Saturday, April 18, 2009

We're Home

We're home, safe and sound! The trip home was long but uneventful. 

We spent friday morning in San Jose, packing and then doing a bit of shopping and sight seeing in the few blocks surrounding our hotel. Some students opted to stay in the games room and play pool or use the Internet. At 2:30 pm we met Pancho one last time and he drove us to the airport, where we said good-bye to him. We got checked in and through security and boarded our flight for LAX. 

It took longer than expected getting through security and customs on the way into LAX so we didn't get to the hotel until 2 am. Then there was a small problem with our reservation, so by the time we were in our rooms it was 2:30 am. We needed to be back in the lobby to catch the shuttle back to the airport at 5 am, which made for a very short night!

We got back to the airport, checked in and through security in plenty of time. There were several restaurants open so we had breakfast at the airport. I had a ham, egg and cheese panini and a then enjoyed a grande vanilla latte from Starbucks. Personally I've had enough of scrambled eggs, beans and rice for quite some time. We then caught our flight from LAX to Calgary. In Calgary we went through customs, collected our bags and said our good-byes to the students. It's hard to believe our trip is over!

I want to take this opportunity to say thank-you to the following:
  • Shira Windecker - for all of her planning, organization and work to convert her idea for this trip into a reality for these students and parents. Shira did an awesome job, working with EF, our tour guide and other contact people. 
  • Sandra Smith - our other "official chaparone" for caring for our students and ensuring that their sunburns and other mishaps were treated appropriately. 
  • To the parent participants who were so willing to help out with supervising their own children as well as others. I believe this trip went so smoothly because we had such a good adult/student ratio with lots of eyes to watch out for each other.
  • To the students who were so great at following instructions, taking care of each other, and being patient with each other even when sleep deprived and in need of some personal space. We were so fortunate to be able to travel with such an awesome group of students. It was a pleasure to get to know each of you on a more personal level. 
  • To Foothills School Division for allowing us to take our students on an international travel experience. We don't take this for granted as there are many school divisions that would not have allowed this sort of trip with junior high students.
  • To Pablo Yee, our tour guide,  for showing us your beautiful country, sharing your knowledge with us and letting us get to know you on a personal level.
  • To Pancho for driving us all over the country and going out of your way to show us the Costa Rica that most travellers would never see.
I will keep this blog active for quite some time. I will also change the settings on the photo gallery so that downloads are allowed. I've really enjoyed writing this blog and sharing our experiences with you. Students...see you in school on Monday. AdiĆ³s!

Saturday Morning

We're at LAX after a very short night. Everyone is pretty tired but in good spirits. I must say that all of the students are amazing travellers. Good spirited, even when sleep deprived. See you parents at the airport in a few hours.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Photos Uploaded

It's Friday morning in San Jose. We have an excellent Internet connection so I've uploaded a bunch of new photos. I haven't added captions yet...they're coming.

I've also added to the post "The Amazing Pancho"

Transfer from Central Pacific Coast back to San Jose

We are back in San Jose. It is Friday morning and our trip is almost finished. We have to be checked out of the hotel by noon and we load the bus to the airport at 2:30 for the long flight home. Once again we have a layover in Los Angeles before catching our flight back to Calgary. At least we don't have to go through Vancouver on the way home.

Yesterday was a transfer day from the Central Pacific Coast to San Jose. It is not that far back to San Jose so we didn't have to get up for breakfast until 9:00 am which was a nice change. 

Everyone was pretty tired after being in the sun the day before. In spite of our repeated warnings and reminders about wearing hats, putting on lots of sunscreen, and wearing shirts, some students did not heed our warnings and got sunburned. Sandra, our nurse/chaparone, just happens to work in the burn unit at the hospital, so they are getting good treatment. Lots of aloe vera gel and lotion are being passed around. 

On our way back to San Jose we stopped at Sarchi, a town famous in San Jose for its furniture manufacturing and wood-working shops. Our first stop was at a large co-op market where the students could shop for souvenirs, coffee, chocolate, carved items, T-shirts and other trinkets. After about an hour of shopping we went to a local restaurant where we had a buffet lunch of rice and beans, chicken, salad, fried plantain, and other typical Costa Rican dishes. At the restaurant was another store which had fairly good prices for souvenirs.

After our shopping spree we got back on the bus for the remainder of our trip back to San Jose. The city was much different than when we left. When we left it was during their Easter holiday when everyone was at the beach or at home with family.  Now everyone is back at work so the city is very busy. We arrived in San Jose at around 4:30 pm, right in the middle of rush hour traffic. It is quite scary to see three lanes of traffic and then motorcycles zipping along the middle between the lanes.

At the hotel, we checked in, got showered and dressed and then headed to our final activity, which was a Costa Rican feast with traditional dancing and a time for the students to join into the festivities. 

The restaurant is located at the top of a mountain which is overlooking San Jose and the entire valley. Pancho did an amazing job of navigating up the narrow roads and 25% grades up to the restaurant. It was also nice that both Pancho's wife and daughter and Pablo's girlfriend could come with us. The view from the restaurant is incredible and the buffet supper of traditional foods was absolutely amazing. After supper a group of six traditional dancers performed a series of dances for us. After they had finished dancing, the music continued and all of our students started dancing and having a great time. What a perfect way to finish our trip, good food, good music, and a beautiful view of San Jose.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Photo Update

The Internet connection here still isn't great but I was able to upload a few pictures to complement some of the previous blog postings. I will make sure that all of my best photos get uploaded as soon as I possibly can and parents and students will be able to download any of my photos from the website. I will also leave the blog online for quite some time after the trip is over.

Manuel Antonio National Park and Beach

Today was a beach day! Since the beach by our hotel is not suitable for swimming, we drove today to Manuel Antonio Natinoal Park where there is a beautiful, secluded and sheltered beach with water that is clean, clear, and safe for swimming. We got to the beach around 11:00 am and had about four hours to enjoy the sun, sand, water and animals. The water was super warm and very clean so we spent lots of time swimming and enjoying the sunshine. The weather has been very warm down on the coast and the humidity is almost 100% so the water at the beach and the hotel pool have been very enjoyable. 

At the beach we saw all sorts of wildlife including monkeys, a sloth, racoons, iguana, and hermit crabs. At one point I was taking photos of an iguana eating the front claw from a crab. A moment later I noticed a crab scurrying along the beach, minus one large front claw. Poor guy! He must have gotten into a fight and lost.

After our time at the beach we spent a little bit of time at the local market before loading up the bus and heading back to the hotel for some free time before supper. Everyone was pretty tired after supper so some of the students headed to bed and were asleep before 9:00 pm.

Tomorrow is a transfer day back to San Jose with a stop at a large market along the way. Looking forward to buying souvenirs for family and friends.

Transfer from Monteverde to Central Pacific Coast

I've got some time and finally have some decent wireless service so I'm going to post a bit more detail of yesterday and today.

As I said earlier, yesterday was a transfer day from Monteverde to the Central Pacific Coast. We got up a bit earlier, packed up, had breakfast and loaded the bus. Pablo said that people used to sell T-Shirts that said "I Survived the Road to Monteverde", but have since realized that those T-Shirts, probably weren't good for tourism and the local economy, so they stopped selling them. They still haven't fixed the road! The road is gravel, narrow, winding, and bumpy. Pancho is such an amazing driver. I took some photos from the front passenger seat that give you a pretty good idea what I'm talking about.

Once we were down in the lowlands, we stopped for a crocodile tour with the "Crocodile Man." We got onto a low covered boat and cruised up and down the river looking at birds and crocodiles. When we would find a nice big croc near the shore we would park the boat and the guide would get out and feed raw chicken to the crocs. They are amazing animals. The bird life and scenery was really neat to see.

After the crocodile tour we headed for our hotel. The hotel is really nice, about 100 m from the beach and it also has a swimming pool. We spent the late afternoon on the beach. At this particular beach students are not allowed in the water past their knees because of the potential for rip tides. Students were really good about following instructions and had a great time, finding hermit crabs, digging in the sand, burying Jeremy and turning him into a mermaid...enough said.
After the beach we had supper and then some of the students enjoyed an evening dip in the hotel pool. This hotel, Playa Bajuco is a small hotel and we have the entire hotel pretty much to ourselves.