To read in order scroll down and begin with Day 1 on May 24, 2011
Day 10 - Thursday
The bright sun helped me awaken this morning and we began to get around, dressed and packed for the journey home. We had some wonderful Costa Rican coffee and some fresh slices of mango. We visited a bit around the kitchen bar and then loaded our stuff in the rented van.
Brother Schwarz had already made two trips to the airport before I got up. Roy Fisher and his group of five from the Western District had to be at the airport about 4:30 AM. They were the early risers (I think some of them didn’t even go to bed)!
About the time Brother Schwarz got back, it was time to take the Florida group to check in for their flight to home. Adrian was in Florida for her sister’s graduation before the trip so she booked a round trip from Florida. She planned to get on her return flight from Florida to Phoenix shortly after her arrival in Orlando. Unfortunately, the second leg of their flight was canceled or something so they were stuck for awhile in Panama.
The final group from Phoenix left the Bekuo hostel about 9:00 for the airport so we were there in plenty of time and check in was a breeze. We told the Schwarz goodbye from the curb and began the homeward journey.
In Costa Rica there is an exit visa (a tax of $26) so I gathered up our passports and paid the fee with a state agent. We then checked our bags and proceeded through security. Near gate 4 there were some eating places and a Britt coffee gift shop. Gayla and I shared a Burger King chicken crisp sandwich that was 9.00 US! We skipped the 5.00 fries 🙂
The flight was on schedule and we took off for Houston with a smooth ride. The three and a half hour flight was broken up with food service on the international leg of this itinerary. We had a choice of ham & cheese or roast beef sandwich. It came with a little macaroni salad and a piece of cake. It was actually pretty good considering it was airplane food (maybe I was just hungry)!
We had an hour and a half in Houston which seemed like plenty of time to walk around and find a Starbucks or something, but by the time we cleared passport entry, collected our bags, went through customs, recheck bags, and were rescreened through security, the flight for Denver was already boarding. We got on and settled in for the hour and 52 minute flight to Denver International airport.
In Denver we went to the restroom, got some prepared (slightly crusty from sitting in the warmer) pizza from the airport Pizza Hut, and went to our gate area to eat our snack/dinner. By the time we finished off our mini pizza the flight was boarding for Phoenix. This last flight (less than two hours) seemed to be the longest. After a very long ten days, six church services, our community service projects, touring the sites, and unfamiliar beds in hostels I was past ready to be home. I was tired and cranky by the time we got to Phoenix. (Hope it didn’t show!)
We actually arrived about fifteen minutes early at Terminal 2, Sky Harbor airport. We made our way to baggage claim and retrieved our luggage without incident. We only waited about 5 minutes at the curb. Pastor and Sis. Martinez picked up their daughters and Gayla and I at the airport and we made the 30 minute trip home.
Home at last. It was about 11:30 PM Arizona time, and an hour later in Costa Rica. What an amazing trip. No one lost luggage, had anything stolen, got sick, or lost in the woods. We were thanking God for a successful trip and a safe return.
Day 9 - Wednesday
Today I was up and showered early before breakfast. I went upstairs to the kitchen to scope out the breakfast. I got a cup of coffee (made with the boiling water poured through the sock filter). It was very good coffee. I went back downstairs and got Gayla to come up for coffee and breakfast. We sat at one of the three tables; the one with chairs! Most of the chairs were backless stools. They brought us a plate of fruit (watermelon, bananas, & pineapple). Oh yes, Gayla sliced up a mango that we brought up from the coast. They also offered us granola and milk and scrambled eggs and toast.
We planned the “Bridges” tour through the cloud forest for this morning. A Toyota “coaster” bus came at 8:30 to take us to the Santa Elena reserve. We were delivered to the Selvatura Park where we checked in at the reception office, received our tickets, and headed down the trail for the self guided pathway through the jungle.
It was an awesome hike and allows you to get right out in the midst of a living cloud forest. There is a series of eight hanging bridges connected by winding paths and steps to get from one crossing to another. It was really incredible. However, had we known how far and how rigorous the trail was we probably would have gone into the forest for a while, over two or three bridges and returned to the reception area.
Once we got over the fourth bridge we figured it was closer to just continue rather than to go back. I’m not sure it was! I got concerned that Gayla would not be able to make it without assistance (other than me!). We trudged on, taking fewer and fewer pictures as we went unless something was really unique. We took pictures of leaves, flowers, caterpillars and birds … and a lot of green! We took pictures of really little ferns the size of a hand, and really big ones you can’t reach around. It was absolutely beautiful.
The bridges were designed like suspension bridges but about a yard wide. It reminded me of an old fashioned swinging bridge except it was more stable. The bottom walkway was made of expanded metal screen you can see through (not good) and there was expanded metal screen on the sides. There was a good three inch gap at the bottom of the side fence and I was paranoid that I might drop my camera and could just see it bouncing out the side. But, we were careful and no one had any problems that I’m aware of.
People come here from all over the world. One group was speaking Chinese. We were on the bus with some people from Atlanta and we met a couple from Kentucky on one of the bridges.
When we finally finished the tour we drug ourselves back in the lobby where we would wait on our bus and collapsed in the chairs. Our group had come in ahead of us and went up to the restaurant to get coffee and hot chocolate. We settled for a water bottle and coke from their gift shop so I didn’t have to walk up the hill to the restaurant!
We took the shuttle back to town and were going to go back to the hostel. When we got close Ethan asked the driver to stop at a restaurant just down from the hostel. The sign said “Christian” restaurant. Not sure what that meant but they had fish symbols, the star of David, and a Jesus sticker on display. More importantly, they had good food already prepared. It was like a buffet line and they charged you depending on what you selected. Because the food was prepared it made it quick to serve our group.
Back at the hostel Ethan arranged for the zip line adventure for those who wanted to go. It was about 40 minutes before the bus was expected so Rhette, Siarrah, and I walked up to the Supermarket to get some coffee and jam to bring back home. Rhette also wanted to get some last minute gifts. Some of the others also came in the store after we were there for a few minutes. We made our purchases and walked back down the hill to the hostel.
The van arrived and the zip-line people got on board with a little nervous hesitation. All the group went expect for Adalynn, Gayla, and me. We planned to go with them to take pictures, but the bus was filled with paying customers so we stayed behind. The woman at the hostel office allowed Gayla to lay down on one of the beds and I sat on the bench outside fighting off the flies and worked on this journal.
I called the Schwarz’ about 1:00 PM and they were on their way up to Monteverde to pick us up this evening. He predicted they would be here about 4:00 PM, but they made good time and arrived at the hostel about 3:30 and called. We went out to meet up with them. They found parking places across the street from the hostel and in front of an insect museum. The museum was closed but someone was there and told Brother Schwarz he would be happy to show us around the displays they have. Apparently they are undergoing a change of administration and are in the process of preparing to reopen. The worker was a very friendly Tico and loved insects. He was quite knowledgeable of the insects and the varieties native to Costa Rica. We tipped him about $22 for opening us and showing us around a good 30-45 minutes. That was our consolation prize for not going on the zip-line!
He gave Bro. Schwarz a huge rhino beetle, probably about six inches long including the rhino snout. It was dead. 🙂 He put it in his camera case for safe keeping. By the next morning when he went to remove it from the case it stunk so bad he threw the camera case away!
The zip-line crew finally made it back to the hostel about 5:15. We had them load up their suitcases and headed out for the valley in the gathering dusk. The cloud cover had gotten pretty thick toward the evening and I was some concerned about fog on the way down the mountain. There is 15 kilometers of gravel road with some sheer drop-offs on the side. I was glad that we were getting off the mountain before it was totally dark, before the fog got any thicker, and before it rained more. After we got through the fog there were a few views of the Pacific Ocean in the distance and a bright orange sunset in the west behind the clouds.
There were some great stories told about the zip-line experience, the rappelling, and the Tarzan swing. Several pictures and videos were taken of the group to share and to remember the sheer terror of jumping off into nothing, high above the jungle trees. Hearing about their screams and prayers I knew I made the right decision to remain behind and look at dangerous bugs and insects at the defunct museum!
Even after hitting the paved road there were several miles of curves and narrow roads before we got off the mountain. At the junction where we met the Pan-American highway there was a gas station and market. We stopped for the banos and to buy snacks. We were still an hour and a half from fast food restaurants. There were very few restaurants of any kind along this route.
The first area where there were several restaurants was in the edge of San Jose. We arrived there at 8:15 PM. We stopped at a mall that had a large food court with all the fast food varieties. We only stopped long enough to go to the restroom and get something to eat and pushed off for the Bekuo hostel. We got there about 9:30 and unloaded everyone.
The Schwarz had invited Gayla and me to stay with them for our last night in Costa Rica so I retrieved our extra suitcase at the hostel and we drove back the 15 minute commute to the Schwarz’ house. They rent a very nice home in a nice neighborhood. Of course, all homes in Costa Rica have iron gates and security. They have an electronic gate to open up for their garage. We just got in the house when the rain began once again. We sat and visited for a few minutes before going our room. I took a nice hot shower and had no trouble going to sleep in a comfortable bedroom after a very busy week and several nights in hostels.
Day 8 - Tuesday
Bus was to pick us up at 8:30 for the “jeep boat jeep” trip to Monteverde. The jeep was actually a bus, called a “coaster,” a nice larger van that holds about 25 people. After our group of 15 we made two other stops for passengers on our way out of town and out to the lake. It must not have been over five miles and was the most comfortable part of the trip! We were dropped off at the side of the road on the other side of the dam. There was a steep road, more like a boat launch ramp down to the water’s edge. Everyone had to roll or tote their bags down the steep grade to the lake shore. We loaded onto a large flat bottom boat with a canopy over it. It would be about the size of three pontoon boats and equipped with formed fiberglass benches. Life vests were stowed in a rack overhead near the roof. The boat ride was calm and the steady hum of the motor and the sound of splashing water was relaxing. Some dozed off on the boat ride. It must have been about 30-45 minutes to the shore where we disembarked. I took several pictures of the green pastures, trees, and beautiful countryside.
When we arrived there were about six vans waiting to transport everyone to Monteverde. Our group was divided in two and assigned to two vans, eight in one and seven in the other. Our vans were number 1 and 3. We found our assigned van and loaded up for the hour and a half ride up to Monteverde. Much of the road was gravel and pretty rough. As we climbed in altitude we found ourselves on a ridge road with sloping green pastures and trees on either side. About halfway we stopped in a small little village for restrooms. There was a little snack shop where we were able to buy water or sodas and chips.
For part of the trip to Monteverde we picked up another passenger. He was a young man from Massachusetts and was backpacking around Costa Rica for the first time. He was interesting and quite inquisitive about our group. He seemed impressed that our youth would come to Costa Rica to do humanitarian projects. His family was originally from Mombai (Bombay), India. However, he obviously was raised in the US because he had no trace of an Indian accent.
We finally arrived in Monteverde around noon and dropped our rider off in front of another hostel. We continued on about a half mile and arrived at our second Sleepers Hostel. We were able to check into rooms for most of our group. One room for the guys was not ready so we put their stuff in our room so we could get out for some of our activity tours.
We bought tickets for the coffee plantation tour, the cheese tour and the night cloud forest tour. The night tour was optional but everyone wanted to do it and shelled out the $15 for the tour. A local transportation van picked us up about 1:30 for the tour on the Don Juan Coffee plantation. It was really cool. We learned all about coffee, the plants and the process to make high quality coffee. We actually met Don Juan. He was elderly and retired but was happy to meet with us and pose for pictures. With the coffee tours I guess he’s somewhat of a local celebrity. We were also given a ride in an ox cart down the dirt road. It was rougher than you might expect and makes me thankful for pneumatic tires and paved roads … oh, and cushioned seats!
This is a rather small family owned operation. At the end of the tour we were given samples of coffee (light & dark roast) and little snacks. The snacks consisted of a cheese corn ball, a small dish of rice pudding, and chocolate covered coffee beans. Of course, they had a small gift shop where their coffees, chocolate coffee beans, and souvenirs were available for purchase. They have a unique coffee maker here in Costa Rica. It is a wooden rack with a white sock like filter that holds the coffee. You pour boiling water through the coffee grounds in the sock and collect the coffee in your mug below.
Our van driver picked us up and took us to the cheese factory tour. The factory here in Monteverde was started in 1953 by Quaker immigrants from the United States. During the Korean conflict some Quakers left the country because of the opposition to the draft for military service. Because they were pacifists and did not agree with capital punishment, twelve families from Alabama came to Costa Rica. There were about 30-40 initially. In 1948 Costa Rica had dismantled their army and they were also a democratic State. These were incentives for the Quakers to choose to come to Costa Rica.
The Quaker families were seeking to find a way to make a living in a new land. They chose the higher elevation of Monteverde to escape the risks of malaria and yellow fever associated with the lower elevations of the tropics. They purchased land from the mining companies that controlled must of the land in the area of Monteverde.
They decided on cheese because it could be produced locally and transported down the mountain to other market areas. Then they had to learn out to make cheese! That was the part that was so incredible to me. They chose cheese making as a means to make a living with virtually no knowledge of the process. A German cheese maker came and helped them learn to make it and get started. They now buy milk from diary farmers in the area and make several million dollars a year supplying a large amount of cheese for Costa Rica with some exports to Nicaragua.
We ended the tour with a video presentation of the history of the Quakers who came to Costa Rica, then we sampled some of the cheeses she talked about on the tour. There were about six cheeses and the caramel that is made from the cheese whey. It was all good. I think my least favorite was the provolone smoked with wood from the coffee trees.
We concluded the tour about 4:45 and went into their café to eat something before our night tour in the jungle. Someone there was not happy with 15 people coming in to eat so close to closing time. I guess they normally close at 5:00. The unhappy one spoke Spanish and the other lady tried to translate without the attitude. Finally, the translator called someone and discussed the issue for another 5 minutes. Our bus was supposed to be there at 5:10 so it was a big issue. My wife and I just bought some cheese, caramel, and drinks and went outside to wait on the bus. They did finally agree to fry some hamburgers so 7 or 8 of the group got their hamburgers to go. This was our first and really only bad experience with anyone. Everyone else was very friendly and only too happy to serve. Of course many make their living on tourism.
Our same driver showed up with the van to take us to the night tour in the jungle looking for nocturnal creatures. When we got to the place for the tour, only about 10 minutes drive, we were divided into two groups to walk with a guide. They passed out LED flashlights for us to carry and try to spot wildlife. We began pretty good. There was an animal that is similar to the raccoon but is a day time creature with a longer tail. We saw him just as it was getting dark. There was another large rat looking thing up the trail.
We did pretty good until we saw a big spider. Josh freaked out. He has a strong aversion to anything arachnid! I’m sure his hollering fits helped clear some of the nocturnal creatures. 🙂 (We love you Josh!) We still had fun and saw more spiders than anything. We tramped around in the woods for a good hour and a half before returning to the parking area where we would catch the van. It was there we say a raccoon coming down out of a tree.
The other group returned and we went back to the hostel. Some wanted to walk down to the small shopping area about ½ mile from us so my wife and I had the van driver drop us off there on his way home. We gave him a tip and went in to a souvenir shop while waiting for the group to come up. We met up with some of them in the gift shop below Don Juan’s Restaurant. By now we were famished and tired from all the walking tours. Gayla and I went upstairs and got a table, ordered, were almost finished eating when a few more of the group came in to eat. I had the Casado Especial (the traditional dinner with chicken) and Gayla had Fettuccini Alfredo. It was very good. We finished our meal, paid out, told the group goodnight and walked back down the hill to our hostel and went to bed. It was a long day.
Day 7 - Monday
We planned to leave at 8:30 from the Bekuo hostel for the next two nights so everyone was up early packing up. Because of limited space on the tour portion of the trip we left excess baggage behind. Bekuo gave us a storage area for our excess luggage since we will be coming back to San Jose for our last night. It was an area of the laundry room that is normally locked up.
Well, I had time for one more pancake with pineapple! 🙂 We ate our last complimentary breakfast at the Bekuo and started loading up our remaining luggage in the Schwarz tour vehicles, the rented van and their Toyota Prado. I was impressed with the group being able to condense their necessities into smaller bags and backpacks. My wife and I left one medium suitcase behind with dirty clothes and we took the other one. I think it was one of the largest in the group! (Remember, there was two of us sharing!)
On the way out of town we stopped at Citibank to exchange money. We had all spent most of our colones. This time, rather than forming a long line for individual exchange, Yonda Schwarz collected money from each one and exchanged the entire amount. Unfortunately, the exchange rate had changed a little and it was no longer the nice even 500 to $1. It was now 498 to $1. Oh well, so goes the financial markets. She was able to get it changed with no problem it was just a little more challenging to calculate the exact amount for exchange. But, she’s sharp and she got it all worked out on our first stop out of town.
We drove out by the airport and began the gentle climb to the mountains. Somewhere up the road we stopped in a little town mall. They had a variety of fast food places in the food court and plenty of restrooms (banos) for a quick stop. They even had H&M boutique. We were impressed until some of the girls went in and came out in less than 10 minutes! They couldn’t have too much in the store.
It was only 11:00 and some of the food places were just opening, but several of our group got something to eat. I had eaten breakfast so I wasn’t really hungry, but you never know where the next opportunity to eat is! We got a two cheeseburger combo at McDonalds to share. Sister Schwarz got the money all distributed and we headed out again for the mountains. From there the roads became more winding and steep toward La Fortuna and Volcan Arenal national park. The hills were beautiful and green with lush grassy fields.
We arrived at La Fortuna and drove around the center of town. It was a very typical town, boasting a catholic church and a park. We were unsure where the hostel was located so we stopped to ask where the Sleepers hostel was located. No one seemed to know of it. Finally, one place had internet where they were able to look up the phone and address.
It as just outside of town, but of course that was only about a mile or less! It is the Sleepers Sleep Cheaper Hostel!
We took three rooms: one for the guys, one for the girls and we got the other one. They were like two bedroom apartments with a shared bathroom and common room. We encouraged Ethan and Adrian to stay with us in the other bedroom but they chose to stay with the singles. 🙂
Seven of the girls opted for the horseback ride to the waterfall in La Fortuna. They were picked up at the hostel in a van and off they went on an adventure of their own. The rest of us loaded in the van and drove out to the park for the entrance of the La Fortuna waterfall. Another seven of us took this option. David and Yonda Schwarz and Gayla stayed behind and found a little soda ( referring to a small café) down the road for a snack.
There were hundreds of steps down the side of the mountain to get to the base of the waterfall. It was definitely easier going down than the hike back out. I took lots of pictures and enjoyed it vicariously for my wife! It is a beautiful falls cascading down the canyon and plunging into a pool of water at the base. The pool of water is really not that big considering the amount of water coming down from the falls. After Andrea left I thought I might should start up as well. I didn’t want everyone to have to wait. It is an incredible hike out of the canyon. Thankfully there are concrete block type steps forming a path and steps out of the valley. It is still a grueling climb out. I was huffing and puffing (maybe I should admit it was more like “gasping”) most of the way up. I stopped a few times for a breather and thought about my water bottle I left at the top with my wife. 🙂 I was thankful for the drizzle of rain, but it was still hot and I worked up steam hiking. When I finally reached the top I bought the biggest bottle of water possible at the little gift shop.
Of the guys who stayed behind a couple of them went swimming in the pool below the waterfall. They were just about ready to make the hike back with the girls on horseback arrived and made the trek down to the base of the waterfall. After the guys left some of them jumped in the water for a swim.
On the way back to town the clouds had completely cleared from the top of Volcan Arenal. It was a wonderful picture opportunity and the only time we would clearly see the entire mountain. You could see the steam coming from the top and some coming from the side of the mountain where there was apparently a hot flow of lava.
The hiking group returned to the hostel to wait for the horseback riders. Some took a nap while they waited. I tried to catch up on downloading pictures and uploading the favorites to Facebook.
By the time everyone arrived at the hostel we were all famished. Brother and Sister Schwarz had gone to find a hotel for the evening and he found a local restaurant that offered us a deal on Casado, the traditional dinner in Costa Rica of white rice, black beans, and fried plantain and a meat. They offered us a choice of three meats: fish (pescado), beef (bistek), and chicken (pollo) and a fruit drink for $6.00. We all had pineapple juice. The other drink offered was “different” according to Bro. Schwarz. They also included a little dish of dessert of candied plantain with a small dip of chocolate chip ice cream on top. Everything was good and the outdoor dining area added to the uniqueness of the experience.
After dinner we took a drive on up and around the backside of the volcano where most of the recent activity has been. Sometimes you can see the lava flow in the darkness of night. At first it was clear and you could see the silhouette of the mountain against the night sky but there was no sign of hot lava. We continued for quite a distance to where there is a low water bridge and a clearing where they sometimes see the lava on the mountain. We saw nothing and by now the fog and clouds were growing more dense thus sealing the verdict that we would not see any volcanic activity tonight.
Brother Schwarz drove us back to the hostel where we retired for the night. It was very hot and humid and I was so thankful for the oscillating fan that was in our room. The mattress was firm … I think because of the plywood underneath it! The sheets were very thin. All I could think about was how many people have sweated on this bed….
Day 6 - Sunday
Both services today are in the San Jose area and are only about a fifteen minute commute from the hostel. Since we had such a late night last night I slept in until 7:00! After showering and dressing I took a bag of mangoes to the hostel kitchen to share with the residents. I cut one up and took to our room for breakfast along with a mug of hot coffee. Gayla was up when I got back in there and of course was impressed with the room service :).
We left for the first service at 9:30. Everyone was rather quiet this morning. I think they weren’t awake yet. The church in Guadalupe meets in the back of a pet clinic. There is a hallway that leads back to the small room that serves as their auditorium. It is approximately 18’ x 30’ and was packed with people once they all arrived. Some were standing out in the hallway and looking through a window in the back. They had decorated the auditorium with streamers and balloons and had a “Welcome, God bless you” sign in English letters on the front wall behind the pulpit. The Vice President of the UPCI in Costa Rica is the pastor of the church.
They sang some of the older Spanish songs in the worship service. They had a drum set and a small keyboard. When they turned the service to us the PA promptly quit. Several worked on the connections until it finally came on again. I think Rhette was afraid of it quitting so after the sign song and skit they just sang the worship songs a cappella. It really sounded quite nice!
Katrina and Rhette testified in the morning service and Roy Fisher preached. He preached from the verse, “One Lord, one faith, and one baptism.” He talked about settling the questions in your own mind and being persuaded of the truth for yourself. There was a tremendous altar service with many coming forward for prayer. One asked to be baptized and some backsliders were renewed in the Holy Ghost.
The local church had a gift for the speaker today. Roy Fisher was the proud recipient of a handmade hammock. The pastor commented that it was made for two. Brother Schwarz accepted that as a word of prophecy!
After the service we went nearby to the La Princesa Marina, a seafood restaurant. It was very good. We ate shrimp, potatoes, and salad. I took a friends recommendation and tried the Tres Leches cake and coffee for dessert. It was very rich and tasty. I think I still prefer chocolate!
We got back to the hostel about 2:00 PM and rested a bit before getting ready for the evening service. Missionary Schwarz picked us up at 4:30 and we went to another church in the area, the suburb of Desamparados (literally means “forsaken”). It is the oldest church in Costa Rica built by their sister church in San Jose, California (Shoemake). It is called Centro de Vida. It is a great church and the largest congregation that we visited on this trip.
This was also the most progressive church we have seen. They had computer projection for the song service, good praise singers and music. The PA sounded great and there was a great spirit among the congregation.
Our team again did the signed song, the drama, and sang worship choruses in Spanish. After six services in a row they pretty well have everything down now! Andrea and Josh gave their testimonies in the service. I was asked to preach for this final service. There was a great response to the Spirit of the Lord in the altar service. Six people came forward for baptism and were baptized in the name of Jesus!
We visited with the people and some did their best to communicate with a few English words. We did our best to communicate with our few Spanish words! Wonderful people and a wonderful church!
We decided to go to McDonalds tonight since we had not had that yet! Wow, it was the fanciest McDonalds I have ever seen. It was two stories and had a McCafe on one side with leather chairs and a lounge style area. McDonalds has come a long way!
We got back to the hostel about 9:30 and began downloading pictures, writing in this blog, and talking to our daughter and granddaughter on Skype. With our laptop and Marenda’s iPad we were able to video communicate for free! We are very thankful for the good internet connection we have had at Bekuo Hostel and are hopeful that we will have some internet available in our next two stops. We have now packed up our suitcases except for some last minute items and are ready for morning. We will be leaving at 8:30 in the morning so until I’m able to write our chronicles and post on the internet again, Dios le bendiga!
Day 5 - Saturday
We were up early today and ready to go to Volcan Poas, an active volcano about an hour and a half out of San Jose. Missionary Schwarz called early to let us know that due to the cloud cover there was a possibility we might not be able to see anything once we get there. I had him talk to Ethan and they decided to go ahead with the plan and hope for the best! We left the hostel about 7:30, before breakfast and while most of us were still half asleep.
As we climbed out of the valley and toward the mountains the scenery became more wonderful. With the beginning of the rainy season everything was now lush green and many flowers were blooming. We also began to see coffee bushes and huge plantations for growing the addictive bean. 🙂 There were also acres of growing ferns for harvest and export. These areas were covered with sunscreen to enhance the right environment for growing the ferns.
As we began some of the switch-back roads up the mountain there were opportunities for awesome views of the valley below and as far as you could see towards other mountains. The sun began to burn off some of the clouds and fog and made for a beautiful morning. As we neared the national park, there was an increase in fog and a drop in the temperatures. Most of us brought sweaters and wore warmer clothes for this elevation. We paid the entrance fee at the park; it had gone up to $10 for visitors ($2 for residents), and paid for parking the two vehicles.
Access to the edge of the volcano was up a paved pathway about ¼ mile (I’m guessing). Standing behind the rail fence we looked over the edge and into a white cloud. At first absolutely nothing was visible. It was as white as a bed sheet. We were encouraged that if we waited the wind would occasionally clear much of the cloud and you would see the massive crater and the steam cloud coming from the lake of water in the crater. The last few days there had been a lot of activity in the volcano and you could smell the putrid sulfur odor several miles coming up the mountain.
Sure enough, the wind blew and the clouds and fog shifted giving us a great view of the depth of the crater. We could still see the billowing steam cloud coming from the area where the lake and the activity is. Fortunately, there was no grand eruption while we were gazing in the abyss!
While we were there on the observation deck, a lady came up to my wife and asked her if we were with a group from Florida. She told her we had some in our group from Florida. She was looking for Mellissa Brumfield so Gayla told her that Mellissa’s brother was with us. She revealed that she is a cousin of the Brumfields and she had found out on Facebook or email that they were also going to be in Costa Rica at the same time. This younger generation of Brumfields had never met but through this incidental meeting in Costa Rica! How cool is that?
The Schwarz, my wife, and I walked back down to the visitor center while the younger ones 🙂 hiked a trail that lead around to another crater of a dormant volcano that now holds a lake of water. We enjoyed a cup of coffee and a muffin with the Schwarz at a little coffee shop in the visitor center and looked at some of the gift shop / art gallery items.
When the group returned from the hike we loaded up for the thrill ride down the mountain roads! This morning we left the hostel before breakfast was served so now everyone was starving (except for the wise ones who had a muffin!) and we started looking for a restaurant. Brother Schwarz stopped at one clean looking establishment but it was not yet open. It was almost 11:00. I guess that was too early for lunch and too late for breakfast! A little further down the road there was a quaint and very neat Swiss looking restaurant with a Spanish name: Dona Julia. We decided to take a chance on it and it was an excellent choice. They seated us in a room with large picture glass windows looking out over the misty (turning to rain) green pastures surrounding the restaurant. An abundance of flowers surrounded the house. There were butterflies and hummingbirds hovering around the flowers.
The food at Dona Julia was wonderful. I had a chicken breast smothered in melted cheese, beans, rice, some salad and plantains (of course). Everyone seemed to enjoy their brunch … maybe because they were so hungry! We also stopped at a little roadside market where some bought fresh picked strawberries and other treats.
We got back to the hostel about 2:00 and the plan was to pick us up at 3:30 to head the other direction for the service tonight in Quebrada Ganado near the west coast. We left early enough to stop at a river crossing where there is an abundance of crocodiles lurking in the water along the edge of the river.
A ways further down the road and we got our first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. We stopped along the coast as the sun was shining through the clouds and sunset was only about an hour away. We took some pictures with the palm trees and along the shore. This was a rocky beach with little sand. I collected a few unique rocks as a memento of our stop along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.
The pastor from the church in Quebrada Ganado met us while we were stopped at the ocean and delivered some mangos. They were the biggest I had ever seen and the best tasting bar none! We got more from another brother in the church and we will have all the mangos we can eat until we leave. Too bad we can’t take any home due to the agricultural restrictions in customs. A couple of the girls picked up some green coconuts that were lying on the rocks. I think they hoped they might be edible or that they might take them home but we told them about the customs restriction as well.
Soon we loaded up and just before we arrived at the church we stopped at a local market for some cold drinks. Still no Dr. Pepper so I got a bottle of tea and a water for Sister Schwarz.
The church was located down a narrow street in a neighborhood. It was a very neat church with nice tile floors and accent spot lights on the platform. They had wonderful music and sang several songs (one of which we were going to sing tonight 🙂 ). Their young people also preformed a drama. I think they were encouraged to be able to display their talent before other talented youth.
During the service there was a royal downpour. It was actually a welcome relief as the humidity had gotten so intense we were sweltering before the rain began. It actually cooled off several degrees once the rain started. Unfortunately, the church has a tin roof and at times it was a competition to hear the speaker above the downpour. The rain continued throughout the service alternating between gentle rain and a deluge.
Carly testified tonight, Ethan played Jesus in the drama, and Kaniel preached. Kaniel won the award for shortest message of the week! There was a good response and people prayed. There is a spiritual hunger in Costa Rica. It seems rather easy to get a response to the message of Christ.
Our team was starved after service considering the last meal we ate was about 11:00 that morning. So other than a few snacks or drinks no one had eaten. The prospects for finding a restaurant in this area were next to none. We watched for anything along the way, but the only places open at all were bars with the Saturday evening crowd in full swing.
We continued the return trip across the mountain and were so thankful for the relatively new toll road that makes the trip much safer and faster. Brother Schwarz told us some horror stories of the old switch back roads across the mountain.
We continued back to San Jose and ate at Ethan’s recommendation, Pollo Campero, a Central American chicken chain restaurant. It was still open when we arrived and they cheerfully served us chicken fingers and fries and whatever else was ordered. When we paid out and got back to the hostel it was after midnight. Probably about 12:30. I was too tired to write my blog so this is written on Sunday night
Day 4 - Friday
Well, I’m good. I had my coffee this morning! My sweet wife went to the hostel kitchen and fixed coffee for me. The breakfast person usually shows up a little before 8:00 to start the pancakes so if you want coffee before then you have to fix it yourself. They have a commercial Bunn coffeemaker so it brews fast.
We got a quick breakfast (same menu everyday 🙂 ) and were picked up by the Schwarz about 8:30. Because of the traffic congestion there are certain days of the week you are not permitted to drive a personal vehicle. It depends on the last digit of your license plate. The Schwarz Toyota is restricted on Friday so they borrowed another van from Missionary Rivero to help with transportation. The blue van we are using is exempted because it is a rented vehicle.
We returned to Los Guido to finish the painting of their church. They had applied the second coat of white primer over the large mural that covered the center half of the platform wall. It was pretty easy to cover with the tan paint now that the primer was dry. There was another area on the back wall up high that had to be scrapped and prepped so that it would hold paint. Kaniel and Josh took care of that thankfully. They had a very tall metal ladder that we used to reach those areas.
While they were doing that some were touching up places around the walls of the auditorium and office, and others started on the kitchen. We pulled the refrigerator and a preparation table out from the wall and began to paint all wall space. We stood on the counter and sink to reach up in the attic area that was exposed to paint the walls there.
Some of the team began on the bathrooms. We have a great group of students and youth. No one sat around and had to be told to work. Everyone pitched in and found something to do. Even Brother Schwarz and I worked on different projects and started scrapping some of the splattered paint off the cement floor in preparation for the clean up!
When the office was trimmed out and touched up, we began moving furniture back in and hanging curtains. Finally, the metal security doors were painted black and it was the finishing touch.
It was amazing to see the transformation that took place in this church in just two days, and to see the pride and appreciation in the eyes of the pastor and members of this assembly. I was told later by the missionary that the pastor had a dream one night that a big man came with a brush and painted the church. He didn’t know what the dream meant but they begin to save some money and planned to paint the church in the future. In just a few days Brother Schwarz called to say a church in the States wanted to come and paint a church and they would pay for everything. He was overwhelmed at the provision of the Lord. We are rejoicing to be an answered prayer and a fulfilled dream.
The local church promised to clean the floor and have everything back in order before the service this evening so we took off around noon. Because everyone was dirty with their painting clothes and profuse sweat, we went back to the hostel this afternoon to clean up before eating. Rather than have Brother Schwarz come back to take us to a restaurant we decided to walk to the mall (maybe a half mile) and eat at the food court there. Some of the team wanted to look around the mall a little as well.
Gayla and I ate at Pollo Asado in the mall. The students got their food at different vendors and ate in the dining area. There were two levels of the food court and about any U.S. fast food was available as well as a number of local type food places.
After eating, Rhette accompanied us back to the hostel. We had barely gotten back when the rain came. It was a tropical rain storm complete with tremendous peals of thunder and cracks of lightning. We were relieved that the team made it back before it began to rain in earnest. However, some unnamed young ladies seemed to enjoy getting wet and screaming and hollering as they played volleyball in the rain!
The traffic was horrible tonight. It must have taken us 20 minutes just to get about a mile and around the traffic circle by the mall. There were other patches of stop and go traffic before we got in the vicinity of Los Guido. We picked up the Riveros at the home of a church family about 2 miles from the church. There is so little area to park close to the church and it is dangerous to leave your vehicles unattended or unprotected. The chicken house man locked up the rental van and kept an eye on the other van used by the Riveros
The area looked a lot different in the dark! It would have really been spooky if we had not seen it in the light previously. We were amazed at how nice everything looked. They had worked so hard getting the paint off the floor, the curtains hung over doorways, and a sing placed over the baptistery quoting Acts 2:38.
Tonight, our team provided all the music and worship for the service. They had a small Casio keyboard and Kaniel played the bass. The PA had its problems but we made it through :).
Tonight’s testimonies were given by Adrian and Shanda, I preached in the service and Missionary Paul Rivero translated for me. I preached that Jesus came to heal the broken hearted. Several came to the altar and joined in prayer this evening. After the service the local church provided some soda pop to drink (Coke or Ginger Ale) and some cake or cookies.
When we got back close to the hostel we stopped at Burger King and the Riveros joined us for dinner!
Day 3 - Thursday
Missionary David and Yonda Schwarz planned to pick us up at 8:15 this morning to get an early start on the church painting project in Los Guido. They arrived a little early and waited while some got breakfast at the hostel. The Hostel provides a simple breakfast of pancakes, pineapple, toast and jam between 8 & 9:00. I was working on updating our accounting sheet and uploading pictures to Facebook so I didn’t get my coffee this morning (maybe I’ll call it a fast 🙂 )! I grabbed a pancake and wrapped it around two slices of pineapple … not bad!
The church in Los Guido was about 45 minutes from where we are staying, and in a poor area. The closer we got to it the worse the roads became. Although they had been paved at one time potholes and dips have destroyed the surface. Mercifully, Brother Schwarz took it slow as we followed the maze of roads to our destination. Los Guido is set among some beautiful foothills and the tall blue mountains are in the background.
The shops and homes in Los Guido are small and joined together, the roads are more like alleys with open drainage ditches on either side of the road. We stopped the van at the opening of a narrow alley that led down to the church to disembark. We walked the distance of a block or so between the rows of shanties. The Schwarz moved the vehicles to a safe place, a chicken yard up the street! Some enterprising local rented out his yard behind a locked and barred gate to secure our transportation. A row of chicken coups lined the wall and several chickens foraged openly around the place.
The church was narrow on the front facing the street so there wasn’t a lot of area to paint on the outside. The interior was larger and it extended back to create a nice size auditorium. It was badly in need of paint and the people were so excited for our support and volunteer efforts. The team quickly jumped in and began putting paint rollers on applicators and extension rods. There were brushes and putty knives and scrapers ready for us to use. Ethan and Roy began assigning jobs and the team set to work. Some started on the front of the building outside. Others began taping the line for the two tone colors in the auditorium.
In a matter of about three hours the place was being transformed. The outside was completed and the auditorium walls were almost covered. The UPC Costa Rican Vice President and the local pastor worked on moving an unsightly electrical wire draped across the platform wall to run it overhead. After painting some of the high parts of the back wall, Kaniel climbed another ladder to assist with the electrical project.
The ladies at the church began work on lunch, chopping and cooking a wonderful chicken stir-fry. Every red bell pepper, green onion, cilantro, green bean, and whatever else was in it was all chopped by hand. While that was preparing they provided a huge bowl of fresh mangos for us to enjoy.
By lunch time the auditorium was complete except for an area at the top of the back wall that needs more preparation. The finish was scaling and needed to be scraped so that it will hold the new paint. That project was put on Friday’s “to do” list. A huge mural covered the central half of the platform wall. The decision was made to paint over it so a base coat of white was applied.
We took a break from painting to eat the wonderful lunch the ladies had prepared. Two tables were placed in the middle of the church and slatted benches were pulled up on each side. They dished up a plate full of fresh hot chicken stir-fry for each and brought out plates of lettuce and tomatoes. Fresh strawberries were also brought out. We had a choice of Pepsi, Coke, or Ginger Ale to drink.
After the lunch, the team began painting the office, foyer, and bathroom hallway. Others worked on the trim between the two colors of the auditorium and others helped with the electrical project and some cleanup. Because of our service scheduled for the evening in Heredia we had to conclude the work there a little after 2:00 so we could get back to the hostel and clean up and prepare for another commute during traffic hours in the opposite direction.
When we got back to the room I downloaded more pictures and responded to some emails, took a brief nap and started getting ready for service.
Brother Schwarz was concerned about the traffic heading out to Heredia. What is normally less than an hour drive can take an hour and a half during the rush hours. It started out to be really bad, but after we finally got through the gridlock near the hostel traffic was flowing rather smoothly. Brother Schwarz said it was a miracle! There were some slowing but we made good time and actually arrived about 20 minutes early.
The church was located near a bus terminal and is on the second floor of in a commercial area. It was tastefully decorated and was nice and cool. They were required to install a/c units to help control the noise! I guess they had a lot of complaints from neighboring businesses about the volume of their worship services.
The Costa Rican believers love to worship. The church in Los Guido had two guitar players and a lot of young people. The first younger guitar player lead the first few songs of praise and worship. I recognized one, “Here I Am To Worship.” Another gentleman played a left handed classical guitar and led some of the more traditional Latino worship songs. The men and boys danced in the front of the small auditorium. Because of the small amount of space they mostly had to dance in place.
Our sign group again signed with their song and our praise team sang a couple of Spanish songs. The guitar was so out of tune they sang a cappella since there was no keyboard available. Julia, Kaniel, and Siarrah testified in the service tonight.
Tonight Ethan Brumfield preached and Missionary Schwarz interpreted. It was an exciting service and the people really responded to the testimonies, the worship and the preaching. We had a great altar service with people praying and calling out to the Lord.
After the service our team handed out candy to all the kids and youth. That really connected with them and they took pictures together, visited with their limited language ability, and even exchanged some email addresses I’m told!
On the way back to the hostel we stopped at a nice Taco Bell near the university. Since it was my wife’s 32nd anniversary being married to me I took her out on a special date! I bought her a burrito supreme at Taco Bell and we fellowship with 13 other missions team members and two missionaries!!
Day 2 - Wednesday
In spite of a long day yesterday and a rather late night, I woke up early as the sun came up about 5:30 in Costa Rica. It could have something to do with a rather firm mattress lying on plywood as well 🙂
I came down from the loft, actually a six feet high platform over half the room where a mattress is thrown. It’s rather rustic. I’ll have to take pictures to describe it. But the benefit is that we have a private restroom and shower attached. I guess the redeeming quality of the Hostel Bekuo is the free wireless internet that keeps us connected with the world! However, the internet is apparently turned off in the early morning when the staff vacate their post and is not turned back on until about 8:00 or so. Guess I better get my updates done before going to bed tonight.
The group from the Western District made it in from the airport about 6:30 this morning. Missionary David Schwarz dropped them off and planned to meet us back here at 10:00 to begin our day that we have planned for site-seeing and shopping in downtown San Jose, Costa Rica. After I got around, I went out and saw the Brumfields (Ethan’s family in the country for vacation) as they were heading out for their next adventure. I got a cup of coffee and also met the rest of the group with Roy Fisher, director of the Western District group. The group included Kaniel, Josh, Katrina, and Andrea who were lounging in the common areas of the hostel with Ethan. We visited awhile getting acquainted with the new additions to our team and waited for breakfast. Today’s menu included pancakes, pineapple, toast and jelly.
After everyone had breakfast we met again in the lounge and Ethan went over the schedule and other details with the group. When David Schwarz arrived he cautioned everyone about safety and keeping a close watch on all possessions, purses, and cameras. We rode about in a fifteen passenger van he rented for our transportation and his Sheaves for Christ vehicle, a Toyota Prada (not available in the USA). We finally got away from the hostel about 10:30.
We drove downtown and found a public parking area to leave the vehicles and continued on foot. We toured the downtown area by a large catholic church, the National Theatre, and ended up at a large bank where most everyone needed to exchange US currency into Costa Rican Colones. The exchange rate is 500 colones for 1 dollar. So we left there feeling richer with several 10,000 colone bills ($20)!
We took some group pictures in the park area by the National Theatre and walked a couple of blocks to an indoor market. We spent about 30 minutes browsing around and picking up a few gifts from family. We continued the walk to where the vehicles were parked and then continued to a restaurant where we ate lunch. There was a choice between hamburger and chicken sandwiches to more local cultural fare. I opted for the local specialties of rice and black beans with a fried fish filet and my wife ordered the same with a chicken fillet. It also came with fried plantains, a banana tasting fruit that is plentiful here. It was delicious!
After lunch (about 3:00 PM) we returned to the hostel and took a nap! Siesta! Some of the team practiced on our drama skit, sign songs, and Spanish worship songs. After a little nap I worked on transferring pictures to my computer and uploading some selected pics to Facebook.
Missionary David Schwarz returned a little after 6:00 to take us to Pavas, about 45 minutes away for our first service. This is the church that was started by the Schwarz in 1998 and is now lead by another missionary family Pastor Paul and Stephanie Rivero. It was a clean brightly lit and nicely painted facility.
Their praise team led a few songs of worship before the service was turned to us. I greeted the congregation then Ethan came up to lead the service and introduce the various parts of the service they had prepared. Rhette, Siarrah, Julia, and Shanda did a condensed version of “The Ragman” that they had done for an Easter drama. Following that Adrian led Julia, Shanda, and Siarrah in a sign language song, “No Sweeter Name.” Our praise team led two more songs before the preaching.
Roy Fisher, pastor of Gracepoint in Oroville, CA, preached tonight about the question that Jesus asked the sick man by the pool. It was a great thought and people responded well. It appeared there were some visitors who were touched with the service and prayed both in the altar and among the seats.
After some more worship music we were invited to stay for a meal prepared by the church. It was plates of the local fare: rice and beans, salad, baked pork in a tasty sauce and fried plantains.
The trip back to the hostel did not take a long because the traffic thins out greatly in the evening. We retired to our room after making plans with Ethan for tomorrow and discussing some details of the tour. It was about 10:00, still early! I uploaded more pictures to Facebook and begin updating my journal.
Day 1 - Tuesday
Missions Connection 2011 is a group of students dedicated to give ten days to missions projects in Costa Rica (May 24—June 2). The vision for this missions trip was born in the passion of the leadership of LifeChurch, Gilbert, AZ, specifically Lead Pastor Terry R Baughman and Student Ministries Pastor Ethan Brumfield. Both are veterans of numerous international trips with missions involvement. In addition to the group of eight from LifeChurch, four students and Gravitas director Roy Fisher from the Western District (UPCI), and two students from Palm Coast, FL joined with us to complete our team of fifteen converging in San Jose, Costa Rica on Wednesday, May 25. Missionaries Schwarz and Rivero planned several services and a church painting project for us to be involved in. The team is also bringing several suitcases of donated clothing to distribute to churches they visit.
In preparation for the trip, LifeChurch was challenged to commit to a month of Prayer and fasting for the success of the trip and the spiritual impact of the group. Fund raising projects and clothing/candy drives were conducted to involve the local congregation with the effort. A side benefit of Missions Connection is to heighten understanding and passion for the work of the kingdom of God outside of our local church and around the world.
Prior to our departure on this trip, Adrian Brumfield, wife of Student Ministries Pastor and Tour Director Ethan Brumfield, flew to Florida to celebrate the graduation of her sister and accompany the students from Palm Coast on the trip to Costa Rica.
After a busy weekend of preparation and packing, the team planned to meet at Sky Harbor Airport at 5:30 AM Tuesday, May 24, 2011. Rising at 4:00 AM on departure day, with all of four hours of sleep, we prepared to leave for the long journey to San Jose, Costa Rica. It’s not all that far in distance, but the airlines need to fill flights and load planes I guess. The first leg of our flight was Phoenix to Denver …. the opposite direction. To go south you must first go north!
Frank and Barbara Martinez brought their daughters Julia and Shanda by our house to pick up my wife and me. We loaded our suitcases into their Toyota Sequoia and left for the airport about 5:00 AM. Les Bublitz brought Siarrah and picked up Ethan at the church to drop them off at the airport. Since he had to be at work early they beat us all there and were checked in before we arrived. Rhette came in from the other direction and our Phoenix group was complete.
The additional baggage of donated clothing required us to check in with the “additional services” agent. Each bag was weighed to make sure it was under the 50 lb limit for international travel. The first leg of our flight was on United and the consecutive flights were on Continental Airlines. Even though they are in the process of a merger there were several challenges to getting our boarding passes for our entire itinerary. Perhaps the agents were unhappy about their jobs 🙂 the service was sorely lacking.
There were quite long lines clearing security. With the additions of several body scanners the lines seem to creep along. Fortunately, we allowed for extra time for our group and cleared security with enough time for a cup of coffee. Some ate a little breakfast from Wendy’s in the gate area. The flight to Denver was not full so it was reasonably comfortable. There was some turbulence leaving Phoenix (which is not unusual) and more on our descent into Denver as we came through the cloud cover and landed in falling rain.
The next flight was scheduled to depart at 11:16 AM. It was delayed and projected for a 11:40 departure. No real cause for alarm since there was almost four hours layover scheduled in Houston. Our plane arrived and we began to board. This leg of the flight had a change of aircraft and our seating selections were jumbled. Some us were stuck in middle seats with strangers on either side. This was the segment that caused us grief Monday night when we tried early check-in online. I received an error message and was given an 800 number to call. After talking to a call center in India, I was placed on hold for an hour and five minutes! I called back on another phone and was able to find out in only 10-15 minutes that it was impossible to check in online due to the change of equipment … great! I could have been sleeping…
After sitting in a loaded plane packed like sardines for a good 30-45 minutes in Denver, we were finally cleared for take off. The 1 ½ hour flight to Houston was uneventful other than the landing. Apparently, some of the wind and unsettled weather that spawned tornados in Oklahoma and the Midwest gave us a rough ride on the way down.
Even though we arrived about an hour late we still had about three hours in Houston. That gave us time to eat and walk around a bit before boarding for the final leg and the international segment of the trip. Gayla and I ate at Pappasito’s Cantina and the rest of the group ate at Pappas BBQ. (Pappa seemed to be a very popular name in Houston. Pappadeaux’s was in the same terminal.)
We boarded another full flight, Continental 1499, for San Jose, Costa Rica. The flight was about 3 ½ hours and featured a meal. There was a choice of cheeseburger or a chicken wrap, served with salad, carrot sticks, and cookies.
We were still excited about the trip, but after several hours of flying and four airports we were ready to be there and find our rooms. Adrian, Adalynn, and Carly flew from Florida about 3:00 PM and met us at the airport in Costa Rica. They were waiting for us when we cleared customs. Missionary David & Yonda Schwarz met us at the airport and transported us to Hostel Bekuo where we had reservations for our group. It was late enough that the traffic was no problem and it looked quite normal. It’s a rather different scene in the daytime I’m told! Well, that will wait until tomorrow … Until then, good night!