It’s day 7 in Costa Rica! It’s been quite a week so far. Let me break it down for you:

Day 1: Travel Day

I woke up at 4:30 in the morning, having 2 hours of sleep. I got ready, woke up my mom, and tried to finish Michal’s present. His birthday is July 27 and I’m making this awesome present for him but I cannot say what until he receives it. He came over and “napped” while I tried to finish. Well I failed. My mom started pushing me out the door. I got to the airport fairly quickly, and then waited a bunch to check in. You know the usual at O’Hare. My mom and Michal waited to leave until I was through security (of course, I hugged and kissed them both). My plane ended up being a little delayed because it took them a while to clean it, so I got some breakfast. I got to Miami around 1 Eastern Time. It took about 3 hours. I proceeded to find Shirley, the person from Walking Tree who was meeting everyone in Miami. She was waiting and watching the World Cup game with Lucy. Cell phone reception isn’t the best in the Miami Airport. I had no service for an hour or so and my mom freaked out when she couldn’t reach me. Eventually she called Shirley and I talked to her. So for the rest of the afternoon, we waited for everyone else to arrive. When I went to check in, my ticket was apparently nowhere to be found. Although my bag was checked all the way to San Jose, I didn’t receive a ticket for my Miami flight at O’Hare. The lady at Miami airport told me I had no ticket to San Jose, and that definitely freaked me out for a moment. However, we quickly cleared up the confusion. At the airport, the 12 members of the group that were traveling together quickly got to know each other. While waiting for the plane, we all played Mafia and some other games to pass the time. Our flight was a little delayed once again. What can you expect with American Airlines, right? We arrived in San Jose around 11 pm and were greeted by Alec, a Walking Tree coordinator, along with Emily, another group member that traveled by herself. Needless to say, we were tired and hungry. Good thing they had Papa John’s pizza waiting for us at the hotel! We got our rooms – I roomed with Devin – and then came back to eat pizza. Devin and I talked a lot and found out that we have a lot in common. When I unpacked my suitcase, I found out that Michal was very sneaky while I was occupied, and he actually packed a journal in my bag along with some money. He included a note and some awesome Nicholas Sparks quotes. So now, every night before I go to bed, or when I have free time, I write in my journal about everything I’ve done that day. That’s exactly what I did before passing out after a long day.

Since I’m going to be talking about my group members a bunch, I’m going to give you some basic facts about them. I asked them to write down their first name, age, grade, state, and an interesting fact about themselves.

Madison is 16 years old, a senior from Colorado, and loves to tap dance. Dana is 16 years old, a junior from Colorado, and is allergic to giraffe saliva. Drew is 17 years old, a senior from Colorado, and had the last run at Copper (a place to snowboard). Carly is 17 years old, a senior from Ohio, and she loves to rap. Emily aka Slagathor is 17 years old, a senior from Georgia, and she loves avocado. Emily B. is 16 years old, a senior from Maryland, and she doesn’t eat meat except for tacos and grilled chicken. Andrew is 15 years old, a junior from Colorado, and really wants to learn how to lindy hop. Ryan is 16 years old, a junior from Arizona, and he’s been skating and playing hockey since age 5. Will is 15 years old, a junior from Oregon, and loves pirates and bears. Julian is 16 years old, a junior from New York, and loves the outdoors and traveling.  Lucy is 17 years old, a senior from New Hampshire, and has been dancing since she was 3 years old. Jessie is 15 years old, a junior from Hawaii, and is adopted. Morgan is 15 years old, a junior from Maryland, and she got up the first time she surfed. Devin is 16 years old, a senior from Maryland, and she loves soccer.

My leaders are Jadi and Heidi. Here’s a summary about them that I actually stole from Walking Tree:

Heidi Henrickson: Heidi grew up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California where her parents ran an Outdoor Education School. She spent her childhood outdoors, where her love for adventure began. In high school, Heidi attended an international symposium called One Earth, One People, which brought together high school students from all over the world. This was her first real experience interacting with people from a variety of cultural backgrounds, and she knew she wanted more. As a follow up to the symposium, Heidi spent two weeks traveling in Costa Rica with other high school participants. Heidi was high school valedictorian. During college, Heidi studied abroad in Morelia Mexico. After receiving her Masters in Education and Multi Subject Teaching Credential from the University of California, Santa Barbara, Heidi headed back to Costa Rica where she lived for the past two and a half years. She taught fourth grade at the Cloud Forest School, a bilingual school with a focus on environmental education. While in Monteverde, Heidi also taught dance and yoga to local children. Heidi considers Costa Rica her second home and is excited to head back this summer to share this amazing country with a group of students! Heidi speaks Spanish fluently and is certified in CPR and First Aid.

Jadihel Taveras: B.A in Political Science from Siena College with a minor in Multi-Cultural Studies. Jadihel gained his first experience in international development through his study abroad experience in Stellenbosch, South Africa where he was heavily involved in community development projects. His experience working on a development project in a rural village in Pa Deng, Thailand, fortified his love for traveling, international development and cross cultural experiences. Upon graduating he interned for The Foundation of Sustainable Development in Cochabamba, Bolivia. While working in a rural village in the outskirts of Cochabamba, he was able to allocate enough money to design and launch a micro-credit program for local women vendors which created the first market in the village of Santa Barbara, Bolivia, granting the community access to nutritious foods. He is a native Spanish speaker with an unyielding love for his Latin American Culture and who thoroughly enjoys his time spent with his very large family. In the fall of 2010 he will be attending SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, VT, where he will pursue a master’s degree in Sustainable Development.

Day 2: Let’s Salsa!

At breakfast, I met Dana and Madison, the final 2 group members who had arrived on later flights during the night. After breakfast, which consisted of mangos, pineapples, watermelon, cereal, and scrambled eggs, we went to the bank to exchange our money. It was the first time we had to actually use our Spanish in Costa Rica, so needless to say, it was all very exciting. The exchange rate was 1 US Dollar to 520 Costa Rican Colons. After that, we had lunch at a place called El Café Gourmet. It was our first encounter with Gallo Pinto, rice and beans, a dish that’s very common throughout Costa Rica. After lunch, we went to the “International Mall,” to shop around for anything we needed. Soon enough, we were off to salsa lessons! We started with the Salsa, continued with the Meringue, and ended with the …… The instructor told us to be “sexy, sexy.” All of us tried, but some unfortunately failed. At the end, the “pros” showed us how it was done. We sat there speechless. Nevertheless, it was an exciting afternoon that was full of laughs. We ended the day with dinner at a Mexican restaurant, where I had a delicious burrito.

Day 3: Pura Suerte

We had breakfast, basically same as the day before except for the Gallo Pinto, loaded up the bus, and started our 6 hour road trip to Pura Suerte. To pass the time, we played games, listened to music, read magazines, and slept. We made a few stops on the way so we could go to the bathroom, stretch out, and eat lunch. Finally, we arrived at Pura Suerte, located in the small town of La Florida, high in the mountains of Costa Rica. We were led to our bungalows: one for the girls, and one for the boys. Although the girls were happy with their cabin, we were all jealous of the boys’ spacious retreat. This time I roomed with Dana and Lucy, although all the girls were nearby. As you can imagine, 10 girls and 1 bathroom is not the easiest thing in the world. Somehow, we managed. After settling in, some of us decided to look around the property, while others stayed in the bungalow, playing card games. I decided to look around and I saw some pretty cool things: a garden with baby pineapples, chili peppers, and passion fruit. When we were done exploring, it was time for dinner.

It was delicious, as always, and we retreated to our bungalows for the rest of the night.

Day 4: The Hike and the Waterfall

We had breakfast (pancakes this time) and were off to the waterfall. I don’t think anyone expected what was to come. The hike started out pretty easy, with a few hills, and then we got to the forest. Being from the Midwest, I don’t hike very much, so the steep path was a shock to me. I slipped a few times and stumbled on some rocks. After about half an hour, we were all covered in sweat, but we finally reached the waterfall. It was breathtaking, to say the least. We quickly took off our wet clothes and jumped into the water. There were a lot of slippery rocks, but everyone made it out with only a few bumps and bruises. The current, however, was pretty strong. At one point, there was an incline of rocks, and unfortunately, Lucy was pulled down. The rocks left her with some bruises, but, boy, does she have a story to tell. After a while, we were all hungry, so we hiked up the mountain to a higher level of the waterfall where there was a natural pool. We ate some sandwiches and bananas and swam some more. When we had our fill of fun, we started the hike back up. Needless to say, it took a tad longer than the hike down. Again, we were all covered in sweat, but at least we got a workout! I think we all breathed a sigh of relief as we saw our familiar bus come into sight. We gathered at a soccer field by the bus, waiting for the whole group to join us. With everyone present, we decided to play capture the flag to cool down from the hike. We played 2 rounds, with each team winning once. After that, we joined in a game of soccer with some of the local kids. It started raining, so by the end of the game, we were soaked. However, we had to go back to our bungalows, so the bus was unfortunately wet. You can imagine the smell we encountered the next day. After dinner, we had a quick chat in the boy’s cabin and off to bed we went. Everyone was fast asleep in no time.

Day 5: Manuel Antonio

After a filling breakfast at Pura Suerte, it was time to say goodbye. We thanked our hosts for their kindness and loaded up the bus once again. The ride to Manuel Antonio took no more than an hour and a half. We arrived at our “home” for the next 2 days: Hotel California. Everyone was happy with the accommodations. Who could complain about having a pool? We ate lunch – PB&J or tuna sandwiches, a fruit, and a snack bar – and headed to the beach. Some of the group decided to hang out and watch the World Cup at a local restaurant by the beach. I headed to the beach for my first swim in the Pacific Ocean. The water was very warm and salty and the waves were huge! Carly and I shopped around a bit since I lost my sunglasses in the ocean. Those darn waves! We joined the rest of the group and watched the game, while eating chicken fingers. When Spain finally scored, the restaurant went crazy, banging on every object in sight and cheering loudly. We headed back to hotel around 3. Some went swimming in the pool, while others took showers and relaxed. We had spaghetti with meat and garlic bread for dinner at the hotel and enjoyed the rest of our night.

Day 6: Surf’s Up

We started the day with breakfast (the usual). At 9:30, we loaded up the bus and went to the beach. What were we doing there again, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you: surf lessons. We were to go in 3 groups of 6, with 2 people per instructor. I was in the first group and was sharing my instructor with Dana. Before going out into the ocean, we learned the technique. We had to paddle, then jump up, keeping our stronger leg back, putting our other leg forward, and standing sideways. Easy enough, right? Wrong. After practicing a few times on the sand, we hit the waves. I got up on my first try and managed to stay up for a few seconds before falling down. My next few tries weren’t as successful. I got up halfway a lot of times, using my knees (the wrong technique). After battling the huge waves that pushed me toward the shore for half an hour, I can say that I successfully got up no more than 5 times, but, again, those lasted for no more than a few seconds. Once my lesson was done, I was very thirsty from swallowing all the salt water, so I got some Fanta. The majority of my remaining time at the beach was spent reading Dear John. We returned to the hotel and all went straight to the pool. We ended the day with dinner and some more dancing.

So that’s my week in a nutshell. Today we’re heading to the village, where I will be spending my next 2 weeks with a family, simultaneously working on a service project. It’s exciting and scary at the same time. More adventures await me.

Till next time,