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

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Uvita, Costa Rica: Day 4

Once again, I found myself awake early. This time, though, I was not rushing around. I went outside and sat in a porch chair and watched the rain fall and chatted with Hannah D. While relaxing, Rosita brought over fresh coconuts to Hannah D. and I that Benito had chopped from the tree. I savored my fresh coconut juice while I rocked in the rocking chair.

Eventually, our group of 7 made their way out. Everyone packed a peanut butter sandwich for the bus ride and loaded up their backpacks. We said goodbye and thank you to both Benito and Rosita who were so kind during our stay.

Since our bus was supposed to leave at 10:40 am and we had purchased tickets the day before, we took our time getting to the bus station. We arrived around 10:15 am and noticed a bus already in the parking lot. However, we assumed it was another bus. Much to our surprised, though, this bus was going to San Jose and the bus driver said we could hop aboard. I still to this day not 100% certain if this was our assigned bus or not. Regardless, the bus was very empty which meant we did not have to sit in our assigned seats. Additionally, the bus left 10-15 minutes early, which is very uncommon in Costa Rica.

A short 4 hours later, we arrived to San Jose. From there, our huge group walked to the Heredia buses and took the public bus back to our host city.

A wonderful first long weekend!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Uvita, Costa Rica: Day 3

My third day in Uvita began like the day before: very early! Audrey and I once again cooked breakfast for our group.

At 7:15 am, our group began walking towards Ballena (translation – whale) National Park for our whale watching tour with Costa Rica Dive and Surf. This tour is the reason why the whole group had decided to come to Uvita in the first place. Luckily for everyone, Audrey and her mama tica had managed to talk with the owner prior to the trip and negotiated the price to $52 from $75. Score!

Once getting checked in and paying, everyone had the opportunity to eat the “complementary” fresh fruit before our brief orientation began. Overall, the tour group was pretty small: us nine Sol students, a woman from Switzerland, and a couple from the Netherlands.

Our guide then walked with us to the National Park/beach entrance. He explained the significance behind the giant whale sculpture. Basically, all of the businesses in the area made the commitment to stop using single-use plastic on tours or in their businesses because plastic was continuing to show up on the shore. What an amazing commitment!

The plastic whale

We all walked on the beach and our guide gathered our shoes and explained the boat loaded process. Since it was so early, we were the only ones on the beach besides the tractors that were pulling the boats down to the ocean for the day.

Ballena National Park

One by one, we boarded the boat and stowed our items. The guide explained the humpback whale migration season to everyone and what we needed to look for to spot whales. For the next couple of hours, our captain drove around and everyone looked for water blowing into the air. Occasionally, our guide pointed out other wildlife or other significant landmarks that are special to Uvita. Eventually, we saw our first humpback whale!

My first humpback whale I have ever seen!

Soon after spotting whale number one, I started to feel EXTREMELY nauseous and sea sick. I guess you could say I was casualty number 2 of the day. I took the guide’s advice and fixated my stare on land for a while until my stomach settled. Then, I laid my head on the seat for the duration of the whale-watching portion of the day. In total, I believe 4-6 whales were spotted.

One by one, other students began to feel ill. 6 out of our 9 students ended up feeling sick. Those that were not sick laughed at the rest of us who had our eyes closed. The guide then made the executive decision to call the whale watching good for the day and we headed to a private beach. In our guides opinion “the prettiest beach in the world.” I do have to the say, the beach was pretty amazing!

Pura Vida!

Since our guide is local to the area and had been coming to this beach for his entire life, he recounted stories of his childhood, showed us a little waterfall, and talked about the wildlife. It was at this beach that I began to talk with the people from the Netherlands. The husband, Michele, was so kind and asked me how I was feeling. He also gave me advice on what to do to avoid getting sick. So, so, so kind!

After everyone climbed up to the little waterfall and got wet, everyone walked through a tunnel and ended up on the other side. Along the cliffs, we saw crabs scurrying here and there and in the trees we spotted howler monkeys.

Before getting back onto the boat, Michele took a group picture of everyone.

Front: Chasity and Audrey
Back: Hannah D., Ky’shun, Hannah S., Me, Maria, Kylee, and Nick

Back on the boat, everyone ate some fruit before the boat stopped again and everyone jumped into the ocean for a quick swim. Unfortunately, the water was too cloudy to see anything snorkeling. Then, we boarded the boat to head back to the national park.

Once disembarking, our guide told us we were more than welcome to drop off our items at their office where a staff member would watch them. Then, we could reenter the national park to swim. Collectively, our group took him up on the offer. Otherwise, one person would have had to watch our items while the rest swam.

After two hours at the beach playing in the waves and sand, we left the national park, grabbed our items, and headed back to the AirBnb. Once I cleaned up, I headed to the bus station with Audrey and Chasity to purchase our bus tickets for the following day and to pick up a few more items for dinner and breakfast.

We ended the night once again playing cards and talking about anything and everything.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Uvita, Costa Rica: Day 2

Bright and early on Friday morning, myself and Audrey cooked breakfast for our group of 7 girls (two girls came to Uvita after the five of us).

On day one of our long weekend, our group decided to visit Nauyaca Waterfalls. Since there was not Uber or taxis, Benito had called some people the night before to arrange transportation for us for an unknown cost.

After picking up two other group members at their hostel, our group of nine settled into the vehicles for the 30-minute drive. The two drivers parked at the ticket office where we all paid $9 USD/Costa Rican colones equivalent admission price to receive our wristbands. With our wristbands fastened on, everyone hopped back into their respective vehicle and the drivers took us to the beginning of the trail head. There, the drivers told us the cost of the taxi ride…$160 USD. Eeeek!! Luckily, since there was 9 of us in total, each portion equated to $17 each. It was also at this time that I realized I did not have my SD card in my camera. Sigh.

Once everyone slathered on their sunscreen, we began the hike to the waterfalls. The 1.5 hour hike was difficult and easy all at the same time. There were steep portions, flat portions, muddy portions, and unrelenting heat. I was dripping sweat. What I loved most about the hike is that it provided great time to talk with other Sol students who I do not have class with every day. I felt like I got to know everyone a little better.

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Beautiful hiking views!

Eventually, part of our group made it to the first portion of Nayumaca. Immediately, the air temperature changed and I felt so much cooler! Some group members had fallen behind/encouraged the rest of us to walk ahead. This portion of the falls is the more dangerous of the two, which means you cannot swim only take photos and admire the scenery.

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I could admire this view all day!

After snapping photos, myself and Hannah D. walked to the other portion of the falls where you can swim to snap photos and wait for the rest of the group. What I loved about this portion of the falls is that you can see the top portion (where we were previously) flow into the portion where you can swim. A simply breathtaking view!

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So spectacular!
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Floppy hat picture: Me, Audrey, and Hannah D.

Once everyone reapplied sunscreen, we made our way down the slippery rocks to swim! Luckily for us, Nayumaca had an employee who helped visitors in and out of the water. Without help, there is no way I would have been able to do so on my own.

Our entire group lounged in the refreshing cool water for a couple of hours taking in the view and chatting. There were other tourists present, but not so many that the area felt overcrowded.

Eventually, we all reluctantly exited. All 9 of us basked in the sun and enjoyed our packed lunches while the sound of the falls rushed in our ears. Before beginning the hike back, we took one last (almost whole) group picture.

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Front: Maria and Chasity
Back: Audrey, Hannah D, Ky’shun, me, and Hannah S.

The hike back seemed to go much faster. I think this is because I felt so much cooler. Our drivers arrived at 2:00 pm and drove us back to our AirBnb.

From there, some students decided to rest. Others, like me, decided to explore a bit and pick up some groceries and go in search of an SD card.

In the evening, we cooked dinner and afterwards chatted and played cards.

A wonderful first day!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Uvita, Costa Rica: Day 1

On Thursday October 10, I headed to Uvita, Costa Rica, with 8 other Sol Students for the first of my three long weekends.

Uvita is a beach town located southwest of San Jose in the Puntarenas province. If traffic is good, the bus ride is around 4 hours long.

After class, I Ubered to the bus station in San Jose with two of the group members: Hannah S. and Audrey. We decided to Uber to save on time because we needed to purchase our bus tickets. Depending on the bus company, bus tickets can sometimes be purchased online. For our bus to Uvita, we needed to purchase them in person, which meant we needed to arrive at least an hour before our desired bus.

Once we three arrived to the station, we went to the window to purchase the tickets. Audrey spoke with the ticket teller in Spanish and said on multiple occasions that we wanted to get on the 1:00 pm bus. After purchasing our tickets, we sat down to eat our packed lunches and to wait for the other two girls who were riding with us: Chasity and Ky’shun.

Eventually, our whole group made it to the station. Anxiously, the five of us listened to the intercom announcements waiting to hear our bus, but we never heard “Uvita.” Audrey and I went to the ticket teller to ask about our bus since it was almost 1:00 pm. To our surprise, the ticket teller told us we had missed our 12:15 pm bus. Apparently, the request for the 1:00 pm bus got lost in the translation. Unfortunately, the 1:00 pm bus was full. For free and for one time only, the ticket teller switched our tickets for the 2:00 pm bus to Uvita.

When 2:00 pm rolled around, our whole group got on the bus and settled in four the 4 hour bus ride.

Around 6:00 pm, the bus made it to Uvita. Our whole group disembarked and worked on calling an Uber because it was raining and dark. However, we soon learned Uber did not exist in Uvita and Uvita did not have any taxis. As a result, our group made the 30-minute walk in the dark to the AirBnb.

Upon arrival to the AriBnb, the groundskeeper graciously showed us around and offered to take us to the cheap nearby grocery store with his daughter. While we grocery shopped, Benito and Rosita both waited for the 5 of us to buy what we needed for the weekend. Once finished, everyone walked back together.

We topped off the night by eating dinner and talking before heading to sleep.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

10 things I had to adjust to since being in Costa Rica

To offer a bit more perspective on what my life is like here in Costa Rica, I thought I would write about 10 different things I had to adjust to while in Costa Rica. By no means are these 10 items “bad,” merely, they are different things I have had to adjust and adapt to, which is a part of studying abroad and acclimating to a new culture.

  1. Throwing toilet paper in the trashcan and not the toilet.
    • Prior to coming to Costa Rica, I knew throwing the toilet paper into the toilet was not an option here in Costa Rica due to the plumbing not having the capacity or pressure to get the toilet paper where it needs to go. Many a time when first arriving here, I had to dig my toilet paper out of the toilet because I would forget to put it into the trashcan. Whoops! I know for certain this will be a hard habit to break once I return to the United States.
  2. Having no mirror in the bathroom
    • I am not sure if this is cultural thing, but Sheri and I do not have a mirror in our bathroom. Rather, we have a mirror outside of our bathroom. However, the bathroom mirror downstairs has a mirror above the sink. From what I can deduce, the main bathroom in the house has a mirror while others do not.
  3. Not having hot water to wash hands or dishes
    • When I turn on the faucet in the bathroom or kitchen, only cold water comes out. I wash my hands with soap and the dishes with soap, don’t worry. However, I cannot guarantee that all of the germs have been vanquished, but I do my best!
  4. Bugs are everywhere and anywhere
    • As a result of the climate and windows not having screens, bugs creep into all corners of the house. A normal day consists of me saying “farewell” to at least 5 ants in my rooms. Occasionally, a little lizard will wander in through the window and scurry along the walls and sometimes into my bedroom.
  5. Catcalling happens on the daily
    • As a result of the machismo culture in Latin and South America, catcalling happens on the daily. For someone who does not look like they are from Central or South America, I already attract a lot of stares and attention. Nearly every day while walking to or from school, someone will deliberately honk at me or yell at me. All I can do is ignore the unwanted attention.
  6. Walking by after 6:00 pm alone is not a great idea
    • Unfortunately, after 6:00 pm, I have to take a taxi or Uber to get where I need to be. I am a firm believer bad things can happen ANYWHERE. By no means am I implying Costa Rica is unsafe. When traveling alone, having common sense and being aware of your surroundings are of the upmost importance. Not walking around at 6:00 pm at night is a safety precaution more than anything.
  7. Rice and beans daily for meals
    • Funnily enough, my mama tica does not like to eat rice and beans all the time herself. Additionally, with having lots of experience of hosting students from the United States, I think my mama tica recognizes rice and beans for every meal are not a part of our daily diet. As a result, I do not eat rice and beans for every meal. Rather, I have rice and beans for 1-2 meals per day and most of the time I have the ability to choose how much rice and beans I want to eat.
  8. Bus routes and bus time tables are extremely complicated to understand
    • After studying in Europe where the train and bus schedules are easily accessible via a Google search, trying to plan a trip to another city or area of Costa Rica can be extremely complicated and frustrating. As I have learned, talking with my mama tica or consulting multiple blogs helps find answers and provide some direction.
  9. Unplugging from technology
    • This point is more of a personal choice. I do not have a sim card while in Costa Rica, which has forced me to unplug when I do not have WiFi access or if the WiFi is not working. When traveling in Costa Rica, it is pretty easy to find a place with free WiFi. However, the internet source may not be reliable. Additionally, during afternoon rain storms, sometimes the WiFi at my home or school stops working for hours at a time, which forces me to unplug.
  10. Embracing the relaxing pace and culture that equates to the idea of Pura Vida
    • As someone who is always go, go, go, slowing down and embracing ‘Pura Vida’ has been slightly tough. Ticos do not take life too seriously and stop to smell the roses more often and not. I hope to embody this aspect of Costa Rica culture by being fully present and embracing life during the next two months of my exchange. Pura Vida!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Toucan Rescue Ranch

On Monday, myself and the other Sol students made our way to Toucan Rescue Ranch for a local culture trip.

At Toucan Rescue Ranch, employees and volunteers rescue, rehabilitate, and release Costa Rican wildlife. Originally, Toucan Rescue Ranch only rehabilitated toucans. Eventually, the organization expanded and took in owls and other fowl, sloths, monkeys, and other animals. Animals that are injured are brought to Toucan Rescue Ranch as well as animals that have been confiscated as former pets. Today, Toucan Rescue Ranch is a part of a breeding program to expand the toucan, owl, and sloth population in Costa Rica.

Unfortunately, not all of the animals at Toucan Rescue Ranch cannot be released because they have had too much human interaction in their lives. Some of the animals I learned are extremely playful, while others are dangerous despite being in a cage.

The sloths, or “perezosos” in Spanish, were by far my favorite! All of the sloths at Toucan Rescue Ranch are broken down into different “schools” based on their age and interaction levels. The baby sloths are currently in the lowest level of school and are super fast, which you would not expect at all. Additionally, I learned you have to be have special training to be able to touch and take care of the sloths. As I observed, the baby sloths are fast and can easily puncture the skin of a human.

Overall, visiting Toucan Rescue Ranch was super fun! I enjoyed learning about Costa Rica’s unique wildlife.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

The Blessing of the Dogs

After studying abroad for a third time, one thing I have learned is to say yes to everything.

The day after my trip to Cartago, my mama tica invited Sheri and I to go with her and the rest of the family to go to the local church. There, the 6 dogs would receive a blessing from the priest.

About an hour later, I assisted my papa tico, mama tica, and my host sister, Allison, in wrangling the six dogs into the trunk of the car. I cannot begin to describe to you the amount of barking a mayhem that took place. My mama tica instructed me to ride shotgun so she and Allison could keep the dogs calm.

During the 30-minute car ride, there was lots of barking and laughing at the craziness of what six dogs in the trunk of a car looks like.

Eventually, we made it to the church and unloaded the six dogs. I was in charge of Lukas (my abuela’s dog). Once the dogs did their business, mama tica instructed everyone to pick up their dogs (besides Baxter the golden retriever) because there were so many dogs and children at the church. Lukas was content for a few minutes and then started to bark like crazy. Mama tica had me switch dogs and I ended up with Luna (one of the schnauzers). Luna lasted in my arms for all of 5 minutes before also barking like crazy. I once again changed dogs and held Sven who calmly laid in my arms.

A religious official (I have no idea who) made their way around all of the dogs in attendance and threw holy water on them. When the official came to Lukas, my mama tica said to put extra holy water on him because he needed it.

Before leaving, mama tica asked the priest for a group photo. This was the final result:

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Priest with his dog, myself and Sven, mama tica with Lukas (in her arms) and Baxter, papa tico with Bruno (left) and Nefertiti (right) and Allison with Luna

After the photo shoot, we loaded all of the dogs back into the car. Sven sat with me in the front, but eventually made his way back to mama tica during the car ride. She informed me that Sven gets car sick, so she pulled back his ears with a pony tail holder and held a plastic Ziploc bag in front of his mouth for the duration of the ride. I cannot begin to tell you all, friends, how much I was laughing at the whole entire situation.

Mama tica decided we would have pizza for lunch, so we stopped at pizza hut. You can tell in the below photo how enamored the dogs are with her.

Where is mama tica?!

Eventually we made it home–Sven did not get carsick in case you were wondering. I may have only have hit the 1-month mark in Costa Rica, but man did the Pizza Hut pizza taste delicious!

Truly a unique host family experience!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Volcán Irazú and Cartago

On Saturday, I embarked on a Saturday day trip to Volcán Irazú (Irazú Volcano) and the nearby city of Cartago with other Sol students.

The day began with taking the public bus to San Jose early in the morning to catch the only bus from San Jose to Volcán Irazú. After frantically searching a street for the bus stop, our group finally discovered where we needed to be and got onto the bus successfully.

After a lengthy and beautiful 1.5 hour bus ride, we arrived to Volcán Irazú. Luckily for us students, the ticket collector awarded us the Costa Rican citizen price for having our student IDs. Instead of tickets costing $15 they were around $2. Receiving a “student discount” in Costa Rica is a hit or miss as I have learned when going to popular attractions.

Immediately after getting off of the bus, Sheri (my roommate) and I set of to see the famous crater and lake without the rest of the group who were taking a pit stop at the bathroom. She and I walked the short distance to the fence that ran along the edge of the crater and were met with a spectacular view. With being short, I stood on the fence to snap some photos. Sheri and I both saw tourists hopping the fence to get individual photos, so we decided to do the same.

Volcán Irazú

After grabbing our photos, we decided to walk along the length of the fence. Once again, I hopped the fence to grab some photos not thinking too much about it because the fence was super far back from the edge. I told Sheri to come over to where I was standing so I could snap her photo because in my opinion, the view was much better.

A much better location than stop one, right?

All of the sudden, a truck pulls up and a park ranger jumps up and shouts at Sheri, myself, and another man (who had also followed us over the fence) in English “GET OUT OF THE PARK. THE SIGNS ARE EXPLICITLY CLEAR DO NOT CLIMB THE FENCE.” Sheri and I, both terrified, quickly got back over the fence. Sheri uttered a “Lo siento” (I’m sorry) and we walked quickly back the way we came.

On our way back, Sheri and I met the rest of our group and informed them all to not jump the fence as we had gotten kicked out of the park. To which they all responded with “WHAT?!”

So, for the next 30 minutes, Sheri and I sat at the gift shop laughing at the situation and debating on whether or not we should try to go back into the park by swapping our clothes. However, due to Sheri having a bright yellow coat on and being born with beautiful red hair that is clearly noticeable in Costa Rica, we decided to remain seated. Besides, both of us had amazing photos.

For me, the ironic part of the whole situation was that I am typically a rule-follower and hardly ever get in trouble. Yet 15 minutes into being at a National Park in another country, I get kicked out. Thank goodness I only paid $2!

A while later, the rest of our group came back and were headed for a short hike they had seen some other tourists take. At the top of the hill, we were met with crazy clouds.

Our group quickly made our way back to the public bus for the journey back to San Jose.

Instead of riding the bus all the way back to the Costa Rican capital, myself and three other girls got of the bus in Cartago to explore for the rest of the afternoon.

Our first stop: a small market in San Rafael. In this quaint town, the four of us girls went to a panaderia (bakery) to grab some lunch/snack.

San Rafael, Costa Rica

After exploring the food market, we began the short walk to Cartago. There, we stopped at the famous church Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles or Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels. Our objective was to go inside the church, but a wedding ceremony was wrapping up.

In the meantime, we went in search of the Santiago Apóstol Parish Ruins. Of course, our group got slightly lost and had to ask for directions. Eventually, we found the ruins and were able to see the beautiful gardens.

At this time, the weather took a turn for the worse and it began to pour. Collectively, our group decided to look for a cafe with WiFi so we could figure out where the bus station to San Jose was located. Audrey, one of the four gals, went into a corner cafe and asked the owner if they had WiFi and promised to purchase food if we could use the internet. At first, he hesitated but then decided to pass along the password to us. He and his wife treated the four of us with the most kind hospitality with water and a delicious dessert sample of what I believe to be was Torta Chilena.

After our snack and having directions, our group made our way back to the church. I snapped some pictures of the inside and then explored the area a bit more while the rest of the group took more time inside the church.

Our group reconvened at 4:00 pm and made the long trek to the bus station. Even though we had gotten directions earlier at the cafe, we still had to stop and ask for directions multiple times. Eventually, our little group found the bus station and made it back to San Jose. From there, we took the bus back to Heredia.

Overall, the day trip was really fun and successful. My one piece of advice: DON’T CLIMB THE FENCE! I cannot say I left a positive impression on the park ranger, but the lesson I learned of breaking the rules left a positive impression on me.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo