International Trip to Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a small nation in the heart of Central America. It is a country unlike any other full of contrasts, variety of landscapes and cultures. Costa Rica is an environmental wonderland. It is home to 5% of the world’s biodiversity.
The people of Costa Rica are the country’s greatest asset. There are very welcoming of travellers who come to experience their ecological gem. It is a developing country that lacks resources while it struggles to advance in the 21st century.
Our group from North East England was made up of 8 Senior Section members and 3 leaders. We started our Costa Rican adventure with a 22 hour journey from Newcastle to San Jose via Heathrow and Dallas. We arrived to a very warm welcome and a traditional Costa Rican meal – rice and beans.
Our first adventure was to work with biologists at the OSA turtle conservation project. We walked the beach helping with the coastline clean up and mangrove reforestation. We spent time on the Pacific coast waiting for turtles so we could monitor turtle population. This involved measuring and tagging them. After drinking the milk from freshly cut down coconuts, watching macaws and sloths in the trees, we soon discovered that we were there as travellers and not as tourists. We had immersed ourselves into the Costa Rican culture.
We then set off for Cerro de la Muerte, one of the highest points in Costa Rica. In Providencia we were surrounded by a lush cloud forest, known for its sustainable lifestyle. We learnt first-hand about rural Costa Rican life as we joined a family in the small community and soon became part of their home. Community members are committed to sustainable farming practices and developing micro-enterprises to support economic vitality. We had the opportunity to work on their 100% sustainable farm, participate in the entire milk process from milking cows to making cheese. With Señora Flora we learnt how to make a traditional coffee basket made from old newspapers, which are still used today in the fields. The local artisans showed us their work and how they create art from a wood root found in the forest and by reusing plastics.
On the Caribbean side of the country, we had an amazing experience visiting the indigenous community living in the Talamanca Mountains. The Bri Bri are one of the last remaining native people in Costa Rica. They practice non-invasive agriculture within their protected mountainous rainforest. The remote village can only be reached by a rugged mountain trail. We had to leave our bus and hike crossing three rivers, one by boat and two on foot. We learned about their history, culture and way of life and how they find food, medicine, tools and building materials within the rainforest. We were taken to the home of the family who was responsible for cocoa production. We sampled cacao beans and a chocolate drink. Our visit included a simple lunch of chicken, hearts of palm, rice and beans served on a banana leaf! Few people are invited to visit the Bri Bri on their sacred land and we were privileged to have the experience.
Next was the Veragua rainforest. We explored the private reserve with researchers. We experienced flora, fauna and amazing animals during night insect and frog walks. We had a working visit to the butterfly garden, where we set the new butterfly’s free in the garden and prepared the lava for hatching. We had the opportunity to work on a frog habitat restoration project. We finished lining a pond that had been dug and brought plants from other parts of the park to make the resettled frogs feel more at home.
Our final location was at the base of the spectacular Arenal Volcano. We had time to relax in the hot spring pools before flying through the rainforest canopy on a zip line. We got our equipment, had a safety demonstration and a practice run. Now we were ready for the truck drive to the first platform. We drove under the canopies of trees that were so high. The first jump was quick and easy, then they started getting further apart to the next elevated platform tree house. The canopies were now at our feet as we flew through the air. We had an eagle’s view of the entire valley, the fields, the towns and people’s houses.
We visited Escuela El Jaúuri elementary school. We were met by enthusiastic children waiting to take our hands as we got off the bus and show us to our seats. They performed traditional songs and dances and we even had to join in. We interacted with children in their classrooms. A history class was learning all about England and the Queen, so we sang them the National Anthem. We donated essential materials to the school before we left.
A visit to an organic farm was full of surprises. We learned about rural Costa Rican life on a small scale farm. We explored the fields and the crops they had growing. We collected tropical yams for tea, turned sugar cane into juice, roasted coffee for the smoothie competition and make tortillas for tea.
Our last visit of this adventure was to an orphanage. Children are taken directly from difficult home situations and given a safe place. It offers hope to children as well as education, justice, recreation and access to health care. We spent time playing with the children, blowing bubbles that we had taken and the children looked at our photographs from the trip so far. We left them with lots of colouring in things, snacks for school and cleaning materials – items they struggle to have.
It was an amazing experience with lots of once in a life time opportunities. Cold showers, damp clothes, thunderstorms, rice and beans, dense tropical forests, palm-fringed beaches, towering volcanoes, endangered sea turtles, gregarious monkeys, sleepy sloths, brilliant macaws helped us to achieve the Costa Rican experience.
We feel humble for the opportunity to help so many communities and projects during our visit, which was returned many times over by the warmth of all we met.
We went there to make a difference, we did.