Costa Rica and Earth University, LaFlor: Day 4

17 01 2010

Jan. 10, 2010

Hotsprings and Zip Lines and La Mascota, Oh My.

I first awoke this morning around three o’clock to the howling wind.   I was waiting for the roof or our lodge to fly off.  The wind was probably blowing at 40-50 mph or 64-80 kmph to Costa Ricans.  It was surreal yet so beautiful.  The sound of the wind was both frightening and soothing at the same time.  It’s hard to explain.  I was almost compelled to go out at that moment and experience it.

As daylight broke, the wind was still howling and we were told by the staff that the wind is normal and that it happens about two weeks out of the year.  Will and I were a little late getting out of bed and rushed to breakfast only to miss the rest of the group.  We wolfed down a buffet of cereal, scramble eggs, plantains, baguette, and some sort of rice/meat filled turnover as well as the delicious orange juice found in this region.  I don’t know what it is about this juice, it is so light yet extremely full of flavor.  I love thick, pulpy orange juice, but I think I prefer the juice we are having in Guanacaste.

After breakfast Will and I caught up with the rest of the group as and the boys and Colleen got ready to head for the waterslide.  This slide meanders through the mountainside forest and looks as if it was supposed to be there.  The water that runs through the waterslide is from a river that is partially diverted into the slide and then is drained back into the river as it reaches a pool at the bottom of the run.

I am an avid waterslide fan.  I’ve done all types and I can honestly say this was one of the fastest and most exhilarating one I’ve ever ridden.  It’s so hairy that you have to wear a helmet, sit in an inner-tube, and women must wear a “diaper” so that, as Alex put it, their “uterus doesn’t fill with water”.  LOL!!!  There was a section of the slide that steepens and increases in speed to about 25 mph and enters a series of s-turns.  A couple of times as my legs started flying in all directions during this sections I thought how much it would suck if my leg caught a tree.  Of course that just made the ride that much more spine-tingling.

After splashing down in the pool on the final of my three runs (I know weak, but you have to understand you literally have to hike up to the top) the guys told me to hurry up and get out to check something out.  I got out and before me was a wild pig.  Alex was told it was called La Mascota, and to avoid it’s behind and not to touch it as they can spray a powerful musk.  We took pictures of the pig and with the pig as it seemed unbothered by our presence.

After our waterslide runs we decided to walk and find the hot springs.  We got about 500 meters and couldn’t figure out which way to go so we went back and got on a tractor that took us there.  Good thing too, cause it would have taken us well over an hour to walk there and my legs were in no condition to hike that far after yesterday’s journey.

We arrived at the hot springs and were greeted to a full spa hidden within the rainforest and split by a good-sized river.  I tell you this country has some of the most beautiful rivers I have ever seen.  Every river we come across seems to be more spectacular than that last.  This must be a water-water rafter’s Mecca.  I will have to find that out next trip down here.

We first sat in a sauna for about 10 minutes then proceeded to the mud bath where we covered ourselves in warm mud and stood around making fun of each other as it dried.  At one point I resembled some sort of Mayan warrior from Costa Rica’s past.

After rinsing off the mud we headed for the hot springs and dipped ourselves in the 101º water of one of three springs.  That was the most relaxing hour of my life and I now understand why women rant and rave about it.  That soaking was much need to sooth my aching muscles from yesterday’s hike.

After about two hours at the springs we needed to leave so we could get some lunch and do what we’ve all been looking forward to, the zip lines through the rainforest canopy.

We stopped off at the main lodge and had a wonderful buffet of salad, rice, beans, chicken, and cheese filled enchiladas that were amazing.

After lunch, Alex, Matt squared, Will, and myself went wandering around and decided to go look for La Mascota.  We got back to the waterslide area and didn’t see him.  I wistled for him and Will called out “La Mascota” and as soon as he did, wouldn’t you know it, La Mascota popped out from behind a shed.  Alex informed us that we have been calling the pig by the wrong name all day.  He found out that La Mascota means “pet” in Spanish.  The pig is actually a collared peccary, a type of wild mountain pig.  It was considered a pet by the staff, as I found out earlier from Estevan who is an engineer at Buena Vista.  We hung out with LaMascota and as we began to leave he decided to follow us.

He must have known we were cool and didn’t want us to leave as he followed us all the way back to the main office, being careful to avoid the pond with the caimanAfter lunch we checked out of our rooms and headed for the zip lines.  We got suited up in the harnesses and helmets and headed up to the first line.  And yes, I was taking my camera.  We got our instructions and rules of the zip lines and we were off, flying through the canopy.  As we zipped from tree to tree we saw coatimundi and monkeys and the beautiful flora that made up the rainforest.  Oddly enough I never sensed that we were hundreds of feet above the ground as a result of the canopy being so think it seemed liked you could walk on it.

Halfway through the course we were greeted by Maria and Linda in one of the trees.  This was a surprise as both Maria and Linda were afraid of height and told us they were going to the hot springs instead.  They took pictures of us and followed us from some of the canopy bridges that also run from tree to tree.

At the 11th and final zip line it was time to go inverted.  All of us manned up and hung upside down as we screamed through the rainforest.  After Matt and Matt finished they had their harnesses taken off and to my amazement were being put on both Maria and Linda.  And wouldn’t you know it, they both went down their first zip line, both with giant grins on their face as they did.  I was so proud of them for concurring their fear of heights.

After the zip lines it was time to get our things and head back to LaFlor about an hour, scenic filled drive away.

This stop at Buena Vista Lodge has been a perfect example of eco-tourism.  The rides are almost unnoticeable and do nothing to disrupt the ecosystem.  The water that drives the waterslide is borrowed from a river and then returned to it at that bottom, unaltered.  The zip lines are barely noticeable throughout the rainforest and don’t require any energy to operate.   The hot springs are natural as stated before however they do require the use of a motorized pump to bring the lava-warmed water to the surface.  It would be ideal if Buena Vista developed a more environmentally friendly type pumped or vacuum system that could accomplish the same task.  Besides that, Buena Vista is a wonderful way of touring this beautiful part of the country.  To be out in the ecosystem and observing the biodiversity first hand gives tourist more appreciation for the land and encourages them to leave it the way they found it.

We arrived back in Liberia and stopped off at a central plaza downtown as we waited for Luis to get into town.  We observed a church service and Alex skateboarded with a local kid.  It was really special to see Alex and the rest of interact with the local people the way we did.

After spending an hour at the plaza we continued to LaFlor and stopped at a beautiful, open restaurant on the side of the road just up the road from campus.  As we arrived we from the east we witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.  I even climbed on the top of the bus to capture it.  Luis was there to great us and brought along his wife, Andreia for us to meet.  This was a simple, family run Costa Rican restaurant with traditional Costa Rican food.  However, there was an added flare to meals served here.  Presentation was apparently as important as the taste.

After dinner it was back to LaFlor after a fun-filled day and some time hanging out with the guys drinking some Imperials and Pilsens and reflecting on our experiences over the past two days.

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Costa Rica and Earth University, LaFlor: Day 3/Part 2

17 01 2010

Jan. 09, 2010

Buena Vista Lodge

We are leaving beautiful Guanacaste National Park and on our way to Buena Vista Lodge in Rincon de La Vieja National Park.  We are traveling down a dirt road for about 25 minutes when we reach a fork in the road.  Bennicio stops between the fork and is not completely sure which way to go.  Naturally he takes the road not taken.  Robert Frost would be proud.

Unfortunately, the road not taken is not taken for a reason cause it was a dead end at some fenced encampment at the top of a peak.  Fortunately the employees there were nice enough to open the gate so we could turn around.

Thirty minutes later, after an steep climb up another peak and an amazing view were reached our destination.  We pull in to the ranch like entrance and meander up to the lodge.  We pull up to the office and are greeted with glasses of mango juice.  After checking in we head down to our rooms which are cabin like buildings make completely of high grade wood that resembles teak, a common wood found in rainforests.  After a quick shower and downloading of my photos to my hard drive, I am off to the Sunset Bar for some cocktails with my classmates.

Proffesor Motley mentioned to me as we were unpacking that he had a feeling that there was much more to this place that we could see.  He couldn’t have been more right.  I am heading up to the bar with camera in hand (of course) and am not enjoying the uphill trek to the bar which is off a ways behind the lodge.  Upon reaching the bar, I realized that it was worth the hike and pain in my feet.

I am presented with one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen in my life.  Sunset Bar sits atop a peak looking over a valley and other mountain peaks as the sun was setting.  My breath is completely taken away and my body covered with goosebumps.

View from the Sunset Bar at Buena Vista (Beautiful View) Lodge

Sitting here enjoying this amazing scene before me as I sip on a Tequilla Sunrise talking to Will and Emily about how incredible this trip has been already and how lucky we are to be in this beautiful country.

The sun is now setting behind the mountains in the distance and I’m on to round two, or is it three?  I can’t remember this sunset is so distracting.  Alex has introduced some of us to a drink the bartenders recommend to him that has been dubbed Hombre Fuerte.  This drink is like jet fuel and seems to change colors as you go through it.  The five of us who got one each have one at a different level and different color. Will, Matt squared, and Alex have decided to chug the last ¼ of their drinks and it didn’t go well.  You try and chug 3 oz. of jet fuel.  Not a good idea even though the guys tried to do it another three times out excitement of the day.

I invited Bennicio over from the bar to join us at the table to finish watching the sunset and enjoy each other’s company and conversation.  After an hour of conversing and laughing it’s time for dinner so we are off.

Dinner consists of a buffet of everything under the sun, rice, black beans, chicken, fish, yucca, Spanish meatballs, baby corn and leche for desert, not to mention the extraordinary Costa Rican coffee.

After more mind-blowing food and pleasant conversation around the dinner table we are heading back to Sunset Bar for some drinks, music, and dancing.  I have to say that the highlight of dancing for me has to be dancing with Silvia who was teaching me some Latin moves that I didn’t already know.  We are having such a great time dancing with each other and socializing with the bartenders who by the way are so friendly and fun.  It’s easy to tell they are genuine and not just mocking us, sometimes-pretentious American tourists.  They are helping to teach us Spanish, making jokes, making us laugh, making great drinks, and plain making this experience at Buena Vista that much better.

I can’t even express in words how nice the people of this country are.  They are so caring and inviting.  The want you to enjoy their country as much as possible and seem to understand how magical this place it to foreigners.  You can see they truly live the pura vida.

Well we are pretty consumed and off to bed to enjoy the activities Beuna Vista Lodge has to offer.  Hasta luego!






Costa Rica and Earth University, LaFlor: Day 3/Part 1

12 01 2010

Jan. 09, 2010

Guanacasted National Park/Buena Vista Resort

Pura Vida from Costa Rica!  It’s 5:30 A.M. and I’m waiting to hear from the howlers but we must have beat them to awaking.  I think we are their alarm clock today as they start howling during breakfast.

For breakfast we are enjoying eggs, rice, beans, fresh cheese, papaya, pineapple, watermelon and probably the best orange juice and coffee I’ve ever tasted in my life.

After breakfast we are off to Guanacaste National Park to do some hiking and sightseeing with our guide for the day, Luis.  Also joining us is Ali, who arrived last night, who is a geologist from east Africa helping LaFlor look for locations on the property to create natural reservoirs to store water from the local watershed to use for the irrigation of LaFlor’s crops.

We are on the bus and beginning our 45 minute journey to the mountains.  Fifteen minutes into the drive Luis has us pull over on this dirt road to explain how the vegetation is changing a we begin our ascent towards the range.

This change in vegetation what is referred to as succession is a result of the of the change in temperature and water availability as you move higher up the mountain.  The rainforest in the part of Costa Rica we are in is slightly different than what most people would consider a rain forest.  Costa Rica is divided centrally by a mountain range that runs from the north to south through the majority of the country.  As the weather moves from the east, the heavy, water-filled clouds need to release their moisture in the form of  rain in order to ascend and cross over the mountains.  As a result there is less precipitation on the west side of the range, resulting in what is called a “dry” rainforest.

About twenty minutes from our destination and Luis has the bus pull over again and we get out next to the Colorado River which passes through LaFlor.  This is the source of LaFlor’s water used in irrigation and this particular location is where a lot of there water sample are collected to test for quality.  He follow Luis down a path and withing seconds we are standing atop a 40 foot gorge carved out by the river and complete with ancient petroglyphs.

After our quick stop at the river we have reached our destination at Guanacaste National Park and I am pumped and ready to attack this climb, full army pack and all.  We begin the ascent, then descent, then ascent again working our way through the trail and are amazed at the various flora found in the pre-mountainous level of the the volcano.

I have to admit, it’s very hard to watch where you are going and your footing while constantly being tempted to look around and the splendor of the forest.  Ahead I heard the scream of Emily and as I approach I see everyone tending to Linda who slipped on a rock while crossing the river and busting her lip and scraping her knee.  I have to tell you Linda is tiny in stature but HUGE in heart and adventure.  Not a single complaint or expression comes out of her mouth or from her face.  That is one tough girl.

After a few minutes of making sure she is okay, we continue on and quickly reach the next level of succession which included flora that would be more familiar in a temperate region of the world such as North America.

Our LaFlor host Luis guiding us through the trail

After a few minutes we reached the next level of succession resembling grasslands.  This point in two and a half hours into our hike and we take a break to enjoy the amazing view and take out my first aid kit to clean up Linda’s scratches  (and people mocked me for hiking with all my gear).  I have to be honest, the view from up hear was so stunning that I got a little emotional as goosebumps covered my body.

After our quick break we and on the move and heading down a descent to our final destination, a stunning 120 foot waterfall.  I’m the last one arriving at the waterfall as I am constantly talking pictures, and am almost knocked over as I came around the corner of the trail and see one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life.  It took me less than a minute to get changed into my swim suit and get into the cold yet invigorating water below the fall.  I’m even daring enough to swim my camera out the fall to get some pictures from directly below.

After an hour or so of swimming and lunch we are off the head back to the bus.  I’m not sure how this is possible but we are doing more climbing up as we head back down the mountain.  I am exhausted as we reach the end of the trip back and my legs feel like Jello.  About 45 minutes from the base camp I come across a tree I noticed when we first entered the forest that rose about 60 or 70 feet in the air and bent almost horizontally towards the top.  On the way in I thought to myself that would be a awesome tree to climb as it was covered in thick vines.  As I return to it, I remind myself that I may never have this opportunity again, so I begin to climb up with camera in tow.  This is so cool…I’m climbing a tree in a Costa Rican rainforest, Bear Grylls style.  Without any fear what so ever, only exhilaration, I reach the top and am greeted by a colony of army ants that aren’t as excited about my accomplishment as I am.  With little regard for the red buggers with giant mandibles that are ripping into my flesh I proceed to take pictures of the top of the canopy and Phillip and Emily below.

I am so amped that I climbed that tree.  I am sure living this trip to the fullest as I had hoped I would.  Pura Vida!  Well, I’ve caught up to the rest of the group and I’m ready to get off my feet and get some water.  This has been one of the best days of my life and can’t imagine what is to come in the following week.  Stay tuned for more, I have a feeling there is a lot of it. 





Costa Rica and Earth University-Day 2

9 01 2010

01/08/2010

Liberia, Costa Rica

I awoke on day two of our trip to Costa Rica, at 6:30 A.M. to the sound of the nearby trolley blaring it’s horn as it delivered people to their jobs or adventures for the day.  At first I was annoyed, but began to chuckle as I realized it was probably the city’s alarm clock.

I climbed out of be and showered as my classmates slept in and roamed around the Costa Rica Backpackers hostel taking pictures of the beautiful flora located on the site.

Once the rest of my classmates woke up (minus Professor Motley who managed to sleep in despite the train) and showered, we headed off to find some breakfast and an ATM to get some colones (some more than they wanted due to the conversion rate…lol).  We walked a couple of blocks downtown and found a local grocer where I purchased mochachino and a large croissant, which was absolutely delicious.  I swear pastries are so much better in countries other than the United States.   We need to work on that…honestly.

After breakfast our bus and it’s driver Benicio arrived to pick us up to continue our journey in Costa Rica.  Today we were off to Liberia to spend the week with Earth University at their LaFlor campus.  It’s a five hour drive across the country traversing multiple fog covered mountain peaks and views of the ocean and volcanoes.

Three hours into the drive we made a pit stop to use the facilities, play with a couple of Boxer puppies, and take a group photo.

Shortly after our pit stop, Benicio suddenly stopped the bus on the side of the road.  Little did we know, our bus driver had a keen eye, and spotted Howler monkeys in a tree right next to the road.

Howler monkeys in a roadside tree

Shortly there after we stopped by a little place on the side of the road to stretch our legs and take a look at some Scarlet Macaws that were known to hang out at this little restaurant.  I’m not sure they were too please with the group of people gawking at them as they would not stop squawking at us.  Although, knowing Macaws as I do, they might have just been putting on a show as they spied down on us from above.

An hour after being laughed at by the Macaws we arrived at our destination, Earth University’s LaFlor campus.  The facility is a beautiful plot of land that was donated to Earth by Costa Rica’s former president prior to his death.  This place is absolutely incredible.  I’ve been getting chills all day as I continue to discover it’s endless beauty and wildlife.

We were greeted by Luis and Carlos and treated to an amazing lunch consisting of salad, rice, beans, and chicken cordon bleu made from ingredients grown right here at LaFlor.  That might have been the best salad I’ve ever had considering the vegetables from picked right from the garden.

After lunch Carlos explained a little bit about Earth University and what they do before he had to leave for Nicaragua for a few days.  Upon his departure, Lius stepped in and continued by explaining what they do here at LaFlor.  Earth University is a school that offers scholarships to students from Central and South America, about 100 per year, and teaches them sustainable agriculture and conservation in hopes that they take what they learn and become stewards in their own countries by educating their neighbors how to keep their beautiful ecosystems intact and thriving.

LaFlor, however has a different mission.  They host organizations and schools and educate them about biodiversity and ecosystems and how to sustainably live on their own land and save it for generations to come.  Their mission is to not only make people understand how they are connected and reliant on Earth and it’s ecology, but also how to live what Costa Rican’s call “pura vida“.  After only a few hours here, I can assure you it is something we all will want and should do.  The world would be a much better place because of it.

Well, I’m off to bed.  Stay tuned to the next installment coming soon.  Buenas noches!





Costa Rica and Earth University, LaFlor: Day 1

9 01 2010

Jan. 7, 2010

I am in San Jose, Costa Rica!!!  As part of Elon University’s Interactive Media program, myself and 10 of my classmates are spending 10 days of our winter-term class in Costa Rica working on a project for Earth University.  Earth University teaches students as well as farmers about sustainable agriculture and ecological conservation.

My classmates and I departed from Elon University at 4 a.m. this morning and headed to Raleigh-Durham International Airport to begin our journey south.  Within a couple of hours we were descending into the cloud covered mountains of San Jose during our approach.

Tilt your head to the left

We arrived at 2:30 p.m. in San Jose and were greeted with warmth not only from the sun but also from the Latin population.  As my first extended trip to a foreign country, I was amazed and delighted, upon our arrival at San Jose International Airport to see the place buzzing with activity.  Hundreds of Costa Ricans outside the airport awaiting the arrival of their loved ones, cheering and singing.  It was a sight I have never seen at any airport in the United States.  I couldn’t help but smile.

We were shown to the coolest mini bus I have ever seen.  A white and baby blue two-tone Toyota Cruiser with a retro look and hinted back to the time of the micro-bus.  We were taken to downtown San Jose and dropped off at the Costa Rica Backpackers youth hostel on 6th St.  This is my first time experiencing a hostel and I have to say it is an incredible place.  The staff and other guest are as interesting and friendly as you could possible imagine.  The vibes I am getting from this place is exhilarating.

Upon checking in to the hostel we departed for a wonderful dinner at Nuesta Tierra two blocks down the road where I was treated to authentic Costa Rican cuisine.  I had beef strips with bacon, onion, sweet peppers, and fried plantains on tortillas.  This was my first time tasting plantains, but now I assure you it won’t be my last.  They are fantastic.

After dinner we returned to the hostel to enjoy happy hour at the hostel with my classmates and other guests.  The people here are so open and friendly.  I feel as safe as I would on Elon’s campus.

I write this as all my other classmates have headed to bed after a long day of travel and lack of sleep and can’t wait for the nine days ahead.

Tomorrow morning we head to Liberia, Costa Rica where Earth University’s LaFlor Campus is located.  There we are going to videotape and photograph the campus as well as interview it’s students and professors about what it is they do at the LaFlor campus.  We will gather information about their efforts in sustainable agriculture and ecological conservation education so we can develop a new LaFlor website to promote their cause.

Considering this first day has already brought great job I can only imagine what we will experience in the coming days.  This is already turning out to be the greatest adventure of my life, and for a cause that is near and dear to my heart.

Be sure to keep up with my upcoming blog updates from Costa Rica.  Talk to you soon.