Middle school Spanish students have recently returned from Costa Rica for this summer’s Spanish language immersion trip, accompanied by Spanish teachers Julie Pinzás and Susan Moling, who sent email dispatches from the trip that can be read below.
What an exciting day we had today! We drove about an hour and a half through the lush Costa Rican countryside to San Luis. There we spent the morning and early afternoon on a canopy tour that featured ziplining across the canopy of the rainforest through a series of 12 platforms. Midway through we went on a “Tarzan” swing and ended our tour using the “Superman” harness in which you lay face down as you ride across a breathtaking canyon for nearly a mile. As you sail along this canyon, a rustling river and waterfalls could be seen amidst the lush forest. It was a definite highlight of the trip so far!
Afterward we returned to the casitas to freshen up and rest a bit before dinner. We enjoyed more of the amazing local cuisine for dinner and then a surprise birthday cake for rising eighth grader Tanvi Singh, who is turning 13 today.
Tomorrow the children will start their clases de español at the ACCE language school.
Yesterday morning we had our orientation at the ACCE Language School. After a warm reception, the kids all took their diagnostic tests and were placed in small groups of three to four students per teacher. As usual, they impressed the director and their Costa Rican teachers with their Spanish! During the week, students normally begin their classes at 1:30 p.m. and have two breaks before finishing their lessons at 5 p.m. They are provided with a fresh snack and drink such as small sandwiches, cheese empanadas, yucca frita and plátano frito during the first longer break. Following dinner, we had a movie night where the kids enjoyed watching Man of Steel (Hombre de Hierro) while eating palomitas (popcorn). It is such a pleasure to see how the kids have bonded as a group, playing games in their free time with each other.
Today, we set off for the nearby town of Sarchí. The town is very historic because it lies along the old Pan American highway, which connects Central and South America. Sarchí is also renowned for its colorfully painted oxcart wheels and beautifully hand-carved wood furniture and crafts. We went to the Eloy Alfaro factory, which was founded in 1920, to learn about how the wheels are made during a tour of the factory.
Then the students had a painting class where everyone got to learn the basic skills of wheel painting from a local artist, Don William. Students all got a small, white wheel to work with and everyone followed the steps toward creating a beautifully painted miniature oxcart wheel. After the painting class, everyone did some shopping in the extensive gift shop followed by a delicious buffet-style lunch on the second floor of the factory.
Although yesterday morning started off with a bit of rain, it cleared up just in time for our guide, Minor, to treat us to a tour of Grecia. Our first stop was the local post office. Interestingly enough, there are no street signs in Costa Rica. Therefore addresses are more descriptive. The school’s, for example, is “50 metros al oeste de la estación de Bomberos en Grecia centro; segunda planta de Restaurante Galería.” (50 meters East of Grecia’s Downtown Fire Station; second floor of the Galería Restaurant). Our next stop was a local indoor market. Students were able sample passion fruit and other indigenous fruits. The last stop of our tour was Costa Rica’s version of Jamba Juice, Cosechas Grecia. Here students were able to sample a yummy fruit smoothie.
Part of our group then walked to the polideportivo (sports center) where they were able to enjoy some playtime in the pool. The other half of the group went to a local woman’s home where they participated in a cooking class and enjoyed a wonderful, home-cooked luncheon. Everyone helped Sra. Lavinia prepare a sumptuous arroz con pollo (chicken and rice), a traditional Costa Rican dish which features several local vegetables, special seasonings and chicken. This dish was served with fried bananas (plátanos maduros) and a refreshing cas-pineapple smoothie.
Last night, after school, we visited a private K-12 school, Centro Educativo Nuevo Milenio, where our entire group had a chance to participate in the high school’s English Day Talent Show a la “America’s Got Talent.” They all did a fantastic job and impressed our hosts with their talent and level of confidence!
Today in the morning the same two groups from yesterday switched and enjoyed the cooking class/pool activities. Then after school today, we headed off to a local indoor soccer pitch to play with Minor’s son, Christopher, and some of his classmates. Everyone got into the game and had a lot of fun playing an exciting match of soccer non-stop for an hour. To top it off, students enjoyed dinner at a local soda. A soda is a family-run restaurant, similar to a small North American diner. Sodas are a great place to find quick home cooking, usually the stick-to-your-ribs variety – think rice and beans, hamburgers and fries.
In the morning we awoke early to head off an immigrant neighborhood known as La Carpio, just outside of the capital city, San José, and about an hour’s drive away. This area, home to some 34,000 people, is made up of mainly immigrants from the neighboring country of Nicaragua who escaped to Costa Rica for a better life following the civil war there. As a result, most of the inhabitants of La Carpio are extremely poor. One organization, the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation, founded by an American expatriate, Gail Nystrom, has accomplished much in nearly every facet of life for these people for some 30 years. One of them is the creation of an affordable day-care for working parents, the Guadería la Libertad.
This year, the organization is focusing on the one of the poorest sections of La Carpio. Our students thoroughly enjoyed painting the outside of the metal and concrete housing structures, bringing a bit of color, pride and sense of ownership to the inhabitants. We then trekked down to the bottom of the river to deliver invitations and hang posters for a health fair the following day. Afterwards, we went back to the Fundación Humanitaria for a simple lunch before heading back to ACCE for their Spanish classes. That evening we went to a local mall just outside of Grecia to have dinner and enjoy some window-shopping.
Yesterday we got off to an early start for Manuel National Park, about three hours north of Grecia. We took a newly paved highway that supposedly cut the drive down by an hour. On the way we stopped and walked across a bridge to observe Central American crocodiles that live along the Tarcoles River. We were lucky enough to see three pairs of bright scarlet macaws in flight as we walked along the seismic suspension bridge.
Our next stop was the beautiful Rainmaker Park, which is a lush rainforest where we went on a 90-minute hike – this year with a downpour of rain, thanks to mother nature. They got a true sense of why it is called a rainforest! We observed many species of flora and fauna native to the rainforest. Our guide pointed out some green poison dart frogs, centipedes and different plant species, just to name a few. We walked across a system of suspension bridges spanning a total of 250 meters above the forest canopy. Six bridges extend over platforms attached to massive hardwood trees which allow visitors to explore the rainforest from a bird´s eye perspective, such as rushing waterfalls below. We ended our tour with a delicious lunch of arroz con pollo, black beans and rice. We drove on for about another hour, and then settled into our hotel which is located just outside the famed Manuel Antonio Park we will be exploring tomorrow. The kids spent the afternoon frolicking in the beach.
Costa Rica blessed us with perfect weather today despite forecasts of a possible storm and rain all weekend for our visit to one of the country’s smallest but most spectacular national parks, Manuel Antonio. Once we entered the park, we enjoyed an easy hike through the rain forest as our guide pointed out many fascinating insects, plants and animals. Nothing compares to seeing two- and three-toed sloths and capuchin monkeys amongst the trees in person in their natural habitat.
After the brief hike, we arrived at the long-awaited beach, which looked like it was from a movie set with majestic palm trees surrounding a turquoise bay. Needless to say, the kids were in the water within minutes, enjoying themselves tremendously. After a few hours of satisfying play in the water and on the sand, we headed back to the hotel for lunch and spent the afternoon in the pool.
We enjoyed another of many scrumptious meals for dinner. The kids have definitely adapted to Costa Rican cuisine and all agree that they love the food! It was definitely a memorable weekend excursion for all.
Yesterday, after our drive home from Manuel Antonio, we stopped at la Casona de Maiz, a typical Costa Rica Restaurant, for lunch. Students then dropped off their luggage at the casitas and went to afternoon classes. That evening they had fun watching “Megamente” (Megamind) in Spanish with Spanish subtitles.
This morning we went again to the organization Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation, the immigrant neighborhood La Carpio, just outside of the capital city, San José (La Carpio, history). Today the students visited a special preschool created by this organization to prepare immigrant children for entering kindergarten in the Costa Rican school system.
Our students spent their time helping the 25 or so children, whose ages ranged from 4 to 5 years old, with their lessons. They read to the kids, helped them color, sang songs and played with them. We noticed how our group used their Spanish to communicate with the children and how sad the little ones were when we left. Warm hugs were exchanged all around. Their director complimented us on how well our students interacted with hers. She said we were her best group yet!
Sadly we are sending you our last report from picturesque Costa Rica!
Yesterday we had another leisurely breakfast at 8:30 a.m. We then headed off to a dance studio to learn some typical Latin dances. The whole class was taught in Spanish! Our instructor, Carlos, taught us how to do the bachata, cumbia, salsa and merengue. He was impressed on how enthusiastic our students were and their level of understanding and dancing skills. Everyone had a lot of fun!
In the evening our group played another indoor soccer match with local Costa Rican youth. Needless to say, it was an even more exciting match for they scored lots of goals!
Today we set off for downtown Grecia for the “cazapistas” (scavenger hunt). This activity was developed by one of our wonderful local contacts here, Amy Paschal. Students were divided up into groups of three to four and then had to follow the steps on their individualized scavenger hunts in both Spanish and English. The design of the activity was really ingenious – some of the tasks involved students having to find out information from local townspeople; and for others they had to ask someone to take a photo of their group in front of a particular landmark. Everyone did a great job completing their cazapistas.
Tonight we had a lovely farewell barbecue party in the “Rancho” at the casitas where we have enjoyed these past two glorious weeks here in Costa Rica. There was a sumptuous vegetable and rice dish, barbecued meats, black beans and homemade salsa and chips. After eating, some of the teachers from the school presented each student with a beautiful group photo as a memento of their time here.
Everyone is sad to leave tomorrow but eager to get home and tell you all about their amazing experiences. ¡Pura vida!