Where Travel Can Change the World

Headed for Adventure

2016 Student Field Reporter Project:  EcoTeach has enlisted the help of several students to share their 2016 Costa Rica experiences with us. Over the coming months we will regularly feature their posts, photos, and reflections – letting them tell their amazing stories of Costa Rica and it’s impact on their lives!  

Reporter:  Anna, Mountain Vista High School

Oh man!  The build up was intense. The countdown fluctuated and was so unreliable and annoyingly sluggish. School dragged by and my attitude grew more moody with each passing hour. Why could I not be on a plane headed toward adventure right now?  Why did I have to wait a day?

The week before our trip I remember nothing of the education I received or the discussions I had.  All I remember was the anxiety and bubbling excitement.  And then finally, the day came for me to do a sweep of my room and make sure all was in order for my journey. The clock ticked down the minutes ever so slowly and in a blur I was in the car headed to the airport. My mom chats pleasantly to me but I am not listening. My mind is far away on a beach in another country. Soon, this beach will be my reality.

Red eye. That is, as Forest Gump would say, “all I have to say about that.” Our flight left Denver International at 11:00 pm. We landed in Costa Rica at 5:00 am.  It’s incredibly hard to sleep on a plane when:

1) the flight attendants are as tired and crabby as you

2) the announcements loudly zap you out of sleep every half hour

3) the announcements are long

4) the announcements are even longer when they need to be translated into Spanish

We land.  Finally.  At this point, 17 groggy teenagers are ambling around the airport running solely off of pure exhaustion. We collect our bags, not caring if we have the correct ones and head out to meet the adventures that await.

The humidity immediately clings to our bodies as the doors slide open. We meet our guides, Adrian and Paola, they greet us with open arms and warm hearts.  (By the end of our trip, the guides feel like family).   Smiles, names and formalities are exchanged as we toss our bags up to Leo, our driver. He stacks the bags precariously on top of each other and nimbly ties them down. It’s been fifteen minutes and the heat is already sucking us dry, so we load up on a glorious, air conditioned bus, and off we go.

For the majority of the drive we sleep soundly, only stirring when Adrian or Paola have something to point out. We drive, and drive and, shocker, drive some more. We reach the Cloud Forest and “wow” does it fit its name. The clouds climb up the mountains and cling to the bowels of the valleys. The sun barely pierces the thick cover of trees and sky. We all stare, open mouthed at the scenery around us; birds flit around, mist clings to everything, cars screech by. So noisy yet so peaceful.

We load back up onto the van where, once again we nap on and off and enjoy the scenery. Soon we stop and unload a little way up the road from a concrete bridge. Adrian gestures for us to follow him, which we do, albeit somewhat reluctantly.  A few meters later, we arrive at the foot of the bridge we had stopped behind. The whole thing was shaky and narrow. Cars and semis blew past us, barely giving us two feet to walk the length of the bridge. We stopped at the center of the bridge and looked down. A dry, rocky riverbed lay far below, and off to the right two rivers converged, one brown, one a rich turquoise. We stared at the rivers backed by misty mountains and dense foliage, amazed by the sights.

We stop again to explore the workings of butterfly sanctuaries and elementary schools.  In both destinations, we williamwere greeted by kind people with open hearts. The butterflies flitted aimlessly, chasing each other briefly then settling on a branch. The director of the sanctuary, Will, led us around and we saw amazing animals, including, toucans, red eyed tree frogs, poison dart frogs, sloths, monkeys, and yes, Costa Rican cows.

Next stop, La Escuela Esperanza. To our astonishment, the school is made of some schoolbricks, a fence and 3-ish trees.  Where is the second and third floor?  The cafeteria? The security desk?  Oh, that’s right, we’re not in Kansas anymore. What an eye opener. To us, education is a five star necessity that many of us would gladly throw away, but to those kids, it was so much more. It was a day’s work to get there and back, toting their knapsacks. They were excited to be there, and scared to see us, “the foreigners.” For hours, we danced with the kids, and sat and watched their performances and played fútbol with them. It was a beautiful day.

A few hours later, we arrive at Estacion Las Tortugas and are given a short period of time to unpack, rest and adapt.  No limitless supply of water, no toilet paper down the toilet (we failed in that sense), no air conditioning, and worse… no WiFi.  At first these were tough adjustments for the privileged dwellers of Highlands Ranch, but after a while it became a blessing to be so detached. With the barriers of our phones, none of us would have payed attention to our travel mates, our surroundings or our opportunity.

The time passed, as it has a tendency to do and soon enough we were figuring out who was to go on the late shift vs. who was on the early shift for our nightly turtle patrols.  Lucky me. I found myself on the late shift starting at 10:30 pm. After two hours of sleep, I wake to my roomies alarm, groggy and disoriented. I want to shower and sleep. I think of nothing else while I pull dark clothes on. The clothing is required to be long and black. Black so the turtles aren’t startled by reflecting lights, long so that we don’t become a moving fiesta for mosquitoes.

The beach walk begins. Back and forth, along what felt like miles of beach, until finally, there in the sand, a massive lump. To the untrained eye, it easily would have passed as a log, however to our guides, they saw it for what it was, a massive leatherback sea turtle. She was in the process of digging her hole, so we popped a plastic grocery bag into the whole she had finished digging and within seconds, she is dropping eggs. Each egg is larger than a golf ball. I was astounded. How could something so big create something so small and delicate. This turtle (we named her Luna) measure 167 centimeters from the head of her shell to the tail. We stay and watch her bury her nest with painstaking care. It was a beautiful and humbling sight.

For three days we gave back to a world we had never seen, only heard about on distant news broadcasts. For three days, we were immersed in culture and history and life. We were no longer tourists, we were part of a working facility, a family.