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!