June 30, 2001 - Travellearn: Resort owner James Hamilton came to Costa Rica with the Peace Corps in 1968

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Costa Rica: Peace Corps Costa Rica : The Peace Corps in Costa Rica: June 30, 2001 - Travellearn: Resort owner James Hamilton came to Costa Rica with the Peace Corps in 1968

By Admin1 (admin) on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - 10:25 pm: Edit Post

Resort owner James Hamilton came to Costa Rica with the Peace Corps in 1968

Resort owner James Hamilton came to Costa Rica with the Peace Corps in 1968

TraveLearn participant

"Memories of....."

Many tour companies can send you to the places that you expect to go and show you the things that you expect to see on a trip, but without contact with local people, and informative interpretive guides and resource people these experiences often feel as empty as if you had only viewed them on television.

Here's how a past participant described TraveLearn's Costa Rica program.

Return to "Memories..." Index page


by Tripp Baltz

As plumes of steam and ash suddenly began to billow forth from the nearby volcano, our tour guide dashed for the travel bus and hollered "Avalanche!" – prompting one question to flash through my mind.

Am I about to be buried under a volley of scorching lava and rocks?

I relaxed the moment I saw our tour guide, Jeff Otico, return with his camera and point it in the direction of the volcano, which was now stained russet by the setting sun. He smiled broadly and announced we were witnessing a "pyroclastic flow," a geologic event that occurs less than once a year.

My smile broadened, too, as flecks of ash appeared on my white T-shirt and those of my companions on a TraveLearn tour in Costa Rica. As bruised clouds streamed forth from Arenal Volcano and darkened the sky, the voluminous amount of steam in the air caused two rainbows to form over our heads. While the sunset show went on, we reflected back on our day spent in this fresh, tropical land.

Like Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica is teeming with activity and wildness. On this tour we learned much about this nation of peace-loving people, great bio-diversity, living rainforests, murky cloud forests, Caribbean and Pacific coasts, mountain ranges, and active volcanism.

Volcanism plays a soothing role at El Tabacon Resort Hot Springs, which are heated by Arenal’s lava flows. The night before the avalanche, we relaxed in the steaming water as orange ribbons of light streaked down the nearby, hulking cone.

Earlier that day, during a boat trip in the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge, anhingas, cormorants and herons sat perched on snags and logs lining the banks of the Rio Frio (Cold River), watching us as we floated by. Jeff bellowed into the jungle and received an answer from howler monkeys hanging by their tails from tree branches high over our heads. Our pilot wheeled the boat around and pointed under a tree, urging us to look for several mammals hiding there. Like a line of ink splotches, several bats clung to the tree’s underside, staying away from predators as they waited for night to fall. Later we saw a caiman hungrily eyeing a basilisk lizard, dubbed the "Jesus Christ Lizard" by natives because of its ability to skip across the surface of water.

TraveLearn prides itself on its knowledgeable in-country guides, and Jeff was no exception. Ask Jeff a question about volcanoes, and he doesn’t just tell you they are beautiful conical-shaped mountains that spew forth lava and are pretty to watch at night, he gives you a history lesson that covers lava domes, calderas, and nice little Italian villages being wiped out in 79 AD.

He and our friendly bus driver, Carlos, frequently stopped the tour to point out a caracara, turkey vulture or red-lored parrot. Their eyes were sharp. Once they pulled us to the side of the road and motioned into the jungle at a light green tree with hand-shaped leaves. "Donde? Where?" I asked Carlos, peering repeatedly into the dark foliage. Carlos patiently pointed to a crux in the branches where finally I saw a two-toed sloth, sitting perfectly still.

TraveLearn tours also come with deluxe accommodations, like the elegant Tilijari Resort, a country club along the San Carlos River. Resort owner James Hamilton, who came to Costa Rica with the Peace Corps in 1968 (the same year of Arenal’s last major eruption) gave us a tour of the grounds, where nearly all of the plants provide some fruit or medicinal benefit-banana, dopa (used to treat victims of Parkinson’s Disease), hearts of palm. We were careful around the cashew tree; however, the nut of which is highly poisonous until roasted.

The "Comida Tipica" – regional cuisine of Costa Rica – was a delicious feast for us as we motored our way through the country. For breakfast, we dined on huevos (eggs), tortillas and gallo pinto (literally, spotted rooster, a mixture of rice and black beans), augmented by native fruit juices such as guanabana (a light-colored, sweet grapefruit flavored drink) and pineapple.

For lunch and dinner we had our choice of dishes built around bistek (beef), pollo (chicken) or pescados (fish), usually with a mixture of rice, beans, tortillas, sauces, plantains and palmitos (hearts of palm). Traditional postres (desserts) included flan and mazamorra, a pudding made from cornstarch.

At and between every meal Costa Rica’s superb coffee was always available. Ticos, the name Costa Ricans give themselves, drink coffee all day, and it is excellent and quite inexpensive. I brought back several bags of beans, at about $4 a pound.

I came to Costa Rica hoping to learn more about rain forest preservation and how the nation is handling its eco-tourism boom. In Monteverde, I gained respect for the early residents, who resolved nearly 50 years ago to set aside the nearby pristine jungle for future generations. Now the 10,500-hectare Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve contains over 100 species of mammals, 400 species of birds, 120 species of amphibians and reptiles, and a whopping 2,500 species of plants!

On a walk under the thick canopy of vegetation, we stopped to peer at a strangler fig, which Jeff identified using a red light pointer in the murky half-light of the thick jungle.

The fig, unable to stand on its own, was working its way up the trunk of another tree, which it eventually will suffocate after it is ready to hold up its own weight. Bromeliads sat like potted plants on the branches of other host trees; their long leaves streaming down the forest floor. Vines hung from practically every tree branch, and a cool mist lingered in the air.

I hiked with a few companions to Costa Rica’s Continental Divide, where a white bank of clouds rose from the Caribbean to meet a thick mist rolling in from the Pacific. At the top we saw some "Poor Man’s Umbrella" plants, with wide, roundish leaves and stalks as thick as broom handles.

In Monteverde we stayed at the delightful and rustic Hotel Fonda Vela, carefully tucked into the foliage of the rain forest. A key part of the hotel’s environmental focus is its ongoing reforestation project. In compensation for tree removal for construction, the hotel concentrates on re-planting Costa Rican trees. The Cloud Forest is a short hike from the property and some 60 different species of migrating birds can often be seen around the hotel. Jeff told us he has occasionally seen the Resplendant Quetzal, a dazzling, multicolored bird with long green tail feathers, flying around the rooftops at Fonda Vela. We didn’t spot the elusive bird, but hummingbirds flitted about our heads and we could hear woodpeckers and toucans in the woods nearby.

Fonda Vela, true to Costa Rica’s emerging tradition of eco-tourism, was built on a small and intimate scale. In contrast with mega-resorts popping up elsewhere in Central America and the Caribbean, Costa Rica’s hotel industry has worked closely with local people and the environment to the benefit of all. As a result, our visit to Fonda Vela and Monteverde was friendly, intimate, and peaceful.

While there we met Marvin Rockwell, one of the original members of a community of Quakers who left the U.S. in protest over the military draft and founded Monteverde in the early 1950s. Marvin told us stories of his adventures traveling through the Central American isthmus to reach Costa Rica, and the challenges that faced the early Monteverdians as they worked to establish a home in the Cloud Forest. I asked him if back then he ever envisioned the eco-tourists who now come to Monteverde to stroll through its protected forests. "Never," he replied, an incredulous look on his face. As Marvin spoke to us we were treated to a phenomenal pink sky above the misty veil of the Cloud Forest, glowing crimson as the sun set over the distant Pacific.

Because of its philosophy of natural protection, Costa Rica now enjoys an immense diversity of wildlife and wild areas. I learned that although the country covers a mere 0.03 percent of the earth’s surface, it contains over 5 percent of all life forms on the planet. And roughly one-fourth of the country is set aside in special conservation areas.

Back in San Jose, the nation’s capital, TraveLearn arranged for us to meet Rodrigo Carazo, former president of the country. Carazo detailed the economic and political challenges facing his land, including the social tensions caused by waves of Nicaraguan immigration in the wake of the ceasing of Contra-Sandinista hostilities.

On our last night in the country, TraveLearn set up small-group dinners with local families, a welcome opportunity to learn about the Tico lifestyle. The peace-loving Costa Ricans, who voted to abolish their military in 1949, fit nicely within the backdrop of their country’s many wild and natural areas and the pristine beauty of its living rain forests.

Together the Ticos and their tropical land demonstrate love of the "Pura Vida" – pure life, the makings of an unforgettable TraveLearn adventure.

Return to "Memories..." Index page


P.O. Box 315 l Lakeville, PA 18438

1-800-235-9114 l 1-570-226-9114 l Fax: 1-570-226-6912

Send E-mail to info@TraveLearn.com

TraveLearn® is a registered trademark

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: Travellearn

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Costa Rica; Tourism; Business



By concerned! ( on Saturday, January 31, 2009 - 6:33 am: Edit Post

Sure, coatis are cute as hell... You should never, NEVER feed wild animals in Costa Rica!! (not to mention, near a road!!!) They lose their fear of humans, become dangerous and aggressive for food they won't go fend for anymore, they can bite, scratch, get seriously injured by dogs and cars, and have to be destroyed when they become pests or threats... etc etc.

Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.