I’m a city girl both at heart and habit. I’ve grown up around hustle and bustle, have no problem falling asleep to car horns and squealing tires, and the only “camping trip” I’ve taken was the time I pitched my Aladdin tent in my living room when I was four.
Having said that, I’m so fortunate and happy to be getting a taste of what the great outdoors has to offer, one excursion at a time. The past two weeks have been full of three wonderful, eye opening experiences for me, filled with more firsts and moments of happiness and pride than I had thought possible.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Wildlife Refuge, and Peace Lodge:
To celebrate the successful end of my first week of classes, I signed up for a trip to La Paz Waterfall Garden at the last minute; and I am I thrilled I decided to take the chance. The bus ride to La Paz was gorgeous, passing by coffee plantations, small churches, schools, and soccer fields, all dotting the landscape of a massive, fog covered mountain. La Paz, nestled atop of one of these amazing mountains, offered us a delicious buffet lunch with goodies like fresh garlic bread, arroz con pollo (rice and chicken), arroz con leche (a delicious rice pudding-like dessert), and refreshing fruit juices. After lunch, we set off to explore the on-site wildlife refuge and gorgeous waterfalls. So much beauty surrounded the monkeys, butterflies, snakes, frogs, jungle cats, and hummingbirds, all indigenous to the Costa Rican countryside, that I almost couldn’t believe it was all real.
Some animal habitats, like the hummingbirds and the butterflies, comprised the interactive sections of the refuge. Additionally, there was also a tropical bird interactive exhibit. Although I am legitimately PETRIFIED of birds, this was a day of new horizons. I did the unthinkable: I let a toucan sit on my shoulder, stood next to noisy and terrifying scarlet macaws, and watched as birds of all colors and sizes flew past my head at lightning speed.
I am Megan, hear me roar.
Ostional Turtle Refuge:
How many people can boast they’ve seen a mother turtle swim up and out of the Pacific Ocean under the night sky, dutifully and intently dig a hole with her flippers, lay over 100 of her eggs in the sand, and return to the sea? I now can count myself as one of these lucky few, thanks to this wonderful excursion to the small town of Ostional, in the Nicoya province of Costa Rica.
The day after our trip to La Paz, 15 other AIFS students, our Resident Director, and myself made the six-hour trek to the coast to assist in beach cleanup, do some turtle watching, and take part in a little beach time, too. We spent the weekend in the company of Don Gilbert, the former president of the Ostional Turtle Refuge Organization, who prepared our meals, gave us tours of the small town and school, and taught us all about the importance of the turtles to the town and the ecosystem. Ostional is a very small, rustic town; all the girls slept in bunks in one room, with little fans on the ceiling to circulate air.
1. I now officially know what summer camp feels like!
2. I have finally swum in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Seeing the wonders of life firsthand at one of the most beautiful places on earth? Another successful weekend, if I do say so myself.
Manuel Antonio National Park:
Without a doubt, this past weekend’s excursion took me to the most beautiful place I have ever seen. All of the students in the AIFS program made our way to Manuel Antonio National Park, famed for some of the most beautiful beaches, amazing ecological diversity, and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Though some students had visited Ostional the weekend before, this was to be considered the ultimate beach vacation of the study abroad experience. And it absolutely was.
En route, we stopped at Rio Tarcones, a local river inhabited by dozens of freshwater crocodiles! At this pit stop, I explored a little local shop and stumbled upon earrings that were rehabbed, discontinued colons (the Costa Rican national currency). For the equivalent of $5, you couldn’t beat the price, or the style! Not too shabby for my first official souvenir purchase, eh?
We stayed in the gorgeous Hotel Villabosque, located a stone’s throw from the beach, which offers three pools, a great restaurant, and a lovely staff. On Saturday morning, we embarked on a guided tour of the park with a licensed guide, where we saw Golden Orb Weaving Spiders, Howler Monkeys, Capuchin Monkeys, walking sticks, lizards, bats, grasshoppers, and, my favorites, SLOTHS! We hiked, shopped at a local artisan market, and, of course, swam in the ocean. The food we ate was delicious, ranging from mango smoothies to caramel ice cream and even Pad Thai. Yes, I really had Pad Thai in Costa Rica and it was wonderful!
Of all the experiences from this weekend, though, I must admit that I loved yesterday’s the most: horseback riding. A small group of us traveled to Quepos, a town outside of Manuel Antonio, to visit another waterfall, partake in some homemade Costa Rican fare (gallo pinto, rice and beans, for breakfast, and casado, which translates to “marriage” of rice, beans, and meat/fish, for lunch), and ride some beautiful and fast moving horses through the countryside. Maybe I’m not a country girl, but this city dweller has always loved horseback riding. My horse, Careto, (“white face,” for the white blaze down the middle of his face) was a perfect match for me. There’s nothing like riding a horse at full gallop, tearing down the path ahead of you, with the trees rushing past you as your horse pushes forward. I could not have asked for a better way to end my weekend.
I’m often asked from my family and friends back home, “What is one thing you must do in Costa Rica?” The more I think about what to tell them, and with all of the experiences I continue to have, the more difficult it is to answer.
My answer? Everything. Soak up all the experiences you’re able to; each and every one will offer you unforgettable, priceless surprises.
Try things you’ve never tried and do things you never thought you’d be able to do. It’s those experiences that change your life for the better and add richness and depth to our life stories. A mindset like this has the power to change your whole life, as it continues to do for mine.