Flight of The Stranded Anteater

Written by Diana Alatorre

“You Californians are crazy!,” shouted Carlos Jimenez, one of our tour guides at Hacienda Baru, just as Kelly Florimon ran to jump off a platform only to be sustained mid-air by a cable and her harness as she zipped through the middle of a forest.

Christina enjoying one of the many zip lines on "The Flight of The Toucan".
Christina enjoying one of the many zip lines on “The Flight of The Toucan”.

Ziplining is a different kind of adventure-seeking thrill than ordinary roller coaster rides. On a roller coaster, you’re amongst many other people, but while ziplining, it’s just you, a helmet, a harness, a wire, and the environment. Those seconds spent hundreds of feet above ground, secluded from friends and safety, are truly spectacular. One moment you’re terrified about hitting a tree that seems to be approaching you at a speed that is beyond control, and the next minute you’re admiring the beauty of the forest and its numerous sounds.

Before we began the “Flight of the Toucan” ziplining experience, Carlos instructed us on how we would be strapped onto the cable, how we should position our arms, legs, torso, and most importantly, how to hold a camera so we could capture every moment of the experience. Though that probably wasn’t actually the most important part, it appeared to be what we wanted to know the most about. In the midst of all this chaos, Carlos told us what we would have to do in case we became stranded somewhere along the cable line. He said it didn’t happen often and that we shouldn’t worry about it, but that if it did happen, we were to remain calm and use our hands to pull ourselves forward to the end of the cable and onto the landing platform. It sounded easy enough, so I brushed the information aside and got ready to embark on the adventure of lifetime. Little did I know, I would need to use that information some seven cable rides later.

From the start of our time at Hacienda Baru, Carlos was a jokester. He did everything he could to make us laugh, scream, and become absolutely terrified. His jokes didn’t cease when we were hundreds of feet above ground with nothing to save us from a plunge into the forest. As he connected us onto the cable lines, he’d jokingly pushed us, assuring high-pitched screams from our group of girls. He laughed at our reactions, as did the rest of the group that had not just felt like they were about to take a dive into solid earth. It was all in good fun of course, and a bit of a rush. At some point during our flight, he decided I was a good screamer and became a target for his jokes. I knew he wouldn’t actually make me fall, but I was still terrified every time it was my turn to be strapped in. On cable ride number 8, the unforeseeable event happened. And although he had taught us what we should do in case we stopped moving in the middle of a cable, he didn’t mention it could also happen on the last and final cable where we would be taking the Flight of the Toucan backwards. I was already terrified by the fact that the only things (aside from my harness) keeping me from plummeting back-first into shrubs, clay-hard soil, trees, and probably bugs were Carlos’ hands holding onto my hiking boots, so what happened next should have left me petrified.

Diana making her way back to the platform.
Diana making her way back to the platform.

About two-thirds into the line, Costa Rica decided I would no longer be continuing my backwards flight. My speed decreased rapidly but before even coming to a stop, I somehow began to move in the opposite direction—forward. Insert confusion and shrieks as high pitched as imaginable here. Suddenly, I understood what was happening, not how or why, but what I should be doing. I instantly reached for the cable behind me just as Carlos had begun to yell out instructions to me. I began a slow, yet awkward, return to towards the end platform. With cheers, laughter, and weak arms, I made it to the end, un-petrified. Thanks to Carlos and everyone at Hacienda Baru, our entire team was able to make it out of the forest unscathed!

There’s a First Time for Everything!

Written by Kelly Florimon

Kathryn and Toni's first time composting human waste!
Kathryn and Toni’s first time composting human waste!

During a long walk (in the wrong direction), I had some interesting conversations with my fellow teammates. One included a realization of all the “firsts” we’d had on the trip so far and of all the ones that were still in store for us. I am still amazed at how, in such a short time span, it felt like I had experienced infinitely more than I had in the past few months living my routine lifestyle back at home. The following list is my attempt to compile and account for all of the exciting “firsts” I experienced on this trip (in no particular order):

1.) Having my passport stamped for traveling to a foreign country.

2.) Getting lost in a foreign country!

3.) Holding a wild snake, cicada, and crab (not simultaneously).

4.) Eating cocoa fruit, guayaba (not guava), water apple, cashew fruit, palm fruit, and an egg fresh off the farm.

5.) Going ziplining (and then going ziplining backwards)!

6.) Seeing a wild capuchin monkey, sloth, toucan, poisonous frog, army ant colony, scorpion, crocodile, bat, lightening bug, turkey, and iguana.

7.) Weaving a basket!

8.) Harvesting cashews.

9.) Using a composting toilet.

10.) Staying with a host family.

11.) Learning about and seeing an aquaponics system.

12.) Having a frog jump on my back (and not freaking out about it)!

13.) Painting the outside of a building.

14.) Allowing a huge cockroach to crawl on my arm!

15.) Catching a wild lizard (to let it back out, into the rain forest).

16.) Not having access to a phone, computer, or iPod for over a week.

17.) Not being in contact with my family for more than a week.

18.) Spending a night in the jungle.

19.) Learning how to properly milk a cow (and then actually getting to milk it)!

20.) Sleeping to the sounds of jumping fish (Tilapia).

21.) Purposely walking in the rain without a jacket (and not feeling cold).

22.) Waking up at five in the morning just to see the sunrise.

23.) Dancing at the request of strangers (the children at the primary school we painted).

24.) Dreading the idea of returning home.

Jeff's first time behind bars!
Jeff’s first time behind bars!

It was pretty hard to not to add an exclamation point at the end of every event on my list because they were all pretty exciting for me. Each one brought me a new kind of happiness that was somehow different from the last. After talking with more teammates, I discovered that our lists vary drastically in length, specificity, and what one might consider usual. Despite these differences, however, we’ve all had the challenge of facing new, and sometimes frightening, situations. We each learned to embrace the ambiguity of life during (and hopefully after) this trip, and accepted these challenges with hearts full of optimism and determination.

Cesar's first time using a power drill!
Cesar’s first time using a power drill!

Upon returning to the United States, many of us found it difficult to share our experiences with friends and family in a way that captured all of the beauty, adventure, intellectual stimulation, comradeship and inspiration that was present. Although, my words and photographs could never compare to actually living these experiences, I’ve found my list of “firsts” so be a great source of conversation starters. Each “first” provides a little insight into my own perspective on how valuable the trip was. I hope that we all come as close as possible in explaining our complete appreciation of these experiences with others so that, they too, can be inspired to take action in their own communities and learn more about the world around them.

Marissa's first time smelling this seed!
Marissa’s first time smelling this seed!

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from this experience is that it’s ultimately up to me whether I make the most of every moment or not. Life is too beautiful to become so busy and wrapped up in the superficial world that you forget what’s truly important— happiness. Sometimes all it takes is a little time in nature or a meaningful, face-to-face conversation with another human being to remind someone how lucky he or she is to be alive. I could waste my spare time playing mindless computer games or searching the web on my phone, or I could use it wisely and go outdoors to help my mom with her garden, learn a new recipe, or spend some quality time playing with Rocky (my dog)—the choice is really up to me.

Alyssa's first time painting a building!
Alyssa’s first time painting a building!

I was initially dreading the idea of returning to my home in California, where I was afraid I’d quickly get sucked back into my busy, mundane lifestyle. After some thought, though,  I realized that each and every one of us has the power to make our lives here in the States just as happy and peaceful as our short, but wonderful lives in Costa Rica. If we truly take the time to stop and appreciate the little treasures in life, we can find a paradise closer than we ever imagined—right here, at home. In an effort to do exactly that, I’ve taken up the challenge of extending my list of firsts with every opportunity I get. I can’t wait to explore my surroundings (that I’ve neglected far too often) and discover what new “firsts” await! Whether it’s as daring as trying to learn how to surf, as challenging as trying to learn a new language, or as simple as starting a friendly conversation with a stranger, adventure awaits!

Olivia's first time eating raw cocoa fruit!
Olivia’s first time eating raw cocoa fruit!


More Than Just Primary Painting

Written By Cesar Armas

Primary school is where we first learn how to interact with other students, learn to read and write, and start to find things we enjoy doing. Having the privilege to visit a primary school in Costa Rica gave me the opportunity to return to my childhood by playing a game of “Helado” with the local kids, all while making a difference in their lives. While visiting the primary school, we had the opportunity to paint it. Painting the school with 16 other UC Irvine students gave me the chance to impact the future of the community members of the small town that had allowed us to stay with them for a week.  

In our everyday tasks here in the United States, one doesn’t realize what it takes to paint a school, because for the most part, our Unified School Districts do that job for us. We hardly ever see the work and effort that it takes to maintain a school, nor do we stand up and appreciate the work that has been done. The children of the San Miguel primary school gave me a new perspective on the importance of the little things that make a school run.

We started off the day with scrapping paint and dust off the walls, allowing for the new paint to be absorbed by the cement walls. Painting the outside of the building, the only two classrooms they have, and the cafeteria was an all-day challenge. We each separated into different groups taking on different tasks that included everything from laying out newspaper to painting the walls. We all recognized the importance of our work and we were eagerly ready to take on whatever task was thrown our way.

While painting the outside building, we surrounded students trying to go on with their routine of learning the daily lesson. It was extremely difficult for us to concentrate on painting because we all wanted to interact with the kids and they wanted to talk to us. As we continued on our work, we then had the opportunity to rotate out of what we were doing to interact with the students. While some participants had lunch with them, other participants (including myself) got the chance to play a couple of games with them. When I got the chance to hang out with the kids, they introduced themselves to me without any nerves and wanted to know who I was. They quickly invited me to play a game of “Helado” (freeze tag) and I along with the other Costa Rica Participants didn’t hesitate in joining in.

As the day went on, we took a lunch break and the students eventually left for the day. After our lunch break, four Costa Rica Participants returned to finish the job we had started while the other participants went on to work on different duties around the farm. We returned and went straight to work trying to race against the sun to finish painting before it went dark. We quickly finished painting and as we left back to the farm, the principal of the school couldn’t stop thanking us. He was so pleased with all the work that we did and couldn’t put it into words how much he appreciated all that we had done for the school.

When I look back at the work that we all did, I can’t help but feel accomplished and in awe of how much was done in just one day. We were able to completely paint a school for students that helped us feel welcomed and we created an environment that will inspire them to learn every single day. When you look at the literacy rate of Costa Rica being above 96%, you can only imagine that their schools are some of the best in the world. In reality, the passion for teaching the students about the world triumphs that of the actual condition of the school. Many schools in Costa Rica are left to be handled by the people of the community, which can be a big burden as they try and support their own lives. This made our work that much more meaningful because we essentially gave the students something that they would not have otherwise received. I, along with the rest of the participants, know how wonderful it was to see the faces of the children smiling with glee because they had the opportunity to interact with us and also received a new update to their school. Seeing this project from start to finish made us realize that we were not leaving behind a bad taste of tourist in the community, but a great share of what it meant for us to give back and a “thank you” for allowing us to be immersed in such a beautiful culture. 

Good Morning, Sun.

Written by Medha Asthana

The experience was like falling down a rabbit hole to a world that seemed obvious but utterly new at the same time. I’m talking about watching a sunrise for the first time in my life. Yes, a simple sunrise that has happened every morning of my life for the past 19 years.

Yet only 10 days in Costa Rica taught me how to slow down my life and revel in a lifestyle so different from my own – a lifestyle in which I wished to sit surrounded by nature as the sun rose at 5:20 AM.

All of my fellow participants and I began to ease into a new lifestyle full of hammocks, eternal sunshine, and the beautiful sounds of nature.
All of my fellow participants and I began to ease into a new lifestyle full of hammocks, eternal sunshine, and the beautiful sounds of nature.


Every morning, our guide, Marcos,would take a group of us to a nearby mountaintop just across from his farm (La Finca SIempre Verde) where we were staying. Siempre Verde was located on hills that were very close to the sun every morning. On the last day on La Finca Siempre Verde in Mastatal, I decided to join the group. I witnessed my first sunrise as I sat separate from the group, notebook in hand and senses awaiting. I thought the process would be simple enough, but it was so much more different than what I expected it to be.

At first, the light spread its wings of rays of sunshine across the mountain tops, blessing the green canopy with its powerful touch.

Slowly, the wall of light expanded, and its light became strikingly bright as it looked over the mountains.

halfway sunrise

Then, the blaringly beautiful yellow light dominated everything in its path, and only from the top of the quiet jungle hill could I see the full prowess of the rising force that was the Sun.

It illuminated the world for all to revel in. And for the first time in my life, I became a real witness to this creation of wonder. As I looked at my surroundings now and then, the sun rose faster and faster until it was almost 90 degrees above us.

Around me, I saw tranquil layers of hazed blue mountains in the increasing distance as mist rolled over them. All around me I also heard random soft cracks among the tall grass blades, the sounds of chirping birds and animals and crickets always in the background. I was then conscious of the fact that I was bathed in warm, powerful sunlight.

Costa Rica provided a consummate and natural “silence” – I say that in quotations because it is a silence that fostered loud sounds of life while still inducing a sort of quiet euphoria.

full sunrise

I easily jumped to the idea of the power of the exotic “Costa Rican sun,” but later realized the sun hadn’t changed, but my mindset had. I was finally able to acknowledge it, enjoy it, and to not take it for granted. Sunrises are universal.

In Costa Rica, immersed in a culture of simplicity, a loving community, and the world seemingly at my fingertips, I realized that the sun is not just a sight or a break to enjoy outside the office or classroom, but it is a fact of life and a reminder of the beautiful world in which we’re entwined.  Otherwise, the sun’s true beauty went unseen, unwitnessed, unreveled. Costa Rica gave me time to acknowledge and appreciate the sun.

This simple yet almost transcendent experience reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from the Harry Potter movies:

“Happiness can be found in the darkest of places, if only one remembers to turn on the light.”

This new mindset allowed me to really look closer at something which I normally took for granted. Yes, I enjoyed sunshine every day at Irvine, but did I care enough to watch it enter the day, and sit alongside it? I was always a bystander, never an intimate supporter.

Because of how  I viewed the idea of time while back in school, I used to think of the rising sun as  almost as a burden – a signal of an accompanying groan to yet another fast day as I wake up to another alarm.

I never turned on the light – I never had the time, nor did I ever think to take the time out, to observe something so simple like the sun – why would I? Mornings weren’t exactly fun.

Only when I was in Costa Rica did I begin living for the mornings. I woke up with my eyes bright and ready, ears metaphorically perked ready to hear roosters, cicadas, and very loud morning birds. These sounds became the commonplace music I yearned to hear before I even opened my eyes.  I lived for the early beginnings, the day-long bird chirps and morning hikes, always excited for the glorious sun which would shine all day long.

Every morning was a happy morning.
Every morning was a happy morning.

Now, when walking on campus and feeling the soft sunlight of California, I salute my fingers up to that almighty Sun, now a friendly figure which I have had the pleasure to truly meet. But it takes more than just one meeting to preserve a relationship and respect a friend. I may not be able to be atop mountains every morning at 5 AM anymore, or salute it in a yoga tree pose, but until then, I know the sun will be rising and setting for many days to come, and I vow to join it soon in quiet, shared solace once more.

yoga pose

Name That Fruit!

Written by Jeff Chiang

The textures, aromas, and flavors of Costa Rican cuisine left an indelible mark on my expedition to Central America. Despite how simple or complicated the dishes were, every plate of food was perfectly crafted to deliver a satiating meal. The portion that I loved most was the fruit present in every course. The variety of exotic and tropical fruits in Costa Rica was vast, providing my palate with an assortment of sensations. The extensive list of fruit we had the pleasure of tasting included, but was not limited to, water apples, cashew apples, guaba, papaya, pineapple, cacao, watermelon, avocado, and plantains. Every fruit was unique in its flavor; some were particularly sweet, while others were reminiscent of aged cheese. During my food-tasting venture, I came across two fruits that I thought to be unforgettable.

A blend of fresh, tasty fruit.
A blend of fresh, tasty fruit.

I was previously aware of how cashews were harvested, but I was always curious about the fruit that was attached to each nut. The cashew apple looked extremely similar to a jujube fruit, so I assumed the cashew apple had a crisp bite, as well as a mildly sweet taste. However, when I bit into my first cashew apple I was stunned to discover just how different it was. The fruit has a fleshy texture and the taste reminded me of cheese. The idea of a fruit tasting like a dairy product was slightly unsettling but astounding at the same time. The aroma that the fruit emitted was overpowering and had a slightly foul odor. By no means is the cashew fruit repulsive, I just happen to prefer fruits that aren’t savory.  As unique as the cashew apple is, it is a fruit that I probably wouldn’t seek to try again. Nonetheless, it is a flavor and texture that is worth trying at least once.

The Guaba fruits look like boomerangs from the outside!
These Guaba fruit look like boomerangs!

The guaba fruit is encapsulated in bean-like pods that looked vaguely similar to misshapen boomerangs. While the fruit looked alien in appearance, the taste was amazing. The edible part of the fruit is found on the seeds within the bean-like pod. The texture of the fruit can best be described as airy and light when it first hits the tongue, but becomes a creamy consistency as you break down the fruit. I cannot find the words to describe the taste of this magnificent fruit. It is mildly sweet while providing textural contrasts that progress from airy to creamy to chewy.

Pineapple fresh off the farm!
Pineapple fresh off the farm!

Every piece or slice of fruit I had in Costa Rica tasted far better than its counterpart back in Irvine. The pineapples, watermelons, papayas, bananas, plantains, and avocados were all vastly superior to the fruits that we find in our supermarkets. The natural taste, color, smell, and texture of fruits can only be fully reached when they are left to ripen uninterrupted. I am extremely fortunate to have tasted and experienced the wonders of how delicious, fresh and natural fruit can taste when the proper amount of time and dedication is put into growing it.

The Impact: Fully Adaptable

Written by Shannon M. Lee

Prior to our 10 day adventure, navigating the world of environmentalism and Costa Rican culture, the 2014 Costa Rica Program participants were casual acquaintances—students who just saw each other for 1.5 hours a week. Through our weekly classes, we learned about cultural competency, how to become more environmentally friendly, and the Costa Rican culture.  The 10 weeks of preparation for the 10 days we would spend in Costa Rica quickly flew by and many of us were in shock that our time had come to actually apply what we learned.  Leaving Irvine, we left the “old” self and entered an entirely new culture.

Taken within the first few hours after we stepped foot on Costa Rican territory
Taken within the first few hours after we stepped foot on Costa Rican territory

Although we prepared immensely for this trip and knew a tad bit about what to expect in terms of scheduling, the 2014 Costa Rica Program participants learned far more than what we planned on, in terms of researching, growing closer as a group, and becoming more connected to the culture of Costa Rica. From learning about the composting toilet and its benefits, to our homestays in rural Mastatal, to learning how La Cangreja National Park was established, to becoming one with our environment, we were very fortunate to take part in this program.  Ultimately, we were able to feel a reality that often becomes overshadowed by our day-to-day lifestyle in America.


Taken on day 7. The sunset seen at La Finca Simpre Verde in Mastatal.
Taken on day 7. The sunset seen at La Finca Simpre Verde in Mastatal.

While in Costa Rica, I felt like I was at the right place at the right time, standing before the sunrise at 5:20 AM or laying upon a log at night to see the stars. All of my struggles from winter quarter vanished because I had found a stability in nature that no one could take away from me. And best of all, I knew the other participants were experiencing the same warm feeling I felt within each of the 10 days. When the last day of Spring Break arrived, I knew it was time for me to physically leave Costa Rica, and I was sad. However, when I found out that we would have to stay in Panama for one night and arrive at LAX on Monday afternoon, the feeling was bittersweet.  Although I did not want this adventure to end, reality struck me and, I knew I was already conforming to my previous mindset—of scheduling, planning, going to school… My mind was wrapped around my responsibilities that I would have when I stepped back on US territory. Even though our journey would continue another night in Panama, and I should have been excited. I wanted to go back to the states because I didn’t want to be behind in lectures and my old life. Our airlines ended up giving us hotel stay at the Hard Rock Hotel.  Moments after we entered the hotel, many of us were in awe at the cleanness of the hotel, the grandiose food at the buffet, and fell in love with the view of the New York styled buildings rising high above the ground. Watching my fellow participants adapt back to an American lifestyle scared me. I knew I would have to face my old life, but it came way too quickly. And knowing consciously that I was adapting back to this reality scared me even more. I didn’t want to go back to my old life; instead I wanted to relive what I had in Costa Rica.

Natural selection chooses the best to survive and reproduce. In order to be naturally selected, one must be adaptable. It is exactly four days and forty-two minutes since we arrived at Mesa Court from our Costa Rica journey. I know I am adapting back to the person I was before this trip, but I am fighting hard to keep the adaptation that I gained in Costa Rica. Each day that goes by, I search through the 30,000 students and faculty at this school to spot the 20 people I really I want to see. Each day that goes by, I see the unnecessary luxuries that this culture has and reminisce. Each day that goes by, I can recall the vivid pictures of the sunrise in the morning and the bright stars shining at night. Each day that goes by, I might say that I do not want to be here, but it is here where my love for Costa Rica and my experiences must be shared in hopes of enlightening others of the reality that I saw and will continue to see here because I have my memories. We, the 2014 Costa Rica Program, have grown so much in terms of our knowledge of the environment as well personal development. Although our trip only lasted 10 days, it will continue on in our memories about our perceptions of self, because now we are different from who we were.

Although our adventure in Costa Rica is over, our memories of each other and this trip last a lifetime.
Although our adventure in Costa Rica is over, our memories of each other and this trip last a lifetime.