Thursday, March 26, 2009
Friday, May 30, 2008
So I jumped on the plane, delayed two hours and arrived tired and hungry and ready to stretch my legs in Ireland. My aunt and I decided a great way to see Ireland would be if we rented a car. I contacted my friend, Alex, who is studying in Northern Ireland to meet us in Dublin and away our trip went.
We checked out from Avis, and I pretended that I knew how to drive a manuel. I had a concept, and have driven once or twice, but the last time I drove a stick was about three years ago! So jump in the car and I read some tips about driving in Ireland. They said especially if you are an American and will be driving on the other side of the car on the other side of the road, you should drive it around the airport for a minute and then take it on the road. So that is what I was going to do... Didn´t happen. We looked around for where to drive around and the only thing we saw was the exit. So quick learning happened and off I went, white knuckeled and praying not to stall. Amazingly I didn´t! Made it on the road and headed south to Kilkenny.
Kilkenny was beautiful. We saw St. Carice´s Cathedral, St. Mary´s, and the Kilkenny castle. We took a tour through Kilkenny castle and then looked for a place to eat. We went into a pub off of the main street. Alex said that he heard the way to tell a good pub is if there is an old man sitting at the bar. So we looked in, found the old man, and sat down. We ordered delicious food, paid and then it was off to find housing. Well since it was a bank holiday, the cheaper places were booked full so we decided to head out to our next destination and just stop off at a B&B on the side of the road.
Alex was the navigator and took us through back roads and off of the main highways! It was amaying! We drove around through the Irish countryside and saw lots of cool things. We saw so many, as we called them, significant archeological monuments, or SAMS for short. There would be an old abbey from the 1700 or earlier just hanging out on someone´s farmland. Some had signs, others didn´t. Every once in a while we would just get out to stretch our legs and take pictures. We saw beautiful countryside, so many sheep, cows crossing the road, and no other cars. We eventually met up with a road with other cars on it and drove towards Cashel. As we were coming up to Cashel, we saw the Rock of Cashel and Hore Abbey. We were hungry by now and read to find a place to stay. We walked into the first B&B we saw and checked in. We were so lucky to stumble on this place, because we really did not have a set itenirary, we just drove. As the owner showed us the room, we were amazed by the sight. Right outside our window was the Rock of Cashel!
We dropped our stuff off and went to a nearby pub that was still serving food. We placed our order and I had the most delicious mushroom soup I have ever had! Amazing! After significantly full, ready for bed, and ready to start the next day, we went to bed on the most comfortable bed of the trip!
This was an excellent way to start the trip around Ireland!
Friday, May 04, 2007
Anyways, we load up the van and head over. As we are driving down the drive way to the park we see an agouti! We all look at it but have to continue on because we were on a schedule. We meet our guide, and start heading into the station. When you walk in there is a visitor center and then a bridge that connects to the research area. As we are heading over the bridge, we see a seven colored tanager! On the bridge, looking into the water, we saw a tarpon... then on the trees around the water we saw a squirrel cuckoo! I was so in love at this point! They were so cool, just doing what they do best! Then we walk off of the bridge and by the station. Around this area are the housing units, the research centers, the food area and a couple of other small buildings. And then all around these were collared peccaries and their young just wandering around. They have gotten used to people although are still somewhat skittish. We were all so impressed that they were so close that we took about 100 pictures between us of the same peccary! Then over around the edge we saw a coati weaving in and out of the forest! Our guide kept trying to tell us about the station, and we wanted to listen, the animals just kept interrupting. (He told us to interrupt him if we saw something, so it was okay...)
Anyways... So we get through the station area and onto the trail. Absolutely gorgeous! I think this is the part of rain forests that I love so much. When you look up and the trees are so high, it makes you feel so overwhelmed. Its like standing and looking at the ocean... just this unbelievable feeling that there is so much more to life. While walking through the park we saw so many things. One really cool part is when we saw the sloth. It was moving down a tree and that is the only way we spotted it... otherwise if it didn't move, we would have never known it was there. It blended right in, just makes you think what else we missed seeing!
As walking down the path and towards the exit, we were on a single person path so we were all in a row. The second to last person begins freaking out and starts rushing us forward. We all turn around and see this snake on the side of the path. It probably was 3 feet long (I honestly am bad as guessing measurements, so it could have been anywhere between a foot and 7 feet... who knows). But it was long and black and most of us walked right by it not even realizing it was there. Crazy! Then a little ways up, this lizard runs across the path, over someone's foot, and stops on the side of the trail. It was a cask-headed lizard. It was green but then turned into this brown color to try and match the leaves and ground! That was impressive.
So we continue on and as we are walking out we see some Chestnut-Mandible Toucan as we are crossing the bridge to exit. It was an absolutely amazing hike, we saw so many other animals not mentioned in this blog. It was a lot of fun and very educational! Our guide was terrific!
After the amazing morning hike, we headed back to the hotel and had lunch. Then we (except professor) decided to go horseback riding. This was nice but I wouldn't do it again. We went through cleared land, up and down hillsides and through a stream. It was pretty cool and we saw some neat scenery but we weren't able to stop and look at the birds that I kept seeing flying around.... oh well! It was a nice time.
That night we went and had a few more drinks at the bar! Yum, yum!
Thursday, May 03, 2007
Today was excellent!!! We woke up early this morning, had breakfast, and waited for our driver to transfer us to Selva Verde Lodge. We were all a little sad to leave our new friend for a couple of days, but we had no choice. It was a few hour drive, but seeing the country on the way was absolutely gorgeous. It was sad to see some of the destructed areas but it was neat to see some of the smaller villages on the way. We got to the lodge around lunch time and checked our stuff in. Let me tell you, Selva Verde is a LOT more humid and hot than Escazu was. Walking from the entrance to our rooms made me drenched in sweat. These next few days were more vacation days than actual study or school days. We all relaxed on this part of our trip. It was really nice.
We all were so hot and humid we decided we might as well go swimming! It was really nice to be in the pool that was surrounded by huge trees! I just kept looking around and finding all of these different birds and butterflies! We saw so many hummingbirds, a lot of them we couldn't identify. It was also nice hanging out by the pool because we met some of the other guests staying at the lodge. There was an American couple there that were Ohio State fans, so of course we ragged on them (because we are all Gator fans!). And there was another cute couple that were apart of the Holbrook Travel Company. They were too cute (and actually getting married now, so congrats), and apart of the Gator Nation as well! It is crazy how big, yet so small this Earth is! I mean here we are in this other country during a school break and we run into fellow Gators, thats just crazy!
So after the pool we went to lunch. This part of the trip was not strictly planned so we had flexibility in what we wanted to do with our time. There are so many options that the lodge has to offer, horse back riding, white water rafting, jungle tours, cooking classes... a lot of options! This afternoon we decided to go white water rafting!!! I have never been but it has always looked like something I would enjoy! I was so excited!
We took the bus down and were divided into two rafts. We met our guides and got into our rafts. We had a quick lesson for those (me) who never went before. We got into our rafts and paddled upstream just to get used to what we had to do. We also went up to where a ten foot cliff was. Most of us jumped out and went jumping off of the cliff. Ten feet doesn't sound like much until you are there looking off. But without hesitation I jumped in and went back a couple of times. On one jump we all held hands and jumped off. It was pretty cool because as a side job there is a guy that goes down the river and takes pictures of the groups. At the end you have the option of buying the pictures. So everything was photographed without actually having to take a camera.
After our jumps we piled back into our rafts and were off for a great experience. Our guide was pretty shy but every once in a while he would make a joke that was very dry but hilarious! While going down the river we saw so many cool birds and animals!!! I was absolutely stunned by the animals we saw! At one turn we had to paddle hard and then stop and then paddle hard so more because of the way the river turned. However, being the spotter that I am, I kept seeing all of these birds. On one bend there was this absolutely GORGEOUS tiger heron just standing perfectly still watching us. So of course I stop paddling and stare and start pointing. Others in my raft stop and stare, but you can't do that so we were told, nicely, to keep paddling. Then on another shore there were two Keel-billed toucans hopping around on the rocks! Toucans, about 15 feet away. Toucans people! Toucans! They were gorgeous and I stopped paddling again... and was, rightfully yelled at again.. hehe. This time however after a little ways we were able to stop paddling, turn around, and watch the toucans again. They were just beautiful.
We could have stopped the tour right there... I was so happy. We keep going a little further and are told we are going to stop on the side for a snack (fresh fruit... delicious). We dump out into the river and float to the edge. We sit out and enjoy our fresh fruit. And while sitting there we look around in the trees and see about 3 or 4 more toucans! They were jumping from tree to tree! Once they flew away, we packed up and jumped back in the raft. Because we refueled with the delicious fruit we hit the harder part of the river. We go down a part that runs right into the side of a cliff. It was pretty cool.. I think I was laughing the whole time because it was so much fun! We get around that bend and all of sudden the other raft starts yelling at us to come over to part of the river. And there on the edge is a basilisk (the Jesus Christ lizard) and it actually ran on water. It went from one part of the river to another and ran on top of the water! I only saw a little of that as we were behind the other group. Once over to where the group was we looked up into the tree and saw some really cool howler monkeys! They are the coolest monkeys because they are so creepy sounding in the morning... it is really an experience hearing them howl. And then on the way back to the drop off point way ahead are two macaws flying over the river. They fly out to look for food during the day and then fly back at night to their nests... amazing creatures!
We continue down the river on this amazing high from all of the animals and end our tour. It was really great and our guides were very cool. Along the way they showed us different parts of the river and different aspects of the forest. At one point during the tour our guide stopped off on a bank in the middle of the river. There was a futbol ball in the middle of the river that obviously was knocked off of the edge. He jumped out of the raft, got the ball, and when the tour was over gave it back to the kids that lost it. All down the river, there are houses on one side of the river and jungle on the other side.
After thanking our guides, we headed back to the hotel (which was like a five minute walk through the educational part of Selva Verde Lodge). Some of us were able to take showers but some were not because the power went out for a little while. There were political debates going on at the time and one thing that happens is the company will turn off power to certain areas. During this point, I realized how much I don't know about other countries and the politics that happen. I have tried to stay up with world news but you can never know everything about everywhere...
That night, we had dinner and went on a night hike. This was pretty cool because we saw some glow in the dark fungus (I think it was fungus)... we also saw a few frogs, centipedes, millipedes, spiders (which I am not a big fan of), and heard some animal noises. Once back from our night hike, we were going to cross the bridge that connects the hotel to their protected second growth forests. I made it about half way out until I was too creeped out. You know spiders? You know how they come out at night? You know how sometimes you don't see their webs until it was too late? I kept ducking and I didn't want to mess with their nests because it takes them so long to make, but I kept running into some... I couldn't do it so I headed back. But luckily I did because right at the end near a pond was a red-eyed leaf frog.
To top off this wonderful evening we all went to the bar and had a few drinks to toast to the day and the amazing time we were having... little did we know the amazingness we would experience the next day at Selva Verde Biological Center!
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
Today was a good for the soul day. We visited local schools. Before we left for this trip, we were told about the schools we would be visiting. The director of our sponsor school asked us if we could bring supplies or gifts to the local schools. They are poor and do not have much in terms of supplies. So we all scrounged up what we could find and brought it to the schools. We compiled over 1000 pencils and erasers, notebooks, toys like bubbles, slimy worms, frogs, and ants, supplies for teachers, and lots of books. My mom is a teacher and she gave me all of the books she doesn't use (mainly because they are too advanced for her preschool kids... talk about heavy luggage!).
So we divided it up between three schools that we were visiting. A lot of the supplies were for elementary aged students. It was nice to be able to give something to them because they were allowing us, foreigners, into their schools.
The first school we visited was a small school in the mountains. They were so excited to have visitors that they put on a show for us! The older students did a traditional dance in the auditorium for us. It was fun to see because the younger students were so impressed and all wanted us to come and be apart of their school. They were so inviting. The school's director was out for the day due to illness so a teacher showed us around. Their playground consisted of two swings and monkey bars, for the whole school. I believe it was a K-8 school. Their supply closet was part of a small classroom that was basically one wall of shelves that was half full. Even though they didn't have much these students loved school. Most of the students would only come half day and then work the rest of the day in the field with their families. We take for granted our schooling.
We were also supposed to have breakfast with them but their water and electricity was out due to construction. They kept apologizing for that. It was just an eye-opening experience because think about what would happen if a school in the States electricity or water went out... we would call some company to come fix it and it would be out for an hour at the most. Theirs was out for five days and yet they still had school. They showed up when they could. The thing about it was I felt sad but realized that they aren't really upset about their limited resources. They do what they have to do. It was encouraging to see this attitude, it was an appreciation for what they had. (I am really trying not to sound like an ugly American and I hope I dont. It was a reflection on myself that maybe I wasn't appreciative about what I had... )
The next school we went to was a K-6 school in the city. Talk about being crowded. We arrived right when the youngest were going down for a nap. They all have uniforms and you can tell what level they are based on the style or color of the uniform. We visited the younger ones and then moved to the older aged classrooms. A visiting futbol team was there and we took pictures with them because they were all dressed in their uniforms. We then went to another classroom and met the older students. I felt bad because they would ask us questions or say something to us and our one Spanish speaker was zooming all over the place helping translate.
Then we visited a high school. The assistant director showed us around the school. They had a gym, a pool, and a huge basketball court. We went into a home-economic classroom where they were working on a project of raising babies. They had the kind that cried and needed to be fed and changed. It was funny because when we showed up the boys had to watch them. And when they saw us, they were trying to flirt with one member in the group. They would try to pass the babies off to the baby's "uncle" and then talk to her. It was funny to see because the girls were inside rolling their eyes and laughing at them. Nice to see hormones and humor is the same in all countries.
After the wonderful school visits we went to eat lunch. We went to Pollos Mahle and had the best roasted chicken I have ever had in my entire life! It was absolutely amazing. It was roasted over an open flame and they kept spraying the sauce on it. It was delicious and just what we needed after not eating all morning.
From there we went to Moravia which is an artesian market place. This is where I bought most of my gifts for people. A lot of the shops sold the same type of thing and some of the stuff was made in China, so you had to make sure you were looking at what you were buying. But we bought some really cool gifts and cloth, again some of the gifts going to myself and not the intended receiver. That is one thing I regret on my travels is not buying more. I know that is kind of an American view of just wanting or having too much stuff, but I think that if you travel to a place you should support the economy by buying from local shops. And I don't consider stuff if there is a memory attached to it.
After that we went back to the hotel to repack for our trip to Selva Verde!
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Today we went to Volcan Poas and La Paz Waterfall Gardens. We arrived at Volcan Poas early in the morning and walked to the viewing area. It was a nice walk on a nice trail. It was thick bush on the side so we didn't see much on the walk to the volcano. When we arrived, there was this huge crowd of people waiting for the fog to pass to get a glimpse of the area. We waited for a while and saw small short glimpses inside the volcano but not much of it.
Since we had another place to go, we didn't stay around too long. So we took another path on the way back and entered Pan's Labyrinth. It was so covered and dark and moist, it was soo cool. It was like walking into the dark. You know when you were a kid and after it rained and you walked under a tree that touched the ground, there was this magical feeling. Your imagination ran wild with thoughts of the jungle and swamp... Yes, No? Anyways, thats
was what it felt like. We were walking through a magical place. We saw so many spider webs with the dew on the web. After hiking on this path for about 30 mins, we came to a landing that overlooked a lake area. Here we saw Orioles and other birds that we didn't identify. We took group shots with the mist in the background. Then we hiked back to the entrance to stop at the gift shop.
We got in our van and headed to La Paz Waterfalls! It was so beautiful. We checked in, ate lunch at their buffet style restaurant and sat down to eat. It was so cool because they had fruit stands all over the trees so a bunch of birds would come up to the stands and eat. We saw so many at once that I didn't have a chance to identify them. I said I was an intermediate birder, and I mean this by intermediate North American birder... I don't know tropical birds at all! I know that we saw tanagers, orioles, and other smaller birds of that stature at the feeders.
After lunch we walked through the bird sanctuary and the hummingbird area. In the sanctuary we saw all kinds of birds but a few of them were not found in Costa Rica. The hummingbird area was so cool because they would zoom right past you. If you were very still and took a bunch of pics in a row, you could get some really great shots of them feeding on the feeders. There were all different kinds too, not just the rufous throated hummingbird found in North America.
Then we went through to the snake room where we were able to identify the snake we saw a couple of days before. Then on to the frog section where we saw so many frogs! It was neat to see because here we were able to find them and when we went to Selva Verde Lodge later, we were able to find them in the wild because we had "practice." Then we running a bit behind and the rain was threatening so we rushed through the orchid area and onto the path to the waterfalls. We came upon it and it was spectacular. Apparently it is one of the most photographed waterfall in Costa Rica and I know why. It was magnificent! So we all took at least 100 pictures and headed for shelter because the rain was really threatening. On our way back we saw a Coati, which is like a raccoon. It was so cool to see climbing up the tree. We all tried to get pictures, but it doesn't work when it is halfway up a giant tree and there is no light. Then almost as we were out and I felt something staring at us. And I looked over and there it was. A hawk or eagle of some kind. It was gorgeous and about 15 feet away. We would have walked right past it if I didnt have that feeling. We still have never come to a full agreement on what it was, but we think it might have been a common Semiplumbeous Hawk.
All of a sudden it started to sprinkle and we knew we had two seconds before it started to pour. We made it to the gift shop at the end of the walk to wait for a bus to take us back to the entrance where our van was waiting to take us home. We all made it to shelter before we got wet, which was good considering all of the cameras we had. Once on the bus, the rain cleared up a bit and we made it into our van for the ride home. We all dozed off for a bit and made it back to the hotel.
The younger students went out to Tin Jo for dinner that night. It was an Asian restaurant. One thing about this trip that I regret is that I didn't eat more local food. We had some a couple of times but mostly we ate food from other countries. I think it was because my professor didn't care for rice and beans and since we ate as a group a lot, we didn't go to rice and bean restaurants. And as a side note, for breakfast the cook at the hotel loved us. She thought of us as Americans and therefore only ate pancakes. So every morning, even though we said tipico, she brought out pancakes, eggs, and a platter of fruit. She was so cute!
Another thing about this trip that was great is that we were never caught anywhere in the rain. This was the only day that it rained while we were doing something and even then it didn't catch us out on a trail. Costa Rica was good to us and we thank nature for that!
Monday, April 30, 2007
Today we went to visit our host school. It is an American school that was set up to teach foreign students living in Costa Rica. This would be business people's or embassey worker's kids. It was a K-12 school. We observed various classrooms but the coolest by far was the high school section. It is a private school and therefore can set their own standards. They don't have to follow a certain curriculum or worry about teaching to the test. It was so innovative and open. The high school wing had signs posted by kids that had political or environmental statements. And the teachers supported and encouraged creativity and openness. It was the neatest and most inspiring thing to see. There is a mix of foreign (American) and local (Costa Rican) teachers. It is through the International School System which means that the American teachers are encouraged to stay only 2 years. If they stay beyond that, their salary gets lowered and benefits go down. It was really exciting to see the dedication and creativity of the teachers. If I ever get a chance to do this, I would in a heartbeat!