Written by Carolyn C. of Head Royce School
Day Six: Friday June 20th
We woke up a bit earlier today, and packed our bags to move on to our next destination: homestays! Before we met our host families, though, we had a long day ahead of us, packed with adventures. Once we ate breakfast, we said goodbye to the town of La Fortuna and drove to the Venado caves, where we were to go spelunking. On our way to the caves, we admired the scenery and even spotted some wildlife: cows, goats, and even a sloth climbing lazily in a tree!
Soon, we arrived at the caves. We all donned black rubber boots and headlamps affixed to yellow hard hats to prepare for our wet, dark trek in the caves. Once we were all ready and took a picture in our ridiculous-looking gear, we hiked down a slope covered in gravel to the caves, with lush green landscape on either side of the path. After crossing through a river, where water filled our boots, we arrived at the mouth of the caves. Our guide explained the discovery of the caves and gave us a brief history, and then we were off. We stepped into darkness, the rushing river rising higher until it surpassed the top of our boots. We flicked on our headlamps as we left the green and stepped into the black, where we waded cautiously over the slick, unseen rocks beneath the river. Just a few steps in, all trace of light was engulfed by the looming darkness and the great teeth of the cave, stalagmites (which rise up from the cave floor) and stalactites (which drip down from the ceiling), already loomed ahead. Small bats fluttered above us as we walked further into the enormous space. After we carefully picked our way through the caves as the rushing river pushed against us, we arrived at a bank, where we were going to crawl through a small gap in the rocks on the side.
Soon it was my turn, and I wriggled my way through an impossibly small hole, squeezing to fit my body through. There was a small standing space after it, and then a rock wall that drew up high. I grappled for a foothold as one guide helped me figure out where to put my feet and helped pull me up. I stepped down into another space, where water dripped down from the ceiling, and waited in a shallow pool of water until my turn to shimmy through another crack in the rock.
Once we squeezed through, we ducked under a few more rocks and emerged back into the place we had started, the small bank. Some sort of insect with long feelers was perched on a rock nearby. We set off as a group again farther up the river, where we stepped among rocks until we arrived at a large waterfall. The waterfall poured out water over the opening of another section of the cave. The water then ran down to a gathering of large rocks underneath it. We clambered up these huge rocks, then tried to duck under the water without getting too soaked. After we walked further and ducked under some more rocks, we arrived at our destination, a rock formation that had been smoothed by the water running through it to form almost a series of steps, which we climbed up and sat on. We decided to all turn off our lights to see what complete darkness felt like. Once they were all off, the blackness was utterly complete: no speck of sunlight penetrated into this chamber. It was so dark it was hard to tell whether you were shutting your eyes or not, or if there was much of a difference. Sitting in the dark silence with everybody, only broken by the faint sound of trickling water, felt so far away from our noisy and light-filled lives. It felt very lonesome, yet we were all feeling alone together, all of us in the dark of the cave.
At last we broke the silence and turned on our lights. Relief washed through me once I was able to see again. We came back through the rocks and waterfall, and got back to the main rushing water. A few paces away, a metal ladder stretched up the wall of the cave to another gap in the rocks, and one by one, we climbed up and crawled through the hole. Stalactites and stalagmites hung and stood in the chamber, which was wide but not too tall. Our guide pointed out a papaya-like rock formed by running water, and we inched our way up to it. I ran my fingers over its surface, carved by years of water coursing over it, and ducked through the hole next to it.
This is where I began to lose a sense of direction in relation to to main river. We ducked under rocks, squeezed through gaps in the rock, observed more insects and bats, and lost hope of any clothing item or body part remaining dry as we submerged our upper bodies in the water to make our way through more holes until, at last, we went as close to the source of the rushing river as we could: the water coursed down through a dark opening in the rocks, spouting from mini waterfalls, which began far overhead in the darkness where our headlamps couldn’t illuminate its origins. We made our way back going through a different path, and climbed over rocks and stumbled through the river as it widened and the ceiling of the caves grew taller… until we saw a flash of green.
Sunlight at last!
We had come back out the way we had come in. We hiked back up the slope, pouring water out of our boots, and admiring a trail of leaf cutter ants which traced their way along the edge of a drained pool. Back at the headquarters, we were just in time to see the conclusion of the Costa Rica vs. Italy match, which Costa Rica won. We cheered and watched goal reruns as we took turns rinsing the cave water off of ourselves and changing into dry clothes. Once we were all dry, we climbed back into the van and began driving to the Asis animal rescue center. We passed the time munching on cookies Humberto passed out to us and caught up on sleep.
After a drive through more green landscapes, we pulled into the entrance of the rescue center and stretched our legs on the gravel driveway before we followed our guide in. We passed a peccary, parakeets, swinging spider monkeys, and even a wondrous blue macaw before we entered a sitting area, where lunch awaited us. We hungrily ate up the scrumptious rice, beans, salad, fruit, and empanadas to the chirping of birds and the buzzing of hummingbird wings, which zipped through the sitting area to sip from feeders that hung on the roof edge.
Once we had eaten our fill, we split into groups and started our tour with the peccary we saw on the way in. Our guide explained that Perla was a white-lipped peccary, which are animals known as wild boars to us. We all had a chance to pet Perla, note her pale snout (hence the name ‘white-lipped’) and smell her musk, which is a pungent substance that peccaries spray to mark their territory. We washed our hands and continued to the next enclosure, where two other white-lipped peccaries, Pancho and Lupe, stalked around their enclosure, snorting. Our guide explained that Pancho was more hostile, and couldn’t be placed with Perla, who would be an outsider. Although Pancho felt comfortable with Lupe, they still fought from time to time.
Outside the enclosure was a towering Ceiba tree, which was held to be sacred, and was insanely tall, and covered in thorns. There was another peccary next to Pancho and Lupe’s enclosure, which was a white-collared peccary, named for the white fur that encircled its neck. Our guide told us that the white-collared peccary was less hostile, and they had rescued a younger white-collared peccary, Miss Piggy, which would move in with this white-collared peccary when she had grown more.
Our next stop was the artificial tree where the blue macaw cawed and walked along the ‘branches’. The blue macaw had been rescued. It had been used as an attraction in Costa Rica after it had been smuggled in from its native Brazil, the only place where blue macaws live in the wild. The blue macaw couldn’t fly after its damages in capture, so it could only make its way by grappling the branches with its claws.
We said goodbye to the brightly plumaged macaw and returned to the gravel path, where a large green metal cage held two spider monkeys, Jessica and Hercules, who used their long black limbs to swing gracefully all around their cave: they climbed up, swung across, and shimmied down to our guide, to reach through the bars and gave him a hug. Our guide warned us to stay an arm’s length away from the cage to make sure that the monkeys wouldn’t reach out to swat at our hair or loose clothing, and then he let us approach a monkey and hold its hand! The spider monkey’s hand was dark and smooth, with four fingers, small and wrinkled like a baby. We all had a turn to hold Jessica’s hand. Even when she climbed away from us and swung back and forth on the bars, she returned to hold our teacher’s hand! We also had a chance to peer inside the neighboring enclosure and fawn over the cute little Miss Piggy.
Next, we visited a smaller cage, which our guide unlocked and reached into to grab a boa constrictor, which luckily, was still young and had a smaller appetite. As he told us about the boa, it writhed around his arms slowly, flicking out its small tongue. We all got a turn to hold the it. It was smooth and slid like water over our arms and fingers. After we nervously passed it off to each other to hold, our guide put it back in its cage and we walked to the next large cage, which held two white-faced monkeys. Sharing a wall with the white monkeys was the raccoon cage, where its inhabitant paced back and forth across the entrance of the cage tirelessly.
As our guide told us about the white-faced monkeys’ social structure, it began to rain, and it rained harder as he showed us some of the baby animals in small cages across from the monkeys. We took shelter beneath the roof of the sitting area, and as the rain grew heavier, we stopped our tour and resolved to continue it tomorrow, when we would begin our work in the wildlife preserve. For now, they explained, we would go to our homestays.
We got back into the van soaking wet and drove off to the homestays. Two to three students would be staying in each home. As we dropped each pair of students at their homes, it began to rain harder and harder as the families stood on their porches to greet us. Soon, it was our turn to get off the van and greet our family. We rushed quickly to the house, trying not to get too wet, especially as most of our clothes were already dripping. Our host family, a grandmother and a grandfather, greeted us and showed us to our room. They turned the television on to the news, which was all reports of celebrations nationwide of the victory against Italy. They showed us around to their outdoor patio, which held their dining table, a clutch of onions, and other cooking supplies. Beyond their house was a green field. They pointed out the houses on both sides, and told us that their daughter and two sons lived in houses on either side of their house. We also met their dog, Tito, a small, wet, and energetic dog that leapt into the air once we came over to greet him.
It was still raining, lighter now, but a small river had formed in the indentation of the earth through the row of trees behind the house. We changed out of our wet clothes and helped prepare dinner by peeling small chicken eggs and cutting up vegetables. Soon, it was time to eat, and the rice, beans, salad, eggs, and mango juice they served to us was delicious. We made small talk over dinner, but since I didn’t know Spanish, I just listened to their quick words, trying to puzzle out what they were saying. We cleared our plates, and after watching some more news with them, we went to sleep, exhausted from our adventure-filled day.