Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Scuba Diving: "The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever." - Jacques Cousteau

Scuba diving was an incredible experience. At first I was a scared. Going beneath the water was intimidating. The ocean is big, deep, and full of mystery. Nevertheless, I wasn’t about to give up such a special opportunity in the crystal clear waters of Bocas del Toro. I wasn’t able to take a camera, but I did make sure to write down everything I saw. Here are pictures that I found of the incredible aquatic life beneath the waves in Bocas.

The first beautiful fish I saw was the the Regal Blue Tang (aka Dori, for those you you who are Finding Nemo fans). I could hardly believe I was seeing Dori in real life. I felt like I was swimming in an aquarium.

A little ways into my first dive we saw a school of 6 Caribbean Reef Squid swimming near us. They only grow to about 8 inches in length. Interestingly, these squids are semelparous, which means that the females die immediately after laying their first, and only, batch of eggs.

We also saw tons of Damsel Fish, especially near the ship wreck we dove at. It is also a common aquarium fish.

The lobster was so much bigger than I expected. They can grow to be 15 pounds! These guys, the spiny lobster, also have no claws… hmmm.

My favorite fish was this little guy. He is a puffer fish. They are just so slow, cute, small and innocent looking. I don’t know why I was so infatuated by them, but they are the coolest little fish. While they appear very innocent, puffer fish are actually the second most poisonous animal in the world, after the golden poison frog. Certain internal organs are highly toxic, yet their meat is a delicacy. Personally, I wouldn’t risk trying it. If prepared incorrectly, the meat is lethal.

Here are a few of the many species of fish I saw during my dive. Again, you may recognize a few from Finding Nemo! We also saw tons of Sponge Brittle Stars, Cushion Sea Stars, and Sea Cucumbers.

Moorish Idol                                                                    Yellow Tang                                                             Cleaner Shrimp 

Spotfin Butterflyfish                                                    Queen Angelfish                                                                               Blue Angelfish

The Stoplight Parrot fish was one of the most colorful and vibrant fish we saw. These fish, like many others, change sex throughout their lifetime. On the right is a Nassau Grouper, one of the few large fish I saw. They can grow to be 2 feet long.









The scariest animal I saw (besides the swarm of moon jelly fish we saw while we were out of the water… thank goodness), was this awesome Black-spotted Moray Eel. He looked just like this picture. His head was sticking out from some coral and it looked like he was hissing at me with his mouth open. I know eels don’t hiss, but it was still enough to make me want to get a good look and then keep swimming!

The last night we were they we saw a group of 8 eagle rays swim past our hostel, just a few feet from the end of the deck. During the day I saw a whiptail sting ray. The hostel owner said the family of eagle rays visits every night. Even if I saw them daily I don’t think they could ever lose their allure.
Eagle Ray                                                                                                                      Whiptail Stingray

Now when I return to the states I will most definitely be getting my scuba diving certificate so I can scuba dive again and see more of the earth’s incredible creatures.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Panama: “The open road is a beckoning, a strangeness, a place where a man can lose himself.” – William Least Heat Moon

This weekend I traveled to a tropical paradise. I went to Bocas Del Toro, an island city on the North East P1040280coast of Panama. Bocas is actually a whole series of little islands that you can travel between by water taxi for a dollar or two. The border was a little sketchy; we had to walk across a bridge that was less than safe from the Costa Rican to the Panamanian boarder. After we were across, we took a taxi for about an hour and then two ferries before arriving at an awesome little hostel that projected out over the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean.















Our first night there we were lucky enough to view a spectacular sunset as we sat on the huge deck and dangled our feet in the water while we had a few drinks. The water there is 80 degrees and hardly refreshing during the 95 degree afternoons, but at night it was perfect and there is nothing more relaxing that listening to the sound of the waves beneath you.P1040353













The next morning I had my first scuba diving experience. It was fantastic! I had never been scuba diving before, so I first had to watch a short video and practice a few skills in shallow water, but then it was off to the depths of the ocean! I did two 1 hour dives. The first was through a coral reef. I saw more beautiful fish than I could imagine, a huge lobster, an eel, blue shrimp, red shrimp, coral, anemones, squid, sea cucumbers, and more. The second dive was at a ship wreck; which was home to a plethora of colorful fish and beautiful corals. Besides the fact that the things I saw were amazing, being underwater and breathing was an experience in itself. I reached a depth of fifty feet and the water was still crystal clear and warm, even without a wet suit. It was amazing!

That afternoon another one of my friends showed up and the three of us headed to Red Frog Beach, a beach that faces out over the Caribbean. It was beautiful, but not as calm as the others we visited. However, we were able to hike a little ways into the rainforest there. The rainforest in Bocas was different than the rainforests we have visited in Costa Rica. There were a lot more giant species of plants with leaves several feet across. I loved it.


That night, Saturday, there was a party at our hostel. We left to go get dinner at about 9:30 and the place was empty, when we got back at 11 the deck was full of people. It just so happened that the US Coast Guard was off the shore and had given the men a three day leave, and they had all come to our hostel to have a good time. They know how to throw a party in Panama! Then, at around midnight it started to downpour. Other places in the world this might have cut the party short, but not in Bocas! I just danced in the rain! The music played on while we swam in the warm ocean and had a blast. The rain just made the whole night more fun!

The next day, after waking up in a very wet skirt and tank-top,  I headed with my friends to find another beautiful beach. This time we went to Starfish beach. It is actually a beach filled with starfish. Not only were the starfish beautiful, but the beach was extremely calm and the color of the water was pristine.

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My friend on the beach.











We also found some great palm trees to climb and take a few pictures on.











Overall, Panama was amazing. Every weekend I feel like I have found my new favorite travel destination. Each location is unique, beautiful, and full of adventures. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have been able to travel down here for three months.

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This weekend was an excellent fourth weekend on my Costa Rican (Panamanian) Journey.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” -Seneca










Bocas del Toro

Distance: 200 miles

Transportation: 3 buses & a water taxi

Travel Time: 9 hours

Friends on the Trip: 1

Currency: USD

Today I will head to Bocas de Toro in Panama, which borders Costa Rica to the South. Bocas is a whole collection of little islands in the north of Panama in the Caribbean. I plan on snorkeling, laying on the beach, and hiking while in this tropical paradise! Expect beautiful pictures upon my return on Monday afternoon!

In addition, this afternoon I will complete my first Spanish class! I can’t believe the improvement I have made in just 4 weeks. Class starts again on Tuesday and I am excited to learn more. By the end of the summer I want to be able to babble in Spanish (my poor family!). !Hasta lunes!


Q: Is the color (of the eucalyptus trees)  natural or local art??

A: The color of the trees is completely natural. The trees shed multiple layers of bark every year. The thing is, each layer sheds at different times and produces patches  that are first green, and then  as it matures, it turns bluish, then orange, purple and maroon, creating the art-like ‘paintings’ on the trees. How cool!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

“Culture is the widening of the mind and of the spirit.” -Jawaharlal Nehru


Last week I did a comparison of physical differences between Iowa and Costa Rica. This week I am going to outline the cultural differences.



Costa Rica

My Address 7233 Wagner Road 10 m south of  KFC, The California neighborhood, The house with the yellow canopy
Dinner time 5 o’clock 7 o’clock (I’m about to eat my homework)
Usual Breakfast Cereal, Toast, Pancakes, Oatmeal Rice & Beans, eggs, tortillas, and fruit
How dishes are washed Dishwasher with soap By hand without soap
Use of car horns Very occasional Used extremely frequently to signal, to hit on girls, and for no apparent reason at all
Number of locks to get inside your home 1 (and it is often not used) 3
Friendliness of Strangers Very friendly Very friendly
Method of hitting on girls Talk to them, ask them on a date Honk at them, whistle, tell them they are beautiful (even if you are a checker at the grocery store), hiss (I’m not kidding)….
Fashion of College Women Anything and everything Clothes that are three sizes too small (and this goes for people of all shapes and sizes)
Pace of life Very fast Very laid back
Weekend activities Catch up on things you put off during the week Go to the beach and relax
Number of cars/family usually 2 usually 1, my family doesn’t have one though

These are just a few of the random differences I have noticed since I’ve been here. I have no complaints. This country is wonderful; the people are amazingly friendly and understanding with my basic knowledge of Spanish. It is so interesting to observe different cultures. For a place so far away, Costa Rica has really made me feel at home.


Q:Fantastic tree!! Do I get an award for being your best fan? Just wondering. LY! Mom

A: Isn’t that tree amazing? And yes Smile you get to come visit me in less than a month! You lucky duck!

Q:I got butterflies in my stomach just reading about your jump from the falls! I couldn't even jump off our dock with a lifejacket on :)
Great pictures and video.
"Not-so-brave" Grandma.

A: Oh, grandma, you make me laugh! And I’m glad you enjoyed my pictures and video!

Q: Sounds and looks like you had another great weekend. I can't wait to get there!
Love, Gail

A: I can’t wait for you to visit either! So many people have told me that Arenal (one of the places we are going) was there favorite thing in Costa Rica. We are going to have a great time.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

All art requires courage. ~Anne Tucker

It has been a long time since I went on a school fieldtrip, but that is what we did in my class! We visited the Museo de Arte in San Jose, as well as walked through the beautiful art that surrounds it. The park had Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees that reminded me of a tree out of Alice in Wonderland. The colors didn’t look real.

I don’t have much to say about the museum, but they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here is a few thousand for you:

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Right now they have about 40 giant coke bottles, all decorated differently.

This one is covered in glass coke bottles. We wrote a note and stuck it inside!

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The Park:
















Monday, May 23, 2011

Montezuma:"There are no bad adventures, -just good stories."

This weekend was incredible. We visited Montezuma, a small town on the Pacific coast. It took us 7 hours to get there,The ferry but the time we spent traveling was well worth the experiences we had.We road on an open-air ferry across the channel because Montezuma is on a peninsula. That part of the trip in itself was great. We were lucky enough to be riding at sunset and see the gorgeous mountains across the water, as well as bunches of little islands that are just off the coast.




 We stayed at a little hostel right on the beach in Montezuma. Montezuma is a very small town, it has several good places to eat, one great bar, and it is the take off point for countless adventures. The beaches there are beautiful. As you walk north from the hostel, you pass nine different beaches and we walked the entire way. Between each beach is a small section of rainforest that you pass through. We were lucky enough to see a group of ten green parakeets, five howler monkeys, and an anteater! The anteater was adorable! Unfortunately, it rained for much of our hike up the beach, so I didn’t have my camera out and ready to snap a picture of the adorable little guy. But we saw several other cool animals before it rained:
P1040023   P1030989P1040017P1040085We started off on a 4 hour hike down the beach in search of Cocolito Falls, according to locals, it is the 6th biggest in the world (definitely not true). Anyhow, I do believe that it is incredibly beautiful and I was determined to find it. I woke up on Saturday morning at 6 am and drug my friend along with me in search of the falls. The internet had told me to follow the beach north for 2 hours. We walked, and walked, and walked, and right at 2 hours, we came to the face of a cliff. We hadn’t seen any waterfalls, but we had found some beautiful beaches along the way as well as walked about six miles.

P1040079It started to rain, so we hid out in this cave (right) for a few minutes before we decided to just enjoy the shower and head back. That night, I asked several locals where the falls were and set out again at 6am with a different friend, sure that we would find the falls. This time we hiked up a river. The trek was very challenging and extremely fun; it was like a maze. The river was bordered on both sides by rock faces and we wove our way back and forth through the slippery rocks. It was even more enjoyable because I was with this girl I had just met, Joyce, who is from Holland. Hopefully, we are going to meet back up in a few weeks! After climbing (and slipping) for 2 hours down the river (at least the 2 hour part was consistent for everyone we talked with) we had encountered 6 smallish waterfalls, but nothing spectacular, it again started to pour. My camera wasn’t waterproof, so I made a little case for my camera out of leaves (which are waterproof) like the one at right, using a hair tie to fasten it. (I obviously couldn’t take a picture of this myself Smile, but luckily my camera survived! ) and we headed back.  As far as finding Cocolito falls, it was a failure, but it was one of the most beautiful, adventurous, and fun hikes I have been on. We were in the thick of the rainforest. It was greener than I could have possibly imagined. It was amazing.

Saturday afternoon was my favorite part. We were on our way to Montezuma Falls. The hike started by wading up a river for about a quarter of a mile and then an hour ‘hike.’ This hike consisted of climbing up rock walls using roots and vines to keep yourself from falling, walking on ledges 6 inches wide, and repelling down the side of a cliff. It was exhilarating and by far the best P1040168hike of my life. The adrenaline rush, the anticipation of the waterfall, in addition to the astounding beauty, was fantastic.
Montezuma Falls consists of 3 waterfalls. The first is 80-120 feet tall (depending on who you ask), the second (which I jumped from) was 35-40, and the third, which I also jumped from, was 15 feet tall.We tried to ready ourselves by jumping in with the Tarzan rope and off the small waterfall several times, but it just didn’t prepare me for the real thing.
I am quite an adrenaline junkie, so I never expected to be so terrified of jumping from the second waterfall. I will spare you from watching, but we have a video of me standing there for 45 seconds, while my friends countdown and encourage me, while I try to convince myself to jump. By the end I was shaking. After my other friend jumped, I decided, ‘I only have this one chance; I’ll regret it if I chicken out.’ So I jumped! It hurt a lot and knocked the wind out of me, but it was worth it. I have a giant bruise to show for it, too! If I would have gone in more vertically it would have been MUCH better…

P1040112                 P1040136                       P1040125

I finally did it! Listen to my friends’ reactions when I hit the water.
We ended the weekend by lying on the beach and playing in the ocean one last time before heading back to San Jose. It was an incredible third weekend on my Costa Rican Journey.