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Backpack Adventures through Costa Rica – IAAS Spring Break service trip: Amanda Smith, Vet and Biomedical Sciences, INTAG Minor

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Posted: April 23, 2013

Overall this journey to Costa Rica was amazing and I don’t want to change a single thing about it. We saw so many incredible things, met so many people and really learned what it means to be a good traveler.
Calves at EARTH University

Calves at EARTH University

In October the idea of traveling to Costa Rica for a service trip was only a pile of ideas, thoughts and hopes. By November it turned to plans and by February it was a reality. The IAAS club spent so much time planning the trip, so actually being in Costa Rica and seeing our plans turn to reality was amazing.

We each packed all of our belongings for the week in a backpack and we were off. We started our journey in San Jose staying at a hostel. Our first venture out we ended up at a Spanish diner for lunch and had fun trying to figure out what everything on the menu was and ordering in Spanish. That was the first time I really realized the issues a language barrier could create. When I had previously traveled I either had a translator or knew the language. I tried as hard as I could to speak the little Spanish I knew and it seemed that the locals appreciated it.

Our first full day in San Jose was spent touring a coffee plantation, seeing the la Poaz volcano and visiting the La Paz waterfall gardens. The waterfall gardens were my favorite, there were so many animals and it made me start to appreciate the diversity and wildlife of Costa Rica.

Our second day there we ventured out to EARTH University. We had an awesome driver named Carlos that told us everything we wanted to know about Costa Rica on the way. He was so open to us and kept telling us how excited he was to drive us and how much he loves his job. I feel like in the states it is sometimes hard to find people in jobs like his that love what they do. His energy and enthusiasm was refreshing and infectious. All the people we met in Costa Rica were happy and welcoming. I think we were all a little nervous aboutSmithCostaRica3.png how we were going to be approached as a group of American students, so it felt great to be welcomed so graciously.

Once at EARTH University we took a tour of their banana fields. It was incredible seeing their agricultural methods. They try to reuse things as much as they can which I think gets avoided a lot in the United States. They also don’t use herbicides and pesticides. One of the days I was helping them in the banana fields and they were showing me the fungus that was all over their plants that prevents photosynthesis and banana growth. However instead of treating it with chemicals, they simply use machetes to cut the fungus areas off of the banana leaves. It was awesome helping them and knowing that the plants were being treated, yet left in their natural state.  While at EARTH we also visited a pineapple plantation and it was really cool seeing how the pineapples are grown, processed and packaged. When you buy fruit at the grocery store, it is hard to imagine the giant process and journey it’s been through, so it was cool being able to see that first hand.

After EARTH University we traveled to the pacific side of the country to Ocean Ranch Reserve to work on the Eco Preservation Society’s Macaw reforestation project. This was the most rustic situation we encountered in Costa Rica – we were truly in the middle of the jungle! While there we met a bunch of really cool people that shared similar goals to us. I think that is one of the best parts of traveling – meeting others. We live in such a big world and all too often are consumed by the people around us and often forget that there are so many other people out there to meet.

While at the reserve we worked hard moving and planting trees every morning. The Macaw is a native species to Costa Rica but they are starting to lose their homes due to deforestation. Hence why the Eco Preservation Society is working to replant as many trees as they can at Ocean Ranch Reserve in order to provide homes to the beautiful Macaws. Our job while there was to plant baby trees in planter bags so they can be cared for until the season is right for planting the trees in the ground. We bagged almost 1000 trees and it felt really good to be making an impact. SmithCostaRica2.pngWhile there we had a chance to go horseback riding and it was one of my favorite parts of our whole trip. We started off on a stroll through the mountains and streams and then eventually broke out into a full on run and were speeding through the mountains of Costa Rica. There were some incredible views and it was amazing feeling. One of the coolest moments during our time there was while walking back after putting the horses out to pasture. We turned a bend and I saw these funny looking things in the sky. As they swooped down and landed in a tree right near us we realized that it was a pair of scarlet macaws. It suddenly made the entire planting of the trees feel worth it – we were doing it for them.

There were so many other amazing moments during our adventures through Costa Rica – it would take me forever to write about it all. We learned a lot and I think each of us took something home. I learned that even though you may not know the language or the customs or the culture well, it is important to try as hard as you can to learn. Part of being a good traveler is trying to embrace and live in their world for a while, not live in your own world while in theirs.

If I had to explain this journey to a potential employer I would explain how much I was able to grow from this experience and the things I learned. Traveling to a country you have never been to before without being under the guidance of a teacher or organization can be quite intimidating and requires a ton of planning. I would explain to an employer the process that was taken and the qualities I possess that allowed me to make the trip a reality. I would also talk about the incredible experiences I had and the few hardships I faced while there. I think traveling really allows you to explore more of yourself and it lets you learn about some of your greatest assets.

Overall this journey to Costa Rica was amazing and I don’t want to change a single thing about it. We saw so many incredible things, met so many people and really learned what it means to be a good traveler.