CRA’s First Costa Rica Adventure Since Covid Comes to an End…

Well, here we are, after seven delightful days in Costa Rica, we have hit our final evening. Actually, given the timing of our flights, we’ll be leaving our final casa (home) about midnight tonight. That will give us time to get to the airport and make sure we catch our 3 AM flight from San Jose to Houston. Then on to Denver and back into Bozeman before 3:30 PM if all goes well. This is by far the most direct/convenient flight to/from Costa Rica we’ve ever had. The only down side is the ridiculous early morning departure!

We are all set this evening at Casa Cielo (House in the Sky). The students took a dip in the pool in cooler weather than I have ever experienced in this country. The adults have showered, and we’re about ready for our 7 PM dinner. Afterward, we’ll have our final family chat… details of which will follow this group photo we took yesterday at the sign on Montezuma Beach.

The CR 2 Costa Rica ’22 Group at Montezuma Beach. From Left to Right: Gretchen, Dean, Korben, Luke, Asher, CK, Reese, Becca, Katerina, Quincey, Kylie, Kelly, and Ayla.

Unfortunately, the torrential rains we’ve received meant there was a ton of sediment/timber/debris on the Montezuma Beach. And then the rains came… so there we were, with the torrential rains, Howler Monkeys in the background, and our students were loving every minute in the pool!

Our final question(s):

Part 1: Describe one thing you noticed about Costa Rica or the Costa Rican people that sticks in your mind. Part 2: What is your best memory of our adventure in Costa Rica?

As we sat in a circle after dinner, this is how the group responded:

Gretchen – Overall, there is a symbiotic relationship with everything… respecting everyone and everything… like the dogs in the road… everyone just slows down and waits. On the 2nd day… from the nature hike to the farm… it was all at the ’street level.’

Dean – Everyone was very welcoming and not weirded out by the touring. My favorite memory of the trip was the dabbing chicken.

Korben – Most Costa Ricans can speak English very well. My first time zip-lining is something I’ll never forget.

Luke – I noticed there was a lot less pollution here than in the states. My favorite memory will be the high—pitched screaming I did on the zip-line. More than that, the group was impressed with how Luke ultimately jumped off the waterfall into the pool.

Asher – Whitewater rafting on the first day was my favorite memory. It was really cool how the restaurants didn’t have walls – they were all sort of outdoors (open air).

CK – Swimming in the waterfall was a pretty fantastic area. The trees that are grown intentionally to make fences.

Reese – People are very kind in this country. Jumping off the waterfall will stick in my mind. Also, the way people are constantly thinking about ways to preserve the environment is different than the states. This trip was very controlled and calm – it was nice how we came together.

Becca – Reuse many things… tires are planters or paving stones. 2nd day of nature hiking. Leo did an excellent job of explaining things to us.

Katerina – I observed that in a lot of places, they’ll serve you the food vs. having to go get it yourself. Seeing people are own age, but with completely different school uniforms, language, and culture.

Quincey – The roads are crazy – it is a different style of driving. Making the hot chocolate, coffee, and sugar cane juice at the organic farm.

Kylie – I’ve noticed the Costa Rican respect for everything. The people here live with things, respect insects/animals, and co-exist. Our students were nervous before the soccer game, but it was fun to see how well they did. And it was really cool that a student let Leo know the Sloth was there.

Kelly – This is my fifth time to the country. The thing that always sticks with me is how the people in neighborhoods and in the countryside use their front yards. Not many street lights, and it can be dark out, but there is the sounds of people talking to one another, the smell of BBQ, and the sound of music in the evening/night air. It is so different than neighborhoods in the states where people seldom if ever use their front yards, and instead hang out in the privacy of their back yards. My most memorable moment was when all of the students chipped in together to help Doña Hazel cook our evening meal at her house on Day #2.

Ayla – The housing of the Costa Rican people – I saw plenty of basic homes. At the waterfall, I was nervous to jump off, but then the zip-lining calmed me down.

Leonardo (guide) – This is pretty much my job here. I am very used to seeing the stuff you guys saw this week. I hope this educational trip allowed you to learn some things and that you will appreciate more what you have at home. Please know that all Costa Ricans are happy that you have been here.

Marcos (bus driver) – I appreciated how much fun you had. Your attitude as a group was great, and you came to experience another country. You didn’t expect everything to be like it was at home. I was very impressed with that, and I was happy you enjoyed Costa Rica how it is. Thank you for being here. God Bless You All.

Epilogue from the Chaperones: Post-trip Reflections. Miss Pancich and I are realizing we didn’t go over the itinerary very well before asking this question. So many other things are coming to our minds. Like when Marcos joined in the Salsa dancing with Quincey. Actually, that whole dance workshop we did was really incredible. Seeing the Hog-Nosed Pit Vipers, the Iguanas in the rainforest, and seeing the Costa Rican school students who wanted pictures of the Sloth as we were getting them.

We also saw our students supporting one another and cheering others on. Whether it was working together to squeeze the juice out of the sugar cane, encouraging each other to push their comfort zones – like dancing, jumping off the waterfall – or supporting others like the little child who was nervous to go for his first time on the zip-line… our students were very positive and helpful to one another.

Then there was the road-side stop we did to sample Costa Rican fruits after whitewater rafting on our first full day in the country – everyone loved it!

Pregunta del Día: Foods of Costa Rica

We start this post with “La Pregunta del Día” – the question of the day.

Our first thought was to describe Costa Rican food in three words.“Farm to Table!” proclaimed Miss Pancich.

That was a great start, as we learned a lot today about family farming, about organic methods, and then worked with a local person to cook our evening meal. The challenge came when the two of us tried our question out on a couple of the students. Farm to Table had made perfect sense, but the students were struggling with three words, as was Mr. Elder. So, Miss Pancich had captured the perfect three words for the day, and we adapted our question accordingly.

For the rest of the group, the question was: talk about one of the foods they had tried while on this trip and to tell us about it or how it tastes.

This is what they said:

Asher – El postre at the dinner we made. It was like a red jello, made from Pineapple Juice, cornstarch, and water. They added a dye to make it red – it was really good. We ate it out of plastic cups with a little plastic spoon.

Reese – The Empanadas we had the first night when we got to the hotel. Leo and Paul met us at the hotel – they had arranged for us to try either chicken, beef, or vegetable empanadas. They were like a meat filling inside of a pie crust.

Ayla – Plantains. They are like bananas, but taste a little different. We had Platacones – fried plantains that make chips – and they are really good!

Dean – Sugar Cane Sticks. You chew and suck on the sticks to get the sugary juices out of the cane. It is really sweet, and something new!

Lucas – Guanabara Fruit. Luke calls it Dragon Eggs. It has a very unique texture. But actually, after throwing that one out, he asked to change his answer (so I’m putting both)! Luke had his first cup of coffee ever on this trip. He said it tastes nothing like he expected. With warm milk, it tasted more like Starbuck’s hot chocolate than he thought it would.

Korben – Star Fruit. A very very sour fruit that Korben enjoys!

Quincey – Cacao Beans. These beens were bitter and very crunchy. They are really dense. Sugar helped a lot! These bitter beans later become chocolate.

Katerina – The coffee that we made fresh at the farm. I added some sugar. It was amazing! First, you’d taste the sweet sugar, and then you’d get the thick coffee taste.

Kelly – Green Mango Ceviche that we had at the fruit-stand in the metal building along the road. It was hot and spicy to taste, which balanced wonderfully with the Green Mango. Delicious!

Becca – Green Papaya Hash. It was made of pork and all sorts of things. Very flavorful. Must have had some achiote in it given it’s color.

CK – Fried Yucca. It was unexpectedly good!

Gretchen – They make the rice yellow by adding achiote. It doesn’t change the taste (it was called ‘poor-man’s saffron’), but it makes the rice yellow in color.

Leonardo – Leo told us he has enjoyed the ‘old-style cooking’ on this trip. He doesn’t usually use wood-fired stoves to cook his meals. He said grandma could make meals in that manner, but it seldom happens anymore.

Furthermore, I have noticed some of the students surprised by the fresh non-refrigerated milk that they put on cereal. On the first day of breakfast, we all thought there was a little hash-brown patty or small piece of French Toast… but it was deep-fried cheese! Yummers!!

¡Vamanos a la escuela! (“We Go to School!”)

Mom with her baby… in a tree just off the courtyard of the school we went to visit in Sarapiquí! This is the best picture of a Sloth I’ve ever seen… taken by our guide, Leonardo (“Leo”) Otoya.

Today was a special day – for our group went to visit a school in Costa Rica! First, a bit about the school: it specializes in environmental science. Students study English, Science, Spanish, Literature, and other courses. There were 400 students in the school. It is called a colegio, not a school. I used the word escuela when speaking of the place, and the students were quick to correct me. I visited a literature class where they were reading the ‘Diary of Anne Frank” in Spanish. Miss Pancich and I also went to an English classroom for a bit. The students were very shy and reserved in speaking English, but it was a cool experience.

Students at the school come from around the area. They go to school 200 days a year. The students in their final year are able to purchase special shirts celebrating their graduation. These were really nice quick-dry outdoor shirts embroidered with their class year on one sleeve and their first names on the other. Some ride busses to get to/from school. According to the teacher, some students who live far away have to get on the bus as early as 5:00 a.m. to get there by 7:00 a.m. for the start of school. When school ends for the day at 4;00 p.m., those same students load the bus and begin the ride home, arriving at their houses as late as 6:00 in the evening!

We started the day meeting Angelina and Nicole, who were our two guides for the rainforest walk. We started the walk just a few feet behind the cafeteria. But, before we got there, a student came over and let Leo (our guide) know of a Sloth nearby. When we finished eating, we went to check the animal out. Not only was it a Sloth, but it was a mom who was carrying her son on he stomach! After we all looked through Leo’s scope, he was able to snap a picture with Gretchen’s cell phone… that is the picture you see here – pretty amazing!

On our walk, we saw a Yellow-billed Tucan, a colony of Leaf-Cutter Ants, a bunch of Daddy-Long-Legs at the base of a Cebolla tree, some bullet ants, and a cool snail at the end of a branch. We also saw another Bull-Nosed Pit Viper just off the trail!

Following our walk in the rainforest, we had a snack and then went to work. The school had a number of obstructions that needed painted yellow, so we split into groups and were the cleaning, taping, and painting crews for the project. Afterward, it was time for lunch. We then went to learn a bit about the school, and ended the day with a with a futból game, mixing the high school students with our middle school students to create the two teams!

The students who took to the pitch for today’s soccer game are pictured here!

We ended our evening with some dancing instruction… the group wasn’t super-stoked for the session at the start, but by the end, we were getting our groove on with Maline and Josue. There was Bachata, Salsa and Swing Criollo! Good night, folks – we have a big day tomorrow, as we’re off to the Nacoya Peninsula….

“This is NOT a Zoo!”

So began our guide Leonardo (Leo), speaking to us at the beginning of our hike in the tropical rainforest. He was stressing that we needed to be alert and watch for animals, as they don’t hang around for long! But more on the rainforest hike in a minute. First, let’s set the stage.

There are days on adventures that are packed with activities, and this was certainly one of them! We started the day with a hike in the rainforest, drove to a nearby organic farm where we toured the facility and at lunch, and then finished things off by going to a local woman’s home where she helped us to cook our own dinner!

There are days on adventures that are packed with activities, and this was certainly one of them! We loaded the bus at 8:00 a.m. and drove to the Tirimbina Rainforest. The trail starts with a walk on a suspended footbridge across the Sarapiquí River. The bridge is at least 100 yards long, and it is limited to 15 people for safety. As we walked across we saw a few Iguanas lounging (warming themselves) on the branches of trees in the sun along the river.

The bridge allows us to walk 50-100’ above ground level, allowing us to see life above the forest floor – in the sub-canopy, canopy, and emergent growth layers of the rainforest. Once across the bridge, we started our hike. We managed to see not only a variety of flora and some Toucans, poisonous frogs (both the Blue Jean and Green and Black Poison Dart Frogs), Leaf-Cutter Ants, Bullet Ants, a couple Great Curassows (large red birds with a yellow beak – looks like a Turkey), some broad-billed Motmots, and but also some white-faced monkeys that came overhead and even a Hook-Nosed Pit Viper that was taking a nap!

There are days on adventures that are packed with activities, and this was certainly one of them! We loaded the bus at 8:00 a.m. and drove to the Tirimbina Rainforest. The trail starts with a walk on a suspended footbridge across the Sarapiquí River. The bridge is at least 100 yards long, and it is limited to 15 people for safety. As we walked across we saw a few Iguanas lounging (warming themselves) on the branches of trees in the sun along the river. The bridge allows us to walk 50-100’ above ground level, allowing us to see life above the forest floor – in the sub-canopy, canopy, and emergent growth layers of the rainforest. Once across the bridge, we started our hike. We managed to see not only a variety of flora and some Toucans, poisonous frogs (both the Blue Jean and Green and Black Poison Dart Frogs), Leaf-Cutter Ants, but also some white-faced monkeys that came overhead and even a Hook-Nosed Pit Viper that was taking a nap!

Iguana sunning itself high up in the trees next to the Saraiquí River… taken from the suspension bridge as we crossed the river high above the rainforest floor!

The trail was a bit muddy. Indeed, it seems to be a daily occurrence that the rains will come with a vengeance sometime in the late afternoon. And when it rains, it really rains! In fact, the students picked up plenty of mud on their walk. So much that we had to rinse off at a faucet before loading the bus after our walk. Before leaving the park, though, a number of students opted to buy a soda and enjoy – we’ve been doing fresh fruit juices (which are delicious) and water for the past few days.

The head of the family farm, Don Gabriel, and his wife, Doña Irene, met us and welcomed us to their house. It is perched on top of a hill overlooking both the farm and the Sarapiquí River below. From the first view of the valley, we knew we were in a special place. We took a couple hours to walk through the farm, seeing everything from pepper plants (white and black pepper come from the same plant — they are just processed differently. The black pepper is boiled, whereas white pepper is made by soaking the peppercorns in cool water for days). We saw coffee trees with cherries on them… the beans are usually in pairs inside the cherries. More on the coffee a little later in this post.

We strolled over by the cows, the horse, and found the pigs. Mama had 13 piglets, who were only a few days old. From there, we walked to the pineapple area. The whole plot was covered with plastic to avoid other plants from growing around them, since they can’t use pesticides as an organic farm. Then the students got to see the process of turning the coffee beans into coffee and cacao beans into chocolate. Finally, we found our way to an old sugar cane wheel that could be run by oxen. As there were no animals around, the CR students took hold of the long wooden bar and spun in circles, pressing out the sugar cane juice for us to enjoy!

After a group picture with the beautiful valley as a backdrop, we enjoyed the views for a bit and then walked out to join Marcos and get on the bus for our next stop!

The CR Group at the end of our organic farm tour standing in the family’s yard. Photo taken by Don Gabriel, the owner of the farm!

About 20 minutes away was the home of Doña Hazel. She and her son Kevin, who is studying international business at the National University, were on hand to help us prepare the meal. National University is located in Heredia in the Central Valley close to San Jose. Anyhow, the students grated carrots, chopped peppers, onions, and cilantro for the meal. Mom had already cooked the chicken and rice… and in no time we had made rice with chicken, patacones (pressed and fried Plantains), and salad.

Doña Hazel explained that she was a precarista – a squatter. She had claimed the land she lives on. Costa Rica law says that if you move to some unused land and live there for 10 years… and the landowner doesn’t complain or question your being there – you are able to apply for a title to the land from the government. This is the way this family had come to call the land they live on home. She took us into her home – a small 3 bed, 1 bath place… there was tile throughout, and pictures of the family hung on the walls of the living room. From there, we went onto the back patio to cook our meal and eat. Afterwards, the students were able to purchase some local wares that some of the women in the neighborhood had made. We loaded the bus and came ’home’ to our hotel for a quick swim before bed. Tomorrow: we will visit a local school!

A view of ‘local wildlife’ – four of CRA’s finest taking a dip in the pool before bed after a long and adventurous day!

Whitewater Rafting the Reventazón River

By 5:40 a.m. all were up and loaded on the bus! We drove through downtown San Jose and climbed north of the city into the Cordillera Central mountains. The highway goes NE from the city through Braulio Carrillo National Park. At the higher elevations, we drove through a cloud forest, seeing many of the large umbrella-leaved plants often called the ”Poor Man’s Umbrellas.” Then, as we got lower, those plants gave way to others. The flora changed markedly, but to our untrained eyes, the lower-elevation rainforest looked much like the forest we saw up high.

We drove on down the highway toward the Caribbean Sea. When we reached the Exploradores Outdoors, we found the Pacuare River was flowing too high to raft safely. More on that in a second….

We had been given some fruit in a bowl at the crack of dawn when we started on the bus from San Jose, but we were now treated to scrambled eggs with beans and rice and fresh fruit for breakfast! So, we were treated to an alternate adventure. We went down by a hydroelectric dam on the Reventazón River. When we got out of our bus, we heard Howler Monkeys in the distance. We also saw thousands of ”Leaf Cutter” ants working their way across the area where we parked. Down a steep embankment we walked, still hearing the howlers, to a spot where we got our helmets, paddles, and life jackets. We went over the standard orders for rafting: paddle forward, backpaddle, right forward/left back, right backward/left forward, get down, and high side. The next thing we knew, we were in three boats paddling forward and hitting our first class III rapid within 100 yards. We had a blast in the class II and III rapids. The water was warm and most of us went for a swim after completing the whitewater section (ironic, as we were already soaked from the rapids anyway)!

Dean smiles at his pre-rafting breakfast of juice (wasn’t orange, but it was delicious) as well as thee scrambled eggs, beans and rice, bread with butter and fruit jam, and a bowl of fresh fruit and yogurt.

I had told the students not to bring their cameras in the water, as no good comes of that. I too left mine in our van. Well, turns out that on account of COVID, the rafting company isn’t yet back to 100% staffing, and there was no photographer today. Therefore, when we got back to eat lunch afterward, I realized there weren’t any CDs for sale providing professional shots of our trip as had always been the case in the past. My mistake – sorry to all participants and their parents!

After rafting, rinsing off, changing clothes, and eating lunch – a plate of chicken, beans, tomatoes, lettuce and a bunch of other things piled atop a huge tortilla – we loaded in the bus for our drive to the Sarapiquí region of the country. Right at the junction where we cut off from the main road to Limón – which was clogged with traffic because they are trying to improve the road, but construction in Costa Rica with the rain and ensuing mudslides makes things a pretty daunting challenge – we stopped a roadside fruit shop. The image here shows the smorgasbord of fruits and treats we got to sample at the store!

Checking out our options at the fruit and dessert sampling Leonardo had set up for us at the roadside fruit stand!

As we were sampling the fruit, it suddenly got dark in the fruit stand. I looked at my watch – just after 3:00 p.m. I mentioned the darkness to Leonardo, and he said it was about to rain. Within 2 minutes, the skies opened up and it began pouring on the metal roof we were under. That rain continued, at quite the pace, for hours. Even now, at 10 p.m. at the lodge, it continues to rain. That rain, combined with the sound of the river flowing through the property and all of the frogs and other noises of the rainforest – makes for a surreal evening to be typing this!

Asher works on capturing images of the vegetation along the highway as we work our way from rafting to our lodge in the rainforest.

After we arrived at our lodging for the next three nights, the students fun really began! I’m going to need to do another post tomorrow to update you on the frogs, lizards, and other animals we’ve seen this evening! The rain continues (it is well after 10 p.m. now), but that rad made for the perfect situation to see the famed Red-Eyed Tree Frog of Costa Rica… check back tomorrow for that update and more! I need to get some shut-eye…

🙂 -Mr. Elder

CRA Middle School Returns to Costa Rica – 2022!

CRA has been traveling with students to various places in Central America since spring break of 2012. Mr. Elder and Miss Pancich were visiting this evening, and we’re pretty sure this was the smoothest trip down from Montana (and the most direct) we’ve ever had! We left Helena at 7:00 a.m., took off from Bozeman just before 11:00, had a few hour layover in Denver, and came straight on into San Jose (Costa Rica). We were in the customs line at 9:20 p.m.!

Our guide for this adventure will be Leonardo, shown here taking our luggage and loading it into our mini-bus… through one of the rear windows! He really impressed us with his first impression this evening, and gave us a five-minute lesson on surviving Costa Rica in Spanish. The key is to respond to most anything with “Pura vida.” This phrase literally means “puree life,” but in Costa Rica it is a phrase used for Thank You, for I’m doing well, things are good… the intent of the phrase is to impart good meaning to others. We all practiced the phrase – I have a feeling I’ll hear it quite a bit from our group in the coming days!

We found our way to our first hotel – a nice little spot only about 10 minutes from the international airport. Everyone went straight to bed, as we’re loading the bus at 5:30 in the morning to go to breakfast and then have our first big adventure – whitewater rafting! Speaking of, I best get some sleep too. Here are some pictures of us between getting off the plane and getting to our lodging for the evening. Also notice Mr. LaFond helping unload the suitcases out of the bus at the hotel!

“Bienvenidos a Costa Rica” – Dean, Korben, and Luke are all thinking they like being welcomed to Costa Rica as they approach immigration.
Quincey waiting to go through immigration at customs.
Waiting in the loading zone for our bus at the San Jose International Airport.
Blurry, but it ‘tis the whole gang on our little bus – this will be our wheels for the next week!

Our Final Reflections: Remembrances of Costa Rica and Panamá for CRA 2019

The whole crew – CRA students, parents, teachers, and the scuba instructors who assisted with snorkeling and reef health surveys.

Last night, we spent our final evening in Costa Rica. We were at the same hotel we had spent our first night when we arrived from Los Angeles nine days ago. Daniel’s wife cooked a variety of meats (beef, sausage, and chicken) to go with zucchini, refried beans, rice, and a salad. Most of the group opted to eat on the patio overlooking the pool and San José in the Central Valley below. Afterward, we all met in the main living room of the home the seven girls were staying in that night to present a parting gift to our local guide Hillary and share our responses to la última Pregunta del Día.

There was a random drawing to determine the order people would respond. Miss Pancich created little numbered slips of paper. As a number was drawn, it correlated to the number, from 1 to 29, that our members had been assigned the first day of the trip. Each time our group assembled over the past nine days, we had counted off using this numbering system. It took the students a while to understand their numbers (in Español) and the correct order, but ultimately, we got it! So, as was fitting, we did one final count during our evening reflections. The list below is in the order the numbers were drawn during our final evening. The number after each person’s name was their ‘count-off number’ during the trip.

The Final Question: Looking back on your Central American experience, what is an event or observation you would like to make about one of your most memorable experiences?

Carson and his mom enjoy a relaxing moment in the shade during our afternoon on a beach after snorkeling all morning.

Carson (dos, #2) – My favorite part of the trip was when we were rafting. We were almost done. We had a long stretch of clear, like not rapids – and we raced this other boat and I really saw how competitive everybody else got – including my group. We all cheated a little bit [“I know that!” said Hillary in the room] Yah, Hillary was there; it was really fun. Yeah, we won, but only because we cheated – we pushed their boat with our oars!

Luna was the only one to order the typical Caribbean plate at this restaurant. Her smile tells the story!

Luna (dieciocho, #18) – My favorite part of the trip was on the really long zip-line at the very end of all the zip-lines and me and Maya were partners and we went out into the open area out of the trees and I just started screaming and Maya was laughing at me.


Matteo gives a thumbs up from the sea floor.

Matteo (cinco, #5) – My favorite part of the trip was when we were snorkeling off the coast of Panamá. I did a duck dive and I saw a shoal of Squid and I reached my arm out near one of them and they all shot away real quickly and they shot their ink at me!

Jacob tries to get a butterfly to come on his finger for a little closer inspection.

Jacob (seis, #6) – My favorite part of the trip was snorkeling and I liked to see the reef and the fish.

Hillary (Tour Guide – uno, #1) – Alright, my favorite activity was actually snorkeling. I’d never done it before (!?!) – no, never… and it was just like something that, you know – all the time that we see like forests, and animals, and biodiversity and landscapes… but we never get to see inside the water, right? To see what lives inside the water. All of the duck dives, the coral reefs, to see all of that that is right next to my country – it makes me feel really glad to be here.

Kelly (Mr. Elder, once, #11) – My favorite part was when we were on a walk in the rainforest and a bird almost hit Miss Pancich and it was having trouble flying and we found out it was a Knoll… the bird had a lizard in it’s mouth. And I guess in Montana, we see Robin’s eating worms and don’t think anything of it, but I guess I never thought a bird would eat a Lizard. And this bird was struggling for a bit. We watched it for 3-4 minutes just trying to get it in it’s beak and clamp down on it and the lizard was flipping around and trying to get away. It just blew me away – it was super fascinating. My camera was fritzing out – I didn’t even get a picture of it, but Miss Pancih got one. The bird was a Squirrel Kuko (?).

Afton mastered the art of paddling on the Pacuare River.

Afton (veintiuno, #21) – My favorite part was zip-lining. Being up there high in the trees and seeing all different views of like the trees and the river.

Natalya enjoys a meal during our adventure.

Natalya (veintiocho, #28) – It wasn’t my favorite part, but something I’ll remember. So, it was the first day in the airport, and everyone was really tired. Most people when they get tired just get tired, but I have a couple stages of being tired. My first stage is being sleepy and then my second stage I go crazy – I was like screaming and yelling everywhere. And them my third stage, I started crying… someone started talking to me and I was really emotional, so I just started crying.

Brody during a night-hike in the rainforest in the Sarapiqui region.

Brody (cuatro, #4) – My favorite part of the trip was when we were rafting. We were going into a section of class IV rapids, and the guide yelled “Get Down!” but I didn’t hear him. I was in the front of the boat, and Jackson jumped in the front of the boat and took the whole thing, so I couldn’t “Get Down!” in the boat. So, I was still sitting on the side and we went over a huge bump and Jackson grabbed my leg and I was hanging outside of the raft. We went through the rapid, and then he pulled me back into the boat! [Jackson said, “Well I wasn’t gonna fall out of that boat!” What about Brody, asked Miss Pancich? “Well, I was holding onto him,” was Jackson’s response.]

Reese gives a paddleboard a try.

Reece (doce, #12) – We were whitewater rafting right before the Pacuare Canyon with the bridge. We were going down and we went over this rock and then there was another rock right after that. We got stuck on the rock for at least five minutes and all the groups were going past us. And then another one just rammed into us and got us even more stuck. Somehow they got past us, and then we got unstuck, and then we get stuck even more on these rocks below us. And I could see Clement’s group zooming up the river to try and save us. And then our instructor finally hopped out of the boat in the rapids, and it was super-sketchy, and he finally pushed us out.

Smudges on Aidia’s face during our visit to the Family Farm.

Aidia (dieciseis, #16) – My favorite part was during the night hike. We were all at this really muddy part and we stopped there to look at a few things. And then Hillary told us all to turn off our lights and it was completely dark. Everyone was just standing there in the complete quiet and all you could here were the sounds of the rainforest and when you looked up you could see the silhouettes of the trees. It was really pretty.

Micah comes up to the surface near the boat.

Micah (veintidos, #22) – My favorite part was going to the family farm and learning about all the fruits. I thought it was really neat how a fruit is used to make chocolate. I didn’t know that. I also didn’t know about the whole ritual of how it is the drink of the Gods – I thought that was pretty cool.

Layla (veintitres, #23) – I think my favorite part was when we were in Panamá and we actually went for lunch and just to see that giant sea of it’s own that we could all just walk out for ever and ever in this crystal clear water and see those Cabanas in the water. It was nice, beautiful, and it was picturesque!

Barrett poses for a photo before his meal.

Barrett (trece, #13) – My favorite part of the trip was on the night hike when we saw at least three tree frogs and we turned off all of our lights except for one and we could see his red eyes. I got a picture, but I take horrible pictures! [The tree frog is the image often showing on this blog’s banner up top of the frog that Mr. Elder took on a prior trip]

Craig takes a break on the beach in the afternoon heat.

Craig (nueve, #9) – So, my favorite part was when we were rafting and so we were at this pond and there was a big stick in the way of the river. So, the dude (our guide) told me to duck down, and I did it a little bit too late and only half my body was in and my butt was sticking up and as we were going by, the stick hit my butt! [Hillary told us the guide had to push Craig down into the boat, but he still hit the branch. Kylie pointed out Craig was also the one who was peeing in the ocean as we looked at the Sloths and fell into the boat head-first.]


Henry leads the way, having walked across the bridge in the background where we left Costa Rica and now entering Panama.

Henry (tres, #3) – When we went to that National Park, I really liked the winding roads and all of the people – the little towns that were there and then we’d get to the valley and there were sheer rock walls with jungle growing on them… I thought it was really cool. I thought, “This would be a really cool place to live.”

Bill (veinticinco, #25) – My favorite part was when we were floating down the river and I was in the boat with Luna, Maya, Henry, and Zoe – and we got stock on a rock with another raft. It was kind of sketchy, and the instructor was saying “Get down!” “Get up!” “Get down!” – he was giving all sorts of commands. And it was really neat watching how fast everybody moved.

Zoe tries some chocolate (?) at the Family Farm.

Zoe (diecinueve, #19) – When we were rafting, we got stuck on the rock next to Reese’s boat. Our guide told us to get down, and so we got down, and water started flooding into our raft and Luna started screaming and then she freaked out and then she almost started crying… and it was really funny.

Jackson takes a break while snorkeling Bocas del Toro (Panama).

Jackson (siete, #7) – My favorite part was when we were in Puerto Viejo on our way to Panamá and Matteo, Amelia and I were at the breakfast table that morning before we went to see the ocean. I felt a bug on my neck, so I swiped it forward, and it was a little Lizard! He fell on my plate and he was eating my banana, and then he dropped in the grass and he left from there.

Maya tries some chocolate at the Family Farm.

Maya (diecisiete, #17) – I really liked the zip-lining, and how you were over everything below and what you could see above. You went really fast and you could control the speed. I really liked that.

Brandon getting off the plane on one of our legs. It was a long flight, but so worth it!

Brandon (veintisiete, #27) – My favorite part was probably going on the night hike and seeing and hearing all the different kinds of insects and bugs that were out there and I got a bunch of bug bites on my arms and legs and it didn’t feel good, but I saw a bunch of different animals that were creeping me out. I saw this Bullet Ant on my shoe and I kicked it off kind of on Reese and he started screaming. And then we went up… we saw this huge spider. He jumped in a hole, and we thought he was coming to get us.

Wynde (catorce, #14) – My greatest part of this trip that I will remember is that the people of Costa Rica have made a very conscious and intentional decision to buck against centuries of tradition and to change their attitudes from a dominance approach to where they live to one that is cooperative, respectful and conservatory. And they have done so with such success, that is actually thriving and driving their economy. And I think it is an amazing example that I have hope more will follow and I am thankful I was able to experience that in Costa Rica on this trip.

Delaney showing her excitement for the zip-lining adventure one afternoon.

Delaney (veinte, #20) – My favorite part was at lunch today on the subsistence farm. There was this little girl who didn’t speak any English and she was really cute. We were trying to communicate with her and ask her like how old she was, and what her name was and if she liked animals… it was much harder than we all thought it would be! Instead of asking how old she was, I asked her how many bathrooms! So, you know, that’ll stay with me. And the little girl was just laughing at me the whole time, so that was kind of funny.

Debbie (quince, #15) – One incident that I witnessed was as I was wandering through Bocas del Toro. I was walking down away from the tourist/business area by some of the homes. I saw two little boys, one about two and the other about four. And they were just two naked little boys, running around and having fun, and all of a sudden, an older brother came out and they got in this ditch and he started giving them a bath. I looked in the ditch and I thought, “I wonder what’s in that ditch?” It didn’t look very nice to me… but that wonderful little family was happy and the boys were giggling and they just didn’t give a rip!

Clement provides a strong right paddle up front as he and his group work their way through one of the rapids on the Pacuare River.

Clement (diez, #10) – My favorite part was the pier (Santa Barbara, California) because we could do whatever we want nobody could order us to go places, so that was fun. My favorite ride was that up and down thing and we tried to do our slow-motion videos. And we kind of lost Gage, and it was fun looking around for him and not finding him.

Gage on a boat en route to the reef for some snorkeling (Bocas del Toro, Panama).

Gage (veintiseis, #26) – This was definitely a part that will stay with me and give me a lot of ideas. When we were at the coffee plantation and they were showing us all the machines that ran just with water… I thought it was just the most ingenious and cool thing ever… seriously, I really like machines that don’t even need electricity – that use the power of water.

Dayan – (ocho, #8) – In the park in Alajuela (near San José), when we went up to the locals there and asked them some questions in their language and they talked to us, it was kind of funny because they would talk to us back and we didn’t know what they were saying… we were trying to figure out how to say coconut and the guy wouldn’t tell us – the guy just said “No Coconut.” [Henry told us he kept saying he didn’t want to buy – maybe he thought we were trying to sell Coconuts. Mr. Elder pointed out that we are actually in Alajuela, not San José, but that the valley below has 10 million people in it… which Hillary corrected him on, because there are only 6 million people in the country. She said about half the country’s population, 2-3 million, live here in the valley].

Dayan celebrates after our zip-lining adventure.

Paulette – (vienticuatro, #24) – I loved getting off the roads: snorkeling, zip-lining, and whitewater rafting. I really liked learning about the six types of coral from Patty while snorkeling on the reef. When we measured the colors of the coral, I found myself paying more attention to it. In the second reef we hit, there were some real multi-colored coral. The darkest coral is the healthiest, and after learning about it, I could tell that parts of the reef were healthier than others.

Amelia (treinta, #30) – I think my favorite things about trip were being able to snorkel and helping with the corals, being on the beautiful beach in Bastementos, seeing the dolphins and reading all the nice messages on the popsicle sticks!

Kylie (Miss Pancich, Veintinueve, #29) – I loved watching the guides and Christian, our bus driver, always seeing the things they wanted us to see. Watching Hillary and Christian working to get the Guava fruit out of the tree to share with the group after zip-lining was another high point for me.

For our favorite student event on the trip, both Miss Pancich and I agree. Jacob and Micah found us moments after the nightly room check – as they marched up, Jacob announced, “I really messed up – I broke a light in our room!” Honesty is always the best policy, and Jacob was taking responsibility. Turns out three boys had broken the light when a lapse of collective reasoning led to a pillow fight that resulted in the broken fixture.

All in all, an excellent adventure in Central America was had by all. Deeper friendships were formed, and some new friendships were made. Lessons were learned and new sights and sounds were discovered. After ten days away from home, we are confident most of our travelers are ready to be back in their own homes. We are in Los Angeles now, and if all goes well, will find our way to Bozeman just before midnight tonight. At that point, many families will be reunited. Some will overnight in Bozeman, while others plan to make it back to Helena, ending the trip a few hours earlier than the rest. Regardless of our final itineraries, though, it is safe to say all had an experience that won’t soon, if ever, forget. Thanks to Costa Rica and Panamá from all of us.

Pura Vida!


Snorkeling in the Caribbean – Bocas del Toro

Over the past few days, we have had the opportunity to spend many hours snorkeling around the coral reefs in Bocas del Toro (Panama). Today we trekked back across the border (which went much smoother than the way down). There was a lot less apprehension among the group, as we were all veterans of the crossing and understood what the emigration/immigration process would look like in reverse.

We are now working our way up the National highway that is once again packed with semis hauling Banana’s and other goods as was described in an earlier blog post. We are en route to the Sarapiquí Rainforest Region of Costa Rica, the final area we will explore before returning to San José Sunday evening. We saw a couple Sloths in a Cahuita National Park just before lunch. While both the Chicken and Rice and the Beans and Rice options were favorites, and while a number of us opted for a Hamburger with fries (including our bus driver Christian, who told some of the group he eats Beans and Rice three times a day every day and this opportunity was extra special for him), Luna was the only one to order the Casado con Carne.

Luna Casado con Carne

Luna with her Casado con Carne.

This meal always has the meat (chicken pieces or breasts, fish, pork chops, or beef) chopped potatoes in a sauce, rice, beans, salad, and sometimes plantains. When she got her plate, many of us were second-guessing our orders. I told the group I would be ordering Casado con Carne if it is an option on the remainder of our experience.

After eating, we had a brief ceremony to thank one of our guides, Amelia, who would be leaving us later in the afternoon to join another group coming to visit. Each member of our group had written a brief ‘Thank You’ to Amelia on a colored popsicle stick, and we gave her an envelope with the sticks and a tip in appreciation for all she had done. Students wrote notes on popsicle sticks like Henry’s, “Thank You so much for showing us around. I’ll remember this trip for the rest of my life.”

Thank You Amelia 2019

A sampling of the popsicle sticks we gave to Amelia as part of her thank you gift.

Of course no day would be complete without La Pregunta del Día; so, The Question:

Over the past few days in Bocas del Toro, we experienced snorkeling and Caribbean culture. What have you learned about snorkeling, the reef, or about life in general while spending time in the Caribbean? How might this experience apply to your life when you return to Montana?

Afton – Wear sunscreen. That is what I learned. You have to apply it a lot of times. Being sunburned is no fun. Even in Montana, I think I will still wear sunscreen when I return.

Aidia – I learned how much climate change is affecting the ocean and the coral reefs and everything. I was obviously aware of climate change and everything, but after seeing the reefs for myself, I’m definitely going to share with others the importance of addressing climate change. That is what I will do when back in Montana.

Barrett – I learned that the water was a lot warmer and clearer than it is in Montana. If I ever think the water is too cold when I’m back in Montana, I can just move to the Caribbean!

Brandon – I learned that the water isn’t good to drink. It is a lot warmer, and that there are way more colorful fish. And I learned not to touch Sea Urchins, the hard way. I’ve also learned that there are jellyfish cells that can sting. Finally, I learned that sometimes things go a lot better when I try to be a part of the group instead of always pushing limits to get noticed and yelled at by the adults.

Brody – I thought that a coral reef was healthier if it was brighter, but it actually is healthier the darker it is because it has to have more algae in it and that makes it darker. The algae helps the coral get oxygen. When the ocean gets polluted, the algae can’t grow and the reef starts to die.

Carson – Something I learned was that the coral reefs are much more affected by pH than I thought. I thought coral was like a tree – like a plant, but it’s an animal. Also, I learned the reef uses algae for energy and stuff with the process of photosynthesis. I will appreciate how clean my house is upon return.

Clement – I learned that they don’t use cars that much – they use more boats. I saw a lot more shops than I’m used to, and I saw a lot of people who are trying to make a living, but don’t have much. When I’m back in Montana, this will affect my life because I’ve found we should all appreciate what we’ve got because we’ve got a beautiful place to live and have a higher standard of living. Even though they don’t have a lot, they were still happy, and we should be too.

Craig – I learned that there is coral in the ocean like Fire Coral that can hurt you if you touch it. A number of our group got cut by this coral and they said it hurt pretty bad (Jacob said, “It cut pretty bad – I probably shouldn’t have touched that.”).

Dayan – One thing I learned is that it is a lot hotter over here and it’s way easier to get sunburned – like really bad sunburn. When I return to Montana, I might take somebody with me when I go into the water because I learned the importance of having a buddy in the water.

Delaney – One thing I learned was how to Duck Dive, and that was cool. It was difficult to go vertically down. You want to go horizontally so you can see all the fish, but you need to dive straight down and you’ll see more – how to do a proper Duck Dive, I guess. Back home, I’ll put on sunscreen even when in water. I always thought the water protected you from the sun, but now I know that isn’t true – it intensifies the rays.

Gage – No response.

Henry – I learned that many people use their boats as mainly their job. Their whole economy is based upon water and boats. Like Roberto, who lived in a shack – the only income he had was shuttling people around in his boat. When back home, I’ll appreciate how easy it is going to be for me to get a job when I turn 15.

Jacob – I learned that the reefs aren’t very well protected. Some of the bigger name reefs are protected, but the littler/lesser known reefs are dying because of pollution and temperature changes. Like Henry said, the islands don’t have that many jobs. Tourists are their big income. When I am legal working age, I’ll appreciate how easy it is to get a job and have a house. I’ll appreciate non-polluted waters and having drinking water, as well.

Jackson – The plumbing is whack. It’s crazy, like the way you can’t flush toilet paper down the toilet. I’m not gonna lie, I had to use a spoon to get some toilet paper our once because I threw it in the toilet out of habit. Also, I was wearing my Bocas hat, and many people would just look at me and say, “BOCAS!” The people here are very passionate sports fans. The kids were playing soccer at night in the street behind our hotel for hours – they were using large plastic milk crates on their side as goals. They are just passionate.

Luna – I like how nobody is on their phones here. I feel kind of inspired by that and I am going to try to be on my phone less when I go back to Montana. You miss out on time with your family or being outside when you are on your phone.

Matteo – I learned that the health of the reef can actually control the oxygen levels in the atmosphere. We really need to cut down on pollution if we want to have healthy, non-toxic air to breathe on our planet. Something I’ll take back to Montana is an appreciation for clean streets and clean water. I also want to try to conserve more – like using less water and plastics because it can really affect the world we live in.

Maya – A lot of people rely on the ocean for how they live. The Caribbean people need a healthy ocean to continue living as they have. In Helena, we think of the ocean as somewhere to go on vacation, but for many, I learned it is so much more.

Micah – I learned that you need to listen to your parents when they say, “Sunscreen isn’t a joke when you get closer to the equator,” because these blisters – man! Being a part of the marine research was a contribution to the cause. Even though we didn’t do much, the plots we surveyed and the data we recorded will help ensure the future of that reef.

Natalya – I didn’t know that there was salt in the ocean. I learned that the water is really salty. You can get burned a lot easier in Central America than at home. The water here is a lot bluer as well. I’ll bring back what I learned in that we can change the environment by being aware of what we are doing.

Reece – I learned that Sand Dollars grow vertical to the ground and that they are related to the Star Fish. I also learned that the Caribbean Islands rely on water for transportation, and that they need rain to have drinking water. Back home, I am reminded we are more careless with our water than they are here.

Zoe – I learned that you should wear sunscreen. You can get burnt easily in the water, it makes it hard to sleep, and then you get grumpy. It feels like somebody is rubbing sandpaper on my skin right now and it hurts. I’m going to listen to my mom when back in Montana and wear sunscreen!

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We checked into the Selva Verde Lodge last night, had an excellent meal, and 1/2 our group got to go on a “Night Hike” in the Sarapiquí Rainforest. The other half will go tonight, and those excursions will be the subject of a future post. We’re off to the Rainforest this morning and then going to zip-line in the afternoon! Check back soon to see how those activities are going!

Crossing the Border and Experiencing Snorkeling Off Bocas del Toro, Panamá

It was to be a couple hour drive after our whitewater rafting adventure to our hotel along the coast of Costa Rica near Panamá, but that was before we hit the traffic along the route. We learned that Banana trees are like Pineapples in that they are a “one shot wonder” (thanks for the verbiage, Paulette)! In other words, once the clump of bananas is harvested, the tree is cut down and another one is planted. Each tree only produces one set of the fruit and it is done.

Well, southeast Costa Rica is a Banana producing region. We passed huge barbed wire lots larger than football fields filled with refrigerated semi-truck/train shipping containers stacked 3-6 high. Then these containers, loaded with Bananas (we went by the Chaquita, Del Monte, and Dole plants) were hauled to the ports by tractor-trailer trucks. So, on that two-lane road, we did stop and go traffic for almost two hours to go the last 40 miles to our town of Puerto Viego. There were a ton of trucks clogging the road, along with cars, motorcycles, school busses, and even an ambulance (not going any faster than we were). The couple-hour long drive wound up taking over three, but we finally made it to the hotel.

Upon arrival at the Cariblue Resort in Puerto Viejo, our students loved discovering their cabanas as they wound their way through the dense vegetation meandering out into the darkness from the central lobby. There wasn’t time to delay, as we reloaded the bus and went downtown (a couple kilometers away) to a small restaurant called, Riquísimo. By the time our group took seats, there weren’t any tables left in the small restaurant. There was a small island with stools between our open-air tables and the bustling road of the small surfing town. In the end, many students said the Caribbean fare was the best meal of the trip thus far. Some swam in one of the pools, while many opted to connect to the Wi-Fi and check in with friends and parents.

The next morning, many of the students opted for fresh pancakes with a strawberry syrup to accompany their scrambled eggs over the standard beans and rice. Mr. Elder also found the yogurt with granola and a fresh banana was really good! Most everybody went to the beach: the 8am shift got to go swimming out in the surf, and the 8:30 crew just checked things out along the beach. The sun was intense, giving us a glimpse of the power of the rays yet to come when we hit the ocean waters in Panamá. We came back, loaded the bus, and just like that – we were off to Panamá!

Border Cota Rica Panama 01

Waiting in the hot sun to go through the Emigration check-point as we left Costa Rica.

We pulled up, got out with only our passports, and found ourselves in a long line of people waiting to emigrate from Costa Rica. We knew it was coming, but about 45 minutes in the hot sun with no shade was intense! Some had umbrellas and all had sunscreen, but it was a hot wait for sure.

Border Cota Rica Panama 05

Once done with the first line, we hit the second, waiting to immigrate into Panamá.

When done, we walked back over to the bus, unloaded our luggage, and walked across a bridge over the Sixaola River. It was interesting to be walking with the other people, as our bus was not allowed to cross the border. On the other side, we put our luggage in a new bus (more on that soon), and found our way to the immigration line a few hundred yards away. While the line area was in the shade, it was still pretty hot while we waited.

The adults in our group had to get a photo taken and provide both left and right hand and thumb prints. Fortunately, our students just had their passports run through and then got their stamps. Amelia and I went on a quest to find some water for the group, but none of the four stores at the border had large containers. Miss Pancich ultimately wound up buying a couple of the largest bottles we could find and I got about eight sun-block bottles! Back on the bus…

Speaking of our bus, it was a 1970s-era luxury cruiser that had come form Korea after it completed its home-country service (we knew this because every sign on the bus (ie., Emergency Exit) had the message in Korean as well). Our driver, who may have been over three hundred pounds, had a couple assistants. One stood on the stairs by the door and the other used an upside down 5-gallon bucket as a stool right next to the driver himself. They were proud of their bus, a red 70s cruiser that had purple embroidered curtains with gold stitching. The last couple rows were a favorite, as they had steps up and were like elevated theatre seating, giving the lucky occupants views all the way to the front of the bus!

Off we went, rumbling down the roads through Panamá, finding our way to the port city of Almirante. This was an excellent experience for our students, as many people were crammed in a small waiting area for the taxi. We were fortunate, as Enrique (one of the assistants on our bus) led us through the throng and right out to the boat dock. We loaded on two boats and within minutes, had donned lifejackets and were off.

When we arrived, we met Jeannette, our snorkeling guide, and she took us for a meal. Everyone was really hungry, and the Tuna Steak with Rice and the Chicken and Potatoes were both a real hit. Other than that, you are now up to date minus they snorkeling… leading us to the next Pregunta del Día.

La Pregunta del Día: Five years from now, what will stick in your mind about your snorkeling experience – such as something you saw or did?

Afton – “I liked looking at the different kinds of coral and seeing what’s down there. I saw a lot of different kinds of fish.”

Aidia – “I thought I got stung by a Jellyfish, but I may have touched the Coral.”

Barret – “I’ll remember collecting data and waving my hand at the little worms that have the stringy things outside of them. When I waived my hand, they would think I was a fish and hide back in their tube.”

Brandon – “I will remember being stung by Jellyfish cells.”

Brody – “Learning about how much the coral affects us (humans) and how much the coral is affecting global warming with the algae.”

Carson – “I thought that the water was surprisingly clear and there were a lot more fish than I thought there would be – I was surprised by all the colors.”

Clement – “It was really pretty, because the water was really clear and there was a lot of fish life. I’d never seen one of those worm things before. I’ll definitely remember them. I saw that, I did that, and it was fun!”

Craig – “We collected all sorts of data and saw a lot of fish. It was interesting to see all the things in the water when you looked within a meter of the rope line we laid on the reef floor.”

Dayan – “There was all sorts of algae and stuff, but out a little farther, I dove down, my ears popped as I went down, and I saw this yellow rock with holes in it. It reminded me of Sponge-Bob!”

Delaney – “I saw an Eel sticking out of a rock – it sat there frozen staring up at us, hidden in the Coral.”

Gage – “I will remember that if a fish brushed up against my leg, or even if it’s like a leaf, it freaks me out.”

Henry – “I’ll remember how we couldn’t find the coral reef after we laid the rope down and put the plotting square on it. I found a cool piece of coral, but it wasn’t inside the square like it was supposed to be.”

Jacob – “I’ll remember the little worms that we could disturb the water near and they would disappear.”

Jackson – “The fish were really close – they’d swim by about an inch from their legs.”

Luna – “There was one really big section of coral with a lot of fish in it, and my favorite fish was a black one that had neon-blue poka-dots!”

Matteo – “I will remember touching a sea cucumber. I expected it to be soft and squishy, but in reality it was hard like a rock and had hair on it.”

Maya – “A lot of the time, my whole body would sting because of the Jellyfish particles in the water.”

Micah – “What will stick in my mind the most is swallowing so much salt-water!”

Natalya – “The saltiness will stay in my mind forever. The saltwater was on my teeth and made it hard to chew things.”

Reese – “Seeing a trumpet fish with its mouth and tail like the end of the trumpet where the sound comes out… and diving down and seeing all the see urchins.”

Zoe – “I’ll remember the water was turquoise.”

Tomorrow (Thursday, 3/28), we will spend the morning collecting data on the reef’s health once again and find our way to a beach in a Panamanian National Park for the afternoon! Stay tuned for the next post about our C.R. Anderson group experience in Central America.