Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Dinner Hostess for Staff & Students

Our five newest students got an extra special taste of Costa Rican culture on Christmas Day when Doña Carmen – one of our cooks and all-around Base Angels – invited everyone into her home for a holiday meal.

Shortly after getting to our base and completing their “Duffle Shuffle,” the participants in our Adult Reconnect with Nature course (Dec 26, 2009 – Jan 3, 2010) joined their instructor, Santiago Lopez, and a handful of Outward Bound staffers in a trek up the hill from our Base to Doña Carmen’s house.

Upon arrival, glasses were filled with juice, eggnog and wine (this is an Adult course, after all!) and plates while piled high with well-seasoned fish, pan-fried chicken and vegetables, fresh salad and two of Costa Rica’s finest staples: rice and beans. And at least one bottle of Lizano sauce was emptied before the evening was through.

The similarities between how North Americans and Ticos celebrate Christmas were immediately apparently. Most Ticos decorate a tree (often a fragrant cypress tree) with ornaments and a gold star on top – and Doña Carmen’s family was no exception sporting a lovely and well-lit tree in the front room of their home.

The Nativity Scene (known as “El Portal) is of particular importance. These are decorated constructed of mosses and grass, colored sawdust, cypress twigs, black paper, silver glitter and figurines representing the birth of Jesus in the manger. Along with the traditional figures of Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, shepherds, the three wise men and the ox and mule, Costa Ricans commonly add extra embellishments like dolls, little farm animals, tiny toys, fruits and berries, and lights.

Most importantly, Christmas in Costa Rica – as it is all over the world – is a time to be spent with family and friends.

As most of the students had never been to Costa Rica before – the joyous surprise of a home-cooked meal made for the perfect introduction to the famous Tico hospitality – as well as a perfect start to their nine-day adventure.

The Adult Reconnect with Nature course – for people 21 and up – combines all of the elements of our popular summertime Multi-Element Courses. It gives participants a chance to trek through the rain and cloud forest on their way to Piedras Blancas where they experience several nights’ homestay in a remote, rural village. Following the hiking phase of the course come a collage of water activities including surfing some of the west coasts’ best beaches and whitewater rafting on world-class rivers.

The students in our current holiday course range in age from 26 to 53 and hail from both the United States and Canada.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Costa Rica's Island of Pirates, Divers and Dinosaurs

There is a lot of mystery surrounding Costa Rica's tiny remote Pacific island called Isla del Coco. Its Jurassic Park affiliation brought it some fame, and its restrictions for entry have increased the level of infatuation to visit it.

Cocos Island is an uninhabited island located off the shore of Costa Rica. This National Park may be a part of the Puntarenas province, but it is approximately 550 km (340 mi) from the Pacific shore of Costa Rica and takes about 35 hours by boat to get there! With an area of approximately 23.85 km (9.2 mi) and a perimeter of around 23.3 km, this island is barely recognizable on a map. The only people allowed to live on Cocos Island are Costa Rican Park Rangers, who have established two encampments, including one at English Bay. Tourists and ship crew members are allowed ashore only with permission of island rangers, and are not permitted to camp, stay overnight or collect any flora, fauna or minerals from the island.

It is not surprising that the famous oceanographer, Jacques Cousteau, called it "the most beautiful island in the world". On average, the island receives between 18 and 24 feet of rain a year contributing to the rich biodiversity and the nearly 200 waterfalls. In fact, everywhere you look along the shore, you can easily spot these beautiful streams tumbling into the ocean along the steep sides of the island.

Surrounded by deep waters with counter-currents, Cocos Island is admired by scuba divers for its populations of Hammerhead sharks, rays, dolphins and other large marine species living up to its PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) status as one of the best 10 scuba diving spots in the world. The largest schools of hammerhead sharks in the World are consistently reported there, and encounters with dozens if not hundreds of these and other large animals are nearly certain in every dive. Smaller and colorful species area also abundant in one of the most extensive and rich reefs of the south eastern Pacific.

Cocos Island was declared a Costa Rican National Park by means of Executive Decree in 1978 and designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997. In addition, it is included in the list of "Wetlands of International Importance". Cocos Island was short-listed as a candidate to be one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature by the New Seven Wonders of the World Foundation. As of June 2009 it is ranking second in the islands category.

This island is popular in pirate lore as well. It is said that over 300 expeditions have gone in search of treasure such as the hoard of Benito Bonito, the Treasure of Lima, and many others. Some incidents of small caches have been discovered, leading many to believe the stories of vast pirate treasures to be valid.

The Michael Crichton novel Jurassic Park centers on the fictitious Isla Nublar that is off of the west coast of Costa Rica. Contrary to popular belief, the movie wasn't ACTUALLY filmed here - they couldn't get the proper permits to film on Isla de Coco. Instead, they filmed it in Kauai, Hawaii. Only the distant shots were truly taken around this Costa Rican island.

Intrigued? You can visit this island, but you need 8-10 days and $3,000-5,000.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Clean Water for Cabecar

"Service is an active expression of valuing our common humanity, our diversity, and the natural world."

This statement comes straight from the Costa Rica Outward Bound website under the Mission and Philosophy page. It is one of our goals to enrich the students not only through the challenges they face in and around the rainforest, but also through the assistance they provide in the local communities. The needs of the country and its communities change from year to year, so it is important that we go on reconnaissance missions to find new projects with which the students and employees can help.

Last October, Shawn Pendergrass and Orlando Zamora went on such a mission to Valle Escondido ("Hidden Valley" in Spanish), in the Turrialba area, to visit the indigenous Cabecar tribe to which visitors must hike 12km through mountainous rainforest terrain. This trek takes about three hours from a road.

What brought them to such a remote location?

Orlando, a long-time volunteer and friend to this group, has wanted to supply this eight-house, 50-person village with clean water for years. Currently, only the school and two homes are connected to water. The others get their water through hoses originating in nearby springs. Silt and parasites frequently contaminate them causing a multitude of illnesses, some of which are fatal. The main cause of death for the indigenous children, in fact, is dehydration and illness from bad water.

This clean water project, spearheaded by Shawn (the Community Outreach Coordinator) and Orlando (veteran Land Instructor), will supply the entire village with safe and reliable drinking water. To begin such a project, they must bring two large, 1,100-liter blue tanks. No special transportation exists to bring them - they, too, must be carried 12km on foot, in addition to the rest of the materials which include: tools for digging and cutting, pipes, connectors and spouts, and water treatment supplies. Shawn and Orlando need plenty of help from CRROBS students if they want to complete this project.

Enter: University of Alabama.

This Sunday, December 13th, we welcome eleven UA students and their chaperone, Josh Burford, the Coordinator of Freshman Community Outreach for the Community Service Center. Six of their eight days will be spent assisting Shawn and Orlando in Valle Escondido setting up the clean water to the area. The village will have clean water by Christmas, in addition to new school supplies, clothing, and toys the UA students will be contributing. Doña Carmen, a member of the CRROBS base staff, also donated a large trash bag of stuffed animals.

As a reward for their hard work, the students will thankfully have a day rafting the Rio Pacuare. That is, if their tired bodies make it that far.

To view photos of Shawn's and Orlando's reconnaissance mission in October, click here.

One month later, watch their experience in this video montage:

Friday, November 27, 2009

Nicaragua's El Castillo

El Castillo in Spanish means "The Castle".

Did you know there was a castle in Nicaragua? Not only is there a castle, but it has a fun history as well. This week, our Tri-Country students are seeing and learning about this northern neighbor and its rich history which includes El Castillo.

To understand why El Castillo became an important spot in Nicaragua, it's best to first view its geography on this satellite map.

The students arrive at El Castillo by water taxi from Rio San Carlos - the town can only be reached by boat. The town’s name is derived from the fortress built by the Spanish in 1675 with the idea of protecting its colonial cities inland from pirates and other countries by blocking the river. It was built on a hill on the shores of the San Juan River, which connects Lake Cocibolca with the Caribbean Sea. This route was used on various occasions by pirates to attack Spanish settlements bordering the river. The most precious Spanish city of that time, Granada, was also attacked several times.

Now let's get down to the fun history.

When Britain and Spain clashed in Central America during the 18th century, control over the San Juan River and Lake Nicaragua was one of the great prizes in their conflict. Any conquering force needed first to capture the fort at El Castillo, and in 1762 the British mounted an attack that was thwarted by a woman's valor.

''According to the traditional account, the Spanish sergeant in charge, seeing the hopeless odds against him, started to hand over the keys of the fort when his hand was stayed by Rafaela Herrera, young daughter of the deceased commandant,'' one historian has written. ''Rafaela herself, whose entire life had been spent in forts, took charge of the cannon, and killed the English commander with the third shot. A desultory artillery duel followed for four days; then the English withdrew.''

Britain did not give up easily, however. In 1780, a flotilla set out from Jamaica for a second assault on El Castillo. Among the leaders was Horatio Nelson, then a young captain.

British troops cut the fort's water supply, besieged it for 17 days and finally seized it. But the British force was ravaged by disease and overwhelmed by rain, which falls here at the rate of 200 inches a year. So weakened that survivors could not muster enough strength to bury their dead, the British were unable to advance and extend their power into the heart of Central America. Spain's hold on the region was secure.

Semester students get more than just outdoor adventure, animal photography and language; they learn why not to mess with women with cannons.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What is a 'Woofer'?

We professional types pronounce "WFR" as "woofer".

The WFR, or Wilderness First Responder, is a certification combining the Emergency Response Certification with additional hours of curriculum and practice for application in the wilderness setting. The ERC (a 48-hour DOT course certification) is required for police, athletic trainers and firemen in the USA, and it is administered by the American Red Cross (ARC). Due to the remote nature of our courses our lead field staff are required to have successfully completed the WFR course. Certification from ARC and CRROBS is valid for 3 years.

What do they do during a "woofer" course? At CRROBS, it lasts nine days filled with in-class instructions, case studies, patient care stations, skills assessment, and practical scenarios. Read below for a rough outline of their curriculum:

DAY 1:
Introduction (roles and responsibilities)
Anatomy & Phisiologyn
CPR, First Aid (for the professional rescuer)
DAY 2:
CPR, First Aid (for the professional rescuer)
(Click to watch: students practice CPR emergency breathing)
Patient Assessment
Bleeding & Shock
Head, Spine & Trauma
DAY 3:
Chest Trauma
Injuries to Extremities
Water Sanitation
Long Term Wound Care and Assessment
DAY 4:
Bites & Stings
Allergic Reaction / Anaphylaxis
Epi Administration
Hot & Cold Emergencies
DAY 5:
Abdominal Medical Emergencies
Chest Pain
DAY 6:
First Aid Kits
Improvised Litters and Splints
(Click to watch: students make a litter.)
(Click to watch: students learn to roll an unconscious victim.)
DAY 7:
Evacuation Protocols
Helicopter Use & Safety
Injury & Illness Prevention
Stress Management
DAY 8:
Practical Exams (performance in a rescuing scenario)
DAY 9:
Written Exams

The most interesting parts for the students as well as the instructors are the practical scenarios in which people pretend to be hurt, bleeding, broken, and distressed. The students in training must assess the situation an react quickly and reasonably.

All Leadership students and CRROBS instructors must take this course, which is quite rigorous. When asked about the training, the students generally say it was "stressful, but interesting and beneficial."

See photos of Leadership Fall 2009 Semester students during WFR Training on our Facebook fan page.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tenacious Tejas

It's a bird. It's a raft. It's Tejas.

This is no ordinary vida lata (literally meaning "life out of a can", or "mut" as we say in English). Tejas has been an adventure enthusiast since the day our new Program Director, Laura Statesir, adopted her four and a half years ago as a scruffy homeless puppy in the Dominican Republic.

Tejas has lived in three countries: Dominican Republic, the USA, and now Costa Rica. Even though she only sees out of one eye (due to a sling shot incident by some local kids in the DR), she has rappelled in the Salto de Jimenoa Waterfall in the Dominican Republic, whitewater kayaked in the Rio Yaque (also in the DR), hiked the active Volcán Turrialba (here in Costa Rica), and camped and hiked the Pisgahs in North Carolina. When she wasn't on an adventure trip, she was riding a motorcycle around the DR.

While she may have a lot to flaunt in front of our other pets (and us, for that matter) as the newest addition to our Costa Rica Outward Bound animal family here on base, Tejas fit in immediately. She is relaxed and loves trash. She has a unique Spanish name (named after Laura's home state, Texas, which coincidentally is the same word used for the red roof tiles so common here in Latin America). And of course, it is only fitting that an adventure dog live at an adventure school.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Packing List: What's a Gaiter?

gait⋅er /n./
a covering of cloth or leather for the ankle and instep and sometimes also the lower leg, worn over the shoe or boot.

One of the most important items on our CRROBS packing list for our hikers is a pair of gaiters. The majority of incoming students - and their parents - have never heard of them. I am one of those people.

Donna White, one of our veteran and most beloved land instructors, has fully explained what is required of a gaiters purchase and why they are so detrimental to a hiking experience in the rainforest.

She says they must be:
1. well-fitted
2. snug
3. tall (to your knee)

They are necessary to:
*keep out mud (especially during rainy season)
*keep socks and feet clean and dry (when it rains and when crossing rivers)
*protect from thorny or poisonous plants
*protect from bugs bites

Watch this video in which Donna demonstrates how to wear gaiters and how they remarkably help our jungle hikers.

Do you need to purchase some? Click here to find a multitude of options where you can find the best gaiters for you.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Students in WRT Training

November 2, 2009

This week we sent our Water & Wave and Tri-Country students out to Rio Pejibaye to get a taste for what it takes to be a river guide. They will have two days of training in WRT, Whitewater Rescue Technician, while our Leadership students receive the full certification.

What does it take to be Rescue 3, WRT-certified?

The course concentrates on advanced water rescue skills for river guides and professionals, including managing the rescue scene, litter management and the utilization of teams. Costa Rica Outward Bound students get their training and certification through reputable Rescue 3 International. Four days of training, practice, experience and testing are required to obtain that coveted certification card.

1. Classroom instruction (1 day)
2. Developing and practicing water rescue skills in the river including search and rescue scenarios (3 days)
*Developing self-rescue skills
*Controlling in-water contact rescues
*Handling hazards and obstacles
*Setting up technical rope systems
*Understanding water dynamics
*Using basic rescue equipment
3. Written test

All CRROBS rafting instructors have not only been certified by Rescue 3 International's WRT program, but they renew this certification once a year. They run so many rivers and have so much valued experience, in fact, that the International Rafting Federation (IRF) has asked them to help structure and standardize its training program. An article explaining this series of standardization seminars (taking place on CRROBS base) will be posted in the upcoming week.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Viva la Tortuga!

Long live the turtle!

‘Tis the season to be nesting. Every year from August to October, two of Costa Rica's three sea turtle species lay most of their eggs on the coastlines: the Green Turtles in Tortugero National Park (Caribbean coast) and Olive Ridley Turtle in Guanacaste (Pacific coast). There are seven species of sea turtles found in the world, all of which are endangered. Therefore many animal lovers fly to Costa Rica to do their part in assisting with turtle conservation projects set up by Costa Rica-based organizations.

Costa Rica Outward Bound is one of these organizations. And this week, students from two of our fall semester courses, Water & Wave and Tri-Country, are sacrificing their sleep to help out on the beaches of the Pacific Coast.

With a special partnership with one of Costa Rica’s turtle refuges (an area protected by the government) in Tulin, CRROBS students are able to participate in the conservation of these beloved animals. There are three crucial ways through which our students participate in the conservation process:

1. Beach cleaning: maintain and improve the beach; rescuing turtles if necessary
2. Night patrols: protect eggs from poachers and predators
3. Collecting eggs: place them in a secure hatchery area

The beaches must be maintained because, in the off-season, the sea turtles stay in the water. When it is time to lay their eggs (mainly between August and October), they exit the water and follow the moon to find a safe spot to lay them. Because they do not see very well, they are confused if the beach has too many obstacles and no place to go. Volunteers, including our students, clear the beaches maintain safe places where turtles consistently go to lay their eggs year after year.

In addition, poachers steal eggs, and predators eat them. Turtle eggs are a delicacy and can sell for a lot of money. As night time is both the time when eggs are laid and the time when poachers and predators make their moves, conservationists set out around midnight and again at 3am to safeguard eggs and relocate them to safer places. Costa Rica Outward Bound’s students make these patrols every night while camping on Playa Hermosa.

Through these efforts, CRROBS students and conservation organizations all over the country hope to repopulate the beaches with these adored creatures.

To read more from a previous CRROBS newsletter, click here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Water Adventuring

October 23, 2009

Our three fall semester courses, Tri-Country, Water & Wave, and Leadership, are all daring Costa Rica's world-renowned clean waterways this week. Rivers, estuaries, surf breaks, oceans, waterfalls... they're experiencing it all!

Water & Wave and Tri-Country students have combined courses this week on the Pacific coast. The first day of their "combo course" was on Tuesday on our Manuel Antonio base (Click here for a satellite map; the arrow is about one inch west of where our base is located) when surf instructors Carlos "Diablos" Castro Montero and Alex Cook immediately began teaching surf basics to the Tri-Country students who just arrived that day with their primary instructors, Donna White and Santiago Lopez Salazar.

And since then, they've been even more active. All four CRROBS instructors have led the students north to a peninsula called Isla de Damas where they kayaked down an estuary in duckies (a.k.a. inflatable kayaks or IKs; see picture on right) into the ocean. It is there where they will camp and surf. One of the most important reasons for going through all of this trouble to get to a new beach? Uncrowded waters. Leave it to CRROBS' surf instructors to know the best beaches for enjoying the "barrel" experience. Carlos reported yesterday "all of the students are doing really well."

In other areas of Costa Rica, the Leadership students spent Day Number Two busing to Taos, their "put in" (rafting term for where a rafting trip begins) at Río Pejibaye. Whitewater rafting experts - and CRROBS instructors - Felipe Lopez Salazar, Joe Ewing, and Carlos Granados Flores will guide these new leaders for nine days down the river to their "take out" (rafting vernacular for the point at which rafters exit the river) in Puente de Oriente. Río Pejibaye is a Class II-III river here in Costa Rica, which is no sweat for our rafting guides who frequent the class IV-V rivers. Leadership students will have no problem following instructions; from what we've heard from their instructors: "This is a great group of students."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Backpacking Tips & Tricks: Cooking

If you are a past student, an instructor, or a wilderness enthusiast, you have been in this situation: the fire won't build, and you're hungry. Hopefully, you finally succeeded, or maybe you resulted to eating raw food. In the case of the latter, we have gathered a few tips to help you the next time you are starving in the wilderness.

So here are some helpful tips:

  • Where: on a sandy or rocky area (or near a supply of sand and water so as to avoid forest fires!)
  • Most common mistakes: choosing poor tinder, failing to shield precious matches from the wind and smothering the flames with too-large pieces of fuel
  • Four Key components: spark, tinder, fuel, oxygen
  • How to create a spark: matches, a lighter, flint against steel, electric spark from a battery, or sun rays through a magnifying glass

Or if you are a serious camper ready to make your own stove (and avoid the struggles of building a fire), see this 1.5-minute video for making a do-it-yourself stove out of a can, a tac, a razor, antifreeze, a piece of tape, and a small piece of insulation.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Life of a Costa Rican Coffee Bean

The most common drink – and probably most common souvenir as well – in Costa Rica, is coffee.

Wanna know a little secret?

Coffee plants are NOT native to Costa Rica! (Neither are bananas, but that’s another blog at another time.) They arrived in the late 1700s in a serendipitous import – the “coffee barons” were so successful that locals began calling coffee beans “granos de oro” (grains of gold). In fact, Dictator Braulio Carrillo began giving away land if the new owners promised to farm coffee! He wanted to take financial advantage of the European demand at the time, and it worked.

Costa Rica’s middle class grew rapidly, and was at an advantage with a much smaller stratification among classes than the rest of Central America. The downside? Basic foodstuffs weren’t being grown for locals. The importing then planting of banana trees in the 1870s (again, a later blog article) helped palliate the overpowering coffee farming.

From Red Fruit to a Hot Cup of Joe

Upon passing the plant, you wouldn’t guess coffee is made from the small red berries clustered around the branches of this about-shoulder-high bush. But suck off the sweet outside capsule (or let a machine have all the fun drying it out or soaking it off), and inside you’ll find two attached slimy coffee-bean-shaped seeds covered in a silver skin. These seeds desiccate in the sun or machine until the slimy silver skin (say THAT five times fast) hardens and chips off. They are then roasted. At this point they’re ready to be:

a) ground up and bagged for sale as coffee grinds
b) bagged up for sale as whole beans
c) flavored before steps a) or b)
d) shipped to USA/Europe where caffeine can be extrapolated and resold to PepsiCo/Coke/etc.; then the bean passes through steps a), b), or c)

Now do you understand why Starbucks charges so much? Neither do we.

Fact: Costa Rica’s first gourmet coffee producer, Café Britt, is owned by one of CRROBS’ very own board members, Steve Erickson! Be on the lookout for Café Britt as it slowly makes its way into the States. And what’s more, he has even come up with a line called “Tres Rios” – the town where we live.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Packing List: Which Water Shoe?

Incoming students frequently ask us about the proper water shoes for their course. This summer, for example, we received this question:

J F wrote:
"I was going over the suggested packing list and came across the mandatory non-velcro sandals. I was just wondering if a water shoe (also known as a Water Sock) is ok or does it have to be a sandal? I just kind of wanted to know how essential they are and if you really need a water hiking sandal."

CRROBS responded:
"Yep! Those are just fine! You need something that won't fall off, has traction on the bottom, and will dry easily. FLIP-FLOPS ARE NOT SUFFICIENT. The water socks you show will work great."

Danny, one of our long-time river instructors, explains more in this video.

*If a student is also scuba diving on his/her course, neoprene booties are an option for both rafting and diving. Wearing these with fins can cut down on rub burns fins can cause.

More examples of adequate rafting shoes:



Monday, October 5, 2009

Homestay of Don Santiago & Doña Consuela

Homestays are a big part of our programs down here at CRROBS. We have great relationships with the families, and the students love their interactions with these Ticos.

One of our families, Parra Mora, is welcoming our Colegio Europeo students today in a place called Ranchos Tinamú.

(description below is translated from the Authentic Tourism web site)

Location: Santa María de Dota

Visitors' Description: "This is literally, one of the must-see land paradises in Costa Rica. Located 30 km from Quepos, Ranchos Tinamú transports you into a world of green landscapes, a marvellous climate, adventures, rich experiences, flowers of every color, health and family hospitality. What began as a dream, today is sustained by a big family that that puts its heart - full of care and dedication - into every service offered to every visitor. The strategic locatio nof Ranchos Tinamú brings forth the possibility of connecting routes of adventurous hikers between the Central and Middle Pacific of Costa Rica, passing from the highest areas of cloudy and cold climates to the lowest lands close to the Pacific Coast with rainy and warm tropical rainforests. From the eating patio of Ranchos Tinamú, pay attention to the sweet-toothed hummingbirds of Doña Consuelo's garden and the green mountains lying on the horizon."

The Family: Parra Mora, composed of Don Santiago, Doña Consuelo, their three older daughters and three younger sons. All of them play a part to support eachother and the Ranch.

More links:
CRROBS Facebook Fan Page Notes
Sustainable Eco-Tourism
Rural Costa Rica Tourism

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Water & Wave: Meet Your Instructors

4 Days and Counting...

Those Water & Wave Semester students are about to board those flights, head to Costa Rica, and spend 70 days with complete strangers; this list of unknowns includes their trusted instructors. Who are they?

Alex Cook, Water & Wave Instructor
Hometown: Mount Pleasant, SC
Certifications: WFR, CPR for the Professional Rescuer, SRTG/WRT, TRR (Operations Level), Whitewater River Guide License Class III, NAUI Scuba Certification, Beach Safety and Lifeguarding

Mauren Granados, Land Instructor
Hometown: San Jose, Costa Rica
Certifications: Wilderness First Responder, First Aid and CPR, Instructor Judgment Training
More info: Click here and scroll to #5

Carlos "Diablos", Surf Instructor
Hometown: San Jose, Costa Rica
Certifications: Wilderness First Responder, Lifeguard, First Aid and CPR, Instructor Judgment Training
More info: Click here and scroll to #2

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Lopez Homestay

We know 'em. We love 'em. We learn from 'em. We laugh with 'em.

They are the Lopez's.

Almost every CRROBS student that hikes through parts of Costa Rica's jungle has been lucky enough to pass through the homestay (what is a homestay?) of this 20-person immediate family's village in Piedras Blancas (just north of Brujo).

That's right: we said "20". Doña Flor and Don Hormidas raised 18 biological children, all born within two years of one another. Right now, CRROBS employs many of them as instructors, drivers, managers, chefs, and homestay hosts. We have a very unique and close relationship with this special family. See below for the full run-down.

Not only is this family unique because of its size and self-sufficient village, but they have taught our students - AND US - a lot about the quality of life. It is here that many realize how important their own families are - that people win out over material things. They learn that hard work pays off, especially after hours of helping cut sugar cane and squeezing it, milking cows, grinding corn, tilling the land, and making food from scratch. It's an eye-opening view of how simple life can be. And it's not all work. Hours of soccer with the local students, waterfall rappelling, swimming in the river (see below), and laughing around the kitchen table fill the time well.

There's a reason students respond "homestays" when asked what their favorite part of the course was.

To read a recent update from our newsletter, click here.

To watch a video that gives a panoramic view in the Lopez's village of Piedras Blancas, go to our Video Tab on our Facebook page.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tracking the Tri-Country Trek

There are so many small towns through which our hikers trek when going coast to coast. It's hard to locate them online due to the vast areas of rainforests, yet we found a way to map out the first few days of Tri-Country's 85-day hike! We'll try to continue the mapping as they continue, so stay tuned.

To see a live map, click here.
To see this image in a larger size, click on it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Students Learn to Save Annie

“Annie! Annie! Are you okay?”

Most of us who have ever been in a CPR course are familiar with this emergency questioning. It’s what we say to our appendage-free dummy, nicknamed Annie, when her rubbery plastic face does not respond to our shaking and talking. And when she doesn’t respond to the questioning mentioned above (almost 100% of the time), we have to call for help and begin CPR.

CPR, which stands for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, is an important skill for anyone to have. This especially includes Costa Rica Outward Bound semester students, such as those in the Tri-Country course who are getting their certification today. CPR is necessary in order to sustain life in the first critical minutes of cardiac arrest. Luckily (knock on wood), never has anyone had to administer this on one of our Costa Rica Outward Bound courses; but as the old saying goes: it’s better to be safe than sorry. (And on that topic, go to the Instructor Certification page to see how safe and prepared our CRROBS instructors are, “just in case.”)

For those new (or old) to this certification process, here is a standard procedure learned during a CPR certification course.

Assessing the situation
Call for help
A-B-C Checks: Airway, Breathing, Circulation
Chest compressions and breaths

Our Tri-Country students are spending Day #2 in Costa Rica getting this certification today from our CRROBS instructor, Daniel Jiménez Fallas (Danny). They began at 6am, spending the whole day in "class" to learn what it takes to resuscitate a victim in cardiac arrest. This certification lasts for one year – plenty of time to cover their 85-day course.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cooking With Plantains

Many of our students leave course, wanting to relive their glory days in Costa Rica when they experienced unique activities, connected with the environment, challenged themselves, practiced Spanish, learned new skills, self-evaluated, stayed in shape, and/or ate incredibly tasty and amazing local food.

While we can't provide solutions for every one of these nostalgic desires, we can at least help alleviate the memory-lane strain. One way of doing this is helping you cook some of the local food at home for yourself and your family/friends.

The first Tico food item you can easily learn to prepare?


There are two very common - and easy - snacks/desserts to make from plantains: maduros y patacones.

Differences: Patacones (shown in the photo above) are in the shape of a sand dollar made with unripened green plantains, and maduros are ripe plantains cut long-ways. Patacones are on the salty side, and maduros are on the sweeter side.

For a recipe to patacones, go to our newsletter article by clicking here.

For a recipe to maduros, here are the instructions:
INGREDIENTS: ripe plantains, brown sugar, cinnemon, frying oil
PREPARATION: slice plantains long-ways into thin strips, heat up a frying pan with a layer of oil in it
COOKING: fry slices of plantain in the oil, sprinkling brown sugar and cinnemon to taste; fry until browned

So go out and find some plantains to fry. If you request more recipes from your experience here, please 1) request them on our Facebook fan page wall at http://www.facebook.com/crrobs, 2) go to our newsletter archive (each one has a Tico recipe), or 3) send an email to crrobs@gmail.com for a specific request.

¡Buen provecho!*

*a Tico phrase used before meals with the same meaning as the common French phrase "Bon appetit!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Nature Deficit Disorder

Have you or your child been diagnosed with NDD? After all the disorders being defined these days, there must already be some research and treatment in place for this one.

Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD): an illness affecting the central nervous system in which a person's lack of exposure to the outdoor environment can cause damaging and/or fatal misunderstangs of the earth's flora and fauna; professionally regarded as a link to depression, ADD, and obesity

In a recent NY Times article entitled "How to Lick a Slug," columnist Nicholas Kristof mentioned this term (first coined by author Richard Louv) after a hike he and his daughter accomplished in the Pacific Crest Trail. He discusses the problems children face these days being out of touch with nature. It's an important topic, bringing up issues such as environment preservation, children's mental/emotional/physical health, and quality relationships among families.

Costa Rica Outward Bound obviously can't agree more with the need to bring people back into touch with nature; or shall we say, bring people to nature for the first time. It is through these experiences in the rainforests and staying at homestays that our urban students learn how to cook for the first time, wash a dish, be responsible, learn about plants and bugs, get dirty without caring, gain social skills by associating with new people, discovering ways to preserve the environment, and find new appreciation for their family relationships. Some lucky students discover a new drive for life, break out of their depression, and/or find that they no longer need certain medications to get through challenges.

Yes, indeed, there is something to be said about a connection to the outdoors. Join us in our fight against NDD.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Letter From a Tri-Country Student

Dear CRROBS Community,

I’m an alumnus of the Tri-Country Semester program, Spring of ’02. I was 17 when I left high school a semester early to go to Costa Rica- I remember taking my English final on the plane to Miami and mailing it in San Jose- and I had never been camping before. Heck, I’d never even been on a particularly long hike. I considered my Spanish to be fantastic (I’d gotten all A’s in class, right?) and my outdoor skills to be inborn. After all, I’d grown up surrounded my nature, by the rugged weather of New England and by self-described “hippies.” I was golden.

Two weeks later, the only attribute that I was thankful for was pride, since it was the one thing preventing me from quitting. I was physically unprepared, exhausted, covered in infected blisters and weird bacterial infestations, and my Spanish skills had been reduced to “Me siento mal(I feel bad)." Admittedly, I was quite a pathetic sight. But damned if I was going to be the girl who quit.

I could write a lot more on the subject than anyone would have the patience to read, so rather than recount countless anecdotes, I’m going to refer to an excerpt from the letter I wrote to myself on my solo. My group had our solos at Rudy’s finca near the top of Cerro de la Muerte, a place that seemed to me at the time as idyllic as any I’d ever seen. The writing style of a future English major is by nature affected, so please forgive.

“Dear Julia,

The long anticipated spiritual enlightenment you were ready to experience on your 48 hour Outward Bound solo is obstinately refusing to occur. You’ve been studiously planning your future and critiquing your character, and naughtily playing celebrity name games (although you did connect Queen Elizabeth to Tom Cruise in 6 steps) but epiphany does not seem to be a destined activity for these two days. Yesterday, for the 9 or so hours you spent awake, you skirted around boredom by doing yoga, gradually applying every layer of clothing you own, and admiring your tent. (Which is quite nice, though perhaps a little floppy.) Thinking enlightenment could possibly be found by communing with nature, you cavorted around naked for about half an hour, until a rustling in the bushes interrupted you. (Carlos or Mark doing their daily patrol or an errant chicken, I’ll never know, but someone got an eyeful.) No luck. Today you are fasting... maybe that will open up your third eye? Doubtful.

When you read this letter 6 or so months from now, I wonder how you’ll look back on this trip. I have a fairly fresh viewpoint right now... I remember the misery, the tears, the wretched heat and bitter cold. Will you remember that? I hope instead you’ll remember swimming in the ocean, making tortillas, talking with the children, reaching the top of Cerro de la Muerte, reaching the Pacific. And whether spiritual enlightenment is in the cards or not doesn’t seem to really matter. Maybe you’re just not the type. The most enlightening aspect of this entire experience seems to be the mere affirmation of life, the fact that you fought against discomfort, pain and fear and your sheltered upbringing to come out the other end triumphant.”

These days, my life has brought me about as far from the hills of CR as possible. I live in a major city, I do marketing for an environmental nonprofit, I commute, I contribute to a 401k... all said and done I’m a fairly typical member of society, a Weekend Warrior at best who owns a three season tent mostly out of optimism. But though I never reached the state of enlightenment I struggled for on my solo, the lessons I learned during those three months have surfaced, in subtle and obvious ways, countless times throughout my life. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to recount my experience in writing, as it’s easy to forget both the struggles and pleasures I encountered those 7 years ago, and the profound effect they’ve had on every aspect of the person I’ve become.

Pura vida!



Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Meet the Women Leading Your Women

Did you just send your 16-18-year old Girl Scout down to Costa Rica? Not to worry: they're in good hands.

Donna White, our tough southern land instructor, and Amy Nicolson, a CRROBS surf instructor and recent Leadership alumna, were really excited about leading the Service Challenge students this August.

Currently these fearless women have already taken the girls hiking over 8km through thick rainforests, rushing rivers, and dense cloud forests. They have helped Orlando at his farm, and today they're spending time with the Lopez family. In two days, they'll be ready to catch some waves on the beautiful beaches of Manuel Antonio. Pura Vida!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Students Attend the World Surf Championship!

Our Surf-Intensive course students were lucky to arrive last Saturday, the same day the "Olympics of Surfing" came to Jacó, Costa Rica for a championship tournament.

Costa Rica is host to The Billabong ISA World Surfing Games from August 1-8, 2009. The event will take place on Playa Hermosa, with 40 nations and 280 surfers participating in this international competition. This year’s contest will be the largest in its history and will be broadcast over the web to over 80 million people worldwide throughout the competition’s eight-day run, with additional coverage on ESPN and Fox Sports.

Naturally, our die-hard surf instructors Carlos Castro Montero and Alex Cook couldn't pass up the opportunity to show their students where a LOT of practice will get you.

Costa Rica is a top surfing destination, with warm water, consistent year-round surf, and over 700 miles of coastline, both on the Pacific and Caribbean coast. Costa Rica¹s surf tourism represents 20 percent of the annual income for the country. The expected thousands of national and foreign visitors will provide Jacó with more than $1 million in commerce.

To read more, sign up for our CRROBS newsletter at the newsletter page of our web site and scroll to the bottom where it says "Sign Up!" which will feature a full article on this topic.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Panama: Undiscovered Territory

There's more than a canal in Panama?

Spanish Emphasis, Reef & Rainforest, and Summer Semester courses sure are experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Panama, enjoying all the hidden treasures it has to offer.

After a weekend of snorkeling in the island chain of Bocas del Toro (a Panamanian province), they are playing soccer with the local kids living in Solarte as well as doing a city tour of Bocas Town. Even more unique is their tour to a dolphin caye where there are typically three dolphins living and swimming with visitors. If that is not enough excitement, the group is renting bikes to ride to a grotto and where they can walk through some caves in the area.

But as they say, all good things must come to an end. Reef & Rainforest will return to base on Thursday for their last day, including a city tour of San Jose. The other two courses (Summer Semester and Spanish Emphasis) will split from R&R to do a three-day homestay in the beautiful, mountainous town of Volcán. So while they have to say adios to Panama and the memorable activities they did there, the homestays are commonly the students' favorite part of their time with CRROBS.

Panamanian sunning or Costa Rican living? We'll see what the students prefer in the end.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Girl Scouts Make Tamales

Yesterday was the longest these 13-14-year-olds had ever spent cooking, preparing, and waiting for dinner. That's what happens when your meal of choice is the Costa Rican tamale.

We didn't know what time it was (because Outward Bound's policy is that no student wear a watch), but most of the day was devoted to tamale activity:
  • Morning (after breakfast): used machetes and knives to cut big, broad leaves from banana trees
  • Afternoon, hour #1: boiled meat; cut up banana leaves into long strips; used meat broth to make the corn meal paste; boiled rice; prepared fire to boil leaves in large pot
  • Afternoon, hour #2: rolled and tied banana leaves; boiled rolled leaves for one hour
  • Afternoon, hour #3: cleaned and cut potatoes, red peppers, carrots, and cilantro
  • Before dusk: removed banana leaves from pot, untied them, unrolled them, and dried them; rolled corn meal paste into balls
  • Dusk: on criss-crossing banana strips, smushed one ball of corn meal; layed meat, rice, and vegetables on banana leaves; folded leaves corner-to-corner and tied rope around each tamale
  • Evening: boiled tamales for two hours
  • Night: opened tamales to let cool for fifteen minutes; then eat! Buen provecho!

The girls had a great time interacting with our local Tico neighbors who taught them how to do every step of the process (in Spanish). By the way the girls chowed down on the tamales, we'd have to call it a success.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Groups Are Changin'

18 Julio, 2009

Unfortunately, we said "adios" to over 60 students (15-Day Multi Element, Catching Waves #2, Rainforest River & Reef #1, 15-Day Reef & Rainforest, and 15-Day Surf Intensive) last week. Hopefully they'll remember the time they had here and what they learned. The Facebook Fan Page has albums and videos of their courses. (If they're not posted yet, they will be!) They had a lot of great things to say upon departure last week, such as:

"I found that I am capable of more than I even thought possible and I am thankful to know I am able to do it."

"I had the time of my life, and I'll never forget this place."

In the upcoming weeks, we hope our new groups feel the same way:
15-Day Multi Element (June 17): went waterfall rappelling today, leave for hiking tomorrow in Santa Maria de Dota
Instructors: Shannon and Carlos
15-Day Reef & Rainforest (June 17): left our base yesterday to hike La Danta today and La Flecha tomorrow
Instructors: Diego and Pablo
15-Day Surf Intensive (June 17): left for the beach in Playa Avellanas yesterday
Instructors: Carlos and Zach
Girl Scouts Catching Waves #3: leave for Playa Avellanas tomorrow to begin surf lessons
Instructors: Dunia and Amy
Instructors: Mauren, Olivia, Lucia and Yisel

And let's not forget our super students, who have already been in Costa Rica a while with CRROBS! We hear they're having a great time, and they're sad it's coming to an end in the upcoming month:

Summer Semester: already trekked the whole country from Caribbean to Pacific, and now they're in Manuel Antonio to surf; see their update video from when they had a transition day at base last week: http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=1023384761062&ref=mf
Instructors: Donna and Ormidas
Spanish Emphasis: met up with Summer Semester in Manuel Antonio to surf after four days of white water rafting last week
Instructors: Donna and Ormidas
30-Day Surf Intensive: met up with 15-Day Surf in Playa Avellanas yesterday to begin surfing
Instructors: Carlos and Zach
24-Day Multi Element (A): return from surfing in Manuel Antonio tomorrow
Instructors: Ryan and Santiago
24-Day Multi Element (B): they're busy with local Costa Ricans (aka Ticos) at their homes -possibly milking cows, playing soccer, harvesting sugar cane, cooking and playing in the river; the homestays include: the Lopez's yesterday, Hernan's today and Rancho Tinamu tomorrow
Instructors: Owen and Pablo

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Hands-On Spanish

Learning Spanish while zip-lining? Rafting? Surfing? Hiking? Rappelling? Kayaking?

Spanish is getting to be a little more fun to learn.

Costa Rica Outward Bound created a 30-day Spanish Emphasis course after more and more Spanish high school and college classes (and individual Spanish students) signed up for CRROBS courses to be immersed in the language and culture. Tico instructors provide day-to-day conversation and lessons, and students spend quality time with families at the homestays. The next course begins July 23rd, and we are still getting new applicants.

Milandra, a student from last year's Spanish Emphasis course said:

"I felt like a sponge the entire course; soaking up the beauty of the culture and country, learning Spanish and learning about myself. I don't want to go home. I realized how little is required to be happy. Living so simply was eye-opening, and in the end, much more rewarding. It's different from any "camp" you will ever participate in; these are once-in-a-lifetime experiences that will stay with you and contribute to your life."

If you want to read more about the Spanish Emphasis itinerary, costs, and benefits, click here: http://www.crrobs.org/courses/itineraries_summer_spanish_emphasis.html, but keep in mind the next course starts July 23rd.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Veranito de San Juan

St. John's Little Summer

Typically around June 21st (summer solstice) of every year in the Southern Hemisphere, the Veranito de San Juan reaches Costa Rica. But this year it's late, and we are enjoying a break from rain in the middle of July.

Our rainy season (or winter, as locals call it) lasts from May to November. Mornings are sunny, and rain begins in early afternoon. It's also a little warmer.

During a veranito, however, this rainy season takes a break for about two weeks. The temperature gets a little cooler, and the sun is out. Basically, it's the same weather we experience from December to April during the Costa Rican summer.

Luckily for our nine courses now, they are experiencing a lot less rain than usual. Our instructors reported happy, dryer camping trips. Pura vida!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Breaking News, Mae

To keep you in tune with all things "Costa Rica" (if you are experiencing this place through your child, brother, sister or friend); it's important to teach you this word:

mae (pronounced "my") n.: coloquial term for a friend, such as the American "brother", "man", or "dude". Example: "Que pasa, mae?" means "What's happenin, man?"

Now that we have that cleared up, let's move on to the most recent news.

Kendra, the instructor for our 15-Day Multi Element, just came back with her group from rafting in the Pacuare today! They're busy in their dorm showering and cleaning up right now, and they spend their last day tomorrow doing some touring of the city.

Owen's and Pablo's 24-Day Multi Element group had two students at base today who recounted some of the exciting adventures they've experienced since they arrived June 30th. See this video on our YouTube page: http://www.youtube.com/croutwardbound.

Kathleen, our Communications Director, just returned from Avellanas beach after spending five days with the Girl Scouts Catching Waves, and she reports a few fun details: the girls loved fishing (and three of the girls caught fish!), they woke up a few days at 4:45am to surf, ALL girls have gone out past the break to surf (a VERY advanced surfing level!), they went running a few times on the beach, and they taught each other to make useful items out of natural beach debris (including tables and lawn chairs). Oh, and Kathleen adds "The girls loved the soccer game against the locals of Santa Cruz. We lost. I won't tell you what the score was." But we finally got it out of her: 8-2. They return to base tomorrow for rafting on Wednesday.

Scott, our Program Assistant, just returned from a few days in Playa Hermosa with the Spanish Emphasis group. He was happy to report PERFECT weather as well as a successful mission to help nest turtle eggs. To further explain this: poachers find them during this time of year and try to sell them, so the purpose of their experience was to rescue these eggs and put them in a secure place where they could mature and hatch safely.

As for the rest of them:

Girl Scouts Rainforest River and Reef #1 (with Shannon) is coming back to base today! They will get to raft tomorrow, then do a city tour on Wednesday. The Girl Scouts Rainforest River and Reef #2 course (with Olivia) are surfing in Manuel Antonio on the southern Pacific coast. Summer Semester is hiking, hiking, and hiking. They went from Valle Escondido on Saturday to Ante Cuesta yesterday to La Cruz today. Lastly, our Surf Intensive courses are surfing in picturesque Tulin right where the River Tulin empties into the ocean. Ryan and Santiago have led our other 24-Day Multi Element to the Lopez's (Santiago's family!) in Piedras Blancas, a remote village that takes at least two hours by foot to reach from the closest town.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Voted the Happiest Place

Recently, The New Economics Foundation (an independent British research team) did a study of 143 nations on this planet (comprising 99% of the world's population) to find just what populations are the most content.

The winner?

HINT: This country won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for trying to help end civil wars in several Central American countries.

HINT: This country has the highest life satisfaction.

HINT: This country has the 2nd highest average life expectancy (behind Candada).

HINT: This country produces 82% of its electricity through hydropower (water-generated).

(drumroll, please...)

Costa Rica.

Most tourists come down here to relax on beautiful beaches, or test their nerves in an outdoor adventure, or take a picture of an exotic animal. For CRROBS students, they come here to do these things as WELL as improve themselves (their minds, leadership, and whole self). But most people do not think: "I'm going to Costa Rica to learn contentment from the local families."

What part of course do students report to have liked most while on course? What's the activity students most want to spend additional time doing? Homestays. Homestays. Homestays.

It is at the homestays where students see how happy a simple life can be. To quote one of our Service Challenge students, Becky Balk:

"I learned that life is so much more than just material things, and how truly insignificant things that I consider necessary are to my life"

To read more about the Happy Planet Index, see:
-CNN's article: "Costa Rica tops list of 'happiest' nations"
-NEF's official study: The Happy Planet Index
-La Nacion's article (San Jose, Costa Rica newspaper): "Costa Rica es el país más feliz del mundo" (Costa Rica is the happiest country in the world"

Thursday, July 9, 2009

CRROBS Students Invading Costa Rica

From Playa Avellanas with Girl Scouts Catching Waves to La Suiza with the Spanish Emphasis and Summer Semester groups; CRROBS has adventurous students surfing, rafting, tree climbing and camping all over Costa Rica.

On the Pacific Coast, where the surf is getting good, we have five groups learning to surf:

1-2) 15-Day Surf Intensive and 30-Day Surf Intensive just arrived at our beautiful Manuel Antonio base (see photo below) today, returning from a coastal island for three days.

3) Girl Scouts Catching Waves is still up on the Pacific coast on Playa Avellanas with Dunia and Amy, who have prepared a lot of fresh and healthy meals for them this week!

4-5) 15-Day Multi Element and Reef & Rainforest are about to also arrive to our Manuel Antonio base (see photo below) after hiking to highly-elevatedRancho Tinamu yesterday and staying with the Lopez's (see photo at bottom of post) in Piedras Blancas on Tuesday.

The other six groups hiked today after keeping busy with outdoor adventures recently:

1)24-Day Multi Element (Santiago y Kendra) just hiked from Puerto Rojo to Domer to La Danta today. Whew.

2) 24-Day Multi Element (Owen y Pablo) were rafting earlier this week, but switched over to hiking yesterday in the small fishing village of San Gerardo de Dota. They continue on to Providencia tomorrow.

3) Spanish Emphasis and Summer Semester have been beefing up their Spanish and their legs across Costa Rica! Yesterday they hiked from Pejibaye to La Suiza today. Tomorrow they'll make their way to Bajo Pacuare.

4) Girl Scouts Rainforest River & Reef (group B) finally headed out to hike today after tree climbing on Tuesday (here in Tres Rios) and rafting on Wednesday in the Rio Orosi. They make their way to Orlando's homestay (see photo below) tomorrow, where they will be planting banana trees, playing soccer, making local food, and/or milking cows.

5) Girl Scouts Rainforest River & Reef (group A) are getting dirtier day-by-day out in the rainforest. They're on day #3 of hiking, after sleeping at Orlando's (see photo above) last night (see #4 above for activities at Orlando's) and hiking to the Lopez's (see photo below) today. The Lopez's, a family of 18 kids, lives in a remote, self-sufficient village in Piedras Blancas. There, the girls will either farm sugar cane, waterfall rappel, milk cows, and/or take a swim in the river.