Some kids take their winter break a bit more seriously than others. Such was the case for eight excited Cedaredge High School students, all members of Spanish Club, who spent their break in Costa Rica.
Daniel Baran, Rachel Garcia, Cody Barbich, Jesse Barbich, Marina Edgington, Keegan Dix, Rowdy Murphy, and Shelby Crosby and their adult chaperones Amy Daniels, Vicki Hodges (CHS Spanish teacher), Marci Hodges, Linda and LeRoy Black, Nancy Pierce, Carol Pierce, Anna and Jim Garcia, and Adam Cassidy.
Vicki Hodges explained that this was the fourth year in a row, since coming to CHS, that she has organized such a trip (previous trips include Ecuador and Peru).The trips are open to all students in the CHS Spanish classes, and even though the trips are varied, they are always to a Spanish speaking country. All CHS Spanish students are eligible, but the ones who do go make up the year’s Spanish Club. In order to go, those student have to raise the money (approximately $1,400) for the trip. The purpose, explained Mrs. Hodges, is for the students to use the language they are learning in a real life situation, and to learn about a culture much different than their own.
The adventure began when the six-hour ﬂight from Denver landed in San Jose, Costa Rica, for a week of hiking, mountain climbing, river rafting, zip lining, rappelling, crocodile watching, work projects, and other adventures for the eight youth and their adult chaperones. For many of these young people, including Rowdy, a sophomore, the trip was filled with many ﬁrsts — for airplane travel; to be out of the country; to see the ocean; to snorkel; and much more.
The group was met at the airport by a guy holding a sign saying “Vicki Hodges.” They connected with their tour guides (Tom Ranieri’s Costa Rican Resource) and their bus driver. The “buseta” was a Toyota diesel; their destination was the Manuel Antonio National Park, a jungle “off the beaten track” nestled near the Manuel Antonio Beach.
After a good night’s rest, some of the adventurers hiked trails in the park, where, according to Leroy Black, they had the good fortune to see an unusual variety of wildlife and lots of people. They also discovered that the fence posts were really trees, planted and pruned to make a living fence post.
But the nearby beach was way too inviting, and some of the young people spent much of the day snorkeling, returning that evening to share their adventures with the others.
The next day the group set up camp at a cave located at the foot of Nauyaca Falls, and began preparations to rappel off a cliff face high above the waterfall. Jesse Barbich, a junior, said the most difﬁcult part of the trip was the intense 3.1 mile, three-hour vertical hike up the trail to the waterfall. (Mrs. Hodges and Daniel Baran, a junior, agreed). It wasn’t long before they split into two groups — the younger, faster group leading the way, with the more mature group stopping occasionally to enjoy the scenery.
The cave was a huge overhang similar to the overhangs of the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. For senior Rachel Garcia one of the most memorable parts of the trip was sleeping in the cave, under the waterfalls. It contained sleeping platforms, stone tables, stone benches, wood benches, a kitchen (without electrical appliances), ﬂush toilets, showers, sinks, etc. Water was from a spring and distributed to the kitchen, bathrooms and showers. Their trail mix included sugar cane and termites. Everyone in camp took part in the housekeeping chores. Rachel said the worst part was the constant rain, noting that they kept their clothes in suitcases, backpacks, etc., and that by the time they returned home, their clothes were moldy. “Gross,” she laughed. (This was her second trip with Mrs. Hodges.)
However, Marina Edgington, also a senior, said Costa Rica was so amazing that she didn’t even mind the rain. This was also Marina’s second trip with Mrs. Hodges. The ﬁrst was to Ecuador. “She [Mrs. Hodges] is so cool,” she said.
Leroy Black said it took awhile to get things organized but eventually the group got their chance to rappel off the cliff. They took every safety precaution, using modern climbing gear and instructions from the guides. Eventually, everyone was able to walk backwards off the cliff to the free hanging point and enjoy the ride down. Rowdy Murphy said rappelling was the most difﬁcult part of the trip for him, because he was afraid of heights, but he did it.
But it wasn’t just fun and games, explained Jesse Barbich. The next day, they all boarded the buseta and headed for the village of Sitio de Mata for a “cultural” encounter, and a work project to paint the school. On the way they stopped at a small dairy, and everyone had an opportunity to milk one of the cows before going on into the village to meet their host families.
According to Leroy, the village was almost picture book perfect with the mountains, mists, lush vegetation, well maintained yards, hedges and painted and well maintained. Coffee, sugar cane and macadamia nuts are grown in the area, and the vegetation is lush and beautiful. The villagers have power, running water, clothes washers, refrigerators, and sufﬁcient electrical appliances to ease the chores of cooking and meal preparation.
After breakfast the group went to the school, Escuela Rafael Araya Segurain, in time to observe the raising of the ﬂag, the pledge of allegiance and the singing of the national anthem. The entire school, approximately 36 to 40 students and four teachers — all women — participated in the ceremony.
Later that day the group left the Escuela and walked to a nearby primary school, located in a building labeled, “Centro de Educacion y Nutricion, Sitio Mata,” where the children there had prepared a program of traditional folk dances in traditional dress for them. Everyone danced.
The following day the group took their turn at rafting the Pacuare River. According to LeRoy, the Pacuare River is ranked as one of the top ﬁve rivers in the world and has great rapids, but, thankfully, none of the rapids on their trip exceeded a Class 3. “Actually,” said LeRoy, “I doubt that we traversed any rapid above a class 2 or maybe approaching a class 3, and the rapids they encountered “were big enough to be fun but not in any way threatening. The scenery was incredible. There were lots of small waterfalls and tributaries.” Marina Edgington said, for her, rafting was the most exciting part of the trip.
The next day the group went to Escuela La Cruz en ChaChagua to help paint that school. While there, they were treated to more traditional dances by children wearing beautiful traditional dresses and clothing. The CHS students painted areas of the school that were sheltered from the rain and, in the process, got a good deal of the paint on themselves and their clothing. Mrs. Hodges noted that all of the remaining paint and equipment was left behind at the school so that some of the children’s fathers could be hired to ﬁnish painting the school. The group also left supplies, toys and candy for the children.
Next, the group boarded the buseta to Arenal National Park and a zip line through the rain forest canopy. Leroy commented, “These zip lines are all about speed. If you look around at the scenery or look down, you slow down and have to pull yourself into the next station.” But for Rachel Garcia and Rowdy Murphy (in spite of his fear of height), hanging 700 feet above ground on a cable the size of your thumb, going very fast, was the most exciting part of the trip. Said Rowdy, “Great views, including an active volcano.”
For Daniel Baran, even though there was, at times, “a big language barrier,” the whole trip was amazing. “Friendly people, beautiful scenery, the kind of trip you would do over again,” he said.
The most memorable thing about the trip, for all the young people, was bonding with the host families. “We were treated like family,” said Mrs. Hodges. All those interviewed agreed that they would go back again “in a minute.” Anna Garcia said she thinks about Costa Rica and its people every day. “It’s so beautiful, and the people are wonderful.”
But, all good things come to an end, and for this young group of adventurers from Cedaredge, and their chaperones, it ﬁnally came to an end on Saturday, Feb. 20, following their return ﬂight to Denver and the drive home in typical Colorado winter weather.
But the memories of their Costa Rica adventure will last them a lifetime.
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