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Ronald Porter
Acting Director of Service Learning

Eckerd College
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Service Learning

Service Learning

Costa Rica: Spring Break 06

Costa Rica

View photos from Costa Rica

For many of us the week before Spring Break was very busy so it did not sink in that we would be spending 10 days in Costa Rica until we were actually on our way. Little did we know that the trip would leave us with countless unique and unforgettable experiences while we did some meaningful environmental service. Our first couple of days were spent in San Jose, the capitol city of Costa Rica. On our second day in the country we had the chance to explore San Jose's lively streets and markets. Luckily, we were in town during the annual Arts Festival where many local artisans and artists display and sell their work. The festival and city welcomed us warmly to the country but it was soon time for us to move on to our next stop.

After a scenic bus ride from San Jose up into the Talamanca Mountain Range, we arrived at kilometer marker 71 and were ready for a hike to our destination, the Iyok Ami Cloudforest and Rainforest Reserve. A surprisingly short walk brought us to the lodge and a breathtaking view of the cloudforest. As we walked up we were greeted by three dogs and our wonderful hosts whom we would get to know very well over the next few days. After a brief tour, we moved into our rooms, enjoyed some amazing chocolate cake, and contemplated what was in store for us over the next few days. We quickly settled into our daily routine of breakfast followed by an afternoon of work. Some people took advantage of the many hiking trails on the property during the early mornings, but everyone always made it back in time for our delicious breakfasts. The food was one of the many highlights of the trip and included lots of rice and beans, amazing fresh fruit, and everyone's new favorite condiment, Lizano salsa.

Throughout the week we worked on a variety of projects and accomplished a lot with plenty of hard work, mud, and laughter. We started off clearing and leveling an area for a new organic garden and greenhouse on the property. Everyone received a machete lesson and we even saw a quetzal bird, the national bird of Costa Rica. We also spent time weeding the greenhouse and painting new signs for the trails which are used by the many groups that come to visit Iyok Ami. Another big project was the creation of a new trail leading to a waterfall. We chopped, shoveled, and carved the trail out from the forest and the side of a mountain. As a reward, some of us hiked off of the incomplete trail to climb the waterfall. Our hike ended up being a great bonding experience as it took everyone working together to get to the top. We took two other hikes in search of an elusive sunset view which involved climbing a giant tree and visiting lakes atop a mountain which ended up not being exactly what we were expecting.

In addition to our service work, we had some time to relax and experience another part of Costa Rica: the beach. We spent about two and a half days total in Dominical, a small beach town with surfers and tourists wandering around everywhere carefree and barefoot (however, we all now know to wear shoes even while on the beach). While in Dominical we had the chance to take surf lessons and finished out our first night on the coast with a gorgeous sunset behind us as each of us tried to catch the perfect wave. We set up camp right by the water that night and fell asleep to the sounds of the ocean while resting up for a short hike to another waterfall the next day. The 25 minute hike we were expecting turned into an hour and a half journey along the highway so needless to say we were very excited to reach the refreshing waterfall. Later in the week we returned to Dominical to visit the Hacienda Baru Biological Reserve to do a zip-line tour of the rainforest. Armed with our helmets and gloves we hiked up to the platforms we would soon be jumping off. On the way up we were lucky enough to see an anteater, monkeys, a bat, a toucan, and a poison dart frog. Our guide also introduced us to a new snack food, termites, which taste just like peanuts. Everyone had a great time seeing the forest from a new perspective as they flew through the treetops.

On our final day in the mountains we regretfully said goodbye to Iyok Ami, the great people we worked with, and everyone's new best friend, Carbomb the dog. The drive back to San Jose was especially memorable as we were planning on visiting some "lukewarm pools" described in our guidebook. The pools turned out to be only a normal community pool complex so we returned to San Jose for one final night in Costa Rica. During our travel time back to Eckerd everyone took time to reflect on their favorite memory from the trip whether it was making new friends, practicing our Spanish skills, playing darts and listening to Super Radio, or one of the many projects we had accomplished to help support Iyok Ami in carrying out its mission to provide protection of and education about the amazing natural environments of Costa Rica.

View photos from Costa Rica

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