Back in May 2011 I had the opportunity to participate in a medical mission with International Service Learning, an NGO that offers volunteers practical experience through medicine, education, and community enrichment programs in developing countries in Latin America and Africa. Originally I was planning to go in January 2011, but due to a major snowstorm that shut down the East Coast for about 3 days, I had to postpone my trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua until May.
The two-week medical mission was the first time flying into a foreign country alone and my first time in Central America. The second I landed I knew it wasn’t going to be my last. I plan on recapping my experience with ISL next week, but first I wanted to shared a bit about our recreation day in Costa Rica. I already shared my recreation day in Granada, Nicaragua a while ago. We worked 4-5 days doing home visits and seeing patients in our makeshift clinic and then we were awarded with a recreation day to explore the beautiful countries we were visiting. And beautiful they are!
We spent the morning exploring Irazu Volcano National Park located in Cartago Province. Irazu is the tallest volcano in Costa Rica standing at 11,260 feet (3,432 m). The volcano is still classified as active, but its last major eruption was in 1963 on the day that the President John F. Kennedy visited the country. The eruption decimated nearby crops, but left nutrient-rich soil for years to come. The last volcanic activity was recorded in 1966. The volcano has two major craters which is the parks major attractions. The largest crater is about 900 feet (275 m) deep while the smallest crater, named Diego de la Haya, sits about 300 feet (91 m) deep and contains a brightly colored mineral-rich crater lake. Due to the volcano’s central location in Costa Rica, on a clear day you can see both the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean!
Costa Rica is a hot and humid country, but as soon as you drive up to the volcano, the environment quickly changes causing you to search for a light jacket or sweater. The weather is generally cool, windy, and cloudy. The landscape changes sharply from the lush green jungles to that of a vast and empty moon-like atmosphere. The air smells faintly of Earth and sulfur and depending on which way the wind is blowing, it could be a heavy smell of sulfur reminding you that you’re standing on top of an active volcano.
We spent the morning walking around the top of the park and stopping in the small gift shop and snack bar to sip on steaming cups of hot chocolate to warm up our cold fingers and toes. The park is open daily from 8am to 3pm and costs around $7 USD.
As fascinating as the moonscape of the highest volcano in Costa Rica was, we were excited to head back to the jungle and trapeze through the canopy as the monkeys do in Costa Rica. I can’t remember the company we used to go zip lining, but it was certainly the highlight of our day. It was my first zip lining experience and as much as I’m afraid of heights, it will not be my last time! The adrenline rush was incredible. Each time I hooked into the next line I was elated and giggled my way through the wet jungle alive with the noises of the animals and insects that call it home. By the time I reached the end zipline, that was over 150 feet long, I had completely forgot about my fear on heights and wanted to do it all over again!
Our ziplining tour started with a delicious traditional Costa Rican lunch followed by a crazy jeep ride up the hill to the start of the zip line. We drove as far as we could and then had to hike the remaining 200 feet or so to the starting hut for our safety lecture and harnessing up. Our guides were very professional and all spoke a little English. All the girls were nervous, myself included, and somehow they convinced me to take the first zip through the jungle. I swallowed my nervousness and clipped in for the “training” line. I was hooked! There was a total of about 10-14 lines starting from the top of a hill and running to the bottom back to the restuarant where we ate lunch. The longest line was the best! Costa Rica is probably the king of zip lining so if you’re ever in Costa Rica I definitely recommend doing a canopy tour! Prices vary per company, but they all seem to range in price from $40 to $100 USD depending on the location and length of tour. Zip lining Costa Rica is awesome!