Student Travel Diary – Service Trip to Costa Rica

Becoming a global citizen is at the heart of an international education. At Alto, understanding different cultures, viewpoints, traditions, and languages is emphasized in and out of the classroom. And of course, the best way to learn about the world is to travel. Recently, a group of Alto students spent time in Costa Rica to support a coffee farming community in the Dota region. The service work focused on sustainable development and social entrepreneurship. Students lived with local families and contributed to life on the coffee farm. Read below the travel diary from two of our students.

Friday – 2.15.19 – Eva
Our flight from San Francisco airport left in the middle of the night. The first flight was to El Salvador, about seven hours long. A second, short flight took us to San José, Costa Rica’s capital. We then still had a four hours long bus ride ahead of us. Fortunately, we stopped to eat lunch for about an hour in. When we finally arrived in Providencia, we all gathered in the community center to meet our Costa Rican host families. I stayed with Anika in a house together. Our household had four family members. The mother and father, Adriana and Roberto, and a brother and a sister, Kaylor and Priscilla. They were so nice and welcoming, and the food was absolutely amazing. On the first day, we ate the typical rice and black beans with vegetable soup. Anika and I went to bed early because we were so tired from all of the travel.

Saturday – 2.16.19 -Anika
We started with a delicious breakfast. Eva and I had eggs on toast, which I believe came from our host family’s chickens. Along with other friends, we walked up to the meeting point, where we were given a rundown of what we were going to do that day. Thirty minutes later we were already walking up the hill to start our work. On the first day, we worked on clearing out gravel and dirt, where we were going to fix a road. The purpose of the road was to make it easier for the locals to not only drive safely around the steep corner but to make it easier and safer to walk up with heavy coffee bags. It was hot, and there was almost no breeze, but we persisted through the day. We spent lunchtime at a beautiful lake with a waterfall, where we also got the opportunity to swim in the freezing cold water! Even though I almost got hypothermia, it was worth swimming with my friends and then chilling in the sun. After reflection time with our group, we had time to ourselves. Eva and I walked around the village, exploring the houses and animals. We met up with our friends and admired the river that flows through the town. At 6:00 pm, we came home greeted by our host family. We played board games together and then ate dinner which was the classic rice and beans along with empañada. After a long tiring day, we fell asleep.

Sunday – 2.17.19 – Eva
On Sunday, we continued working on the road. Since we had finished shoveling dirt the day before, everyone was on concrete mixing duty. Well, almost. One of the groups got to ride on the back of the truck to get gravel for the concrete. For lunch, we had a picnic with our host families on the soccer field, followed by a soccer tournament. It was really fun! They split everybody into four groups, mixing us, the locals and another volunteer group from Michigan. It took a few hours and a couple of sunburns, but eventually, the team I was on was victorious. After the game, we all sat down together and worked on our journals. Staying with local host families, also meant that we had to practice speaking Spanish, which sometimes was an adventure. But in the evening we successfully taught Priscilla, the daughter of our host family, how to play our favorite card game Egyptian war.

Monday – 2.18.19 – Anika
This was the first day of working on the Organic Coffee Farm. We learned how the organic coffee farmers created their compost, out of “worm pee” (ew) and then we drove up to the farms to fill buckets of pee and passed them up and around to pour them on the coffee plants. By doing this we were not only helping the organic farm, but we were also encouraging the local community to create organic farms as well. Our activity after lunch was once again going to the beautiful waterfall. After swimming, having a splash contest, we gathered for reflection and then had free time. My friends and I met up at the local store to buy food for the bus ride the next day, and there we met a feisty little puppy, who seemed to love to bite everything and would go berzerk if we took his little treat that he carried around, away. Emily named him “Almond Joy” because he had an almond shape on his head and was attracted to her box of Almond Joys.

Tuesday – 2.19.19 – Eva
This was our second and final day at the coffee farm, and the work was just as tedious as the day before.  It involved more bucket throwing and worm pee spillage, but the time went by pretty quickly. We spent lunch and most of the afternoon on the soccer field playing local games. For example, there was a game that was very similar to Duck Duck Goose. We played the game for a long time because everyone loved it, and eventually, we went home and ate dinner with our host families. Sleeping followed soon after because we were exhausted from the long day.

Wednesday – 2.20.19 – Anika
Today we spend the day at an adventure park located in a rainforest. The family-owned park had many fun rides such as “Jungle Fly” (my favorite) where we got strapped into a seat and pulled up and then dropped like a giant swing. My second favorite was called  “Tree Tower.” You had to climb up inside a giant hollow tree, and then you got dropped from the top. After a long and fun day of adrenaline, we met our families, a little earlier than usual for hot chocolate and cookies, and to say goodbye and thank you for their hospitality. Later that evening we met with locals families at the community center and learned how to cook a popular Costa Rican meal consisting of vegetable soup and flour tortillas. We also learned how to dance a typical Costa Rican dance (by the way our partner was from the other gender, so you can imagine how awkward that was.)

Thursday – 2.21.19 – Eva
Thursday morning we got up very early because we had a long bus ride ahead of us. The goodbye was bittersweet because as much as we loved the town and the people, I think we were ready to explore more. After spending the morning on the bus, we finally arrived at the Manuel Antonio national park. It was such a beautiful park! We saw sloths, a snake (which I was not too happy about) and many more cool plants and animals. It was blazing hot in the park, so we were all excited to go to the beach afterward. We spent the time swimming in the water and diving under and over waves. Finally, long after the sun had gone down, we ate dinner at a restaurant across the street and made our way to the hotel and went to bed.

Friday – 2.22.19 – Anika
This was our final day at Playa Ocotal in Costa Rica. We started the day off by surfing. This was my first time, and it was really fun. I managed to stand up on my board, and after that, I just got better and better. At this point, I just knew that I wanted to come back to Costa Rica to try my hand at surfing again. I’ve never seen an ocean so beautiful as this one before, and I longed about renting a luxurious villa, with the help of Exceptional Villas, (more info here) to make this possible. That is my dream, and I hope to achieve it one day, as I can’t let my new found surfing skills go to waste, can I? It was a great start to the day. We then had about a three-hour drive to the airport ahead of us; we stopped for souvenirs and lunch, and after another hour (and lots of singing) we arrived at the airport. We made it safely to San Salvador with enough time to buy ice cream at the airport, before we embarked on our final journey home to the Bay Area.

Written by Anika Hausner and Eva Smith, Alto Students

Photography: Eva Smith, Elisabeth Weber, Brian Buntz

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