Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

Independence Day and a Gira

Wednesday, the 15th of September, was Independence Day for Costa Rica, meaning there were no classes that day! Additionally, that Friday the entire IFSA-Butler group had a “gira.” Literally translated, a “gira” is a field trip. I don’t know if rafting and chocolate sampling usually counts as a fieldtrip, but I am not going to complain about this slight misnomer.

This year Costa Rica celebrated its 189th year of Independence. Tuesday night I went out with two others from the IFSA group, Carlie and Madeline, to the Central Park in Heredia to watch the various festivities. There were several performances of live music as well as traditional dances from Guanacaste. Another tradition that I thought was particularly beautiful were the lanterns that the children carried about in the park. These lanterns are, in reality, little houses made of cardboard and paper hanging from a rod with a candle or other light source inside the house. Supposedly, there were fireworks that night too, but they must have been much, much later, because I went home at 11 p.m. that night and neither saw nor heard them. However, all in all, the night was very enjoyable.

The next morning, Carlie and I went to Central Park to view the parade. There were banners and flags on the houses and buildings lining the street and the sidewalks were packed with people, many of whom were dressed for the occasion, especially the children. Much of the parade was dance groups and bands from various primary and secondary schools in Heredia. Carlie and I remained perched up on top of a bench for close to three hours watching the parade, before leaving to go home.

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That Friday, the entire IFSA-Butler group went to Puerto Viejo for a guided rafting trip and to tour a cacao plantation. The trip to Puerto Viejo was about two hours by bus and toured some splendid mountain scenery. For rafting the river, we were divided amongst three rafts, each with a guide. The entire trip lasted about three hours with a quick stop in the middle for a snack of fresh pineapple and watermelon. I hadn’t been too sure at first if I was going to enjoy rafting. Now, however, I really want to do it again and perhaps try kayaking.

That afternoon, after lunch, we toured the cacao plantation. We learned about the history of cacao in Latin America and the whole process of making chocolate. First, the fruit is picked and the seeds are removed and fermented. Following this, the seeds are dried in the sun, roasted, and then ground up with sugar. The grounds then go through a very specific process of heating and cooling to make the chocolate. And let’s not forget the best part of the tour—the chocolate samples! I think the best sample was the roasted seeds ground up with sugar and cinnamon into a course powder that melted in your mouth. We also got to try the cacao fruit, the seeds when they are both sundried and roasted, melted chocolate, and traditional hot chocolate.

Although not planned, the hike out to the plantation was also very educational in terms of tropical biology. We saw a pit viper, another arboreal snake, a parrot, a couple frogs the size of my fingernail, a walking-stick the size of my forearm, and some fearfully large ants that apparently have a very nasty bite.

Until next time…Pura Vida!

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