Friday, February 26, 2010

OB USA's Costa Rica River Rush

Outward Bound USA students are exhausted, and with good reasons. The rivers have been quite the strong competitors lately.

After they finished their 8-day WFR course last week, they were finally set free into the rainforest to test their river skills. Their first stop was the beautiful Río Pejibaye where they practiced their Whitewater Rescue Tech (WRT). Primary OB USA instructors Liz McNeil, Brian Aheart, and Casey Montandon accompanied our Costa Rica Outward Bound veteran River Technicians Diego Lopez Salazar, Joe Ewing, Danny Jimenez, and Alex White for the training.

Each day, for four days, they ran the same stretch of river where they could learn such skills and lessons as:
• how to use throw bags: bags filled with a long rope that can rescue someone going downstream
• how to swim in rapids
• escaping a strainer (an opening where water can flow through, but a larger solid object cannot)
• currents and hydrology
• rope and rescue systems

The students did really well, and even swam in Class II rapids by the end of the WRT course! Their instructors told us that rescuing one another from the rushing water was their favorite part.

But this wasn’t all that exhausted them. WRT training preceded three days of learning kayaking basics. As Diego, Danny, Joe and Alex helped them perfect their kayak rolls and rapids, the water got more intense – and exciting – as unseasonable downpours continued all week long. By yesterday, they had to cut their lunch short to race the rising river to the takeout point. They arrived at base today tired and liberated.

With all of this river exhaustion, the OB USA students were still able to enjoy some of Costa Rica’s unique atmosphere. They saw rainforest wildlife – including dart frogs, toucans, and mica snakes – and experienced the Tico culture firsthand at homestays where they practiced Spanish while eating beans & rice.

We wish we could tell you they are getting about a week of rest after exhausting themselves these past seven days, but tomorrow at 5am they head back out to face the jungle.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Leadership Series: Part 2 of 7

What do they do with all of those skills?

This "Leadership Series" hopes to answer this question for seven Leadership alumni, one each week until the next Leadership Semester course begins on April 2nd. (Click to read about Leadership Alumnus #1, Sean Marr)

Leadership Alumna #2: Amy Nicolson

Leadership Course: 2008, Fall Semester

Hometown: Upland, CA

University: California Polytechnic State University

Currently: After working for Costa Rica Outward Bound as an instructor last summer, Amy is finishing up her senior year at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. She just completed her Senior Project: a study about Costa Rica Outward Bound's 2009 Girl Scout alumnae and how their courses have affected them six months later. On top of finishing all of her senior work, she is applying for summer outdoor instructing/therapy jobs. What are some of the first questions asked by these possible future employers? "Do you have your WFR certification?" or "Do you have lifeguard training?" to which she promptly and excitedly responds, "Yep!"

Reasons Enrolled: Originally, she wanted an atypical study abroad experience that was not filled with tourist activities and partying. She wanted to do something independently and completely immerse herself in it. In addition, Amy's interests and lifetime goals played a huge part in attracting her to this course which included outdoor activities, challenges, and outdoor certifications.

Future Aspirations: She wants to get her Masters in Counseling or Wilderness Therapy in the next year or two. She loves to work with kids and help them using the natural therapy of the outdoors and its challenges.

Favorite Course Moment: Amy particularly remembers the moments in which she faced big challenges (i.e. rafting, surfing, hiking), not only because someone was always there to root her on, but also because she found confidence and empowerment when encouraging others. And after successfully completing the course, most challenges thereafter were "easy" to her. She returned home, "believing more in myself, believing more in others, having more trust in others, having more confidence and patience."

Quote: "It turned out to be the best thing of my whole life."

The Costa Rica Outward Bound Leadership Semester is meant to prepare students in such a way that they can use the skills they develop to use in a career and/or any leadership role. This 60-day experience consists of: earning nine internationally-recognized certifications and 12 school credits; learning how to surf, kayak, raft, rappel, camp, and scuba dive; and facing the challenges and responsibilities involved with any Outward Bound course.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How to Hike Costa Rica's Tallest Mountain

by Debbie Mayer

Mt. Chirripó, the highest mountain in Costa Rica (and second highest in Central America) stands tall at 3,820 m (12,532 ft.). Climbing 19 km up Chirripó is one of the best ways to experience the beauty of Costa Rica. Monkeys roam the forests; the terrain continues to change every hour; the flowers come in every color. But the most motivating reason hikers put themselves through this rigorous trek is its collection of amazing views, one of which includes a view of both the Pacific and Caribbean Oceans from the summit.

Dry season is the best time to climb Chirripó (especially February and March), and the mountain is closed for 2 weeks in May and all of October for maintenance.

First, get a permit to climb it. Only 60 climbers are allowed per day, and all climbers must get permits before starting the hike. 50 of the passes can be reserved ahead of time (call 506-2742-5083), but these sell out. Luckily, there are 10 passes that are released the day before, which can only be bought in San Gerardo de Rivas' ranger station after 6:30am. Passports or passport copies are necessary for each pass. The pass costs $15. If you are spending the night on Chirripó, you must also pay for each night you stay at Crestones Base Camp ($10/night).

What to bring:
• Headlamp
• Water (at least 2 liters)
• Sleeping Bag
• Camping Stove
• Food
• Warm Clothes
• Rain Gear
• Toilet Paper

San Gerardo de Rivas is 1.5 hrs. by bus from San Isidro (3 hrs. by bus from San Jose). There are only 2 daily busses from San Isidro to San Gerardo de Rivas, at 5 am and 2 pm. The bus takes you by the ranger station, and then continues up through this small town.

Most people take 2 or 3 days on Chirripó's 19-km hike, but there are some locos climbers who summit and descend all in one day! Only plan on doing this if you have done some serious training at high altitudes. The trail ascends 2,000 m (about 6,000 ft) in those 19 km, and it is not easy. There is no camping allowed on Chirripó, so anyone spending the night must sleep at Crestones Base Lodge. Crestones is 14.5 km from the start of the trail in San Gerardo de Rivas, and 5 km from the summit.

In San Gerardo de Rivas, I stayed at Casa Mariposa Guesthouse & Hostel, a beautiful hostel with very helpful owners (and the closest hostel to the trailhead) . Most climbers spend their first day hiking up to Crestones, which takes an average of 7-10 hours. You must start the trek before 10 am, and many climbers begin between 4:30-6 am to get an early start (and avoid the heat & bugs in the early part of the hike). The trail is very well marked and maintained, and there are kilometer markers up until Crestones. There is potable water at 7.5 km, around 13 km, and at Crestones (14.5 km).

Crestones has capacity for about 70 climbers, all the rooms I saw had space for 4 (2 bunk beds). There are shared bathrooms with showers (no warm water), and a large dining area. I found Crestones to be very clean throughout the rooms, bathrooms, and dining area. Crestones only provides cooking supplies (pots, pans, plates, utensils). Climbers must bring their own food, stove, and sleeping bag (bunk beds just contain mattresses). Crestones is at 3,400 m. (11,152 ft.) elevation, and the temperature at night is generally from 30-35°F so be sure to pack a warm jacket, hat, and gloves. The temperature rises to 40-65°F during the day, but always be prepared for rain and high winds.

Reaching Chirripó’s summit is a great accomplishment, and one of the best ways to enjoy it is at sunrise. The 5-km hike from Crestones to the summit takes between 2-3 hours, so it’s best to leave around 3 am. On a clear day, you can see all across the country, but clouds frequently block the view. You can leave your heavier gear at Crestones and just take a daypack to the summit. If you are spending 3 or more days at Chirripó, then you have time to explore the other trails to different peaks (such as Cerro Ventisqueros). The trek down goes faster than the way up, but don’t underestimate the downhill, it can be especially hard on your knees and toes!

Hiking in San Gerardo de Rivas isn’t limited to Chirripó - there are also natural hot springs and hiking in the Cloudbridge Reserve. This is a great way to prepare for Chirripó and pass the time if you get to San Gerardo a day early for your pass.

Currently, Costa Rica Outward Bound does not take any of our open enrollment course students on this hike. However, if you are interested in planning your own course for your class, family, friends, or outdoor group with our Custom Course Manager (Shawn Pendergrass), that is always an option. Chirripó is an unforgettable way to see a part of Costa Rica that most people do not see. It just depends: how far do you want to go while you're in Costa Rica?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hasta Luego, Canterbury School

“Que tuanis, mae.”

Meaning “How cool, man,” this was Orlando’s way of describing the Cantebury School students he had the pleasure of instructing last week. Diego, their other Tico instructor, agreed. They talked about how listos (literally meaning “ready” but translates to “intelligent”) the students were, who talked only in Spanish by the end of the course. And that included the nightly meetings, when most of the talking takes place among the group as they discuss their highs, lows, lessons and more about the day.

So who were these “ready” students?

Adrian Alea, Courtney Bagans, Sami Blaze, Alexandra Dadrat, Jace Eddy, Alex Feiock, Rachel Hachero, Janet Hamilton, Alexis Macdermott, Julianne McDonough, Talia Moorey, Joey Nicotra, Carl Nist-Lund, Amy VanPelt, and Angel Zambrano spent seven full days together in the depths of the rainforest with their chaperones Sheena Neese and Ryan Butcher.

Like most Costa Rica Outward Bound students, their favorite rainforest experiences included homestays and surfing. More specifically, while staying with our Tico homestay families, they loved playing soccer with them, harvesting sugar cane (pictured right), and bonding as a group.

“I learned that life isn’t about materialistic objects and we don’t always have to be stressed about what is coming next. What matters is love, belief and overcoming challenges,” reflected one of the students.

Another student said, “My experience was breath-taking; it opened my eyes to the awes of nature and gave me more self-confidence and self-reliance.”

And while they wished they could do some rafting, zip-lining and service, their week-long course in Costa Rica was invaluable. As one Cantebury student summarized:

“It was the greatest thing I’ve ever experienced.”

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Leadership Series: Part 1 of 7

What do they do with all of those skills?

This "Leadership Series" hopes to answer this question for seven Leadership alumni, one each week until the next Leadership Semester course begins on April 2nd.

Costa Rica Outward Bound's Leadership Semester is the one course meant to prepare students in such a way that they can use the skills they develop to use in a career and/or any leadership role. This is not surprising when their 60-day experience consists of: earning nine internationally-recognized certifications and 12 school credits; learning how to surf, kayak, raft, rappel, camp, and scuba dive; and facing the challenges and responsibilities involved with any Outward Bound course.

Leadership Alumnus #1: Sean Marr

Leadership Course: 2009, Fall Semester

Hometown: Doylestown, PA

University: Penn State

Currently: Sean was hired by Costa Rica Outward Bound to instruct the Water & Wave Semester 70-day course which begins tomorrow.

Reasons Enrolled: After receiving a degree in Education and in Spanish, he made a personal goal to improve his language and intellect with every experience since then. This led numerous types of part-time jobs after graduation: teaching ESL at an international school in Pennsylvania, interpreting and translating for the same school, serving tables at a Mexican restaurant, instructing at Rock Gym, and building walls with Guatemalans. The combination of his goals and his strong interest in outdoor education led him on a search to find programs where he could acquire stories and experiences worth sharing one day with his students. He finally chose Costa Rica's Outward Bound for its many certifications, its exotic location, the surfing, and the possible post-course internship.

Future Aspirations: Learning new languages, living in other countries, earning a Masters in ESL Education

Favorite Course Moment: One night on course, Felipe took Sean to the river and taught him how to flip (specifically, an Eskimo Roll) which he was able to do on his second try. The next day Felipe allowed him to be the Safety Kayaker (who leads the group by previewing the rapids and assisting in emergency rescues) on a 14-hr stretch of Rio General's Class II-III rapids. That day, he remembers playing tag with a river otter, entering caves with bats, and pointing out iguanas.

Quote: "It was such an amazing experience that not many people have an opportunity to do.... What I accomplished was empowering."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Canterbury's Dedication to Costa Rica

An obsession, or a passion worth sharing?

Canterbury School's Spanish teacher would argue the latter.

For six years, Sheena Neece has returned to Costa Rica with a different - and larger - group of her Spanish students. This year, she and fellow chaperone Ryan Butcher brought 15 eager and excited students: Adrian Alea, Courtney Bagans, Sami Blaze, Alexandra Dadrat, Jace Eddy, Alex Feiock, Rachel Hachero, Janet Hamilton, Alexis Macdermott, Julianne McDonough, Talia Moorey, Joey Nicotra, Carl Nist-Lund, Amy VanPelt, and Angel Zambrano to "spread the passion" through activities such as waterfall rappelling, cooking, hiking, tree climbing, milking cows, sugar cane harvesting, and meeting homestay families.

And this itinerary hasn't changed much in six years.

Originally, when she planned this trip, she had similar goals. "I sought a unique adventure that reached beyond the formulaic Costa Rican experience commonly illustrated in travel magazines. I also hoped that students would gain a sense of leadership, self-reliance, and personal accomplishment.... And Costa Rica Outward Bound created an adventure-packed week that exceeded my expectations. I watched as the students’ eyes widened as I read aloud the itinerary, which included a waterfall rappel, three homestays, a 15-hour solo and a day at Manuel Antonio beach." (Click here for a satellite map; the arrow is about one inch west of where our base is located.)

"The daily chores such as milking cows, cooking meals, and making cheese... gave students a greater appreciation for their meals and a new perspective on life."

New perspective is not the only reason for Sheena's return every year. "Students immediately learned the importance of time efficiency and teamwork. They were each assigned jobs to maintain the daily flow of activities, and we held nightly meetings to reflect on the days’ events.... During the waterfall rappel two students and I overcame our fear of heights, and similar endeavors resulted in exceptional personal successes.... We had accomplished so many things, faced so many challenges, and overcome so many obstacles. The experience will undeniably remain an important part of our life journey."

But what did the students think?

"It was the best trip I have ever had, and I will NEVER forget it or the aweseome people who were with me."

"It was a life-changing experience that I will forever remember."

"It was a life-enhancing experience that can only be described as 'food for the soul.'"

And Sheena expects this year's fifteen students to experience the same feelings.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Canterbury School: Meet Their Instructors

When Canterbury School - of Fort Myers, FL - signed up to come to Costa Rica (for the sixth time!) to improve their Spanish, they got what they asked for. There's not one gringo leading their course this week; and the Ticos that are leading it might just be stubborn enough not to use their English.

Meet these three Costa Rican natives who are helping the 17 Canterbury participants improve their Spanish while hiking, camping, waterfall rappelling, surfing, and cooking.

Orlando Zamora, Lead Instructor

Hometown: Piedras Blancas, Costa Rica
About: Orlando is arguably the strongest instructor we have at Costa Rica Outward Bound (and possibly in the entire country). He not only built his house for his wife and five kids, but he carried their cast iron stove 15 km to his house on mountainous rainforest terrain. More recently, he carried the large cistern (water tank) 12 km to the small village of Valle Escondido when University of Alabama did a water supply service project there last month.

Emma Zamora, Land Instructor

Hometown: Piedras Blancas, Costa Rica
About: When Emma, Orlando's oldest daughter, is not on course, she is living and working back on our base as the chef. Known to pass the time in between meals watching telenovelas and puppet shows, she also loves to get dressed up for special occasions.

Diego Chinchilla, Land Instructor
Hometown: Cartago, Costa Rica
About: Diego may be quiet at first, but his lovable and good-humored personality quickly draws positive attention from all of his students and compañeros. He's a Tico who has farmed the majority of his adult life when not working as a Costa Rica Outward Bound instructor. These two jobs have not taken away from his dancing skills. While he may be hesitant at first, the man can dance. His favorite type of Latin music for this is Cumbia.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Going for the Gold

This does not refer to this month's winter Olympians in Vancouver, but rather, it does refer to some other Canadians.

They are the students of Trinity College School of Ontario, and they are about to complete their final stage of the Duke of Edinburgh Program for receiving the Gold Award here in Costa Rica with Outward Bound.

Leaders Jen Powles (Duke of Edinburgh Coordinator), Tom Tansley (Health & Physical Education Teacher), Laura Tansley (his wife), and Alex Oosterhof (Student Teacher) have accompanied 14 Trinity College students to the rainforest, all of whom are striving to achieve the coveted Gold Award this week through backpacking, homestays, rafting, surfing, and more.

This is no standard high school award program. The Duke of Edinburgh's Award is internationally-renowned (run in 120 countries), and it can take about two years to accomplish all three levels (Bronze, Silver, and Gold). It requires an expedition, 45 hours of community service, a six-month hobby, and sport participation for 20 weeks (with a minimum of 2 hours a week).

Costa Rica has been no vacation for these high-achievers. Students in this particular "expedition" group must:
  • turn in a map of what they walked, complete with lunch and breaks mapped out
  • do 8 hours of activity each day
  • travel 20km a day
  • have a main expedition of 3 nights and 4 days, with 1 “preparation” day beforehand

The purposes of this Gold Award achievement? Well, they're very similar to our own mission at Costa Rica Outward Bound, actually. Students set their own goals and choose their own activities in the four areas of the program: Community Service, Personal Skill Development, Physical Recreation, and Adventurous Journey. The D of E mission states:

To inspire, guide and support young people in their self-development and recognise their achievements.

Participants have until they are 24 years old to complete this. Upon completing the Gold Award they receive a pin and certificate presented by a member of the Royal family at a ceremony.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Costa Rica Outward Bound & Outward Bound USA?

"Are these related? If so, how?"

These are among some of our most common questions. And simply put, Costa Rica Outward Bound and Outward Bound USA are both under the umbrella organization Outward Bound International.

All Outward Bound Schools worldwide receive their charters via Outward Bound International. OBI is governed by a council made up of representatives from each licensed member school.

The internal vision of Outward Bound International is:

To promote and protect the good name of Outward Bound throughout the world, and to assist in the establishment, development and support of Outward Bound Centers able to provide safe, high quality programs that fulfill the Mission of Outward Bound.

All Outward Bound charters follow this mission:

To help people discover and develop their potential to care for themselves, others
and the world around them through challenging experiences in unfamiliar settings.

The main differences between Costa Rica Outward Bound and Outward Bound USA? Mainly, it's the offered courses. See the web sites (linked in the previous sentence) for course offerings. Oh, and you'll need a passport to come on our Costa Rica Outward Bound courses, of course.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Getting from one ocean to another

How many of us can say that we went from one ocean to another without the use of transportation?

Not many, but our Tri-Country students can.

It took 28 days, about 200 kilometers, twenty days of hiking, 14 nights camping, a 72-hour solo, meeting and helping 14 homestay families, a rest in hot springs, a volcano visit, two days of rafting, and two days of kayaking to finally reach the Caribbean today. Grand total? 28 days.

The cross-country trek was their first and most difficult phase, but it does not lack significance for the 17-24-year-olds. One Tri-Country alumnus reported, "The hike brought about a huge feeling of accomplishment... rafting gave me a new skill that I'm sure I'll use in the future, and kayaking was all around amazing."

We will finally get to see their tired, buff, dirty, healthy selves tonight on base. Maybe they will tell us about their lessons on ecotourism, water issues, Costa Rican culture, or the rainforest. Or maybe they will tell us about their bruises and scrapes from tree climbing, sugar cane harvesting, waterfall rappelling, hiking, soccer, or kayaking. Or just maybe they'll be too tired.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Trinity College: Meet Their Instructors

When Trinity College students arrived in Costa Rica yesterday, they did not know what to expect. And it is very unlikely that those expectations did not include an environmentally-obsessed kayaker and a tough but beautiful Tica. Regardless, Mau and Joe are their instructors for the next seven days in the rainforest, on the rivers, and at the beach.

We introduce to you:

Mauren Granados

Hometown: Piedras Blancas, Costa Rica
About: Mauren is one of our toughest female instructors. She is known as "Mau" by her friends, and she got married last year to another adventure guide.
Read More: official site staff description

Joe Ewing

Hometown: Castle Rock, CO
About: One of Joe's first orders of business after becoming Costa Rica Outward Bound's Whitewater Coordinator was heading home to Colorado to see his family and buy a banjo. Among Joe's other unique interests and characteristics are his passion for the environment (which he studied in Equatorial Guinea, Africa for a semester in college), his endless supply of energy, and his diverse family (including his father who specializes in water purification).
Read More: YouTube video, official site staff description

Monday, February 8, 2010

Just Me, Myself, and I

so-lo [soh-loh]
1. a person who works, acts, or performs alone
2. a person who performs or accomplishes something without the usual equipment, tools, etc.
1. alone; without a companion or partner
1. on one's own; alone or unaccompanied
-en Español
1. alone; lonely

How would you handle being alone in the rainforest or on a beach for 12 hours? 24 hours? What about 48 hours or SEVENTY-TWO HOURS?

Ask a Tri-Country course student. They just finished a 72-hour solo in Santa Cruz, only three days before they finish their cross-country hike.

The "solo" is an exercise for all non-Girl Scout students in which they are assigned small adjacent plots of their own, putting them just out of sight of their fellow course mates. Each student is equipped with a whistle, water, a lamp, food rations, pen and paper, a sleeping bag and a tarp. In the event that a student would need the assistance, they can blow their whistle to summon their instructor who stays within earshot of all students. The length of a solo is proportionate to the length of the course; therefore courses of 15-30 days have an 18-24 hour solo; courses 60 days are longer have a 48-72 hour solo.

This is not a survival exercise, but rather a more meditative one. The solo experience leaves a lasting impression on the students. For many it is the first time they will experience this type and duration of seclusion in a natural environment. Some students claim this as the highlight of the course, and for others it one of the toughest.

"It's an oddity, a luxury, and it's scary; all in one," reported a 2009 Multi-Element student.

The result of a solo for every student is astounding and unpredictable. Most don't realize just how difficult it is once the instructor says his/her "good bye" at the very start of the solo. One student said, "If you think about it, never in your life do you get the chance to be completely removed from everything you own, every possession, all technology.... You don't realize how challenging it is to be out of your comfort zone."

During the solos, students journal, do yoga, cook, make up games to play, sleep, exercise, and of course: they think. Thinking for that amount of time with no distractions is so foreign to some students that it scares them at first. What they all get out of it is a new outlook on life. One student even said, "I realized where I was and how awesome my life is."

Many opinions differ, but there's one piece of advice on which they can all agree: bring the bug spray.

Want to see more? Below are three videos that can help you see a little bit more of what it's like to do a solo.
Discovery Kids followed a group of students to Costa Rica in March 2001, filming their 15-day Costa Rica Outward Bound experience which includes the solo:

Sam, from our Leadership Semester spring 2010 course, has filmed two short videos of his experience. In the first, he evaluates his spot near the Lopez's homestay. In the second, he has completed his tent.

Packing List: FAQs

Last updated: April 8, 2010

The packing lists provide the "bare bones" of what our students need to bring, but it is easy to get lost when trying to decide on types, brands, sizes, etc. of each item. In order to make packing easier for incoming students, we have started compiling the questions receive via email. See below for our packing list email correspondence:

Q: "The head lamp that is on the packing list do I need to get one of those, will we be using it?"
Q: "Is a flashlight an acceptable substitute?"

A: "Head lamp - DEFINITELY. This is one of the things you will use the most, especially if you wake up at night and have to use the bathroom!
A: "It IS like a flashlight (only strapped to your head), but it is so important to have free hands for meals, tasks, etc in the dark."

Q: "Where will we be sleeping? Do I really need a mosquito net or a hammock?"
A: "You don't need either because you will either be sleeping in a tent, under a tarp, at one of our bases, or in a homestay.  Read 'Packing List: Sleeping' to learn more about this."

Q: "What kind of carabiner do we need/what are we using it for? The list says 'the small kind that would fit in the palm of your hand,' which I'm assuming needs to be safe for climbing, but I don't want to buy the wrong kind."

A: "The carabiners do not need to be any special size or have any special functions. They are not for climbing or any other technical activity, but rather they're for practical uses such as carrying items on the outside of your backpack. It's amazing how handy they can be while on course."

Q: "The hiking boots that I currently own aren't waterproof- how much of the trails that we are going to be on will be really wet? (I sprayed them with waterproof spray the last time I went on an extended backpacking trip and they didn't stay waterproof for very long)."

A: "For the shoes, you can read about picking out hiking boots on our newsletter. Or, if you want to use your existing ones, it's hard to say how muddy it will be. Even if it doesn't rain while you're on course, it is still likely that the ground will be muddy from the cloud forest misty climate and the fact that rain starts in May on most afternoons. Basically, waterproof spray on non-waterproof boots is worthless, says our Programming Associate. It only helps strengthen the waterproof abilities of an already-waterproof material. Waterproof boots, on the other hand, do help decrease the moisture that gets to your socks, especially when combined with gaiters. A waterproof material elongates the boot life (because it's not getting so wet on the inside) AND it alleviates the amount of blisters on your feet."

Q: "What are gaiters? Should I purchase tall or short gaiters?"

A: "Gaiters protect your hiking boots from any additional mud or water entering your boots. Purchase tall gaiters for added protection while on course. Our instructor Donna explains how to use gaiters in this video."

Q: "Do I really need Zip-Lock bags? What are they used for?"

A: "In a nutshell: yes, you do need them. They are extremely useful, especially for separating dirty & clean, wet & dry, liquid & solid, or perishable & nonparishable items. Our instructor, Donna, explains more in this video."

Q: "For water bottles, it says 'nalgene' on the list. If I have a 1L stainless steel bottle, will that work or should I bring nalgene bottles?"

A: "Any water bottle that withstands a lot of abuse is good, this includes steel water bottles and Nalgene bottles. It's very important to have these bottles for day trips (to the river, beach, waterfall, service), but not as the primary source for backpacking and hiking. Camelbacks (bottom right) are crucial for staying hydrated during rigorous and long activities. The tube near the face is not only a constant reminder to hikers to continue drinking water, but it is also easier to access and holds more water than a water bottle. Our instructor, Donna, explains more about camelbacks versus water bottles while hiking."

Q: "Is it really nescesary to buy a backpack cover?"
A: "These are great in the rain if you don't want your whole bag soaking wet, BUT a big black trash bag will be just fine for shorter courses - there's no need to buy the "special" one. There's no way to know how MUCH it will rain, and our suggestion is to at least have something to protect your bag." For more extensive information about purchasing a backpack cover, how to make one from a trash bag, and how to apply it, go to our blog, Packing List: Backpack Covers.

Q: "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."

A: "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.

Q: "What are sock liners? And how necessary is all of the special outdoor clothing that's on the packing list?"

A: "The most important thing to remember is to bring as little cotton as possible. It is in your best interest to bring quick-dry, polyester-blend fabrics because cotton soaks up water and holds it. This can be really uncomfortable, especially after many days without dry climates and washing machines." Read and watch more in this blog further explaining basic clothing that's best for the rainforest.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Tri-Country: Meet Their Instructors

Eighty-five days is a LONG time. It's a good thing the Tri-Country spring semester students have great instructors to keep them company.

Santiago Lopez Salazar and Heidi Ruckriegle have been leading their semester students for over twenty days now. Santiago, a Costa Rican native, and Heidi, from Colorado, have plenty of outdoor experience and energy among the two of them to share with their ten students.

Let's meet them:

Heidi Ruckriegle

HOMETOWN: Breckenridge, CO
ABOUT: As a Presidents Leader Scholar at University of Colorado at Boulder, Heidi did not let her busy courseload hold her back from the ice hockey team or studying abroad in Sevilla, Spain. She has always loved the outdoors, she enjoys traveling, and she eventually wants to go back to school for law.
*The Summit Daily News: "Living a Life of Balance"
*The Canopy Chronicle: "New Instructors"

Santiago Lopez Salazar

HOMETOWN: Piedras Blancas, Costa Rica
ABOUT: As one of 18 Lopez children, Santiago (or "Chago" as friends call him) is known as one of the more serious and sincere brothers of the pack. He has been working as an instructor for Costa Rica Outward Bound for many years, during which he has been certified in Wilderness First Responder, First Aid and CPR, Swiftwater Rescue, Whitewater Rescue Technician, International Rafting Federation, Instructor Judgment Training, and SCUBA.
*Costa Rica Outward Bound: Instructor Profiles
*Costa Rica blog: "Water Adventuring"

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Talamanca: Service Project Gold Mine

Looking for community service in Costa Rica? From school improvements and building libraries to water systems and chocolate harvesting, Shawn and Laura found it all.

A common practice of Costa Rica Outward Bound office staff and instructors is to scope out new areas for outdoor challenges, new homestay families, and of course, community service. Last weekend, Community Service Coordinator, Shawn Pendergrass, and Laura Statesir, our Program Director, visited indigenous communities in Talamanca (of the Limón Province in the southeaster part of Costa Rica near the Panamanian border) where they found a large variety of projects for future students.

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The area is home to indigenous populations of the Bribri and Cabécar peoples. Because of limited opportunities and limited support from the government, these areas often lack access to good education, healthcare, water and electricity.

Over the weekend, Shawn and Laura met with Peace Corps Volunteers and community leaders to discuss possible collaborations between the communities and Costa Rica Outward Bound to better the quality of life in a sustainable way, encourage the preservation of their unique culture and traditions, and help them get ahead by opening up windows of opportunities for them.

Some of the projects that are being considered include providing books and other materials for schools that have little or none of these things, painting schools, building recycling centers in the villages, micro-financing projects, working with a local women's group that runs a small cacao/chocolate production business, organic farming projects, and installing a new water system to provide an entire village with safe and reliable water.

We here at Costa Rica Outward Bound and the villages themselves are very excited about working together to bring these projects to fruition. If you're interested in bringing a group down to work on one of these projects specifically, please contact Shawn Pendergrass at