Category Archives: Costa Rica

Adios Cost Rica

June 8th

Depart today for the U.S. at 2:35 PM. The trip was a great success.

Costa Rica 2013  Front l to r: Nonnie Walter, Marco (guide), Jairo (driver), Chris Lawrence. S

Costa Rica 2013
Front l to r: Nonnie Walter, Marco (guide), Jairo (driver), Chris Lawrence.  Back: Taylor Daniels, Carah Reid, Selena Hamilton, Tristan D’Alessio, Joey Prokop, Brandon Hackney, Ryan Baucom, Tommy Woolston, Kyle Keller, Tom Allen (instructor), Holly Hapke (instructor)

Snorkeling in the Caribbean

June 6th:

Today the group started our morning with breakfast at the Almonds and Corals resort. The group all had a variety of choices for breakfast, all if which were delicous. After breakfast, the entire group got ready and drove just north to a spot where snorkeling is best. Just into the water you could already begin to see large clusters of coral. All around the coral were various types of tropical fish, gleaming with vibrant colors and different stripes and markings. Everyone seemed to really enjoy swimming around and observing this truly unique and complex ecosystem. Some of us had an up and close experience with the coral, as Brandon and I held a piece of fire coral. We had no idea, but the nematocyst within the living coral stung us on our hands, which lasted shortly but was extremely uncomfortable. After observing the coral reefs for a few hours, everyone piled back into the van and headed back to the hotel for lunch.image

Lunch was served to us at the hotel, which was one of the best meals we’ve had so far on the trip. Everyone had a choice of sandwhich, a salad bar, and a delicous desert after the meal. After lunch, the group split up to do a few different things. Tommy and I hung back and relaxed after an exhausting day of snorkeling. Some of the others went into Puerto Viejo de Limon, to shop and look around the town a bit. Dr. Allen observed something quite interesting. At the famous surf spot Salsa Brava, he observed the sewage draining directly into the bay with people swimming just a few hundred yards away from it. The others described the town as a beachy, off the radar town with Afro-Caribbean influences all around it. Chris and Kyle napped for a bit then headed out to beach to enjoy possibly their last chance to swim and enjoy the Caribbean sun. They swam a bit and threw a frisbee around the beach when Dr. Allen and Brandon met them on the beach.

Dr. Allen and Brandon rented some body boards and headed out to catch some waves. The waves were fun, fast, but relatively small, as they enjoyed themselves out on the water. While Brandon was out in the water, he felt a sand dollar on his feet. He pulled it out of the water and set it on the board, looking at the brown outer shell with four holes on top for breathing. The entire bottom was like a red velvet carpet with fibers, which moved as the sand dollar breathed. They talked about how interesting and amazing it was to find and hold something so unique and alive. After finishing up on the beach, everyone freshened up and headed down to the hotel restaurant for dinner. Everyone seemed to have a great time today as most of us had never had a chance to snorkel. Our time is short here, but all of us are thouroughly enjoying the rest of our time here.

~Joey Prokop

Pineapple Plantation and Travel to Manzanillo

June 5th This morning we all awoke to clear skies at La Quinta Inn. We had a wonderful breakfast before visiting the nearby organic pineapple plantation for a tour. While riding in a covered wagon, Michael, our tour guide, explained to us how pineapples are grown and harvested.

Tour guide, Michael, Finca Corsicana

Tour guide, Michael, Finca Corsicana

The Finca Corsicana farm consists of over 3,000 acres and each acre contains roughly 22,000 pineapples. In order to keep this huge operation running, there are approximately 325 employees working 8 hours a day. The company has wonderful benefits for the workers including a clinic, a restaurant, a grocery store, and educational programs. Planters typically make about $60 per day which is much better than the normal $18 – $20 per week that pineapple workers usually make in neighboring Nicaragua. While watching the planting process, we saw that this company uses plastic tarp to prevent weeds in the crop so that they do not have to use herbicides. They also do not use pesticides and use only natural fertilizers. Natural induction is a process whereby the pineapple forms on its own due to weather condtions. However, since this is a commercial process and the pineapples need to be formed all at the same time, ethylene is sprayed on the crop to mimick the natural induction process. Micheal picked a fresh pineapple from the field and allowed us to try it. I have to say that this was the sweetest pineapple I have ever tasted and most definately the freshest. Later we learned how they take shoots from one generation of pineapple to plant for another crop. They also cut the tops of the first generation crop and allow the shoot below to produce for the second year. After viewing the harvesting process and the packing process, we enjoyed some products from the Collin Street bakery. The pineapples produced at this organic farm can be purchased at Whole Foods and other supermarkets in America.

Pineapple field, Finca Corsicana

Pineapple field, Finca Corsicana

After the tour of the pineapple plantation, we left La Quinta for Manzanilla and the Almonds & Corals Lodge. The trip was approximately four hours and there was much to see. The flatlands hosted various agriculture crops, which went from pineapples primarily to bananas near the coast. There were also many rivers that we crossed over and the vegetation became more dense as we approached the Caribbean coast. Limon is a large port and a huge shipping center. The companies Dole, Del Monte, and Chiquita are located here and they ship thousands of containers of fruit from this port. While traveling down the coast, we made a pit stop at the Cahuita National Park. Marco, our tour guide, gave us a tour down one of the trails and we observed various animals and plants. Some of the wildlife that we saw included two-toed sloths, howler monkeys, and leaf cutter ants. The Caribbean beaches looked very nice and the trees grew almost right up to the surf. Upon arrival at the Almonds and Corals lodge, we checked into our rooms. This resort is very unique and very sustainable. The cabins are built over the forest floor and are open to the forest with mosquito netting for walls. All of the grounds are within the dense forest in the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge. A few of us headed down to the beach for an hour before the sunset to catch a few waves. After cleaning up, a delicious dinner was served by the lodge staff. We all look forward to snorkeling over a coral reef in the morning.

Room at Almonds and Corals

Room at Almonds and Corals

– Ryan Baucom

Cloud Forest to Arenal Volcano

June 3rd:

Cloud Forest to Hot Volcano
On our last day in the cloud forest we were treated to a very special surprise during breakfast. The guided tour groups were beginning to form outside our rooms when we heard some commotion. Someone had spotted a quetzal not too far inside the trails. Several members of our group quickly left our breakfast behind to try and capture a glimpse of the ever elusive flagship bird that is at the heart of the luscious Monteverde protected cloud forest, which we were so lucky to have as our backyard for these past few days. Sure enough, as we entered the trails the distinctive high pitch call of the quetzal could be heard up in the canopy. The beautiful green and red could be seen clearly from the ground, and the distinctive protruding tail feathers only added to its majestic presence. For the members of the group who have not yet seen the prized bird, it was certainly a treat at just five minutes before we were supposed to leave Monteverde. But the last morning in the cloud forest did not stop giving there, right when the quetzal flew off, a white nose coati came crawling up a log just feet away from the trail. As a relative of the raccoon, but with a longer nose and tail, it is one of the larger animals in Monteverde, and it was unbelievable to have seen two of the largest and most sought after animals in our last minutes in the cloud forest.

With all the commotion during breakfast, our departure from Monteverde got pushed back to 8:30. The ride to Arenal was beautiful and bumpy, like most of our time in the van. We approached the volcano from the far side of the lake that sat below it. Lake Arenal is an artificial lake that was created by a dam with intent on creating hydroelectric power for the rest of the country. Although the lake displaced the original town of Arenal, the hydroelectric power generated was considered successful by once providing electricity to over 70% of the country. Now only consisting of less than 50% of Costa Rica’s power source, the area is still very important in producing electricity as there is the nearby Miravalles Volcano Geothermic plant, and a wind farm on top of the mountain range that we drove by.

Before getting to the hotel, we stopped at a German bakery in Nuevo Arenal (the town that was relocated when the lake was created). And although the volcano was in our sights, we had to drive for about an hour around the lake (the long way) before reaching Lavas Tacotal, our hotel for the night. With such a great view of the Volcano, it was hard to believe that its last major eruption was just eight years ago. And with small amounts of lava flowing up until 2010, it was amazing to see the smoke plume from the crater whenever the clouds would lift. Arenal Volcano got its biggest headlines in 1968 when the enormous eruption wiped out three villages and killed 87 people. For about the next 40 years it was considered the longest continuous lava flow in the world

Arenal from our hotel

Arenal from our hotel

Arenal from the Baldi hot springs

Arenal from the Baldi hot springs

After lunch we made an ATM stop in the nearby town of La Fortuna before heading to the hot springs. The entire area seemed to be geared towards tourism, as the amount of signs in English is but one of the indicators of the importance of tourism. However, since the Volcano has been considered dormant since 2010, the government is worried that tourists will stop coming to the area. But if they knew how great these hot springs are, there would be no shortage of tourists. Many group members thought the hot springs to be a bubbly hole in the ground. We were surprised to find a resort built around the naturally hot water running from the Volcano into many different pools and waterfalls. With the addition of three intense waterslides, poolside bars, and Nadal playing in the French Open on the flat screen, our couple hours there went by rather fast.

~ Chris Lawrence

Monteverde Reserve

June 2nd:

Last night a few of us went down the road to where there were some bat feeders. We were able to see numerous bats going to and from the feeders. It was a bit startling when the bats would fly right by your head, but it was a very unique and enjoyable experience.

At 8:15am this morning the entire group left for a hike through the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. We were able to see many interesting plants, such as the elephant ear plant and natural bamboo, as well as many different types of birds. We hiked for about an hour and a half until we came to the continental divide. The continental divide separates the watersheds for the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. Though it was muddy, it was a nice hike.

The Continental Divide

The Continental Divide

Later in the afternoon, 8 members of group went to Monteverde Extremo, which offered several different activities, while the rest of the group stayed behind to relax. At Monteverde Extremo, we took part in bungee jumping and a canopy tour.

All 8 who went to Monteverde Extremo took the canopy tour, which was 4km and lasted around 3 hours. The tour included 15 cables, 24 platforms, 196 ft Tarzan wing, a 98 ft rappel, and a waterfall view. Everybody seemed to really enjoy the tour. It was amazing to be able to zip line in between mountains and be able to see for miles around you. On several occasions we were able to see the Pacific Ocean. We weren’t ready for all the hiking needed for the tour, but it was a great opportunity and we had a great time.

Five members of the group went bungee jumping, which is the highest bungee jump in Latin-America. The jump was 469 ft and was surrounded by beautiful scenery. Many of us were nervous, but it was such a thrilling experience. We all enjoyed bungee jumping and it was definitely worth any anxiety.

To wrap up the night several of us went outside to feed and try to hold a tarantula.

~ Selena Hamilton

 

Coffee Farm Expedition

June 1st: Today, we went as a group to visit a coffee farm in Monteverde at 9:00 a.m. Our guide at the coffee farm was a guy named Alejandro and he is one of the main people in charge of the coffee farm. The coffee farm was at a lower elevation than where we are staying. Therefore, the temperature was a few degrees hotter and it was a little humid with a slight breeze. Alejandro started off our tour by telling us the history behind coffee.

Alejandro Garcia, co-founder, Thrive Farmers.

Alejandro Garcia, co-founder, Thrive Farmers.

Coffee was discovered in Ethiopia first by accident in 828 AD. It was known as a Muslim drink at first until it spread outside of the Muslim area. There are three different coffee plants: Robusta, Arabica, and Coffea Liverica. Brazil is the biggest exporter of coffee followed by Costa Rica. Arabica is the most popular type of coffee and it is grown in 56 different countries. It is a very picky crop, but it’s the best cup of coffee.

According to Alejandro, there are five important things for growing Arabica coffee. The elevation must be 3000 feet or higher, precipitation of at least 88 inches per year, good drainage systems and soil, and at least six hours of sunlight a day. It is important that the temperature is stable year round to have efficient coffee. Coffee is considered to be an appetite suppressor. The coffee plants were six to eight feet tall. They are planted in pairs because they will produce more beans. However, you can’t plant more than two together because the plants will then compete for the nutrients and other important things needed to grow. A little white flower grows on these coffee plants and they have a smell. They reminded me of a honeysuckle. Also, the trumpet flower (Bromzais) is connected to the coffee plants. These are used to help pollinate the garden. They were pinkish in color and they are for the bees. It’s a cycle of five years to produce coffee.image

After we walked around the coffee farm and looked at the coffee plants, we ate lunch on top of the mountain. It was a beautiful view. We were given the chance to squeeze some sugarcane after lunch. The sugarcane was put into a grinder and it turned the sugarcane into a liquid that you could drink. I found this to be pretty interesting! Next, we left the coffee farm and went to Alejandro’s coffee shop in the town of Santa Elena. The coffee shop was called the Common Cup and we were given samples of the coffee and espresso shots to try. I think this was the group’s favorite part of the expedition. We saw the machine used for roasting coffee beans and were able to see how it works. The beans are green at first and they turn a blackish/brown after they are roasted and this is how you can find them in the store. I think our group had a great time touring the coffee farm and going to the coffee shop. It was extremely informative and we learned a lot about coffee farming!

~ Carah Reid

Visit Thrive Farmers at: http://www.thrivefarmers.com

Exploring tide pools and the tropical dry forest

May 30:

Today we had two exciting activities to do. The day started off with some of the guys surfing, of course. After breakfast we split up in the two groups. One group went hiking to a waterfall. The three girls that didn’t go went horseback riding up a small mountain.

Two of the guys stayed back and relaxed. They went on a little adventure along the beach. The waves were small, but plenty of sea creatures to see. Tide pools were filled with them. The water clarity was like looking into an aquarium.

The hiking group got to encounter many different exotic species today. While hiking to the waterfall through a rough terrain they observed birds, huge trees, cacti, livestock, and local farmers. When the group got to the waterfall the view was beautiful with a lush green background. The water was cool and referring on this hot sticky day. Jumping off the rocks was a thrill.

For the girls who went horseback riding they went through a small mountain. A very small path way out lined the way up the mountain. Once the group reached the top the view was breathtaking. Green vegetation all around. The horses were cool calm and collected they seemed to be all friends. Going down the small mountain back to the hacienda was kind of scary. The horses were very cautious about the small rugged path back. When the horses saw the open hacienda they were so excited and all wanted to gallop back to the barn. Getting off the horses an trying to walk was a struggle.

After everyone had lunch and got themselves together, we headed into Tamarindo. When arriving to the surf  town they were so many shops to choose from. The ice coffee was the best we had.  Visiting many shops two of the girls worked up an appetite for some American pizza. They found some, but here is Costa Rica the Ticos take “Tico Time” to make “fast food.” The locals of Tamarindo are very different from the people of Costa Rica we are used to seeing. Plenty of Americans.

- Nonnie Walter

Guanacaste & Tamarindo

May 29:

Today we had a variety of activities to chose from. Some of the group went to the beach at 5 am to surf. Some of the group decided to relax and hang out at the beach for the day. They were amazed how the different terrain on the coast and ocean floor was composed of volcanic rock whereas North Carolina’s coast contains sandbars. The different substances play a huge role in the strength of the wave, volcanic rock creating the best surfing waves. They also noticed how geothermal heat affects the waves. During the surf session, they spotted several waterspouts during an approaching storm. They observed that the spouts were all located outside of the storm. At the mouth of the river, there was a man meditating. After observing the encounter, they reported back to the manager of our hotel to find out what they had seen. They learned that the man was probably trying to bring positive energy to the mangrove because of the last major earthquake. It caused the volcanic rock to elevate, essentially locking the the water in the mangrove, driving out the animals, and harming the environment.

Playa Avellanas.

Playa Avellanas.

In the afternoon we went into Tamarindo. There were many locals there surfing and tanning on the beach. We walked up and down the street and visited several shops. The locals in the shops were so welcoming and full of life. They had amazing coffee and fruit juices at this small cafe we stopped at. During the bumpy ride home we saw a dog almost get run over by another van.

Today we encountered many animals. The surf group met a puppy named Jackie on the beach as well as many marine animals. They observed a huge silver fish jumping out of the water, several types of crabs, pelicans and a sea slug. Other members of the group also saw a hooded, blue and white large bird. There are many Howler Monkeys around the villa that make loud noises that “sounds like a Great Dane who has been smoking Newports for 20 years”,(Kyle). There are many lizards, bats, iguanas, frogs and insects around the hotel. The group that tried to go horse back riding saw horses, cows, donkeys, and other typical farm animals.

— Taylor Daniels

San Jose to Guanacaste

May 28:

The day began with a visit to the National Museum where we learned about pre-Columbian peoples and viewed an exhibition of beautiful paintings by contemporary artist-environmentalist Gerardo Valerio. We then returned to the Central Market downtown to explore further its offerings before checking out of our hotel and hitting the road for Guanacaste, which lies in the northwest of Costa Rica.

Our route out of San Jose took us first west through Escazu, a former coffee region now undergoing suburban development, and Oratina, an important fruit-producing region. Fruit and vegetable stands offering mangos, pineapple, plantains, avocados and water squash line the road. We then turned north on to the Pan American Highway and very quickly observed a dramatic change in vegetation typical of a tropical dry forest. Teak plantations, grazing cattle and dry rice fields permeate the landscape, and our guide tells us that pineapple fields have recently made an appearance as well.

Roadside soda (cantina) near Tamarindo

Roadside soda (cantina) near Tamarindo

Guanacaste is the land of Costa Rican cowboys – its history of cattle production is about 200 years, and the region is one of the most deforested regions in Costa Rica as a result. After some time we again turned west and traversed the Nicoya Peninsula, crossing the Rio Tempisque, to arrive in Tamarindo — on the westernmost part of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. En route it rained heavily, and a flooded, unpaved road gave us a bit of an adventure, but we finally reached our hotel, Cabinas Las Olas, around 7:00 PM where we were fed well and housed in very comfortable cottages.

Downtown San Josè

May 27:

We were dropped of at a barricaded street entrance. We saw many places, but the central market and the central business district stuck out.

The Central Market was a labyrinth of pathways through vendors and shops. They were selling piggy banks, herbal medicines, raw meat, toys, and more. It was comparable to an unorganized Wal-Mart.

The central business market was crowded and noisy. Vendors and store employees were verbally advertising discounts and products. Our group weaved in and out of crowds to reach destinations like The Central Bank, historic Post Office, National Theater, and Cathedral. Tommy bought an ocarina with the shape of four different animals. After touring the notable areas, we left to visit UCR.

-Tristan

Outside the National Theatre, downtown.

Outside the National Theatre, downtown.