Costa Rica Baking Class!

On the Tuesday following the Panama trip, Group B of the Sol students came to Sheri’s and my house to learn how to bake traditional Costa Rican desserts with my mama tica and abuela.

Our first dessert of the class was empanadas dulces. Essentially, empanadas are a circle of homemade pastry dough folded in half with a filling.

Next, we made cangrejitos and enchiladitas. These consisted of a savory potato filling inside of a square of pastry dough that you fold over (cangreja – crab) or that you fold into a square (enchiladitas.)

Hannah and I hard at work cutting the squares for the cangrejitos and enchiladitas

After our savory cangrejitos and enchiladitas were finished, we moved onto bizcocho casero. This recipe is a cheesy bread that can be folded or twisted into whichever shape your heart desires.

We rounded out the baking class by making pancito casero, which is a sweet bread. The Costa Ricans believe this tastes better the following day. I personally beg to differ. Hot, fresh and straight out of the oven is my favorite way to eat it!

Once our bellies were stuffed, the girls of Group B asked if the dogs could be brought out. Everyone was thrilled to meet our 6 dogs.

My favorite of the 6 dogs, Sven

It’s safe to say that I ended my day with a full belly and full heart!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Boquete, Panama: Day 3

For our third day in Panama, we started off with a traditional Panamanian breakfast. In my opinion, steak/beef for breakfast is always a fabulous idea!

Queso fresco, fried potato patty, sauteed steak and onions, and fluffy bread

Afterwards, everyone gathered to get on the bus to head into town where we would meet our guides for the hanging bridges and hiking tour.

Our bus driver dropped off everyone and we went and got our wristbands. Then, we loaded up onto a vehicle with benches to drive to the hanging bridges and hiking.

Most of the entire Sol group hiking in Panama

Because the Sol coordinators told us the hike was “very difficult,” I was expecting to go on a strenuous walk. However, I soon found out the hike did not even compare to my previous weekend at Cerro Chirripó. There was some slight uphill hiking, but for the most part the “very difficult” hike was a leisurely and scenic walk through the woods of Panama.

My favorite part, hands down, were the hanging bridges which traversed rivers and provided amazing scenic views of Boquete.

After the tour concluded, everyone had free time to explore and change before we boarded the truck transport to go back to Boquete.

When Audrey, Hannah, and I had stayed at Casa Mariposa in San Gerardo, we met a couple from England who had recently been in Boquete. They recommended checking out a honey tour.

The bus dropped those of off at Boquete Bees and Butterflies before heading back to the hotel. Our whole group bought our $7 tickets and settled in to learn all about the different types of honey and their flavors. Interestingly enough, a change in elevation and temperature influences the taste of honey. I tried a few different cream-based honeys, which I had never seen or heard of before. Everyone had so much fun sampling the honey!

All of the honey we tried! 20-some odd flavors for $7
Our whole honey-tasting group!

After killing our teeth with a ton of sugar, our plan was to go to the nearby strawberry castle restaurant for some strawberry dessert because Boquete is known for its strawberries. Of course, our beautiful sunny weather disappeared and a torrential downpour ensued. We found the strawberry castle closed sadly. However, everyone wanted to eat a late lunch/early dinner, so we continued into town before splitting up.

Hannah and I decided we would explore some other streets of Boquete that we missed our first day in Panama. As we wandered, Hannah and I made note of local restaurants that looked like they may be great for lunch/early dinner. It was so fun to watch the locals out and about and chatting with one another at fruit stands and artisan booths.

Eventually, she and I reached an intersection which took us back to the area of the town we had previously explored. By chance, we saw Audrey, Kyrek, and Catherina sitting down at a table. Hannah and I stopped by to say hello and have a peak at the menu. Both she and I came to the conclusion that the food was too expensive and we wanted to eat Panamanian food one last time, but invited our Sol friends to join us if they desired.

In the rain, we headed back to the local restaurant we had seen. The menu was VERY basic. Our lunch choices consisted of soup or “food of the day.” Hannah and I both opted for the “food of the day,” which allowed us to select hour our chicken would be cooked. After ordering, Audrey, Kyrek, and Catherine sat down at our table to join us for our mystery meal. Our Sol friends had the brilliant idea to ask about fruit juice, so I ended up ordering a fresh blueberry juice to go along with my mystery lunch.

Me trying to imagine what I am going to end up with for lunch/dinner
Panamanian food: pasta salad, white rice, plantains, chicken and lentils (in the bowl)

The food and blueberry juice was fantastic! For a drink and this huge plate of food, I spent $4.50. When traveling ALWAYS eat where the locals eat! Not only is the food inexpensive, but absolutely delicious.

Hannah after lunch wanted to search for strawberries as she had been the most excited out of the honey-tasting group to go to the strawberry castle. Alas, she and I were not successful in this endeavor, so we piled into the taxi with Kyrek, Audrey, and Catherine.

For a few hours, Audrey, Hannah, and I relaxed. Eventually, though, Hannah messaged me while in the same room (Audrey was sleeping.)

“Do you want to go to a different strawberry restaurant with me?” she asked.

I internally was laughing at the fact that she texted me while in the same room and still wanted to get strawberries. Of course, I said yes.

We said farewell to Audrey who was hanging back to prepare to head out with the other Sol students for Ladies Night at one of the local discotecas.

When Hannah and I got into the cab and told our driver where we wanted to go, he replied, “I am going to take you to a different strawberry restaurant that is closer and cheaper.” Hannah and I replied, “Okay!” Who doesn’t want to got to a local restaurant that is cheaper?! Our driver pointed out where he lived during our drive and eventually dropped us off where there was not one, but TWO strawberry restaurants across the street from one another!

Hannah and I headed into the first restaurant that had a cute little strawberry guy out front. Then, we headed inside to select what we wanted to order. The menu was huge and we eventually settled on strawberries with whipped cream and strawberries with chocolate. Funnily enough, the strawberries with chocolate ended up being Hershey’s chocolate syrup…not what we had envisioned!

The little strawberry man!
Strawberries with whipped cream and strawberries with “chocolate”

After our two strawberry desserts, we decided we may as well check out the other strawberry restaurant across the street because we had invested in a $6 USD cab ride. Hannah and I both decided the decor at the second restaurant was more fun. Visitors signed the walls and surfaces. The strawberry dessert too was a lot better! We ended up ordered a strawberry frozen yogurt-type dessert.

Strawberry restaurant #2!

However, the workers at restaurant number one were much kinder so we headed back over there to get the WiFi password, so we could contact the taxi driver.

The irony of this whole strawberry adventure? Our strawberry desserts were double if not triple the cost of our mystery lunch during the day AND Hannah and I both had upset stomachs the following morning from the strawberries. Thank goodness for medication! Otherwise, our 7-hour+ bus ride back to Heredia would have been miserable.

Panama (both literally and figuratively) was super sweet! The people were very kind, the food incredible, and the views magnificent! I will treasure the memories forever.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Boquete, Panama: Day 2

After a filling breakfast of over-easy eggs, toast, fresh fruit, and tea, our entire group boarded the bus to head to a farm for a tour.

At the farm, the owners introduced us to their various animals. A few students volunteered to feed the massive amount of chickens and other fowl. The farm was situated on a hill with an incredible view.

Views from the Panamanian farm

Once the birds had had their fill, it was time to milk the cow. Everyone took a turn milking. Eventually, we had a full pail of fresh milk to use to make queso fresco.

Everyone gathered on a small porch area to watch the process. First, a packet of thickner was added to the milk, which causes the milk to curdle. Once the milk combo sat for a little bit, one of the students began to scoop off the whey. After the majority of the whey was removed from the bowl, the cheese was placed into a strainer and the excess liquid strained off. From the strainer, the cheese is placed into rings on a plate and then put into the fridge. Our host, already had some prepared, so we skipped the “waiting stage.” Then, everyone gave the queso fresco a try with fresh cane sugar. The combination sounds crazy, but I can assure you it was absolutely divine!

After sampling the queso fresco, everyone gathered their things and walked to the other portion of the farm where the sugar cane is grown. There, we learned the importance of the crop and had the opportunity to “eat” sugarcane. You do not actually eat sugarcane, rather, you bite it and suck out the sweet juice.

Then, our guide and his uncle put stalks of sugar cane through a press to make sugarcane juice for everyone to try. To add acidity to the juice, we had the option to squeeze lime into the drink.

Once everyone was sugared up, we headed back to the farm where we ate our packed lunches. At this point in the day, the weather took a turn for the worse for a second time (during the cheese-making the sky opened up in a torrential downpour.) As a result, the whole group tried to wait out the rain for a while. Myself and Ky’shun fell asleep on the couch. All the great food wore me out!

Sleeping on our gracious hosts’ couch

After 30 or so minutes, the rain had not changed. Our bus driver (bless him) went and moved the bus to a nearby road. Everyone then sprinted to the bus in the torrential downpour.

For the rest of the rainy Thursday, I spent time lounging in our quaint cabin with Audrey and Hannah.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Boquete, Panama: Day 1

At 2:00 am on Wednesday, I bordered a charter bus with the other Sol students to head to Boquete, Panama.

Now, you maybe wondering. Why exactly Boquete? Why go to Panama for three days?

Well, in Costa Rica myself and the other Sol students are on tourist visas and not student visas. After 90 days, the tourist visas expire. Because our program surpasses the time frame of the tourist visa, Sol takes all of the students to Panama for a couple of days so we can receive a new tourist visa. Up until a few years ago, Sol took students to Nicaragua because the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border was much closer to Heredia. However, Nicaragua is currently in the midst of a civil war with a level 4 travel warning. As a result, Sol taking students to Panama is pretty recent.

I had really low expectations traveling to Panama and I have to say they were easily surpassed!

Around mid to late morning, our bus arrived at the Costa Rica-Panama border. Everyone had to disembark the bus and line up to receive their exit stamps. The border buildings were a real eye-opener for me. I kept thinking back to my time in Switzerland with my host sister Estelle and when we had drove to France to ski for the day (click here to read about that adventure). The ease of which people, goods, and services moved across borders in Europe is easy as a result of the European Union. Central America, however, is a whole different ball game.

In true Central American fashion, everything is beautiful chaos. There are street vendors trying to sell you fresh coconut juice while waiting in line. Random store fronts are along the road advertising that you can make copies there for a small fee. Bags are being unloaded from buses and searched by hand in a gated section of the complex. There is a lot going on in one place.

While waiting in line to receive my stamp, I could not stop thinking about the thousands of people who had made up the migrant caravan which dominated headlines last fall in the United States. I think what sparked this thought of mine happened to be a huge group of individuals who the Costa Rican officials had pulled aside on the opposite side of the baggage search area. From my spot in line, I could only see officials spouting off directions. Costa Rica by Central and South American standards is viewed as very advanced. With Nicaragua in the midst of a civil war and other countries in the region having stability issues with their economy or government, Costa Rica is viewed as a desirable country.

Our whole group luckily got through fairly quickly despite the line being long. A week prior, we had to turn in our exit tax money ($20 USD) along with other documentation. Since our program directors had processed some of the paperwork already, we only really needed our exit stamp from the Costa Rican border officials.

Everyone hopped onto the bus again. Before moving, we all made sure our passport stamps had the correct date on them. Then, our bus driver drove everyone to the Panama border control. There, everyone took all of their items off the bus.

I was surprised to find in this “free area” of sorts a bustling town with restaurants, stores, and taxis galore. Once again, beautiful chaos.

We each got our passport stamps and put our bags through a scanner. Then, the whole group bordered the bus. We were officially admitted to Panama! Our bus had to stop for a second time and a gentleman from the Panamanian military got on to check our passports once again. After he disembarked, we set off for a nearby gas station/rest stop. There, I was flabbergasted to see signs for a liter of gas for less than $1 USD (U.S. dollars are the official currency of Panama).

After our rest stop, we continued driving on ward until reaching the quaint town of Boquete. At the tourist information area, everyone took pictures with the sign, grabbed a snack at the cafe, and shopped for souvenirs.

Welcome to Boquete, Panama!

Our bus then continued to our hotel, which was located outside of the city of Boquete. We were greeted with some beautiful views.

Welcome to our hotel!

Once getting settled in, myself and some other students decided to take a couple of taxis into town to explore and grab some dinner. Split among 4 people, our cab ride only cost a $1 USD a person.

In town, we wandered in and out of souvenir shops and little markets. At a little market, myself and some of the other students talked a while with a gentleman named Fabio in Spanish. NOTHING is better than having someone tell you your Spanish is great and accent fabulous. Talk about a confidence booster! He explained that he makes everything in his shop by hand, so of course, I purchased a little Panamanian moccasin key chain from him to use as my ornament.

Then, we made our way to a local eatery for some dinner. We had asked the lovely employees at our hotel where we could find authentic food and also our cab driver. All three people recommended the restaurant we went to called El Sabrosón.

The restaurant was cafeteria-style. Basically, you selected your meat and then your sides. None of us knew the translations for anything on the board, so we all selected everything at random. Because the restaurant is cafeteria-style, some items were out for the day. I asked for a couple of different things and they didn’t have them. However, I ended up with a great meal of salad, rice, a beef and potato mixture, beans, candied plantains, and tres leches cake (separate of my main course). For everything you see (which is a LOT of food), I spend $5.50 USD. ALWAYS eat where the locals eat because the food is cheap and delicious! You also have the opportunity to mingle with locals or people watch, which is fun in my opinion. I loved sitting at the picnic tables with friends and chatting.

Panama meal #1

Once we had full bellies, we decided we were ready to head back to the hotel. Two people went in search of WiFi to contact the cab driver. Since there were 6 of us, we figured we needed to get two cabs. Much to our surprise, however, our cap driver said “hop on in!” So, 6 girls and a cab driver headed down the winding roads to our hotel jamming to some Spanish music.

A wonderful first day in Panama!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Wrapping up my second class in Costa Rica!

On Tuesday this week, I wrapped up my second class, Advanced II, in Costa Rica! This time, I finished with an A!

Advanced II primarily focused on conversation and not grammar. During the course of the past 4 weeks, I do believe my conversational skills have grown. They are not quite where I want them to be quite yet, but improvement is improvement!

To celebrate finishing our second module and also successfully climbing Cerro Chirripó, Hannah, Audrey, and I went with our sore bodies to the central part of Heredia. There, we went to an ice cream shop and bought Superconos. Best. Decision. Ever! Who doesn’t like an ice cream cone the size of their face?! Better yet, ice cream that costs 1700 colones the equivalent of $3. In anticipation of this venture, I did not eat any lunch.

Oh happy day! A girl and her Supercono!
Hannah and Sydney: ice cream fanatics
Supercono selfie: Hannah, me, and Audrey

I will have you know, I ate all of the ice cream in my Supercono and almost finished all of the cone. Towards the end, I started to feel a bit queasy. I decided to err on the side of caution and call it a day.

Now that I have had one Supercono, I do not think I see a second in my future. One is enough for me!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Cerro Chirripó: Day 3

If you haven’t read about Day 1 and Day 2 of , click the links respectively to read more about the adventure!

Audrey, Hannah, and I were up at 1:45 am to start the 5 kilometer hike to Cerro Chirripó: the tallest peak in Costa Rica. I once again slept horribly maybe 3 hours due to once again having nerves and anxiety.

We locked up our items in our lockers and by 2:00 am, the three of us were hiking the path in the dark with our headlamps.

I had the impression that hiking in the pitch black dark would be scary, but with two friends and a sky full of stars, I could not believe at how beautiful and wonderful hiking in the dark could be.

The first 3 kilometers were primarily flat. We did not have many issues at all. However at one point, the three of us could not figure out where the path continued. Luckily, I spotted a carin stone pile which signifies where a trail continues.

Audrey was our timekeeper and at the 2800 meter mark, she announced we were doing amazing on time and could take our time for the last stretch, which the German couple from Casa Mariposa had also said was rough.

As the day before, I fell behind Audrey and Hannah. Once again, I had to get my “better” and “stronger” mantra going in my head. The last stretch was VERY hard. At some points, each of us were climbing with our hands and feet to get to the next portion of the trail. All I have to say is thank goodness for the bamboo sticks!

I eventually came to a tall rock formation. In the dark, I thought I could see the Cerro Chirripó sign. I hollered up to Hannah and Audrey to ask if this was the end. They responded with ecstatic “yeses!” I scrambled up the rock face and when I reached the top, Audrey asked me with her phone recording how I felt to which I responded with “Holy f***ing hell, I did it.” She and Hannah both started laughing.

We were the first people to the top of Cerro Chirripó on October 20, 2019. I cannot begin to even describe to you the feeling of accomplishment our little trio felt while freezing our butts off in the wind. To celebrate, we gathered for a group hug with smiles plastered to our faces. Soon after, others began reaching the top of Cerro Chirripó as the sun began to rise. For the rest of my life, I will never forget the beauty of seeing the sun come up from the tallest point in Costa Rica.

Because the sun was behind the Cerro Chirripó sign, a gentleman by the name of Antony brought a light with him to shine on everyone to capture perfect pictures. With a lighting assistant, he took photos for everyone and said he would send them via Whatsapp. They turned out amazing!

As the sun continued to rise, the clouds became thicker and engulfed the surrounding peaks. This added to the beauty of the lakes and the view, but prevented us from seeing the Caribbean or Pacific Oceans which can be seen from Cerro Chirripó on a clear day.

At 5:45 am, we began the descent back to base camp to have our breakfast. Though I enjoyed hiking in the dark, I loved being able to see the surrounding mountains in the daylight. I could not believe I had climbed certain areas when I saw how dangerous they looked with the sun shining.

Around 7:00 am, we arrived to base camp. The three of us ate our hearty gallo pinto and eggs, grabbed some pictures with the park sign, and packed up our items to do the 14.5 kilometer trek to Casa Mariposa.

We began hiking at 8:30 am. The first 6 kilometers went by really fast and were pretty easy. Because of the elevation, the path was not muddy at all. However, when we hit kilometer 8, the trail became really muddy, wet, and the rain began to come down. The three of us put on our rain ponchos and began to do our best dodging particularly super muddy areas with big puddles in order to keep our shoes as dry as possible. Well, this was short-lived as everyone began to slip and slide and fall due to the slickness of the mud and the steepness of the path. Because of trying to keep ourselves safe, our pace was pretty slow.

Since the day happened to be Sunday, there was only one public bus from San Gerardo to San Isidro, which left at 4:00 pm and took one hour. We had to make the bus as our bus for San Jose left at 5:30 pm. The three of us were slightly worried we would not make it down the mountain in time and walk the 45 minutes to and hour into town where the bus stop was located.

Audrey (with our blessing) went on ahead of Hannah and I as both of us were taking our time. She and I had the same pace and looked out for one another. The funniest part of us hiking down together occurred when I saw her slip and fall. I decided to try a different way. However, I soon found myself with my face in the mud and nearly over the side of the cliff. Hannah, in an effort to save/help me, chucked her bamboo stick and stretched into the splits towards me. When I looked up with mud all over my face, we both burst into laughter with her saying “I just peed my pants a little.” Not even 5 minutes later, the two cooks from the base camp came JOGGING down the mountain. Both of which recognized Hannah and I. In Spanish, the one cook says how ugly the weather and path is, while the other points at my face and laughs at the fact that there is mud on it. Hilarious!

After painstakingly balancing, slipping, and sliding, Hannah and I made it to Casa Mariposa by 2:00 pm. We found Audrey and dropped off our borrowed items before walking/jogging into town on sore, muddy legs and toes. We managed to find the time to go to a hostel that stamped your passport for climbing Cerro Chirripó for 1 mil colones ($2) and hopped onto the bus at 4:00 pm. The three of us got to the second station in time for our bus to San Jose. By 9:30 pm, we were all back in our home in Heredia.

I cannot begin to tell you how sore my whole body has been since the hike. I am almost certain my baby toenails are going to fall off from simply how sore they are. However, the pain and mud was 100% worth it. I am so thankful to have shared in this experience with two wonderful friends.

Is Cerro Chirripó now on your bucket list?

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Cerro Chirripó: Day 2

Did you read all about day 1 of my Cerro Chirripó adventure? If not click this link to read all about Casa Mariposa!

Our first day of hiking began with waking up at 4:00 am. I think all three of us were awake before my alarm went off due to Hannah being startled by Jill’s cat being on her bed.

In silence and excitement, the three of us dressed, packed up our bags, and headed for the kitchen. There, we each ate oatmeal and drank tea in silence to mentally prepare for the 14 kilometer (8.7 mile) hike to Crestones Base Camp.

Around 4:50 am, Audrey, Hannah, and I found ourselves on Casa Mariposa’s porch finding our bamboo walking sticks before beginning the trek. Audrey had the brilliant idea of taking a short video at each kilometer along with a selfie with the kilometer sign.

All smiles at 5:00 am: Audrey, Hannah, and me

When talking with the German couple the night before, they had warned us the first 5 kilometers were REALLY steep. Let me tell you, part way through kilometer one, the three of us were peeling off layers because of how much we were sweating from the exertion of going uphill. I felt extremely winded and stopped every few minutes to catch my breath while Audrey and Hannah led the way.

Truly, the first 5 kilometers were a mental game for me. I am a huge Rachel Hollis and Dave Hollis fan. I love Rachel’s books and her RISE podcast and enjoy listening to her and Dave on their “Start Today Morning Show.” A couple of months ago, they both completed the 29029 challenge. Essentially, participants climb a mountain enough times that its the equivalent height of Everest. Rachel and Dave both talked about how the experience was mental and how the words ‘better’ and ‘stronger’ got them through their last few ascents.

For the first 5 kilometers of Cerro Chirripó, I repeated those words in my head and under my breath like a mantra: better and stronger. I kid you not, those two words helped distract me and caused the time to fly by when hiking. By kilometer 5, I was actually enjoying myself and the hike which I attribute to the Rachel and Dave mantra of better and stronger.

The first part of the hike took Audrey, Hannah, and I through the damp and muddy forest. Around us was lush vegetation, bamboo, and huge trees. Horses passed by us carrying supplies and bags back down the mountain with their handlers. If you do not want to carry your bags to Crestones Base Camp, you can have a horse carry it for you for a hefty fee of colones per kilogram.

Before the three of us could believe it, we arrived at the halfway point: kilometer 7. At kilometer 7, there is a rest stop with food for purchase and restrooms. Everyone drank water and ate some snacks to recharge for the next 7 kilometers. While waiting at the halfway point, Audrey, Hannah, and I had to throw our layers back on again because the temperature had cooled with the high elevation.

After 30 minutes, we packed up and continued onward. Within the next couple of kilometers, the vegetation began to shift away from “rain forest” to more dry and temperate. I would say the second 7 kilometers were the most peaceful. There were a couple of times where we stopped and basked in the silence of the forest and mountains. Because permits are required to be able to enter Cerro Chirripó National Park, there is a maximum of 55 people hiking at a time. This made the hike all the more enjoyable because there was hardly anyone on the trail. Once again, we were met with incredible views of Costa Rica. The clouds hovered over the mountains creating misty and stunning views. Hannah, Audrey, and I could not stop “oooing” and “ahhhing.”

At kilometer 14, we were met with disappointment. Crestones Base Camp was not there. Tired and hungry, we continued onward for another half of a kilometer and eventually saw the camp in our sight. Collectively, Audrey, Hannah, and I agreed kilometer 14 was one of the worse simply because of how long it seemed to drag on for.

For as slow as I felt and seemed, Audrey and Hannah were always having to wait on me to catch up, our group average 25-30 minutes per kilometer. This meant we arrived to base camp at 12:45 pm. Pretty awesome for not really preparing for the hike!

Once at Crestones, we checked into our room and promptly put on more layers. The wind was strong and chilly. Crestones does not have ANY hot water or heat, so layering everything we brought and huddling under our provided blankets was our only option.

In our room, we ate our packed peanut butter sandwiches and snacks. Afterwards, the three of us went out to inquire about purchasing breakfast for tomorrow (we had only planned on dinner and changed our plans) and went to play Jenga. Audrey, Hannah, and I purchased our breakfast and played two rounds of Jenga before deciding we needed short naps. Audrey caught me curled up under my blankets like so.

While having an hour or so before dinner, the three of us got into Hannah’s bed and watched School of Rock before heading to the dining hall for a massive plate of chicken spaghetti. I tried my best to eat everything, but it didn’t happen. Notice we all have our winter hats on because Crestones was freezing!

Carb loading for the big/long day of hiking tomorrow!

After dinner, the three of us headed to bed at 7:30 pm because our day of hiking was going to begin at 2:00 am!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Cerro Chirripó: Day 1

Last Friday, I wrote a quick blog post about my second long weekend plans which entailed hiking to the tallest peak, Cerro Chirripó, with two friends: Audrey and Hannah.

On Friday morning, I woke up at 5:00 am to get around quickly. I ate a quick breakfast of cereal put out by my mama tica. In Spanish, she told me that I needed to take lots of pictures and report back on whether or not she would be capable of doing the hike herself. Before saying farewell, she wrapped me in a big hug.

At 5:45 am, I headed out the door and headed to the train station to meet Hannah and Audrey. When 6:13 am rolled around, the three of us hopped onto the crowded train with our packed backpacks to head to San Jose. Once in San Jose, Hannah navigated the three of us to the bus station which was a 20-minute walk. We happened to be early, so the three of us chatted about our upcoming adventure.

At 7:30 am, our 3 hour bus journey began to the town of San Isidro de General. The bus wound through the Costa Rican mountains, which were absolutely stunning but made my stomach turn.

Around 10:30 am, our bus arrived to San Isidro. The three of us disembarked and went in search of the other bus terminal. After asking for directions at the tourist office, we managed to find the bus terminal. At the bus terminal, we frantically began searching for the only public bus that goes to San Gerardo de Rivas. It was imperative we get on this specific public bus because we had to check in with the park rangers before hiking the following day. Our other option if we missed the bus was to take a taxi, which is super expensive!

Because we did not see the bus, Hannah ended up asking a shopkeeper where the bus pulled into and he kindly told us the information. Soon after, the bus pulled into the parking space at the bus terminal and everyone began boarding.

During the 1-hour bus ride, many ticos got on and off the bus like any public bus. This was the first time, however, I felt a small-town feeling in Costa Rica. The passengers called out to one another and carried on conversations. I could tell the route was local and specific to the small town. An elderly woman sat down next to me at one point. I ended up helping her out by pushing the stop button so she could get off. The funniest part of the bus ride happened to be when we passed by a school bus. A boy looking out the window said to me “HOLA GRINGA,” which made me laugh!

Around 12:30 pm, Audrey, Hannah, and I got off the bus and walked to the ranger station only to find them on lunch break. We took the opportunity to eat our packed lunches too.

When 1:00 pm rolled around, the three of us headed to the front desk and got checked in with the park ranger. Said park ranger then informed us that we needed to go to the next park ranger station next to the soccer field to get more paperwork related to our base camp reservation. So, we began our trek on the road to ranger station #2. There, Hannah, Audrey, and I got our meal tickets and papers to stay in the base camp.

With all of our necessary and required paperwork in hand, Audrey navigated us to our accommodation for the night: Casa Mariposa. Unbeknownst to us, the walk to Casa Mariposa was long and uphill, which we did not know. Right as the three of us arrived at the doorstep of Casa Mariposa, the sky let loose and it began to pour.

Jill, the owner, welcomed us into Casa Mariposa where the three of us instantly fell in love. The hostel/bed and breakfast fusion of a place had so much rustic character and was nestled into the lush Costa Rican forest. Jill, as we found out, is originally from Seattle. 12 years ago, she and her husband had stayed at Casa Mariposa during a vacation. The owner some time later, tracked Jill and her husband down in the states and asked if they would be interested in purchasing the property. Jill’s husband was up for the challenge and the two acquired the place. Over the years, Jill explained her husband and herself had put a lot of time and thought into updating and adding onto Casa Mariposa. Her husband during the remodeling and expanding tried to keep everything as organic and natural as possible. As a result, Audrey, Hannah, and I were flabbergasted when we entered our room for the night and saw that the beds were a part of the rock.

After getting settled, Jill gave us a breakdown of the rules at Casa Mariposa and recommendations for the hike to Cerro Chirripó. She recommended that we begin at 5:00 am in the morning, which would get us to base camp in early afternoon. Luckily for us, Casa Mariposa is roughly 50 meters from the trail head, which meant we would not waste much time beginning the hike. For breakfast, she suggested something light, like oatmeal, which we had brought with us. Additionally, Jill told us what clothing pieces the three of us should have and what we could borrow from Casa Mariposa’s communal closet. Her musts were a winter hat, gloves, rain poncho, windbreaker, and a bamboo walking stick (one per person). Jill informed us of what we could buy at Casa Mariposa food-wise (boiled eggs, trail mix, etc.) and that we could pay $2 for a shower once we returned from Cerro Chirripó if we desired.

With a general game plan in mind, Hannah, Audrey, and I spent the rest of the rainy afternoon talking with the other guests at Casa Mariposa. A couple from Germany had just completed the hike, so they offered some great advice on when we should leave for sunrise at Cerro Chirripó, earlier than 3:30 am. An English couple gave some recommendations on what to do in Boquete, Panama, while there for our visa renewal. A group of ticos arrived soon after us and went to sleep promptly thereafter as they planned to begin hiking at 10:00 pm Friday night to reach the summit by sunrise Saturday at 4:45 am and then return in the afternoon on Saturday.

Because of the rain and the fact that Casa Mariposa was a 2 km walk from the town, the three of us decided to order pizza for carb-loading purposes and have it delivered. Great decision!

Hannah, me, and Audrey with our Hawaiian pizza with fresh pineapple!

After pizza, the three of us got around for bed and went to sleep around 7:30 am in anticipation of waking up at 4:00 am for breakfast and getting around.

I had a fitfull night of sleep due to nerves, anxiety, and excitement about beginning the hike. All in all, I think I managed 5ish hours of sleep. All too soon, my 4:00 am alarm went off.

Stop back tomorrow for day one of hiking!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Bicichocolate Tour!

Hi everyone! I know you are probably antsy in anticipation of photos and pictures of Cerro Chirripo, but I really wanted to talk about the chocolate tour I had a week ago.

Last week, myself and the rest of the ‘Group B’ Sol students went to Bicichocolate for a tour.

Bicichocolate is an artisan chocolate business run out of a house in Heredia. All of the chocolate is made by the son who has a fondness for chocolate and his mother. In order to make bicichocolate, bikes are used to mix and grind the ingredients hence the name bicichocolate.

During the first portion of the tour, the owner went through the history/discovery of chocolate. Then, we learned about how chocolate is made and sampled the cacao seeds and homemade hot chocolate. I did not realize cacao beans grow on the trunk of the tree and the seeds have a sweet fruit-type jelly coating on the outside which is edible.

After listening to the history of chocolate, our group followed the owner into the kitchen. There, he took us through the production process of the chocolate using the bicycles. A few students served as volunteers and pedaled to mix and grind the ingredients.

Once the bicycle demonstration wrapped up, we watched the chocolate be scraped into molds. While waiting for the chocolate to set in the fridge, everyone sampled little chocolates ranging in bitterness. Eventually, the chocolate in the molds were ready for eating. Everyone sampled a regular chocolate, chocolate with dulce de leche in the center, and chocolate with passion fruit in the center. The passion fruit chocolate was my favorite!

Once we finished sampling, everyone made purchases and then we headed back to the university.

A fun and interesting culture tour!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

I am hiking the tallest peak in Costa Rica!

Well friends, I am off to hike the tallest peak in Costa Rica: Cerro Chirripó.

A few weeks ago, I talked to Hannah D. about photos I had seen of Cerro Chirripó and how cool it would be to hike the tallest peak in Costa Rica. Truly, I thought the possibility of hiking Cerro Chirripó was a pipe dream. Hannah enthusiastically responded with “I want to climb a mountain. Let’s do it!”

After an afternoon of research, she and I figured out what climbing the peak would entail: permits, accommodation, a rough timeline, etc. Then, we invited Audrey to join in on the experience as she is an avid hiker. Immediately, the three of us booked our permits and accommodation.

Cerro Chirripó is the 37th most prominent peak in the world with a height of 3,821 meters (12,536 feet). To the summit is a 19.5 kilometer (12.1 mile) hike.

On Saturday morning, we will hike the first 8 miles to the base camp where we will stay the night. At 2:00 am on Sunday morning, we will wake up and hike to the summit to watch sunrise. From there, Audrey, Hannah, and I will make our way down and take the bus back to San Jose.

Wish us luck! See you back here on Monday!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo