This trip was a first for me... traveling with a group tour instead of with my significant other. I was asked to join the group when someone else dropped out. Our group consisted of my first section chief (Micah) from my employment at the National Institutes of Health, his wife Elaine (both of whom I've known since 1971), their son Evan, daughter-in-law Nancy and granddaughter Aliza (who was my roommate), their daughter Tamar and son-in-law Mike, Len and Leslie (husband and wife whom Tamar and Mike have known since college), Mark (Audubon tour guide and long time friend of Mike and Tamar) and his wife Paige. Our other group members were Niño (our bus driver, bird spotter and source of local information) and Charlie, the amazing naturalist who joined the group for the second week of our trip.
Tamar and Mark were the chief organizers of the tour, doing much planning in conjunction with Costa Rica Expeditions to ensure that everything about the trip went smoothly and that we visited interesting and beautiful places while traveling around the country-side. Words aren't sufficient to explain how invaluable Mark, Niño, Charlie and Costa Rica Expeditions were to our group's enjoyment of Costa Rica. Our group was treated to many wonderful tours, bird and animal sightings, heard many stories about local culture, ate wonderful food, saw beautiful scenery, experienced both locally run and internationally run tourist locales and came away with an affection for both the country and its people.
Impressions of Costa Rica and its people... the country is clean and very beautiful... its people are very friendly and we can learn a LOT about good conservation practices from this country. Signs posted in bathrooms everywhere we stayed reminded us to conserve water. Cans labeled with the type of recyclable 'trash' that can be disposed of were pretty much everywhere we traveled.
The Costa Rican people are justifiably proud of their country and happy to share their knowledge with tourists. If I recall correctly, 93% of the population is literate and their school system has a very low drop-out rate. The country has no military and no enemies (we should be so lucky). Costa Rica has a population of around 4 million in a country the size of West Virginia and produces coffee, bananas (and other fruit), chocolate products and other items for export. There is no oil or coal in Costa Rica and they are working on becoming self reliant for energy by taking advantage of wind, hydroelectric, solar and geothermal methods of energy production.
Costa Rica is on a major fault line which contributes to the large number of volcanoes (some still active) and can result in earthquakes. On January 8, 2009, there was an earthquake (6.2 magnitude) that greatly affected one of the areas we visited three days after we had been there. Many lives were lost in the area of Costa Rica most heavily affected by mud slides caused by the earthquake. The La Paz Waterfall Gardens, one of the major tourist attractions near the epicenter of the earthquake, has closed for 3 months to conduct repairs (no lives were lost at La Paz). The Costa Rican population rallied to provide relief by conducting fund raisers in town squares and setting up on-line sites for donations.
The slide show currently running on my blog is a summary of the best photos taken while on this trip. If you want to view a day-by-day account of the trip, please check my January 2009 posts.