In the early fall of 2010 I was in the middle of planning our spring 2011 trip for Mexico. Things were falling into place nicely and I had a group of 21 excited travelers. They had been studying Mexican culture and history while working hard in my Spanish classes to prepare themselves for the experience. Unfortunately these plans never became a reality. We suddenly learned that the US Department of State had issued a travel warning for Mexico due to the violence stemming from the country’s vicious struggle to control drug trafficking and other criminal activity.
Although we were highly disappointed about this bad news, we quickly changed gears and began exploring other options. I contacted my tour consultant, Emma Hanson at EF, and began researching alternative tours. She informed me that Costa Rica was one of EF’s most popular travel destinations and suggested that I take a closer look. Over the next two weeks, she worked diligently to teach me as much as possible about Costa Rica and the specific details about the tours offered there. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this unfortunate situation was quickly turning into a new and exciting opportunity. I presented the information to my students and their parents and we unanimously agreed that Costa Rica would be our new tour destination. We put our Plan B into action and never looked back. Almost a year has passed, and students still talk about what an amazing experience it was. Although I know that they missed out on the opportunity to fall in love with beautiful Mexico, none of us would trade this experience for anything.
What made this trip so special? Throughout my next couple of posts, a few of my students and I share some highlights from our Touch of the Tropics tour of Costa Rica.
Food: The fresh fruit was outstanding. We also enjoyed eating several variations of the famous Costa Rican dish gallo pinto. One morning our tour guide, Victor, invited the students down to the hotel kitchen. He explained how to prepare this tasty dish and then assigned different tasks to the students and let them go to work. It was a unique experience to watch students get up early to learn how to cook and prepare a meal for the entire group
School Visit: My favorite event of my EF Tours trip was, by far, the visit to the local school in Monteverde. A lot of great things happened that day, and even though they happened almost a year ago, the memories still live on in vividness. One of my favorite memories from this adventure was the feeling of self-accomplishment when the kids see everything that we brought them. From cereal snacks to soccer balls, we decided to buy small things for the kids, giving them what they wouldn’t be able to normally have. Seemingly as a way of thanking us, the children (I’m assuming from ages 4-12) freely conversed with us, and many talked to us about everyday facts of their lives while treating us like we knew each other for years. Then they put on a display of traditional dancing for us. The kids were enthusiastic all throughout our short time there, and I would highly recommend that anyone that goes to Costa Rica, whether with EF or not, takes some time to visit a local school. The kids appreciate it and the feeling you’ll get afterward will be unparalleled. ~Kyle Koehler, SLHS class of 2012
Pura Vida: One of the most iconic things about Costa Rica is the simplest – it doesn’t cost any money, and definitely does not cause any internal stress. I’m talking about Pura Vida, the Tico way of life. Gone are the worries of life (no more financial concerns, no need to ‘keep face’), and in its places lies a simple change: a better way of life. In Costa Rica, you learn to value the little things, like the company of your fellow friends. During my trip with EF, I realized that you don’t need material things to keep you going; instead, you can find just as much happiness with nothing. The poorest people in Costa Rica find ways to enjoy every minute of their life, something that I’m sure any American can learn to do. In addition, the people in Costa Rica were entirely receptive to you, and they don’t even comment on your bad Spanish. With these people and this lifestyle, it’s impossible not to enjoy every minute of your visit. ~Kyle Koehler, SLHS class of 2012
Canopy Tour: Zip lining was a fun way to get to know Costa Rica even better. It may sound like a scary thing, but getting to the zip lines is almost scarier than when you’re flying through the air. Be sure to listen to the safety precautions and instructions at the beginning and you will be fine. The view of the countryside from above with zero obstructions is spectacular. From such a great height, you can see for miles, too. The longest line is about a half a mile long, but feels much shorter. On the longer lines you get to have a partner. Our group learned from experience that you must always have the bigger, stronger person in the back to brake. If you really want a rush of adrenaline, opt for the Tarzan swing. Free falling at the beginning is a little frightening, but after that it is exhilarating. I really liked the idea of going out of my comfort zone in a safe environment. Throughout the whole experience, guides are very helpful and are willing to talk to you in Spanish or English. I don’t know if I would go zip lining again, but I am very grateful that I didn’t miss out on this opportunity. ~Laura Kelly, SLHS class of 2012
Come back next Wednesday for Part 2/4, the most enjoyable activities in Costa Rica!
Flickr photo via Seantoyer
Add Scott on Google+, Scott Hemker’s posts appear once a month on Following the Equator. If you have a travel question for our expert group leader, or an idea for a blog post topic, you can email Scott, and he will answer readers’ questions in future posts.)