This spring break a group of 12 Milton Academy students, faculty member Michael Edgar and his wife, Christine Hong, traveled to Costa Rica for an Outward Bound course. The course was sponsored by the Milton Academy Outdoor Program and run through the Costa Rica Rainforest Outward Bound School (www.crrobs.org). The trip had elements of adventure as well as cultural components. The adventure came with hiking in the rain forest, white water rafting and learning to surf on the Pacific Coast. The cultural component came through a home stay in a remote mountain village, and visiting many households throughout Costa Rica. All and all it was an amazing trip. The group bonded as they experienced some of the most beautiful areas in the world and endured hardships of traveling through the rainforest. Below is a brief description of the trip:
Arrival: We flew into Juan Santa María International Airport in San José, Costa Rica and were transfer to a local youth hostel. At the hostel we met our instructors, Orlando and Willy, who accompanied our group for the entire trip. Their role was to organize logistics of the trip, share unique knowledge of the species found in the rainforest, and to converse in Spanish with the students. There we got some much needed sleep, gathered all the equipment needed for the trip, and packed for the next day’s departure.
Day 1: We woke up early and traveled by bus to Santa Maria, a small town in the mountains. After a great lunch at a local “Soda” and about an hour of free time in the town soaking up the local culture we loaded into 4×4 taxis. We rode up a very bumpy road to our first night shelter—a tree house built into the side of a hill.
Day 2: The first day of trekking ran through areas of tropical alpine tundra at an approximate elevation of 8,000 feet. The area is home to the quetzal bird, which has historical significance for indigenous groups, as well as a myriad of other flora and fauna. Our route entered tropical rainforest. This area is home to many species including parrots, parakeets, toucans, birds of prey, ocelots, three species of monkeys, sloths and even tapirs. In this area mammals are much less frequently sighted, one can see many bird species as well as evidence of mammals in the form of tracks, scat, and vocalizations. For example, we heard the mantled howler monkey’s call, which can carry over a distance of one kilometer. This area was quite rugged and mountainous, so our pace was unhurried. We had lunch at a beautiful waterfall. It was great to get under the water! We spent the night in a make-shirt tent put together with four huge tarps carried on our backs.
Day 3: Our trek continued generally downhill towards the tiny village of Piedras Blancas. There are eight families with houses in this village. This village is named after the many white boulders found in the area. Many of the village homes are built using the boulders as walls or dividers. The village is a four-hour hike from any road. We were hosted by Orlando’s family in a house he built by himself with materials gleaned from the rainforest or brought in by horse back. It was an idyllic location and an unforgettable experience. We had an epic game of soccer in torrential rain.
Day 4: Our host families throughout the Piedras Blancas region shared many of their traditions with the group. We hiked to another house in the village. It was a beautiful house built on huge boulders. A family, of 18 kids, hosted us for the day. We cut sugar cane and mashed it for sugar water. We left as a hard rain started; it lasted for the entire afternoon. We planned to cross a river on foot, but because of the rain we hiked up and down a very large hill, bush whacked and repeled down a rock slope to the bank of the swollen river. We crossed the river on a cart strung over the river on steel cables.
Day 5: The next day we hiked to the area of Brujo, got into rafts, and began an exciting day on a Class I-IV river. The rapids Los Elefantes, Screaming Right Turn, and Lucky Chance were challenging. Riverine ecology and principles of hydrology were experienced up close. That night we drove through a palm plantation and to the town of Manuel Antonio. We slept at the base camp in “The Crypts”—small enclaves in the wall of the surf base camp.
Day 6: We spent the day on the beach learning to surf. Not many of us were successful, but we had a great time trying and all enjoyed the beautiful water and beach. We watched the sun set on the Pacific Ocean and then headed back to camp.
Day 7: In the morning we traveled to Manuel Antonio National Park. We saw spider monkeys and three-toed sloths. At noon we transferred to San Jose and organized our gear. That night we ate lots of ice cream and pizza for our final dinner!