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Mar. 13th, 2009

Surfing Pictures

Getting ready to catch some waves Getting ready to catch some waves
Having a blast Having a blast

Catching a wave Catching a wave
Party Wave Party Wave
Waiting for the perfect one Waiting for the perfect one
Just missed it Just missed it
So much fun So much fun
An ode to sunscreen An ode to sunscreen
Can't let the nose burn.. Can't let the nose burn..
Or the cheeks... Or the cheeks...
Ventanas beach at sunrise Ventanas beach at sunrise
The group waiting for some waves The group waiting for some waves
Chillin in the water Chillin in the water
Hi Mom! Hi Mom!
Surfing was amazing Surfing was amazing

March 4 - 10

Wednesday March 4th

Today we said our final goodbyes to El Castillo (and the infinity pool), and we were out the door and on the bus by 8:00am. Everyone was a little sad to leave, but excited about horseback riding. Our bus drive was long, about six hours, and the driving was definitely less than ideal, but then again it always is in Costa Rica. We finally made it to our hotel El Sunset, picked our rooms, and quickly got ready for our first horseback riding adventure.

The hotel isn’t that far away from the stables, just a quick walk down the road and we were there. Our horses (and mule) were chosen for us, we had a quick demonstration, and then we were off. Our head guide, Marvin, is a Monteverde local and a very accomplished rider; he give us a demonstration of his skills before we rode, and he actually slid off the back of the horse, between its legs on the ground, and then had the horse place both of his front legs on his chest! It was very comforting for the group to be with someone who is completely comfortable with these big animals. It was a short two and a half hour ride through the town of Monteverde, and then we were done, just to get a feel for the horses. Everyone was exhausted from the long day, so we made our dinner reservation, ate, and headed straight back to our hotel for a good nights rest.

Thursday March 5th

Today was our first full day in the saddle and, though it seems to be monsoon season here in Monteverde (we were bombarded with high winds and a constant drizzle the whole day), it went rather smoothly. We started out in Monteverde and rode all the way down into the San Luis valley. The ride was beautiful despite the rain, and we saw a lot of rainbows, which was really cool. After about two hours we got off the horses to stretch our legs, and took a short hike to see a waterfall. The waterfall was 100 meters tall, and a double cascade, it was by fall the coolest waterfall I’ve seen in Costa Rica so far. While most of us enjoyed the beauty of the waterfall from afar, our adventurous Gerry decided to go swimming to get a closer look. After that we ate lunch at the University of Georgia’s extension campus in Costa Rica, though we were an hour early because most people take a lot longer to hike to the waterfall, but we’ve been hiking in the rainforest for two months now, so I guess you could say we’re pretty used to it. But we’re also very quick learners when it comes to outdoor activities, so we were pretty horse savvy by the time lunch ended, and when we rode our horses to the drop off point, we ended up being two and a half hours ahead of schedule. One of our instructor’s, Linka, actually complimented us on our riding skills, and said we were one of the better groups she’s ridden with. The taxi’s were called in to pick us up, and back to the hotel we went, excited about the hot showers that were awaiting us.

Friday March 6th

It was a very early morning today, everyone was up and ready to go for a quick take off by 6:30, so we could eat breakfast and be off on our very busy day. We were picked up at seven for our tour through the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Once we were there we were split up into two groups to hike through the reserve with our guides, Eduardo and Ricardo. We saw a variety of wildlife including: a male and female Quetzal, a rare and endangered bird that is famous for it’s beauty and is Costa Rica’s national bird, a giant tarantula, howler monkeys, and a quwati, a diurnal animal that’s related to raccoons (I have no idea how to spell that thing, but I do know that we have nothing like it in the states!). And, aside from all the factual information we learned about various animals and plants, we also talked a little bit about the politics behind the national park system in Costa Rica. Putting together what I’ve heard/learned from numerous people, this is kinda how it’s broken down: While Costa Rica is know for it national park systems, little is done to actually fund or protect these parks. For example, the park Manuel Antonio is one of the most popular in Costa Rica, and earns the most money, however, it is also one of the most trashed and polluted, and because of that the Costa Rican government might close it down. The money that the parks earn here don’t go back into protecting and preserving them, and instead goes back to San Jose where they do whatever it is that they do with it. While this is disheartening, it’s good to know that privately funded places, like the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, are doing their best to buy and preserve land and change the way the park system in Costa Rica is being run.

After our hike we went to, and I quote, “the most delicious sandwich place ever,” which it was! and tried to warm ourselves with cups of hot chocolate before we were picked up by our next outfitter, Selvatour, for our zip line canopy adventure. It was possibly the most amazing zip line tour in the world. The ziplines were very fast, very long, and very fun. The longest one was stretched out over half a mile, and it only took one minute to completely cover the distance. However, it was very wet, and cold, and the gloves they gave us had leather padding to use as brakes, as we found out very quickly however, when leather gets wet, there is no slowing down on those lines. When we were almost at the end, some of us got to experience the Tarzan swing, it was quite invigorating. Basically you stand on a big platform while they attach some ropes to you, then they let you go and you fall almost straight to the ground but then the ropes catch you and you swing really high. After that we continued with the zip lining, and the super long one was the last one. One person alone isn’t heavy enough to make it all the way, so we had to partner up and some partners even had to go with guides. We all had a blast!
Then we went on the unguided, suspended bridge tour which is a long trail with numerous bridges through the rainforest canopy, which gave us some time to look in the trees for wildlife, however it was pretty cold and still raining so we all walked really fast and got done way ahead of schedule. We waited for our transportation back in the warm, comfy souvenir shop, then back to the hotel we went, where the warm showers were beckoning.

On a different note, we had a journal entry due later that evening. As you all probably know, the required textbook for this trip is “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” and for our assignment everyone had to find a quote that they liked (or perhaps disliked, whatever the case may be) from the book and write a short paragraph or two about it. I was really impressed with the quotes that people chose and what they wrote about them. While the book is a little dry at times and is a difficult to read, philosophical book, everyone had something to say about some part of it and really seemed to get into this assignment.

Saturday March 7th

Since the weather has been so bad lately, we were all prepared for anything from a light drizzle to a raging hurricane for today. However, shortly after we started our all-day cowboy ride this morning the weather cleared up and we finally saw the sun again. We rode on the back roads and trails of Monteverde, through some local farms, and got to do some loping which everyone enjoyed (a speed the next level up from a trot). We found a place to pause our ride and take off our jackets, because we were getting rather warm, and then we started our ride up the mountain we had to cross to get to our picnic spot. However, once we were pretty close to the top, the wind came really, really hard, (some people almost got blown off their horses!) and didn’t let up until we were almost all the way down the other side. Despite the wind the ride was still enjoyable. We had fantastic views of the Nicoya Gulf, and got to go a little faster on our horses. Though everyone’s a little sore now, we’re all excited about our final ride tomorrow.

Sunday March 8th

Today we traveled from Monteverde to Arenal. We started out on horseback, stopped for lunch, and continued our travel with a bus ride to a little lakefront town, got on a boat to go across Lake Arenal, and got our final bus ride to our hotel. 3 different modes of travel in one day! Eric kept asking when the submarine ride was going to happen, just to thrown in another mode.... After we got settled in to our rooms, we got on yet another bus which took us to Baldi hot springs, a natural hot springs at the base of the Arenal volcano. This place was amazing, there were many different pools with different temperatures and the resort did a good job of trying to make it look as natural as possible, with great landscaping and pools set into the ground with a natural appearance and feel. We were all very disappointed that it was cloudy out, because you couldn’t see the volcano or lava flows, but everyone had a lot of fun eating by a hot tub, swimming in the hot springs, and going down the sweet slides. Some of the group could be in the olympics for riding water slides. It was a blast, however, we only had one night in Arenal, before we had to move on.

Monday March 9th

This morning we got to sleep in, it felt nice to be able to lay in bed. Then we got up and ate breakfast for our big adventure of white water rafting down the Rio Balsa, which is a class II/III. The river wasn’t as cold as the rivers in Colorado, it was very refreshing. It was a half day tour, and it seemed to go by way too fast. There operating standards and safety speech were exactly the same as they are in the states and most of our guides guide in Colorado during Costa Rica’s rainy season. Then the raft guides provided us lunch, we viewed our pictures that they took of all the best rapids, and then we were off again to our next destination. We went back to the hotel, caught another shuttle, and endured the very long five hour ride to Samara. Again, we got settled into our rooms, and rushed to the hotel restaurant to feed our starving bellies. Everyone was so tired from the long day, so we called it a night a little earlier than usual and retired to our rooms for some very needed sleep.

Tuesday March 10th

Again, it was very nice to get to sleep in a little, breakfast wasn’t till 8 this morning, and then we gave everyone the morning to get some travel plans worked out and laundry finished. After that we had a group discussion about the many activities we have experienced in the last few days, and were off to lunch. We had the afternoon to relax and get ready for a group volleyball game. We all played for quite a while, and worked up a pretty good appetite. Most of us went to the same restaurant and ate dinner together. It wasn’t a busy day, but everyone was able to get some needed chores done and still have time for some recreation.

-Brandee and Stacy

Mar. 11th, 2009

Sorry it took so long, but here is another picture post!

What a beautiful view What a beautiful view
The view the people who went to Chirripo saw The view the people who went to Chirripo saw
The view at Chirripo The view at Chirripo

Resting during a long hike Resting during a long hike
Snake! Snake!
A frog snake eating a frog A frog snake eating a frog
a cute little frog a cute little frog
a jesus christ lizard a jesus christ lizard
another frog another frog
What an awesome view What an awesome view
Helping cook dinner Helping cook dinner
Making coconut milk Making coconut milk
The men helping dig a fire pit The men helping dig a fire pit
The group helping put together a feast! The group helping put together a feast!
Adding the meat Adding the meat
Owen teaching Tommy how to use ascenders and climb trees Owen teaching Tommy how to use ascenders and climb trees
Everyone waiting to climb trees Everyone waiting to climb trees
Hello down there! Hello down there!
Climbing trees Climbing trees
Climbing trees Climbing trees
Climbing trees again Climbing trees again
Still climbing trees Still climbing trees
Climbing trees Climbing trees
Just hanging out Just hanging out
Learning from the Baruca people, how they dye their string using plants flowers and seeds Learning from the Baruca people, how they dye their string using plants flowers and seeds
Dying yarm Dying yarm
Erin learning how to weave Erin learning how to weave
This is a wood carving of an Orchid, in real life this is exactly what the flower looks like (size, color, and shape) This is a wood carving of an Orchid, in real life this is exactly what the flower looks like (size, color, and shape)
A Baruca woman showing us how they weave A Baruca woman showing us how they weave
Another Baruca woman showing us how they make wood carvings Another Baruca woman showing us how they make wood carvings
Another view from Chirripo Another view from Chirripo
More views from Chirripo More views from Chirripo
The group at the beach The group at the beach
Hanging out on the beach Hanging out on the beach
The four at Chirripo The four at Chirripo
Another Chirripo view Another Chirripo view
The four at the top of Chirripo The four at the top of Chirripo
The group dragging the 180lbs pig up the hill The group dragging the 180lbs pig up the hill
Getting ready to take the hair off the pig (its already dead, we skipped a step so you can save your lunch) Getting ready to take the hair off the pig (its already dead, we skipped a step so you can save your lunch)
Dehairing the pig Dehairing the pig
Taking out the guts Taking out the guts
Hanging up the pig to let the blood drain out Hanging up the pig to let the blood drain out
A job well done A job well done
Cooking the pig Cooking the pig
The boys at our El Castillo, the place we stayed while we were surfing The boys at our El Castillo, the place we stayed while we were surfing

Mar. 10th, 2009

March 2 - 3

Monday March 2nd

Today was a bit strange, The group lost two of our favorite members (also some of the best wave riders in the group, they were taken away into the all mighty ocean............ to go fishing). They were good ol’ Gerry and (Mike) Tyson. They left for a night to go deep sea fishing with Cassidy, A Finca friend who runs a fishing service out of Sierpe. They each had a great time out there!

The rest of us headed back to Ventanas to catch the low tide and explore the caves for buried pirate treasure. We didn’t find any but had an awesome time looking anyway. For lunch we headed back to Dominical and ate a fabulous meal.

For surfing we met up with Tito at three thirty, waxed up our sticks and headed for the waves for a sunset surf. The waves were epic but with the two members off on an adventure the vibe was different. Even though watching the sunset from a surfboard catching waves with our little family in Costa Rica was a chance of a lifetime that none of us will ever forget.

Back to the Castillo for a great meal, a good nights sleep and to prepare for tomorrows surf competition.

Tuesday March 3rd

Today was the surf comp. We awoke in time to be at Ventanas beach by eight, ready to surf the waves and showcase our new skills. We had four heats of four people, who each surfed for twenty minutes. Both groups surfed awesome and it was hard for Tito (the Judge) to decide who moved on. In the end it was Eric (1st), Stacy (2nd), Mark (3rd), all most definitely earned their top spots especially Eric, who really shined like a golden nugget in the warm Costa Rican sunshine. Even Keith the best and most totally rockin’ surfer of us all (with the exception of Rob Thomas) ended up being disqualified due to a total soul obsession with the waves (he didn’t even come back to the beach when the final round of surfers were called out). Everyone else who didn’t place or even get into the finals really had an awesome time not worrying about catching the best or biggest wave, but simply having a swell ol’ time with friends in the water.

With high expectations for or fellow group members we returned back to our castle to eat lunch and await their arrival. They finally showed up with stories galore! They had caught the mighty Sailfish the most ferocious and strong fish in the sea. Gerry reeled in a one hundred and sixty pounder WOAH!!!! As for our friend Tyson he caught a one hundred twenty plus pounder also WOAH!!!

With spirits high and memories made, we slept a wonderful and peaceful final night in our castle/mansion/ hotel upon the hill over looking the ocean.

-Tanner and Katy

Mar. 2nd, 2009

February 23 - March 1

Monday February 23rd

Today we learned how to surf with much help from Uvita Surf School. We arrived at the beach at 8 a.m. and met our surf instructors Tito (pronounced: Tee-Toe), Michael, David, Jose (the life guard), and a few of their friends. The beginning of our surf lessons started out with Tito drawing surfboards in the sand and having us figure out what our stance would be, either regular or goofy. Regular meaning you stand with your left foot forward and right foot on the back of the board and goofy is the opposite. Then we practiced paddling on our sand boards and seeing what method worked best for us to stand up. Tito showed us two different ways to pop-up on your surf board and by the end we were all hot and sweaty and ready for some surfing action. Uvita Surf School provided 22 boards for us to choose from, ranging in lengths from 7’0” to 10’0” with very pretty colors, although some were missing fins. For riding a longboard, Tito explained a method of passing through white-water called la tortuga (the turtle). This is where you flip your board over while you lay underneath it, and let the white water pass over you and then flip back over.

Then we broke up into groups of 4-5 people per instructor and headed out for some white-water. This day was spent practicing how to stand up. The entire group was able to stand up on our first day which really excited our instructors as well as built confidence among the group.

Our first day of surfing ended at 12:30 in the afternoon and then we headed to Domincal for lunch at San Clemente restaurant. Afterwards, we came back to El Castillo and watched the amazing sunset from the infinity pool perched upon a mountain overlooking the river mouth into the ocean. We were all pretty wiped out from our surf session and after a wonderful dinner everyone was ready for bed, with visions of surfboards dancing through our dreams.

Tuesday February 24th

Today we learned the proper way to apply wax to your surf board, nose to tail & rail to rail! We were back at the beach at 8 a.m., after several cups of coffee. The group took to the water with a bit more confidence then yesterday thanks to our recently acquired surf skills. We were ready to rip it up! Most of the group stayed inside and worked on the white-water while several braver members, myself (Tanner), Gerry, Tommy, Keith and Stacy attempted to surf the big stuff outside. With varying levels of success, most became competent at standing up on bigger waves then the previous day. We had a blast!

On the way back to El Castillo, our van broke down. We had to walk about a mile down the road, uphill, in about 95 degrees. Lucky for us, Emilio ( the bus driver) was able to contact Steve (the owner of El Castillo) and his friend to come and pick us up.
Back at El Castillo, Steve arranged with his local fisherman friend to take six people to go out ocean fishing. Lots of dolphins were seen jumping just feet in front of the boat and most of us caught mackerel and tuna. A few fish managed to break the line and get away, but a tuna and a mackerel were brought back for tomorrow nights dinner.

Once again, it was an early night with all of us being in bed by 10 p.m.,worn out from yet another great day of surfing.

Wednesday February 25th

With everyone feeling a little sore, Tito decided to have a relaxing morning session of group stretching on the beach. Then we grabbed our boards and headed out to the waves. Everyone had a favorite board and made sure to stake their claim early. The swell had gotten smaller over the last few days and more people were feeling confident going to the outside and catching green waves.

Today for lunch we followed Tito’s recommendation about a restaurant in Uvita, right next to the surf school. We ate lunch with our instructors and headed back to El Castillo for a much needed, and earned, nap session.

Another fishing trip went out with six new people. More tuna and mackerel were brought back for dinner. Everyone was looking forward to some good eating tonight, and we got what we wished for thanks to El Castillo’s new chef, Daniel, who was hired today! He really knows his way around a kitchen and we are eating good food every meal.

Thursday February 26th

Today, Tito talked to us about the history of surfing before we paddled out. We learned that it originated in either Hawaii or Peru and they surfed on 15-20 foot boards without fins. Surfing has slowly progressed since then moving up to shorter, faster, thinner boards which are more maneuverable in the water. He passed around the nose of a longboard that had been broken, showing us the foam inside, fiberglass outside with a resin to seal it, and a balsa wood stringer which is the life of the board and provides strength to the board. After the history lesson, Tito showed us some tricks that we could attempt: tree-pose (a yoga position where you stand with your arms out and one leg pressed against your knee), a 360 walk-about, and hanging ten. We were all stoked to head out to the water and work on these new moves. No one in the group could hang ten, but Gerry managed to catch some nice waves and pull off a few headstands. Nice Job! The group is definitely getting the hang of things.

After our surf session, we came back for lunch at El Castillo. Napping has become a routine around here after spending so much time in the sun and surf! We ate another amazing dinner and enjoyed yet another beautiful sunset. Life in Costa Rica is treating us pretty well!

Friday February 27th

Today was our last day of surf school with Tito and the boys. This morning was different from the rest of the week. We decided to get out early and do some dawn patrol! Dawn patrol is a phrase used y surfers when they go out surfing right when the sun is rising, this is good because the wind doesn’t blow as hard and the ocean is calm, giving the waves better shape (and us gringos don’t get burnt!). We woke up at 4:30 a.m., grabbed some coffee and cereal and met the instructors at the beach at 5:30 a.m. It was a gorgeous morning watching the sun rise over the mountains and onto the water. We surfed until 9:30 a.m. and headed back to El Castillo for a hearty breakfast and more sleep.

Today was a bit more relaxed after such an early morning. The group hung out at El Castillo watching Surf’s Up, the awesome penguin surf movie, and lounging around the pool. Although there is no more surf school, we are able to use Uvita Surf Schools’ boards until Tuesday.

Saturday February 28th

What a treat! Our first day to sleep in, having breakfast at 7: 30 instead of the usual 6:30. We spent the afternoon eating lunch at a vegetarian restaurant in Dominical, Maracatu, and then a group of people went out surfing at 3:30. We had been surfing at Uvita all week and decided to change things up a bit by going to Playa Ventanas. It is called Ventanas because of the neat caves along the shore, ventanas is spanish for windows. You can only explore these caves during low-tide but since the surf is better at high-tide we decided the surfing was more important. The beach is shaped nicely for surfing since it is a protected cove with mellow waves. After the sunset, the group came back to El Castillo and relaxed for the evening.

Sunday March 1st

Una mas manana de Dawn Patrol! Another morning of waking up at 4:30 and getting to the beach by 5:45 a.m. We went back to Playa Ventanas and enjoyed the new area of surfing until 8:00 a.m. Today we were able to check out the caves since the tide was going out and there was no danger of water in the caves.
After surfing we had a educational meeting about risk-management. It was just to keep people reminded that although surfing is a lot of fun, it is still a high-risk activity and we always need to be prepared, just in case.

For lunch we headed up to the Tilapia Farm. This was a really neat place where you are provided with a hand reel to catch your own lunch. Stacy and Mark caught their fish, but everyone else got skunked. But, luckily, we were all still able to enjoy a nice lunch of fish caught in the farm, just not by us. Right down the road from the restaurant is a waterfall swimming hole which we visited before eating. Very refreshing.

Back to El Castillo we go. Everyone’s a little tired from getting up so early but had an enjoyable day.

-Tanner and Katy

Mar. 1st, 2009

Sorry About Pictures

To all our loyal blog readers, I want to apologize for the lack of pictures in the past weeks. Where we are staying, El Castillo, has internet but it is relatively slow and spotty an near impossible to upload pictures. But, I promise that as soon as I can there will be pictures posted! Stay tuned, a new post for our surf week is coming up!

Love from the group xoxoxo

Feb. 24th, 2009

February 15-22

Sunday February 15th

Four of our group members headed out today to be research assistants for Jan and Jose on a biology excursion into the mountains. We will definitely miss them very much. As for the rest of use we spent the day organizing our things, cleaning up our living areas and discussing the three free days we had ahead of us in Uvita, which is just outside of Dominical. A couple of us took some clients out on a zip line tour to see the tree house which was a great way to get some guiding experience since so many of us are learning to be instructors for exactly that type of thing. It was a lot of fun and the visitors didn’t have any trouble and seemed to really enjoy the tour. Later, Erica made us pad thai for dinner which was incredible and we went to bed early because we had our shuttle driver Antonio picking us up at the bottom of the hill at nine the next morning.

El Groupo de Expedition (Expedition Group), consisting of Gerry, Eric, Brandee, and Tanner, caught a Costa Rican bus from Piedras Blancas to San Isidro. It was definitely a new way of traveling down here. We’ve been spoiled with our shuttles, this bus ride was approximately four hours long, and at least one member of our group was standing at any given time. Once we got to San Isidro we found a hotel (with hot water I might add!!!) and peaced out for the night.

Monday February 16th

The remainder of the group hiked down the hill in the morning where Antonio was waiting to take us to our tour of an indigenous village by the name of Boruca. Matt, or as the locals call him Don Mateo, arranged for us to pick up Adrian who was going to be our translator/ tour guide for our excursion. Once we reached the town we were warmly welcomed by the women of the tribe and they fed us lunch, chicken, rice and beans of course! After lunch we were off to learn about all the different crafts that are the villages main source of income. The men of the village are known for carving beautiful and very intricate masks of indians and animals. These masks are used to keep bad spirits away. Apparently the story goes that hundreds of years ago when the Europeans were crossing into Central America the indigenous men donned their masks and costumes and essentially scared away the foreigners . Since the indigenous tribe was much shorter back then, they looked like little devils or “los diablitos”. So every year the have a celebration from December 30th to January 2nd commemorating this victory. The masks were really spectacular and we will post pictures of a couple, and each is unique; hand carved and then painted. The women of the village are known for their hand woven purses and blankets, and we had the great fortune to see the process unfold from start to finish. First they picked a cotton-like material from a native tree and began to pull it apart and spin it onto a spool. Then there are multiple plants around the village that can be boiled down and used to make colors. They pick these plants during a waning moon because that is when they will produce the best color. For the example she showed us, she boiled down leaves to make a rich royal blue color and she explained that it looked so good because the moon was perfect. They crush up seeds from a pod to make a red, and perhaps the most interesting was the purple twine was made from seashells that are extremely hard to find. The group agreed that ball of yarn smelled just like the beach! Then they showed us how they weaved the colored string together to make specific designs including animals, patterns and even words. They explained that making a single purse could take up to a month. Though the process may sound slow, if definitely held everybody’s interest and was really educational. The group gave the women a resounding thank you for their time and bid them farewell. We hopped back in the shuttle and went to our hostel in Uvita and hit the hay!

El Groupo de Expedition explored San Isidro and met up with Jan and Jose at “12:00,” though those two are on “Tico time” for sure (so approximately half an hour late). After a visit to Super Mega, where we stocked up on peanut butter and rice, Jose helped negotiate a good deal on a taxi ride to the base of Chirripo, where we all spent the night at the Hotel Uran. However, we also had some disappointing news, as Jose was called away on important ProCAT business. Though, Jan speculates that he just didn’t want to hike up Chirripo. The rest of us passed out early in anticipation for our big hike the next day.

Tuesday February 17th - Thursday February 19th

Tuesday marked the beginning of our three free days in Uvida. We spent our days lounging on the beach and swimming in the ocean. I think the girls definitely might have done a little too much shopping, but the beach side stores were filled with unique souvenirs and great clothing, so it was pretty hard to resist. The first night the whole group went out for a sushi dinner in a tiny little candlelit restaurant and then went next store and did a little dancing. Every night we had a ten o’clock curfew so we grabbed a cab and headed back to our hostel. Wednesday was Keith’s birthday so we took him out for dinner at a restaurant called Tortilla Flats, where the food was delicious everybody raved about their meal afterward. We all had a lot of fun that night, and the next day we soaked up one more day in the sun and headed back to Finca Bellavista, our home away from home, and prepared for what the next day held in store.

Tuesday, Feb. 17th
The Adventures of El Groupo de Expedition

The adventure begins! El Groupo de Expedition started hiking at an elevation of apprx. 5,000 ft, and in 14.5 kilometers (~ 8 miles), and 7-8 hours later, we made it to the field station at the base of the Crestones, at an elevation of ~ 11,000 ft. Needless to say, the hike was intense. The small town at the base of the mountain has men who earn their living by being porters for tourists and researchers up and down the mountain, some of those guys can make it to the station and back in under 4 hours! After arriving at the field station Jan and Gerry set rodent traps and also went to retrieve a camera trap that Jan had set up the last time he was at Chirripo (about three years ago...). However, there were some problems with the way the camera trap was set up, and while the camera was in good condition, it was found on the ground, and no pictures has been taken. Bummer. The rest of el groupo napped until dinner time, when we all helped to prepare our favorite food ever... rice and beans! After dinner we all huddled together for warmth, at that elevation it was actually quite cold, below freezing actually, and we went to bed early.

Wednesday, Feb. 18th

After our necessary cup of coffee, the group headed out on a hike to the Sabana de los Leones (Savanna of the Lions, in Costa Rica they refer to pumas as lions). The highlight of this hike was HANDS DOWN, the amount of poo, or if you prefer scienfitic terms, scat, we collected. I’ve never seen anyone so excited over scat as Jan was. We collected scat samples of puma, coyote, and some type of small carnivorous animal that Jan thinks might be a type of weasel. These samples will be sent to a lab in San Jose where students will go through the process of identifying what their diets consist of in this elevation. After some intense bushwhacking (oh yeah, thanks for telling us to wear long pants Jan... NOT), and on our third wild goose chase, we finally found a camera. We definitely learned the importance of taking good field notes, especially after trying to find cameras based on notes written three years ago, and in shorthand. The camera that we retrieved was placed in a cloud forest right next to a savanna, and while we hoped to find pictures of puma and other cats, we only found photos of tapir, a squirrel, and a bird whose perch was inconveniently located in the field of view (out of 144 pictures, about 100 were of that same bird!). After our field work was done, us CORE students all decided to hike up to the top of the Crestones. While we were told this hike was only about 30 mins, an hour later the slowest member of our group was just starting to summit the 12,000 ft rock spires. It was definitely worth the hike, as the view was spectacular. We were above the clouds and could see all the way to the Pacific coast. After our day of over 12 miles of hiking we enjoyed a delicious dinner of spaghetti and hit the sack early in preparation of summiting Chirripo the next day.

P.S. The four rodent traps that Gerry and Jan set were all full, and all were “preserved” so they could be shipped to a museum in San Jose and used for future reference.

Thursday, February 19

Today El Groupo de Expedition set out to summit Chirripo. This just happened to be a foggy, rainy day. We ate a cold breakfast in order to depart the field station at an early hour. It was 5k to the summit with a pretty steep climb at the end. Unfortunately, we could not see either the Pacific Ocean or the Caribbean Sea due to the thick cloud cover, but the feeling of summiting Costa Rica’s tallest mountain (3820 m) was well worth the hike. On the way down, we did some more bushwhacking to find the third and final camera. On the camera we saw tapir, rabbit, coyote, and one picture that is hopefully a cat. After some more bushwhacking, Jan and Gerry decided to hike the Crestones Ridge Trail back to the station while Eric, Brandee, and Tanner took the more leisurely route down; keep in mind there was nothing “leisurely” about this hike! Everyone rested for a few hours before we reviewed the four rodents caught the previous night. After a delicious supper, we set the traps once again and went to bed.

Friday, February 20

Today was definitely an interesting day, to say the very least. Matt decided to throw a pig roast tomorrow in honor of our last day at the Finca. So, today he hiked us down to his neighbor Don Victor’s house, so we could pick out our pig. Then it was time for the difficult part; we had to kill it. The boys grabbed the two hind legs of the pig and dragged it up a fairly steep hill while the pig protested very loudly. I think for most of us that was, surprisingly, the most difficult part. Admirably, the guys, Keith, Tommy, Max, and Tyson, were very competent and mature and took care of the actual slitting of the pig’s throat, Keith specifically held the knife, and the girls for the most part stood a few feet back. It was definitely a difficult thing to do but it made you realize just how privileged we are and that most people don’t think about where their food comes from when they sit down to dinner. Personally, I can definitely say that I am glad that is not something I have to do every time I want to eat. The guys proceeded to pore boiling water over the pigs skin and shave it down. After that they removed the feet, which I believe Don Victor’s dogs got to enjoy. Then it was time to clean it out; Tyson cut it down the middle with great precision, careful not to hit any of the organs. They removed the intestines, stomach and heart and washed out all the excess blood. As gruesome as it may sound, it was actually extremely educational and very interesting to watch. Finally, they hung the pig up to dry it out overnight so it would be ready to cook early the next day. We walked back to the Finca and everybody jumped into the river to wash off and cool down after a long, hot, and very unique day. After dinner it was time for bed because we all had to get up very early the next day to begin preparations for the fiesta.

Today the expedition group collected the rodent traps for the last time. We caught three rodents out of four which lead to a final record of 11 caught out of the 12 traps we placed. Jan, Gerry, and Eric enjoyed a quick breakfast while Tanner and Brandee decided to get a head start down the mountain. It was a rather long and painful 14.5k down to the base camp where we met Jose. From there we left for Manuel Antonio, a little beach town surrounded by one of Costa Rica’s biggest national parks, where we jumped in the ocean to watch the sunset. We saw squirrel monkeys outside our hostel in Manuel Antonio before we went to a reggae concert in reward of our accomplishments.

Saturday February 21st

Well some of us rose before the sun today to start the work- Max and Keith had to hike back down the hill to help Don Victor load the pig onto the horse, Tyson had to help build the spit to put the pig on, and the rest of us started the bonfire, minus the four members of our group who were returning from their expedition later that day. The day seemed to go by quickly because we were so busy. There was lots of food that needed to be made because we were expecting about 60 people, mostly employees of the Finca and their families because this was their annual employee party. Our driver, Antonio, and his family also came to celebrate with us. We played music in the kitchen and diced up vegetables and made guacamole, playing and working and having a great time. Erica made cake and cookies for everyone again, she was an excellent baker. After the fire had burned long enough and we had a good bed of coals going, the pig was mounted on the spit and the guys began their part of the cooking. The guests arrived and the Finca was more crowded than we had ever seen it before. We helped out around the Finca, doing chores and socializing, trying our best to work on our Spanish skills, while we waited for el chancho, the pig, to roast. It took six hours thirteen minutes and forty seven seconds for the one hundred and seventy six pound eight ounce pig to cook all the way through. =) It was definitely worth the wait though because the food was mouthwatering and it was amazing to be able to relax with our wonderful hosts and their friends that night. It was a beautiful way to spend our last night at Finca Bellavista.

From Manuel Antonio we said goodbye to Jan and Jose and caught a bus to Quepos where we sat for an hour and a half trying to figure out the bus schedule through our broken spanish. We finally caught a bus to Dominical where we had lunch and, unfortunately, missed our bus by a mere 10 minutes. We found out that tico time was not only late but also early. We caught a taxi who rushed us up past the bus which we then boarded and rode to La Florida. We began our ascent up the hill to Finca with a game of 20 questions to keep us occupied. When we got almost to the top of the hill, Mark, our beloved professor, picked us up and drove us back to Finca where we were greeted like kings by the CORE family. We made it in time to celebrate the fiesta and pig roast. We had a wonderful time with Jan and Jose and this was honestly one of the reasons why I chose Western State: to participate in the CORE Program and learn in a true hands-on setting.

Sunday February 22nd

Today we packed up our things, cleaned up our living space and had to say goodbye to the Finca. We are heading to El Castillo Del Sur (www.elcastillodelsur.com) for our ten day surf camp and we are all so excited. However, leaving the Finca was definitely a little emotional, it was a gorgeous one of a kind place and I know we will all miss it very much. More Later, thanks for checking in!

-Erin, Gerry, Eric (with help from Brandee)

Feb. 16th, 2009

Monday February 9 - 14

Monday February 9th

Early in the morning we had a our last meal at Poor Man’s then we boarded the boat and headed back to Sierpe to catch our bus back to Finca. Our awesome bus driver Antonio made an attempt to make it up “the hill”, we made it about 3/4 of the way and were stopped by a dump truck thus loosing momentum. We enjoyed a splendid meal and then went straight into our spanish lessons with Vera. Everyone was relived to be back in a familiar place but were tired and called it an early night.

Tuesday February 10th

Right after breakfast we went on a hike with Jan and Jose. Jan and Jose are the founders of Pro-Cat, this is an organization that is studying rainforest creatures, their habitats, and how humans are affecting them. It started out as a jaguar conservation group and has grown to include other animals. The main way that they are doing research is by using motion sensing cameras that capture various animals. They educated us about mammals, amphibians, and insects that are found in the Costa Rican rainforest. They explained to us about biodiversity and about how global climate change is effecting rainforest ecosystems. The effect of the rainforest warming is causing organisms to climb higher to stay in their temperature zone. The problem with this is where do the animals at higher elevations go? Unfortunately, the trend shows that these animals go extinct.
We had our spanish lessons with Vera in the afternoon. In our third week of lessons it was obvious that everyone in the group was improving in their spanish speaking skills. Even those who had never spoken spanish before the trip were starting to link together full sentences in conversation.
After dinner, Jan and Jose had a slideshow presentation of their collection of pictures from their camera traps. In the slideshow we saw many jaguars, raccoons, tapirs, ocelots, pumas, and wild turkeys.

Wednesday February 11th

We started out the day with an explanation from Jan and Jose about how the camera traps work. Then we hiked out into the jungle to practice setting up these camera traps as if we were going to take pictures of jaguars. We also continued our talks about conservation and rainforest ecology with Jan and Jose.
After lunch, we had our last day of spanish class with Vera.
In the evening, Jan and Jose lead an optional night hike along the river to spot animals. On the hike we saw toads (and one type of toad that Jose thinks might be significant because it’s never been reported at this elevation!!! -added by Brandee as she was helping us with this entry), rain frogs, a frog snake eating a rain frog, the Jesus Christ lizard, spiders, and a cat-eye vine snake. We were all very fortunate to get this opportunity to see an aspect of the rainforest that is so rare to see.
The Jesus Christ lizard gets its name because it ‘walks on water’. With it’s tail it was probably about two feet long and we all got a chance to hold it. After the first few people the lizard became incredibly docile, Jan explained it was most likely because he really enjoyed the warmth from our hands, then we put him back to sleep on the rock where we found him. We all also got the chance to hold the vine snake (which are harmless) which was very interesting because we sort of took her by surprise and to defend herself she released an extremely foul smelling odor. Most of us held her anyway and the smell went away with a little soap and water. The fact that we got to hold wild animals in the rainforest definitely made that the most unique and exciting biology lesson I’m sure most of us have ever had.

Thursday February 12th-14th

This morning we had our first tree climbing lessons. We split the group in two, half of us helped the gardener at the Finca, Felo, plant ground cover to control erosion, while the other half learned how to set up a rope in a very tall tree and climb it using ascenders. Owen, the general manager at Finca Bellavista, was our instructor for this part of the course, and did a truly excellent job. He is responsible for constructing over 90% of the zip line tours in Costa Rica, so we definitely had a qualified, knowledgeable instructor. He began by showing us how you get a rope around a tree branch 80 feet above your head. Believe it or not, he uses a giant slingshot! He slowly works his way from a fishing wire to a thick, reliable climbing rope and showed us how to anchor it off effectively. Then he escorted us to giant tree that stood along the bank of the Rio Bellavista and overlooked all of base camp. He showed us how to move up and down the rope using two ascenders, which took a lot of patience but much less strength than expected if you did it properly. Once everyone had the hang of it he sent us up about 70 feet in the air and allowed us to rest and swing in the rich, green canopy of the rainforest.
After tree climbing and gardening, everyone was a little tired from the sun and the work, so we rested because our beautiful spanish teacher Vera was going to show us how to cook Rondon, a dish typically found on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica! This was sort of a spanish lesson in and of itself because she instructed us mostly in spanish, teaching us the words for all the vegetables, chopping, peeling, cleaning and many more. She split our group of 15 into small groups and assigned us tasks. One group had to chop all the vegetables, one group had to clean and cut the 4 chickens, one group had to build the fire and cook the rice, and one group had to peel and shave the coconuts. For the coconut peeling Vera’s husband, Owen (who was our tree climbing instructor earlier that day) built us a tool out of half of a machete and a stump of wood. Shaving the inside of the coconuts was tricky at first and seemed to take forever, but once you developed your technique you realized you perfected a unique skill. Finally everybody was finished, we combined all of our food into a very large pot and set it over an open fire. We listened to music and enjoyed the sounds of the rainforest as we waited for our meal to cook. As it turned out it was well worth the 3 hours of working and waiting because it was a delicious feast that the group could be proud of and enjoy. We gave Vera a huge thank you and said our goodbyes, I know we will all miss her and her contagious positive attitude very much.

-Erin, Gerry, Eric

***Editor’s note- Eric, Gerry, Brandee, and Tanner, a group which includes two of the people who are in charge of writing this section of the blog, have embarked on an adventure with Jan and Jose to Parque Nacional Chirripo, home of Chirripo Mountain, Costa Rica’s highest peak. They have been selected to serve as research assistants with some field work they are performing for their organization and will return on Saturday, February 21. The next blog posting will be both an account of their expedition as well as what the rest of the group will have done during the next week, so please be patient we will get the next post up as soon as we get everyone back together!***

Feb. 11th, 2009

Here is a big picture post! I hope you enjoy!

We learned how to make baskets out of local vines We learned how to make baskets out of local vines
Erin making a sign, this was one of the projects we did to help out of the Finca Erin making a sign, this was one of the projects we did to help out of the Finca
It takes a really long time to route one sign It takes a really long time to route one sign
Jen trying her hand at routing the sign Jen trying her hand at routing the sign
This was another project we dod to help out, we poked holes in the group and planted little plants, this to to help with erosion issues This was another project we dod to help out, we poked holes in the group and planted little plants, this to to help with erosion issues
They are preparing the plants we needed to plant in the holes They are preparing the plants we needed to plant in the holes
Hard and work, making a difference! Hard and work, making a difference!
These round balls are very interesting... no one really knows where they come from or how they got here, but there only in Costa Rica very close to the Panamanian boarder These round balls are very interesting... no one really knows where they come from or how they got here, but there only in Costa Rica very close to the Panamanian boarder
These are our SCUBA instructors These are our SCUBA instructors
So Beautiful So Beautiful
Everyone learning how to use their SCUBA equipment Everyone learning how to use their SCUBA equipment
Fun under the water Fun under the water
Fun under the water Fun under the water
Fun under the water Fun under the water
Fun under the water Fun under the water
Lessons under the water Lessons under the water
Fun under the water Fun under the water
SCUBA is fun SCUBA is fun
This is Max, one of our SCUBA instructors. He was awesome This is Max, one of our SCUBA instructors. He was awesome
This is a shark we saw, kind of murky but still cool This is a shark we saw, kind of murky but still cool
Fun under the water Fun under the water
I dont know what kind of fish this is, but it was huge and about 3 feet from me I dont know what kind of fish this is, but it was huge and about 3 feet from me
We saw this spider in the Corcavado National Park We saw this spider in the Corcavado National Park
The trees here are sooooo big The trees here are sooooo big
The group on our nature walk through Corcavado The group on our nature walk through Corcavado
This is a fresh water river that runs into the ocean This is a fresh water river that runs into the ocean
The island you can see is 12 miles away, its Cano Island. We went SCUBA diving there and it was amazing The island you can see is 12 miles away, its Cano Island. We went SCUBA diving there and it was amazing
Our guide, Consuela, showed us how to crack open coconuts with a rock Our guide, Consuela, showed us how to crack open coconuts with a rock
Wasps! Wasps!
I guess some people got really hungry because they were cracking open for a long time I guess some people got really hungry because they were cracking open for a long time
Crocodile in Corcavado Crocodile in Corcavado
What a pretty waterfall, Corcavado What a pretty waterfall, Corcavado
Picture Perfect Picture Perfect
This is a spiky palm tree @ the Finca This is a spiky palm tree @ the Finca
Pretty Flower Pretty Flower
An ode to naps! SCUBA really wore everyone out An ode to naps! SCUBA really wore everyone out
The sunsets at Poorman's Paradise were absolutely incredible The sunsets at Poorman's Paradise were absolutely incredible
Poorman's Paradise Poorman's Paradise
Fun boat rides Fun boat rides
Can you see the Toucan? Can you see the Toucan?
You find some interesting things in the rainforest You find some interesting things in the rainforest
little rain frog little rain frog
Gerry on the slack line Gerry on the slack line
Tyson working on the truck! Tyson working on the truck!
Beautiful flowers Beautiful flowers
a great picture of ants a great picture of ants
creepy spider creepy spider

this is actually not a bug, but the exoskeleton of one this is actually not a bug, but the exoskeleton of one
the butterflies/moths here are amazing the butterflies/moths here are amazing
The ocean at Poorman's Paradise The ocean at Poorman's Paradise
like i said the sunsets here are amazing like i said the sunsets here are amazing
every night we had a scene like this every night we had a scene like this
breathtaking breathtaking
every single shell you see here is a hermit crab, it was boarder line disgusting... every single shell you see here is a hermit crab, it was boarder line disgusting...
i had no idea hermit crabs could climb! i had no idea hermit crabs could climb!
bats! Corcavado bats! Corcavado
Spider Monkey Spider Monkey
creepy spiders in Corcavado creepy spiders in Corcavado
Beautiful birds Beautiful birds
Howler monkey Howler monkey
these monkeys were so awesome, i have never seen one in real life before (not in a cage) and it was an exciting experience these monkeys were so awesome, i have never seen one in real life before (not in a cage) and it was an exciting experience
there is only 4 howlers in this picture, but there were several more throughout the tree there is only 4 howlers in this picture, but there were several more throughout the tree
this is a momma and her baby this is a momma and her baby
bats! bats!
this is an anteater we was in Corcavado, this is an anteater we was in Corcavado,
Gerry got sooooo close to this crocodile Gerry got sooooo close to this crocodile
Ana the macaw at Poorman's, if you said hola to her sometimes she would say it back! she really enjoyed dive bombing the girls... Ana the macaw at Poorman's, if you said hola to her sometimes she would say it back! she really enjoyed dive bombing the girls...

February 2nd - 8th

 Monday February 2nd


We have arrived at Poor Man’s Paradise, or as many of us have come to call it; simply Paradise. The contrast between here and Finca is diverse yet similar in that we are surrounded by the sounds and sights of the Costa Rican Rainforest. The only efficient way in and out of this resort is by boat, as it is isolated on the Osa Peninsula bordering the Corcovado National Park. This was an exhilarating boat ride and our competent captain took us through some sizeable waves at the mouth of the Rio Sierpe, then made a smooth, comfortable landing on the beach in front of PMP. The major difference in this rainforest setting from the one we are accustomed to is we have a beautiful, crescent-moon shaped beach with a good view of Cano Island to enjoy everyday. We spent the first day getting accustomed to the new environment and swimming in the big surf. We enjoyed some fresh cuisine minus the customary rice and beans, and much appreciated our clean and comfortable beds. We sat together as a group and watched a spectacular sunset over the Pacific horizon. 



Tuesday February 3rd


The next day started with the first group to scuba dive, rising before six to eat breakfast and meet with our very competent and humorous instructor, Max. Max’s assistant, Lin, also provided the group with some great instruction and was our captain for the boat dives later in the week. The remainder of the group stayed behind to study for their first lesson. The first group up learned the basics of scuba diving, particularly: equipment use, safety, and  being comfortable in the ocean. For the majority of the group the most rewarding skill learned was becoming accustomed to breathing under water. Everyone enjoyed themselves, particularly Eric and Gerry for whom this was a completely new experience. Everyone performed and followed instructions with flying colors, and are looking forward to their next lesson. When asked if there was anything they didn’t like, the most common response was “having to wait for the second group to have their first lesson”. The instructor, Max, said he enjoyed everyone’s positive attitude, friendliness, and open mindedness. He says he looks forward to certifying everyone and possibly more Western students in the future. After a long and un dia muy caliente (very hot day) everyone is a little sunburned and ready to relax with a cool ocean breeze and a good meal, minus the rice and beans.  



Wednesday February 3rd - Friday February 6th


We are all Scuba certified!!! Over the past four days all members have learned essential skills in scuba ranging from equipment preparation to the science behind scuba diving. Learning the theory of scuba and passing the numerous quizzes and the final exam seemed to be the most challenging. The in-water skills we learned seemed to be just part of the fun. According to our instructor Max everyone passed with exceptional ability and moved along faster in the course than he expected. Moreover everyone had a fantastic time! Henceforth we are all able to scuba dive on our own! 

Cano Island was a special treat because it was a National Park. The wildlife on and off land was diverse and intriguing. During the two deep dives we completed today, we saw a wide range of marine life, including white tip reef sharks, which were sometimes bigger than Courtney, the smallest member of our group, lion fish, groupers, eels, and numerous other tropical fish. It seemed at times that the entire beach was moving because of the abundance of hermit crabs. Everyone is glad that the course is over but reluctant to stay on land. Over the next few days we are planning on a land tour of Corovado National Park and a tour of a local cave. So as today winds down, everyone is a little more tan and ready and willing for some fresh fish caught that morning by some free spear-fishermen staying at the lodge, and a nice clean pillow. 

It seems now that the group is coming together into a single synergetic group. It appears that we have moved on the spectrum of group development from the storming stage to the norming stage. It is evident however, that we will quickly be moving on to the performing stage. These terms, storming, norming and performing, are terms we learned in our recreation classes that help to characterize different stages of group development. During the storming stage, people were finding their place in the group, adding their specific set of skills into the mix, and generally getting a feel for everyone and the new experience of living with a group of diverse people. The norming phase is highlighted by the group coming together with their backgrounds and skill sets in order to form more of a collective of individuals, all working together for our unique experiences. And of course, the performing stage is when we put those skills to the test and make positive contributions to the group living experience and use the skills we have developed with each other to tackle the diverse and unique challenges we have faced and will face as the course continues. 



Saturday February 7th - Sunday February 8th


Alas! We are leaving Paradise! But we are all looking back on the wonderful times we had here and looking forward to getting back to the Finca. Saturday we all woke up early to go on a guided tour of Corcovado National park. The diversity of animals and birds we saw were in competition with the marine life we saw earlier in the week. Right from the moment we set foot in the park, our guide, Consuelo, started pointing out so many things, it was hard to keep track. We saw a variety of monkey species, numerous bird species and all got very familiar with the pesky local insects. Aside from all the exotic animals, the geography of the untouched beaches were pristine. As with Cano Island, it seemed the beaches were crawling with hermit crabs. 

On the way back to lunch, Consuelo stopped to show us how to spot a good coconut and how to de-husk it, and how to eat and drink from it. We all appreciated the cool coconut milk in the middle of our hike. Once we arrived at the park headquarters where we were going to eat, Consuelo quickly made us some fried rice, sandwiches, veggies, and refreshing drinks. After eating, we all started to nap but were soon roused by Consuelo to hike to a waterfall in the park. Along the way we were lucky enough spot a anteater and a cayman resting on the banks of the river. Once we arrived at the 120-foot waterfall, which was spectacular, we decided to jump into the water to cool off. It was amazing, we all had a great time jumping from and playing under the numerous smaller waterfalls. 

The day ended with a great dinner and a fun fiesta. We are all sad to leave this magical place but will always remember the wonderful things we all experienced. 


- Maximillian and Courtney

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