My Last 100 Bucks: Semana Santa Edition

As many probably know, 2 weeks ago was Semana Santa, a week filled with religious processions and traditional food leading up to Easter Sunday. This also means barely anyone in Costa Rica works or goes to classes, giving us students a week to travel and tour the beautiful attractions available to us.

Thanks to much planning (not by me) the majority of our group traveled to Monteverde to stay in an AirBnB for 3 nights and later to a hostel in La Fortuna for another 2. During our stay in Monteverde we bought groceries in order to cook at least two meals a day to save our money for excursions.  (easier said than done, but it helped that our program is filled with fantastic cooks!)


Our first excursion was a huge bucket list check for me! Zip-lining! Costing about $35 per person. We booked this with Canopy tours. We were told that this zip-lining course was the longest and tallest in Costa Rica (and it sure did seem that way!)  Additionally, we rode a “tarzan swing” and repelled down 100s of meters of trees.

It was one of the best 2 and a half hours of my life! And for an added bonus we looked super cool in our safety gear. 😉

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Our next adventure took us to the Monteverde Reserve where we hiked through the rainforest to see the flora and fauna of Costa Rica and the breath-taking views of untouched wilderness.



We walked across hanging bridges and trees to see every inch of the rainforest we could and to top it off the reserve had a hummingbird sanctuary next door for free. For only $5 per person it was well worth it! (we were able to get the resident admission price with our University of Costa Rica IDs)


Next, we traveled to La Fortuna by bus, boat, and another bus.  We drove over the mountains and rode through Lake Arenal and were utterly astonished by our surroundings before even reaching our hostel. Even Volcano Arenal could be seen in the distance.


Our hostel was another surprise as we entered the gate and saw hammocks, volley ball nets, and a pool (complete with slack line).  By far one of the nicest hostels I’ve been in.


The next morning, 5 others and I found a 10 hour tour of the two volcanoes (Arenal and Chato), a waterfall, and the hot springs.  I was hesitant to spend the $50 for the tour as I only wanted to go to the hot springs and did not feel prepared for what the brochure described as “a strenuous hike” up volcano Chato.  However, I quickly agreed when told about the provided lunch and that I would have a meal that wasn’t peanut butter and jelly (Though, for the record I will never be sick of PB&J).  Plus, I was assured by reviews that this tour was very popular for retirees, so I should have no trouble during the hike.

Below you can see why the tour is called “2 Volcanoes Tour.” Arenal is on the left and Chato on the right.


We started are trek with about 30 other tourists at 10am the next day and rode a bus to the Arenal observatory.  There we found the best view of Arenal and the lake.


From the observatory, we walked for about an hour to reach Arenal’s neighbor and father, Chato.  We reached the bottom of Chato and prepared for the hour hike up its side.

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As the Volcano became steeper the hiking became more of climbing and soon my friend Hailey and I found ourselves far behind the rest of the tour (and retirees) and reached the top after about 2 hours of climbing.  Please appreciate our victory photo below, as it was definitely one of the hardest challenges of my life and I’m extremely proud.


However, the “strenuous hike” did not end there, because we still needed to climb down the crater to reach the lagoon and the rest of our group below.  This involved sliding on our bottoms down steep walls of mud and hanging on to roots and trees for support.  Still, we made it to the lagoon to have our victory lunch and take a dip into what used to an active volcanic crater.


The climb back up the crater was difficult but quick and the trip down the volcano was extremely easy in comparison to the rest of the day. From Chato we walked to a waterfall, where we again went for a swim! This was probably one of the most magical experiences I’ve had.

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After the waterfall, we walked across hanging bridges and observed wildlife pointed out by our guides until eventually returning to the observatory in time to see the sun set over Lake Arenal.



Finally, my time had come when we reached the hot springs (more of a river) heated by volcano Arenal.  WHAT I HAD BEEN WAITING FOR ALL DAY! There, our guides served us beverages and gave us mud facials made with volcanic ash from Arenal.

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This moment was what made the whole day worth it and I felt amazing! We relaxed like this for an hour looking at the stars and we were all pretty sad when it came time to say goodbye.

All in all, it was an amazing week and I felt very good about myself (though the soreness in my body for the next week from hiking and zip-lining begs to differ).  It was a week well spent!

Here are the final expenses:

  • zip-lining: $35 (about 20,000 colones)
  • Monteverde Reserve: $5 (about 2,500 colones)
  • 2 Volcanoes Hike: $50 (about 28,000 colones)
  • groceries and food: about $13 (about 7,000 colones)

Excluding housing and transportation my grand total comes out to total of (insert drumroll here)… $103! a price well worth the amount of adventures and experiences we had!

“Guau-guau” ladró 703 perros

The following is shared with permission of Gabby Rudolph! Check out her blog here:

Before starting, I would just like to credit my title to this website:

Hahaha. I wasn’t sure how to translate, “woof woof” into Spanish, so there you go (as well as 14 other languages, if you were curious). And as far at 703 perros, that’s about how many dogs I was around on Saturday! Another weekend, another trip. *cue crying bank account and relaxing Sundays full of blogging*

ALSO! I am working on being more tech-savvy … and have succeeded! I made a Vimeo account to share some of the videos I’ve been taking here in CR as well. You’re welcome. Disfrutelo!

Some of you may have seen the video that went viral on FB, but el Territorio de Zaguates has reaches a level of international fame for it’s goal: a no-kill shelter that fosters love, respect, and fun for dogs that would otherwise die on the streets.

The park’s name Territorio de Zaguates translates to Territory of Mutts.

I am 110% sure that something like their park could never happen in the U.S, but I am still pretty excited about the fact that I had the opportunity to visit (especially since I woke up at 5am to go). From downtown San José our group took another bus to Alajuela and then a private taxi service to the park! Funny story: the girl Becca who planned the trip ended up sleeping in and having to Uber all the way to meet us – look for her famous quote in another blog post coming soon, haha.

We ended up sitting with a gal who is spending 6 weeks in Costa Rica with a pharmacy school rotation from Denver, and we ended up getting lunch with her later – so fun to meet random people traveling, visiting, studying, like us gringos. Even then, almost halfway through the program and it’s fun to say that we are living here and recognize how much we’ve been able to do/see while in CR, as well as being able to tell the taxi driver that YES, all of the English-speaking kids sitting in the back of the taxi talking about American politics do in fact speak both English and Spanish ( … take that other tourist group).

Alajuela is a city, but also another province (I live in the San José province), and being so, we were able to get out of the Central Valley a bit, which means: HOT HOT CALIENTE, but also incredible views! The “walking tour” with the dogs was about 3 hours, super hot (did I mention this already?) and dusty, and definitely more of a hike than I thought it might be. Even then, absolutely worth it to hike through shaded forest areas with a stream, rolling hills that we climbed up and tripped/almost rolled down, as well as open fields for the dogs to run around and play in.

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I knew the hill was steep when the group of dogs that was before running/trotting everywhere started to walk next to me, panting just as I was. There were a few shady spots where you could find the staff guides with their loyal group of followers before continuing on. We would also stop at some of the fields to play/sit with the dogs, but as we would walk  around the guides would be literally RUNNING around/through the your group and you’d have to stand your ground and try not to be knocked over by hundreds (I’m not actually being dramatic here, hahaha) of dogs.

This is one of my favorite photos from the day.

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*sorry that I can’t center the videos – I am just happy it all worked out to share them!*

Once at the top of the hill/mountain/park, some people rode cardboard down the hill while the rest of us sat and hungout with the dogs that weren’t happily chasing the reckless individuals (my friends Becca and Sydney included). The hike was so worth it for the views and it always amazes me to see the valley that San José is in and the surrounding mountains/volcanoes. Costa Rica is so beautiful. Woooow.

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Most of the dogs in the park were medium-sized, average looking mutts. Many dogs were old, some young, skinny, limping, missing an eye, losing hair, had minor sores, and exactly those that you would find on the street. That being so, the park isn’t just a park, it’s a shelter where you can adopt any of the dogs – they each have a name, are neutered, and are up to date on their vaccinations. They are fed everyday, always have access to water, and allowed to roam the grounds most of the day, as well as 24/7 staff that provides medical care, etc.

If you want to adopt a dog, they even will ship them to Canada, the United States, and a few of the outlying U.S Islands. *hint hint wink wink at my mom & Megan*

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When we got back to the start, we immediately got drinks and enjoyed the shade – still surrounded by dogs, just a bit less dehydrated. The park runs off of donations and spends about $500 a day on food, as well as the only paid staff being the staff that take care of the dogs round the clock. The park’s Facebook page provides the best/updated information if you are ever in Costa Rica and would like to visit, as well as more general information that I am unable to provide here! As someone who’s family has adopted/rescued most of their animals (excluding 1, I think?), shelter animals and adoption are definitely something that I support. Some of my best memories have been with the animals we’ve had growing up in my house: Bear, Bailey, Buddy (yes, we chose all names for awhile), Benny, Milo, and Paco (not a B name, and not adopted, haha!).

A great cause and a wonderful experience with some good (paw-less) people.


When I texted a few of my friends last night, I sent the photos and said,

“I saw a few dogs today.” 

Like I mentioned earlier, there are about 700 dogs at Territorio de Zaguates right now, but including our two Bulldogs and Chihuahua at home … about 703. 😉


Mis Familias

The following vlog is shared with permission from Sydney Gieger:

As Sydney shares in the above video, our “familias anfitrionas” (host families) are a key part of our experience here in Costa Rica and feeling a part of the tico culture! They offer us love, support, and many opportunities to expand our cultural and linguistic knowledge! Host families are the unsung heroes of ACM Costa Rica and we would probably all be lost and confused without them.

Earth University

The following is shared with permission from Emma Zimmerman:

When my dad is on a business trip and there are lots of bananas in the hotel breakfast room, he’ll snap a picture and send it to me with the caption “unlimited bananas!”. Once, when he was alone in the house for a weekend he called me because he heard sirens coming down the street and immediately assumed that the banana police (me) was coming to chastise him for eating all of the bananas while I was gone. Dad, this weekend I learned some tough news, and I hate to break it to you, but turns out I do not rule the banana dynasty after all.

The good news is that I know who does: Earth University. Earth University is an educational/sustainable agriculture project in Limón, Costa Rica, funded by the U.S. government through the USAID. I had the pleasure of visiting Earth with the other ACM students, the ACM director, Javier, Spanish professors, Mario and Carolina, and building attendant/heart and soul of ACM, Iveth, this Thursday and Friday. The goal of Earth University is to accept students from all around the world, especially those from impoverished communities who, otherwise, may not have had access to higher education. These students study and work on the various sustainable agriculture/sustainable development projects taking place at the University, so that they may one day bring these initiatives back to their communities. One of the projects at Earth University is to develop more sustainable banana production processes, and the university grows and packages the “organic” bananas sold at Whole Foods.
To be honest, I was a little nervous about visiting Earth University and seeing the realities of banana farming. Previously, i knew that banana production is extremely unsustainable, that there is only one type of banana crop in the world, and that the one banana strand is going extinct due to disease. However, at Earth, i learned that other banana strands do exist, and in fact, many are being grown by the University. The real problem is one of changing consumers’ tastes, as only the endangered banana strand will sell in stores.
I also learned that, from a production standpoint, it is currently impossible to produce bananas in a 100% organic manner. So, the “organic” certification for bananas actually allows for some pesticide usage. When i pay the extra dollar at Trader Joe’s, those “organic” bananas I’m putting in my cart are not as pure as I once thought. In my opinion, it’s still better to buy the relatively “organic” banana (if one can afford it), not only for personal and environmental health reasons, but in order to support sustainable production projects, such as those taking place at Earth. Buying these “organic” bananas also functions as a way of “voting with your fork” so to speak, for increased, affordable supply of more sustainable options. Then, some of your money (in this case, if you purchase organic bananas from whole  food’s) will go towards Earth’s efforts to ensure that new strands of sustainably-produced bananas become common-place, before bananas are gone forever! Sorry for all the buzzwords and jargon, I’m just really passionate about my favorite yellow friends.

Look, Dad, unlimited bananas!!!
This is me in a forest of bananas, look how happy I am
Don Javier: Señor Costa Rica. I honestly think he knows everyone and everything (including the details of banana growth)


dscn0972Dreams do come true

We also got to see the assembly line where bananas are cleaned and packaged for Whole Foods. It was definitely a little overwhelming seeing all of the hard work that goes into producing my favorite food. I’ll definitely have a new perspective whenever I un-peel that majestic beauty of a fruit.  The vast amount of bananas going through the assembly line was probably the most overwhelming site for me. It reminded me of all of the food that goes to waste in the U.S. (enough in 1 year to feed every hungry person in the world 2 times!), and all of the Grinnell communities members that i know from Food Recovery Network who would be delighted to have just one bunch for their families. I sure hope all of those bananas are used for good, not evil!

we weren’t allowed to take pictures at the production plant, but could each take a free bunch of bananas! dscn0981

On Friday morning, I woke up early for a beautiful, long run among the trails and fincas (agricultural properties) at Earth. Javier, the ACM program director, originally said he wanted  to run with me, but then decided he was a little tired from running and playing two hours of fútbol the day before, and would rather wake up early to swim laps and lift weights instead (AKA I’m happy I’m not the only crazy person here). Javier’s 18 year old son is a professional futból player in CR, being recruited by tons of D1 coaches in the U.S., so I think it runs in the family.

After breakfast, we had a tour of another one of the Finca’s at Earth, where all of the food is produced for the Cafeteria. While I knew we would be helping with some harvesting, I didn’t know this tour would also involve lots of eating. It reminded me of one of those “Taste of Chicago” tours I’ve read about, except instead of deep-dish pizza, you eat freshly picked fruits that you harvest yourself. My kinda tour. Maybe I can be marketing director for this new kind of food tour: “Taste the Earth”. Any interest? Anyway, we ate Palmitas (hearts of palm), grapefruit, guanábana (soursoup, research says it can help fight cancer), guayaba, carambola (starfruit), cas (which often has a little worm, or 2, inside that is safe to eat) manzana de agua (water apple), coco (coconut), and much, much more. We also learned about a fruit, achiote, whose seeds are used by some indigenous groups as nail polish and lipstick. My friends had lots of fun getting pretty the au natural way (not that they weren’t beautiful before!).

Our guide, Jorge, with palmitas. So much hard work to harvest this one fruit!
Amelia and her noms
Sydney didn’t like grapefruit prior to trying this delicious one
Profesora and amiga, Carolina, with her starfruit


Harvest time!
Yvette, queen of the starfruit harvest


“Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s achiote” (or something like that)
au natural beauty queens
Qué deliciosa

Jorge, our wonderful guide, told us all about the fruits we tasted, and then we helped him harvest yuca! This involves lots of hard work and pulling with arm muscles that are slowly waning from my lack of pull-ups while not running track. Our last stop on the tour was a little garden, where we would try the famous fruta de milagros (miracle fruit). You may have heard of this fruit before, as it’s been advertised in the U.S. When you eat this little pink berry, the protein from the berry binds to your taste buds so everything sour or savory tastes sweet, and everything sweet tastes sour. Jorge had us suck on lemons to assure that they tasted sour (they tasted very sour). Then, after eating the miracle fruit, we would eat the rest of the lemon. I felt like I was eating straight sugar. Even my water tasted sweet! Weird! I didn’t like it (probably because I’m so sweet already)!

@CarrieZimmerman how jealous are you that I got to harvest your favorite veggie?


The miracle itself

I like you Earth University. I like what you’re doing for your students, their families, their communities, and this earth. In fact, I like you so much that if I am ever back in Costa Rica for an extended amount of time, I would like very much to become involved in a project here, or even take a class.

Ex-bananana queen out,


The Misadventures of Public Transportation

This week marks the start of our classes at ACM.  Classes start at 8:00 every morning so I have to get up very early.  Yesterday my host mom walked me to the bus stop in Moravia (about a 15 minute walk from our house) and pointed out all the landmarks I should look for.  On the bus we met up with two other students and one of their moms.  I was very relieved to see that I would be traveling with two friends as I am not very experienced with public transportation.  When we got off the bus our hosts moms walked us to ACM (about a 25 minute walk) and left us for the day. They met us in the afternoon and walked us back to another bus stop and quizzed us on our memory of the way back.  My host mom even drove me around the block when we got home to make sure I knew where I was going.

Pictured are my bus buddies: Amelia and Yulablog1.JPG

This morning, after reassuring my mom that I remembered what to do, I set out on my own to the bus stop.  I passed all the landmarks and went to stand under the correct sign.  After about 10 minutes the bus arrived and I boarded.  I checked my phone and read the text from Amelia that the bus was very full and I’d probably have to stand.  I looked around the nearly empty bus I was on and deducted that we were not on the same bus.  We decided I would wait at the bus stop for them to arrive and we would walk the rest of the way together. This was a little disheartening, but I remained calm and kept my eyes open for the landmarks and my bus stop as the bus filled.

After about a 40 minute ride I saw that my stop was coming up next.  I saw another student from ACM standing on the corner and I was happy I could wait with her.  I stood up and told a woman she could have my seat as I was about to get off…but it kept driving.  I tried to hide my panic as I shared an awkward look from the woman and rang the bell to alert the driver to stop… but it kept driving.  Eventually, we arrived at the next stop and I got off and started to walk in the opposite direction toward the correct bus stop (about a 10 minute walk).  I arrived at the same time as the next bus with Amelia and Yula. I waited… but they did not get off. I checked my phone and saw that they had gotten off at another stop, from the advice of Yula’s host brother, and would meet me on the way.


Despite my lack of experience with public transportation and tendency to get lost, I made it to ACM just in time for class and only a little windblown and sun-burnt.  My mistake? The buses will only stop at the bus stops if you ring the bell before the stop.

It was quite a morning! Just wait, by the end of 4 months I will be an expert in getting around Costa Rica!



An Adventure at la Hacienda del Rodeo

I have been in Costa Rica for only two days now, but I have already experienced so much! Yesterday, we took a trip to la Hacienda del Rodeo, it was similar to a ranch with cattle and many other animals. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen!

La Hacienda is located in the mountains and consequently has one of the most amazing views.img_0464

We spent the day bonding while we swam, hiked, and relaxed.IMG_0437.JPG

We also played a lot of futbol! I am not a very athletic person, but I couldn’t help but play with the professors and other students.  I missed the ball many times, but everyone here was very supportive.   IMG_0452.JPG

One thing I’ve noticed about los ticos (the name for Costa Rican people) is that they are all very friendly and supportive! On the plane to Costa Rica, for example, I sat next to a Costa Rican family that only spoke spanish. I was so nervous about my spanish skills, but I talked to them anyway. Next thing I know I am leaving the airport with their telephone numbers in hand with the instructions to call them if I ever needed anything.

It has been an amzing couple of days  with great people!  I really stepped out of my comfort zone with this group of people and I couldn’t be more happy!

Until the next adventure,