Unfortunately, today we had to leave Costa Rica behind us as we traveled back into the states to start attending classes once again. We all moaned and groaned as we got out of bed and made our way down to breakfast. We all wanted to ”accidentally” forget our passports in a storm drain so we could not make it home that day. However, it was time to go home and we had to do as we were told. To our surprise Ramon picked us up in the morning for our busride to the San Jose International Airport. Our hope to stay was reinstated! Ramon could have taken us back into the rainforest as he had control over the bus. Unfortunenately, he did not do bring us back to paradise. He brought us straight to the airport. There we had our second goodbye with Ramon. We all shed tears as we entered the airport terminal. It was a long journey back to the states. We landed in Newark and then stood in line for almost two hours trying to go through customs and immigration. We thought we were home free but alas, we had another two hour bus ride back to CCSU. Even after that a few of us had another short journey back to our homes. When we all arrived and got off the bus we realized that we were glad to be home. We got to see our friends and family once again. Our trip to Costa Rica was amazing and we all agree on that. None of us will ever forget this past week for as long as we live. Hopefully we will have a chance to return to Costa Rica some day in the future. We can start right where we left off.

Today was our earlies day we had to rise from our beds in the morning. We had to wake up at 5:30 and depart by 6:30 to catch the best time of the day to go white water rafting. After breakfast we hopped on our bus and headed out to where our white water rafting adventure was going to begin. When we arrived at the river we were given lifejackets and some instructions about rafting. The instructions dealt with what happens if we fall off the raft and into the rocky waters, the proper way to paddle, and  commands we had to follow from our leader/guide of the raft. We had three commands to follow which were paddle forward, paddle backwards, and lean in which meant to get into a seated position on the bottom of the raft with our paddles facing upwards. After all the instructions we paddled furiously to the first section of the rapids. with everyone excited, we hit our fist set of rapids. After the first section, our entire group had smiles across their face and were soaking wet from head to toe. After each section of rapids this reaction would happen. Failing to do so was impossible. Our rafting guide would aslo shout PURA VIDA after each section of rapids and then we would shout it back to him. In some sections of the river it was calm and deep enough to go for a short swim before more rapids came up. Half way through our adventure we stopped to go cliff jumping. We jumped off of a cliff right back into the steady current of the river. When we got back out of the water we would climb back up the short path to the jumping point and jump again. Little Big Pat even dared to do a front flip into the water. While we were jumping into the river like idiots our guides cut up a few watermelons for us to eat before we went back out on the river. Shortly after the cliff jumping we finished our 12 km rafting trip and headed back to San Jose to relax for the rest of the day. When we arrived at our hotel we had to say goodbye to our wonderful guide and bus driver, William and Ramon. These two made our adventures in Costa rica much more enjoyable. Without them some of our experiences would not have been possible. We owe so much to both of them.

Today our group traveled to Veragua Rainforest Reserve. This is a reserve that is not very far from Cahuita. We arrived to find a reserve unlike the other reserves we have been to on our trip thus far. Instead of the normal trail through the rainforest like Cahuita National park, this reserve had more developed areas. We walked up onto a wooden walk way where we checked in and then took off to see the snakes of the rainforest. These snakes were held in captivity and were behind glass. Even though these snakes were behind glass like a zoo, it was nice to see some of the snakes we wouldn’t otherwise spot. Some were so well camoflauged that it took us a few minutes to spot them in a small cubicle. The pythons were easily spotted however. We then ventured out to see their frog exhibit. Again, some of these frogs were hard to spot, just like many of the snakes. After the frogs we moved to an exhibit where they had many insects and butterflies mounted on what were like picture frames. these insects were all dead of ccourse. We did get to experience butterflies that were alive shortly after as our guide to us to their butterfly house. After we made our way through these exhibits, we were able to take a tram ride through the canopy of the rainforest. This ride was exciting because it brought us down to a magnificent waterfall. There was a small metal deck we stood on that the overlooked the waterfall from its side. We made our way back up through the canopy and called it a day. When we returned to our hotel in Cahuita, the grad students took one last trip out to the beach to say goodby to the ocean. When the current became too strong our fun ended and we headed back for dinner. A wonderful barbeque concluded our last night in Cahuita.

The day began with RJ, having gained so much muscle from rowing the class down the river the day before, shattering his brand new water bottle in his iron grip, successfully soaking himself and those around him. We then departed for a 5 mile hike to Cahuita Point in Cahuita National Park and then back. Due to the high volumes of wild life, a relatively short hike took about 5 hours to complete. The time spent was well worth it as the class was able to observe many species of plants, animals, and insects, in their natural habitat. Almost immediately after entering the park, and many times after, the class was able to find  bright yellow Eyelash Pit Vipers. The class was informed they must be very cautious when approaching this snake, as it is very venomous and if bitten there would be serious consequences. Besides the approximately 10 times that the class was able to spot these vipers alone, there were many other types of wildlife to keep the class enticed, and constantly stopping so everyone could take pictures. These animals included, but were not limited to bullet ants, raccoon, squirrel, spiders, monkeys (both Howler and Spider), sloths, and various birds. On the way to the point, the group enjoyed a scenic beach view, two river crossings, and rainforest environments, all in one landscape. Since our hike was so close to the shore, we were able to see how the ocean and forest ecosystems interacted with one another. Upon reaching Cahuita Point, the class was provided with freshly cut pineapple to snack on while groups of monkeys attempted to steal any type of food they possibly could, even jumping on another visitors’ shoulder and finally successfully grabbing a bag of chips…. which the remaining monkeys they attempted to steal from the monkey who stole them first!  While it was entertaining to watch, it also shows how even in a wildlife reserve, there is a noticeable human influence upon the environment. After the hike the class headed to the beach to cool down and enjoy the sun and Caribbean climate, as the looming departure for snow and low temperatures grows ever so close. Little did they know, but the day had one more surprise in store for the class, as later that night a sloth found its way onto a wire in the hotel grounds and was able to be observed, up close and personal, by everyone in the group and many pictures were taken to document this rare opportunity.

 

The day began with a two hour drive further south near the Panamanian border and is the most southeastern point in the country. Our local guide brought us to a beach famous for turtle nesting, more specifically, Leatherback and Green Sea Turtles. One interesting fact about the nesting process, is that the sex of the turtles will depend upon the temperature of the environment in which the eggs are located. The reserve in which the beach is located boasts a program aimed at the conservation and cleanliness of the beach to provide a safe haven for these turtles to lay their eggs, and survive the nesting process without being disrupted by human activity. Following a delicious home cooked local lunch, we then departed on a short hike culminating in a scenic boat ride along a local river to a beautiful lake. Along the trip we were treated to the observation of numerous bird, animal and plant species including herons, spider monkeys (a rare treat, being the largest, and least observed monkey species in the country), raccoons, and the very unique mangrove ecosystem. The deepest part of the brackish lake, at around 36 feet, is home to numerous marine wildlife species.  While on the boat, which was rowed in part by both big Pat and little big Pat, RJ, and Greg, the students were given the opportunity to enjoy fresh coconut milk straight from the coconut. Muy delicioso!  The day was exhausting, proven true by the fact that 5 of the 6 students passed out almost immediately upon returning to the bus, but was one of the most enjoyable thus far!

Day 5 – Travel Day

January 9, 2013

Today was mostly spent travelling south along the coast to a town named Cahuita. It is located on the Caribbean side in the south of Costa Rica. The town has a very unique feel and culture that is noticeably different from the rest of the towns we have visited thus far. The group enjoyed the beautiful beaches and scenery that the town has to offer and was able to relax on the half-way point of the study abroad trip.

The second of two days at el Universidad de EARTH, we were taken on an adventure into the university’s wildlife reserve, which boasts both primary and secondary rainforest environments over a span of over 2000 acres. There is a unique combination of wildlife diversity and exhibits some of the most biodiverse environments in the world. Over the course of the 1.6 mile hike, we were able to observe, Toucans, White Puff Neck birds, Golden Orb Spiders, termites, Two-toed Sloths, and Howler Monkeys, among many other tropical plant and animal species. Our guide gave us the treat of tasting termites if we so choose, which both RJ and Greg opted into (and claim they were delicious). Within the primary forest we were able to observe flora and fauna from all 4 levels of tropical rainforest: ground, understory, subcanopy, and canopy. After a quick lunch (where the group cleaned out the cafeteria of the homemade hot sauce) we were brought to a local farming community and were given the opportunity to offset our carbon footprint of this trip by planting cedar and blackwood trees. The trees will not be harvested and will deliver more availability for biodiversity within the community.

Today was the first day at EARTH University. The university itself is a very unique experience, being the first school in Costa Rica to be carbon neutral, and is centered completely on agricultural sustainability and giving back to communities around the world. The university is a 4 year nonprofit university (undergraduate), established in 1990 and currently has 400 students. These students come from at least 28 different countries and have extremely diverse backgrounds but all boast exceptional academic and leadership skills. We were given a tour of their organic and sustainable gardens, and were given information on how to apply their techniques at home. These gardens were used for close to 100% of the food the students consume daily in their cafeteria. The gardens were home to many different herbs and vegetables for both consumption, and medicinal purposes. From there, we were taken to the campus’ banana production center. This was one the few things that was not entirely sustainable or organic about the university. The bananas are shipped around the world including to Germany, and Whole Foods in the United States. The dairy farm was our final stop for the day and we observed more sustainable agricultural practices including the use of a biodigestor and compost techniques using animal waste to produce fertilizer for their crops. They also made use of leeching fields to purify waste water used around the farm and campus. Throughout the tour we experienced many different types of wildlife that had not been encountered in San Jose, including sloths, red iguanas, Cayman, numerous birds, and geckos.

Irazú Volcano Pictures

January 5, 2013