Pura Vida is the quintessential Costa Rican phrase. It means ‘Pure Life.’ The Costa Rican culture and natural beauty exemplified this in all ways earlier this year when 17 students from Yosemite High School experienced the country on an eight-day adventure with their Spanish teacher Rebecca Brokaw.
Throughout the trip, the students stopped many times to experience first hand what is known as ecotourism - hiking national forests, seeing native animals, and going on small exciting adventures.
The trip began with a visit to the Poas Volcano. Students hiked to see its large crater, only to find that it was engulfed in a cloud. This did not stop them from enjoying the experience. Soon after their guide, Rafa, whisked them away to the mountain town of Monteverde, explaining all the while about the history of Costa Rica, its nonexistent military, its animals, and famous coffee fields.
Along the way the group saw several howler monkeys hanging in the trees by the road. Later that day, students embarked on a night hike through the rainforest and viewed such species as chameleons and click beetles.
“Thankfully we were with an awesome guide, because if we hadn’t been, I would have pet a fluffy poisonous caterpillar,” student Hannah Gray said.
The next day was arguably the best of the trip as students visited Selvatura Eco Adventure of Monteverde, and the hummingbird garden. There, the feeders had no places for the hummingbirds to rest, so they perched on the fingers of the students instead.
“I am terrified of birds, however, the hummingbird feeding experience was one of the highlights of my trip,” Emilie Neff said. “I really enjoyed seeing the hummingbirds and I got some great photos of them.”
Students then got to go zip lining over the cloud forest. The longest cable was a half-mile long. All they could see was green, and then mist, as they passed through a cloud drifting by. Many got to heighten their experience by going on the last line in a Superman position with their arms stretched in front of them.
“My most memorable experience was zip lining,” Trevor Peter said. “I’ve never seen a forest so green.”
The evening ended with students making homemade Costa Rican arroz con pollo (chicken and rice), and empanadas (spaghetti squash dessert) in the forest.
“Cooking with a Costa Rican family at their home was a fantastic experience,” Brokaw said. “The students really enjoyed the hands-on experience of stirring ingredients, flattening tortillas by hand, and folding empanadas. The food was delicious.”
The next stop was in the small town of La Fortuna, a city spared from the fiery wrath of its volcano. In the process, students spotted a three-toed sloth in a tree in the horizon.
“I had always wanted to see a sloth in person,” Natalie Guynn said. “The sloth we watched put on quite a show. We got to watch him in action, swinging from a tree.”
For most of the afternoon and evening students spent their time relaxing in volcanic hot springs.
An eventful day
The next day was the most eventful. On their way to visit an elementary school and donate supplies to them, the bus broke down going over a speed bump. As they waited for the situation to be assessed, students decided to play a game of soccer with a borrowed soccer ball in a nearby field. They finished their short game and then learned the new plan.
They found a small elementary school around the corner that they could visit and make donations. When they arrived, the principal gave them a small tour, then they conversed with adorable 4-year-olds. When time was up, they all left reluctantly, wanting more time to talk with the children, but a new bus had arrived to pick them up and continue the day’s journey.
Students made a small stop by a river to look at crocodiles with silly names such as Mike Tyson, Shakira, and Sweet Tooth.
The group soon arrived in Manuel Antonio, and got to spend some time swimming in a gorgeous cove with white sand and a coral reef. The water was so clear, students could stand and see the fish in the water.
Next stop was the Manuel Antonio National Park. Here students swam at a beach while being watched by white-faced capuchin monkeys, who swung from branch to branch on the shoreline. Some of the students walked to the most iconic spot in the park where they could see the tombolo (natural land bridge) that had formed.
On the drive back to San Jose, the tour stopped briefly to pick up souvenirs and learn how to paint ox-cart wheels from a professional ox-cart wheel painter. Later that evening, students got a fantastic dance lesson in the cumbia and salsa.
The trip was amazing. Both students and adults had a fantastic time. YHS students got to learn how to interact in a different culture and language. One example of this was the expression “con gusto” which Costa Rican’s use in place of “de nada.”
It gave the students, as teenagers, a chance to experience an adventure without their parents. Overall, it was a great experience, learning or otherwise, for all of them. Lily Kuykendall is even going on a trip to Spain next year to continue her bilingual journey.
“My most memorable part of this trip has really been the experience and a different view of the world and what it gave to me,” Kendra Tapia said.
Brokaw loves traveling with students abroad and has led many groups over the years to Europe and now, Costa Rica. She looks forward to returning to Costa Rica in February of 2018 with YHS students.
“I think international travel is so rewarding,” Brokaw said. “I love watching how the experiences these students share brings them closer, increases their self-confidence and independence, and gives them a world perspective that they did not have before.”
Student travelers included Katherine Bayt, Lily Kuykendall, Kendra Tapia, Natalie Bates, Harry Thearle, Allison Bernardi, Hannah Gray, Trevor Peter, Emilie Neff, Nikki Johnson, Lauren Wharton, Natalie Guynn, Chandler Clarke, Hannah Hurtado, Kelsey Montalto, Cameron Hart, and Ben Johnson.
Chaperones included Brokaw and her husband Brandon, Linne and Analiese Bayt, Tommy Tuso, and YHS counselor Stephanie Samuels.
For details about the future trip to Costa Rica, contact Brokaw at (559) 683-4667 ext. 402, or firstname.lastname@example.org.