Friday, 14 August 2015

Meeting Foreign Students, Getting Evacuated and Turning 18 in Costa Rica!

              Costa Rica, Summer of 2015
Disclaimer: All photos posted were taken by the EPI Group, Dr. Markham or Chant.

For those of you who personally know me, you know that I travel a lot. I love the hype of going to new places, meeting interesting people, trying out local foods and just discovering a new culture. This summer, I visited Costa Rica. First,  let me backtrack a bit. I'm an IB ESS (Environmental Systems and Societies) student and my ESS teacher,, plans these trips once a year where a group of students sign up and go on a semi holiday, learning experience/culture experience kind of thing. Last year they visited South Africa, which is actually my home country. This year, I was lucky enough to get into the program and visit Costa Rica with a couple of other students, as well as two of my teachers.

Months of planning went into this trip and on the 28 of June we all met at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam and got onto our plane to San José.

Some of the members in our group.

The main reason why we were going to visit Costa Rica was because we were doing research on Leatherback Sea Turtles as they, like many other beautiful creatures in this world, are in danger of becoming extinct.  Although that was ultimately the reason why we went, we also visited other areas aside from Pacuare (where we studied the Leatherback Sea Turtle) to get more insight on Costa Rica's biodiversity. Our school contacted a group known as Ecology Project International (EPI).We were there to educate ourselves about not only the world we live in, but also to learn how other people live, especially those who didn't take resources like water or electricity for granted.

Basketball Court at the EPI Campus
 It was a grueling 12 hour flight from Amsterdam to San José, Costa Rica. (11 hours to Panema, 1 hour to San José) When we arrived at the airport, we met our first instructor, David (pronounced Daveed in Spanish). He was incredibly friendly and it was easy to get along with him.  The first place we stayed at was the EPI Campus. We basically stayed there to rest and break the ice as we had some people join us that weren't from our school.  This location was fun to stay in as we would play Cards Against Humanity, chill in the basketball court, talk about world issues, debate against one another and enjoy ourselves by soaking up sunlight. This was definitely a treat, given that we've all come from Holland where our summers are basically 16 degrees celsius.

Our first night in Costa Rica & meeting David
One of the activities that we did was to see Poás Volcano. To get there, we needed to take the bus from the campus and meet our second instructor, Marcella. She was gorgeous and super friendly. After the bus ride, we hiked through a rainforest on the way to the volcano. When got there, it was fairly misty but we were fortunate enough to get an awesome photo of the crater, pictured below.
While we stayed at this campus, we also did a lot of work by doing studies on local plants and animals.

Poás Volcano, PC to Chant.

The Capuchin Monkey
The next location was the La Suerte Biological Field Site. This is where things get really fun. When we arrived by bus, girls and boys were separated and we unpacked. There were five places that we most commonly saw: our dorms, The Big House, the La Suerte rainforest, the hammock area and a room next to our dorms that we used for research. The Big House was where we ate delicious food prepared by Reneé, who owned the Big House. While having lunch, we would often have visitors such as the Two Toed Sloth or the Capuchin monkey.

A spider crawled onto David's hand. He offered to hand it to me
but I politely declined.
We also got to meet other students, most memorably, a group of teenage boys from New Jersey, USA. Over the past few days we hung out with them, playing more Cards Against Humanity (and eventually getting it banned for everybody else) having a soccer match against them and the locals, as well as chilling together in the hammocks after lunch or before bed.

There were definitely a lot of hikes on this trip, night hikes too. I'm terrified of snakes and spiders and we encountered a few of them. Our third and final instructor, Stanley (who we lovingly nicknamed Sally due to mishearing David) loved them and encouraged us to know more about them.

After a soccer game with the New Jersey boys
and Cosa Rican locals
A Snakes-Crossing Sign outside of the Big House.

Playing ice-breaker games outside of the rainforest
We had the same rules throughout the trip.

  1. Wear sunscreen. 
  2. Drink water.
  3. Use Bug Spray.
  4. Carry your field guide/notebook
  5. Wear long pants during hikes
Most of the rules are pretty self explanatory. 

It was rainy season while we stayed in Costa Rica, but then again, we were in a tropical area, in the middle of a rainforest so I shouldn't have been surprised. The humidity was unforgiving. I wore shorts nearly every day, unless it was time for a hike as creatures could bite you and plants could be poisonous. 

There were about four groups in total. Ours, the New Jersey Boys, another group from California, USA and a group of university students from all over who were studying and doing research. We encountered all of these people throughout our entire stay in Costa Rica, with the exception of the university students.
Preparing for our hike at La Suerte

Another place we visited was Turrialba. Stanley, our instructor, said that the people from Turrialba are called the sugar cane people for reasons that you might expect. Interestingly enough, David is from Turrialba. While we stayed there, we got to meet his family at a local ice-cream shop,  visited a botanical garden, went shopping and did touristy things like walk around the city. 

Bus rides
Our group also got to learn about different birds and animals from Stanley & David. Fun fact; Hummingbirds fly backwards.
In the garden

We left La Suerte after a couple of days and took our bus to our next location to finally get to see the sea turtles: Pacuare Nature Reserve. On the way to the nature reserve, we traveled by a boat and got to see a Howler monkey up close and even a crocodile in the exact same river that we were in. 
Upon arrival, we met a local boy  our age who would be with us for the next few days. I'm not too sure how to spell his name, so we'll call him J. He explained to us that water was very limited and that there would be no hot water nor electricity. David and Stanley also made sure we all had our flashlights with us while we traveled at night. Pacuare Nature reserve is located literally a few meters from the beach. This was the beach that we would be doing night patrols on. 

Quick Explanation About Night Patrols
  • It's literally what you think - patrolling at night.
  • We were separated into three groups. Each group had a time slot to go on a night patrol. There was 8pm, 9pm, 12pm and 4am. 
  • The beach area which we studied was 100m. We would travel with one of our instructors (I was usually with David) and another assistant to measure the levels of sand in the beach, check for turtle nests and try to spot sea turtles. We would meet up with other groups at 50m because our camp sites were separated. They were located in the Northern part and we were in the Southern.
  • Before our night patrols, we were given a lesson on how to measure the turtles, count fertile eggs and identify the trails by their prints.
  • We weren't allowed cameras during night hikes due to it being dangerous and the flash (or any white light) indicates poachers to security, which means everyone needs to evacuate the beach. 
As mentioned before, a couple of familiar faces showed up. That's right, our friends from New Jersey and California friends were back. To get to the 50m mark, we had to hike from our camp site through either the rainforest, or by walking on the beach. Often it was high tide, so the rainforest was a safer option- but not quite. There were vine snakes and monkeys, spiders, termites and bullet ants and it was all absolutely beautiful. We did night patrols the whole time that we stayed there,  alternating times. I got to measure depth of turtle nests and bury eggs. Sadly, one of our instructors reported that we wouldn't be able to see actual turtles because it was the end of their hatching season. 

In Pacuare, we also had the opportunity to taste food that they grew locally. Costa Rican coffee, pineapples and bananas are their three main exports. We did a taste test where we ate a lot of interesting foods such as the inside of a palm tree, seeds, some nuts, tamarind and fruits. Aside from that, our diets consisted mostly of traditional rice and beans which was absolutely delicious, eggs, fruit juice (made from locally grown fruits and ingredients such as tamarind) and occasionally treats like pancakes and other foods such as cheeseburgers and fries and Spaghetti. 
Trying out local foods.

I turned 18 on the 5th of July. At 12:00am, I was in the middle of a rainforest, surrounded by by best friend and a group of people I had met a week ago and they were all singing 'happy birthday to me' 
The morning of my birthday, I was surprised because Stanley and David had bought  chocolate cake covered with oreos. My friends gave me gifts too and it was pretty much one of the best birthdays. The best part came when we were all relaxing by the tables outside of  the kitchen and someone ran back screaming "THE TURTLES HAVE HATCHED!" 

Everybody grabbed their cameras and field journals and ran to the hatching site.
Pacuare Beach
You see, only 1 in 1000 turtles survive, so seeing them all hatch is incredible. Because it was my birthday, they named one of the turtles Miah. It was awesome to see how the instructors took care of them by the way they handled them and making sure they weren't exposed to direct heat. Unfortunately,  many turtles that hatched came with deformations. One of the research assistants told us that that it was mostly due to pollution and unknown causes.

The ones that did survive were great to see. We spent an hour or two observing and hanging out on the beach before we headed back to our dorms to get ready for another night hike.

This night hike was different. Firstly, because this time I was on the 4am shift. We were on our way back when a man on a motorbike stopped us and spoke in Spanish to one of my teachers. She translated and said that we had to evacuate the beach as soon as possible! The roads were getting flooded due to a mixture of rain and high tide, which would have major complications for us if we wanted to get back to Holland on time. 

Naturally, everyone went back to their cabins, packed their belongings as fast as they could and lined up outside the site. We hurriedly took the boat back to the drop off station where we we transported from Pacuare to our hotel. This time we were a large group since our friends from California were with us and were probably very annoyed with us as we continued to serenade them with 'Let it Go' by Elsa on the way to the hotel. 

The hotel we stayed at was probably the fanciest location we stayed at due to size and the advantage of electricity and hot water. Everyone was given a room to share with one other person. Luckily for me, I was paired with one of my best friends, Abby. 
Dinner was served downstairs and shockingly enough, we saw that an area outside of Pacuare, the town that we had just been in, on the news. The place was completely flooded and people were literally swimming in the roads. I am so thankful that we got out on time. 

Our stay in the hotel and on our way back concluded with studies and presentations in the hotel, having free time to go hike and explore, as well as seeing a gorgeous waterfall. 

We traveled back from our hotel to the EPI campus in San José, but before we left arrived at the EPI Campus, we went white water river rafting! Once again, we were split into teams and got a quick lesson on how to use the equipment, adjust life vests etc. Afterwards, we had a fruity lunch with the locals 

Lunch with some locals
Our last nights were in spent in the EPI campus, laughing at inside jokes of the trip, playing cards, watching soccer and swimming. I'm sure everyone had a great time. This was very different to any trip that I had ever experienced and I am so grateful that I was able to go. A big thanks to AISR, Stanley, David, Marcella, Ms. Eva, Dr Markham and yes, even Tyler , for making this trip so epic.

Now, enjoy this series of accidental photos turned gif of me turning up in Costa Rica.

See you suckers soon, 


  1. Hahah Abby, you're the coolest here, with your bio being Mrs Van Leijden's Art Class ;)

  2. We had so much fun in Costa-Rica! It was so much fun!