Welcome to the blog for the 2017 Costa Rica 10 Day Surf & Service Program with Smithsonian Student Adventures!

July 15, 2017
Written by: Blake Edwards, Joe Berke, Carter Thomas, and Elise Lambert
Smithsonian Adventures Student Participants

This morning we woke up bright and early at 5am, to embark on a kayaking journey through the mangrove forest. For about three hours we paddled through dense water highways and ducked under tree branches. We all learned that kayaking was a team effort and will quickly turn south without cooperation. Also, Steven and Blake, learned how to effectively pit maneuver other innocent kayakers (Carter and Laura).

We then returned to the hotel to pack, enjoy our final breakfast in our host town, and then load the bus that would take us to Alajuela for our early morning departure. On the five hour bus ride, we delivered our hand made park signs, said our final goodbyes to the rangers, hotel staff, friends, and stopped for a Costa Rican fast food lunch and souvenir shopping. We also enjoyed card tricks, snacks, naps, and bean-boozled games along the way.

After the long bus ride, we arrived at our hotel in Alajuela, and had our final reflection. In our reflection, we listened to small speeches of heart felt memories and improvements that each of us made along our journey in Costa Rica, and received a certificate of completion for the program. It was clear that our adventure was coming to an end, and I saw mixed emotions amongst the group. Personally, I was disappointed that I could no longer spend all day with the amazing friends I have made here in Costa Rica, and swim in the warm ocean water. This trip has shown me who I really am, who I want to be, and will definitely leave a lasting impression in my life. A few goals I have set for when I return home are, to be more selfless, listen more, and get out of my comfort zone more often. The rest of the group has also set similar goals to implement in their lives when they return home, and have written letters to ourselves that we will receive three years from now. In three years, I hope that everyone has fulfilled the goals that they have set, and will continue to travel.

Traveling is the only thing that you can buy that will make you richer.

July 14, 2017
Written by: Blake Edwards
Smithsonian Adventures Student Participant

Beans, rice and eggs is what we have had all week for breakfast. However, this morning was different. Beans, rice and eggs WITH HAM. With a belly full of substantial food, we were prepared for our day. Ten of us decided to walk to the second entrance of the Parque Nacional Marino Ballena, while the other four chose to surf. We all met up later to enjoy some freshly made fruit smoothies in downtown Uvita and walked down the beach to the famous whale tail rock formation. Tuna salad, pasta, beans, rice WITH CHICKEN. We were ready for our service. “Limite del PNMB”, “Spanish stuff here,” were a few things we painted on signs that we made for the national park. The national park (PNMB) has only 16 rangers for 423 acres of land and 8650 acres of ocean to protect. That is why our help was needed to replace the old signs that were rotting and could not be replaced because of the lack of resources that the rangers are given from their parent organization, SINAC. Pork, chicken, sausage, beef, rice, and plantains is what we had at our group barbeque. The group barbeque was a great way to end the week. We invited our surf instructors, park rangers, hotel staff, and friends. The barbeque also doubled as a birthday party for our surf instructor, José. He turned 16 years old. We took pictures, danced and laughed throughout the night. It was a great last full day in Uvita. The full day of activities and the party at night was a great way to spend our last few days in Costa Rica. We have had a great trip so far and we can’t wait for the last activities tomorrow.

July 13, 2017
Written by: Diego Zertuche, Kelsey Midgett and Nick Wright
Smithsonian Adventures Student Participants

Thursday began with a bang. Everyone woke up to the very loud crack of nearby thunder. This intense rainfall continued for most of the day and resulted in the groups inability to go on our snorkeling/kayaking excursion. Instead, we set up a painting stand under a tent and painted signs for the national park. This lasted until around noon and then we ate a delicious lunch of picadillo, which is beef and potato. Afterwards, we went surfing for the last time on this trip. The waves were amazing today due to the stormy weather. A couple of us were able to take a break from surfing and start a pickup match of soccer with the locals. The final score was something around 20 to 6, with us as the former. Surfing today was a really great experience for me, because it was my first time riding a small hard top board. As I paddled out, I could see the breathtaking coast line along with my friends at different distances. I will always remember this wonderful day of surfing in the tropical waters.

July 12, 2017
Written by: Diego Zertuche, Kera Paul, Elise Lambert and Laura Menon
Smithsonian Adventures Student Participants

Wednesday started off bright and early at the inhumane hour of 5:30am. We started with early morning surfing as the sun slowly rose above the tropical horizon. I could feel the lukewarm water running down the sides of my body as every wave steadily crashed before me. Sadly, these early morning waves got worse and worse as the time drew on and eventually the group ended up swimming in the shallow water. While on the beach, the founder of Uvita 360, gave us a brief talk about his company and how to be successful in life. This was very interesting to the group, because he was able to open our eyes and make us realize that surfers were not the stereotypical beach bums, but active members of society who capitalize on chances they are given. The founder, Tito, is a perfect example of this. He started with nothing and due to the incoming tourism, was able to create a successful surfing business.

Afterwards, we went back to the hotel for breakfast and to shower off. We had traditional Costa Rican beans and rice. Next, the group decided to start creating the signs needed for the national park. This ended up being more of a challenge than we expected and the painters got stuck with water resistant drawings on their hands. What a struggle. As of now, many of the painters are still decorated with this proof of our hard work. At around 2:30pm, the group decided to go to a different beach in a park called, Playa Ventana. There, we got ice cream, Carter got a coconut and others got snow cones. The rest of the time was spent playing and swimming at the beach. To finish off the evening, all of us (except Nick) decided to walk to the beach in order to view the amazing sunset. Many of us took some breathtaking pictures. Overall, today was a very nice day where everyone was able to see the true beauty of the amazing country known as Costa Rica.

July 11, 2017
Written by: Keyeion Ashley, Joe Berke and Carter Thomas
Smithsonian Adventures Student Participants

Today, me and the other students went to a waterfall, swam and had lots of fun. We jumped of the rocks and relaxed in the clear water. We enjoyed watching locals feed the fish and watched them jump out of the water. We thought the hike was going to be an hour long, but it turned out to be five minutes. The walk was slippery, but beautiful. We used today as more of a rest day, so it was a much needed rest from all the surfing and service work. The students and I took this time to talk and bond with each other, by talking about our past experiences and lives at home. We then compared our time in Costa Rica to our lives back home.

The next few hours, we had three speakers come to teach us about the Marino Ballena National Park. One of the topics was about how tourism effects the local economy. The second, was about preserving wildlife and keeping the National Park in order and safe. The group was surprised that the park had only 16 park rangers for over nine miles of beach to patrol. Hearing about the park rangers struggle with funding, only made us feel more willing to help. It was also nice to see a different part of Costa Rica.

July 10, 2017
Written by: Keyeion Ashley, Ruby Jarvis and Taylor Gull
Smithsonian Adventures Student Participants

Closing off the night yesterday, we had a Latin dancing lesson. Everybody had a rough start at first, including me. We learned many different dances, such as: Salsa, Cumbia Creole (costa Rica swing style dance), Merengue and Bachata. Everyone had a lot of fun and we got to switch partners with every style. Even some of our friends at the hotel joined in! One thing we found interesting, is that the Salsa dance was originally from New York City, even though we all guessed it was from Latin America. During the dance, we all found it difficult to be using our hips more and to keep the rhythm going with the music. All in all, it was a lot of fun and a great end to the night.

The next day, we worked on our service project in the morning. We were split into two groups; planting trees for reforestation and continuing with entrance clean up. While some of us were planting trees, it was interesting to see how fragile the new plants were and how much protection they needed. It made us feel like we were helping to make a difference in their environment. It made us feel happy and at peace. The second group finished cleaning the entrance and it made it more appealing to the park visitors. Even though our jobs were similar, we saw new wildlife that we hadn’t seen yet, including bigger bugs and some spiders that a lot of us had never seen before. We love being here and feeling appreciated for all our hard work. It is amazing to see the community and how they all work together. We are excited for the next couple of days! I personally love being here, it’s been such an adventure. I’ve made great friends and memories already. Costa Rica is amazing!

July 9, 2017
Written by: Steven DeVoe, Kelsey Midgett and Nick Wright
Smithsonian Adventures Student Participants

After our second day of surfing down, I think we can all say that it has probably been the best part of the trip so far. Approaching the ocean on Saturday, was a frightening experience for some and an exciting experience for others, considering a number of people in the group hadn’t even seen the ocean, while others would consider it their home. After a surprisingly quick training session, we were out in the waters within minutes and a couple of us even had it down by the first wave. Within each of our first waves, we managed to build our own unique techniques somewhat different from how we were taught. After the first day, we can all agree that we were tired and sore to the point where I was ready to pass out in bed. By the time we finished service work the next day, we were all ready to get back out in the water. On the second day, instructors told us that it was time for us to improve on our own, after they had taught us the basics, it was up to us to take it from there. We all enjoyed the second day much more than the first, considering we decreased the number of face plants. With the amount of improvement we saw between the first two days, we can’t imagine what sort of skills and tricks we will have by the last day. Personally, just based on the first two days, I can say that even after this trip, this will not be my last time surfing. One thing we all found interesting, was the fact that one of the surf instructors is actually only 15 years old. In most states, the legal age to work is at least 16, so to find such a young kid doing something as cool as that, was inspiring. Not only was it interesting, but it was slightly more comforting knowing that we had someone the same age as us teaching us. By the end of the second day, we were thankfully less tired than the previous night and hopefully that will continue on throughout the trip. Despite the many rashes and aches we have, we are all looking forward to tomorrow!

July 8, 2017
Written by: Steven DeVoe , Elise Lambert, Laura Menon and Kera Paul
Smithsonian Adventures Student Participants

Today, we visited Parque Nacional Marino Ballena, one of the 29 Costa Rican national parks. While arriving, one of the first things I realized, was how poorly treated it was by visitors. This only motivated the group to work even harder at the service project. We were given the task to clean the sinks, bathrooms and showers and also clear a massive pile of trash consisting of everything from dead leaves and tree branches to rotten coconuts and crabs… yes, crabs. I chose to be in the group clearing the trash, thinking it would be the easier task and a less gross job, but boy was I wrong. After about two and a half hours, we had managed to clear this giant pile and clean all the sinks, bathrooms and showers. Don’t think it came without its issues however. I am sure the whole group, including me, can prove this with the many ant bites and possibly even a few crab claw marks we all endured. Despite the battle wounds, during our reflection at the end of the night, I heard many people saying their highlight of the day was seeing how much we achieved by the end of the day. During this reflection, we also acknowledged the fact that although it seemed like a small task, it had a huge impact on the park. JP during the reflection, mentioned how such a little thing like clearing some branches out of the way made it seem more appealing to visitors and the more appealing to visitors it became, the more business the park would get and the people working in the park rely on business. Personally, I felt good about myself knowing that because of the service, I made a difference in the lives of the community. It was humorous to see the locals and the park rangers themselves taking pictures of us doing service and excessively thanking us. Just based off of the first day seeing how much we achieved, is unbelievable and I can’t begin to imagine just how much we will achieve by the end of the trip.

July 7, 2017
Written by: Juan Pablo Lau
Smithsonian Adventures Program Leader

Today was our first full day in Costa Rica. We left our hotel in Alajuela and started our long bus ride pretty early. On our way down to the coast, we stopped at the Tarcoles river, where we got to see lots of crocodiles. We also stopped for lunch at a local ‘soda’ (typical canteen) and at a local supermarket, to stock up on snacks before we finally made it to Uvita, the beach town that will be hosting us for the rest of the trip.

Our big orientation meeting was very productive and we are getting ready for a long day tomorrow. We’ll be starting our service project, surfing and listening to a speaker.