Saturday, April 07, 2007

Back from Costa Rica

I'm back from Costa Rica and I must tell you, that was one of the greatest experiences in my life. As Costa Ricans say, the experience was "pura vida" or "pure life", which is basically a Costa Rican phrase for good. Some interesting things I learned about Costa Rica I've learned. Costa Rica is a country with no army; it was abolished in 1948 by the president José Figueres Ferrer. This means that Costa Rica is extremely stable; with no military, there are no coups to overthrow the government like that happen in other Central American countries. Thus making Costa Rica an extremely good place for tourism. Another thing, the Costa Rican government made a choice to conserve the rainforest. Over a quarter of Costa Rican forest is protected under the national park system. Over half is is protected when you include private reserves. And because of this protection, Costa Rica is cashing in, big time. Tourism is by far the largest industry with an extremely long lead (61.8% according to Wikipedia). Next is industry. In fact, one of Intel's headquarters are in San Jose, the capital; I saw it. After that, it's pineapples and coffee. Ok, I've bored you enough with my background, time to describe the trip. Unfortunately, I do not have pictures yet, but those will come later:

Day 1: We get off the plane, which is flown by TACA, the major airline servicing Central America. After that we left the airport and went to our hotel, which was a Country Inn. It turned out that my group had the suite, which was a two story room with three beds. However, 5 people had to share it, but it was still awesome having the largest room of all of the groups. That day was our rest day, and I had a very good time.

Slept at: Country Inn

Day 2: After that, we packed our bags and left to hotel to go to a volcano called Poas. It is an active volcano, but it doesn't emit magma, only steam and sulfur. We stayed there for twenty minutes, until the crater got covered with clouds (there was a lot of fortunate timing in this trip). After that, we left to go to the hotel near the Arenal volcano, called the Hotel Cataratas. There was a pool there, and the rest of the night was basically finding the room and swimming.

Slept at: Cataratas

Day 3: We woke up at the Cataratas Hotel and had a pretty busy schedule. In the morning, we went kayaking, something I don't want to do again for a long while. It was extremely strenuous, but fun also. I was extremely tired at the end. However, this only lasted until noon, and we still had a full schedule in front of us. Next, we went to the Arenal waterfall. This was essentially a river that is fed by a huge waterfall, a very large tourist attraction, but not that crowded. Over there was basically more swimming. Because I was able to swim upstream through the rocks, I was given the title of salmon (because salmon regularly migrate upstream) by Yani and Beryl (two girls who I hung out with for most of the trip). After braving the current and going upstream, we had to leave and go to hot springs, heated by 100% volcano. Only Yani and I braved the 152 degree Fahrenheit hot spring, by far the hottest spring in the area. So, I have some bragging rights. The last thing of the day is to look at Arenal during the night to see it erupt. Now, these are small continuous eruptions, not the big deadly ones. However, I must admit, I spent more time listening to Mr. Laderman talking about the night sky than looking at the volcano. After this, we went back to the hotel and found out that there was another EF group at the hotel, made up of elementary school kids. After this, I just decided to try and go to sleep. However, it was also this night where I was persuaded to take the optional horseback riding which would be the next day. So, after some last-minute scrambling to change my option, I went to bed.

Slept at: Cataratas

Day 4: We packed and left Cataratas. We hit the road and came to an elementary school in rural Costa Rica. This school was extremely poor, and supported nearly entirely by donations from tourists. However, it put on a type of cultural presentation for us, which was really cool. After that, we went horseback riding. My horse was called Gunion, a pretty cool name. Gunion seemed a bit like me, he was kinda indifferent to the experience. Didn't really interact with the other horses. I loved him. So, after this, we went to Monteverde, which is up in the mountains near the continental divide (the line that divides the pacific tectonic plate from the Carribean). It is a cloud forest, which is basically a high rainforest. That hotel had a very good pool table which I loved, and dominated at.

Slept at: Hotel Villa Verde

Day 5: We got up, and went to a forest trail and walked. Over there, we heard a bell bird, which has a very interesting call. It sounds like, a high-pitched "pang". After walking and listening to the forest, we went for our canopy tour. This is basically a zip-line where you're put on a cable, and you roll across on a pulley. It was really fun, and you get to see the tops of the forest. In the middle of the zip-line was a Tarzan swing, where you're hooked on a rope, and you fall to be swung. I swear, free-fall is one of the weirdest experiences you can have. After that, came back home, played more pool, and Mr. Laderman gave one of his talks on astronomy.

Slept at: Hotel Villa Verde

Day 6: For those who wanted to get up early, our tour guide was going to lead a birding expedition to find a quetzal, which is a fairly rare, but beautiful bird. Unfortunately, we didn't quite find one, but we saw several other birds. I found out that I like birds better in pictures than in real life. They're too hard to see in real life. After that, we left to go to Jaco beach. As we were driving, we came across a very spectacular sight. There were four scarlet Macaws just flying on the side of the road. Scarlet Macaws are one of the bright tropical birds, and finding four of them accidentally is a really rare achievement. So, after we got to the hotel at Jaco beach, we basically had the day at the beach. The hotel was right across from the beach for easy access. Though I'll have to say I'm more of a sand person, I swam. It was also this night where there was an extremely short-lived and rare tornado. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see it, but there were a couple of people who saw a tornado just go across the street. Now that was a rare sight.

Slept at: Hotel Balcon del Mar


Day 7: Ok, according to my group leader, this never happened. I never went to Manuel Antonio beach. I never swam in the ocean there. I never took a look at the wildlife over there. No one saw spider monkeys or white-faced monkeys. I never got my first sunburn in 5 years. We just stayed at the hotel and didn't go shopping and eat pizza.

Slept at: Hotel Balcon del Mar

EDIT: Wait, something's missing here. I'll try to remember
EDIT: Discrepancy solved

Day 8: We came back to San Jose. Today was another free-like day. After we arrived at the hotel, we were encouraged to go to a small shopping center and do what we want (ok, not encouraged, but allowed). Over there, a small group of friends and I ate at a bakery called "Spoons" (you can imagine the laughter that entailed). I didn't particularly order anything because my money was drying up. I just freeloaded off others. After that, it was more relaxing.

Slept at: Hotel San Gildar

Day 9: Today, we woke up and went on a 2 hour drive to go white-water rafting. That was really fun. Our group was really awesome, and although we weren't the best splashers, we were in 2nd place. Out of 6 levels, 1 is still water, 6 is a waterfall, we did 1-2+. Although I felt confident we could go all the way to 6. This is also the last day we're staying in Costa Rica. There's a lot of sentimental stuff going on. People are sad about leaving Costa Rica. Since it was the last night, a lot of the rules went lax. The rule that said members of the opposite sex are not allowed in rooms was kinda loosened. Now, all we had to do was leave the door open. This was good for me, because the closest friends I had over there were, in fact, girls. (Becha didn't see THAT comin') It was also today when Ms. Chung took us out to dinner to an Italian place. I was the daring one and ate a Sdrufolo, which no one had an idea of what it was. It turned out to be ham and cheese tied inside of a tortilla. So yeah, basically, this was when the trip drew to a close and our last big socialization.

Slept at: Hotel San Gildar

So yeah, that was Costa Rica. I had plenty of fun there. If I could, I'd probably go next year.