Back to News

My Costa Rican Adventure

So here I am, recently returned from one of the best months of my life and I’m exhausted. Where to start?!

18 months of preparation, hours of fundraising, effort and planning resulting in an astounding life changing experience in Costa Rica. The views, marine conservation, the wildlife, manual labour, zip wiring, the sunsets, the aches and pains, white water rafting, trekking 40km, parasailing, I am so happy that all of you helped me to achieve beyond what I ever thought possible. Thank you so much!

5, 440 miles away for an expedition in one of the most friendly, diverse countries you could ever go to, and what a month it’s been. The 7th July 2015 and the 18 students 2 teachers and expedition leader from Anglo European School slept over in the school sports hall in excited anticipation for the coming month. The flights were bearable enough but for the uneasy butterflies backflipping in my stomach telling me that this was it, no going back and this journey was actually happening.

Over the forthcoming month our eyes were opened to a vast array of new things and in this short space of time, we covered areas such as San José, La Fortuna, Monteverde, The Pacific and Caribbean Coasts and Zona de los Santos.

Our first three days were spent in San José, the capital of Costa Rica, whilst there we discovered the local markets and the vibrancy of the city during the day, familiarising ourselves with our new surroundings, anticipating what was to come in the jungle. We proceeded to leave the capital on the 11th July heading for La Fortuna where we would tackle our first trek together, the infamous Cerro Chatto volcano, now dormant but nonetheless as demanding and steep. The 700m climb through the cloud forest rewarded us with stunning views, amazing wildlife and lush vegetation as we felt for the first time that we were ‘on expedition’. The scenery couldn’t be more different to home, which is exactly what we signed up for. The top of the difficult walk gave way to a 75m lagoon crater which was quite a sight to behold, although the clouds did get in the way of the view. Our second day in La Fortuna was filled with a shorter trek to a 75m high waterfall, we heaved down the steep trail to the fall and swam in the run-off water, almost like a private beach. After a morning of relaxation we headed to    “Paradise Hot Springs”, a man made attraction built around natural volcanic hot springs, the temperatures of which varied from 27°C to 45°C. This relaxation was the perfect way to end our time in La Fortuna.Depending upon the needs of each individual day we split into pairs and took turns to be the leader and co-leader of the day. These assigned the roles for the day, from Accommodation to hydration and morale the needs of the day varied depending upon where we were. Richard and Joe on budget made looking after and cautiously spending our group budget look very easy indeed.

We ascended to the Monteverde cloud forest by travelling across a huge lake surrounded by the mountains, the greenery and the wildlife. Here we encountered trouble with our accommodation, which was deemed unsafe so we had to find some other accommodation and despite all my efforts; we couldn’t get the deposit back. We left La Colina lodge in a hurry and found a nicer place in the local town where we stayed the night. The following morning was my birthday-16th July! The itinerary said zip wiring and no one complained. I was humbled to say I with surprised with a card and meal in the evening. I was told we were going on a ‘night trek’ and we ended up in a restaurant!

Next up was our project phase, probably the phase I was looking forward to the most and it did not disappoint. The long, beautiful beach of Ostional on the north-west coast of the country is the type of place that you don’t forget in a hurry, I enjoyed every minute there. The typically drier region of the country hadn’t had any rain for 3 months…until we arrived where we witnessed our first proper tropical storm, lightning, thunder, rain lashing down so hard it hurt your face…what a welcome. Our project was wonderfully unique and rewarding in so many ways. We painted a mural when we weren’t otherwise busy as a reminder of the importance of marine conservation. Once a bland peeling wall, now a colourful vibrant work of art.

There is now a larger safer environment for the giant turtles to lay their eggs or building a house for a grandmother with terminal cancer whose house had been flattened by a tree only a few days before our poignant arrival, or entertaining the local children, going swimming in the sea, playing games or organising football matches with them. The beach also played host to some of the most spectacular sunsets you could ever set eyes upon. Day 12 played host to a dead turtle washing up on the beach which the resident scientist Rodrigo believed was drowned by a net out to see but he couldn’t be sure. Our project played host to a Come Dine With Me competition between the three labour groups, which worked out great because it meant we were trying harder when cooking and therefore eating more edible food! Cooking in such a fantastic area with such amazing sounds, feelings, people and views was simply special. We were soon introduced to the Costa Rican dish of Gallo Pinto, a breakfast dish of rice, veg and beans, really very tasty indeed. Each night on project from 9pm onwards we would patrol the beaches as a group in search of poachers and hopefully to see turtles laying their eggs. For me, these walks couldn’t have gone any better, we saw nothing the first night then witnessed the eggs in a nest the second night. The following night we saw a single turtle and then on our last night we saw 5! The whole process too, of these majestic creatures coming forth out of the ocean, climbing up the beach, digging themselves a hole in the sand with only their flippers, laying their precious eggs, disguising the nest and retreating back into the ocean. It was truly an inspirational experience. On the last night we took about 15 minutes just to immerse ourselves and be taken away by the beauty of the view, the milky way to our left looking out over the ocean, shooting stars among the millions overhead and moon glistening over the short, quiet waves rolling into shore. Magical. It was so rewarding to see the progress that we made building the house, in such a short space of time. The progression from a falling down house to a comfortable property that could actually be lived in was astoundingly fast, and to see the gratitude on the families face on our last day brought a tear to my eye that we had made such a genuinely big difference to this family’s future.

From Ostional, we headed back to San José, we spent the following day enjoying some well-earned relaxation time white water rafting on the Rio Pacuare river towards the Caribbean coast. 6 to a boat for hours we flew down the rapids having a toucan of a time. Class I to III rapids are all fun, we stopped off on a bank and ate some gorgeous pineapple, we’d had a lot up until this point but this was the best! After another couple of hours on the water our time was up, it had gone so fast!

The day after we travelled to our long trek of the trip. Everyone found the trek over the Zona de los Santos continental divide difficult but everyone completed it with a head held high and an expletive filled team hug at the end of the 40km journey. The trek was split up into four days. Day 1 was 16km, 2 8km and 4 15km with the third day being spent in the community at the ranch home of our two guides. The trek from Santa Maria de Dota to Londres was a long one and by the end I was exasperated, knackered and shattered all rolled into one. The team found it hard as we had some knee problems and our fitness levels really varied so our walking speeds were different but we decided we are only as strong as our weakest link and therefore walked at their pace. This did mean that we were stopping often and going slowly but with each hour we became closer and became used to looking out for one another. Morale went up and down but we all pulled through and for that I am proud of us, our teamwork and dedication to the task because there were times where I thought we wouldn’t make it. Despite the occasional negativity nothing could dampen the illustrious natural beauty of our surroundings. We gave a whole new meaning to the phrase in the middle of nowhere, the lush greenery with the backdrop of some of the most breath taking mountain views in the world, especially when silhouetted against the sky. On the day spent in the community we tried sugar cane, visited a waterfall and milked one of their cows. These smaller experiences embodied the nature of the trip that even the small things can have a lasting impact on you.

Finally came our Rest and Relaxation phase, R and R. We stayed in Quepos, on the pacific coast, visited the national park, went swimming, parasailing, bodyboarding and generally wound down from the taxing activities of the past 3 and a half weeks. Even our hostel had a pool. The only catch was that whilst on trek one of the teams’ passports had gotten damp. We therefore had to return to San José early to visit the British Embassy, the situation was stressful but got sorted and we returned to the UK happy, exhausted and in awe of the past month. Our time in Costa Rica was up, it had gone so unbelievably quick but our month in paradise was over. Our heads still spinning with sloths and snakes, our legs still aching from all the heaving steps, our feet still hurting and our minds numb with tiredness and joy in the knowledge that that past month of our lives had been absolutely incredible.

I’d like to offer a huge thank you to anyone and everyone who has helped me to be able to have such an amazing experience. You have been so helpful and I dedicate this trip to you, my sponsors my donors, my family, my friends, the generous strangers always willing to drop their change into my bucket on a Saturday morning bag packing. Or say keep the change at my bazaars. Those of you who sponsored me for my 5km mud run, allowed me to babysit, mow the lawn, paint your shed, officiate your football match it is you who have propped me up and helped me enjoy the past month the way that I have. They call it a once in a lifetime trip, that’s the cliché, but I really hope I can travel like this as much as possible because you know what, it is SO worth it!

By Ryan McGee