Head Royce Dos Costas 2014

Head Royce Dos Costas 2014 Blog #11

Written by Carolyn C. of Head Royce School

Day 11: Wednesday June 24

After a restful night of sleep, we woke up from our soft beds and packed up our bags to leave back for home. We wheeled our luggage through the hallways and to the van, where Sammy and Humberto loaded our bags onto the top for the last time. Once we ate our breakfast of delicious fresh tropical fruit and eggs, it was time to leave Costa Rica. Soon, we were at the airport, sadly saying our goodbyes to Sammy and Humberto, and to Costa Rica itself. The days we had spent there had been full of memorable moments, which we would come to cherish as our time away from Costa Rica grew longer and the beaches and forests and towns seemed worlds away from our daily lives in California. Each day spent there was utterly unforgettable, and spending it with all of our classmates made it an even more enjoyable experience.

As we boarded the plane and finally flew above Costa Rica for the last time, viewing the green countryside, blue mountains, and red corrugated metal-roofed buildings below, even if we were departing from Costa Rica and its landscape that grew smaller and smaller beneath us, my memories of the places we had been throughout the wonderful country would still remain vivid even back in the United States. Even weeks, or months afterward, the amazing activities, culture, and people that are all a part of Costa Rica will not fade quickly from our minds.

Head Royce Dos Costas 2014

Head Royce Dos Costas 2014 Blog #10

Written by Carolyn C. of Head Royce School

Day 10: Tuesday June 24

We woke up that morning slightly earlier than usual (luckily the time had been pushed back a few hours after our pleading the previous night upon hearing the time) to have our luggage ready by around 6. We packed up our things, said good-bye to the rooms we had shared for three nights, and wheeled our bags to the van, where Humberto and Sammy were lashing them to the roof. While they laded our luggage, we gaped at a humongous winged insect perched on the side of the van! It was nearly as big as a fully outstretched hand, which was both awesome and slightly terrifying. Once we ate our last breakfast at the hotel, we set out for our last grand adventure in Costa Rica: surf lessons! Humberto and Sammy played another joke on us: once we had driven a far ways away from the motel, Sammy claimed he had left his phone behind. As we prepared to reluctantly turn around and fetch it, they revealed their deceit. Our trip with them was always sure to contain unexpected surprises!

Once we arrived at the beach, we donned swim shirts and gathered in a circle to listen to their instructions and demonstrations of the surfing positions. The surfing guides showed us the four positions and where on the board we should be on for a successful ride: where and how to lie down and paddle, then push yourself up, then get into a crouching position, and finally stand up. We practiced these four poses on fake boards the surfing guides had artfully drawn for us on the stretch of beach. Once we had practiced enough, we split into two groups and grabbed a board. Then we jumped into the waves. The day was relatively clear (we were used to cloudy days, a precursor of the daily showers of rain) and the dark blue waves were lapping at the edge of the hazy light blue sky. The water was warm, and we floated our boards over the waves while trying to avoid being hit by the breakers themselves. Once we cleared the smaller waves, we met with guides, who helped pull our boards out further as we lay on them, toes curled under our feet ready to jump into action, rocking in anticipation for just the right wave. Soon, our guides instructed us to paddle, and helped swivel our boards around. They held our boards for a few moments, letting the murmurs of water pass under until the precise moment. Then they thrust the board forward. As the wave swelled in preparation to turn into a mass of foam beneath me, I tried to stay balanced as I pushed myself up, crouched into position, and stood shakily onto my feet. It was working for a brief while: I was up, and moving forward as the water pulsed beneath me! Just as quickly as I had found my footing on the board, the ride was over and I fell and skidded into the now shallow water, as the board floated on, stopping when the rope mooring it to my ankle grew taut. Grabbing it up, I headed out against the waves for another attempt, hoping for success.

After a few rides, we swapped our boards with the other group and rehydrated while we watched their first efforts at surfing. We spent a short while watching them stand on their boards and ride toward us, or slipping off the surfboards and splashing into the waves. We cheered them on regardless. The next round of surfing flew by, and although I failed pretty miserably at some parts, the successful runs made it worth it. We spent another hour or so just playing in the waves, enjoying our last few moments in Costa Rican waters splashing around or bodysurfing.

Once we all showered and changed into dry clothes, we began driving back towards our hotel in San Jose. After a few hours on the road making up for lost sleep and admiring the beautiful setting, we arrived at our lunch spot. The first thing you noticed was the view on both sides. The restaurant was perched on a small hillside: on one side were soft, foliage-covered green hills leading up to magnificent blue mountains, cloaked with shreds of white cloud; and on the other side down green slopes was the sea, a soft blue expanse against a ridge of coastline.

With one eye on the Costa Rica match showing that day, we ate our lunch: bruschetta, sweet fruit juice, and whatever choice of main dish you ordered: for me, it was the classic rice, beans, cooked vegetables, and shredded salad I had come to love. While we finished our meal, we marveled at the majestic views, and spotted some more wildlife: a large lizard perched between the restaurant’s red corrugated metal overhangs!

Once we had finished our last lunch in Costa Rica (it was unbelievable how long, yet how short the trip had lasted), we drank in our last glimpses of the gorgeous view and continued our drive on towards San Jose. We ate cookies, napped, and stopped for restrooms, smoothies, and to purchase our last souvenirs. In the late afternoon, it began to rain and water streamed down the sides of the van, turning the countryside into blurs of green. The voyage back gradually became more urban: the road turned from gravel and dirt to asphalt, buildings and even skyscrapers came up, and barely any green or wildlife was to be seen. The only reminder that this whole trip hadn’t been some dream were the blue mountains in the distance, reminding us of all the stunning landscapes and variety of wildlife we had seen.

We arrived at our hotel, glad for the luxuries like hot water, carpeted floors, the absence of insects, and quiet hours, but missing the nature that surrounded us at every turn, the animals and insects that could be spotted unexpectedly in a tree or fluttering through the air, missing the warmth of the people that had surrounded us and shared their food and culture with us, missing all of our experiences, which we would never have again, not in quite the same way.

Even with soft towels and bedspreads and air conditioning, I still missed the turtle outpost, where we slept on thin mattresses among insects and in the humid, hot air, and walked up and down the beach all night looking for a miracle. I missed staying in the hotel, where glimpses of Volcano Arenal were right outside the window. I missed the homestays, where we had the chance to see the lifestyle of locals and be welcomed into their homes. I even missed the motel, where forests of Palm trees stretched out right beneath the common area. Most of all, I missed the memories associated with all of those places: the adventure of protecting and searching for turtles by moon and starlight, surreal boat rides, countless rounds of word games, sitting in hammocks, eating cookies, being surprised, splashing in hot springs, eating bitter and sweet plants, getting soaked in the multiple rainstorms, finding shelter in genuinely kind people, drinking varieties of tropical fruit juice, clambering in bat caves where light was hard to come by, swimming in the warm, salty Pacific Ocean, feeding animals and holding their hands, eating rice and beans, flying through the rain forest, watching soccer, bodysurfing and actual surfing, jokes, homemade food, thunderstorms, double rainbows, baby turtles, and so much more. Those ten days were filled with so many new, terrifying, amazing, beautiful experiences, numerous and unforgettable, and more awesome and serendipitous than words can ever hope to convey. I was so fortunate to have had them. And even more fortunate to have shared them with all the friendly and fun-loving classmates and leaders that had constantly supported each other throughout the trip, whether it was sharing sunscreen, insect spray, food, jokes, advice, or company (or even the remedy for a jellyfish sting).

So in those last few hours in Costa Rica, we explored the rain-soaked facilities, splashed in pools for the last time, and ate our last rice and beans. Before we went off to enjoy the comfortable hotel amenities we no longer took for granted, as we did before the trip, we all met together and sat in a circle in the synthetic grass of a mini-soccer field, and reflected. We passed around our most treasured moments in Costa Rica, the ones we didn’t want to ever forget, and passed around green string with it. Soon, everyone had spoken of their experiences, the breathtaking (the wildlife, the beauty of the world, the baby turtles) and the amusing (Humberto and Sammy’s practical jokes, the rounds of word games) and the heartfelt (bonding with each other, getting to know the host families, the hospitality of everyone we had met). Soon, a web of green string had been woven between us, which we cut into pieces and wore around our wrists and ankles, to carry our memories with us always.

At last, we played our last rounds of word games together before our time in such a varied and beautiful place, with such varied and beautiful people, would come to an end. We fell asleep in the most comfortable beds, where paintings in the hallway detailed houses with red corrugated metal roofs, and our memories of the past several days already began to feel like dreams.

Head Royce Dos Costas 2014

Head Royce Dos Costas 2014 Blog #9

Written by Carolyn C. of Head Royce School

Day Nine: Monday June 23rd

We woke up that morning weary from yesterday’s adventures but eager to embark on today’s. Once we had eaten our breakfast of eggs, beans, rice, and tortillas, we all packed into the van to drive to the headquarters of a ziplining company, where we would spend the day with their guides whizzing through the rainforest! Once we arrived at the headquarters, we transitioned to another van, which drove us to their “base camp”. After a short walk across a bridge and a gravel path, we arrived at a patio area, where we were outfitted with ziplining gear and would eat lunch later. We learned about how to conduct ourselves during the tour, and then we split into two groups and headed off in their truck towards the start of the canopy tour. We bumped through green rainforest, light rain sprinkling down from above the treetops. While we drove, we even saw a pair of monkeys that jumped across the trees right above our heads! The ride was quite an event, but no comparison to the ziplining itself. We sped through and above deep rainforests covered in all shades of green and different plants. We flew over long drops and watched the plants and flowers turn into colorful blurs beneath us, while the blue, cloud-shrouded mountains in the distance provided a majestic backdrop. It was exhilarating and beautiful all at once, and being able to see the grand landscape from a distance yet be enmeshed in it at the same time was an unforgettable experience. From the mountains to the treetops to the magnificent bright blue butterflies that fluttered among us, the whole tour showed us how facinating and wonderful nature is.

We finally rappelled down to the ground after soaring across multiple ziplines and walked towards the patio for lunch. They served us sweet tea which tasted like candy, and of course, yummy rice, beans, vegetables, and fish. Every bite was delicious, and with full stomachs, we headed off to our next activity: performing another beach survey. We drove to the beach while the sky grew greyer. As we walked along the beach filled with detritus, we took note of what we found (lots of crab holes and litter) and walked barefoot in the soft, wet sand, tracing pictures with sticks and enjoying our day of nature immersion: first the forest, now the ocean.

Once we finished our survey, we drove back to our motel and relaxed or helped organize our data from the two beach surveys into spreadsheets. We also observed a humongous beetle perched on the side of a support beam, which Humberto nonchalantly picked up with his bare hands! After the brief rest, we changed clothes and drove off to dinner. On our way there, Humberto and our driver Sammy pulled up to a shabby Chinese restaurant which we had observed on our way to the ziplining headquarters. They tricked us into thinking that we were going to eat there, and we laughed at their craftiness as we pulled away from the curb and to our true destination. There was a smallish “port” with a huge white resort on the edge of it, rimmed in fairy lights which glowed against the approaching dark of the blue night. We climbed up white steps to the restaurant, which was by far the nicest one we had gone to this trip.

We picked our seats on the deck overlooking the water, and while we waited for our meals to be prepared, we munched on crispy tortilla chips with fresh guacamole and salsa. We chatted and joked and reflected on our day and on our trip while we worked our way through our huge, American-style meals: hamburgers, tuna melts, chef salads, and the like, which actually tasted better than most of the similar fare served in restaurants back home! Once we finished our meals and the brownies and ice cream dessert, we left the restaurant utterly stuffed. Before we left, though, we played games of foosball on their two foosball tables, which were quite action-packed, despite being on such a small scale. There, Sammy demonstrated his foosball prowess by repeatedly besting us, and on the other table, for lack of a ball, we substituted a chapstick, which actually turned out to work well!

As we drove back, more pranks were played. As a police car with its lights flashing drove behind us, we worried about it pulling us over or that it was heading towards some terrible accident. This sensation was heightened we were heard its piercing siren wailing as it drove past us. We were freaking out until the joke was revealed: Humberto and Sammy had played a siren noise on their cell phone and held it up to the van’s microphone. We had been duped again! We applauded their aptitude for impish antics as we drove back to the motel, crammed full of good memories and good food. After another round of word games, I fell asleep, spent from all the fun and awe I had experienced that day, which had already felt like a long, vivid dream.

Head Royce Dos Costas 2014

Head Royce Dos Costas 2014 Blog #8

Written by Carolyn C. of Head Royce School

Day Eight: Sunday June 22nd

We awoke refreshed from a full night of sleep, and packed our daypacks for the day’s activities: beachgoing (twice!). First, we scarfed down our breakfast of eggs and tortillas and set off to a scuba gear rental shop, where we picked up flippers and snorkels. Next, we drove to the first beach, at the end of a short path through a forest. Soon, the bark and twigs beneath our feet mingled with sand, and we stepped onto the grey-ish sand and admired the blue water, which wasn’t choked with swimming tourists. The beach was completely to ourselves, except for a romantic couple and a few locals who sat in the shade of the trees.

We split into two groups to conduct research about the beach at the low tide and high tide marks by taking PVC pipe squares and taking note of any plant, animal, or other interesting thing that was in it, or happened to wander through it during the minutes we watched over the square.
The group I was with set out into the warm, salty, water first, and we held the square underwater and tried to make out anything inside the square, which was difficult as the water was murky with sand and no sea creatures or plants seemed to appear in the square. We tried another spot 10 meters away, but to no avail. Even though we spotted nothing, it was simply enough just to float in the water and enjoy the beautiful day and the surroundings.

We trudged back onto the shore in our flippers and peeled off our snorkels, and swapped places with the other group. We dried off on the sand as we watched our squares (more plants, but still no animals), and soon, we finished our survey and headed back to the van. On our way back through the trail, we spotted a few monkeys in the trees above us! Once we returned the snorkeling gear to the shop, we drove to our next stop: a national park, where we would walk to another beach to swim in. After we walked on a wide trail for a while, past multiple other tourists who had come to swim and take pictures of wildlife, we entered a narrower, sand-covered path and stepped onto a beach! The water was blue, warm, and tinged with salt. The water crashed into white foam behind us and rolled beneath us as we floated out further. We spent a few fun-filled hours practicing our body-surfing and just enjoying the chance to cool off and splash around.

Next, after we showered off the sand and saltwater and changed into dry clothes, we headed back to the van and to our lunch spot: a restaurant with an airplane inside, the wings spread wide over the tables. We took our seats in comfy chairs with a view of the seaside. Our lunch was delicious: not the traditional Costa Rican food we usually had, but my grilled fish sandwich and French fries were superb, and the fruit drinks were sweet and thirst-quenching.

Stuffed with our fill of swimming and food, we drove back to the motel, stopping for gas along the way. Once we arrived, we watched the end of the U.S. vs. Portugal game, then played word games and relaxed until dinner, which consisted of delectable rice, beans, shredded salad, and mashed potato. We ended our packed day with more swimming in the motel’s pool, and played more word games until we were weary and drifted off to sleep.

Head Royce Dos Costas 2014

Head Royce Dos Costas 2014 Blog #7

Written by Carolyn C. of Head Royce School

Day Seven: Saturday June 21

We awoke to a scrumptious breakfast of eggs, rice, beans, and mango juice. Once we gathered our bags and were dressed, we waited on the porch with our luggage for the van and talked with the host family’s grandmother and her son’s girlfriend. We admired the plants on their porch and the garden around us. Soon, the van came around the corner, and we waved goodbye to our host family and climbed aboard. Inside, we exchanged stories about our experience with the host families, especially about playing with some of the host families’ children or helping prepare the always delicious food.

Soon, everyone had been picked up, so we drove back to the animal sanctuary to help feed the animals. First, we cut up a variety of fruits and vegetables: bananas, watermelon, papaya, cucumber, and more. Next, we set off towards each cage to offer the food to the animals. We left food for Perla, then some volunteers were allowed inside a cage of green parakeets to place fruit on the wooden planks that lined the side. We visited the blue macaw, who got some pieces of fruit, and we were allowed to approach Hercules and Jessica with a piece of banana or some other food and hold it flat on our palm. The peccaries would then reach through the bars and snatch it up.

We continued on to a larger cage of parakeets, the difference being these parakeets could fly. They flapped to and fro and to the wooden planks as we left watermelon and papaya chunks for them. The keel-billed toucans, with their rainbow-colored beaks, also received bits of fruit, as did the rainbow-feathered scarlet macaws. Lastly, we distributed the rest of the food to the collection of monkeys in the farthest cages. We watched, amazed, as they grabbed beans, cucumber, and fruit pieces straight from our outstretched palms. Soon, all of the fruit was gone, and our time at the animal sanctuary was over. We said goodbye to the animals and staff members and clambered back onto the van to the next hotel. We drove for hours, stopping occasionally for lunch, van fuel, snacks, and souvenirs (especially Costa Rica soccer jerseys). We even passed the Continental Divide!

In the early evening rain, we arrived at the hotel at last, and we quickly dove under the nearest awning to shelter ourselves from the storm. Once we got our room assignments, we peeled off towards our rooms, and settled into our bunk beds before dinner. Once it was time to eat, we devoured the rice, beans, avocado, and cooked vegetables, which were, as usual, quite toothsome. Once we were stuffed, we met to go over the next day’s plan (snorkeling!), and sand down shiny plastic boards to create waterproof writing surfaces.

The day had passed so quickly in a haze of dreamy green countryside and glimpses of blue seashore, which worked their way into my dreams and made me anticipate the next day’s seaside venture even more.

Head Royce Dos Costas 2014

Head Royce Dos Costas 2014 Blog #6

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.

Head Royce Dos Costas 2014

Head Royce Dos Costas 2014 Blog #5

Written by Carolyn C. of Head Royce School

Day Five: Thursday June 19th

We awoke feeling rested and comfortable in our plush beds, then walked to the restaurant alongside the blue-tiled pool where we would have breakfast. After munching on cereal and sweet tropical fruit, it was time to depart to an organic farm, which was a ten minute drive from our hotel. We didn’t know exactly what the farm grew (“It’s a surprise,” Humberto told us), but we were excited all the same to see what it was. At last, we pulled up on a gravel driveway to the farm, where tall branches of unknown plants rustled in the breeze, and banana trees sprouted up in the distance. Once we clambered out of the van and applied sunscreen and insect repellent, our tour began. Our guide explained to us the purpose of the farm in Spanish while Humberto translated. It was to grow healthy, organic food that was native to Costa Rica, and by doing this, would enhance the surrounding community and their country. He explained that on our tour, we would learn about different plants and taste a variety of flavors: bitter, spicy, and sweet.

Our first tasting was of the “Costa Rican grape,” a hard round plant which turned out not to be a grape, but a peppercorn-like plant. We guzzled water to try to get the stinging flavor out of our mouths. After the effects had worn off, we laughed at their trick and continued on to the next stop, walking along the circumference of a circle of plants, which were planted that way to keep away insects, they claimed, although I wasn’t sure how. We delved deeper into the farm, and arrived at the beginning of the banana tree plantation. Pulling a machete out from a sheath at his side, our guide swiftly cut down a stalk from a tree and chose a volunteer for the next demonstration. As we cleared away from our guide, he poised his arm as if to throw his machete, which worried us until he brought it to meet the stalk, and rapidly hewed off pieces from the stalk, which flew at the volunteer as he twisted and ducked to avoid the flying banana tree rounds. We cheered him on, sighing in relief that he hadn’t had to avoid a machete instead!

As we walked along, he showed us medicinal plants claimed to lower cholesterol, and passion flowers that buzzed with pollinators. The day was hot, and we rushed under the shade of a tree, while the guide led away four volunteers into the bushes to gather another plant. Soon, they emerged with hands cupped over each other, hiding whatever strange plant was contained within. The guide explained that they wished to give a few of our classmates “face massages,” but after the peppercorn incident, we were all wary as they chose their victims. Once the participants had all closed their eyes, the volunteers finally revealed what they held: a fruit with red juice, which they spread over their victims faces like face paint. Once they were satisfied with their application, they allowed the victims to open their eyes, and they exclaimed in surprise as they saw the others with their painted faces; touching their own to find that theirs had been painted, too.

We ventured further along the gravel path, pausing to inspect pink and purple flowers and berries that grew along a fence. Our guide encouraged us to try them, promising that they could sustain us in the wild if we ever found them. We plucked the violet berries from their stems, and found that they tasted somewhat like blueberries: not the flesh, just the skin. The next plants we got to taste were sour, tiny melons, which we sucked on as we walked towards the next stop on our tour. It was a circle, with pegs all around the clearing we stood in. A rope wound through the pegs. Taking the rope, the guides demonstrated that the circumference is really the diameter times Pi. They unwound the rope and re-wound it, crossing the center of the clearing Pi (approximately 3.14) times.

After we replaced the rope, we were offered a green juice made from a medicinal plant our guide pointed out earlier. It was hot outside, and we were all sweating profusely, so any offer of a cool drink was naturally accepted immediately. We drank up the refreshing drink: it had a flavor unlike anything I’ve tasted before, but not in a bad way. Once we finished our drinks and wiped the sweat from our foreheads, our guide invited us to walk along another path and just take in the varying plants and textures and smells. Once we crunched our way through gravel, dirt, and different types of groundcover, admiring the hedges and pines, we made our way back and walked further. Next to the path, a troop of leafcutter ants carrying bright bits of green wove their way through the groundcover to their destination. As I watched them crawl, I was handed a sprig of what seemed to be lemon verbena, which smelled amazing.

We came to another stop in the path. Our guide chose another volunteer, and using his machete, cut down a few branches of what appeared to be a yucca plant before he handed her the machete to finish the job. Once she cut down the branches, we cheered as she tried to pull up the root, which we would eat for lunch. I was chosen to help her pull it up, and grasping the remaining branch stubs, we finally heaved it up out of the dirt- it was massive, and heavy, too!

The guide revealed the next plant to taste, promising it was really spicy. Only a handful of brave volunteers chose to eat it, and when they did, they gasped for water and fanned their mouths, overwhelmed by its heat. This time, they handed out a leaf for everyone to taste. We ate it all together- it was bitter.

We walked along the path past a fountain, where we splashed cool water onto ourselves, then to a another spot where tall trees provided ample shade, and moss covered rocks were arranged in a circle on the edge of a rushing river. The guide invited us to close our eyes and just enjoy the sounds of nature: the gurgling river, the birdsong, and the chirping insects. As we shut our eyes, the cool shade and calm surroundings encouraged a sense of peacefulness, and we let the hum of wildlife wash over us. We opened our eyes after a period of time, and our guide explained what a special place it was, and how during the different seasons, the sounds shifted and changed.

We walked to our next stop: the small enclosures where the pigs and a cow were kept. The cow’s name was Chocolate, and they explained that the farm used her excrement as fertilizer and used the methane to power the farm. We walked past chickens and cooed at the snuffling pigs, then went to our final stop on the tour. We rested under a shady, cool structure, where a juicer sat in the center of a gathering of benches. The guide picked a few more volunteers, then produced a stalk of sugarcane. He fed it through the juicer as two volunteers tried to spin the cranks, and the third helped pull it through the other end, while its juice was caught and streamed tidily into a glass pitcher. Once one jug was filled, they pushed the stalk through again and got every drop out, filling another pitcher. They poured the pale, cream-colored juice into small glasses, which we quickly guzzled down: it was sweet and delicious, and we held out our drained glasses for more. They also passed around sugar cane candies with mint, which tasted like peppermints but better. The tour ended on this sweet note, and we walked over to the kitchen to eat lunch.

Before we ate, though, we washed our hands and helped make tortillas! The kitchen staff handed us balls of dough, which we flattened into circles while trying not to have the dough stick to our hands. We passed our uncooked tortillas to the staff, who cooked them on large pans. Soon, lunch was ready: yucca chips, delicious fish with our homemade tortillas, a sort of salsa, salad, veggies, avocado, rice, and beans. It was scrumptious, and an excellent way to end the tour.

After lunch, it was time for us to plant trees on the edge of the property. We headed off into the forest, where we gathered small tree saplings, buckets of fertilizer, and spades, and worked in teams to dig holes, toss in a handful of fertilizer, plant the tree, and fill in the hole, while avoiding the numerous insects that crawled in the brush and groundcover. We followed a garden staff-person as he cleared spots for us to plant trees with his machete, where we then dug a hole. Soon, most of the trees had been planted, but then it began to rain, hard.

We quickly grabbed our belongings, set them aside at the foot of a tree, and scrambled through the forest to the neighbors’ shelter, which they had let us stay in for the duration of the storm. It was an open air patio, covered with a corrugated metal roof, and held a sink and counter, as well as several chairs, some benches, and a couch. We ran through the forest, trying to avoid tripping over the plants, and gratefully took shelter under their roof as the rain pelted down on it noisily. They offered us tropical fruit juice, oranges and starfruit, and homemade bread, which we ate thankfully while we attempted to make conversation over the sound of the rainstorm. The storm seemed to pass quickly, and we dried off and piled back into the van. We said goodbye to our guide, the staff, and the family who had let us stay on their patio, and drove back to the hotel. We had a few hours of free time before we returned to the organic farm for dinner, so we gathered our dirty clothes into bags to be laundered, and relaxed after the busy day.

We left for the organic farm again, excited to taste more of the delicious food. For dinner we ate salad, vegetables, rice, beans, and meats, notably fresh-caught fish from the river that ran alongside the farm. Dinner was just as good as lunch, and we savored every bite of the organic food. We returned to the hotel and, after a check-in, prepared our bags for tomorrow’s departure. I fell asleep quickly, filled with good food and memories, anxious to make more tomorrow.