Day 12

Today we returned to Escuela La Union to finish setting up the computer lab. We woke up around 7 and squeezed into the bus to have breakfast at the school. After breakfast, we went to the lab. Steven gave us directions for imaging the desktops, which were completely in Spanish and (as a surprise) fitted with Windows 7, so we had no written directions to help us image. With the help of Sharette’s excellent translating skills, however, we managed to finish imaging. Several Microsoft Paint masterpieces were created during down-time. We then took a lunch break—the chicken and garbanzo beans were a big hit. Networking (setting up internet) was the second portion of setting up the lab. Many of us crimped wires for the first time: orange-white, orange, green-white, blue, blue-white, green, brown-white, brown. With everyone working, it didn’t take too long to get a crimped wire connecting each computer to the router.

The afternoon excursion was supposed to be to a pineapple plantation/factory, but the sun started beating down around midday, and the chaperones found a pool for us to go to instead. The pineapple plant would have been extremely hot in the midday sun, and a lot of people with earrings wouldn’t have been able to go. We were driven to a pool near the cabinas, and after a few minutes of swimming, the clouds rolled in and the downpour commenced. Swimming in the rain was a lot more fun than I expected. Anise almost learned how to swim. A lot of us got pretty cold, though, and a bus came to shuttle groups of six back to the cabinas. Once everyone was back home, most of us sat in front of the TV, watching Spanish-dubbed American shows or a few Spanish-subtitled shows in English—as we have many times.

Dinner was cabbage salad, rice, and a type of large noodle filled with potato. It was accompanied by a bag of (delicious) sweet bread desserts, and everyone was pleased. After dinner and a horrible but addictive movie, Tim took a group of four on a night-hike. We walked down the road and climbed over a barbed-wire fence to look for animals, but according to Tim, we found ourselves in a “monoculture” without much wildlife. We went back over the barbed wire and took the road that leads to the school in Esquipulas. We saw lots of spiders and ants, a centipede, and a firefly.  We ran into about five toads altogether. The walk back was filled mostly with stargazing, and Emily and Dylan caught a toad next to the cabinas. Unfortunately it didn’t get a chance to make it into anyone’s bed.

We all did make it into our own beds, however, and slept soundly after such an exciting day.

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Day 11

Hola chicos y chicas de los Estados Unidos! Today we woke up to what we thought would be a delightful alternative to the usual rice and bean breakfast, to our surprise it was rice and bean sandwiches for all!! White bread with processed square ham, topped off with delicious mayonnaise and black bean spread. Let’s just say we started our day hungry.

With our stomachs empty and our lack of sleep, the news that we would spend the day hiking a volcano made everyone cringe. After an hour bus ride we arrived to the scenic town of La Fortuna. The handmade items, beautiful volcano, and delicious snacks started to brighten up our day. We found our way into a hole in the wall store where we purchased a variety of brightly hand woven items. After the short 30 minutes we had to browse around the town, we piled back onto the bus for another hour of bumpy roads and cramped sitting positions.  When we finally reached Arenal National Park, we had a tasty lunch of…rice and beans. Oh and pasta salad and Tang too. While we were eating our lunch, we discovered two different wasp nests. We had to convince Dylan not to throw a rock at it. Once everything was thrown away and everyone was packed up, we began our journey to the scenic views of the volcano. Along the way we came upon a Tarzan vine where everyone took turns swinging while yelling “ahhhyeeeyahhhhhh”. The one mile hike on volcanic rock was worth the amazing view from up top. We were able to see the entire area of the volcano and the lagoon that surrounded it. What a sight that was. We walked back down on a different but muddy pathway, leading us to a place where we could swim in the lagoon. When we could finally see the lagoon we could see the beautiful black sand on the beach created by the volcanic eruptions. Emma was the first to discover the quickness of the sinking sand on the beach. As soon as she walked up to dip her toes into the water, she shrunk almost a foot into the water and quickly screamed to warn us that the sand was eating her legs up. A few brave souls decided to swim in the dark and ominous water.

On the bus ride home, everyone tried to get a quick nap in before dinner. Once showered and ready, everyone walked down to a local restaurant for our last meal of the day. We took up almost the entire restaurant and made the waiter feel very busy. Upon finishing our food, it was time to return to our cabinas for TV watching and socializing. Then Steven made us write this blog, and here we are!

Adios muchachos

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Day 10

Today we woke up to another rainy day, although today at a much later time than usual. Breakfast arrived at around nine o’clock, which helped us all awaken, and we were all very appreciative. Today, because of the rain we had no defined plans, so after breakfast we all went back to the cabinas to watch TV and catch up on our sleep. After remaining at the cabinas for a while, a few of us went to the nearby restaurants for lunch, while others headed to a nearby town with shops, Aguas Zarcas. After everyone returned to the cabinas, we all rested while trying to comprehend the Spanish television. Later, we ate our dinner of rice and beans, and then we headed off to watch a local soccer game in which Stephanie, our local friend’s, brother was playing. I am still amazed at the talent of those soccer players. After the soccer game , we all headed back to the cabinas. Some people went  for “helado con los melocotones” or ice cream and peaches at a local restaurant, while others went to sleep. Today was a much needed relaxing day after all the activities we have participated in.

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Day 9

Aside from my body exhaustion this morning, our later start at 9am left us optimistic for what our last Friday in Costa Rica had in store for us. Today was the first day we were going to a new elementary school in Venecia, about a 30 minute drive from Aguas Zarcas. Driving up to Escuela La Union wasn’t as different as I expected, since we were informed that the school was in a more impoverished neighborhood. The insides of the classrooms were painted with children and a myriad of colors, which caught your eye immediately as you walk in, showing a different atmosphere than the school where we were used to.

We were welcomed by the teachers as they escorted us to la cocina, where a variety of fruits and bread were served for breakfast. After, we set up ten computers and five laptops in a classroom which we finished surprisingly fast. That gave us time to play with the kids, who were so excited to play anything from Frisbee to soccer, and they even taught some of us Chinese jump rope. It’s always fun for us to play with kids. We ate lunch and spent more time playing and talking with the kids, learning a lot of their names.

From the school we were taken through an incredibly muddy trail which came as a surprise to us all, and 20 minutes later we arrived at a farm to see cows. We took a short tour of the farm, seeing the process of milking the cows. We then took turns riding the ox cart. My group had the most fun, because halfway through the ride the oxen stop and fail to move forward. When the farmers try to guide the oxen, one of them tumbles and the ox cart breaks! Realizing our ride was over, two of us in the front of the cart hopped out, and since the weight wasn’t even anymore the cart flew back. It ended up sending all of us in the cart falling on top of each other vertically, which at the moment shocked us all.

Shortly after, we were taken to ride horses. Alexis rode first and made us look like first-timers since she’s had the practice, and nearly all of us had a chance to ride Paloma. My ride was more fun than expected. I took both hands off of the rope and the horse jerked to run fast. I almost fell off! Still, it was fun seeing us all accomplish it, especially those who were actual first-timers or were scared.

The last part of our day was milking the goat which a lot of us enjoyed. The rain started to come down hard, so we made our way back to the cabinas where rice and pork was cooked in individual boxes for us. We took to our rooms for a peaceful evening to our jam-packed day.

Paz, Amor, Pura Vida

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Day 8

Waking up to rain this morning wasn’t the most pleasant but it still didn’t bring my day down. Since I slept over at Stephanie’s house, I didn’t get a chance to do some tree planting earlier today. From what I heard from the other TSC members, it was a little too early to be outside in the dirt to be planting this species of tree that it grows 6 centimeters daily but tree planting was still fun. Like yesterday, a monkey showed up.

We all met up at the school to eat some breakfast which was a sweet tortilla with sour cream or cheese- crema or queso. Afterwards, we went to the classrooms to help teach the students. Today, they were learning math. As always, the kids are excited to see us. Their smiles always brighten up everybody’s day. Since today was our last day working with them, the kids in Gabriel’s (our awesome host/tour guide) class baked us a cake that said “Pura Vida”. The cake was very delicious.

Saying goodbye was the hardest, it was definitely something that broke all our hearts. After our small goodbye party was over, the kids left and we stayed in the computer lab just to fix some glitches. Later, we chilled for like an hour or so. The busseta came to pick us up but we had to make 2 trips to make room for all our computer stuff. After everyone arrived, we all hung out in our rooms at the cabinas. Dinner later arrived by our friends Johan and Stephanie, and we feasted on rice, beans, yucca and fresh squeezed limeade. Yum! After dinner, people either talked on the patio or in their rooms watching TV. The day may have started a little unpleasantly but ended overall fantastic.

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Day 7

What a day! We started out the day as usual, with breakfast at the school. Today we enjoyed some delicious handmade tortillas and eggs, with glasses of fresca- juice, on the side. We helped out today at the school a little differently, we split up between the different classes and taught the kids the different parts of the human body and different foods. I was with the first and second graders- they are so cute! We played bingo and the kids had fun learning how to pronounce different foods in English, mushroom was one of their favorites. As usual, we also played soccer with them at the field across the street from their school, the boys loved to take off their shirts to look like Issac. Although we were all tired from soccer, the games continued as we and the kids had a massive game of Frisbee, needless to say we were all dirty by the end of recess.

Lunch was a tasty soup of chicken and chickpea soup with rice and juice. We all conversed about how sad we all were to be leaving these kids, but to our delight we found out that we will be staying another day; the goodbyes won’t have to be said yet! After school we went to Rio Negritos to swim and cool off from the hot day. Crossing the river was hard; the slippery rocks didn’t provide us much stability and the current only made it worse. It was worth it in the end though; we got to see a Congo monkey in the trees and many different types of flowers. The walk back to our Cabinas was also nice and we got to dry off from the river.  Rokea and I saw little dogs, cows, butterflies and even tropical birds.

One thing I noticed today especially was the friendliness of the people, everyone honked and said hello as they passed which made me feel very welcome. We spent the night eating snacks and playing ping-pong and foosball outside in the cool night air. I’m so excited for tomorrow, but at the same time a little sad, we won’t be seeing the elementary school kids anymore. It was the experience of a lifetime. Pura Vida everybody!

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Day 6

We started the day with an 8:00 departure from the cabinas bound for our second day of computer installation at the school nearby. Our breakfast consisted of rice and beans, and the usual cooler of fruit juice. We got right to work finishing the software setup, and after that we spent some time with the kids in the classroom. They gave us a lot of paper cutouts and airplanes, and both Dylan and myself received little love notes. We stayed at the school until lunchtime, where we were served Costa Rican style pasta and fried plantain with cheese.

Next we went to the road just outside the school grounds and caught a public bus, which to our surprise was a repainted Blue Bird school bus. It had been installed with handrails and a rope for indicating when the driver should stop. The bus ride was about an hour long, and we got off in Ciudad Quesada, which is the big market city in San Carlos, the county we are staying in. The city was very densely packed with little shops, many of which sold jewelry, shoes, and flashy tote bags.

Our first stop was a giant Catholic church with an enormous statue of Jesus on the wall, and Angelica told us it was the only church that she had ever seen that depicted Jesus without the cross. Gabriel took us the bank where we spent about 20 minutes exchanging dollars to colones. Once everyone had their cash we all walked to a souvenir shop that many of us bought shirts and mugs at. Our chaperones told us that we were to meet back at the plaza across the street in two and a half hours, and let us go on our own to explore the city.

Some of the boys bought some jerseys of one of the Costa Rican soccer teams that Rokea told us was the most popular one in the region. Several of us ate at a restaurant next to the plaza that sold a lot of American burgers and sausage options, and also coffee and French fries. We ended up ordering a fruit salad, a couple of coffees, a papaya shake and a chocolate shake, and two plates of French fries. Ordering in Spanish was challenging, but also entertaining, and we managed pretty successfully. The food, however, was less than desirable, and Steven described it as “the worst meal [he] has ever had.” We wandered the streets a little while longer until we had to meet back up, and Gabriel led us to the bus station where we caught another public bus.

This bus ride was a little shorter, and it took us right to the front of our cabinas where we spent the rest of our day. The school employees arrived around seven fifteen to grill us meat and tortillas for dinner, which we supplemented with the very groovy sound of a Spanish techno CD. We returned to our rooms and watched some TV to close out this otherwise eventful and rather tiring day.

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Day 5

Unlike all the previous days, today we woke up and started the day at ten A.M. The extra hours we were given today were well needed after the intense hike from yesterday. I was excited because this was the first day we started working on setting up the computer lab. While imaging the laptops was a bit confusing for me, I asked for help multiple times. Still, the entire day was well worth it.

Students would randomly walk up to the door and smile looking at their new computer lab to be. Seeing the smile and anticipation on their faces helped push me to strive for the best. In addition to working on the computer lab, many of us visited classes in session, and were allowed to participate in the classes. Seeing school in a different perspective and a different country was fascinating, and the process alone was life changing.  To add even more fun to the day, a group of children from the school and the entire TSC group played an exhausting game of soccer right before lunch.  After we finished working in the computer lab today we took a surprise trip to the nearby river.

Unlike the hot springs we visited previously, the water today was FREEZING. Because my swimsuit was still dirty, I opted to just stick my feet in, and enjoy the surrounding nature. The river itself was beautiful, because in this particular location, there were three fallen trees, which acted as a bridge, and a small waterfall, almost slightly mimicking the huge one we saw yesterday.  As usual, the walk back consisted of picking star fruit from trees and crazy barking dogs.

Once we arrived back at the cabinas, a few students and I walked across the street to purchase machetes and light snacks. Dinner today was brought to us, leaving the rest of the night to enjoy each other’s company.

P.S . HI FAM!! I MISS YOU GUYS <3 J

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Day 4

At 6:30 am, we loaded the bus and headed to the school to eat our usual breakfast of rice and beans – gallo pinto. After eating we started the long two hour trek to Tenorio Volcano National Park for to see the famous Rio Celeste. On our journey, there was much confusion as we stopped at many markets and random other locations. Many team members bought T-shirts and traditional Costa Rican masks. It’s weird how all the Americans wanted to buy the authentic Costa Rican attire, but all the locals want American clothing. The bus was also forced to stop multiple times for a bike race that was taking place, which was very frustrating to all of us who could not see the bikes, and were stuck on the stuffy hot bus in confusion.

The hike was beautiful. It was two miles up to sky blue waterfall. The trail was muddy and we scrambled up the roots and slid on the rocks until our legs were caked in dirt. As we hiked, the Costa Ricans would shout to each other, and at random times they would scream and start running up the hill. In the end, the team was scattered all throughout the hill, but we all met at the end at the waterfall. The water was gorgeous because the copper and sulfur minerals mixed. The result of that was a beautiful cobalt-blue color. At this point, we were all famished. It was almost 3pm and we hadn’t had lunch. The walk down was treacherous as we all attempted not to slide and fall on our faces in the mud; some were more successful than others…

Finally it was lunch, and we feasted on the strangest sandwiches; they were made of lettuce, tomatoes, ham, lime mayo, squeeze cheese and ketchup. Yum! On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at Arbol De La Paz, a massive and beautiful tree in the middle of the forest. We had a small photo shoot with the vegetation before leaving. Everyone fell asleep to the bus engine and woke to darkness, though it was only 6 o’ clock. Tired and dirty, we ate at a Chinese restaurant, which surprisingly, was not bad.

Now everyone is just chilling in the hotel watching weird movies that are played in English. Tomorrow we get to sleep in until 9!

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Day 3

Que dia! We began the day a little earlier than yesterday--in order to have time for all the weekend excursion activities. A luxurious 32-seat bus arrived at 7:30 to chauffer the group to another delicioso breakfast at the school. Gallo pinto again! Me gusta! After breakfast we took the bus to a zoo. Steven is bullying me. Also he’s telling me he’s never talking to me again, which is a lie. What a weirdo. Anyway we took the bus to a zoo, which was actually an animal rescue center. Baby capybaras and deer frolicked on either side of the path as we walked along, and lots of hearts melted. We saw spider monkeys (and had staring contests with them), parrots, lions, leopards, poisonous snakes, some goofy-beaked birds, and many more lovely living creatures. After we trekked our way to the salida, Tim gave us a crash course on the life of a strangler fig. As it turns out, lots of plants live on other plants.

Our second excursion was to the sulfurous hot springs of a volcano. The bus took us on another scenic route through rolling Costa Rican hills to the hot springs. We walked a ways through the jungle to get where we were going after being dropped off. Lunch was a rice dish with chicken. The hot springs had orangeish water, and even though a few of us initially felt a little ambivalent about it, we all had lots of fun playing in the hot orange pools and the cold blue pool. Anise and I had a long (somewhat tedious) Spanish-learning conversation with Gabriel, our main Costa Rican guide and amigo. Some of our group went to watch a movie in a shelter down the road.

We turned into prunes, got out of the water, went to look for everyone else, and many of us found ourselves in a volleyball game. Sharette seemed to be the only one who ever actually played volleyball, and the rest of us had very little control over where the ball went after hitting our hands. There were a few crisis moments when the ball almost rolled across the road and down into the river, but we luckily avoided that catastrophe.

For dinner, we went to a pizzeria in Aguas Zarcas. We shopped around town until it was time to go back to the cabinas. A few girls stayed behind with Angelica to get fitted for vestidos—dresses. Back at the cabinas, we hung out with Stefani and Julie and settled down, slowly making our way to our beds, watching TV, and getting sleepier until we finally conked.

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Day 2

Today has been exhausting. Even those who were lucky enough not to be woken up by Steven’s incessant and eardrum-shattering snores still were crawling out of their rooms bright and early to greet  our first full Tican day. As is becoming the norm, we were served excellent food at the school for breakfast, consisting rice and beans (called “gallo pinto”) and eggs coupled with Costa Rica’s famous coffee. After breakfast, our fantastic guide Gabriel brought us to his house and had us work with sugar cane, creating a delicious juice for the group to devour. Following this, we took a hike to a nearby river (with many stops to sample local fruits along the way) to enjoy a mid morning swim alongside some adventurous local boys. The water was cool and refreshing, and was a perfect way to beat the late morning heat that had been bearing down since we had woken up. Eventually we begrudgingly left the water and headed back to the schoolhouse for lunch.

Just like breakfast, lunch was both new and delicious. Slurping down the last of our broth, we were introduced to a couple of Tican additions to our group, Julieta and Stefani. They accompanied us to our next destination, a local farm that is using fungus as an organic way to combat insect predators on their rice crop. We visited their labs and then observed their livestock at work. It was an enriching experience to see how people in other countries conduct their lives, and the developments they have made that could help us all in the near future.

The rest of the day was fairly chill, as the group ate dinner together at the cabinas, had our first venture into town to barter and stock up on snacks, spent time playing various games, and talked well into the night in our rooms. Here’s looking forward to an awesome day at the zoo and hot springs tomorrow!

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Day 1

Today was a long day for most. We had about a three hour flight to Houston Texas. Two hours later we were boarding the plane once more for Costa Rica. The first thoughts of most were how hot and humid it was stepping off the plane. With much excitement we headed to pick up the tubs and went to get a bus. Everyone was very tired and most slept for the entire bus ride, all three hours to the Cabinas. I stayed up for most of it trying to keep myself from falling asleep, while talking to the driver, he informed me that the acres and acres of vegetation on our left and right were either sugar cane or coffee. It was quite a sight, seeing miles of beautiful hillside. When we got to the Cabinas We unloaded the tubs and got settled into our rooms before leaving for the school.

We were greeted by 6 elementary school students and their teachers. They lead us to the lunch room where they prepared a nice tortilla and beef dinner. Afterwards the teachers showed us some of the school rooms where they teach. Apparently Costa Rica is on a mission to get rid of almost all landfill by 2020 and their tables and chairs were made of a aluminum foil like substance that the kids recycled from their milk/juice cartons. By this time it is dumping with rain and lightning is frequent. We also saw some awesome toads hanging out in the rain posing for emma’s pictures.

The kids showed us two dances, both brief but very entertaining, traditional Costa Rican dancing. Afterwards we headed home thankfully the rain had stopped but not the thunder. Now we are currently in a team meeting discussing when to wake up tomorrow and what we will do. Sounds like we’re getting up at about 7:30, to be ready to go at 8am tomorrow.

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