by Angelina Adame
NORTH NEWTON, KAN.– This interterm I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to the beautiful country of Costa Rica, alongside 15 other Bethel College students who became some of my best friends, as well as our instructor Jon Piper and his wife Beth. The focus of our trip was tropical biology.
Our journey began in San Jose, a city of roughly 3.7 million. On the first day, we visited the National Museum and then were free to walk around the city to sightsee and shop.
My senses were overwhelmed there. There were so many people and traffic was crazy. Pedestrians do not have the right of way in Costa Rica. We learned it was safe to cross the street when the Costa Ricans did.
I had been worried about the language barrier. I’ve witnessed people get frustrated with those who don’t speak their language – sometimes even give up trying to help them. I assumed I would receive the same treatment.
Thankfully, it was the opposite – people were so patient with me even though I don’t understand Spanish. They genuinely cared about me and wanted me understand what they had to say.
When we left San Jose, we made our first stop at Palo Verde Biological Station, maintained by the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) in Palo Verde National Park and surrounded by mainly tropical dry forest. We stayed there four days.
The weather felt like Kansas in summer. We hiked different trails and caught some beautiful sunsets at the top. We saw many different birds. My favorite was the spoonbill, which looked like a bird straight out of the movie Alice in Wonderland, just crazy.
Other wildlife we saw were white-faced monkeys, howler monkeys, ctenosaurs (black iguanas), coatis, peccaries and a variety of insects. We spent one afternoon on a boat tour of the Tempisque River, home to some huge crocodiles.
Our next stop was Cabo Blanco, located in the Pacific dry region climate – gorgeous and right on the beach. We stayed there four days as well. We snorkeled in one of the lagoons every morning, swimming alongside an array of colorful fish, crabs and even a sea turtle.
By far one of the best parts of the trip was our evening activities at Cabo Blanco. Our whole group played soccer on the beach one night and Ultimate Frisbee the next.
We would stop once the sun started to set and whip out our cameras, trying to capture the colors as they disappeared into the ocean. I’ve never experienced nature so purely before, and with such an amazing group of people.
After Cabo Blanco, we went to La Selva (“the jungle”), a tropical rainforest station owned and operated by OTS.
The scenery was completely different here. Green was everywhere. The trees were larger and covered in epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants).
Even though Costa Rica is in the middle of its “dry season,” La Selva never truly has a dry season. We had light rain showers every day.
We went on several hikes, both during the day and at night. We saw our first snake, the eyelash pit viper, as well as the blue jeans poison dart frog.
Our group participated in a service project at La Selva. We learned about invasive species in the forest, and then helped remove one, the coffee plant, from some areas.
Our last stop was at Las Cruces Biological Station and Wilson Botanical Garden. The Wilsons originally maintained the garden of many different plant species from around the world. They later handed control over to OTS and the station expanded.
We went walked through the gardens and learned about all the species of plants and animals found there. We also did another service project. We helped clean the garden by raking and bagging leaves. Participating in service there felt great because the people had been so kind to us.
The most common phrase I heard used in Costa Rica for greeting, farewell or to express excitement was “¡Pura vida!” which, literally translated, means “Pure life!” For me, these will forever be the defining words for my memories of Costa Rica, filled with kind-hearted people who call it their home. I’m so thankful for my cross-cultural experience and to have had such an amazing group of people to share it with.
Bethel College is the only private college in Kansas listed in the 2012-13 Forbes.com analysis of premier colleges and universities in the United States and ranks in the top five “Best Baccalaureate Colleges” in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2012-13. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.
Lina Adame is a sophomore from Newton. Other members of the Bethel College 2013 interterm class Tropical Biology Field Trip: Costa Rica, with Jon Piper, professor of biology, were Brooke Banning, Lenexa, Ariane Bergen, Moundridge, Justin Beth, Newton, Wes Goodrich, Independence, Carl Lehmann, Marion, S.D., Patrick Loganbill, Wichita, Audra Miller, Hesston, Cris Nelson, Amanda Regehr, Whitewater, John Regier, Beatrice, Neb., Aaron Rudeen, Osage City, Sarah Schell, Topeka, Casey Schunn, Whitewater, Lizzie Shelly, Lenexa, and Jake Weber, Newton.