to visitors, which was helpful as their precocious students kicked off conversations with our uncharacteristically shy 8th graders. After introductions and some questions, the students enjoyed less forced interactions as they danced and played soccer.



Dancing at fun during our school visit
Monteverde is far and away my favorite location we will visit on this tour. Its cloud forests are unique in the world as their combination of geology, climate, isolation, and local conservation have preserved a truly precious biological gem. The area is yet another example of local activism partnering with responsible tourism to profit a community while preserving its environment. The students are less likely than myself to be impressed by the orchids and the chance at a quetzal siting, but they will certainly come home with stories of ice cream, zip-lining, and horseback riding.


This evening we are in a rustic hotel just minutes away from the cloud forest. The students will have to do without AC tonight, but this region is cool at night and we hope to wear them out by stuffing them with s'mores then dancing in the "discoteca"!

Exploring the town of Santa Elena
Tomorrow is going to be a very busy day as we zip-line and horseback ride in the morning then hike the cloud forest in the afternoon.

Lastly, I would like to publicly shout out Ms. Cuffee for putting together such a seamless, smooth, well-organized, educational, fun, and safe adventure for our students. This trip is running like clockwork thanks to her tireless efforts. It takes a special kind of person to put on a trip like this and she is shining!
No "Lazy Days" for Ms. Cuffee!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A "Water Day" in Arenal

Volcán Arenal, always impressive
This morning our students stepped out of their "cabinitas" to the ever-impressive site of Volcán Arenal. Although Arenal does not have the orange glow of lava it did just months ago, it's classic volcano shape and steadily steaming peak make it the distinguishing feature of this area. We were constantly reminded of the geological importance of Arenal as we enjoyed what our guides called a "water day". Although Ms. Cuffee's group (bus 1) had a slightly different order of events, we both enjoyed the same activities today: a waterfall hike, exploring the town of La Fortuna, Kayaking in Lake Arenal, and ending the day by relaxing in hot springs!
Prioritizing provisions
La Fortuna Cascada - our waterfall hike allowed students the opportunity to swim at the foot of the powerful La Fortuna Cascada (waterfall). Protected by the local community rather than a national park, this waterfall and its surrounding forrest is another example of small communities working to preserve their natural resources for economic gains. A small fee is charged to hike the ~500 steps to the waterfall's base and these funds support local schools, roads, and government. Our students were less interested in this than I'd hoped, but they did rock hopping, swimming in the river's frigid waters, and running from (or chasing) fish. We all survived the hike back to the bus and it was off to the next stop. I don't have any pictures of the waterfall, but will make sure to post video when we get back.
Touring La Fortuna
The Town of La Fortuna - After an eruption devastated the original town of Arenal in 1967, its citizens moved the town to the upwind side of the volcano and renamed the town in recognition of their "fortune" for surviving. Today, the town is the region's tourism center with countless opportunities for tours and adventures. Our students practiced their Spanish by learning (more) about coffee, buying ice cream, and picking up necessities at the supermarket and pizza shop.
Learning about the red-brown color of quality coffee... no more instant coffee for us!
Kayaking - A hearty lunch of beans, rice, and plantains proved invaluable as our group ventured across Lake Arenal. Lake Arenal was significantly expanded by the construction of a dam and provides a large portion of Costa Rica's energy needs. According to our guide Freddy, hydroelectric power provides 80% of the nation's electricity. Our 8th graders seemed rather nonplused at this incredible feat of civil engineering, but they did enjoy exploring the lake and taking every opportunity to tip their friends' boats.

This group went out before us, but you can imagine it's us, right?
Baldi Hot Springs - As if we weren't wet enough, our day ended at Baldi Hot Springs. When I first heard about this stop, I imagined a pristine swimming hole surrounded by jungle and protected by its inaccessibility. However, Baldi is more of a resort than a refuge. With a gift shop, several restaurants, and dozens of pools, this attraction is luxurious and comfortable; a perfect way to end our day in the water.
Our eagle-eyed bus driver spotted this sloth friend!
Tomorrow we are on our way to Monteverde! This is our most remote destination, so please excuse lapses in communication, but know that we are having a wonderful time hiking the cloud forrest, horseback riding, and zip lining!

Hasta la próxima ves!