Tamarindo, Costa Rica: Day 1

For the entire semester, the majority of Costa Ricans I have spoken with have asked me where I have traveled so far and what other trips I have planned. I of course rattle off the places I have visited. Without fail, the individual(s) always respond with “You must visit Guanacaste. The most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica are in Guanacaste.”

With roughly only one free weekend left of the semester, Hannah and I were trying to figure out where we wanted to go as the third member of our trio, Audrey, was going skydiving. Hannah and I searched Google trying to figure out a good place to visit in Costa Rica for a short weekend, as our last unplanned weekend of the semester only consisted of a Saturday and Sunday. Both of us REALLY wanted to visit Guanacaste to see the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica. However, to make the 7-hour bus ride worthwhile, we would need a long weekend. Hannah and I tried our best to be happy with an alternate destination, but neither of us could imagine leaving Costa Rica without going to Guanacaste. So, we made the choice with the blessing of our professor to leave class early on Thursday to catch an 11:30 am bus to Tamarindo and skip Friday’s class.

In my head, I thought our bus to Tamarindo was direct meaning there were no random stops along the way. As I have learned from my travels here, buses that appear to be direct end up stopping anywhere and everywhere along the way for any person that manages to flag down the bus. However, Hannah and I were not super far into our journey when the bus stopped randomly along the rode to pick up passengers. Internally, both of us sighed because we knew the bus ride was going to be longer than anticipated.

After many stops along the way, Hannah and I eventually arrived in Tamarindo in the evening. We walked with some of our fellow bus passengers in the direction of our hostel, the Selina.

Upon arrival, Hannah and I got checked in and went to our room. With having studying abroad in Europe, I have had my fair share of hostels. The Selina is a hostel chain throughout the world. Friends in Sol had stayed at the Selina in Monteverde and highly recommended it. As a result, I decided to book our stay in Tamarindo at the Selina figuring the hostel would be as great as Monteverde. I have to say, though, I was less than thrilled with the cleanliness situation as my sheets were sandy even though they were clean. However, I reminded myself that Tamarindo is a beach town; therefore, the humidity is going to impact the infrastructure and sand is bound to be everywhere and anywhere.

Once Hannah and I settled in, we went off to the grocery store to purchase food for the next couple of days and at dinner. With the help of Google Maps, we found a small grocery store a short walk away. Since the grocery store was super small, the food prices were on the expensive side. Hannah suggested just purchasing what we needed and finding another store tomorrow. When I went for the butter, I said to Hannah, “The butter here tastes weird. I can taste it anytime my mama tica puts it on anything.” A gentleman overheard me speaking and responded in English, “That’s not butter, it’s margarine.” With this information, the light switch for the light bulb flipped on in my head. Ah ha! This is why I do not like the “butter” because in my family, we only eat salted butter.

After making our purchases, we walked back to the hostel and cooked our pasta with pesto. Then, Hannah and I headed to bed as we had a sea kayak and snorkeling tour bright and early the following day.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Dia de los Muertos

After a fun-filled day of city-hopping to Alajuela, Sarchi, and Grecia on Saturday, I headed to San Jose with Hannah and Audrey to check out the Dia de los Muertos celebrations in Barrio Chino (

A little bit of context…

At school on Friday, we had discussed the meaning behind Dia de los Muertos and how the holiday is celebrated in countries in Latin American. The celebrations are the largest in Mexico where graves are decorated and lots of fiestas take place.

For homework, everyone brought in a photograph of a loved one who had passed away and in Spanish told a story about that person. We also tried Pan de Muerto (bread of the dead), which was coated in sugar and had a lemon flavor. To top it off, everyone had colored a sugar skull for a drawing contest. Everyone who participated received a chocolate.

All of the professors encouraged us to go to San Jose to check out the festivities. Because I Audrey, Hannah, and I did not have any plans, we boarded the public bus on Sunday to San Jose.

Once in San Jose, we headed in the direction of Barrio Chino and stumbled upon the famous artisan market in San Jose. Audrey, Hannah, and I stepped in to take a peak.

I personally was instantly overwhelmed. The shopkeepers in both English and Spanish urged us to come into their booths and look at their items. With so many souvenirs available for purchase, the aisle ways and booths seemed very cramped and claustrophobic. For me, it was sensory overload. I also am the type of person that when pressured to purchase an item by a salesperson, I instantly do not want to as it feels too pushy. With having traveled to Sarchi the day previous and purchased souvenirs at a store that works directly from artisans in the area, I could not even bring myself to purchase any items at the artisan market that were clearly marked up in price. 100% if I had not traveled to Sarchi, I would probably have a different impression of the artisan market. If you are pressed for time and are looking for a traditional Costa Rican souvenir, however, the artisan market is a place worth checking out.

After leaving the artisan market, we made our way to Barrio Chino. Our trio immediately was overwhelmed by the amount of people at the Dia de los Muertos celebration. As we tried to figure out what was going on, a mini parade began with participants dressed in traditional mascaras (masks) of Costa Rica, painted faces portraying Catrina, people walking on stilts in costume, and so much more!

Once the mini parade wrapped up, Audrey, Hannah, and I went up and down the whole street to check out what food was available and what other festivities were happening. There was a group of 6 Catrinas dancing in stilts dancing in the street to music and also a stage set up with a group of dancers performing a traditional Mexican dance. Vendors were selling little Catrinas and people could add candles or pictures to an alter set up. We found a beautifully dressed Catrina and asked for a photo.

Myself, “Catrina,” Audrey, and Hannah

By this time, it was early afternoon and I was starving and ready to eat tacos. We found a booth where three tacos were 1 mil (roughly $2 USD) and the line was super long. Since the line happened to be super long, the three of us took this as a good sign. Funnily enough, our Spanish professor also happened to be in the same line for the booth. She told us we had picked a great booth, which made everyone more excited for tacos. After waiting in line for 30+ minutes, Audrey, Hannah, and I finally made it to the front. In Spanish, the teenage boy working says in Spanish “We are out of tacos.” OUT OF TACOS?! WHAT?! I felt extremely sad. Still hungry, we walked to the booth next door, which had a shorter line. Hannah had made the comment, “If it’s a short line, maybe the tacos won’t be great?” However, we were all hungry and really wanted to eat some food as soon as possible. Needless to say, Hannah was correct in her assumption. Not only were these three tacos more expensive (3 mil; roughly $6 USD), they were not very tasty.

Eating are expensive and sub-par tacos

Once we finished eating our sub-par tacos, we went in search of the restaurant that had bubble waffles filled with ice cream that the three of us had kept seeing. This cute Asian restaurant also had a long line too. Hannah waited in line, while Audrey and I walked to the bus station so she could purchase bus tickets for her upcoming trip.

Side note: purchasing bus tickets in advance was another reason why we had come to San Jose. One thing all Sol students have learned is that if you cannot buy bus tickets online, you should either…

  1. Get to the bus station 1+ hours ahead of the bus you would like to take to purchase your tickets.
  2. Go to San Jose early to the bus station and purchase the tickets in advance.

By the time Audrey and I came back, Hannah had barely moved in line. The three of us decided to add this restaurant to our “come back and visit list” and headed to the bus station where Hannah and I needed to buy our bus tickets for our weekend trip.

With tickets in hand, we headed back to the Heredia bus stop to go back to our homes.

Despite having sub-par tacos, the day was fun and successful!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Alajuela, Sarchi, and Grecia

The weekend after Panama, Audrey, Hannah, and I wanted to stay close to Heredia. A long bus ride anywhere did not sound appealing. After doing some research on great day trips to do from San Jose, Hannah and I concocted a plan to city-hop to three nearby cities: Alajuela, Sarchi, and Grecia.

On Saturday morning, Audrey, Hannah, and I met at the train station. From there, we road the train for 30 minutes until reaching the end of the line in Alajuela. Upon arrival, the three of us explored the quaint city.

Bienvenido a Alajuela: Audrey, me, and Hannah

Collectively, we decided to cut our exploring short as we needed to find the bus that would take us to Sarchi because the bus ride to the artisanal town was around an hour.

After asking several different individuals for directions and hearing the words “only 100 meters more,” Audrey, Hannah, and I found the bus that would take us to Sarchi. Upon boarding, we were greeted with an interesting seating arrangement. On the left-hand side of the bus were two seats next to one another (normal) and on the right-hand side of the bus were three seats next to one another. Our little trio squeezed into a row together for our 1 hour bus ride. Funnily enough, Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” came on the radio, so we all sang along while smashed together like sardines.

When the bus stopped in Sarchi, we disembarked and headed towards the park with the large carreta.

The giant carreta in Sarchi!

Back in the day, carretas were used by boyeros (individuals who guide the carretas and oxen) in the Central Valley to transport coffee grains to the province of Puntarenas. The trip would take anywhere from 10-15 days. Originally, the carretas were painted with specific colors and patterns depending on the province of origin. However, artists eventually began to paint and design the carretas however they wished, which led to contests of “who has the best painted carreta.” Nowadays, the carreta and boyero is a dying art. Both are remembered during celebrations and are considered a part of Costa Rica’s history and culture.

After taking pictures with the giant carreta, we began to explore Sarchi. I had hoped there would be a lot of artisanal stores, however, there were not a whole lot in the quaint town. Surprisingly, handmade wood furniture seemed to be the hot item to purchase in Sarchi. However, the three of stumbled upon a huge souvenir shop that had classic Costa Rican souvenirs most of which were handmade and reasonably priced. I had been holding out on purchasing things from Costa Rica because I like to shop local whenever possible. At this particular store, I ended up purchasing a mini carreta and a hand-painted bookmark both of which I plan on using as Christmas ornaments.

With the large rueda (wheel) outside the souvenir shop: Hannah, me, and Audrey

Once the three of us wrapped up shopping, we headed back towards the carreta to see if there were anymore stores to check out. The sun had come out, which made this mint green church really stand out.

The mint green church across the street from the carreta

None of us saw any notable stores, so we decided to walk down the road to find a bus stop for Grecia. Along the way, the three of us stopped into another souvenir shop. Neither of us found anything we needed so we continued walking along the road. Eventually, one of us asked a family at a fruit stand where the bus stop was for Grecia. Funnily enough, the “bus stop” was the driveway of a furniture store. As Audrey, Hannah, and I stood waiting for the bus to come by, the owner came out and conversed with us in Spanish for a while.

When the bus rolled up, we once again crammed into a row of three seats again for the 30-minute drive to Grecia.

Once the bus dropped us off, we went ahead and explored. My favorite part was the park in the center of town with a beautiful sign, fountain, and church.

Bienvenido a Grecia!

Unfortunately, the Grecia was like any other city with commercialized stores, lots of traffic, and chain restaurants. The sun happened to be out in full force, so Audrey, Hannah, and I stopped into Pops, a Costa Rican ice cream chain. Then, we headed across the street back to the cute park.

Unbeknownst to me, Audrey and Hannah wanted to take a group selfie. After licking my ice cream cone, Audrey and Hannah were both laughing super hard as I had been completely oblivious to the photo. Hence, we have this lovely photo of me stuffing my face. I promise you there is a whole sequence of me going in for the lick, but I shall spare you the photos.

Audrey, Hannah, and I in the park eating ice cream

Once everyone finished eating their ice cream, we headed back to the bus stop to get on the bus for Alajuela. Then, once in Alajuela, the three of us went in search of the Heredia bus stop to head back home.

When I got to my house around 6:00 pm, I noticed a colorful disco-type light spinning around on the porch. I wondered if there was a party going on, but soon found out the whole house was decked out in Christmas decorations.

A fun-filled day of city-hopping!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

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

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

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