Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Final Days

Greetings from San José!

In our last post, we shared happenings to the point of our fourth day of work. From that time until now we have finished the project, played soccer with our host families, danced our hearts out at the farewell party, said our goodbyes (for now) to our families, and had a bunch of fun on our way here to San José.

On our last day on the work site we finished laying the tile floor and had to say goodbye to the great friends we'd made at the high school. The school gave us a final thank you ceremony, complete with a singing competition where we had to go up against the Costa Rican students and race to sing karaoke. The loser got water ballooned - as shown below by Jack and his new friend Deiberth (also known as Cotho). We danced with the students on the newly tiled floor and thanked Don José, who had worked with us all week as the foreman of the project.

Jack, the champion 
The new floor at the high school!

All smiles with our Tico friends

On our day off from work...Saturday morning...we got to 'sleep in' until 8am and woke up for breakfast with our families and a game of soccer in the town's plaza. Don Ángel, Jamie and Jack's Costa Rican dad, coaches a team of kids from Paraso. We joined them, along with members of our host families, for tug of war and an intense game of soccer held in the ever-present Costa Rican downpour. It was so much fun to play alongside the families (on mixed teams of our group and the community members to keep it fair of course) and Jack and Yichuan came in clutch with some goals for both sides. Just like oranges at halftime in the glory days of peewee soccer, we had watermelon and pineapple and cantaloupe halfway through. 

A waterlogged post-game group shot 
Players and spectators ready for the fun
After soccer, we got to spend some time with our families before heading to Don Daniel's for a final fiesta. Don Daniel opened the party with some Spanish karaoke and ended it in the same fashion, and there was lots of dancing (Cotton-Eyed Joe and Gangnam Style and salsa selections included) and laughter and family bonding in between. We got to see each other with our families and the whole community - all together for the first time all trip - and it was a great way to begin the goodbye process. 

An attempt at Michael Jackson karaoke 

The girls' host family
The teachers' (and our guide, Sarah's!) host family 
Jack and Jamie's host family 
Yichuan and Daiden's host family, with Don Daniel in the center 

This morning, we had the melancholy task of saying goodbye to our beautiful families. There were lots of tears and promises to return to the place we had made home for a week as we got on the bus to take us to Chilamate.

The group at Chilamate Resort one last time
We also went to an ethno-botanist named Jaime. Ethnobotany is the study of the relationship between humans and plants - a big focus in the eco-friendly society that is Costa Rica. Jaime was a total character and taught us all about the abilities and tricks of indigenous Costa Rican plants - leaves that can be used as toilet paper, plants that act as bug repellant, and fruit that can dye your skin (so don't be alarmed when we all come back with blue tattoos). It was really interesting, and culminated with homemade banana and pineapple ice cream, so it was definitely 100% worth the early wake up. 

Jaime teaching the group about the beauty of the nature around us 
After one last snack at Chilamate, we were on our way to San Jose, stopping for lunch and souvenirs before arriving at the hotel. We were all easily distracted by the luxuries of hot water and being able to flush the toilet paper and (the huge bonus) a pool. The group did a last meeting and shared our appreciations from the trip - everything from each other to the community of Paraiso - and ended the evening with a group hug. Tomorrow we'll adventure through the city for a bit before making our way to the airport, and then we'll be on our way back to the States.

See you soon & Pura Vida!

Jane, Veronica, and Grace

Friday, June 26, 2015

Sun starting to come out, combined with lots of work and fun

Pura Vida!

Hi again!  The past few days have been a blast.  With our project nearing culmination, we've been having lots of fun and working hard.

Veronica, Yichuan, Jack and Heiner walking to Doña Ginette's house during our 'Amazing Race'

Day 2 of our project started with an ice-breaker game called 'Cebolla' (Onion) in which two people would each hold an onion in one hand with a spoon, and use the other to try to knock their opponent's onion off of the spoon.

Jane plays Cebolla with Deiberth (aka Cotho)

With the floor now clean, we applied a (blue) sealer to prepare for the process of tiling.  After we finished working that day, we went to Doña Amable's house to learn how to cook 'picadillo de chayote'. It tasted great, and afterwards we had some fun figuring out riddles.  
Grace, Yichuan, and the 'squad' applying the sealer

Yichuan cooking

Day 3 of our project was a long, but satisfying, one.  We dug an area out to create a sidewalk that will be built later.  We prepared the mortar for the tiling process.

And finally, we began placing the tiles.  Throughout the day, we split up into groups to help out in English class.  

On the 4th day, we continued to tile and began applying grout.  However, the highlight of the day was the Amazing Race' event.  Our group was split up into two teams, and assigned to four locations around the community to partake in local customs.  At each of the four 'stations', a team could be awarded up to three rubber bands based on the usage of Spanish, enthusiasm and quality.  At Doña Antonia's house, we danced salsa and bachata.  At Doña Amable's, we cooked tortillas and empanadas.  At Doña Ginette's house we extracted 'agua dulce' (sweet water) from sugar cane.  And at Don Daniel's, we milked goats!

It's been a great week so far, and we're sad that it's coming to an end soon.  We look forward to the last few days that we have left!

Hasta luego,  

Jamie and Daiden

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Pura Vida!

We have finally arrived in Paraiso! On Sunday night, we met our host families and settled in for the night to prepare for the days of work ahead. 
Grace, Veronica, and Jane with Doña Ginette (their Costa Rican mom)

Yichuan and Daiden with their Costa Rican parents Doña Teresa and Don Daniel (and Rodrigo, our bus driver,
Jamie and Jack with their Costa Rican mom and dad, Doña Antonia and Don Ángel

The following day we started the day at the school with an ice-breaking game of Paranoia with the students, followed by cleaning up the floors of the campus in preparation for refurbishing the dining hall eating area. After two hours of rinsing and scrubbing, we were invited to an English class session where we got to work closely with students of our same age and talk about traveling. 



After a long walk in lots of rain, we arrived at Don Daniel's organic farm (la finca). After eating a delicious lunch of pollo, arroz, frijoles y picadillo, we had a brief introduction including Don Daniel's personal story and a condensed tour around the farm due to the weather. From the tour, we learned how black peppers are processed for sale and helped out shredding and packaging these peppers. Another part of the tour included feeding pigs and learning how to blend compost.  


The family of Don Daniel and many in Paraiso have been negatively affected by biochemicals which is why Don Daniel decided to start his organic farm. He is a community leader who is doing a great deal to protect himself, his family, and his community. 

"You can only learn when you are out of your comfort zone" says Sarah, our instructor of the trip. Each day we've challenged ourselves to explore new things and meet new people. Having been away from home for only a few days, we are becoming more and more familiar with the lifestyle of our Costa Rican families and going with the flow.

Hasta pronto,  

Yichuan and Jack

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Onto El Paraiso

Hello Parents:

Great news — the water lowered to the point where we were able to get all the kids across the river safely and onto a bus towards their host community, El Paraiso. The local bridge had been affected by the rain but the students were able to walk safely across the bridge, one by one. We used safety lines, life jackets and harnesses as a safety backup. Then they boarded a bus and are arriving at El Paraiso as I write this. The students are in really high spirits and everyone is excited to continue their journey. 

This community, which is the same community Blair visited last year, is on high ground and, for the most part, is not affected by the rains. The group remains on schedule and will continue their trip as normal.

Some of our itinerary, such as the canopy tour, will obviously have to change because of the weather (forecast calls for steady rain this week) but we will come with an alternate schedule. We are also sending another one of our instructors, Randall Bermudez, to be with this group and provide extra support. Randall was the instructor on last year’s group.

Thank you for your patience as we navigated this situation.

Ross Wehner

High Waters in Costa Rica

Good morning parents:

I wanted to let you know that we’ve been in touch with our Costa Rica base this morning because of flooding related to heavy rains in Costa Rica. This has happened before in this area of Costa Rica, and are coordinators have an emergency plan. 

There are large areas of standing water around our base, the Chilamate Rain Forest Eco Retreat (see attached picture). Right now the rains have stopped and we believe this is the high point of the flooding. If the water continues to rise, there is plenty of high ground nearby to where the group can go to wait for the waters to fall.

The group is in high spirits and are enjoying seeing the Costa Rican ecosystem first-hand upon arrival. I'll update this blog today with more information, if the group does not blog their experiences first-hand.

If you have any questions, please email me on or call (303) 679-3412. I am attaching a picture of the high water, so you can understand better.


Ross Wehner