The trip of a lifetime
Not many people can say they’ve been on an “eco-adventure.”
From June 15-21, eight Somerset High School students, two parents and two teachers travelled to Costa Rica as part of a WorldStrides educational tour.
Somerset High School science instructor Erin Gehring and Spanish teacher Sara Turner took the kids on an “eco-adventure trip,” which took the group from San José, Costa Rica, through the central region of the country.
The trip was not a school-sponsored trip, but rather an experience put together through WorldStrides by Gehring and Turner. The opportunity was offered to anyone who wanted to go. WorldStrides, according to its website, “is the nation’s largest and most respected accredited travel organization, helping 300,000 students travel each year to destinations in more than 90 countries.”
Gehring described the trip as “extremely well done,” with a tour guide that was “phenomenal and knowledgeable.” The guide was with them every step of the way, from the time they landed at the airport until he took them back to the airport to embark on their journey home.
“I would describe it as a cultural experience with a lot of science,” Gehring said. “It was fun so the kids didn’t even realize they were doing anything ‘educational.’ And the parents saw it as a good cultural opportunity.”
From San José, the group travelled to central Costa Rica, where they toured the Tirimbina Rainforest, the volcano at Arenal, and Monteverde’s cloud forests. Cloud forests are types of rare rainforests located in tropical or subtropical mountainous environments where the atmospheric conditions allow for a consistent cover of clouds.
One tour favorite was the chance to make authentic Costa Rican food with locals at La Cocina, a farm-to-table venture. Once the food was prepared, the group got to eat the meal.
“The kids were fascinated with the fruits they’d never seen before and of course then had questions about ‘how do they grow? Where do they grow?’” Gehring said.
Unique foods they tried were papayas, plantains, guanábana and gallo pinto, Gehring said. Guanábana, also called soursop, is the fruit of a broadleaf, flowering, evergreen tree native to Mexico, Cuba, Central America and the Caribbean. It has a flavor similar to a cross between a strawberry and a pineapple.
Gallo pinto is the traditional Costa Rican breakfast of beans and rice.
“All the food was provided for us,” Gehring said. “We ate buffets every day. It was phenomenal food.”
Along with trying new cuisine, the group was able to see how sugarcane is processed and drank raw sugarcane juice (agua dulce), tour a frog pond and snake garden, take part in a bat tour, conduct water quality testing, research what happens to seeds bats deposit in the rainforest, rake pathways at Monteverde as volunteers, and learn about how pineapples grow (not on trees).
Two major highlights of the adventure were ziplining in Monteverde and whitewater rafting the Sarapiquí River, Gehring said.
“The highlights were definitely the big activities,” Gehring said. “But also trying all the new food and speaking a new language. It was also really fun watching how the Costa Rican culture engaged in the World Cup.”
Gehring said the group’s Spanish skills were of mixed levels, but that even the kids who had taken four years of Spanish were nervous to use the language.
“It was very hard for them to just walk up to someone and use those phrases,” Gehring said. “When we do this again I think it would help to host an after-school monthly meeting before the trip to teach key phrases. I would also like to host an after-school science exposure class to enhance what they see on the trip.”
While the group had hoped to tour a Costa Rican school, they didn’t get the chance.
“I don’t think they realized how different it would be there,” Gehring said of walking around San Jose. “Many of the houses were barred up, small and makeshift.”
Gehring hopes to offer a trip opportunity like this every two years.
“With planning and expenses, for families to do all that in one year is tough,” Gehring said. “I’ve always wanted to get to do this. You don’t get to just go on a vacation to get to do stuff like this. How many people get to create a vacation? Going alone without a tour guide, you wouldn’t see all of the stuff we did.”