I’ll give you a little bit of perspective on my dad to start off. He is very much his father’s son, always right even when he isn’t and an avid doer of everything. He is also the man who threw a litter of baby hamsters away because he didn’t want any more ‘stupid animals.’ He claims to not like the dog and tried to pretend to dislike the cat before she passed, but I know he loves them. That being said, he isn’t a cruel man but he is by no means the type to have pets, especially after we gave our three tortoises away. So, I was a bit surprised when I arrived home to find that he had found a little tree frog in one of the indoor plants, and instead of putting him outside, where he belongs, to let nature do it’s work, he went to the pet store and purchased an aquarium for the little guy. He doesn’t have a name, but I can’t argue with the fact that the little sucker is adorable, and I am not sure that my dad will be able to release him in the spring like he says he will.
Westerville, OH, USA – where I spent the majority of the first 20 years of my life.
San Jose, Costa Rica – where I had a beautiful experience, and where I will hopefully return many times in the future.
Norwalk, CT, USA – where my extended family lives. We were reunited these past few days after not being very much in touch for upwards of four years. I hadn’t seen my aunt and uncle since the last family reunion we had nearly ten years ago, and I still haven’t seen my cousins since then. Hopefully I will be able to venture up to Boston in the spring to see them all again.
Next up: Chicago, IL, USA
Emily Harger captured the moments worth documenting over our time in Costa Rica and I just needed to freak out over these photos for a little bit. Her work is worth checking out, for sure.
On January 2nd, 2014, I woke up in Columbus, Ohio to a sprinkling of snow. That evening, I laid my head down in a hostel in San Jose, Costa Rica. The nine days that followed were one of the most unique study abroad experiences that exists at Ohio University, at least in my opinion. This blog entry will be mostly words, as the people who had cameras have not yet shared all of their photos. The other photos will be in their own posts later.
We arose early, packed our backpacks, and boarded a small bus/large van/who knows to the Coopedota coffee plantation for a tour. It was fantastically interesting, and refreshing to see a company that was committed to maintaining an ecofriendly operation. The amount of work that goes into a cup of Costa Rican coffee was also incredible. We followed the process from field to mug, going through drying stations and roasters and fields. As an avid coffee drinker, this was eye opening and definitely within my interests. Unfortunately, we hit the trail the following day, so we had to go without any gift shop goodies. I did end up buying coffee, but it was unfortunately not Coopedota.
After the tour, we drove into Santa Maria and walked from a local park to our first homestay. It was more of a residential area than any of the other places that we would see for the rest of the trip, and there were dogs galore. Something that I noticed was that the human culture was not the only one that varied from that of the United States, but the dog culture was different too. Here in Ohio, if a dog were to be wandering without a collar, it would be spending its life in a shelter until it got a home, a collar, and a license. In Costa Rica dogs walked about town as free as could be, just doing their own thing. They tended to be pretty itchy though, due to perhaps fleas.
The homestay was lovely. Incredible food, homecooked and fresh as could be. We repacked our packs, those with more experience assisting the students who hadn’t backpacked before cinch things down and reduce weight before going to bed. There was a three hour drive into the mountains before our ten mile hike began the next day, so we would need to wake up early.
We were in the back of the truck by 6AM heading up winding dirt roads that would have made my mother cringe (my mother does not like narrow roads on the sides of mountains, even with barriers) to the trail head. This first day of backpacking up through the cloud forest was our most intense of the whole trip, at 10 miles with steep ups and downs through a variety of soils.
It was a stout hike, even for the gringos in the best shape. Diego and Ricardo, the guides, led us up hill after hill until we reached our lunch spot at the highest point of our hike, about a mile above sea level. Something about five miles at high elevations makes an average sandwich incredible as well. Bread, cheese, and fresh tomatoes have never tasted so good. It also was the perfect situation to remind me just how much food can change a group’s outlook. Four sandwiches later, I was ready to complete our hike and in more of a mood to enjoy the fabulous, lush, ethereal scenery.
We finally reached camp and set up tarps to sleep under, all of us together. Once dry clothes were on and packs were stowed, we made three and a half pounds of spaghetti which we challenged each other to finish. I ended up eating four bowls, and incidentally, a grasshopper as well. The sky cleared up as we headed to bed as well, setting some incredible stars on display over our campsite.
The hiking today was mostly downhill, which is surprisingly a lot harder for me. It’s tough on the joints, especially with extra weight on them. The distance wasn’t nearly as tough as the previous day, but I made sure to, er, test the gravity frequently. You know, just in case it was malfunctioning. It may have been turned on a little bit strongly, actually. I digress.
We arrived at our second homestay, at Diego and Ricardo’s sister Magdalena’s house, followed closely by one girl who had gotten sick and one professor on horseback. Seeing my academic advisor trot on into camp on a horse in Costa Rica was definitely one of the highlights of my recreation education.
The house was gorgeous, all constructed by the family. Chickens wandered the yard, clucking between fruit trees and being chased by Puka, the smallest and most hilarious of all of the dogs that we met. The meals at this house were somehow fresher than the previous stay, most likely due to the fact that the majority of the produce was grown right there. AMAZING.
It was a very short hike to Diego and Ricardo’s parents’ house, our next homestay. Their farm was amazing. Cows, chickens, turkeys, dogs, sugar cane, tomatoes, cucumbers, and everything else they needed to sustain themselves were there. Upon arrival, we ate an amazing lunch and set to work making some brown sugar. The process of cutting the stalks, breaking the joints, juicing the cane, and boiling the syrup to create molded sugar that the family would use for the next few months really put into perspective how much easier work is in the United States.
After making sugar, we took a dip in the Rio Savegre, one of the cleanest rivers in the world, and then trekked over to a 120 foot waterfall and rappelled down it. Thank goodness I started climbing a year ago, otherwise my lifelong fear of heights might have gotten the better of me on that one. One of the pooches from the homestead followed us all of the way up too, prancing on the wet rocks over 100 feet like it was nothing while the rest of us were tied in. Dogs are wonderful creatures.
We awoke early again and took an hour or so day hike up a nearby mountain to a cave full of bats, crickets, and scorpion spiders. It was dark and drippy as caves tend to be, and wonderful. Bats are some of my favorite creatures, and it was refreshing to get out of the sun.
After lunch at the homestead, we took off on another short hike to our next homestay at Hernan’s house, right by the rushing water of the Savegre. It rained this day, harder than it had before. According to Diego, though, it was still a pretty light rain for Costa Rica, even for the dry season. My clothes did not dry at all that night due to the humidity that remained too. Once we arrived at the house, we had our afternoon coffee and dried ourselves off before making banana bread, chocolate bread, and cheese with Hernan’s wife. The dog at this house was my absolute favorite as well, an older German Shepherd with the look of a permanent grin named Lassie. Beautiful. Being directly next to the river and hearing it from the house all night got us all mentally ready for our first rafting trip the next day, on the Rio Savegre and a seven mile hike away.
What a long day. Looking back upon it in my travel journal, it really felt like three separate days. It began with a seven mile hike. It wasn’t as steep as the first day of backpacking, but it was hot and less covered and some of our numbers were sick. It was tough for them, but they made it through like absolute champs.
The hiking portion of our experience ended by crossing a wobbly bridge over the Rio Savegre, where we were about to raft after eating one of the greatest lunches I’ve ever had. Not only was it after hiking seven miles, which definitely added to the satisfaction, it was fresh as heck. We watched Diego, Ricardo, Jesus, and Michael chop up fresh pineapple and watermelon, and make fresh guacamole as we took our boots off and cinched up our packs to be loaded onto the shuttle. Again, so DELICIOUS.
After lunch, we moved to the river to experience some world class and mighty clean whitewater. Josie, Erika, and Courtney joined me in the largest of the three rafts, guided by Diego himself. We quickly dubbed it ‘the fun boat’ and proceeded to get stuck on more rocks and swim more than anyone else (namely in a rapid called “El Boca de Diablo” or “The Devil’s Mouth”) Naturally, it was a BLAST. Josie had never experienced anything like it before (or any other activity that we did) but she instantly fell in love with the river like she never had before. We saw some squirrel monkeys and toucans along the banks as well, which was awesome.
The third day within this day began when we arrived at our lodging for the night, an eco lodge. The grounds featured several private cabins and a wildlife rehabilitation areas, where animals that had been kept inappropriately as pets were taken to readjust to being wild before being released. One of the several spider monkeys that they had chittered loudly at us and reached for my hand with its tail as we left its enclosure area. Monkeys never fail to blow my mind, with how simultaneously wild and human they can be. The eco lodge had a small bar as well, so we sat down to a couple of cervesas with the group after dinner. Dinner was not nearly as good as anything that any of the homestays had made us. I will never take home cooked food for granted ever again.
I hit the sack early that night so that I would be prepared for hour three hour ride to the beach, where we would learn to do something that I have dreamed of doing for my entire life: SURFING.
Son of a gun, I love surfing. I am definitely not good at it though. Not yet anyway. Luckily I am moving to a location where I will be able to surf frequently in the next year, so that I can improve. It was hands down the most fun I’ve ever had wiping out and getting thrashed though.
I was also able to see my professors and advisor, Danny and Bruce, doing what they’ve been doing their whole lives. Bruce grew up in North Carolina and Danny had been catching waves forever! I was also lucky to see Danny on whitewater as well, his other element, which was killer. I love seeing people do things that they love.
Capuchin monkeys skittered around the trees, passing by sloths who were just hanging out as we all found a new relationship with the salt water and learned to respect the power and energy of the waves.
Surfing is absolutely something that I will continue to work on, and I hope to return to Manuel Antonio when I can shred harder.
Post surfing, we headed back to the same hostel where we had spent the first night to clean up and catch some z’s before another day on the whitewater – one of the top 10 rivers in the world – the Rio Pacuare.
The Pacuare is a much rockier river than the Savegre had been. Located in a scenic canyon closer to the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, it had some much different wildlife than the Savegre, in the Central Valley, had had. Namely, poison dart frogs and more monkeys! Nobody swam except for intentionally. There was a large, narrow canyon that we floated through and it was beautiful. The high, dark rock walls, formed by years of rainy seasons and rushing river water shaded our smiling faces as we took a rest from the gnar. It was beautiful, and produced what is probably the most bad ass student/advisor pre-graduation photo in the world. (These photos will get their own post when I get them, along with some more tidbits…turns out there’s a downside to not owning your own camera)
That night we returned to el presidente’s house (the same hostel…) and prepared for a nice final dinner and night out on the town. We all managed to have one too many cervezas, which in turn made our evening’s debrief a little bit more emotional than at least I had initially intended. I already miss this group a lot, and I won’t be around this semester to see them. Tear. That being said, it is always easier to leave than be left. Neither are easy, but I always prefer leaving.
Travel day. Half of the group took a shuttle to the airport at 5am. The remaining four of us went out to breakfast at a Bagelmens with Diego and Ricardo, then went to a supermarket and bought so much coffee before we were shuttled off to the airport too. That was 100% of the souvenirs that I purchased. Coffee. I haven’t even drank any yet, but I know that when I do, it will taste like the wonderful country of Costa Rica, and the wonderful memories that I made with the most wonderful assortment of Ohio University students that ever were.
I will be comfortably in San Jose, Costa Rica.
I purchased a travel journal that fits nicely in my smallest dry bag, so I will be able to capture memories more adequately (and it’s part of the class…) Many photos, stories, and reflections will be in store upon my return.
Probably an exceptional amount of photos, as two photojournalism majors are also on this trip. Score.
UPDATE: The high temperature for tomorrow in San Jose is 94*.