The 2014 trip to Costa Rica was truly life changing. For some of us it was a new experience just getting on plane, let alone leaving the country. As soon as we landed we immediately began embracing the new culture and amazing views. Our wonderful tour guide, Alvaro, welcomed us with open arms outside of the airport, where we took a bus to our first hotel. After arriving at the hotel in San Jose, our group decided to grab a bite to eat at the Denny’s next door. We all became very grateful that every meal from then on was covered after paying a whopping $60 for only two orders of nachos and three fountain drinks. Henceforth, our group name, Nachos, was born. The rest of the day consisted of lounging around the hot tub and resting up for the eventful next nine days ahead of us.
On day two we woke up bright and early and made our way to INBioparque, where they had ecosystem exhibits and trails. It basically gave us a first look at what kind of wildlife and nature we were going to experience throughout the trip. Next, we started driving to the Arenal region. Along the way we stopped to see the Poás Volcano. Unfortunately, it was very cloudy so we couldn’t really see anything. It just looked like we were in a big cloud. Later on we stopped at a little restaurant to experience an authentic Costa Rican meal. As you can imagine, it was delicious! The place we stayed at for the next two nights was an eco-lodge. We stayed in little cabins surrounded by various exotic fauna and fruits. In the morning we awoke to the sound of roosters and howler monkeys, along with an amazing view of the Arenal Volcano.
Day three was a water day. The first activity was a kayaking trip on Lake Arenal. We even got to get out and swim in the calm and peaceful lake for a little while. Next, was La Fortuna Waterfall. Once you got past the 550 steep and narrow steps, it was truly breathtaking. Being able to swim right where the waterfall breaks and looking up to see nothing but walls of vines and moss was almost like something right out of a fairytale. 550 steps back up the waterfall and we were headed to the hot springs. There were several different “pools,” some of them close to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, along with waterslides and natural saunas. After a very busy water-filled day, we all went back to the lodge and went to bed early.
On the morning of day four we went to a school with students ranging from first grade to eighth grade. When we got there they put on a performance of them singing and dancing for us. It was so cute! They even involved the audience members. After that we presented some donations to them, which they appreciated greatly! Some of us wanted to get a feel of what it is like to be a Tico kid and decided to play some fútbol with the students. Looking around at the poor learning environment that these children had to deal with was eye-opening. The biggest thing we took away from this experience with the children, was even though they have to go to school with these conditions every day, each one had a huge smile on their face the whole time we were there. It really makes you step back and think about how much we really have that we take for granted.
The next stop was Monteverde. Once we got there we walked around the town and shopped a little. Day five was another busy one. To start it off we woke up early and went on a hike in the Santa Elena Cloud Forest, where we learned a lot about the different types of plant species. After that we went back to our hotel and went to a local bar to watch the Costa Rica World Cup game. We were very fortunate to have been in the country during the World Cup. When Costa Rica won against Italy the whole town went crazy! It was an energy that we had never experienced before! Ticos came together and were parading in the streets for two hours after the big win!
Unfortunately, we couldn't party with them the whole time because next up on our agenda was zip lining. We had the opportunity to go on the longest zip line in all of Latin America. Although some thought it was slightly terrifying, in the end everyone was glad they got to check it off their bucket lists! Our next activity was horseback riding. Even though it was really fun and we got to see a lot of the country side, the guide told it like it was: “You can speak to them in Spanish, you can speak to them in English, they don’t listen.”
On day six we headed to the Central Pacific Coast where we stayed at a huge resort. We also had the option of adding an additional crocodile tour excursion. We rode a boat to see crocodiles, several different species of birds, and mangroves. It was really cool! Afterwards, we went back and relaxed at the beach cove by the resort. On day seven we got to eat breakfast with little monkeys. They took our pancakes and posed for pictures. We then headed out to beach at Manuel Antonio National Park. Along with swimming in the Pacific Ocean, we also fought off iguanas that tried to steal our bagged lunches. Once we were back at the resort we went swimming in the pools and even had a rivalry BINGO game between group leaders. Our group leader won! On day eight we went on a hike at Carara’s Universal Trail. We got to see different types of trees and plants than we saw in the cloud forest.
After that we headed back to San Jose and stopped to shop in Sarchi. While we were in Sarchi we learned about the significance of the ox cart and even got to see the biggest ox cart in the world. That night everyone got dressed up and we went to a folklore dinner that overlooked all of San Jose. All of the city lights at night were so pretty! We then got to watch some traditional folklore dances.
Day nine was devoted to white water rafting. This was an activity that really tested our teamwork abilities. Mostly everyone did really well! We got to take a break half way through and have some fresh pineapple in the rapids! White water rafting was really fun and exhilarating! Trying to make the most of our last night in Costa Rica, the group leaders made arrangements with a local discoteca to open a little early so all of the groups could go dance and have a good time! Unfortunately, the next day we woke up and flew back home to North Carolina. We all came home wanting more rice, still cheering on Costa Rica in the World Cup, and reliving the best ten days of our lives over and over again. Overall, it was an unforgettable experience for us all and the fastest ten days of our lives!
Clara Bechtle, Southeast Raleigh High School, '15
Clara Bechtle, Southeast Raleigh High School, '15