Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Road to Monteverde, Costa Rica

- Laurel Kipe '17

After 4 hours of driving on steep dirt roads, we made it to Camino Verde, owned by Andres Gomez '06. We were now in the Monteverde, or the cloud forest. This unique area is one of the prime locations in Costa Rica to grow coffee as it provides ideal conditions for the plants. After we settled in to our rooms and grabbed a smoothie, we all loaded into a bus and droves out to the forest. We took a night hike to try and witness some of the animal night life that can't be seen during the day. With the help of our guide Marco, we were lucky enough to spot an armadillo, a sleeping toucan, a possum, pit viper, scorpion and tarantula. After the hike many students went out into town to grab a bite to eat. When walking around Monteverde, a clear contrast could be seen between tourist traps and authentic Costa Rican cuisine. A personal favorite was the Taco Taco Taqueria. Over our two days I enjoyed my fair share of tacos, unlike any taco I have ever had. These two days gave students plenty of time to explore the town, shop for some coffee to take home and to relax among the clouds. I enjoyed sitting on the balcony of the hotel that overlooked the mountains that stretched on out to the Pacific.

                 On Monday we went zip lining. This was an incredible experience. The course had over 7 lines, 2 super mans and a Tarzan swing. One line was the longest in Latin America, and was just short of a mile. This bird's eye view provided a new perspective of the land we had been exploring by foot. And although I loved staying on the Ranch, Monteverde was my favorite part of the trip. We had so much more freedom since we were located in town and I was able to witness the culture of Costa Rica for myself.

Tide Pool Observations in Costa Rica

 - Rachel Marsh '17

Our first trip to San Juanillo on Tuesday, June 14th ended in flashes of lightning, heavy thunder, and loud pants as everyone sprinted off the beach to avoid the storm. 

We had come to observe the tide pools that lay on a rocky part of the shore. Tide pools are often full of sea life, however they each vary due to certain factors, including their proximity from the water. For example, tide pools form when the tide comes in, so at low tide tide pools farthest from the ocean are exposed to the sun earlier than tide pools closest to the ocean. Because father tide pools have more time in the sun and are warmer, the sea life they hold may be different then those tide pools that are close. Our goal in this trip to San Juanillo was to observe the tide pools for 10 minutes while acknowledging this factor. 

We returned to San Juanillo at 6pm on Friday, June 17th for our second attempt at observing these tide pools. Luckily the weather was nice and we were able to complete our task. For 10 minutes each member of group watched his or her own tide pool carefully, writing down observations. It was interesting to see how different some pools were from others. My tide pool was filled with dozens of small cone shells with living creatures inside. I spotted a few fish and a crab. However, a bigger tide pool which was closer to the ocean was booming with life. It contained not only fish and snails but sea urchins, sea hairs, chiton, bryozoans, coralline algae, and brittle stars, which look similar to starfish. A lot of these creatures were foreign to members of the group and it was fascinating to see so many new species that close together in the wild.

While in San Juanillo the group also measured the beach slope together using a few meter sticks, a measuring tape, some string, and a balance. This slope is measured every year by each group of students, and the data is compared. When this task was completed, some ventured into the ocean for a quick swim while others stayed in the sand to admire the sunset and take pictures. We have witnessed many pretty sunsets while being here, but in my opinion this sunset was the most beautiful. The sky seemed to hold every shade of purple, pink, and orange, and it was gorgeous to watch the shades slowly shift. Taking in the beauty around me was amazing but brought me a tinge of sadness because our time here seemed to be going so fast. When the sun dipped below the horizon and the rose colored sky began to darken, our group headed back to the ranch with a job well done (and most likely a sunburn).

Zip Lining in Costa Rica

 - Shayan Ghodsi '17

After a peaceful hike in the morning followed by a humming bird garden, we set our sights to the air and mentally prepared to be sky high. 

Zip Lining was our next endeavor. We took the bus, signed the waiver, and strapped up for fun! I remember clearly being apprehensive about leaving my life in the hands of some metal hooks and widgets. I started questioning whether my parents actually looked over the forms when they signed me up for this trip, but all my thoughts were put aside when I met the experts working there. They seemed like everyday people, like you and me. I asked the man who was strapping cables on me how long he had worked there. He said, "first day" and smiled. I laughed and responded with, "Me too, I'll teach you." 

Now feeling comfortable with the man helping me out, who I found shortly later had been working for 17 years, I snapped on the straps to my helmet and set off to the first platform. Fortunately, like every safe excursion, we got to listen to directions teaching us the basics of zip lining. It was brief and informative and then we set off. I can't speak for others, but it was more fun than scary. Floating through the sky above the canopies of trees gave us a different view of the world and the beauty that it holds. After a couple beginner/shorter lines that let us practice our balancing and braking, we set our ambitions for some longer lines and then the two superman runs where we hung from our backs and stared straight down into the wildlife. 

The grand finale was known as the Tarzan swing. I only expected to be able to swing at your own liberty as a small but fun event. But as I walked out farther and farther on the bridge that housed the king of the jungle, I started to realize how much I was wrong. I reached the end, but the bridge ended with nothing but a drop. Two men strapped me to two new ropes. I put my hands on them to hold on tight, and then the ropes started pulling me closer to the edge. The man from the beginning was there and he mumbled something I didn't here. I asked what it was that he said but the rope kept pulling and then I realized what was going on. I went into a free fall thinking that my lack of listening was gonna cause my death. I heard him yell, "bend your knees!" I tucked them in and proceeded to scream and curse as I was jerked from my fall and started to swing back and forth through the trees. As I was mid-yelling unthinkable words, I realized that my friends were right below me laughing at every bit of it. Next to them, a parent covering her child's ears. Guilt hit me the moment I confirmed that I wasn't alone and was left for another 5 swings of embarrassment until I was let down to rejoin my group. Best trip ever. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Horseback Riding in Costa Rica

- Sam Goldman 17

On Wednesday June 15th we split into two groups - one going to the library and the other, my group, going horseback riding. All but 2 people who went horseback riding that day had never ridden a horse before. We were filled with enthusiasm and slight butterflies in our stomach, aside from the stomach virus that was about to hit everyone on the trip, as we walked down the hill to meet our horses.

My horse, a beautiful, tall, all-brown girl, was named Annex. Being only 5'3, the first challenge I was faced with a as getting on the horse, keep in mind I have never done it before. Giovanni, the cowboy who would lead our ride, spoke no English, so he pointed at the horse and I was on my own to get on. Luckily, I did not have a problem.

Rene, the ranch manager, and Giovanni led us out of the gates. Although they led us the entire way, the horses were so well trained that even without Rene and Giovanni it seemed as though they would follow the right path.

After only a minute or two into the ride, Noah Litzinger's horse decided it was in the mood to pick up speed, so they passed everyone, including Rene and Giovanni. Not knowing what to do, Noah quickly learned how to control his horse, bringing her to a stop to wait for the rest of the group. As Noah's horse decided to run faster, Laila's horse, who seemed to always want to follow Noah, would mimic the exact same motions.

We stopped periodically along the leisurely ride. Each stop had a purpose. Rene told us about the different types of cattle on the ranch, how he came to raise cattle, the Pachote House that sits on the property, and so much more.

When our adventures came close to an end, the horses could feel that they were almost home. It was their intuition to run faster as they neared the finish line, and as one horse sped up, so did the rest of them. The fast gallops were a little scary at first, but ultimately it was exhilarating to go from a gentle walking pace to a fast sprint. 

Bridging the History of Ostional Costa Rica with the Future

A real learning experience about land, culture, and the people of Costa Rica was presented to the Mercersburg group when the students got to meet Don Gilbert, a real “Tico” (Costa Rican), on Thursday, June 16. Gilbert is the grand-son of the founder of Ostional, a cozy, yet americanized, costal paciLic town. The elderly man retired a couple years ago and now serves as a tour guide in the nearby national park and as an advisor during the “arabada”, the annual sea-turtle nesting season. The students were invited to the oceanfront house of David Payne, a former principal of a Californian High School, and his wife, to have the opportunity to ask Señor Gilbert questions about the ecological situation of Costa Rica and to hear the opinions of a native about issues ranging from the benefits of eco-tourism to the extensive immigration of Nicaraguans to Costa Rica. Students learned that while American tourists are a welcome and necessary economical resource for Costa Rica, the government recently restricted absolute American expansion. So it comes, for example, that legislation today undermines American settlements right at the Ocean in order to preserve natural living spaces for the Ticos. 

Furthermore, Gilbert talked about certain initiatives for the protection of sea-turtles. Domestic and sometimes even international projects with students groups annually work on the betterment of nesting spaces for the reptiles, such as the construction of fenced beaches. Additionally, the Tico also mentioned the socio-economic divide between Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans, the problems of (illegal) immigration and the sparsity of work on the job-market which is increased by immigrants. And finally, he answered students’ questions about the conditions needed for turtles to come to the beaches of Nosara and Ostional, as he explained how moon, tide, and beach slopes factor into the equation.

Personally, I found the opportunity to meet Don Gilbert to be a real privilege. It was a unique opportunity to hear first hand feelings from a Tico about issues that should be relevant to American and all other tourists, ecologists, biologists, and students coming to Costa Rica. It was a very generous gesture by Gilbert to patiently answer our questions and it is a small, yet important step for the positive relationship between Costa Ricans and Americans. 

 - Michael Mikari '16

Swinging Bridges, Monteverde, Costa Rica

     Today in Monteverde, most of the group went on a walk on the swinging bridges. The swinging bridges was a walk through the forest but at certain locations their were bridges that went across the tops of trees. The only catch was the bridges were only attached to the ground at the ends of the bridges. As you were walking and taking in the breathtaking view the bridges would sway in the wind. The swaying was my favorite part but I'm sure some other students could have done without it. After walking for a while the group split up, so we waited for the stragglers. Upon their arrival they told us how their was a snake on the bridge and it was in an attacking position. The group that had gone ahead was freaked out (mostly Shayan). 

     After the walk ended we were able to go into the humming bird garden. This garden was full of bird feeders with sugar water. If you were patient enough you could put your finger next to the feeder and a humming bird would land on it and start drinking the sugar water. 

 - Noah Litzinger '19

Night Hike in Monteverde Costa Rica