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Alexander students enter the jungle

You could probably summarize Tishynah Buffalo's time in Costa Rica in two words — green and wet. Green because she and her fellow Alexander students were working in a rainforest about 9,000 feet above sea level.

You could probably summarize Tishynah Buffalo's time in Costa Rica in two words — green and wet.

Green because she and her fellow Alexander students were working in a rainforest about 9,000 feet above sea level. "It was really, really green," she says, with ferns bigger than people and leaves twice the size of those in Alberta.

Wet, since it rained every day: big, big drops, she says, that started at about one in the afternoon and kept up all day. "It's the first time I've seen that much rain," she says. "The first time it rained, we all ran outside and enjoyed the rain."

Buffalo is one of nine students at the Kipohtakaw Education Centre in Alexander that went on a 12-day trip to Costa Rica last month. They got back last week.

The thick mist and vegetation everywhere came as a shock to many on the trip, says Brenda Baker, a teacher's aide on the trip. "It was just like you were in a movie; you finally get to be in a jungle."

In the jungle

This was the school's second annual trip to Costa Rica, said Paul Jespersen, one of the teachers who organized it. The trip is meant to expose students to new languages and cultures and give them a chance to help another nation. Last year's trip had students repair a school in San José.

This year's trip took the students to the Centro Biológico Las Quebradas, about seven kilometres from San Isidro. The centre is a roughly 25-sq.-km nature preserve high in the mountains, Jespersen says, and protects the headwaters of a major river from deforestation. Students lived with host families in a nearby one-road village as they built trails and tended gardens in the centre.

The centre was high enough that you could see clouds rolling beneath you, Baker says. At night, the thick forests below them filled with the flashes of fireflies. "It looked like people were running through the jungle with little flashlights."

The jungle was thick enough to block out most of the sky, says Buffalo, a Grade 12 student, and held many birds, toads, wild boars and centipedes. They also found a small poisonous snake in a drainage ditch.

It was a beautiful, hilly landscape, says Grade 11 student A.J. Arcand, full of rain, mist, and curious creatures. Iguanas eyeballed you as you passed their trees and butterflies with palm-sized wings landed on your shoulders.

Most homes in the village were one-storey brick-and-concrete affairs with tile floors, Jespersen says. There were no cars in the village, adds Arcand, with most people getting around by bike, quad or foot.

Arcand says he stayed with a very traditional family that cooked with a wood stove and ground its own coffee. His host mother would get up every day at 4 a.m. to prepare lunch and dinner for the family. "She was always cleaning," he says, and also prayed before cooking any meal. Lunch was mostly beans, rice and tortillas — a big change from the wild meat and potatoes he usually eats, but he liked it.

His nights were spent playing pool and talking with locals about surfing, Arcand says. Language was a problem, but he had a Spanish-to-English phrasebook and picked up a word or two. "I learned the language pretty fast over there."

New horizons

Baker says the trip has made many of the students more adventurous and outgoing than they were before. Many are now interested in travelling abroad. "They're not scared to get out there and try new things."

The school hopes the trip will become an annual event. Arcand says he hopes to check out New Zealand and the rest of Costa Rica once he graduates. Anyone who goes on next year's trip should bring plenty of bug spray, he adds — the mosquitoes are vicious at night. "I got my back chewed up pretty good there," he says, smiling.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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