Howdy mis amigos.!
If you are reading this that means that I have finally returned from my time as a gringo in the rain forest of Costa Rica.! I did try my best to write in my blog each and everyday during my time away from the sates, however, I did have some difficulty with my MacBook and had to use Sabrina’s for some of the trip (for those of you who don’t know who Sabrina is, keep reading, you will most certainly find out).
In order for you to understand exactly what this blog will be, read this paragraph. From June 1st to June 24th I was in Costa Rica for a study abroad through Texas A&M for Tropical Ecology with Dr. Baumgardner. I visited multiple types of environments including the La Selva Biological Station for Research where it was muggy, humid, and up to 90 degrees to the Hotel Sevegre where we were able to experience almost 1200 feet above sea level and very cold, as in, 40 degrees and windy. I was able to visit two volcanoes, find, hold, and learn about hundreds of different species of wildlife and plants, as well as experience some culture and touristic sites. This blog will be a log of my adventure from day one up until the moment my feet landed back on United States soils. This blog will be full of action, humor, and photography shots (a few from Sabrina). If you are only interested in the photography feel free to scroll through. I will also have constructed a video encompassing all of the footage I captured on my GoPro. Also, if you follow me on Instagram and Twitter you may have seen a lot of these already but of course there are a lot more. Now that you know all of the details go ahead and skip to that part you are interested in or read through the entire thing. Either way, buckle up and get ready to experience my Costa Rican adventure as if you were there.
On June 1st at 4:45 in the morning me and Sabrina woke up and headed to the airport to catch our flight to San Jose, Costa Rica. We arrived rather early and had to wait for a good period of time so I took the opportunity as soon as it came to exchange my U.S dollars for Costa Rican Colones. I immediately concluded that their money was beautiful and thought to myself how funny it was that we they put beautiful plants and animals on their money and we put old dead guys on ours. These things reflect directly what the values of each of these societies are (Guess which I prefer). During our time in the airport I also managed to leave one of my suitcases in the Sunglasses Hut for about half an hour. Luckily, by the time I realized it was missing we had time to make it back to the Sunglasses Hut where my suitcase was still sitting. I was also very fortunate I wasn’t accused of being a terrorist.
Once we boarded the flight things became a little more real for me. This was the first time I would be traveling outside of the United States and the first time I would be traveling further than Texas without my parents. However, by this time I had written a check for $5,000 and I realized there was no turning back so I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.
It was only a short time until we reached the capital city of San Jose, 3 hours to be exact, and un boarded our plane. We were told that once we arrived at the airport we would need to head over to immigration, which seemed so weird to me. Despite the 50 plus people infront of us at immigration it didn’t take us long to get through the airport. However, that could have been because of the fact that the airport was no bigger than your average shopping mall. Once we made our way out of the airport we were slightly confused on where to go or what to do. There was no where to sit and wait once we got through the airport and we were not sure if anyone was already there to pick us up or not. When we exited the airport we saw a cute little Costa Rican wearing a Texas A&M shirt and holding a Texas A&M sign. Sabrina and I thought to ourselves that it was possible for him to have been with another group of Texas A&M students and we were skeptical, being two girls in Costa Rica, lost and confused, walking up to someone we’ve never met before and getting into a car with him. We decided we would give him a little quiz and luckily he passed.! That was the first time Sabrina and I met our amazing friend Alberth Rojas who is absolutely adorable.
Alberth waited with us for the next student to arrive which was shortly after he found us. When he came back from his search he introduced us to our new friend Ben Gothman (what an awesome name right?!). Us three had arrived before the rest of the group so Alberth babysat us for a little bit and while doing so took us to have our first Costa Rican experience at the mall. For those of you who live in the states picture almost the same thing with the exemption of air conditioning. I was exceedingly surprised that there were so many stores similar and the same as some stores in the states. They had a store by the name of “Toys” identical to the infamous “Toys ‘R Us” while having the exact same chain restaurants such as Burger King, Taco Bell and KFC. For a moment that was comforting but after a while me and Sabrina realized how sad it was that our country had such influence over others. The places and things from our culture that we contribute to others are often unhealthy and or unnecessary. However, I digress, that is a matter for another day. Once we ate lunch at the mall we returned to the airport to pick up the remaining students, our professor, and our TA. That’s when I met Mattie, Oscar, Sarah, Julie, Demi, Christian, Taylor, Whitney, Katelyn, and Vivian. Combine now there were 15 of us and we set off to the Hotel Bougainvillea where we would be staying for the night. The hotel was gorgeous and the staff was great as well. The hotel had it’s own restaurant so that is where we ate that night. The hotel also had one of the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen. You can check out more of our night in the video but these are some of the photos below. These include the fuel, friends, and flowers.
The next morning we woke up and set out to our first research station owned by Texas A&M known as the Soltis Center. On the way there was something I noticed that I wanted to point out in this blog. In Costa Rica there were people walking in between the cars on the highway selling items like snacks and sunglasses. It was very strange and different to me so I took a photo of it (see below). Along with that we also noticed the different types of farming that are in Costa Rica compared to the U.S. In Costa Rica they do not practice mono-cropping or land leveling. There were never fields of a single crop growing all on its own where you can see the straight rows for acres. Instead there were patches of all different colored crops on the hillside. I found it to be very refreshing to know that the ignorance of the american way is not practiced all over the world. The Soltis center was an amazing experience with sightings of snakes, frogs, spiders, birds, and insects and the food was always amazing. As soon as we got there Sabrina and I put our bags in our room and ran out into the jungle in the pouring rain. We hiked for a little bit until we found a waterfall near the river. At the time I had never seen anything so beautiful. Another specific instances that I can recall was a close encounter with a wild tarantula. Our tour guide Alberth, who works at the Soltis center, told us that there was a tarantula living in a burrow just outside our cabin. He simply pointed to the burrow, which was pretty cool in itself, but then he and I decided to search for a moth to sacrifice for scientific purposes (AKA so Alberth could feed it to the tarantula and laugh at our reactions). Alberth put the moth infront of the burrow and after a couple seconds the tarantula came bursting out of his burrow in attempt to catch the moth, but missed. Alberth grabbed a stick and tried to poke the moth closer, but just about that time the tarantula decide it was done playing with us and leaped out of the hole AT OUR FACES.! Sabrina, Ben, and I were standing inches away form the burrow and went running and screaming for our lives. All the other students heard the commotion and came over to see what was going on. The students were all pretty freaked, including our TA, as Alberth stood there laughing at us hysterically. Sabrina and I were busy doing our own little “get the spider off” dance for a while before we noticed everything else that was going on. After all the uproar Dr. Baumgardner thought it would be a good idea to pick the spider up and place it on his arm. By this time Sabrina, Ben, and I had seen how aggressive this spider was and moved far away from it where we could watch from above. After our professor had held the spider our roomate Demi decided she wanted too as well. At this point I thought they were insane and I wanted no part of it. But at the same time I decided my new friend Demi was a badass and someone I could be great friends with. Turns out I need more adventurous people in my life and I am so glad that I have found so many on this trip. At the Soltis center we went out almost every night trying to find new species in the wild. We hiked through a river and rock climbed up a waterfall. We found sooo many beautiful creatures that I attempted to capture, however, the photos never do the actual critter justice. Following our hike was often a night of card games and drinking. Other activities that took place during our time at Soltis included our trip to see the Arenal lake and volcano, shopping in La Fortuna (where I bought the most gorgeous bag) , and zip-lining through the jungle. During our hike to our view of the Arenal volcano we were also able to see an eyelash pit vipor and a coati. You can see my picture from all of my time at Soltis below and hopefully most of them on the video.
After we left the Soltis center we made our way to my least favorite place of all of the trip, La Selva. I only say this was my least favorite part of the trip because this place was hot and humid beyond belief. The humidity there was so bad that my MacBook wouldn’t turn back on. The climate was miserable for me, however, the creatures of the jungle seem to love it. Through the beginning of our time in Costa Rica we heard all about La Selva and how it would be miserable but the wildlife would be worth it. For me, being a plant nerd, I was not impressed by the difference in Soltis and La Selva. I would have enjoyed the trip just as much, if not more, without the time we spent in La Selva. <<< I wrote that before we went on our 7K hike on the last day and saw almost every creature I was wanting to see when I decided to come to Costa Rica. At one point the change in wildlife was more frightening than impressive to me. We were told that we needed to be much more careful during our time at La Selva because the famous snake known as the Fer-de-Lance was much more common in the area. The Fer-de-Lance was the only thing during this trip that truly scared me. The poisonous frogs and venomous snakes were not such a bother to me. This could have been due to the fact that even though those creatures could hurt me, they were beautiful and lovely to look at. However, to me, the Fer-de-Lance was not very pretty and was far too dangerous for me to have a desire to see one in the wild. One night in particular we set out for one of our night hikes off of our usual trail. The trail that we chose this night was outlining a pond full of murky, stinky water were rats and other small rodents were common. We made our way down a trail covered by leaves (the perfect snake camouflage) to find this pond because it was the perfect place for snakes to be hunting. Although, as I have already said, I had no interest in seeing this very venomous snake, that in my opinion, was lacking beauty. Luckily during our time down that trail we did not see the famous snake and when we returned, most of the group disappointed, we continued back to our usual trail. By this time I was glad I had made it out of there without seeing this creature and so I decided to stay behind. That night on our usual trail our group of students found what was estimated by Alberth to be a 6 foot long Fer-de-Lance coiled up just beside the path where all of the student were walking. The students returned that night boasting about how some of us had missed out on seeing the snake and I assured them that I did not feel I had missed out on anything. I was more than satisfied with my decision to stay behind for the second half of the night and thankful I did not have to bear the embarrassment of cleaning my underwear after the encounter. However, as I said, on our last day at La Selva we went on a very long hike and saw tucans, howler and capuchin monkeys, blue morpho butterflies, 2 snakes, the green and black dart frog, a sloth, and a rainbow eucalyptus tree. That last hike made my miserable time at La Selva worth it.
Once we left the hell hole of La Selva we made our way to paradise. We had a six hour bus ride to the city of Dominical to stay at a resort near the beach known as Villas Rio Mar. The resort was exactly what we needed during our time in the blistering hot jungle. When we arrived they had tequila and orange juice waiting for us and we were all so grateful to be out of the heat and in this perfect place to rejuvenate ourselves. Once we got to the hotel we had nothing to do except chill, hang out, and rewards ourselves with some adult beverages. The next day we got the privilege of sleeping in a little later and then getting up and heading to the beach. Once we arrived at the beach I quickly realized this beach was nothing like any beach I had ever been to before. The beach was very close to a river making the water very brackish and putting us at risk for crocodiles. I was afraid of the crocs at first, however, once I got into the water I realized that there was little to no chance that a croc that enjoys slithering through calm waters would be willing to put up with the craziness that is the Pacific Ocean. There was drift wood all over the beach and the first 5-10 meters of the beach where covered with rocks instead of sand. The rocks combined with the forceful waves was a recipe for disaster. I did a few tumbles in the water and got scrapped up a bit but there is nothing like jumping waves in Costa Rica. Normally I would have been way too scared to go into the water but I figured I would only get that chance once so I went for it. I got some GoPro footage of me in the waves so check out the video for that. It didn’t take long for us to get warn out from fighting the waves so we went and found a little porch on the beach, what seemed to have been a life guard post. There was no life guard on duty so we took it upon ourselves to climb on up and chill there. We hung out there or a while before making our walk back to our hotel. That night.. I’ll just say we had a lot of fun. Of course, pictures as followed.
After our time at sea level we made our way to higher elevations, MEANING, cooler temperatures. On our way to the station we crossed over a bridge that was made to be able to see below. It was pretty terrifying. We also stopped at a pizza place that had the most amazing milkshakes. Our moods had changed entirely from when we were at La Selva and everyone was in a much better mood. The station we were headed to was known as Las Cruces. The station was always in the 70’s and sunny most of the time. It did seem, however, that I would have a struggle at every location. Las Cruces in particular had outlets that were not working in our rooms. Luckily, the boys were nice enough to let us use their outlets. During our time at Las Cruces we were able to go on some amazing hikes. The first long hike, and my least favorite hike of all my time in Costa Rica, was one around the research station. The hike was pretty long and a bit steep, but the worst part is what we saw on this hike. At the to of one of our inclines our professor was leading the way with Sabrina following close behind. Dr.Baumgardner was walking along and Sabrina yelled out, “Snake, snake, definitely a big snake.!” Everyone following behind Sabrina wanted to get up closer to see the snake, with the exception of myself. Everyone was getting up close and taking pictures, meanwhile, no one had been able to identify the snake. Being afraid and having a bit of common sense, I was freaking out. Sabrina could see me from the front freaking out and told everyone to let me get around. I was closer to the back and didn’t want to wait until everyone was done with their pictures and aggravating the snake to cross. I walked on the very edge of the other side of the path, hugging a tree to get around the snake. It was curled up on the right side and I crossed on the left. I didn’t think I was going to be able to cross the path at all, but once I did I felt so relieved. I still to this day do not understand why people wanted to get close to this snake, not knowing what it was, and were just chill about it. Once everyone was done taking pictures of the snake we headed up the trail to meet with Alberth and have him help us identify the snake. Turns out, we were face to face, less than 4 feet away from a Jumping Pit Viper. Once we found that out I was terrified but so glad I was smart enough to stay away from it. Another one of our hikes was 3K one way up a mountain to 6000m in elevation to reach a beautiful orchid field. It was like something straight out of a movie. The hike was hard on the way up and while we were at the top it started raining, making our hike down more of a slip and slide. Regardless of the difficulty it was a sensational hike up, a phenomenal view from the top, and an amusing slide down. Once we got down the mountain we were all covered in mud and ready to get home and shower. Lastly, on our final day at Las Cruces we went on a hike to the town outside of the station known as San Vito. We had to cross three streams that time and that was the only time I didn’t fall while crossing. That day we were able to go back to the pizza place and get some more americanized food (not really though because pizza is italian). After pizza we made our way to get Sabrina some dessert and she ended up double fisting some ice cream cones. We also had some time to shop int he town but there wasn’t much in terms of souvenirs so Dr.B had the bus driver stop a bit down the road at a shop where everything was handmade. I got a hand embroidered head band for less than $10. Everything I bought during my time in Costa Rica was absolutely exsquisite, and not terribly priced for being handmade. We were also able to climb to the top of the four story canopy tower and get some amazing photos.
On the way to our final field station I could not fall asleep because the scenary was so amazing and then it began to rain and I was getting some pretty awesome photography shots. Our final field station was called Sevegre and was unbelieveably nice. The rooms we spacious and the garden out front provided us with a prime time hummingbird watching spot from our window. There was no WiFi in our rooms but there was a bar with a gorgeous fire pit in the middle where we could go and contact our loved ones (or write in your blog like me). We were more than thankful we had a WiFi connection because we were told through out our entire trip that we would not be having any internet at our final field station. Our rooms there were also so pretty. The walls were completely made of wood and there were two full sized beds in each room (we had been sleeping in twins all month) and the showers were not community so we were ecstatic about that. We knew the place was nice but when we went to dinner we found out just how nice it was. The food was served buffet style, with salmon on the platter, and the tables were set with the fancy shmancy etiquette decor… Which I hate. I couldn’t stand having to sit there and eat with certain utensils and whipe my mouth after every bite. However, dinner was delicious. The next morning we woke up bright and early as usual to set out for our morning hike. The hike was relatively easy but we saw some really awesome stuff. The forrest cover had changed so much from what we had been seeing at the lower elevations and there was much more moss and rocks around. We saw many beautiful birds and some cool lizards as well. Our destination, however, was the best part of it all. I tried really hard to capture it’s beauty in photos, however, I don’t believe that mission was accomplished. My GoPro footage did come close though, so check that out. We walked down the road, through the trail, over a very narrow bridge, and down some boulders into a waterfall side cave. It continues to amaze me everyday how the earth has so many hidden gems. On our last day at Sevegre we went out for our last hike of the trip. We were guided by a man named Carlos who took us to a spot that was 10,000 feet in elevation. We were literally hiking through the clouds. From the bottom of the mountain to the top was less than 1,000 feet (in elevation) but we could feel an extreme change in temperature. The hike up was hard on all of us because of the elevation and the change in oxygen. The hike was much like ones we had done before without an issue but this time we were all out of breath before we reached the first peak. Regardless of the difficulties the view and the ecology was amazing to see. It was as if we had left the tropics and emerged a top this mountain in the dessert. The landscape reminded me a lot of the time I spent in Odessa, Texas. There were little to no trees and there were a lot of tiny shrubs with small yellow flowers. The hike was gorgeous and, again, could not be captured by camera. But I tried.
Once we left Savegre, our last field station, reality started to set in. No literally, we would all have to be going back to our regular lives in the next couple days. We had two nights at the hotel we stayed at the very first night in Costa Rica. While I was writing in my blog waiting for lunch to start I remember looking over and seeing the cutest little yellow and green bird hopping towards me. He was twitching his head and hopping on the couch beside me straight towards me. I added that in there because there is a picture of him below and he almost looks fake. I began to feel tears coming to my eyes while sitting between Albert and Sabrina at lunch that day. All the friends I had made were amazing and most of us had agreed to continue to hang out when we got back to College Station but there was one of us that couldn’t just drive down the street to hang out and that was Albert. I tried to suck it up and get on with the trip but I found myself continuously thinking about how in couple days everything that I had gotten used to would be over. On our way to the hotel we drove right past a small wind power plant. I was beyond excited when I saw them because they were one of the first things I noticed when we got on the bus with Alberth. They were placed perfectly on top of a mountain in the distance the day I arrived and I remember thinking to myself, “Man, I wish I could get close to those to get a picture” and then we unexpectedly drove right past them. Needless to say, I was ecstatic. When we got the hotel that day me and Sabrina sat out on our porch to admire our view of the city and talk about how much we had loved the trip (with some 90’s music playing in the background). We went to dinner that night and talked about what our favorite part of the entire experience was with Oscar, Demi, Christian, Ben, and Mattie. We still had one more day left to go visit the Poas volcano and a coffee plantation but we had considered getting through all of the rough field stations, hikes, and climates, to be the end of our struggle. On our very last day in Costa Rica we had the amazing opportunity to go see the Poas Volcano. When first arrived it was very cloudy and we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to see the volcano at all. Just as we arrived at the volcano site it began to rain. However, it’s always raining in Costa rica, so this didn’t deter our group. Sadly I had forgotten my rain jacket and I was not looking forward to hiking in the rain with no rain jacket. Luckily for me, Alberth let me wear his rain jacket and we set out for our little hike. When we got to the end we could not see anything but the clouds and the pouring rain. We decided to wait it out at the gift shop and hope that the clouds would pass. After about half an hour things began to look brighter so we made our way back down to the crater site. Sure enough the clouds had cleared and we could see the water in the crater, the steam rushing out, and smell the sulfur burning. The view was stunning and I got some amazing pictures. Unfortunately my memory card was not working and my camera did not notify me of this. Therefore, I lost all of the pictures I took at the volcano. However, I do still have all of the photos Sabrina took of me on her camera so that is what you will be seeing below. After we got to see the crater we headed over to eat lunch and to drive around town to let all of the students get souvenirs for themselves and their loved ones. Our lunch had the second best fish I had ever had and the shops we went to had so many handmade items that I was blown away. I bought some things for all of my family and got to try some of the worlds best coffee. Once we had spent all of our money we made our way back to our hotel in San Jose. The trip was only meant to take about a hour and a half and ended up taking more than double that. We got stuck in traffic in the capital city and I got to experience how people have to drive in latin america. It was killing my nerves to have to watch our bus driver push his way through every stop sign and red light. The only way to get through all of the traffic is to be forceful but as someone who is terrified of driving it was hard for me to watch. During our trip we were actually talking about how dangerous driving in the big city was and our bus driver stop right in the middle of the train tracks. I looked at Sabrina asked if we were really stopping on the train tracks and just as I said that Alberth looked to me jokingly and said, “Watch, the train is probably coming” and at that exact time the tracks cleared to our right and we could see the train coming right towards us. I screamed and most of the other students laughed nervously. Alberth and Mattie always have the most amazing and contagious laughs and so I began to laugh as well. The nervous laughing went on for another solid two minutes before everyone calmed down. That night we did make it back to the hotel safe and had dinner. For the rest of the night we visited a little bit and then had to pack our suit cases once and for all. As Sabrina and I tried to pack our cases full of what we had brought in addition to all we had bought I felt tears trying to come to my eyes. Luckily, I was able to hold them in for the night.
Our last hours in Costa Rica were so surreal to me and I still can’t believe that my time there is officially over. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to study abroad in such an amazing area for biodiversity. I’ll be back someday, if it’s the last thing I do.
I would like to give a special thanks to my Professor Dr. Baumgardner for making this trip possible and giving so many students this amazing opportunity. I would like to thank Alberth for being so helpful and amazing at all times, and also being my ATM, George of the Jungle, and translator. I’d also like to thank the both of them for planning this trip in the exact order it needed to be in, in terms of the places we stayed and the ecosystems we saw. I would like to thank our TA Mattie for helping me every time I busted my ass in the mud and for walking in-front of me when I’m scared. I would like to thank Texas A&M University for this opportunity to study abroad and I would like to thank the federal government for loaning me the money to do so. I’d like to thank my parents for paying the tuition part of the trip, without that I couldn’t have gone. And last, but certainly not least, I’d like to thank Demi, Christina, Ben, Oscar, Sabrina, Vivian, Julie, Taylor, Sarah, Katelyn, and Whitney for being so much fun and so easy to hang out with for 24 days straight. You guys are all super cool and I know I’ve made a few life long friends during our journey.
So I guess that’s it for me.
Thanks and Gig ‘Em,
P.S I’m sorry if your last name isn’t in the credits I forgot to add them before I uploaded to YouTube and my computer isn’t letting me do it again, however, I will continue to try and edit it and if I do so successfully I will replace the current video with the revised one. Also, YouTube ruins to the quality of the video so watch in HD if possible.
Quotes of the trip:
“Extreme footage!” -Mattie
“That’s why I’m goign to wear FUCKING rain boots Sabrina!”- when Ben says it
“Ya girl ain’t tryin to die.” -Me
“Fuck it, I go.” -Alberth
“Oh my Lanta, you owe me a Fanta.” -The roomies