So far I have been to Costa Rica sven times. The first time was with a group of about ten university faculty, the second was with my 16 year old daughter. I was really nervous the second time - we were on our own with no guide! The third time was the inaugural offering of this course – and that was GREAT. I have returned safely each time, have not had any serious issues, and I’m looking forward to introducing you to the country on my next trip.
3) Can you drink the water and eat the food?
I have a section below that deals specifically with my impressions of Costa Rica as a traveler. Check that out.
4) What airports are being used for the Costa Rica trip.
The trip is planned expecting students to arrive at San Jose International Airport in the central valley. The current iteration of the course has us leaving from San Jose as well. In the past we have left from from Liberia International on the Pacific Coast. Students that are planning to arrive prior to the in-country component or depart later than the end of class are responsible for being in San Jose for the first night of the group program and/or must arrange their on transportation for after the last day of the program.
5) What type of transportation will we be using?
We will likely be using a combination of vans and/or small tour buses, depending on the size of the class. Our collaborators arrange the vehicles and drivers.
6) What will lodging be like?
We will be staying at a combination of homestays, hostels, hotels and ecological study areas. This is group lodging, often with 5-8 people in a multi-bunk room. At one stay we have all slept in a large room on mattress pads on the floor. Many of the lodgings have cold showers - very invigorating. Students will be advised that behavior in the lodgings needs to be responsible and respectful as per the OSU student code of conduct.
7) What meals will we be responsible for?
For the most part, during the trip, breakfast, lunch and dinner are included. If you have dietary restrictions, it is best to let us know in advance of the trip so we can cover that as best as possible.
8) How does the financing work (program costs and financial aid/GI Bill)?
The course has a built-in course fee that is paid to OSU to cover the costs of the on-the-ground program which includes lodging, most food, and transportation during the 11 day program. You are responsible for paying airfare (depending on when purchased and where you are flying from between $600 and $1000). You have to have a passport (first-time costs ~$135). There is an exit fee that you need to pay Costa Rica (typically at the airport) that is currently $28. The course is run through Ecampus, so you pay for three credits with Ecampus which is in-state tuition plus a per-credit charge.
Once OSU International Programs has confirmation of your enrollment, they alert the Financial Aid office of the costs of the program, airfare, and passport. Financial Aid will reassess your FAFSA and provide you access to more funding if you are eligible. You will then be able to use those funds to cover course costs.
For GI Bill coverage of program fees, you need to check in with you GI Bill Certifying Official to see what is allowed to be covered by your GI Bill funds.
9) Shoes: this is a tropical environment and there are times for flip-flops and sandals and there are times for closed-toed boots. We will have some wet days combined with hiking in the cloud forest. I have a pair of low-top waterproof leather hiking shoes that I have brought all three times. Those and a pair of Chaco sandals are my footwear. Some trails are muddy, steep, and we will be doing some field work, so shoes are an important consideration.
In Costa Rica as an American traveler (or what I’ve learned after three trips there)
· Costa Rica touts having clean water running from the taps. I have drunk water from the tap in most places and have not come down with any bugs. My daughter came down with travelers diarrhea on our June 2013 trip. Was it the water? Was it the pineapple we ate fresh in the field? Was it some food she ate? Could it have been the river water on the river float? I don’t know. If you are worried about the water, bring a water bottle and some Aquamira drops (http://aquamira.com/consumer/aquamira-water-treatment-drops/). These kill the bugs and remove any nasty tastes and do not taste like chlorine. I have used these backpacking and on occasion in Costa Rica. Don’t buy bottled water because a) you can save money by not doing that and 2) you will learn during the class (if you don’t already know) that plastic bottles are bad. A good reuseable bottle goes a long way - just make sure it is empty when you go through airport security.
· You would think a Latin American country would have some zesty food. The casado tipico (typical meal) that is served at many Tico restaurants is rice, beans, fried plantain, a little slaw salad, and maybe some meat. Spicy? No. With hot sauce, yes. I found the same thing in Chile – food can be a little bland in a typical food place.
· When you flush your toilet in a big US city, the sewer system carries the waste to a central collection area and does a lot of digestion and treatment and handles the load. San Jose does have sewage treatment, but most places are on their own and rely on septic type systems or an alternative. In Costa Rica, there is typically a small wastebasket next to the toilet. You are expected to put your waste toilet paper in the basket, not in the toilet. The idea being that the paper will not digest quickly enough in their system and will clog up the works. So, don’t be surprised when you are asked by a sign not to flush your tp. When in Rome…. Saw the same thing in Chile.
· A hot shower is a nice thing, especially in the montane forest on a cool wet morning. But hot is defined differently in different places. So…you will likely often have lukewarm or lukecold showers. In the lowlands, that will often be a great way to cool off when it is 90 degrees and sticky outside.
· Halfway through the trip, pay to have your laundry done. Washing in the sink is great when your clothes dry. But when your clothes don’t dry because of the 98% humidity they start to mildew and you stink. Clothes actually dry faster if you wear them after washing. The benefit is that you can pack less than half the clothes and travel with your luggage as carryon. Since most airlines charge at least $25 for a checked bag and laundry will cost you about $10, you just saved $15. And you don’t stink. More on packing light in the trip guidelines. We will try to have a laundry option identified midway through.
· Pay attention to your credit card slip when paying for things. Make sure the colones they say they are charging you match what prints out. This is common sense and is actually more likely to happen to you in the US than in Costa Rica, but the language barrier may make you a nice target to a not so nice vendor. I had a gas station attendant try to get me for an extra 8,000 colones (I caught it). But I also had a lady in Oakland, Ca, stiff me for $25 at the hotdog stand. Just be aware.
· Running shoes are light but when they get wet and don’t dry out, they stink. Suggest a pair of sandals and a a pair of watertight hikers. You will want close-toed shoes that are waterproof(ish) but also a pair of open sandals. Flip-flops are good too, but they are not appropriate for hiking or for water actitivies. The hikers do not have to be above the ankle, just regular shoe height. You are going to be busy enough that you can forgo a run for a few days. With shoes, like clothes, wearign the wet ones dries them out faster. On this trip you WILL have wet shoes.
· Come expecting to sweat. It’s the tropics, baby!