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Costa Rica 2011

Blog posts are listed in chronological order,

read from the beginning of the trip!

Welcome Home Costa Rica!

Stephane Moreau, Lara Wulff and I would like to welcome the girls back to the U.S.  They arrived at about 12:35 am this morning and were happily reunited with their families.  There is nothing like a homecoming to warm your heart. It has been a real pleasure working with this group of young women and experiencing Costa Rica vicariously through their blogs. 

Welcome home girls.  We look forward to learning more about Costa Rica during the Global Education Assembly on September 15th!

¡Pura Vida!

Posted by on Saturday July 2, 2011 at 09:24AM
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Family Night


The last night we spent with the families was amazing! My mom, Emelice, may live far away from most of the community, but she is friends with so many of the other families that we felt so included in family night. I was introduced to people I hadn’t met yet and even my sister, Maria Jose, knew everyone there. Family night also reminded me that the community didn’t just work all day and sleep all night. They have bonds, they have fun, and they have spirit. The dancing was my favorite activity of the night. Maria had already taught me the hottest moves that the teenagers do nowadays, and I felt so cool using them on the dance floor. My flowery dress (that I borrowed from Nina due to the lack of nice clothes I packed) and I moved effortlessly on the dance floor. Even though my stay here was temporary, I know this is a true community; this is a strong group of people. These people seemed to have put all troubles and hardships aside to live their lives as gracefully as possible. There wasn’t a day that went by in my homestay family where I witnessed grief or desperation for more material possessions. Our “Family Night” at the school made me realize that the so many of the families had this same spirit. Their appreciation for the simple things and community spirit that would help them in troubled times inspired me to re-evaluate the way I deal with my own personal issues back home in the United States. By the end of my stay in El Roble, I knew that I had learned more about myself than I could have ever imagined. I learnt that I needed to be more appreciative of the simple joys in life.  I’m glad I was able to learn such a priceless lesson.



Posted by Melissa Brown on Thursday June 30, 2011 at 09:14PM
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One of the things I learned about communicating during this trip is that talking is not actually the most vital part of getting close to someone new. The one thing that most helped me break the original discomfort of being unable to communicate was not trying to conjure up some semblance of the Spanish language, but playing games that we enjoyed and kept us active. “Uno” and playing soccer were the two ways that I got to know the most people. After an activity, the fact that I shared a happy moment helped open up new pathways to communication, moving past the uncomfortable small talk stage. Before the Bingo game got started, all of the families were split up and it was very quiet on the play space, considering the number of people. This didn’t last for long; in no time at all people became absorbed in the game and exasperated sounds at the lack of pinto beans on the board that meant you were close to a Bingo mingled with the laughter of all the families. Soon, communication between families among the children added to the festivities. One of the things I felt most strongly that night was that this was one of the most vibrant feelings of community that I have ever experienced in my life, and I wasn’t even very close to all the people in the room. However, because El Roble is so small, everyone knows everyone and many people are related, so it is very easy to interact with people that you don’t know. But, the greatest bond was that we were all there because we wanted to be and had built relationships among our families that are some of the strongest I’ve built in my life. Even just sitting around playing Bingo had brought our families together for one last night, and I will never forget the impact that the welcoming, hospitable, and truly kind people of El Roble have had on me that will stay with me forever. 


Emma M.

Posted by Melissa Brown on Thursday June 30, 2011 at 09:11PM
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Chilamate Eco Lodge

After whitewater rafting, we went to the Chilamate Rainforest Reserve for the first time. My first impression of the reserve was that it was very beautiful and tranquil. We were totally immersed in the flowers and wildlife of the place. Once we arrived at the front gate, we were greeted by Meghan, the owner of the reserve, and had a fabulous lunch. The food at the reserve tasted unlike anything I had ever tasted before. As the Ticos say, “Que rica!” After our fabulous lunch, Megan told us the story of the reserve along with her inspirational life story. Her story was completely mind-blowing. It’s amazing how one person can have a vision in their mind of what they want and, despite many challenges and roadblocks, never give up on their dream and actually follow through with it.  Meghan is Canadian and initially studied Latin American history.  She and her Costa Rican husband had a dream to preserve the biological diversity of the Sarapiqui region and to continue building the Mezzo-American biological corridor (from Mexico to Columbia).  With the help and support of family and friends, their dream has become a reality.  Megan’s husband, Davis, built the entire reserve by himself. What a man! I thought about myself, and how I could never figure out such a beautiful landscape. I would not even know where to start.

After hearing Megan’s life-changing story, one of the guides, William, took us on our first walk through the rainforest. William is 18 years old and has been working at the reserve for 5 years. Not only is he one of the longest working staff members of the reserve, he also built all of the trails throughout the rainforest. Even more amazing is that he built them at the age of 14! Such amazing people work here at the reserve! On our first walk on in the rainforest, I was filled with excitement and was anxious to embark on new discoveries. As soon as I set foot into the rainforest, I saw my first poisonous dart frog of the trip, a red one with blue legs often called “Blue Jeans”. The frogs were much smaller than I had pictured, but nevertheless cute and amazing. I thought of how ironic I was that such a little frog was poisonous to animals twice its size if eaten.

In the rainforest, we also saw green and black poisonous dart frogs, a howler monkey, and countless numbers of new insects. After our initial rainforest walk, we met two new researchers, Ralph and Jenny, and went on another rainforest walk to encounter poisonous dart frogs. For this walk, we would need to put on rain boots because of the vast amount of mud. It took a while for me to receive a pair of rain boots since my feet are so small. I eventually succumbed to using Megan’s daughter’s rain boots, which fit me perfectly. I was now ready to take a closer look at poisonous dart frogs. This walk was fascinating because we got to touch the frogs and even hold them. Interaction and hands-on activities, in my opinion, make the experience worthwhile. I never thought that I would touch a poisonous dart frog. Finally, our last activity of the day was a cooking lesson at Marzarella’s house. We learned how to make fried plantains and tortillas.  I learned how to flatten tortillas, how to fry plantains, and how to flatten them into perfect plantain chips. I also learned that plantains cannot be eaten raw because they are, in fact, poisonous. The most exciting part of the cooking lesson was eating our creations, or course. Those plantains and tortillas were the most rich and delicious ones that I have ever tasted. The beautiful night sky immersed with thousands of stars, the interesting night-time conversations, and the tranquil house of Marzarella added to the excitement of the night. That was a perfect end of a long day in Costa Rica.


-Kelcie D

Posted by on Wednesday June 29, 2011 at 10:41AM
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White Water Rafting: Lessons of Courage


Today we went whitewater rafting on the Sarapiqui River. I was one of the few people who had never been whitewater rafting before. Despite my beginner status, I was very excited for a new experience. I am a thrill-seeker and enjoy the rush of adrenaline, so I thought that whitewater rafting would satisfy my appetite for adventure. Almost half of the group had been white water rafting in the past and assured me how much fun and exciting it would be.  At the main rafting headquarters we met our American guide, Matt John. It was nice that he spoke English because it calmed by nerves. I thought that because I was a rower on the Holton crew team, whitewater rafting would be easier for me. We got to the edge of the river and separated our group into two rafts. My raft included Malaika, Selina, Anne E, Bailey, Mr. Moreau, and me. As I was feeling extremely adventurous, I volunteered to sit in the front and lead the others rafters with Malaika. For the first 20 minutes everything was fine. I enjoyed the scenery of luscious rainforest and its fauna. The water was cold but soothing and the wind in my face felt good. The rapids were fun but scary. Every time we came within reach of quick rapids, my body tensed and I prepared to paddle my heart out. Then suddenly we reached very narrow rapids surrounded by rocks hidden underneath the surface. Matt claimed to have warned us to row forwards 20 seconds ahead of time, but that was not enough to stabilize the raft. In an instant, the raft tipped slightly to my side and I felt myself lose balance and fall in. It happened so quickly that it seemed unreal. Those 10 seconds I was in the water were the scariest moments of my life. I could not control my body or swim. I even tried to maintain the position that the instructors had told us to adopt if we fell in. I had paid close attention to the whitewater rafting instruction before we went on the water, but this was real. In the water, I was cold and I could feel my body succumbing to the powerful river current. I felt vulnerable and scared. I knew that I would be rescued eventually, yet I still wondered if I would make it through. I hit my leg against a rock. It was very painful, and although I was in the water, I could feel the blood trickling down my leg. I could not even grasp my leg in pain because the current was pushing my limbs away from each other. Very soon, I felt myself pulled out of the water by my life jacket. A wave of relief overcame me that I was finally rescued from danger. At least, I had not hit my head. My fear subsided and I felt safe again.*

 Matt proceeded to ask me if I was alright, but as he spoke to me I realized something about myself. Everything that I learned in school was important, but what more important was real life experiences. The things that I learn in a classroom might not necessarily happy real life. If I had learned a lot about Costa Rica in a classroom, it still would not have had the same value as actually visiting Costa Rica and becoming immersed in the culture as I am doing now. Despite listening during the whitewater rafting rules explanation, I still was not able to control my body in the water and prevent injury. It was a revelation to realize that I may learn everything possible but still not be able to anticipate all the problems of the real world. The only thing of which I am certain is that when I finally begin my life in the real world without my parents, I know I will be fully prepared to experience things that I may not have prepared for. Life is unpredictable and I will not be ready for everything. As long as I am aware of the unpredictability of life I will be able to face difficult situations with confidence and courage.


Nina S.


* Note from Mr. Moreau: Dear Anxious Parents, I can imagine how filled with trepidation you must be after reading Nina’s account of her experience in the perilous waters of the Sarapiquí River. (Nina did write “near-death” in a first draft, but Dr. Wulff and I felt that we should remove this over-the-top alarming adjective from her story.) Reading the account myself, I was on the edge of my seat!

Nina gives a very riveting description on her fall in the water. I was in the boat with her, and I can attest that she got scared alright! Facts: the area of the Sarapiquí River that we rafted has Class II rapids and, on that very day, the water was actually low! (There was not enough rain higher up in the mountains for stronger currents.) At no point was anybody’s life in danger. Nina scratched her leg against a rock, required a Band-Aid, and everything was fine. She has been a trooper during the entire trip. We all jumped in the river to swim at some point, and the water was just delicious. Pura Vida!

Posted by on Wednesday June 29, 2011 at 10:35AM
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Posted by Melissa Brown on Tuesday June 28, 2011 at 03:54PM
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Our Coordinators in Costa Rica at the Chilamate Eco Retreat


Our Vision: To provide an inviting example of hope and change to our visitors, friends and community through sustainable projects and cultural experiences linked with environmental consciousness as a way to achieve a better quality of life and expand our territory for conservation.

Our Mission: To provide quality and consciousness in all of our tourism projects, to work in pro of the environment and community supporting environmental education, recycling and ESL projects as a way to achieve a sustainable way of living with low environmental impact and high social commitment.


Chilamate Rainforest Eco Retreat: a family run project

Chilamate Rainforest Eco Retreat is a family run project dedicated to rainforest conservation, contributing positively to our community and providing an unforgettable tourism experience.

Since we began our conservation and sustainable tourism project we have followed the Rainforest Alliance Best Practices Guide for Sustainable Tourism as the guiding framework during renovations and construction.  Our buildings are designed to take advantage of natural lighting, air-conditioning and insulation. Plus our cabins are powered by solar energy and we use only biodegradable cleaning products, recycle and compost all of our waste and collect rain water for cleaning and washing purposes.

Thanks to our friends at Rainforest Biodiversity Group and the Costa Rican Bird Route we were also invited to participate in a series of three workshops on sustainable tourism and have since had two full audits done by Rainforest Alliance.  The learning curve has been sharp and after all of the support and training by Rainforest Alliance we have completed our first sustainable management plan, and all of the ensuing policies, procedures and plans.  We got a really high mark on our last evaluation and we plan to faithfully continue with our quest for sustainability.

Civic participation, solidarity with our community, conservation, environmental education and English as a second language are on-going programs integral to Chilamate Rainforest Eco Retreat.

Love and dedication is the foundation of Chilamate Rainforest Eco Retreat and somehow, without ever having the economic resources to back us up, we have managed to find supporters in our sustainability quest. Staying with us as guests at the Retreat and passing the word on is the best way to support us.  Coming to work in solidarity with our community or being a volunteer at the Retreat is another great way to support our dream project and to allow us to continue to be able to work in conservation and support our local community Chilamate.

Chilamate is a critical section of the San Juan La Selva Biological Corridor which is part of the greater Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. You can see on the Costa Rican Bird Route´s map that the Corridor bottlenecks right at Chilamate, which means that there is much conservation work to be done in order to help maintain the flow of biodiversity through the Corridor.  It is also one of the country´s most biologically diverse areas, home to over 500 bird species, 5000 butterfly species, 6000 types of plants, 350 species of trees, 139 mammal species, and 135 reptile species, just to mention a bit of the wildlife that depends on the perpetual conservation and expansion of protected areas in the region.   

Who We Are

We are Davis Azofeifa Rugama & Meghan Patricia Casey; A young Costa Rican- Irish/Canadian family with big dreams and a serious commitment to protecting the environment and contributing positively to our community.

Come and visit us and get to know more about our project and dreams and goals for Sarapiqui. We promise to help make your time here in Costa Rica extra special and memorable. Before settling down in Sarapiqui we worked and travelled around almost the entire country and would love to help you plan your trip or advise on great places to go depending on the type of tourism that interests you. Feel free to contact us in person, by telephone, fax or email.

Meghan Casey & Davis Azofeifa
Chilamate Rainforest Eco Retreat
Telfax: 506.2.766.6949
Mobile: 506.8.842.1171


Posted by on Tuesday June 28, 2011 at 09:57AM
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Electronic Postcards


Hi Mom!

I am having a lot of fun! Can you believe they fry plantains like you do at home?! I mean, of course yours are better ;). Anyway, I have learned to adapt to the food quickly because I’m used to eating different foods because of our own cultural meals. I miss your cooking sometimes and rice and beans are somewhat repetitive, but I enjoy it. Also, I love our homestay family. Nina and I get a long with them perfectly. I have a few infections (ear, nose, rash) and they make me a bit irritable, but otherwise, I am so glad I came to Costa Rica. This trip opened my eyes to many lessons you had taught me that I couldn’t necessarily understand until now. Kk, miss you! Love you! Bye.





Hello Fam!

Mom, Dad, Devon, and Hayley

 I miss you every day, but I’m also having so much fun. Please say hello to Will and that I miss him a lot as well. I’ve learned and seen so much and I cant wait to tell you all about it when I see you on Saturday. I hope you all had a good time in Jamaica! The first few days at the turtle reserve were quite an experience, the turtle patrols from 12 am to 4am were quite interesting. Then we left to El Roble to stay with our homestay family and work on the school library. Now we are spending our days at Chilamate (an Ecolodge) and going back to our families during the day. I absolutely love my family here, they are so nice and the range of ages in the house is perfect. I can't wait to see you and tell you more about my experiences here. I did lose my camera at the turtle reserve though but I should be able to show you pictures on facebook.

Happy Birthday Hayley!       Happy Fathers day Daddy!

I LOVE YOU!!!!!   Miss you!





Dearest Mommy, Daddy, Chris (& Sunny)

 First of all happy Fathers Day daddy! I wish I could have been there to spend the day with you, but I think you managed to get by missing one fathers day without me. I really miss you and even though we argued right before I left (how typical) I miss my BFF more and more with each day. Nonetheless, you're probably enjoying this precious time of solitude as a result of my absence. Enjoy it while you can cuz I’ll be back soon.

Dear mom, seeing the Costa Rican children being so close with their abuelas and madres (grandmas and mothers) is making me so homesick. I miss your cooking your kindness your warmth but most of all I miss you. I know you thought I wouldn’t be able to make it here since I can barely clean up after myself or even cook a single meal at home, but I’m actually doing quite well, you would be soooo proud.

Dear Chris, its unfortunate that we haven’t been playing golf together everyday (not that I miss it) but just know as soon as I get home I’m kicking your butt on and off the golf course. P.S. tell D.C. Hains Pointers I said whats up. Also, let granny and grandpa know I miss them as well and am perfectly safe. I can’t wait to share all my adventures with you, as I’m sure you’ll love hearing all about them. I’m learning so much here and this experience is really changing me as a person, and I’ve grown and learned more about myself in these past days than I have in my entire life. Pretty cool huh? See you guys soon. Lots of love





Mommy, Daddy, Mira, Grandma, & Lucky-


Hi! I miss you guys so much! Things are going very well in Costa Rica. The weather is much more bearable than I thought and my homestay family are very sweet and accommodating because I don’t speak much Spanish. I am having so much fun seeing the rainforest, helping with community work, and investigating ecosystems! Thanks for supporting me to go on this trip because it was really worth it! Allowing me to travel to Costa Rica was great! I love you all so much and I hope that everyone is doing well! See you all soon!!!!


Love, Nina



Mom and Dad,


Everything’s great in Costa Rica. I love my homestay family, I am learning many new and exciting things, and I am getting tan! Thank you so much for sending me on this trip. I cannot even express how valuable this experience has been. Although there have been times when I miss the comforts of the United States and home, learning about a different culture and becoming a member of a different family is great. Thanks for making me take Spanish all these years, it is really paying off, and it’s exciting knowing that my Spanish is improving. Don’t be surprised if I come home and prefer to speak Spanish, it is way cooler than English. That being said, I’m getting anxious to come home and see you and tell you about all my adventures.


Con mucho amor,




Dear Jordan,


I hope all is well at home. I hope your job is going great. You’re so trendy for working at Urban Outfitters. I hope you haven’t been swimming and tanning and having too much fun without me. El Roble is just as awesome as you described it. I love the people and the community. I met your homestay family and they remember you and make jokes about you and your friends. Can’t wait to see you!!


Tu hermana,




Dear Mom, Dad, and Andrea


Costa Rica is absolutely amazing. The rainforest is so beautiful and diverse and different from anything we have at home, and the stuff we have seen is so beautiful. I am so glad you let me go on this trip an experience something different from what we have at home. I’ve gotten to see leatherback turtles, poison dart frogs and some giant bugs (not my favorite), and so many things I wouldn’t have gotten to see if I had stayed back home. I miss you all a lot, and I hope everything is good back home. I can’t wait to show you all of my photos (I’ve taken way too many) and tell you all about what I have experienced here. Andrea, I hope camp is fun and that you are having a good time. Mom, I can’t wait to show you some of the new foods I’ve learned to make and like, and Dad, Happy Father’s day! Say hi to Toby for me and I’ll see you in a few days!


Love, Kelsey




Dear Mom, Dad, Granny, and Grandaddy


Costa Rica is the most beautiful place I think I have ever encountered in my life. The people here are so amazingly beautiful and kind. You can say “Hola” to any person on the road and expect a friendly hello back with a smile and a wave. I am so greatly appreciative and thankful for all of you guys’ support and efforts that allowed me to go on this trip. It means the world to me. I have learned so many important life lessons and things on this trip that really have changed my perspective on life. I miss all of you guys and can’t wait to see you when I get back home. I can’t wait to show you all of the new things I learned. I love you all dearly!


Love Always, Kelcie




Dear family,


Living here is so different than at home! I have 2 brothers and a sister in my immediate family and then I live with their cousins too…which are two more little boys. It’s a lot of fun but I miss you guys. Costa Rica is absolutely beautiful! You would all love it. Well except maybe mom because there are tons of bugs and the houses are kind of camp-like. I have so many pictures to show you and so many good stories. I’m a little bruised and broken (surprise) but having an amazing experience. I have learned so much about what really matters and how few possessions are necessary to be happy. Last night I took a cold water shower (like always) but the water cuts off so I had to shower using buckets of water. It was an interesting experience… anyway I think about you all a lot and I can’t wait to see you! Ps my whole house says you all are beautiful (and handsome?) and the little boys secretly have crushes on you sisters J


Love you lots,





Howdy Fam :)


I’m just casually sitting here in Costa Rica.  Because I’m in a different country I sometimes forget that life is still going on in America without me, but I hope it’s all good (in the hood)!  I’ll tell you exactly about the things I’m doing when I get home but the whole idea is that it’s incredible and the animals are fascinating and the community is so connected and meaningful and the group is getting closer and my homestay family is the greatest thing in the world (but I won’t replace you I promise).  Lots of the stuff Soph told us about her trip relates I think—in regards to the school children and wandering animals and great atmosphere.  But also, we have had animal and plant lectures (not the boring kind, these are actually really interesting), walks through the rainforest, saving turtles on the beach (I saw a huge leatherback tortuga!), and cooking classes (cheese, tortillas, tamales, patacone plantains).  But wow, I didn’t think I’d write for this long.   In conclusion, this trip rocks and I want to come back or travel or do similar things.  I love you all very much and all is well.

Make sure Sophia is home by Saturday though (and hopefully for Sunday)! It’ll be family day, alright?

Amor y Paz.


Your Roo, Anne E


Posted by on Tuesday June 28, 2011 at 09:05AM
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Message from Dr. Wulff


Greetings from Sarapiquí!

 I am in full agreement with Mr. Moreau’s assessment of the trip thus far.  The girls have worked incredibly well together, demonstrated flexibility when necessary, and have been unusually open to new circumstances and challenges (as their blogs demonstrate).  I’m so proud to be part of this group!

 In fact, I must admit that I envy these nine girls.  They have an uncanny ability to immerse themselves fully in every opportunity.  Whether on turtle patrol, slogging through their fourth day of painting at Kay Rica School, or in their homestays, the girls have been curious, attentive, and full of good will.  In short, they are fully present, both mentally and physically, in every situation thus far.  For me, “being present” has always been a challenge.  Ask anyone who knows me well—I’m always trying to anticipate what is coming next or trying to plan for the next event.  Sometimes I think I live more in the future than in the past.  Sure, there are advantages to my approach.  I like to think that it makes me the model of “Be Prepared!”  But, more often than not, it makes me forget to offer my full attention to my environment and the people I am with. 

 While here in Costa Rica and especially in El Roble, I’ve been lucky to have had some of those magical moments of just “being.”  I woke in the morning and enjoyed some precious moments on Arabela’s (my hostess for the homestay’s) fantastic covered back patio.  The chickens and rooster were noisily demanding their breakfast, and the cows were in the pasture just beyond the yard.  I was taken by how this pastoral setting differed from my suburban kitchen on a typical morning.  And, I enjoyed taking stock of it in a way that sharpened my perception of the moment.  Later in the day, I had the opportunity to watch the girls prepare tamales with the women who work in the kitchen of the school.  I enjoyed watching the women who served us take on the role of instructors and the attention and respect paid to them for their expertise by the girls.  In the  afternoon the good weather gave way to a phenomenal thunderstorm that drowned out all other noises.  It demanded my attention, and I was riveted by the fury that nature could unleash on a day that had started so tranquilly. 

 St. Teresa of Avila’s famous bookmark states, “Let nothing disturb you, let nothing dismay you, all things are passing . . .”  All too often I find myself preoccupied with worries, concerns, or details. My Costa Rica adventure is reminding me of the importance of taking stock of the beauty of each moment as each is so precious and fleeting.

 Lara Wulff

Posted by on Monday June 27, 2011 at 11:29AM
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Message from Mr. Moreau


Dear parents, dear extended Holton family,

 Once more, we’re having a blast in Costa Rica. Parents, thanks again for sending your daughters on this trip; it is truly a fantastic group to work with. So far, not only were there no mishaps at any moment, but also everybody displayed a great enthusiastic attitude. When we finally arrived last Saturday at the Pacuare Reserve, I didn’t think anybody was going to volunteer for a long patrol on the beach. (More precisely, I was not hoping for it!) I did it last year with Mrs. Carver, and we both agreed that this is quite a strenuous exercise and probably not something our girls—or their devoted teachers—should do at the end of a 24-hour long trip. (I was sleep walking by the end of it last year!) When seven of our girls raised their hands to go on such a patrol last Saturday, my spirits screamed “insane.” “Wait, girls, remember, once you start you cannot stop! The people working here are counting on us. It will be difficult.” I did try to discourage them because I was really not up to it but my efforts were to no avail. Darn it, I’m cooked! No way I can shirk this one or I’ll never hear the end of it during the entire trip. So, walk I did. (The bed I fell on that night at 2 in the morning—4 A.M. US time—felt like a million dollars even though it was just a foam mattress on a wooden plank!)

This positive attitude that the girls have shown from Day One has not abated. They’ve worked very hard on the library project here in El Roble, painting every day for four days. The library is almost finished, but it will take a little bit more fund raising efforts to complete it. (The windows and a door must be added.) The director of the Kay Rica School is extremely happy about it. She has already started gathering some furniture designated for the library in her office. A place with books is not easily available in the rural part of Costa Rica, and being able to provide an environment where children can go to read and feed their curiosity is a wonderful opportunity. We are done working at the Kay Rica School today. During the next portion of the trip, we are going to learn about the immense biological diversity of the Sarapiquí region.


Dear parents, I hope you have enjoyed the blogs and the pictures so far. You can hear from reading the blogs how much your daughters are getting out of this greatly enriching experience.


Stéphane M.

Posted by on Monday June 27, 2011 at 11:25AM
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A Sense of Community

For this story, you need some background. So. I’ve gone to camp every summer for 7 years now for varying amounts of time (all at least two weeks).  Last summer at camp, I was certified as a waterfront lifeguard with saving skills for a pool or beach, basic first aid, and CPR.  During this school year, I completed a CPR & Lifeguard refresher test to stay on top of my game.  This summer, immediately upon my return from Costa Rica I’ll go to camp to be a counselor until late August.  As a counselor, I will be responsible for children at all hours of the day.  My preparation should cover from something as simple as a bed-wetter to situations as serious as someone drowning on the waterfront or someone unconscious without pulse or breath.  For me, the certifications are badges of responsibility, not honor.

Anyway. Back to Costa Rica.  Last night, while my family was innocently working on a puzzle, we heard shouts coming from the house next door, our abuela’s house (the mother of my mother).  As our house quieted down to hear, the noise outside increased.  Above the sudden frantic Spanish exclamations, we heard “Fanny! Fanny!”  Upon hearing our mother’s name, our family jumped to action as well.  The children raced after Mamita to the already open door; here, we received another command from Abuela—“Alvaro, traiga el coche!”  If I was confused before by the high-pitched, panicked, hard-to-understand Spanish shouting, this new demand for mi papa to “bring the car!” set my head spinning.  From my vantage point leaning against the door frame, I watched Alvaro, my dad, grab his keys and sprint to the car; I heard my mom in slow motion  telling Bailey, Kelsey, and me to watch the kids (siblings Sebastian, 3 Nicole, 7 and cousin Erick, 9) so she could run to her mother’s house.  I also saw Erick and Bailey calmly sitting on the floor still holding their Uno cards.  Since I wouldn’t have known what to do with myself, I just followed orders.  I called for mi hermanita Nicole to come back inside and the now six of us stood or sat in a jagged circle. 

When Mama returned a few suspenseful minutes later, she explained that her sister’s baby (our aunt’s baby) had stopped breathing and didn’t have a pulse.  Alvaro, the one year old, our tia, and our tio were speeding to the nearest medical clinic fifteen minutes away in Puerto Viejo.  I couldn’t possibly comprehend why Erick was being so calm.  After the car sped away, it seemed as if the atmosphere in our house had returned to normal.  As I tried to get more details, Erick made a few passing comments about how emergencies happen often, and he was only interested in getting back to the game of Uno.  None of the other children seemed too perturbed, and Uno was back underway within two minutes.

I, however, did not feel the same.  Even now, thinking about the entire occurrence makes me anxious.  As my Costa Rican family hurried around me for those few action-packed minutes, I kept shouting in my head “this is what I’m trained to do! What should I do?”  Doubts about things like the language barrier and my guest-status in a foreign country and, most of all, my fear of messing up paralyzed me in the moment.  I did what I was told to do but was unable to make a difference where it was important.  When Papa called to update us about a half hour later, he explained that the baby had started breathing again in the car (her lack of circulation lasted about 4 minutes).  She still had a very high fever but would be all right and could return home the next day.

When I now think about the experience, I get nervous.  I wasn’t able to spring to action like I wish I would have done.  Although in hindsight it appears I would not have had time to do much, I am still disappointed in myself.  However, I also think, after last night, I understand that feeling of emergency, and I feel as though I have more experience.  I honestly believe that if something similar would ever happen again (God forbid) at camp or elsewhere, I wouldn’t hesitate.  I know now that freezing up isn’t acceptable, and I refuse to do it again. 

Finally, (and I know it seems bizarre that such a short period of time can mean so much) last night taught me something about the community of El Roble.  Once the cry for help went up, everyone on the street sprang to action.  Precious seconds did not pass without someone helping the cause; the baby was able to make it to the car and on her way to help in under three minutes.  As the van sped away, children watched from the doorways and family members moved to support one another.  At the same time, El Roble seemed to maintain its tranquilidad.  The neighborhood quickly took action but once everything in their capabilities was completed, they did their best to wait it out patiently.  The news would come when it came and all they could do was be together and hope for the best.  Erick continued playing Uno and mis tios y abuelos sat together on the porch, and, thankfully, there wasn’t anyone crying last night.


Anne E C

Posted by on Saturday June 25, 2011 at 10:35PM
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Queso Casero (Homemade Cheese) and Community Connection

Yesterday we had the pleasure of going to Marzarella’s house to learn how to make the most common cheese in Costa Rica. Her house is about a 10-minute walk from the center of El Roble, and she and her husband own a large plot of farmland. Hazel, one of the women at the house, explained the history of El Roble to us. Thirty years ago some Ticos (Costa Ricans) squatted illegally on the land of El Roble, which initially belonged to a large landowner, in order to farm and sell the crops for their livelihood. They were persistent and would not leave.  Eventually, the government bought the land and, as part of its land redistribution program, gave each family working there seven hectares of land (1 hectare = 2.7 acres), some of it for free and some for a small amount of money, which the families would own after farming the land and producing crops for twenty-five years. Hazel showed us the traditional way of making two types of cheese. For the first, she used a filter to separate the curd and the whey in a bucket of milk. Then she used her hands to massage the curd, which she then pressed into a mold.  The second kind of cheese is typical in Nicaragua and is frequently bought by Nicaraguan migrant workers who work in the area.  To make this kind of cheese, Hazel once again separated the whey from the curds and then used her hands to form the curds into a ball.   We sliced and ate both kinds of cheese on homemade bread. Hazel told us that she only makes cheese once or twice a week because selling milk is more profitable. She also explained that the company to which she sells her milk makes an even greater profit, and she wants to start a dairy cooperative in El Roble to make more money.

Marzarella’s house happens to be where my sister stayed when she went on the first Global Education trip to Costa Rica two years ago, and when I told the family that my sister stayed with them they got very excited and began reminiscing on all the funny and memorable moments they have had with Holton girls in the past. I am so glad that we have established this relationship with El Roble because it seems like every year they look forward to our arrival and truly enjoy our presence in their community. I think it is important that we continue to help this community because the work that the girls have done in the past has made a visible difference and I know our work will do the same.

It is hard for me to believe that such a united community with strong morals and values were established only thirty years ago. El Roble is one of the safest communities I have ever seen, and everyone respects each other and works well together. In a way, El Roble and Holton have similar values – honesty, awareness, responsibility, respect, and kindness (HARRK—props to Lower School!). However, life in El Roble is much simpler than at Holton, and the Ticos here seem less preoccupied with material things. When I get older and buy my first house, I would love to have an “El Roble relationship” with my neighbors and my community. Although certain aspects of El Roble, like the lack of danger and the ability to leave your door open for whoever may wander in, are unrealistic elsewhere, I want to be good friends with my neighbors and help to build a community of trust, good will, and mutual support.


Bailey Jackson

Posted by on Saturday June 25, 2011 at 10:26PM
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Artistic Note

-Pictures courtesey of the excellent eye of Kelsey Sloter.  Thanks Kelsey!
Posted by on Saturday June 25, 2011 at 03:37PM
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Crossing the Language Barrier


Before we got to El Roble, I was incredibly apprehensive about the concept of a homestay. I had no idea what El Roble would be like, I didn’t know the people, and I had no idea what to expect. While these were all daunting ideas, I was most concerned about having to speak and understand Spanish. I took Spanish at Holton from 3rd to 6th grade, but I hadn’t spoken a word of it from then until I arrived here. Sure, I took Latin for 4 years, and some of the words are similar, but the languages are so different from each other! I had no idea how I was supposed to communicate with anyone. I would have to rely solely on my teachers and friends to explain what was going on. However, our arrival into El Roble instantly assuaged almost all of my fears. The town is wonderful and peaceful, and our house, as Bailey already explained, is great, as is our homestay family. Everyone is sweet and welcoming, and no one seems unhappy with our presence. In fact, they all seem to want to meet us and get to know us. However, the language barrier can sometimes hinder this. Most of the students speak Spanish, and even they sometimes have a hard time understanding the Ticos in El Roble. To me, trying to follow the fast stream of foreign words is nearly impossible! However, things are not as bad as they seem. While I have a hard time comprehending everything everyone says, I have gotten very good at listening for words and phrases I know, and deciphering what is being said from those words. Over the few days we have been here, my ability to understand what is going on has improved immensely, and now I am able to follow whole conversations. When Anne, Bailey and I have conversations with our mama, Fanny, after dinner, I can understand what is being said for most of the conversation, and even participate a little. While I still have to ask “¿Qué?” to Anne and Bailey a lot of the time, communicating has become much easier. Trying to get around this language barrier has taught me the value of a trip such as this one. If communicating face to face can be this difficult, how are people supposed to communicate well with each other from thousands of miles away? If we can’t understand each other’s perspectives in person, how can we hope to comprehend them when we have never experienced each other’s ways of life? By coming here, I have learned so much about a culture I never would have been able to understand through books or videos, and I can’t even directly communicate. Just because we can’t understand each others words doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to understand each others actions and worldviews.


Kelsey S.

Posted by on Thursday June 23, 2011 at 11:05PM
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Embracing Nature


Generally, Nature and I have had a pretty solid relationship. I always throw my trash away properly and recycle. I love animals and am afraid of very few insects. I love the rain and all types of weather. However, during this trip Nature has been acting as if I challenged it to a fight.  At first, none of the small things seemed significant, but now it is very clear that Nature is out to get me!

It all began with our first day in El Roble. Our hermanos asked Kelcie and me if we wanted to go swimming in the river. We gladly agreed (seeing as we were hot, sweaty and willing to do just about anything to cool down). We changed into our bathing suits, grabbed our towels and began our walk to the river. Almost immediately after we got there, it started pouring rain. We decided to stay in the water and just ignore the rain, but Nature didn’t really like that choice. Right after we all agreed to stay, it broke out into a full on thunderstorm with lightening, wind, and heavy rain. We rushed back to the house, a bit disappointed with our bad luck. We took the opportunity to get to know the family better and sit down to have a conversation with them. Then, after dinner, David (mi hermano) asked if I wanted to meet his grandma. I gladly agreed. We walked across the street and to her house. When we arrived, her dog literally ran over my foot and somehow managed to poop on it in the process! I was stuck awkwardly in the yard not wanting to point out that the dog had pooped all over my bare feet. Eventually, I was forced to tell David and his grandma, and they both started laughing. It became the joke of the house when David came back and told the whole family what happened. At that point all I could do was wash my feet, throw my hands in the air and exclaim, “¿Porque?!” That word has become my catch phrase in our house. Every time something bad happens or people are teasing me, I simply say it, and everyone laughs. Our family has started asking me to say it all the time and even tease me just so that I will! For some odd reason, they find it very funny.

If you’re not convinced that Nature is out to get me yet, just wait--there’s more. On the second day in the village, we worked at the school again. The kids have breaks about every hour and come outside to play with us. During one of the breaks, they showed us their class pet, a green bird that looks like a parakeet. All of the Holton girls were amazed that the bird didn’t fly away and loved watching it climb from finger to finger and from person to person. We passed it around and all put our fingers in a row so it could climb on all of us. I was the third person to have the bird carefully maneuver its way onto my hand. It was as if he knew of my bad luck with Nature and wanted to make my fight even more obvious to everyone. As soon as he climbed on my hand, I felt a warm stream coming from the back of the bird…and it wasn’t water. At first, I sat there stunned and in disbelief! WHY ME?! ¿PORQUE?! Everyone started laughing including the kids as they helped me clean up. Coincidentally, Bailey was wearing a shirt that said “Poop Deck” on the back and everyone agreed that it should be mine instead. It was a good laugh. On day 3 in El Roble, Nature continued to torment me.  At the school during break, we played with all the little kids as usual. They have a fascination with cameras and love to take pictures with us. I agreed to let a girl take a picture of me and some other kids. Since the kids were small, I knelt down in the grass. I felt pricking in my legs and thought to myself, “Oh great I knelt in some sticks.”  But no, it was (of course) worse. I stood up after the picture and realized I had actually knelt in an ant farm filled with vicious, Lindsay-eating ants. I seem to have at least 150 fire ant bites covering both of my legs. Although it hurt badly, once again all there was to do was laugh.

Although my first response to Nature’s attack was embarrassment and pain, it has also taught me to make the best out of every situation. Instead of getting upset or mad, it is more beneficial to just laugh it off and cry my catchphrase “¿Porque?!” All of these incidents have helped me to bond with my family and come out of my comfort zone, reminding me that every cloud has a silver lining.  If Nature hadn’t declared war on me, I would have missed these opportunities to connect with the people in El Roble.  I can honestly say that these will be memories I’ll never forget.  I just hope Nature realizes that I surrender!

 Lindsay K.

Posted by on Thursday June 23, 2011 at 11:03PM
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Culture, Costa Rica and Me


Today marked the beginning of our service project at Kay Rica, the neighborhood school and heart and soul of El Roble. Initially, I was a bit apprehensive about coming to Kay Rica but as soon as we stepped foot into the bright green building, we were greeted by smiles and laughter from all around. The director led us to an open area outside where we were enchanted with a traditional Costa Rican dance by some of the students. This was my first real taste of the Costa Rican culture. Watching the students dance, I could see how proud they were of their heritage and their community. The bright colors of the girls’ skirts matched their lively personalities.  As they danced to the fast-paced music it became clear to me I was in the presence of those who possess the utmost passion and respect for their heritage. This made me think a lot about my background and the various aspects of my character. Being of Ethiopian descent, I bring something different to the table than my friends. I represent a people and a culture much different from those around me, as there are not many Ethiopians in the community where I live. In a perfect world, I would be comfortable with sharing my Ethiopian culture with those who do not know it. However, I have never really felt at ease sharing my Ethiopian heritage with others. Ever since I can remember I would try to hide the fact that I was Ethiopian; to me, it just was not normal.  I was so concerned with fitting in that I didn’t see the value of my unusual background.  Like many of my peers, I was more focused on what others thought about me rather than expressing my individuality.  People are truly unique. We represent different nationalities, religions, ethnicities, customs and traditions, etc., and it’s extremely important that we stay true to these roots in order to maintain an exciting and diverse world.  Well, I am happy to say that witnessing such a spirited portrayal of the Costa Rican tradition has inspired me to share my Ethiopian culture with pride. Just as the Costa Rican children expressed such enthusiasm for their culturally unique dance, I hope to reciprocate with an equally passionate enthusiasm for my culture.


Selina D.


Posted by on Thursday June 23, 2011 at 10:59PM
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Paint, Paint and More Paint


This morning, everyone in our group was very excited and ready to begin working on the library. The head worker Sebastian, or Sebas, explained to us what the work of other Holton girls before us had accomplished, and how much good our fundraising had done for the school. He then explained that our main task for our four days of work service was to paint the outside and inside of the library that is still under construction. Sounds pretty simple, right? No. Wrong. Very, very wrong. After we began to paint, one of the first things I noticed when I looked around was that there seemed to be paint everywhere, on the floors, in our hair--literally everywhere. I was having a hard time, and I was one of the few who had had experience with painting. I knew I felt a little more than exasperated, and I don’t think I was the only one who quickly became disenchanted with our deceitfully hard task of painting the walls by the time that the second layer of the base coat was done. At about the beginning of the second coat, I must admit my strokes became a bit less vigorous, and I was getting more and more irritated at the grinding sound of construction that poured over the cement half wall that separated the outside from the  inside of the library. I did not like feeling incompetent when the task before me had appeared so easy. At some point it occurred to me that I had no idea what Sebas and his partner where working on with all their irritating construction noise, and when I looked, I saw they where cutting up panels of wood and screwing metal poles onto the ceiling. It was obviously hard and laborious work. From talking with Sebas during lunch in my very broken Spanish, I learned that he was from another village, and had been in El Roble for only a very short time, I think a matter of two or three months (I cant really be sure, lo siento for my poor español skills.) Seeing Sebas work so hard for a village that was not his own simply because he believed in the cause and the benefits it would spread was the best example I could witness on why we were here to work. I was reminded that I wasn’t here to work simply because I volunteered to go on the trip and they needed to give me something to do. I was here to work because these children need a library, and any help that I can give, even if it requires minimal skill, benefits the school and its pupils, and through them the entire community of El Roble.


Emma M.

Posted by on Thursday June 23, 2011 at 10:55PM
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¡Pura Vida!


I woke up on Day 3 excited to leave the primitive conditions of Pacuare and anxious to meet my homestay family. However, before we could hit the road I had to shower and pack – two things for which I was not at all excited. Normally I would love a nice hot shower after sweating and getting dirty, but the showers at Pacuare were neither nice nor hot. I was hesitant to venture to the outdoor showers in my towel with my hands full of toiletries, especially since there was a snake lurking around the ceiling of our bathroom, but it ended up being one of the most rewarding showers of my life. The cold water coming from a plastic pipe that served as a makeshift showerhead took a little getting used to, but I loved feeling clean and fresh after “roughing it” for two days and nights at the Reserve. Packing was a difficult task because I over-packed (as usual) but I managed to zip all three of my bags after a lot of pulling, tugging, and pressing.

After breakfast, we set off down the path to the dock with our cart full of suitcases. On the boat from Pacuare, our driver stopped to point out many animals, such as iguanas, monkeys, birds, and a crocodile. The plants and animals in Costa Rica are fascinating and a nice change from the boring squirrels and oak trees in the United States. The van ride from Pacuare to El Roble was long and cramped, but we stopped at a convenient store along the way and I purchased my first cold drink since before we arrived at the reserve.

Upon arrival in El Roble, we took a brief tour of the school and met our homestay families. My mom, Fani, is an incredibly friendly, accommodating, funny, and young woman of 27. She led Kelsey, Anne E, and I to her small pink house, which is about fifty meters from the school. Unlike many of the houses in El Roble, her house is very modern; it has glass windows, tile floors, couches, two televisions, a stereo and three bedrooms. While she was preparing lunch, we ventured to the pulpería (convenient store) with her nephew Erick (9) to buy Coke. The location of our house is ideal in that we are surrounded by kids, friends, and family, and we are close to the school and both pulperías [ubiquitous corner store in Costa Rica].

Lunch was a delicious assortment of tomatoes, aguacate (avocado) from the backyard, potatoes, and the beginning of a long succession of white rice and black beans (gallo pinto). Then we met Fani’s daughter Nicole (7), and Sebastian (3). Both of Fani’s children are adorable and very sweet. Nicole is shy and Sebas is incredibly energetic at all hours of the day. After lunch Kelsey, Anne E, and I went to the front yard to play soccer. It started pouring rain and at least ten kids from neighboring houses flocked to play with us. Soccer in the rain was one of the highlights of my day. Even though I hardly knew any of the kids that came to play with us, and I’m not very good at soccer, it was so much fun. The kids did not care that we were strangers in their town, they just wanted to play and enjoy themselves, and instead of playing an organized game of soccer, we passed the ball around and all the kids crowded around each other yelling, “Aquí, aquí!” Once it started to thunder, everyone dispersed and we sat on our porch in our drenched clothing and observed the heavy Costa Rican rain. Then we went inside and had a dance party with girls from the neighborhood.

To my surprise many American songs came on the radio, like “Firework” by Katy Perry, and the girls loved dancing with us. Even though I was exhausted, we played hand games in both English and Spanish for the rest of the evening before dinner. At around 6:00 our dad, Alvaro, returned from a long day of construction work and we sat down with our parents to chat and eat more gallo pinto and pasta for dinner. Over dinner, we asked general questions about the family and their lives. We discovered that they had hosted five or six students since May and were planning to host three more because they love to meet knew people and learn about their culture.

It was Fani’s brother’s birthday so we went next door to celebrate with her extended family. Unfortunately, during the 20-second walk from our front yard to theirs, we encountered a cuzuco (armadillo) and my family made fun of me for my fearful reaction to the incredibly fast and weird looking animal. Fani’s family welcomed us warmly and we watched the kids play with a piñata, ate homemade cake with cinnamon, and grape soda. The motto of Costa Rica is “pura vida”, which means pure, perfect life, and at the fiesta Fani’s family really embodied that motto. While we sat on the porch and everyone laughed, sang, and talked, every problem or discomfort or concern I might have had disappeared. Something as simple as sitting down and spending time together brought so much joy and happiness to everyone, and I think we often lose sight of that in the United States. I really felt like part of the family and it was a great start the home stay en El Roble. Upon returning to our house, Kelsey, Anne E, and I gave our family the gifts we brought with us, and we made a million plans for “mañana”.


Bailey Jackson

Posted by on Wednesday June 22, 2011 at 08:42PM
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Pacuare to El Roble


Last night (Day 2) was amazing. My 8 o’clock patrol shift in the turtle reserve was a priceless experience. Bailey, Kelcie D., Kelsey S. and I fearlessly headed down the beach in search of fully-grown baulas (leatherback turtles) and their hatchlings. Although we did not encounter a large leatherback, we did see six hatchlings and carefully guided them to the water so that they could begin the next phase of their lives. The hatchlings were so adorable, and my closest connection was with the turtle I saved while taking care of another. Rocket, the hatchling I began to take care of, was almost finished with his journey in the sand when I saw another hatchling on its back being tortured by nearby crabs. My inner child wanted to cry because it seemed so vulnerable. I quickly flipped the hatchling over and named it “Newbie”, because it was new! J I was so happy to be able to save Newbie from those devilish crabs! You can call me Superwoman.


Day 3, we began the next phase of our adventure. After breakfast, we all gathered our belongings and headed eagerly to the boat. After the short boat ride (on which we saw a crocodile, various birds, and monkeys), the entire company was relieved to travel in the bus because there was finally some A/C to breathe in! Additionally, everyone was excited to stop at the supermarket; there was a craving for sweets and sodas! I spent nearly 6,000 Colones ($12) there! Finally, the bus arrived in El Roble and we  introduced to our homestay families. Nina and I, were a bit disappointed to find out that we had the house that was farthest from the rest of the Holton students and from the town center. At first, it did not bother me much because my mind still wandered in expectations for our family. This is when I began to realize how many preconceptions I had and my own sense of entitlement.  It’s one thing to tell someone not to come on a trip like this with many expectations about what they may encounter because the mind simply creates its own reality. So, there I was, expecting a house similar to the others I saw in the community, and we stopped in front of an old fashioned wooden home that somewhat looks like a tree house. I selfishly crossed my fingers hoping it wasn’t mine. Of course, it was mine. My mind began to grab every bratty, selfish, greedy and spoiled judgment and I believed that Nina and I had the short end of the stick. I looked inside my room, and saw a gecko crawling up the wall next to my bed. I screamed, internally of course.

Since Dr. Wulff and Mr. Moreau lived two houses away, Nina and I decided to visit them and accompany them to check on the other homestay families. I couldn’t believe it! Their homes were much nicer than ours were! They had glass windows, tile floors, and colorful bedrooms! The first home I visited even had a dance party; there were huge stereos and countless children, who I adored! I was so jealous! How dare anyone think I deserved a more rustic home when everyone else had homes made of cement with modern touches?! The 13 and 14-year-old girls who lived in our homestay family hadn’t even arrived from school yet! Nevertheless, I knew I was missing the point and felt conflicted because I knew that challenging myself was part of the reason I chose to come on this trip.

Well, I had it all wrong. When Dr. Wulff and Mr. Moreau accompanied Nina and me back to our new home, I suddenly had a miraculous change of perspective. The whole family was now home. They were so sweet and welcoming and the house didn’t even look as bad as I made it out to be the first time I saw it. I felt stupid and bratty. When I saw the two girls who were our new hermanas (sisters), I lit up with excitement and forgot all about my trivial complaints. At the end of the day, I was most proud of the fact that I had come to my senses. I regained my focus on what is most important.  I came on this trip most importantly to open my eyes to a world different from my own. I also came here to connect with the Ticos who live here and embrace their culture and language. It’s important to remember to focus on the people living here than on material possessions. By the end of the night, I couldn’t imagine being with a better family!


Malaika I.



Posted by on Wednesday June 22, 2011 at 08:38PM
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The Help


-Helping the turtles—really started the day with a bang. Literally, at 1 am (as you just heard from Nina)

-Much needed sleep—didn’t last very long though, the daylight inspired me to get up early

-Breakfast—the cook was giving Silvia one of the most beautiful hair wraps I’ve ever seen; she also makes pulseras magnificas (magnificent bracelets), I just want them all

-Trash sorting—yummy. duh… and makes me conscious of my own littering and recycling

-Lunch—we finally starting integrating our meals with the assistants to my pleasure

-Class—look up keystone species, they’re pretty awesome (and all sea-turtles but one are)

-SIESTA—my favorite! Including: laying on the beach (be careful for the sea-flies), walking in the waves (the water’s very sandy), and journaling (it’s hard to concentrate though b/c there’s a struggle between wanting to document all these great feelings and actually going out to experience them)

-Triangulation and excavation



            After this morning events—helping turtles and sorting trash of all things—I feel so much more important.  When we first arrived, I questioned our purpose to be honest. It seemed like our group was such a hassle for the people of Pacuare; we ate their food, slept in their beds, struggled with a language barrier, relied on them to take us places, needed them to explain every minor task.  Sounds like more of a problem than a service, right?

            But then, the Baula (leatherback turtle) came along.  She climbed up and down the beach leaving tracks like a giant tractor, and those tracks, with deep crevices and ridges which needed to be erased.  Luckily, Marie-Pier had Nina, Mr. Moreau, and me!  We all got down on our hands and knees with fat sticks to wipe away and throw new sand on the tracks in order to hide all evidence of such a great being’s presence (to save it from poachers, of course).  The job could have taken more than four times as long as it did (a quick 3 minutes) if Marie-Pier hadn’t had our three extra sets of hands.  Additionally, we spent an hour and a half cleaning and sorting trash and yet completed only a whopping 5 bags.  If that’s how slow and tough the work is, imagine how horrid it must be to do it all alone, or with only a few people. 

            After such a day’s work, I suddenly feel very useful.  Not only is there a purpose behind our long travels but also a lesson.  Such tedious but challenging activity made me think about my own behavior too.  Littering is simply not an option, recycling is a necessity, and consideration for animals and humans must be constant.


            ps. Here’s a string of random thoughts from my journal! Ta-da:

The sounds here—of birds, howler monkeys, insects, etc—are incredible.  The waves crash one after another, about 5 at a time in one line.  The mariposas are bright yellow.  The snakes are ridiculously dangers and casual at the same time—ready to kill you but also just chillin. Showering doesn’t seem like an option.  Hammocks make me very happy.  I honestly think I could do this (live this life at Pacuare happily).  Sand gets everywhere.  I like working on my espanol and meeting new people.  The home-made bracelets are my dream.  Silvia is gorgeous.  I like how cultured the assistants are. One day I might be like that.

Anne E C.

Posted by Melissa Brown on Tuesday June 21, 2011 at 10:43PM
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Turtle Patrol


Early this morning, despite being tired, Anne E and I chose to go for patrol from 10 pm on June 18 until 2 am on June 19.  We took a small siesta after dinner so that we could feel refreshed before our 4-hour patrol. Mr. Moreau, Anne E, the assistant Marie-Pier, and I began our voyage down the beach. The beach at night was absolutely beautiful. There was a full moon and the brightness helped us to see everything on the beach. I have never seen the sky at night the way that I did this morning. The stars were very bright as well and made me realize how large the universe really is. Marie-Pier even pointed out the Big Dipper and some other astronomical sightings. After a while though, the beautiful nature could not distract us from how tired we actually were. The first two hours were especially challenging. We made it to the half-way point on the beach and I could barely put one foot in front of the other. It was beginning to feel very frustrating because we kept walking on the beach despite not sighting any hatchlings or adult turtles. When we walked back to the North Station we took a break. I was able to catch my breath and enjoy my beautiful surroundings. After 30 minutes, Marie-Pier told us we had to walk again because we had one more hour left. We were so tired during that break that we were dozing off, so we were a bit unmotivated when Marie-Pier told us we needed to start walking again. Anne E and I were rewarded for our perseverance though. Almost as soon as we started walking, we came across two hatchlings nests. Altogether, we saw about 17 individual hatchlings. It was very inspirational watching the hatchlings make their way slowly from the nest to the water. Instinctively, they slowly trudged approximately 20-25 yards to the aggressive ocean waves. It was amazing to see such small creatures persist through less than ideal conditions to face head-on challenging lives. Some hatchlings took a little longer to reach the water because of physical deformities or from being in trances of sleep that caused weakness. We waited patiently for each hatchling to reach the water, cheering them on till they reached the water. It interesting to see how when a hatchling reached a wave but was not pulled into the water because they were not close enough, it would start speeding up its pace to the ocean. It was almost as if the hatchlings were sprinting the last part of a marathon. Anne E and I were very satisfied with what we had seen, but then Marie-Pier announced to us that there was something further on the beach. We walked quickly to the source and when we reached there, a large leatherback turtle was climbing up the beach. Anne E and I were very excited because we were witnessing the most massive reptile in the world on the beach. The leatherback did not lay her eggs there, but Marie-Pier said that the turtle probably was just seeing if the spot was comfortable for her and she would probably be back in the next few days to lay her eggs for real. When we finally got the chance to go close to the turtle, it was so fantastic to see her movement and how large she really was. It was very interesting to remember how small a hatchling was and then compare that size to the larger-than-a-table turtle in front of me. The creature in front of me was so powerful and strong and used its limbs to pull itself out of the sand and move forward. After witnessing such awe-inspiring events, the walk back to the North Station was exciting and fun. I was in such a good mood and the night really got me excited to see the rest of Costa Rica. In a combination of satisfaction and tiredness, I slept very well that night. Even though I was not in a classroom, I learned a powerful lesson early this morning. The hatchlings and I were not very different. I was extremely tired from traveling all day long but I pushed myself to pursue the chance of seeing turtles, and in the end, I did see turtles. The hatchlings were small and weak in comparison to the beach and waves, but they too pushed themselves to reach the ocean because they knew that was what they wanted. The hatchlings and I ignored our respective difficult circumstances and persisted to do what was necessary to succeed. In life if you want to succeed and get what you want, you have to be willing to put everything else aside and focus on achieving your goals. Watching the turtles taught me the power of tenacity in tough situations.

-          Sorted trash found on the beach by other groups

-          Educational class on turtles and Pacuare Turtle Reserve history

-          Patrol on the beach with triangulation (taking three points to reference where the nest is, destroy any evidence of the nest, then 60 days later come back to investigate the remains of the nest that has already hatched), excavation (excavating already-hatched nests to look for eggs that did not hatch and taking note of how many eggs did not hatch due to fungus, bacteria, larva, or undetermined causes)


Nina S.


Posted by Melissa Brown on Tuesday June 21, 2011 at 10:40PM
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Turtle Hatchlings

…Dinner was delicious and the people there seemed to be very generous and hospitable. We ate dinner all together as a group like one big family. My first impression of the turtle reserve was very comfortable and I immediately felt at home eating with my whole group with our shoes sitting outside of the dining hall to avoid bringing dirt and sand inside. After dinner, we went to our cabins and six of us prepared to go on the first turtle patrol walk on the beach (from 8 pm until 12 midnight). The skies were pitch black and the weather was amazingly still pretty humid for it being so late at night. We had to dress in long sleeves and long pants so that we would not get bitten by any foreign creatures that we weren’t used to in the States. It was uncomfortable, but nevertheless, we dressed accordingly without any complaints. The turtle patrol walks had three different shifts, the 8:00, the 10:00, and the 12:00 and each was 4 hours long. To me, it seemed tedious and long, but I was still overcome with excitement to see what new discoveries the patrol would bring. The walk was actually very beautiful. The sky was filled with lots of stars and constellations, more than at home, and the moon was bright just like the sun in the morning and lit our pathway like a bright shining candle. When we finally arrived to the South station of the turtle reserve, we took a break to watch the stars and rest our bodies from the long walk. When we were there, we also met some other Americans from California, which was interesting. They told us about their experiences with the turtle patrol and how they came to Costa Rica to volunteer especially for the benefit of the turtles. Talk about dedication! After our refreshing break, we returned home where we, at first, thought that we would return without any signs of a turtle. Suddenly, when our group was almost in bed, our advisor, Ida, woke us up and told us to hurry to the beach. We scurried in our pajamas and tennis shoes to the beach where we found our first turtle hatchling. We named him Jordan and watched him take his first swim into the ocean. I felt like a proud mother watching my baby take its first steps. It’s amazing to see how determined Jordan actually was to get into the ocean and begin his life in a new environment. What an awesome way to end our first day in Costa Rica!


Kelcie D.





Posted by Melissa Brown on Tuesday June 21, 2011 at 10:37PM
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Arrival in Pacuare


The morning was stressful! We barely made our flight to Miami in time. As we ran through the airport, I was nervous about boarding our flight in time. When we reached the plane, we all sighed of relief because even though we were some of the last people to board, we made it! The flight was 2 ½ hours of waiting and anxiousness before we landed in sunny, hot Miami. We were told we had ten minutes before the next flight so we all ran in different directions trying to get food and go to the bathroom. Everyone scattered quickly and after we got back from our quick food and bathroom run, we learned our flight was delayed. We had to sit and wait in anticipation even more. We didn’t know it at the time but waiting was something that we would have to get used to in Costa Rica. From the airport, a nice man named Giovanni (who would be our guide for the next two weeks) picked us up. We had a really long car ride and stopped at a convenience store which all of us took for granted. We didn’t realize that the reserve would have neither refrigeration nor hot water.  I bought an empanada and a drink as a snack. As I handed my American money to the cashier, he spoke to me only in Spanish. This was my first experience of communicating in another language and it was hard to think of what to respond on the spot. I didn’t really know what he wanted me to say so I just nodded and took the money that he handed me. It felt foreign when I looked at the money and it was Costa Rican! In my hand, I had foreign coins and dollar bills that said 1000 on them. I have only left the country once (that I remember) and I have never used any currency but American. The whole experience was foretelling of the next few days and how I would have to learn to communicate. Later, when we finally arrived at the dock, we waited about two hours for the boat to pick us up. People in Costa Rica are not really concerned with being on time which was a nice change for me. Usually I am forced to rush between classes or to rush to sports practice but waiting around gave me a few minutes to breathe and appreciate my surroundings. I was no longer anxious but awestruck by the beauty of Costa Rica. By the time we got on the boat, we were all exhausted. We quietly sat and took in everything that there was to see. The trees [ylang ylang] we passed smelled beautiful, and we saw howler monkeys in the trees. Our guide told us that the yellow flowers on the trees were used to make Channel Number 5 perfume. We slowly watched the sun go down and the night sky appear. When we finally arrived at the Pacuare Reserve it was both exciting and nerve racking to meet the people who work at the reserve (the coordinator, assistants, and guards). My Spanish was tested again when I had to communicate with the new faces and introduce myself. Instead of communicating with just my words, I had to use my facial expressions and lots of gestures as well. I had to work up the confidence to speak up and say what I wanted them to know. For me, this was a challenge I was willing to take. For the six years I have taken Spanish class at school, I have maybe volunteered myself twice to speak my opinions or words to the class. Language is my weakest subject and I have a very hard time saying what I am thinking.  Yet despite all this, I was able to use my Spanish in a direct and meaningful way.   As I spoke to the people at the reserve, I was able to communicate my name and little things about myself.  We all sat down at tables together and we were welcomed with open arms and a nice dinner…


Lindsay K.

Posted by Melissa Brown on Tuesday June 21, 2011 at 10:34PM
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Costa Rica Group Has Landed!

I am happy to report that our group is safe and sound in Costa Rica.  They landed, cleared customs and are off to the Turtle Reserve!  Pura Vida!


Posted by on Saturday June 18, 2011 at 03:18PM
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Send off at 4 am ¡Buen Viaje Chicas!

Posted by on Saturday June 18, 2011 at 08:05AM
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