Thursday, January 26, 2012

Traveling is not always fun and games

During my volunteering time in Dec, I had a close call experience that I typed up but would blog post when I returned home to avoid worrying friends and family.

Some background to this close call, kayak river rafting story. I was near the Sarapiqui River, world renowned for water rafting. Annabel, the other volunteer, already rafted it and was interested in a different experience. We were able to go kayak rafting with guides and a rafting group. The kayaks were inflatable so they were more stable, we were told. This would be more fun than just rafting, which is true. I kayaked a bunch last year and have rafted 2x but I have never kayaked on a river before.

I flipped out of the single, inflatable kayak within 15 mins and could not get back on. At the same time, Annabel flipped too but she got rescued by the rafters nearby. The rapids were intense and deep. I could not even try to flip the kayak back over, but tried to hold on to it. Then I got swept away. I saw that there was a beach far to the right so I tried to go in that direction. It was hard to see anything while being in the rapids. I lost my paddle and went down in the water.

Down, down, down for a while being thrashed around like I in a washing machine. I did not breathe for a whole minute but it seemed so much longer than that. I could see the light and knew I was near the surface but had a hard time reaching above the water even with a life jacket on (very frustrating at the time and I am sure I panicked). I wondered how long could I last underwater w/o breathing, how much time did I have left? After being down for a min, I was able to quickly grasp for air twice. Then finally I got air again, for more than just a second. Then i saw the guide, held on to his kayak and then got roped to the rocky beach nearby. This must have been past the rapid portion, which just seemed would never end.

I truly thought I was going to die. It was such a real realization. So helpless, struggling for air, for life. I thought of my poor parents having to deal with this and that I was to die while having fun in Costa Rica. But I was not ready to die after just figuring out what wanted to do with my life. How selfish of me, I thought. My legs, knees, and ankle bruised right away. And I was amazed how damn weak I felt (I must have struggled a lot in the river). It took 10 mins to calm down and breathe normally. My ankle hurt the most and later my whole thigh was sore for a few days. One guide said I was in the water for 5 mins and it was crazy. I don’t think they have dealt with such a situation before.

I got on the raft and asked how much longer, they said 2 hrs. I said no way. I was getting cold, coughing like crazy from all the water, and just wanted to lay down. They stopped, called the office, and the van picked us up from somewhere we were able to get out of the water and onto the main road. I am amazed that they thought I could and should raft for so long after such an ordeal.

I kept inquiring the guides if I should see a doc to make sure I don’t have water in my chest and that I have accurate oxygen levels. After what happened to my friend in Malaysia from a scuba diving incident and not being treated right away, I am now aware of the importance of after care. The guides did not speak much English. The driver of the van said it would be a waste of my time to go to their small clinic and wait uncomfortably. Luckily, the volunteer place had a private doc that came by. Later on the van driver told us that after hearing the reports from the guide that I should get checked out. He probably thought I was being a paranoid American before. Anyway, the good news is that there was no water in my lungs (if there had been that could lead to pnemonia) and I got out without breaking a thing. Amazing.

In retrospect, we were not told what to do stay on the kayak and what to do after falling out. I can’t believe I let that slip. But then again I did not realize how strong the rapids were and did not think we would flip out. When we entered the water Anna was a little scared. I told her, it will be fine. The rapids were a class 3. B/c Anna rafted there before she remembered the safety instructions and was able to stay afloat and get picked up quickly before getting hurt. I was glad to hear that as I was worried about her while I was struggling.

The following week I was tempted to give rafting a chance in order to overcome such an experience. But by then it was raining nonstop and did not want to push my luck. I also had travelers insurance, which was pretty cheap; something I have never done before.

I have had injuries and multiple surgeries, but that was the closest call I have ever experienced, especially in such a short amount of time, so unexpectedly. I am posting in such details not to freak people out, but we, especially travelers, need to recognize that they are many dangers out there, especially in doing such activities, so lessons learned:
- Pay attention to safety instructions and make sure they are given.
- Have and carry travel insurance
- If something does happen, talk to lots of people (if feasible) and if you think you should see a doctor, see one.

I am very thankful to get out of that situation unharmed and my volunteer org had a doctor that saw me that night! Travel safely is a phrase I say to many and always truly mean every word.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Caribbean and Update

Dave and I had 2 free nights before his next work thing, so we headed to the Caribbean side. Dave has not been there in 15 years and I have yet to make it there. It's known for humidity and rain. It was hot and the water was a bit choppy but we lucked out w/ rain only in the am and at night. After Dave's presentation in San Jose, he headed back to the States on Wed.

So what's next for me? Well a few things have developed over the past few weeks that answered a big question that arose before I started my adventure back in Feb. Where will I end up? Well, Dave's home in Vermont will be my new home!

We've been friends for over a year and the past few months we've grown closer and we want to be together. This took us both by surprise at first, a pleasant one. Dave has a good job and a house, so it makes sense that I move there. Yes, it is cold and yes I wanted to do the AK/HI thing. But VT has some pros (it kinda like a hybrid b/w Asheville, NC & Portland):
- Very environmental friendly w/ lots of nonprofits
- Beautiful nature, hiking, lake, scenery
- Cool, small community with good beers

Last Monday, I also decided to head back to the States earlier, Jan 19th (today) rather than Feb 9th for a few reasons. I've explored CR a ton and I am ready to start a new life and career. Next week I start volunteering as an Education Interpreter w/ ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center, which I am very excited about. It's been difficult to gain real experience from volunteering abroad when you do not speak the language and only have a few weeks.

So I won't be posting as much and sharing awesome photos. I will, of course, take mini trips and go continue to go abroad and blog about them. In the meantime,  I'll post any big life updates, in case people are curious.

2011 was a wonderful life experience and 2012 is off to a great start. I'm very fortunate and grateful and can only hope others can follow their dreams and passions (motivation is key and support is helpful/comforting).
Thanks for your friendship and support! 
xoxo Rose
P.S. Click here for the small pix album.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Corcovado NP Hike and Camp

We had an early start for a 9 hrs, 12.5 miles hike in Corcovado NP in the heat with camping gear. We had a few river crossings where we had to change in/out of our sandals. National Geographic has called Corcovado "the most biologically intense place on Earth". 
By the end, we all had tons of blisters on our feet. But, for most students, this hike was their favorite part of the course. We got to the biological station by 5pm and I immediately took a cold shower then we set up the tent before dark. I had a hard time sleeping the next 2 nights even with natural sleeping aids.  

We took a different hike on the way out, most of which was on a scenic beach. It was our first time really doing a night hike. We started at 3am to try to avoid the hot sun but we got stuck around sunrise waiting for the high tide to go down so we can continue on.

It was kinda scary since we could not see but u hear all kinds of movements. There are pumas and jaguars here that we didn't see. Also watch out for those snakes. We had a huge river crossing that reached to our butts. Another first time for me. In the water someone spotted a caiman (or a baby croc) and stingray. Also the feeling of algae was yucky. And all of this was in the dark around 3:30am!
Around 10:30am we reached our beautiful tent camp lodge, where the tent is already provided with views of the ocean from the tent. Click here for more pix.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Zip Line & Osa day Hike and Lodge

From Coopesilencio we headed to the beautiful, remote, and hot Osa Peninsula. The Osa is on the political map for more development. Many locals fear this development as they do not want it to turn in to the Nicoya Peninsula and the Osa is a huge wild life . Halfway there we made a fun stop to tour, lunch, and zip line at Hacienda Barú.

We got to the Osa early evening and checked in to the Danta Lodge for the next 3 nights, which is a very creative and pretty lodge.  The next morning we hiked for a few hours in the heat to an indigenous community.  The hike was more of a warm up and prep for us as we will hike 8 hrs 12 miles in the next 2 days for a 2 night camping trip at Corcovado NP. Click here for more pix. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Coopesilencio: Palm Oil Plantation and Wildlife Rescue & Manuel Antonio NP

The drive from Monteverde to Coopesilencio was very scenic with the highest mountain valleys I have seen in CR and neat to see the cloud/air transformation.  Coopesilencio is cooperative town now of 550 people, 125 families, founded in 1973. People own their homes while the cooperative owns the surrounding land and business. There are 42 associates who make up the cooperative; the others are workers with no ownership.

In 1955 the land was owned by an outside banana company. The river wiped out the crops and the land was abandoned. CR has interesting squatter rights. Landless people came on this land to squat but the company called the police. After a year of this, CR finally gave the land to the people on one condition that they form a cooperative. The government saw that squatters would get the land and then sell it a few years later. They also noticed rich people hiring local people to squat to obtain the land cheaply.
A cooperative means no one person owns the land. Since 1985 their main source of income is African palm with 2,500 acres. The remainder 25% of income comes from other projects a small marker, forestry, cattle farm, tourism and volunteers.
Manual Antonio NP is a beautiful park to protect the wildlife and scenic beach views. You get a close up view of the monkeys. It was pretty hot so we did not hike around much and chilled at the beach. Click here for more pix.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Coffee & Sugar Cane and Butterfly Garden Tours

Last day in Monteverde we toured a locally owned coffee and sugar cane farm, which we got to sample both. It was a very informative and interactive 2 hour tour. We also learned a little bit about banana plants, which were originally from Africa and CR’s #1 export product.
In the afternoon, we checked out the butterfly (and insect) garden that has volunteers conducting the educational tours. This was one of the volunteer programs I looked into doing, but they require two months commitment. Click here for pix.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

La Fortuna: Volcan Arenal & Monteverde: Cloud Forest

First morning w/ the VT college students is New Year’s Eve in San Jose. We met with NeotropicaFoundation, who briefed us on CR regions’ economical and social wealth/poverty. Outlining their programs to protect wetlands, training locals in the Osa to be guides, and working w/ political/community issues such as road and airport construction while protecting the rivers and environment.  

Then a few hrs on the bus to La Fortuna and headed to Eco Termales, an eco-hot springs.  Not a bad way to ring in the new year. New Year’s day we toured around Volcano Arenal and checked out the huge, touristy town at night.

On our way to Monteverde, we stopped and toured at a wind farm. Then met with the Monteverde Institute for a historical overview and discussion about tourism in CR.  Next day, we toured Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and met with a local women’s artist co-operative. 

We had a wonderful dinner with Marvin Rockwell and his wife. Marvin was one of the first Quaker families in 1951 to settle in Monteverde. Marvin was 38 and adopted a 1 ½ yrs old local boy. He then married a tica who was 22. After 50 years, they are still happily married.  Click here for more pix and info.