Grade 9 Travels to Costa Rica

From June 2 - 7, during the final full week of school, Shore's ninth graders were on an immersive trip in rugged Costa Rica that included exploring the geology and wildlife of the area around the volcano Rincòn de la Vieja—with its steaming fumaroles and natural hot springs—as well as studying sea turtles and partnering with locals for service learning in and around Ostional, on the Pacific coast. Head of School Clair Ward traveled with Grade 9, along with Spanish teacher and World Language Department Chair Pamela Torres and science teacher and Science Department Chair Oliver Hay.

Day 1: Liberia

Students flew from Logan Airport to Miami, and then to Liberia, in the northwest of Costa Rica in Guanacaste Province. Naturalist guides Alex Alvarez and Lis Alfaro, both with Pennsylvania-based Chill Expeditions, met the group and introduced them to Costa Rica's history and culture on the bus ride into the heart of the small but bustling city of Liberia, where they stopped for lunch at a local restaurant. The students learned that roughly a quarter of Costa Rica is made up of protected jungle, teeming with wildlife including spider monkeys and quetzal birds. The country is known for its beaches and biodiversity; its economy, once heavily dependent on agriculture, has diversified to include sectors such as finance, corporate services for foreign companies, pharmaceuticals, and especially ecotourism.

After lunch, students settled into their rooms at Hotel Boyeros, and then traveled for dinner to the home of a local family, where they sampled numerous traditional Costa Rican dishes and learned more about the country's traditions and culture, including how to fry plantains.

Day 2: Rincòn de La Vieja National Park

The group got an early start to explore some of the geologic wonders around Rincón de la Vieja, “The Old Woman’s Corner.” This active volcano in northwestern Costa Rica is surrounded by tropical dry forest, where students observed insects, wildlife, and hot pools and areas of bubbling mud, indicating substantial reserves of geothermal energy. They learned that almost 100% of Costa Rica's energy is generated from green sources, including  geothermal, hydrosolarand biomass.

Highlights of a day-long hike included spotting an elusive tapir, a large, herbivorous mammal with a prehensile nose trunk; peering into steaming volcanic fumaroles; and encountering groups of spider monkeys carrying their young high in the trees, with a family of howler monkeys nearby sounding a startling warning. To end this first spectacular day, students and teachers alike enjoyed relaxing in natural hot springs, where students discovered skin-soothing mud could be applied like paint and then washed off in a river before slipping into the springs.

Days 3 and 4: Ostional

Students departed urban Liberia to head for remote Ostional, on Costa Rica's western coast, where the group would explore unique conservation efforts at an internationally renowned sea turtle nesting area. Their home base for two days in Ostional was Albergue Arribadas, a modest hostel-style lodging run by Wendy Cruz, an educator and naturalist who directs the Las Arribadas Biological Station dedicated to the sea turtles. Students learned about marine ecosystems and sea turtle life cycles, as well as the sustainable project to use a percentage of turtle eggs for local consumption and commercialization.

During the daytime, the group walked the black-sand beaches of Ostional to collect plastic and other garbage, deadly for the sea turtles, and to observe dozens of abandoned sea turtle nests. Hundreds, and sometimes hundreds of thousands, of Olive Ridley sea turtles come to this specific area to dig their eggs into the black, volcanic sand; their synchronized nestings are known as "arribadas," the Spanish word for arrivals. The turtles generally ride in on the high tide at night, but during an arribada they start arriving soon after sunset and keep coming until 6 a.m. the next morning. Used to a life in the ocean, the turtles drag their heavy bodies over the beach until they get over the high tide line. There, flicking clouds of sand, they dig a nest with their flippers to deposit around 80-100 soft-shelled, white eggs, the size of a ping pong ball. Many of these eggs are scavenged by vultures and other wildlife, but from those that survive emerge baby turtles, which hatch within 45-54 days depending on incubation temperatures. They face varying degrees of success as they dig their way out of the clutches of eggs and then attempt to drag themselves to the ocean. Residents and visiting volunteers often help the baby turtles on their journey, protecting them from predators. 

In the middle of the night, students and local experts walked the beach in total darkness hoping to see a few of the adult turtles arriving at the beach. Relying only on special dim, red flashlights so as not to disturb the marine animals, the group encountered several turtles and sat quietly with volunteers who had arrived to study and protect the egg-laying process. For many in the Shore group, witnessing a turtle laying her eggs was one of the most memorable experiences of the entire trip.

Equally as memorable for many was spending time with the residents of Ostional, who practiced their English with the ninth graders just as the students practiced their Spanish with them. Two intense soccer matches with local children were highlights of the visit. As Shore varsity soccer player John Fates observed, "The kids ran circles around us with their foot skills and passing technique. The goalie was 10 years old, and better than any varsity goalie we played this year. We had the greatest time losing to them and we didn’t care one bit if we looked like we had never played soccer compared to them." Fellow varsity player Tessa Shields said, "It was very impressive how all of the students dove right into playing and meeting the local kids. By the second day, we were able to make teams of both ninth graders and the local kids to play a large game. It was a memorable experience because of the way we were able to communicate with the kids that we had very little in common with."

Day 5: Reforestation and Return to Liberia

On the way back to Liberia, the Shore group visited a nursery run by the non-governmental organization Costas Verdes, which leads reforestation efforts to restore biodiversity in coastal ecosystems in Guanacaste. Students and teachers helped volunteers prepare seedlings for planting, and then traveled to an active reforestation project in Nosara to help plant dozens of native trees alongside local high school students. Costas Verdes believes that the active participation of local communities in such activities is vital; it involves schoolchildren in all its activities, and organizes workshops in local schools and communities. Deforestation from ranching, agriculture, and timber farming has affected 80% of Costa Rica's native forests; since 2011, Costas Verdes has helped restore 6,500 trees in these areas.

Day 6: Heading Home

On Shore's final day in Costa Rica, the group enjoyed breakfast at Hotel Boyeros and shared final reflections on the trip during a ceremony, during which each member of the group received a piece of a bandana that symbolized Chill Expedition's "expedition mentality." According to Bianca Perullo, "For the next class that adventures to Costa Rica, I have a few words of advice: make the most of everything, jump in the ocean in your clothes if you're hot, don’t worry about the bugs - you get used to them, take lots of photos, and bond with your classmates. The motto in Costa Rica is, 'Pura Vida,' which means 'simple life.' When you arrive, don’t be afraid to shout the motto, for everyone in Costa Rica is simply living."

In the words of Georgia Adams, "This trip made me really think deeply about the meaning of language. I was the only student on the trip that had never taken Spanish before. At first I really struggled, but as the trip went along I found myself learning more phrases. I found myself thinking how I must sound to the Spanish speaking students, but I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I will take this experience with me to my next school because I will be taking Spanish, and now I have this experience that few other people have."

Teresa DiNanno observed, "This was my first time traveling internationally; at the start I felt so far away from home, and all I wanted to do was be at home. But through this rough spot I had friends and peers by my side comforting me and helping me to not focus on the negatives. In the end, I learned how important it is to live in the moment and to take in every experience in before it is gone. When I saw lightning light up the beach when we were searching for sea turtles, it was a moment that I wanted to last forever."

Wells Goltra said, "Thank you to everyone who made this trip so spectacular and unforgettable. From the soccer game with the kids and the hike through the jungle, to hanging in hammocks beneath the rain storm, I will forever cherish the memories from our trip to Costa Rica."
    • Crossing a flooded road by way of a rope bridge

    • Listening for howler monkeys in Rincòn

    • Volcanic mud at the hot springs

    • At Albergue Arribadas

    • On the beach in Ostional

    • Playing soccer with local children in Ostional

    • Collecting trash on the beach in Ostional

    • Observing sea turtles

    • The reforestation project in Nosara