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Last Leg: Return to San Jose

June 7th

Today, June 7, 2013, we started off in Manzanilla at the Almonds and Corals resort. This is the last day and night of our study abroad trip. Today is the only day that we were able to sleep in. I was up at about 8:15 to start packing while others were already prepared for the car ride. Of course, today’s breakfast was another success with the omlet and French toast. Throughout this whole trip, I was amazed on how good the quality of food was. Everything was a lot better. We got packed up and left the Almonds and Coral resort at around 10:30 am to head back to El Sesteo in San Jose. Once again, the back seat crew got comfortabel for the trip. We made a pit stop for gasoline. And not too much longer we stopped again for a pee stop. Then again we stopped to eat our packed lunch at this restaurant. At that time everybody was ready to stay in the car and finish the long haul home to El Sesteo. Once we got into the city, it was jammed pack with traffic. We finally arrived here at the hotel at around 4:15. It felt like the drive was longer than it seemed. The boys and I made a walk to the AM/PM to grab some imperial beers before we head back to the States and have to pay import taxes on these delicious brews. For dinner, Marco, drove us to his house for a beautiful dinner. It took forever to get here becasue of the soccer game tonight (Costa Rica vs Honduras), and just because it is a Friday night. But Marco’s wife cooked us some delicious home made chicken lasagna and a great garden salad. Very generous Marco’s family is.

Through out this whole trip, it has completely amazed me on how different things are here. Everything in the city is completely different from the United States. Everything in the rural areas is completely different too. It is crazy going from United States currency to the colones, and having a water purifying water bottle this whole time, but it is fun and a great learning experience. This is the second time out of this country and I am pleased that I followed along for this trip. I love how relaxed and happy the people are here and how the climate/weather is so beautiful. On May 29, surfing for the first time watching the sunrise and sunset in the Pacific was life changing. I highly recommend going to Avellanas beach to surf.

I thank professor’s Tom Allen and Holly Hapke for organizing this whole trip and making everything happen. Our first driver Douglass was cool. Jairo, our second driver, is the man. If you ever need a getaway driver or just a tour driver, he’s the man to call. And my hat goes off to our tour guide, Marco, who is one of the most interesting and smartest man on this earth. He literally knows everything. From being a doctor to a tour guide of this whole country, he has an answer for every question. He definitely needs to be on that show ‘Survivor’. This group that was put together couldn’t have been a better group either. I am very pleased to say that I just met these people on 5.26.13, and now I can say they are all my friends that I hope to be seeing very soon in the near future back at school.

Everything was awesome here. From the ridiculous expeditions in the jungle at night, to all the itchy bug bites, to the horrible awful smell of my shoes, to Brandon getting bit by an Iguana, I can definitely say that every second of this trip was memorable. The best parts of the trip were the natural foods, both beaches, all of the nature walks/tours, and of course the exhilerating zipline and bungee jump events. So basically the whole trip. This was a huge learning experience for the whole group and I. We all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I advise everybody to take a trip to Costa Rica.

~ Kyle Keller

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

Arenal to Sarapiqui

June 4th:

Today, the group woke up at Lavas Tacotal in Arenal after a relaxing night in the hot springs just below the volcano. We ate breakfast at the resort, consisting of rice, beans, eggs, toast, pineapple, plantains, and a cup of fresh mixed fruit juice to wash it down. We then loaded our suitcases atop of the van and headed to our next destination, La Quinta, located in Sarapiqui, a small rural location in the north central lowlands of Costa Rica, which was our shortest ride yet. On our way, we stopped by a small souvenir and ice cream shop, where they had a huge family of iguanas staying outside on the patio. The group was able to get close enough for pictures and even had one member of the group, Brandon, hold one of the iguanas in his arms for a picture, then wound up getting bit by one on the hand. A couple of the members bought a unique flavor of ice cream made from a cactus fruit at the parlor, tasting very similar to raspberry. We left from there and finished our journey to La Quinta, arriving around 11:30 a.m., just before lunch. We had the option of grilled chicken or tilapia, along with rice, mixed vegetables, and fresh juiced cas.imageimage

After lunch, we had the option of either white water rafting or exploring the nearby area, where there was a river, lagoon of cayman, and a rain forest with exotic poison dart frogs, sloths, howler monkeys, and many more species of fauna and flora to experience. Two of the members in the group decided to go white water rafting along the Sarapiqui, where the saw many toucans and other birds, along with a chance to cliff dive off a 30 foot rock with a Tarzan swing into the water. Back at the resort, the rest of the members explored the river, bareback rafting down the rapids, instigating an intense verbal brawl with about 30 howler monkeys that started to surround the group through the trees. The rest of the group swam for a while at the pool until a storm arose, which caused horrible lightening, causing the power to go out for a short while.

One of the temporary workers of the resort, named Aaron, happened to be from North Carolina, is doing an internship as part of his degree program at Appalachian State in recreational management. He took one of the members, Brandon, on a very informational private tour through the resort, explaining the national leaf (sustainable tourism certification) system, and its importance to Costa Rica. He pointed out many features that have been implemented within the resort to become a ’5 Leaf’ resort, analogous to America’s ’5 Star’ hotels, but focused towards the environment, not the quality of stay, where the infrastructure, as well maintenance of the resort, factor in the leaf given. The resort is one of only around twenty, throughout all of Costa Rica, that has been certified as a ’5 leaf’ resort, making it a pristine resort to visit for tourists from all over the world. The development was also primarily an effort to reforest the river-adjacent land, where a huge investment was taken to rejuvenate and diversify the species within the area by creating a lagoon, along with a broad species of plants and trees to foster as much wildlife as possible.

As the storm settled in, we all congregated at the dining area for dinner, as we listened to lectures from our peers to inform us about their specific topics pertaining to the relevance of the area and our visit to the pineapple farm that we will have the next day. Kyle informed us about agroforestry, along with soil and water quality, while Nonnie and Taylor gave a speech on pineapples and their effect on the local community and environment. For dinner we had the option of tilapia, pork chops, or beef fajitas, aside mash potatoes, zucchini squash, and rice, with fresh cas juice to drink. After dinner, we then parted with an early night, where most of the group was settling down for bed around 10 p.m.

~ Brandon Hackney

Road to Monteverde

May 31:

Today we woke up in Cabinas Las Olas and a few of the guys went surfing early in the morning, including Dr. Allen who said the waves were the best they have been since we arrived. After breakfast we began our travel from Las Olas to Monteverde at about 9 a.m. We drove for 3 hours through an abundance of cattle pastures and little towns until we arrived at the base of the mountain and began our climb up the side of the mountain. On our way up the mountain our guide, Marco, pointed out that the Monteverde Reserve is trying to buy as much land as possible in the Monteverde region to preserve the land, create a biological corridor, and also to help promote the flag species of the area, the beautiful quetzal bird.

Entrance to the Monteverde Biological Reserve

Entrance to the Monteverde Biological Reserve

The majority of the people were comfortable with the drive but a few of us were a little nervous of how close we were to the edge of the road and once it began to rain it became a little more scary, but we arrived at the La Casona Lodge Monteverde Reserve safely. Once we arrived a group of us went on a hike through the Monteverde Reserve and observed waterfalls, various indigenous trees, and Dr. Allen, Dr. Hapke, and our guide Marco even saw a group of spider monkeys. A few of the girls in the group went into town instead of hiking and saw what it had to offer. They said they really liked the atmosphere and mentioned that there were many stray dogs in town but it was an overall great experience. We then ate dinner at an Italian restaurant called Tramonti that was just down the road and had pizza that was amazing! Everybody was happy to have a little taste of something they were familiar with. After the long day of travel and excursions the group retired for the day to prepare for our tour of a coffee farm the following morning.

~ Tommy Woolston

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.