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: