Taking flight with OTS

Two spots left! That’s what the email said. I quickly ran across the hall of our high school and shouted to my friend and fellow biology teacher, “Two spots left! That means us!” We had been to Costa Rica before but always with a large group of students. Could we actually make this happen – travel with just ourselves and explore all that OTS and Costa Rica has to offer, worry free? Yes! In a whirlwind chain of events, our school district granted us two weeks of leave for staff development; we organized ten days worth of substitute plans, packed our bags, and were on our way.

The Wonders of the Dry Tropical Forest

We arrived in Palo Verde at the end of a long day of travel. We had a delicious meal cooked by wonderful people and at bedtime gracefully climbed into our mosquito net covered beds. Thinking of this still makes me giggle. We were already having an adventure, and we were just getting started! Not many high school biology teachers can wake to the sound of howler monkeys, enjoy an early morning bird walk, and take a quick ride up the road from the research station to see a rattlesnake in the middle of December. Another day and a short hike later, we found ourselves above the canopy, overlooking a mother howler monkey and her baby. There was a light mist of rain, a rainbow, and sunset views to last a lifetime. Our time at Palo Verde was magical, but eventually it was time to move on.

Jabiru in Palo Verde. Photo: Greg Drawbaugh

The Icons of the Cloud Forest

One stop at a beautiful hotel and two days later, we arrived at Las Cruces, and it was clear that our tour was starting to develop a theme. Birds. Mehmet Murat Ildan is quoted as saying, “Not humans, but birds often witness the most beautiful mornings in this world!” The most beautiful mornings were to be found at Las Cruces Research Station and Wilson Botanical Garden, and the humans were there for it. We were traveling with brilliant ornithophiles, who could name nearly every bird by sight and sound. We saw hundreds of birds and really got to know one another in this amazing place. We met the local birding club and shared coffee, wine, cheese, stories, and walks. On one particular night walk, we saw a sleeping bird! Such a simple thing. Of course birds sleep, but we were so lucky to witness it.

Our adventure was feeling just about perfect when next we arrived in the land of the resplendent quetzal. Talk about lucky! Again, our group, like the birds we admired, witnessed a beautiful early morning. We balanced ourselves on the side of a steep hill in one of the most unique habitats I have ever seen. We didn’t have to wait long before both a male and female quetzal showed up and showed off. These “icons of the cloud forest” did not disappoint.

The Sounds of the Rain Forest

To say we left the quetzal paradise feeling happy would be an understatement. We were giddy and ready to get to La Selva. It is impossible to put it into words how much La Selva has to offer.  There are so many beautiful things to see there, so much intelligent research and learning. But what stands out to me are the sounds of La Selva – footsteps on the  bridge, the rain, the rain on metal roofs, the howler monkeys, snuffling peccaries, the birds, the insects, the FROGS. Climbing into bed at night under the metal roof with screens for windows and listening to the sounds of the jungle, glancing up to see stars between the trees; these are the memories I take with me.

Someone once told me that Costa Rica is the place where your spirit gets younger. After traveling with OTS for 12 days this past December, it is easy to see what a wonderful and true sentiment this is. I feel younger. I am smarter. I am able to share all of this with my students. Happy 60th Anniversary. Thank you for the work you do.

An Account of OTS' 60th Anniversary Costa Rica Tour
Alzar vuelo con la OET