Photo: 2019 Middle Park High School Spanish Class Trip to Costa Rica.  Photos by Abby Smith

Each morning started out with this same greeting in Costa Rica, and for the next eight hours, we would only hear and speak Spanish. Since my freshman year of high school I had been dreaming of the Costa Rica trip. The prerequisite for this trip was completing three years of high school Spanish and maintaining a ‘C’ grade or higher. On June 7th the Middle Park High School junior spanish class left for Costa Rica and spent the next 10 days immersed in the Costa Rican culture and environment.

“Ocelot” jungle cat licking his lips after lunch.

Throughout the trip we traveled to three different regions with diverse climates, activities and food. The first town we traveled to was Trinidad De Dota in central Costa Rica. Here we were split into groups of two or three students and were introduced to our local homestay families. The next day we took multiple hikes. Our first hike took us up to the top of the continental divide, where we could see both the Pacific and Caribbean oceans. After that, our guide, Marco, took us up through different rainforests and taught us about the difference between primary and secondary forests. The best part was that we learned all the information in spanish. After our hikes we would go back to our families to share a meal and get to know them. The final day in Trinidad De Dota we played a town soccer game. Because soccer is so popular the entire town showed up to watch and play. After the game we also had a fiesta, a party that most of the town showed up to as well. Before we left the next morning we stopped by the only school in the town. We had brought craft projects with us such as tie dye, slap bracelets and toy snakes for different ages of students. The saddest part was leaving. My classmate Emily DePlata said, “It was definitely an experience of a lifetime and after you go through with something like that, you really see how much you find joy in every little thing you do.” I’ll never forget how nice our families treated us, and how welcome the townspeople made us feel.They were so patient with our struggles in speaking their language. The term ‘Pura Vida’ is a common phrase used in  Costa Rica. It initially translates to pure life, which the Costa Rican people really seem to cherish. They make the most out of every situation and find the best in everyday and that really showed in these families.

Hiking through the rain forest

After Trinidad De Dota we traveled to the district of La Fortuna, where we stayed at the base of the Arenal volcano. Unlike Trinidad, Arenal was more of a tourist attraction city instead of a tiny town. Arenal is famous for its large, dormant volcano. The two mornings we were there we had the option to go on a morning walk or run. On our 6 am morning walks, we saw a variety of animals, including mono capuchinos (white faced monkeys), mono arañas (spider monkeys) and toucans. We also saw an ocelot, which is a type of wild cat, and we were told that this had never been seen before on a past trip. The second day we were there we went on a volcanic rock hike that lasted most of the day. This was one of the hottest days and the longest hike. It was also the first day it didn’t rain on us, of course. Our last day in La Fortuna, we went to a dance studio where we were taught three different latin dances including the bachata. It was hilarious to see how uncoordinated we were, but we learned quickly and had a lot of fun.

The next day we drove to our final destination,  Playa Samara. When we arrived there we were immediately met by a preservation organization who brought us to plant trees, in the pouring rain. Driving back from tree planting, we were surprised with a beach stop. All of us ran into the water despite the rain and immediately started messing around. That night we got to our private hotel. We had the whole hotel to ourselves where we danced and swam and just got to hang out. The next day, we kayaked out to an island where we were given snorkeling gear. The water was crystal blue and the sand was so white the sun reflected off it. While snorkeling, a few students were lucky enough to see a sea turtle, but unfortunately many of us got stung by jellyfish. Our final day was a beach and surfing day. We were given the opportunity to boogie board or learn to surf. After hanging out at the beach, we went to our final dinner in Costa Rica.

It may sound difficult to have to speak spanish and meet new people and constantly be going and going everyday, but Costa Rica was honestly life changing. The trip not only sparked my interest to immerse myself in different cultures, but it also brought me closer to my fellow classmates. Our trip leader and spanish teacher, Profé Stephanie Irving, stated “We had a great group this year! I love seeing them experience what they have been learning over the past 3 years in Spanish. I hope this trip has sparked their interest in language even more and gives them the desire to travel and explore the world!” I can’t express how grateful I am to have gotten to experience this trip, and I urge anyone that has an opportunity like this to seize the moment and go out and explore. ¡Pura Vida!