Weekend of National Treasures

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After our first week in our new homes, we traveled to Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja where we spent our weekend. On the way to the park, we stopped in a nearby town where we found a performance at a community gathering put on by the local recreation department. The group was performing a typical Costa Rican dance. We ate traditionally prepared empanadas and watched the group perform among many local families.

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Local youth dancing bailes típicos costarricenses at a community event in the town center.

The National Park is located in the north-west region of the state, a few hours away from the cost. So far I had visited rain forests, so this was the first trip to a dry forest. The forest sits on top of a volcano, which had its last major eruptions in the mid-1990s. While some parts of the forest are lush and green, other parts, like those around the bubbling springs of boiling mud, have cacti and other desert plants growing nearby. The magma below the surface creates steaming pockets off the path, which can be seen all throughout the hike. I had never seen a landscape that shifted so quickly from rocky savannah to tropical forest.

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Steffen looking into the water fall, which right now is dry from lack of rainfall so far this year. It will be gushing in the next season.

We learned on our hike that the many trees with beautiful root formations where actually trees that had been consumed from the inside out by a fig vine, which had simply become so intertwined that it was hard to tell which parts were of the original tree. This eventually destroys the tree, but leaves an exquisite structure that is home to many forest creatures, insects and animals alike. We were fortunate enough to see howler monkeys, a few emerald bask lizards, and a toucan! As a group, patience was required, so I think I got to take my time and look out for many more animals that I might have on my own.

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To embrace the spirit of these treasured hot springs, which occasionally smell of very putrid sulfur, we went to hot springs, where the heat from the underlying volcano heats pools of water on either side of the river. We took mud baths which are used to clean out the pores and boast holistic healing properties from the nutrients in the fertile volcanic soil. I thought that it would feel a little dirty during the process but the way that the liquid was prepared actually felt extremely pure and luxurious. Many of our excursions this weekend involved walking on hanging bridges, and there were rarely alternatives, which can be difficult for some people but definitely gets you out of your comfort zone of walking on flat ground.

Now into my third week here, I am grateful for the general kindness of the people we meet. Saying please, thank you, and excuse me (at the very least, and in a few different ways) is a must in this country. Therefore, when we encountered other tourists that were not acting accordingly it actually came to a shock to us! Though a few weeks ago an unresponsive person might have seemed quite normal, it is certainly shocking after getting into the habit of saying many pleasantries throughout the day. This kind of experience made me realize that I am very comfortable interacting here and I am thankful for the people that helped me get to this level of ease. I feel that I have even accommodated to my new hosts more quickly and found my temporary place in their lives while I am here in their home. Coming back after the weekend felt a little like a return back to my life here, and I felt a sense of relief when I saw the house come into view.

For more stories from Temple students studying in Costa Rica, visit our blog!

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