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West Sylvan Middle School to Costa Rica 2017

Homeward Bound!

Jul 5 2017
Dear Parents and Andeo,

Well, we hope you have all had a good chance to clean out the mildew in the clothing and hear all the stories about our adventures!

We four chaperones wish to tell the parents how much we thoroughly enjoyed each of the students on the trip! They had so much energy and enthusiasm, and spoke so much Spanish and were so polite and considerate in their families and in the school with their teachers. You can be very proud of them!

Along that note, you might have already noticed the change in maturity in your children. They left for Costa Rica as graduated eighth graders, but have returned as high school freshmen.  They were given lots of responsibility and freedom to make wise choices. We were impressed with their level of  maturity and the respect they showed for each other, their "tico" families, and for us adults.

This was a big change for them and they rose to the occasion.  Everything we asked of them, they complied without complaining...(at least to us!)

The "adiós" yesterday was truly bittersweet and you can see it in the following photos.  We will all miss our "tico" families and we are so grateful for their wonderful hospitality.
Thanks also to ELEC school with the Piedra brothers, who took great care of us, and also to ANDEO for organizing a memorable experience.
If you have any questions or comments to any of us, please feel free to contact us this summer. We will debrief with ANDEO and welcome any feedback from you and the kids. 
Thank you also for entrusting to us your precious children!  We hope we didn't teach them any truly bad habits, such as buying treats at the panadería, or their families offering them cafecíta every morning!

¡Un buen verano! Cariñosamente,
Mandy, Laura, Bruce, Christine

Canopy Tour

Jul 3 2017
On Saturday we set out for San Ramon for our ziplining canopy tour. San Ramon is in another province, about 90 minutess from San Isidro. As we rode in the bus we could see the weather becoming wetter and cooler as we drove up the mountain.

Once we got there, we suited up in harnesses, helmets and gloves. The system they have here is probably safer than any I've seen before - you don't actually fasten and unfasten the caribiners yourself, they have employees stationed at the start and stop of every line to do it for you. In addition to the zip lines, there was also a 'Tarzan' swing and a 'Superman' line, where you put on a body length harness and fly like Superman! Everyone had a blast - the zip lines were fun and the scenery was breathtaking!

Afterwards we went to a carretera, or cart factory. It was over a hundred years old, and they gave us a tour showing us how the wheels used to be made, including a bandsaw powered by a huge water wheel. It was very impressive. They also had a souvenir shop where the kids took advantage of for a little last minute shopping.


Jul 1 2017
On Thursday we assembled at the school for a Zumba class. Some of the kids were a bit apprehensive, but nearly everyone really got into it after we started. The class was great - very high energy and great music! It was very fun to see the kids trying the salsa moves!
Afterwards, we headed to the restaurant for lunch. We've eaten there every day we've been in San Isidro, so they know us well by now. They've been very patient in trying to meet the needs of 23 picky kids.
Later we had a little free time at the school before Spanish classes started.

Pizza and Soccer in San Jose!

Jun 29 2017
Wednesday was a busy day! We started off by taking the bus into San Jose, the capitol city. It's a busy, bustling place compared to San Isidro! We walked around the center, looking at the lovely historic buildings, including the post office, national theater, and museums. We also went into one of the churches, and then stopped for lunch and a little shopping in a souvenir mercado. The highlight for the kids was probably the giant pizzas for lunch!
After lunch we walked back to the bus. Unfortunately, it started to rain pretty heavily, so we got pretty wet! The rain didn't dissuade many of the kids from stopping for frozen yogurt though - these kids can eat!

Back in San Isidro, we resumed our Spanish classes, then joined our host families for a soccer tournament. We split into four teams and rotated in and out as goals were scored. The games were highly competitive, and it was fun comparing the American skills to the Costa Rican skills!

Cooking Lessons in Costa Rica

Jun 28 2017
Tuesday we stayed in San Isidro. We did an optional hike above San Isidro again, then met at the school for a cooking lesson.
We made Arroz con Pollo, or rice with chicken. This is practically the national dish of Costa Rica. While Gallo Pinto (beans and rice) is more common in daily life, you'd be hard pressed to find a Fiesta or gathering without Arroz con Pollo.
We also hand made tortillas and prepared a salad.
Finally we sat down to feast on the fruits of our labor
We had a little down time before classes started, so kids hung out, played soccer or frisbee, or made quick runs to the candy store. This week, we have classes all 5 days, so the length of the classes has shortened from 3 hours to 2 (we only had 3 days with classes last week because of the trip to Tortugera.). It's good that they have as the kids can get a bit restless in the classes! And finally, back home to our families for the evening.

Dance Lessons in San Isidro

Jun 27 2017
Today we were back in San Isidro for a more normal schedule. Since our schedule didn't start until 11, several of us went on a walk in the hills above the town. Lovely views and a fun bridge to cross.

We then met the others at a local restaurant for lunch. It's very typical, with rice and beans and meat, as well as empanadas, burritos and various other Tico specialties.

We had a little free time for exchanging money, shopping or relaxing, then met at the school for dance lessons. The kids did pretty well at pairing up (with lots of encouragement from the chaperones!) and we tried salsa, meringue, cumbia, and a few others. It was really fun, and the kids were definitely getting the hang of it by the end!
We finished with picking up our Spanish classes again and then returning home to our families for the evening.

Sunday in Playarenas

Jun 26 2017
Sunday was a free day in our schedule, but we didn't want to waste the opportunity to experience more of Costa Rica. So, we pooled together some of our spending money and coordinated a trip to the beach!
We went to Playarenas, about 2 hours away, on the pacific coast. It's a nice public beach, with facilities and shops nearby. The kids played in the water for a while, then we went out in a boat to try to spot dolphins. Because we had so many people, we actually had 16 in the boat, and 10 were towed behind in an inflatable banana. That was great! We got unbelievably close to several dolphins and the kids had a great time riding on (and falling off) the banana boat. We switched places a couple of times so everyone got a chance to ride it.

We brought sandwich supplies, and had a picnic on the beach. The kids kept the local ice cream vendor very busy! 

After lunch, we walked to the local aquarium. It was really hot and the sun very strong, so some shelter was very welcome! The aquarium was small, but nice and even had air conditioning in one building.

The bus picked us up at the aquarium, and we got back to San Isidro around 5:15, in time to get home for dinner with our families.

Return from Tortugera

Jun 26 2017
We spent Saturday morning enjoying some down time at the hotel before beginning the long trip back to San Isidro. We all needed a little relaxation time, especially after being awakened by the Howler Monkeys around 5 each morning. They sound just like their name, very loud! Costa Rica has 25% of its land protected. Tortugera is one of the large protected areas, which means there is really lots of wildlife and it's very nearby!
It was also a perfect morning for down time because it was pretty rainy. We got two periods when it was really raining cats and dogs that morning. Otherwise, the weather was perfect for the trip. We were really lucky with that because the general pattern has been sun in the morning and heavy rain in the late afternoon, but here we had 2 days straight of sunshine.
On the boat ride back, we spotted several more animals, including a large crocodile, a turtle, bats and several more lizards and birds. Finally everyone returned home for dinner with their families.

Day 2 in Tortugera

Jun 26 2017

Today we spent the whole day in Tortugera. We started with an early morning (5:45 departure!) boat ride into the jungle to spot local wildlife. We saw toucans, cormorants, a caiman, big spiders, lizards, a poisonous dart frog, monkeys and lot of other birds.
Then back to the hotel for some downtime and lunch. The kids enjoyed the pool again - it's definitely been a favorite!

After lunch we took a short boat ride across the river to the Atlantic Ocean. We spent about an hour and a quarter playing on the beach, then walked along it to our pickup point. While there, we saw the sand imprints of a turtle that climbed the beach and dug a nest. There were no eggs though - we think that there were too many tree roots where she dug and that she'll come back tonight. The beaches here close at 6pm so that no one disturbs the turtles.
Then back to the hotel for some dance lessons and dinner!

Adventure in Tortugero

Jun 23 2017

Today we set out for a 3 day adventure in Tortugero, a turtle refuge on the east coast of Costa Rica. Our bus left bright and early, at 6am, for the 4 hour ride. We then transferred to a boat for the last hour of the trip. Tortugero is only accessible by boat or airplane - there are no roads or cars here!

We're staying in a small hotel right on one of the channels of water. Very pretty setting! It also has a small pool, which the kids are enjoying immensely.

We have seen many animals, both on the boat ride here and at the hotel. Monkeys, macaws, iguanas, basilisks, and a sloth. We've been told that we'll hear the Howler monkeys howling tonight!

We also went into the small town to see the turtle conservancy museum and to walk around. Did you know each turtle lays between 180 and 200 eggs? Tortugero was one of the first and most important turtle conservancies in the world for multiple turtle species, including the green sea turtles. The kids also enjoyed walking around the town, shopping and sampling ice cream and fresh coconut milk.

Volunteering at the Nursing Home

Jun 22 2017

Today we spent 2.5 hours at a local nursing home. First helping out with landscaping, laundry, maintenance and interacting with the residents. Then we played bingo with the residents, including giving out prizes to all the winners. The kids did a great job helping out and interacting with the people. It clearly made the day of many residents, and we were all proud of the students and their kind behavior.

Scavanger Hunt Around San Isidro

Jun 21 2017

On Monday, we met up to familiarize ourselves with San Isidro through a scavenger hunt for the post office, bank, supermarket, etc. Afterwards, we went to the school to start Spanish classes. The school is lovely, with well-tended landscape.

At the Language School ELEC

Jun 21 2017
Here is a glimpse at the student's language school ELEC in Costa Rica where they have their classes each afternoon. 
The view from ELEC.

Trip to Heredia

Jun 21 2017

On Monday we took the public bus into Heredia, the closest major town. The bus ride was quite an adventure! The bus was very full, and the drivers go pretty fast on narrow roads.
We made it safely though and enjoyed touring the city. We visited the main plaza, an ancient fortress tower, a local Mercado and some shops.
 We had lunch in the Mercado. The highlight of the trip for the kids was the ice cream afterwards!

First Few Days in Costa Rica

Jun 20 2017
We spent Sunday with our host families, getting to know them better and immersing ourselves in Spanish. It's been really interesting hearing the kids compare their host families. Each one has unique differences from the kids' regular families, whether food, religion, family members, etc. The kids are taking the differences with excellent spirit!
The group photos were from their first day of activities and classes.  The group photo was taken just before they did a scavenger hunt around San Isidro, getting to know the "downtown" area.

The West Sylvan group begins their adventure to Costa Rica!

Jun 17 2017
Excited, a little sleepy, and ready for a new adventure! 
Midway on our journey! We have a 5 hour layover in Houston. Christine managed to get us access to a group room to hang out in. The kids have made it games central! Everyone is a little tired but in good spirits.
The group reports that they have arrived safely and the students are now with their host families. 


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