Costa Rica - Pura Vida! for SDSS students
submitted by Nancie Darlington-Smith

March 23, 2015



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Twenty-five students from Saugeen District Secondary School had the great fortune to travel to Costa Rica over March Break.

As a diverse group of students, they brought many wonderful characteristics to the trip and bonded throughout the experience, leaving a positive impression on those who they encountered. On more than one occasion, it was brought to the attention of the chaperones that our students behaved in a respectful manner. A waitress even commented that, “There are adults that could learn how to behave from your students.”

Our wonderful guide, Gustavo Leone (Tavo to us), was a great teacher of Costa Rican biology, geography, history and culture, leaving us with tremendous knowledge of his country and its potential. He too was appreciative of our students, demonstrating this by taking us to his own personal hang-out for his favourite Costa Rican dish - chifrijo, and playing ‘water polo’ in the shallow pool. He was sincere in saying that our students have left a mark with him, stating several times that he has never had such a terrific tour group.

The opportunity to travel is a gift, and while the experiences in Costa Rica highlighted our privilege, it also illustrated that we are part of a much larger world that we have the responsibility to manage with a long-term vision. The Costa Rican army was abolished in 1948, in favour of investment in social and environmental programs, resulting in a 95% literacy rate, 25% of the country being protected, and tourism being the #1 industry. In the outdoor classroom of his country, Tavos reinforced knowledge from courses at SDSS, leaving a lasting impression through his passion and beliefs.

On the last evening, Tavos asked students to share the highlight of the trip, their happiest moment and something they learned. Almost every response included reference to our visit to an elementary school in the cloud forest - Educar Para Una Neuva Ciudadania.

Students came away with the realization that although the St. Elena population is not blessed with riches, they were happy, and while there was a language barrier, they were able to interact with one another – through soccer and ‘Duck-Duck-Goose’ (in Spanish), for example. The impact of that experience carries on to plans for fundraising to help with the construction of a covered walkway from the kindergarten classroom to the main building.

We explored the northern reaches of the country, from the jungles of Tortuguero on the Caribbean Sea, through the forests of the foothills and mountains, to the dry leeward side of the mountains in Guanacaste, on the Pacific Ocean. The flora and fauna were stunning, and the activities diverse.

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 If you are considering a trip to Costa Rica, you might like to review our itinerary:

  • Braulio National Park
  •  Tortuguero Village, Canals & National Park
  •  La Fortuna waterfall * Baldi Hot Springs Spa
  •  Trimbina Biological Reserve - Cocoa Demonstration
  •  Don Juan Educational Farm
  •  Kayaking tour of Lake Arenal
  • Visit a local school
  • Aventura canopy adventure
  • Rincon de la Vieja National Park
  • Shoreline study at Playa Hermosa

There are so many other highlights, including but not limited to:

  • Birthdays being celebrated, ‘Costa Rican style’, one even with a pińata – but always with Tavos’ impish touch!
  • Listening to McLean’s tunes as we meandered through the Tortuguero canals.
  • The eruption of the Turrialba volcano on our second day was an opportunity to learn more about the tectonic activity that Costa Ricans live with, and their contribution to the ecology of the country. There were lots of jokes amongst the students about sacrificing one of our students!
  • Matty B. discovering a pepper that might just be too hot, even for him, and then relishing in the leaf that cut through the heat.
  • Students self-monitoring volume levels and putting their phones away at the dinner table.
  • Kayaking hi-jinx – so much laughter!
  • Overcoming fears of suspended bridges, ziplining (through the clouds of Monteverde no less!), and/or spiders, not to mention flying or being away from home for the first time.

  •  Learning merengue dancing in the disco. Tavos can’t get his head around the fact that dancing is not part of our culture!
  • And even learning why Pi is 3.14.

 The next tour, customized even more with Tavo’s assistance, will be in 2018. Students interested in joining us on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure might start saving their Colones (Costa Rican currency).

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015