Welcome to the blog for the 2017 Costa Rica 15 Day Service Adventure Session 1 with Smithsonian Student Adventures!

July 8, 2017
Written by: Elsie McIver
Smithsonian Adventures Program Leader

Our final day in Costa Rica was spent in tropical paradise. Beautiful blue skies and sun welcomed us into El Parque Nacional de Manuel Antonio, where we had the classic tropical Costa Rican beach experience the group had eagerly been awaiting. We hiked through a lush green forest, watching sloths slothfully crawl their way up a trees and paused to gaggle at oversized spiders, land crabs and monkeys crashing through the branches. Our destination was a stunning beachfront cove, where we passed three hours happily swimming in the perfectly warm Pacific ocean. Our day at the beach had the added adventure of keeping a troop of monkeys and raccoons at bay, who were very dedicated in their quest to steal our lunches. One monkey was so bold as to put his arm on Bergen’s shoulder. We swung sticks, grunted and growled and overall put on a good show to keep our belongings safe. As an added bonus, we got some amazing close up photos of these rascally Capuchin monkeys.

After the beach, we had some time to shop for souvenirs in the town of Manuel Antonio and then loaded the bus for our last long ride together, to our hotel in Alejuela. For our final dinner, we ate at a Marisqueria (or a seafood restaurant). Many in the group tried ceviche for the first time, and are now hooked on this pickled fish dish. We spent our time at dinner reflecting on our trip, while making up six-word stories. See below for a fun summary of our trip, in six-word sentences. Back at the hotel, the group wanted to make the most of their final hours together and many in the group decided to stay awake together until our 3:30am wake up call. They talked, laughed, played games, watched movies, did face masks, ate chocolate and overall enjoyed their last bit of time together. Our goodbyes at the airport this morning were full of love, familiarity, some tears and many promises to stay in touch. It is amazing how close a group can become in two short weeks.

SIX-WORD STORIES: Written by the entire group

Strangers, now friends, adventure never ends.

So tired, happy cool people, warm.

Beach, tacos, saprissa reunion, construction, rural.

Mia no longer has beef jerky.

We’ve transformed like Mia’s beef jerky.

Thirteen people, two weeks, Costa Rica.

Unexpected weather, should have packed better.

I met really amazing people here.

Very, very, very, very, very good.

Broken wrist but made mucho memories.

I really, really love this ceviche.

Few days, lots work, lots feels.

Beans and rice and everything nice.

Sunny, great students, home and rain.

Tiled walls, painted rooms, in service.

Sun, rain, sun, lightning, rain, sun.

I forgot service, just remembered beach.

Sebastian and Spencer, only elegant conversations.

Chatas revving motos, so over it.

Good thing we brought aloe vera.

Strangers all become one, big family. `

July 7, 2017
Written by: Bergen Batey
Smithsonian Adventures Student Participant

If you like piña coladas, and getting caught in the rain…

As we boarded the bus to Maneul Antonio Thursday morning, sentiments of pride, family, sadness and excitement hung over us like the grey, dense clouds of Pueblo Nuevo. Although we were all hesitant to leave our host families, we enjoyed sharing each other’s experiences and bus karaoke as we made our way to the warm and paradise like shores of Costa Rica’s west coast. What followed was a combination of boogie boarding, body surfing and… SURF LESSONS! Personally, I had never been surfing myself and it was an amazing experience to catch some gnarly waves and feel like the star in one of those surfer movies. DISCLAIMER- In those movies they don’t actually highlight the amount of sand you get stuck between your toes and not to mention your ears! Despite being partially covered from head to toe, we arrived at Ronnie’s Place for delicious burgers, fries, pasta and ice cream! Best of all, we had front row seats to an amazing sunset over the ocean, followed by a terrifying, yet beautiful display of lightning. I for one, definitely enjoyed a day at the beach after a long week at work and I have a feeling I am not alone. Next stop… the national park!

July 6, 2017
Written by: Spencer McKinley and Sebastian Palafox
Smithsonian Adventures Student Participants

The day started off like any other. We got up and worked until 3pm. Then after that, the day began to change. We began work preparing for the Despedida, by sweeping the floors and setting up the tables for our upcoming party. Everything was still pretty cheery and happy as we prepared. Then 6 o’clock came around and reality started to hit some of us. I know for me especially, I started to notice that this trip was beginning to reach the end. This was a hard fact to accept, especially because that would mean the end of all the relationships I had made with both my peers and my family. This fact would haunt me all the way until the end of the Despidida. As the party started, the first and most memorable event that I encountered, was cooking the hot dogs with Sebastian. We did not know how long to cook them and we were already late, so we just listened to wiki-how and winged it (this is something we later came to regret).

Upon bringing the hot dogs to the Despedida, many of our “friends” were telling us that the hot dogs were both under and over cooked. This lead Sebastian and I to come to the conclusion that we poisoned the whole village. We later learned that we overcooked the hot dogs. After that incident, we began to enjoy the rest of the party. We all began dancing and taking pictures and enjoying some of the last fun moments with our family. The day came to an end, with all of us cooking s’mores. This was one of the lower moments of the day for me, because I knew tomorrow would be the last day I would ever have with my host family and in a few days I would be back to my normal life. But as I looked around, I saw so many smiles and so much happiness that I brushed my bad thoughts aside. I instead, enjoyed the rest of the night with my friends and family.

July 5, 2017
Written by: Chamby Zepeda and Elsie McIver
Smithsonian Adventures Program Leaders

Last night was full of bittersweet memories in Pueblo Nuevo. We ate and danced and sang with our host families, enjoying our last bit of time together, all the while coming to the realization that our days here are coming to an end. As leaders, we were really blown away by this group yesterday. Not only did they come together to prepare and cook a 4th of July/ Despedida feast for the community, but they put on a real show, full of energy and enthusiasm, the likes of which, we believe, Pueblo Nuevo has never seen. After dinner, they immediately turned up the music and started dancing American favorites for the crowd: Cotton Eye Joe, The Wobble and more. In return, the host family members taught our crew to dance the salsa and bachata. Some karaoke even got involved. After all the feasting and dancing, the group organized an after dinner fire to introduce their families to the joys of s’mores, a well-received treat!

After yesterday’s party, we put in another day of full work, tiling the bathroom. The space we have been working on this last week has been transformed from brick wall, to cement smeared wall, to a beautifully tiled room. It is something that we can leave feeling proud of and with a newfound appreciation for the challenges of daily physical labor. We were so lucky to have our wonderful foreman, Jose, leading us every step of the way in this project.

July 4, 2017
Written by: Helena (Yiwei) Wang and Kiara Buker
Smithsonian Adventures Student Participants

¡Hola familias! Time flies when we are busily enjoying ourselves, especially when both our physical and mental energies are working full force to keep up in a Spanish-speaking culture. Since we’ve been working on pretty much the same thing everyday for the service project this week, we have learned that construction work can start to feel monotonous. But…there are still many exciting moments, such as: getting our nails painted, milking the cows, having a karaoke party and tonight, we are planning for a Fourth of July celebration. It’s a party organized entirely by our group and we’re inviting our host families to enjoy some American food (hot dogs, potato salad, coleslaw, pickles and chips). Spreading American culture to our dear Costa Ricans…doesn’t that sound amazing?! We have received their care and hospitality for almost a week and now it’s our turn to leave some special and unique memories for the community.

Since we have been here awhile in Pueblo Nuevo with our host families, we interviewed several group members today on their feelings about this trip:

1. What is your favorite part of the service project? Why?

Alex- Being able to stay with the host family because you not only get to know the local Costa Rican culture, but also practice your Spanish.

2. What surprised you the most about Pueblo Nuevo?

Sorcha-  The familiarity of not just the town, but also the people and the community. It felt really comfortable pretty quickly.

3. Tell us about something funny that happened with you and your host family.

Lily-  On the way to the hospital, we listened to Bohemian Rhapsody and we totally screamed it at the top of our lungs in the car, and it made me forget I hurt my wrist.

4. What are you most excited about for our Fourth of July party tonight?

Mia-  I’m excited to boogie down and make legal fireworks with mentos and coke!

Entonces…we are looking forward to having our own 4th of July celebration tonight. We hope you can feel our excitement from this distant place!

July 3, 2017
Written by: Leah Fetting and Meng Zhang
Smithsonian Adventures Student Participants

Saturday was another eventful day in Pueblo Nuevo. Although many students were beginning to miss their friends and families and the comforts of home, we still came to the work site and put 110% of our energy into our projects. We finished painting the school early into the afternoon, and finally started tiling the bathroom.  Despite on setting fatigue, we persevered as a group and were able to accomplish a great amount on the last day before our break. Following work, we embarked on a wild journey to Alex and Mia’s host family’s lecheria.

Our agility was tested on the way to the milk farm, when we had to crawl under some electric fences. Luckily, the power outage that spanned from Mexico to Panama, prevented any serious injuries and no one experienced the shock of a live electric fence. At the lecheria, we had the opportunity to milk some cows, which was an interesting experience to say the least. While many people took advantage of this opportunity, some were not as enthusiastic. After this adventure, we took a short hike up to a majestic mountaintop, and took some time to reflect on our trip so far and our goals for the days to come. The breathtaking view, was the perfect end to an exciting and productive day.

Sunday, was finally a day to rest. Most of the students took the day off as an opportunity to sleep in, and get some much needed down time.  Many went for a late morning hike, while others gathered in the plaza for a game of futbol with their host families and friends. In the afternoon, some students went into the town of Zarcero, for some shopping and dinner with their host families. A few girls gathered at one of the host mother’s house to get their nails done. After dinner, we all reunited at another family’s home for a fun night of team bonding and aggressive karaoke. We sang and danced in both Spanish and English well into the night, before saying our goodbyes and preparing for the next day of work.

July 1, 2017
Written by: Mia McKay
Smithsonian Adventures Student Participant

Breaking news parents! Due to an immense amount of throwing cement at walls and pretty much non-stop painting, your teenagers actually abided by a reasonable bedtime! Today, the group continued to demonstrate taking initiative on the project, by pushing through tired arms, wrist pains and paint fumes. While keeping in mind of their individual health needs, some took the day to rest and others self-sufficiently took breaks to go to the convenience store in town. From the beginning of the project with splattered cement mostly ending up on the floor, we have made a substantial amount of progress. Dance parties, mafia and sword fighting with brooms have kept the long days interesting. In the midst of smoothing down cement walls, the relationships within the group have amplified strongly, as well as our bond with the families, who have done everything in their power to make us comfortable and happy. They have nurtured us and not only taught us Spanish, but their country’s culture. They have shown us that even though we are here to help, their simple lives and loving family, is all they need to be happy. From my family singing and dancing around the kitchen, the children’s faces lighting up when playing card games, adventuring in the farm with cows, chickens and kittens and even stepping in poop while getting chased by a cow, has made my heart grow more for each and everyone here. There is no doubt these friendships and memories will last a lifetime.

June 30, 2017
Written by: Sorcha O’Connor
Smithsonian Adventures Student Participant

Another day in Pueblo Nuevo filled with many ups and sadly a few downs. The day began with a a loss, as Xavier decided to go home. We’ll miss him but we’re glad we got the chance to spend the time with him that we did have. As Chamby drove him to the airport, the group woke up to misty green hills. After arriving at the community center, we began to cover the bathroom walls with more cement and finished sanding the outside of the church’s school building. We had fun painting both the outside and the inside of the building with a new coat of paint. The other half of the group stayed in the community center and practiced throwing cement at the wall and smoothing it out. Our foreman Jose looked on, sometimes demonstrating his excellent cement-throwing skills, while the rest of us watched in awe. The weather remained fairly chilly, but the rain held off and occasionally the sun came out from behind the clouds to warm us up.

As lunch time rolled around, host siblings and parents arrived with food and we all sat around to eat. Some had pineapple juice, others fish, many rice and beans, in general making for a great meal. As we grabbed snacks at the town’s little store, we were greeted by a very friendly puppy who bonded especially with Lily.

We continued working on painting and smoothing the cement, while rotating groups until around 4:00pm. We then met as a group to discuss our experiences so far, before a few of us joined some local kids to play soccer in the central field.

As people dispersed to walk back to their respective host families, the sky was lit up with a bright orange sunset and the mist became a brilliant golden color. We finished the day playing games with our host siblings and chatting with our host parents, before going to bed.

June 28, 2017
Written by: Jae Alexandra LaBrec
Smithsonian Adventures Student Participant

Our first day in Pueblo Nuevo was a success to say the least. This was mostly due to its failure to meet expectations. Despite the early 8:00am call to the community center, our group of ironically energetic teens arrived full of stories about their new “familia.” From delicious homemade food, to hide and seek and card games with younger brothers and sisters, everyone had something to share and smile about. Afterwards, all the stories were finished and the group finally was able to quiet down. We were ready to work and take on our new project.

However in Costa Rica, things don’t always go according to plan. Jose, our foreman, arrived with the news that the materials we needed would not be arriving for another two hours. This was definitely unexpected, but rather than grunting and moaning about the dry and warm beds which we unnecessarily abandoned so early in the morning, we decided to give ourselves a tour of the community and get an idea where our other friends are staying. Strange, but mostly tasty snacks were purchased and passed around, as well as visits with kittens and other host families. This took up the better part of three hours, but the materials still had another hour to go. This extra relaxation was not unwelcome, especially when families arrived with homemade lunches they had prepared for all of us. Once again, the food was delicious and our bodies were fueled and ready for some hard work. Which is good, because that is exactly what we got.

Working together as a team, we surprised ourselves by making up for the time we lost. The walls within the small school were sanded and the space for the bathroom was cleaned out and partly cemented. Now, we just finished an intense game of “Mafia” and are preparing to return to our host families, completely covered in cement and in dire need of a good siesta. So this is our sign-off for now. We’ll be happy to check back after another amazing meal and a whole bunch of sleep!

June 27, 2017
Written by: Xavier Riley
Smithsonian Adventures Student Participant

Our morning was full of sweat, bugs and beautiful views. We started the day with a hike to the Mirador viewpoint, which looks out over the lake and the nearby town of La Fortuna, where you can also see the Arenal Volcano. The entire group was astonished with the view and felt so lucky to be in such a beautiful country. We were all very relieved when we got to the top. The hike was about thirty minutes long up a very, very steep incline. The nature surrounding us was very fascinating; we saw a big trail of leaf cutter ants, various types of flowers and other kinds of insects. After the hike, we started to pack up and prepare for our journey to Pueblo Nuevo. The group is eager to meet our families and get to work.

June 26, 2017
Written by: Chamby Zepeda and Elsie McIver
Smithsonian Adventures Program Leaders

BUGS! Big ones, leggy ones, small ones, creepy ones and crawly ones. An unavoidable part of any visit to Costa Rica and a perfect common enemy for some serious group bonding. After an idyllic day in a tropical green paradise, many students in our group were pushed to the limits of their comfort zone as daylight dimmed and the bugs came out. In our humble opinion, it was wonderful. Our bunkhouse was full of tiny yips and shrieks, students clutching each other as they eyed the extra large mosquito eater on the bathroom wall. Students trooped from bedroom to bedroom, helping their new friends hang mosquito nets over their bunk beds. They leaned down together examining the leaf cutter ants crawling outside the bunkhouse door and comforted the most trepidatious students. Our coup d’etat, was a tiny possum that crawled through a hole in the wall and required us to find a hero to come and remove it. That hero was a rubber-booted, polo shirt wearing Rancho Margot employee, with nothing but a broom and no fear of small mammals. He held the possum high overhead as the bunkhouse erupted into cheers, students hugged and we quickly stuffed the hole with towels. Some students said that they came on this trip to leave their comfort zones, and they had already far succeeded in making this happen, more than they had even dreamed. The beauty of the night, was that no one was bit, no one was hurt and the group has come even closer together. Nothing like tropical bugs to help this happen.

We all woke up, healthy and ready for our next adventure where some of the group chose to participate in a morning yoga session in a beautiful cabana by the river. We then toured Rancho Margot, learning how this farm is completely connected and self-sustained, from raising their own vegetables and animals, to using animal waste to create the methane gas they use to cook in the kitchen. Our group had a great time holding chickens and piglets, tasting edible herbs and flowers and exploring the beautiful buildings, pathways and structures that make up Rancho Margot. Another highlight of our time here, has been a natural pool, built with rocks, cascading waterfalls and a large tree in the middle. The food has also been mentioned as a highlight, with an all you can eat buffet of locally grown, incredible dishes, drinks and desserts.

We look forward to a soccer game with workers at Rancho Margot this afternoon, as well as some group time to reflect on what we are hoping to achieve on this trip and how we can grow together as a group to best achieve our goals. Already, we have witnessed many moments of the group supporting each other, finding fun together in big and small moments and encouraging each other to try new things. We are looking forward to a great two weeks ahead!

P.S. Be sure to check out all of our photos!

June 25, 2017
Written by: Chamby Zepeda, Elsie McIver and Elliot Garwood
Smithsonian Adventures Program Leaders and Junior Leader

Greetings from Rancho Margot everyone! After a long, but rather smooth flight last night, we finally made it to our hotel in Alajuela. We quickly introduced ourselves, had pizza and relaxed before getting some well-deserved shut eye. This morning, we woke up to a typical Costa Rican continental breakfast filled with rice, beans, papaya, natural fruit juices and coffee. We then loaded up our bus and drove for roughly four hours to our final destination here in Rancho Margot. The ride was nothing short of beautiful rolling hills, winding roads and a picturesque landscape along the countryside. We stopped halfway and had ‘casado’ for lunch, at a nice local Costa Rican restaurant before continuing on our way. Upon arriving here at Rancho Margot, we were met by incredible staff that assisted us to our rooms. Throughout the day, we explored this remarkable ecological, cabana-like retreat in the middle of the jungle at the edge of  Lake Arenal. We then had some pool time followed by a great orientation to our program. Tonight, we walked down to the eating quarters, had an amazing organic meal and now we are enjoying a little down time before we turn in. Tomorrow, some of us are getting up for early morning yoga, followed by a healthy hike to explore more of Rancho Margot. So far, we are very impressed with the group dynamic and very much look forward to filling you in, as the trip continues. As they say here in Costa Rica, ‘todo pura vida’ (All good!) Below, there is a short little blog entry written by Elliot Garwood, our junior leader. Enjoy and stay tuned!

Elliot Garwood:

Day 1

The group arrived in Costa Rica, checked into the hotel and started to adjust to the Costa Rican soil. The hotel is surprisingly nice looking with its descriptive pictures on it. Then, we started off our quest for Costa Rican cuisine, by enjoying finely sliced pizza. It was a good night overall, although the first day was focused on becoming comfortable with one’s atmosphere.

Day 2

We start off the day by leaving the hotel. We went off on a long bus ride and eventually stopped at a restaurant, where we  engaged in another lovely meal. While eating, Guillermo taught us some Spanish. (P.S. Guillermo is one of the finest Costa Rican bus drivers that a person could engage in a Spanish conversation with). Eventually, through all the machete chopping and gazing at Volcan Arenal, we arrived at Rancho Margot. This venue can be seen as a retreat located in the middle of the Costa Rican rainforest. A terrific getaway to say the least, and the group seems to be really embracing this trip even though it is only day two. Quite the start to a vacation that everyone had different expectations for.